For the next few nights, this is your home away from home, so it’s important to know what to expect when you arrive at your campsite. Generally, campsites are outfitted with a table and fire pit. Shared facilities can range from ‘rustic’ (an outhouse and running water) to ‘developed’ (flushing toilets and paid showers). Knowing what’s available at the campsite will help you plan appropriately.
The first bit of advice we can give is that you should arrive at camp early. Without the light pollution of the city, night can fall very quickly, and in very little time, you’ll be doing everything in the dark. This is especially important if you’re camping in a valley. The sun can set below the mountain ranges as early as 4pm, which leaves you with very little time to get your camp set up.
Let’s get this camp up and running!
Step 1: Shelter
Selecting the right placement of your tent should not be overlooked. It’s not about the best view, it’s about being comfortable. Save the view for when you’re outside of the tent.
- Scan for rocks and roots, and move anything that can poke holes in the tent floor.
- If there is a chance of rain, be aware of any slope that might funnel water in your tent’s direction. You can dig a trench around your tent with channels to direct the water away from the opening.
- Use the rainfly. The walls of tents will draw heavy dew or rain inside if they’re touched. Adding the rainfly tot he tent will help keep the sides of the tent dry.
- Pitch the tent away from where you store food. Animals love sneaking into campsites at night, and you’d rather they focus on the table, not the tent.
- NEVER keep food or toiletries in your tent. Again, animals will go wherever they want to get food.
- DO NOT, IN ANY CIRCUMSTANCE, BRING LANTERNS OR OTHER DEVICES THAT USE FUEL INTO THE TENT. THERE IS A SIGNIFICANT RISK OF CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING AND COMBUSTION THAT CAN LEAD TO SERIOUS INJURIES OR DEATH.
Step 2: Cooking
Getting your outside kitchen set up while it’s still light is going to make your life a lot easier come dinner time.
- Have a lantern dedicated to the stove area. Once night hits, access to light is going to be in high demand, and you’re not going to want to fight others for a lantern if they need to go off to the facilities.
- Assemble the stove early. You don’t need to attach the fuel, but having it nearby is a good idea. DO NOT KEEP EXTRA FUEL BY THE STOVE OR FIRE.
- Put all unused food and food items in the suggested bins. For example, if you’re camping in bear country, you’re site will likely have bear bins designed to prevent wild animals from raiding your food. Keeping food in cars is a bad idea. Bears have been known to find their way into lock cars if there’s something good in them.
Step 3: Fire
This is probably the most anticipated part of camping. Campfire songs, marshmallows, and ghost stories are what we think of, but remember that starting a fire can be remarkably more complex than it would appear.
- Always bring your own wood. You don’t know the availability or quality of firewood at camp, and in most developed campsites, park rangers and fellow campers don’t want you collecting firewood from the area.
- Find a way to keep the wood dry. Mountain air especially can have heavy dew at night, which will hinder your ability to get a nice fire going.
- Have a variety of sizes of wood prepared before nightfall. We go over this more in our videos, but it’s easier to get a fire lit by starting with smaller pieces of wood that won’t require a lot of heat to ignite. Once the fire is established, you can slowly add bigger pieces of wood.
- Ensure that there is at least a 5 foot radius around your fire that is free of anything combustible.
- YOU DON’T NEED A BONFIRE. A medium fire will be plenty to keep you warm before you head into the tent for the night.
- NEVER LEAVE A FIRE UNATTENDED.
Step 4: Sleeping
Your comfort at night will dictate how much you enjoy camping. Knowing the climate, general weather, and the forecast before you head out will help you select the right gear for the trip.
- Sleeping bags come in two general styles: Rectangular and Mummy.
- Rectangle – as the name suggests, the sleeping bag is rectangular giving more room at the shoulders. This is a good design for those who have a hard time sleeping on their back. Rectangular sleeping bags don’t typically have as low of a temperature rating than mummy bags; however, in most cases, they will be sufficient.
- Mummy – these bags have a taper toward the head and are great for back sleepers. Most have a hood with a drawstring that can close the opening around the face, giving you the most protection from the cold. Mummy bags typically have lower temperature rating than rectangular sleeping bags.
- Always pick a sleeping bag with a temperature rating lower than the foretasted low for your trip. If the sleeping bag says it’s good to 20 degrees, don’t expect to be comfortable in 20 degree weather. Pick something closer to 0 degrees. It’s a lot easier to cool down than to get warm.
- Sleeping bag liners and pillows are often overlooked when planning, but they can be an added bit of warmth and comfort that will make your friends jealous.
- No matter how thorough you are about clearing the ground of any rocks, a good sleeping pad is well worth the money. It’s amazing how you’ll feel every little pebble without one.