Camping! Everybody loves camping, right? Unfortunately, many people have had negative experiences on their first or second camping trips and vow off of it forever.
I truly believe that all humans love being outside in nature- it's been our home and provided us with everything we need for thousands of years! The issue is that we have forgotten how to be in nature. It does take some forethought and preparedness in order to maintain our modern expectations of comfort in the backcountry, but with a little practice even the most reluctant campers won't want to go back to civilization.
So whether you hate camping, or you're a hardcore outdoorsman, here's my tips on how to have the best camping experience ever!
Bring a Good Book or Magazine
This one is a biggy for me! There is nothing to wash away the weariness of a long day than a good read, especially if you're not a good outdoor sleeper. Oftentimes, you may be stuck somewhere because of poor weather or other unforseeable events- having something to pass the time will make these times much more enjoyable. All of the sudden it goes from "oh no! we're stranded" to "oh good! I get to read my book" or magazine, or play my sudukos, or write in my notebook. Whatever it is that you like to do with paper to relax, don't forget to bring it! I like to put a good book, a small notepad, a pencil, and a headlamp in a small dry bag. That way, it never gets wet and you always know where these things are once you hit the tent. Also, make sure that other people on your trip have interesting books in case you finish yours. My favorites are about other people also having grand adventures, such as The Hobbit and North to The Pole.
All three of my dry bags are in this photo! and my Mental Floss Magazine!
I hate wet stuff. Some people can deal with it, but I am not one of those people. I have a deep seated fear of getting wet while camping, even after years of doing it. So I have three dry bags. One for my books, headlamp, etc, one for my clothes and maybe a magazine, and a dry bag stuff sack for my sleeping bag. It definitely necessary to have everything in a dry bag, like me, but it is nice to have at least one. Yes, they are an extra expense, but they really don't cost too much, and in the end I'd much rather shell out a little extra cash and save myself a lot of anxiety. No matter what happens during the day, I can get through it if I know that I am going to have warm dry clothes to put on and a dry sleeping bag to crawl into at night. Even if you skip the multitude of dry bags, I really do recommend having one for your sleeping bag, or at least putting it in a heavy duty contractor trash bag (some backpackers will put one in their pack and put everything inside). These trash bags are much bigger and tougher than regular trash bags and they are great if you are camping on the cheap, but they are not as much of a guarantee as a dry bag. Some people also use locking tupperware for their camera or book because it is dry and floats, but I have never tried it. Here's what I use for my sleeping bag, my books, clothes, and food (in that order from left to right):
Dress for the Weather
There is no bad weather, only unprepared people. When I moved to Vermont from Illinois a couple of years back, the first winter was unbearably cold and I dreaded going outside to do anything! It wasn't that Vermont was too cold, though, it was that my clothing was not warm and dry enough. By the time I left Vermont, I had taken to wearing a long wool coat, wool pants, a wool sweater, a fur lined bomber hat, and muck boots whenever I was outside (and not excercising too hard, it's important not to overheat in the cold too). Did I look like a Russian grandmother? Yes. Did I spend more time having fun outside in February than anyone I knew? Almost definitely!
Anyways, my point is that you can deal with any weather if you are dressed properly. I can't tell you exactly how to do this, because I have found it to be pretty individual, but here are my three best tips:
1. If you are afraid of having wet, cold feet wear a pair of sock liners, put plastic bags, like the ones bread comes in, over your feet, and then put another pair of wool socks over that. The socks on the outside may get wet but your inner liners will be bone dry.
2. Forget the rain pants. They never work, they are sweaty and nasty, and they rip every time. I almost guarantee you will end up getting just as wet with them on and they are one more wet article of clothing you will have to carry. Instead, opt for pants made of quick dry material, like these, that dry in just minutes.
3. Sleeping bag socks. I always keep a pair of dry socks in my sleeping bag (and sometimes some long underwear if its cold). Rules of the sleeping bag socks: they can never, ever leave the sleeping bag (take them off before you get up to pee!). You must take off your other socks before getting in the sleeping bag. This way, no matter what, you will always have at least one pair of dry socks.
