Camping season is almost upon us and I am starting to finalize my yearly retreats to the woods. While I like to think of myself as a seasoned camper I often find myself learning from each trip I take.
I have been camping since I was born. To clarify, when I say I have been camping since I was born, I mean that my parents had a permanent campsite in Door County about 20 minutes from our house, since I was born. My parents started with a pop-up and then eventually upgraded to a pull behind that never left our campsite. We spent every weekend growing up making side pork and corn over the fire, many miles of riding bikes, and making new friends. While it was camping, I grew up spending my summers in a mini home not far from a pool, game room, and ice cream stand. So yes it was camping, but not “camping.” Not the type of camping where you pack everything and everybody in the car for an hour drive to unpack it all and pray you didn’t forget anything. Also hope that the campground has at least one shower with hot water and it’s even better if you don’t have to pay to use those showers.
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As I got older camping changed drastically. I purchased my first tent while I was in college from Menards and thought all I needed was an air mattress, sleeping bag, flashlight, dry wood, and lighter to enjoy a weekend in the woods. Oh, boy was I wrong. I have compiled a list of the five most helpful tips and tricks for new campers, that I wish I would have known.
Tip Number 1: You can never have too many tarps!
I love camping and yet it seems that every time we head out to the woods at least one big storm comes through the campground. We always think the two tarps we have will be enough to go under the tent, but we still have a puddle that magically shows up. And we should have brought a tarp to cover the wood because we always end up with wet wood along with our wet clothes. Another tarp is nice to string up in the tree to create a canopy to keep us and our stuff dry while it is drizzling. We currently have three tarps but we will be increasing our tarp supply before we venture out into the woods this year. Luckily they can be folded up nice and small.
Tip Number 2: Pack Light
A few years ago I went camping with my best friend, April, on Rock Island State Park in Door County. To get to the campground you have to take the ferry to Washington Island and then you have to catch another ferry that will take you and your camping supplies to Rock Island. When you arrive at the little dock, the two ferry workers take everyone’s things out of the boat and onto the dock. You then have to gather all of your supplies and walk to your site. Not a short walk either. We had about a half-mile walk, while other sites were all the way across the island. The island only has rustic campsites too, so no running water or electricity. April and I had never rustic camped before so it was a new experience for us and we learned a lot. We learned that if you have to walk to your site don’t bring a tent that weighs 40 pounds plus all of our other gear. We also learned to leave the two kayaks and folding chairs at home. I believe the only thing that we did pack lightly on was our clothes and food. For food, April ate grilled hot dogs, and at the time I was a vegetarian, so I ate a cold black bean, corn, and rice mixture. It was not good. But I had to eat it because we couldn’t drive or walk to a restaurant or grocery store to pick up something else. We still joke about our Rock Island camping trip and about how much we overpacked and my horrible food. We learned a lot about rustic camping that weekend. The next time we take a trip to Rock Island, we will be bringing our hammocks and leaving the kayaks at home.
Tip Number 3: Save your dryer lint
Starting a fire is almost an art. Well, when you don’t use lighter fluid. You need to stack your wood just right. I believe I have perfected the log cabin wood stacking technique. Then you need to make sure you have enough small sticks, leaves, dry grass, or pine cones to help the fire startup. However, you don’t need to buy a special campfire fire starter or save your newspapers to get our kindling burning. We use dryer lint. That’s right, don’t toss away your dryer crumbs, save them and bring them camping. The lint catches fast and can be shoved into all of the nooks and crannies of the wood and bark. Don’t spend your money, just repurpose what you already have plenty of, dryer lint!
Tip Number 4: Plan Early
Campgrounds fill up fast! Every year I say I’m going to start planning a camping trip at the start of the new year, but of course, I wait until March after we have received all of the weddings save the dates. By that time all of the state parks and popular campgrounds are full. State park camping is my favorite because one, the sites are normally more reasonable, and two they have more hiking trails, bike trails, and I feel like I’m escaping from my everyday life. State parks though, fill up the fastest. In fact, I am trying to plan a camping trip to Munising Michigan this summer for the end of August, and we are having a hard time finding a site. I have spent over two hours looking for campsites in the area and I still don’t have a reservation. So next year, I am going to make it my New Year resolution to plan all of my camping trips in January. Where is your favorite campground? Let me know in the comments below, I will add it to my must-camp spots.
Tip Number 5: Multi-Use Wins!
The best multi-use find we have is a handheld lantern that has a fan and can be hung from the ceiling or propped up on a table. It’s battery-operated and lasts for hours. This lantern+fan has been a lifesaver when we are camping. The light is bright and lights up the tent while the fan keeps us cool on those hot nights.
Another great multi-use camping product is a compact solar power light and phone charger. Yes, another lantern. When I go camping, it’s normally a nonelectric tent site, because those are all the sites left when we finally pick a weekend, so the more lighting options we have the better and the bathroom is always a short walk from our site. This compact solar-powered light is perfect for camping because it deflates to fit into any bag and it has a USB port so we can charge our phones, the only electronic you really need when your camping, well except flashlights.
And of course, you can’t forget your multi-tool or swiss army knife. Our multi-tool has saved our butts so many times. Especially when we pick up craft beers and sodas that aren’t twist-offs. The little knife is perfect for sharpening sticks for roasting marshmallows and making hotdogs.
Now that you know about my favorite camping accessories, tips, and tricks, I hope you can take an adventure to the great outdoors this summer, even if you are just pitching your tent in your backyard.