What to Wear
When putting together all the little things, make a checklist. Those who prefer to fly by the seat of their pants (Lists!? We don't need no stinkin’ lists!) will enjoy a weekend of scratching because they forgot the insect repellent. A ten minute brainstorm over a camping equipment list is far less annoying than two days of, “Honey, I thought you packed that!”
The Fashion Conscious Camper
Clothing obviously depends on season and location. Generally, over-prepare the wardrobe. Bring clothes for temperatures about fifteen degrees cooler and hotter than expected. Hot summer days quickly become chilly summer nights, those without a light jacket hunch over the campfire and let one side roast while the other freezes. Campground clothing should be loose and roomy. Who wants to sit around a campfire, toast marshmallows and be pinched by skin-tight jeans?
T-shirts or pullover shirts usually suffice for summer camping. Fabric choice depends on the type of camping. For civilized campgrounds, regular cotton clothing works. However, for rustic or primitive camping, cotton is the worst clothing choice. Cotton is an excellent conductor of heat and absorbs enormous quantities of water. A wet T-shirt after being caught in a rainstorm while on a hike quickly draws body heat away. Sometimes this can lead to hypothermia.
Bring some type of hat, a baseball cap or sun had works well. During the day, campers are in the sun and need the protection from sunstroke. For sleepwear, the most comfortable choice is a pair of long underwear. Also, don’t forget the swimwear.
Shorts are appropriate for some camping, but not all. If camping in a developed area, wear loose shorts with plenty of pockets for insect repellent, a pocket knife and tissue. For those planning to leave civilization and wander the wilderness, wear long pants like jeans. The tough denim protects against grasping thorn bushes and critters. However, the same cotton warning applies to pants as shirts. For remote camping situations, avoid cotton.
The single most important item in tent camping is rain gear. On every camping trip, without fail, one day or afternoon it rains. A poncho is a convenient, short term solution to a drippy day. The upper body stays dry for a quick trip to the bathroom or to prepare food. One quick tip, make sure the hood is dry before pulling it over your head, otherwise a hood-full of water dumps down your back. A poncho’s weakness is lower body protection. When hiking or moving about, legs brush against the bottom of the poncho and, from the shins down, quickly become soaked. A solution would be rain pants under the poncho, or a rain parka and pants. The poncho and pants combination works well for rain hikes (don’t groan, rain hikes with the right gear can be fun) since it combines the roominess and ventilation of a poncho with full body water protection. For infrequent campers, cheap, plastic raingear is enough. More regular campers, however, should consider nylon raingear as it snags and tears less than plastic.
Camping has its own unique footwear requirements. When hiking, obviously, choose a comfortable pair of waterproof hiking boots with a deep tread. The lacing should bind the feet and ankles to protect against turning. A pair of fluffy wool socks keeps feet dry and pampered. Break in a new pair of hiking boots before the camping trip. Blisters are much easier to handle at home. For the campsite, a pair of gym shoes or other comfortable footwear works well. Keep a pair of sandals near the tent door for midnight bathroom breaks.
Bring a few extra days worth of clothes, especially socks, in case of an unexpected rainstorm or clothes get dirty.
When packing the heaping mounds of clothing stacked on the bed, a large duffel bag works best. Roll clothes into a cylinder to conserve space and make retrieval easier later. Obviously, leave the ironed shirts at home. Put the larger items like jeans and sweatshirts at the ends and pack the small underwear and sock rolls in the center. At the campsite, this arrangement keeps clothing accessible without digging through a bag and making a mess. Each camper should have their own bag for convenience. Bring a large dirty laundry bag, a garbage bag will do, to keep the tent interior as neat and tidy and possible.
The Little Extras
With camping, as with everything else, the devil is in the details. Often, the difference between a camping vacation and a great camping vacation lie in the little things.
Most first-time campers don’t think to bring a book or board games, but, on a rainy day, they save a vacation. An afternoon in the tent over a challenging chess board while listening to the raindrops on the canvas ceiling beats the best meditation techniques.
Every camper should have their own toiletry bag with a toothbrush, soap and shampoo. Individual bags allow each camper to work on their own schedule without the need to arrange group bathroom trips. Speaking of bathroom trips, bring your own toilet paper. Sometimes campgrounds run out, or they provide the timber-cut variety unfit for sensitive types.
Each camper should also have a first aid kit. Camping stores offer a pre-assembled kit with bandages, antibiotic ointment and, most important, a booklet with instructions.
Firewood needs to be cut down to size. Men wishing to impress their mates can use axes and hatchets, but with children around, a bow-saw is generally safer. Most campgrounds sell pre-cut firewood, but sometimes the hunter-gatherer method is fun. Use dry, dead limbs on the ground, don’t cut down a live tree. It destroys the scenery, and live trees have too much sap to burn well anyway. Prepare a stack of firewood during the day, flashlight gathering usually leads to bumps and bruises.
For campsite comfort, bring folding chairs to set around the campfire. A hammock strung between two trees provides the best mid-day nap. An extra tarp and rope, with a bit of ingenuity, builds an outdoor rain and sun shield.
The best entertainment, especially for children, or adults who refuse to grow up, requires only rope. If camping near woods, study lashing and knot tying with the kids before leaving. While on the vacation, make homemade camp chairs or a tree fortress with logs. The only limit is imagination, but be sure to disassemble your creations before returning home; the next people to use the campsite want to enjoy nature, not your engineering prowess.
Campsite lighting, like the firewood, should be prepared during the day. Indoor lighting should always be electrical, unless your tent-mates enjoy propane fumes. The best lighting for outdoor use is either an electric or propane lantern. One word of caution; unless you enjoy the company of moths, put the lanterns away from the center of activity.
Many models of propane lanterns exist on the market today, but keep it simple for initial camping experiences. Basically, a lantern, propane canister, mantles and a match. The mantle is a cloth mesh that ties onto the ends of the gas line in the lantern. Burn the mantles until they are a fine ash held together by magic. When lighting the lantern, follow the manufacturers instructions.
With the proper planning and preparation, family camping offers a low cost, unique vacation option. Here are two final items to include on the camping checklist – duct tape and mosquito repellent.
Reprinted from Woodall's Monthly Regional RV/Camping Publications.