Know Your Science and History
Camping trips are way more fun when you're connected with the landscape you're in. We recently went on a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Northern Minnesota, where there is a long history of use by the Ojibwe, and later, the voyaguers who traded with them for furs. We had a wonderful time imaging the people who canoed on these lakes (in beautiful birch bark canoes!) and trudged across the same portages. Imagining the voyaguers carrying 160 lbs of goods at once made me feel a lot better about carrying my 40 lb food pack. Whatever you are interested in, ecology, weather, history, geology, read up on it before your trip (or bring a book about it ith you). I promise it will enrich your experience greatly!
We ran out of tortillas on our last camping trip so I made more from scratch!
Eat Like a King
There is no reason to eat crap. Anytime. Ever. And camping is no exception. Forget about expensive, freeze dried prepackaged meals. They are generally full of nasty preservatives, way too much sugar, and to be honest, never really taste all that great, even though everything tastes better when camping! My advice? Keep it simple. Opt for beans, rice, and dehydrated veggies, maybe some textured vegetable protein or pasta, and ALL of your favorite seasonings. Some of my favorites include curry paste, soy sauce, peanut butter, taco seasoning, and nutritional yeast. Not neccessarily together, but hey, sometimes food cravings get weird in the backcountry, you just never know. On this last trip, my bag of seasonings weighed more than my bag of dinner food. If you are really hardcore, I'd suggest invested in a food dehydrator and making your own dehydrated meals. I used our excalibur to make dehydrated brown rice, beans, tomatoes, peppers, and mushrooms for our last trip. To see what we ate, check out my post One Week's Worth of Healthy Camping Food, which includes my meal plan and recipes for everything! The only thing that is different is that we were never forced to break into the oatmeal. I can't stand oatmeal, but its good for emergency extra food.
Oh, and don't ever forget the chocolate. Beef jerky is also kind of a must have for me. Sometimes, when I'm really feeling rebellious (and hungry) I eat it in my sleeping bag at night. Don't the bears... or the bear bag Nazis that somehow always end up on trips with me.
Also, just because you are camping, doesn't mean that you can't eat fresh fruit, vegetables, or meat. You're in nature. You're surrounded by food. Forage, go fishing. Go get it. It's fun, I promise!
Blueberries growing everywhere around our tents in Labrador.
Look for Stuff
I know that "stuff" is kind of vague, but looking is one of my favorite camping activities and it doesn't really matter what it is exactly that you're looking for. Make a list of things you want to see on your trip and try to see them! For me, the large majority of my list consists of edible/medicinal plants and rare wildlife, whereas Zak's list is mainly worked flint or other signs of Native American history. Look for stuff while you're traveling. Look for stuff while you are in camp. You probably won't find everything on your list, but it is really exciting when you do! In fact, if you put wildlife on your list, inclement weather is often a great time to see animals because they have a harder time seeing, hearing, or smelling you.
A caribou emerges from the mist on Nachvak Brook, Torngat Mountains, Labrador. This brought us joy for the rest of the long and rainy hike we had ahead of us that day.
Sure, survival is really important while you are camping, but if you are really going to have a great time it's best to aim for more than survival. If you will look at Maslow's famous hierarchy of needs below, you'll notice that the topmost step of the pyramid is self-actualization, which includes being creative. There are all sorts of wonderful backcountry activities that can help pass the time and be creative at the same time. Sing or play a small guitar, bring a little watercolor kit, or simply draw with pencil and paper. One of my favorite creative activities is cooking! Zak likes to practice primitive skills, like bow drill fire or basketry. Whatever it is that you enjoy doing, try to incorporate it into your trip. Dont just survive- thrive!
Photo credit to simplepsychology.org
This one is super duper important. I saved the best for last! While I'm my unreasonable rebellion means that I am probably the last person you would ever see following a tour guide around a museum, I do think that there is great value in chatting up the locals or even booking a guide before your trip. They know what's good. If possible, try and find the oldest people you can to ask about travel advice in that area, they often know some of the best places to go and things to do! On our last trip, Zak and I interrogated our outfitter about fishing, geology, history, foraging, etc so enthusiastically that I think he got a little scared. But in the end he gave us some really great tips (he had answers to every single one of our 1,000 or so questions!). We ended up changing our route because we wanted to see a copper deposit he told us about on a lake that was just a day's paddle away from where we were supposed to be. I'm so happy that we did too. It was amazingly gorgeous!
I never go camping without this stuff... EVER!
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