Want to make your camping trip go smoothly? Plan ahead for your campsite set-up. If you haven’t been camping in a while, consider doing a dry run with your tent and other camping components. If you have a backyard, start there. If you don’t have a backyard, borrow a friend’s or book a site at a local campground or recreation facility and give it a try. For fun and as a teaching tool, have someone video the process, including the dismantling and storing of tent pieces. If possible, don’t just set up the tent, but stay overnight (or take a nap!) and cook a meal.
If you decide to skip the trial process, plan to arrive early at your destination campground. This will give you some leisure to set up your campsite in an orderly manner. In all likelihood everything will go smoothly and the extra time will be enjoyed sitting around your campfire.
Speaking of your campfire, one aspect of camping that actually is best left until the last minute is firewood. While it’s economical to bring the bulk of your food and dry supplies from home, the one thing you definitely want to buy on-site or nearby is firewood. New England’s forests are under siege by a variety of tree-eating insects (learn more here); federal, state and private industry foresters are working to isolate and control these pests. Click here to locate places to buy firewood near your campsite. Consider packing a “campfire” tote, a sturdy canvas bag, fireproof gloves, matches, some fire starting blocks, and some small fireplace tools (your hardware store will have these near woodstove supplies.) An open, natural fiber, tote bag is suggested over a closed box in case you decide to bring any item that requires ventilation.
A few other ideas to help make your tent-site comfortable over a long weekend:
- Unless you are skilled at cooking over a wood fire, you may wish to bring a small gas or charcoal grill, too. It takes a while for a wood fire to reach cooking temperatures, generally only after a deep bed of coals has been achieved. Many experienced campers have the campfire for entertainment but use a cooking-specific stove to prepare meals.
- Pack two big coolers: one that you plan to open only infrequently, for “deep freeze” items, including blocks of ice and pre-frozen food for consumption such as frozen chili, frozen squeezable yogurt, milk, frozen hot dogs and hamburgers, plus frozen rolls and bread. Use a separate, well-labeled cooler, chilled by blocks of ice that you can replace at the camp store, for less temperature-sensitive items such as fruit, fruit salads and slaws, condiments, personal water bottles and recreational beverages.
- A small toolbox is an asset to any car camping trip. In addition to the basic tools, it’s a great idea to include a roll of good duct tape, some masking or painter’s tape and several large, bold markers, for labeling everything from coolers to storage totes.
- Everyone in the group should have a flashlight. If the flashlights are not solar-rechargeable then you need to bring extra batteries.
- Make sure that every cellphone and other electronic device has a means for recharging. If the car is going to serve as the giant battery charging station; are there enough charging converters/cords for every device to charge at the same time? Bring enough high quality ziplock bags for every cell phone and tablet.
- Be sure to pack some non-electronic entertainment, such as books, playing cards and board games.
- Clothing and laundry: If you are camping for just a few days, bring plastic bags for dirty clothes. If you are on a longer camping trip, use the plastic bags to pre-sort laundry, so that when you go do the laundry room you can easily pop the clothes into their respective washers: separated by temperature, fabric weight and/or colorfastness. Possibly bring a clean tote for clean clothes.
- Camp sandals and lots of socks (not worn together): They say an army wins a war on its feet. Pack as many pairs of socks as you think you need, and then thrown in another pair or two. You will never regret having warm, dry socks. And you may want to bring sport sandals for around the campground.
While you are kicking back around the campfire, take a minute to take stock of your situation. What could you have done better? What are you missing? What did you over-pack? Have some fun with this, as with the tent set-up process, a video can add some humor to this recreational debriefing, or keep a camping journal and write your ideas there. The video or journal becomes part of your family lore and legend.