“My parents never took me camping. You know why? Because they loved me.” –Jim Gaffigan
This weekend, my family went camping at Devil’s Lake, a fantastic state park. The kids are eight and ten, and we went with four other families. There was one toddler, one 12-year-old and four other kids in between (I think, they kept moving and were hard to count).
We had a good time. You can, too. Here’s how…
Go with friends.
Especially if you have kids, being with other people makes camping way more fun. Otherwise, you’ll have this vague sense that everyone else in the world is at home, dry, bug-free, just the right temperature, and in their beds (which they are). Also, a large group allows for flexibility—small kids do one thing, big kids another, adults can go for a big hike if they want.
Find your spot.
If you find a good campsite, book it for the same weekend next year as soon as you get home. It’s fun to know where stuff is and to show up to something familiar. Get tips from campy friends who know good sites.
Keep it simple.
This was the simplest camping trip we ever did. Our friends Dawn and Derek were kind of the ringleaders and we mooched off their fire (and sometimes their food). We didn’t have a potholder, spatula, bread knife, or dish basin. We filled our water bottle, ate super simple meals, and hung out all low-stress-like. When you’re asking yourself, “Should I bring this?”, you shouldn’t (unless it’s on this list).
Meals are key.
To carry on the simplicity theme, here’s what we ate: veggie and bean tostadas (just warm up beans), bagels (toast in a pan and add cream cheese), PB and J wraps (tortillas travel better than bread), and a huge pot of communal chili. Our new friend, Heather, blew our minds by prepping cheesy bacon baked potatoes and breakfast burritos at home, wrapping them in foil, and then passing them around. Prep it at home and make your time in the woods even more chill. Bring plenty of gorp and granola bars, too. Even better? Make sure Heather is on your camping trip.
You know what you need to sleep well. Make it happen. I screwed up this time by forgetting pillows. So we used an old backpacker trick—shove a bunch of clothes in your sleeping bag stuff sack. The cheap foam sleep pads do well. I’ve had too many of those sinister blow up mattresses leave me on the ground by morning. And go to sleep early—the kids in the next site will be playing badminton by 7am (this happened, from the site next to us that was not part of our group).
Bring chairs and hammocks.
Campground picnic tables are instruments of torture. (Click to tweet this.)
Fire it up.
You need to have enough wood. A fire is a cheery gathering point. No fire and camping feels awfully sad awfully fast. You can transport it far, as you might move around bugs that will decimate that lovely forest you’re camping in. So buy lots and buy local. Plus, having a fire makes you feel kind of primal, like Bear Grylls.
While fun, you don’t need 95% of that crap.
How do you enjoy camping more? Share your tips in the comments.