Tent camping can be a challenge. Sometimes those challenges increase after you reach a certain age. Let’s face it, when you were a teenager, sleeping on the ground wasn’t as painful the next morning. Even if you are in great shape, lugging camping equipment can be tiresome.
We have been tent camping for many years. I guess we need to qualify that – car camping (meaning park our car and set up the tent). We are not primitive campers because we enjoy the campground experience (for the most part) and most importantly – the amenities.
We look at the campground map in advance (or visit beforehand if possible) to gauge distance to the bathhouse, pool, trails and food. Do they have wood for burning on site? Is there a store, in case I forget bug repellent? We both prefer to have access to some guided trail hikes as well as a good variety of trails (easy to moderate, with a challenging trail thrown in here and there). We prefer some ranger engagement if possible – campfire cooking demos; wildflower hikes, bear safety, etc. Yes, staying away from bears is always on my mind!
Warm weather months are what we prefer. Of course, we check the weather and terrain before we go, but for some reason we sometimes underestimate the cold, heat, rain, critters and other key human comfort factors. We tolerate it – or flee (flee stories in upcoming camping posts}. I have been known to plaster multiple hand/body warmers to my body while Randy searches frantically for them. We have camped during a black fly convention and they wanted repellent for dinner.
We do not have technical camping equipment. I guess we would be considered minimalists. Having said that, there are some creature comforts we cannot camp without. We have a mid-priced six- person tent (for the two of us). I like keeping my essentials within arms reach (again, it’s the bear thing). We have learned from experience to bring a tarp for extra shade, as a wind break and to use as a rain cover for the tent. We purchased a tent fan after suffering through 90+ degree nights and for bug control. Most campgrounds have plenty of light – but I’m obsessed with personal lighting and have several flashlights, a headlamp, a tiny lantern, glow sticks, finger lights….. I could go on. I demand good lighting for that midnight bathhouse trip – to find my way and make sure unwelcome critters are not on the same path.
We generally explore and schedule activities during the day. Do we overestimate how much we can cram in? Yes. Then, it’s back to the site for reading (really, a nap). Purchase the chair you can fall asleep in.
Be sure to follow posted guidelines regarding transporting firewood.
Randy’s Boy Scout skills have waned over the years and I have become the holder of the flame. The teepee method works. Bring a reliable fire starter. We don’t like the chemical starters (yes, we have used them occasionally). I got a great idea on Pinterest using toilet paper rolls and dryer lint. Do we actually cook over the fire? In a word, no. If it fits on a stick, we cook it. I have skewered a chocolate-marshmallow snack cake and toasted it. Of course, sausages with confiscated condiment packs from fast food places are always on the menu.
The fire is our main evening activity. Building it, keeping it going, poking it (me mostly). It’s better than a Netflix binge.
Food and cooking
We usually camp on weekends – one to two nights. If we leave on Friday, we buy ready-made for that night. We always intend to cook at least one meal (see the section on Fire). It’s sort of a tradition to bring a can of Spam for any given meal- that never gets eaten. It’s kind of a running joke and wouldn’t seem right to not bring it.
We pack our cooler mostly with snacks, fruit, sandwich material and drinks. Neither of us like to wash dishes and hey, we are conserving water, right? Mornings are the hardest because we don’t have a camping ready coffee maker. It’s on our list of things to get. Instant doesn’t cut it and a hot cup of coffee is not always available nearby. What really happens? As long as we are driving out for coffee, we may as well get breakfast! After all these years, we are still working on this campfire cooking thing.
Ice up your cooler with some “clean” ice for drinks. We really got tired of picking bugs out of the ice for drinks.
Always follow state and federal guidelines regarding alcoholic beverages. If not, don’t get caught!
Privately owned vs. state or national campsites:
Check the “quiet hours” at the campground, if they have any. State and national campgrounds have similar quiet times while privately owned sites may not enforce theirs or have any at all. Don’t expect those guidelines to be followed to the letter if there are special events such as a concert, dance or other late gatherings. It takes a while for the kids to get settled after activity. Bring earplugs and a eye mask, if needed. If you’re not a light sleeper – no problem. We like hearing everyone talk about the day’s activities and chatter before bedtime. We pick up some of the best gossip.
Ask ahead about the toilet, shower and water access beforehand. Some showers are free to campers but we encountered pay showers at a national park in Virginia . We had no quarters and the store was closed. We now keep a supply of baby wipes available. You may need to ask about washing dirty dishes as well (doesn’t apply to us). Don’t assume you can throw the dirty water anywhere.
So why tent camping?
Does it sound like we enjoy tent camping? We do. We stay in a variety of accommodations – cabins, lodges, hotels, teepees, treehouses and so on. But tent camping takes us back to something we both had in our childhood. A simple experience. We count the stars at night, listen to the sounds of nature, watch campers catch lightening bugs. The fire dies out as the smoke trails to the heavens. We have conversations around the fire about everything and nothing. Laugh about the day and ourselves. It makes us part of a bigger community – nature, the outdoors, the universe. This year, more than ever, we are eager to hit the road and enjoy some freedom.
The comforts of a “camper” would be great if we didn’t have to maintain it, store it and hook it up. I’m not sure I want to navigate a camper over mountains, narrow roads and crowded towns. Tent camping speaks to our nomadic side and freedom to travel light.
We will continue this camping conversation with some of our favorite (and not so favorite) places to camp. We are planning some new adventures this year in some unique locations in West Virginia and beyond.