Camping 101

Author: Alecia Pirulis

Sunset from our campsite

There’s nothing quite like camping in the fall: A weekend in the mountains with s’mores by a campfire, a pink and gold sunrise behind rolling hills bursting with oranges and reds, finding the perfect leaves and acorns to decorate a wreath, and breathing in the chilly air on a slightly foggy morning, a steaming cup of coffee in your hands …

If you’ve never been camping, now is the perfect time to give it a try. Odds are you’ll have excellent weather, and the scenery this time of year can’t be topped. A few basics and you’ll be on your way:

1. Roughing it can be fun – as long as you have a few comforts of home. Beyond the basics of a sleeping bag and a tent, there are items I’ve discovered can make or break a camping trip: a tarp, some rope, flashlights, extra blankets, folding chairs, a large, plastic bin, and a small radio. The tarp comes in handy if rain moves in. String it up over your tent. Your tent may claim to be “waterproof” but I haven’t found one yet that keeps all of the water out. The rope will help you with stringing up your tarp. It is also great if you need a makeshift clothesline to hang wet clothing; just tie it between two trees. The large, plastic bin will be your place for dish-washing. Extra blankets because it is often colder than you expect, chairs for comfort, and the radio so you can get weather updates.

2. Pack what you think you will need and then add one extra of everything. This comes from many years of camping experience – if you don’t slip and fall into the water, end up covered in dirt/sand/mud, or ruin at least one pair of socks, you didn’t go camping.

3. A camera, some empty tote bags, water bottles, and walking sticks. Bring extra batteries and car chargers for anything that may need powered up during the trip, such as the video camera. Tote bags are for all of the “treasures” you will find. And you will find them – pine cones, rocks, driftwood, feathers … if you don’t have a place to carry your treasures, you’ll end up carting them around in your pockets. My sons will resort to wrapping rocks, shells, snails, etc. in their T-shirts (see #2). Water bottles are a must, especially if you will be hiking. Use reusable bottles rather than plastic. We’ve found that walking sticks come in very handy for stability, especially when hiking downhill toward the base of a waterfall (again, see #2).

4. You know you want to, so just go ahead and do it! Bring your cell phone, e-reader, and your laptop. I feel safer with my cell phone. I turn it off and save it for emergencies (mostly), but at least I know I have it if I need it. Yes, I know we are supposed to be leaving all of that behind, and I tried – honestly, I did – but this is a high-tech world and I want to be somewhat connected, even when I’m on top of a mountain. Besides, when my kids and husband are off fishing, I enjoy booting up my laptop and checking my e-mail. Camping without my e-reader? I don’t think so. Quiet moments in my portable hammock with a good “book?” Priceless.

5. Bring your pets! Camping is the perfect getaway for pet owners. Our dogs love to camp – they get to walk (sniff) new places and get fed off the grill. Your pet will need dishes for food and water, a tie-out with a stake, and an old blanket or pillow to place in a shady spot. Don’t forget to bring plenty of dog food, a favorite toy or two, a Frisbee, and of course, a leash. Most parks will require that your dog be on a leash. Bring a large supply of disposable pet bags so you can clean up after your pet. Before taking your pet camping, be sure they are current on their shots and have taken their heartworm and flea/tick medication. If you plan to take your pet hiking, you may want to consider getting him some hiking boots. (Yes, really!) My Chihuahua has her own hiking backpack with matching boots. She doesn’t get to come on hikes very often anymore because my pug just wasn’t built for hikes and I don’t like leaving her in the camper alone. If it is a warm day, she prefers to hang out in our camper in the air conditioner. If you are taking a short-nosed dog camping, watch for signs of overheating and make sure they are keeping cool. Excessive panting is a warning sign that your pet is overheated – this can lead to heat exhaustion. The cooler fall weather should be perfect for your flat-faced pug or bulldog, but keep an eye on them just in case.

6. Make it a family (or friends) event! Most campgrounds have large-group camping areas that can be reserved for groups of 10 or more. This means you can turn your camping trip into a family get-together or a weekend with friends. If you’ve never been camping, this is a great way to “test the waters” because you’ll have plenty of people to rely on and borrow from when you realize you’ve forgotten something important (such as insect repellant or sunscreen). Bring a deck of cards, board games, or organize races – you’ll end up having such a good time it could turn into an annual event.

Camping is a fun, inexpensive way to relax and recharge, so go ahead and enjoy a quick weekend getaway. You’ll come back feeling refreshed and ready to tackle work, school, family, or whatever else the “real world” throws at you.