Before You Go Camping

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Last week, I wrote an article about taking your family on your first camping trip. If you read it and still want to learn more, you are either an adventurer or crazy or both. Let’s just assume the last, and why not? The most fun families are a little crazy, right? This week I want to talk about a few important things you should take into consideration, before you go camping.

The past four years, our family has gone on more than 50 camping trips. This doesn’t make me an expert on camping, not by a long shot, but it does prove that even after getting off to a bad start, you can have a lot of fun camping. Not every trip has been perfect. We’ve had a few flat tires, poison ivy and some other things go wrong, but in the end, camping has been an immeasurable blessing to our family.

So, assuming you are still interested in taking your family on that first camping trip, there are a few things that you need to do before you load up the kids, dogs, and the pet turtle.

Equipment

Obviously, before you can go camping, you will need some sort of shelter, maybe some extra clothes, and perhaps even some food. Otherwise you are just a campground loiterer. But, what do you take? Do you need to spend hundreds, or maybe even thousands of dollars on equipment? Nope! You can get started really inexpensively, maybe even free, if you have a friend who will loan you their equipment.

Lets go over what you will need!

The Bare Necessities

  • Shelter – Obviously you will need something to sleep in. If it’s cold, you will need it to keep warm, and if it’s wet, well, you get the point. What do you need though? Tents are a good place to start, but you can sleep in a van or SUV if there’s room. You can even spend the night in the bed of a pickup truck like More Love Mama and I did one night a hundred years ago in the Colorado foothills. There was a shell on the truck bed, so we weren’t concerned about getting cold or wet or being attacked by Big Foot.
  • The most logical thing to do though, is purchase an inexpensive tent that is rated for the size of your family. You should be able to find one for well under $100. We camped in an eight person tent for 2 years and it provided plenty of room. One option that I would highly recommend is buying one of those “instant tents” that you can put up in less than five minutes. They are not much more expensive (if at all), and are well worth it.
  • Food – You will most definitely need a cooler to keep your food and drinks cold. I bet you already have one of those.
  • That is literally all the equipment that you need in order to go camping. You probably have bedding and suitcases for your changes of clothing. So, if you really want to save money and are willing to eat cold foods like sandwiches and cereal, that is all you absolutely have to have. Of course, you will need to make sure there is a picnic table at your campsite, because sitting on the ground might get old.

A Few Extras

Obviously, you can go camping with the limited equipment that I listed above, but the likelihood that you will enjoy yourself will go up exponentially if you include the items on this list:

  • Tarp – Lay a tarp under your tent to keep moisture from seeping in through the floor.
  • Air Mattresses or Cots – Only if you like to sleep more than a few minutes per night.
  • Camping Chairs – The best part of camping to me, is sitting around a campfire……in a chair.
  • Fans or Portable Heaters – Make camping much more comfortable, and don’t forget the extension cords.
  • Cooking Grate or Camp Stove and Cooking Accessories – Cooking is a big part of the camping experience for me. Nothing beats burgers, sausages, steaks, or whatever you like, cooked on an open camp fire. We have both a cook stove and cooking grate. We use the cooking grate much more often than the cooking stove. That’s why God invented the fire pit! We also use a dutch oven on almost every trip. I just stick it in the fire pit to make everything from beans and rice, to tortellini and pasta sauce.
  • Obviously, this list could go on forever, but these are the basics that you will need to be comfortable and to have fun.

When To Go

Depending on where you live, you might camp only in the summer or winter. Here in Texas, I know that some people don’t camp between June and September because it’s too stinking hot. I would imagine people up in Minnesota don’t camp much between November and April. Being too hot or too cold is a really big reason people have a crummy camping experience. If this is your first trip with the family, I wouldn’t go if it’s going to be hotter than 85 degrees during the day or below 40 degrees for a morning low. The biggest reason we moved up from a tent to a trailer was because we grew weary of sweating in our tent during the hot Texas summer nights.

If you are not into crowds, you should definitely stay away from camping during the major holidays. Try making your reservations during the off season or during the middle of the week.

Where To Go

Every state has a state parks system. There are over 95 parks in Texas alone, (this amazing guy want to all of then in one year). State parks are a great place to begin when looking for a camping destinations. Here are a few more considerations:

  • Unless we are making a cross country trip, my family does most of our camping within a three hour radius of our home. Sometimes we go further if we are staying three or more nights.
  • We almost always camp at state parks here in Texas, because almost all of them have nice bathrooms (this can’t be over rated if you are tent camping). Most state parks also have spacious camp sites with level pads, camp fire rings, picnic tables, trash hooks to keep the raccoons out and other amenities like hiking trails and a park store, that make for a better camping experience. There are almost 100 state parks in Texas, and I know that we have stayed camped at least 24 of them (most of them multiple times) over the past four years.
  • In the winter, we prefer to camp in the woods, preferably places that have lots of hiking trails.
  • In the summer,we camp at the beach or on a lake or river. Water is an absolute must for summer camping.
  • Unless you like to haul water, I’d suggest a site with water and unless the temperature is perfect, you will want electricity for your heater or fan

Plan Ahead

Camping has become very popular, so you will need to book your camping site far out in advance. This is especially important if you are going to camp during the weekend or on a holiday. I’m talking months if you want to camp at a state park here in Texas, say during Labor Day Weekend.

Temporary changes in the environment of your chosen campsite may exist, at certain times of the year. For example, some beaches in Texas will be perfect one weekend and buried in tons of Sargasso seaweed a week later. Cicadas and love bugs can also ruin a camping trip. So, be aware of the possibility of something like this happening. Do your research!

If you are planning on camping nearby (which I recommend) you might even want to do a day trip a few weeks ahead of your trip and reconnoiter (that’s a fancy army term for check out) the area where you will be camping. We did this once. We took a day trip and went hiking at a state park nearby. The hiking trails were nice, but the camping area reminded me of a Walmart parking lot. No thanks!

I hope you found the information here to be super useful, and that you are encouraged to give camping a try. Your kids will love it. We have a 100% love camping rate among our six kids, and never agree on anything!

In my next camping post, I will talk about the fun activities you can do while camping. I hope you will join me!

Brian at Daddy Go To Timeout.

P.S.

Please be sure to sign up for Timeout (my newsletter) so that you can have access to my “Nearly Comprehensive Camping Packing List”. It is super helpful, especially if you haven’t been camping in a long time, or ever. I will include the list in my June 16th issue of Timeout, but you can sign up now by clicking on the icon below.

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