There are few things that impact family vacations quite as much as being prepared, and on no trip is preparation more key than on a camping trip. It’s one thing to have to call the front desk to replace the toothbrush you forgot to bring on your urban adventure. (“Yes. Thank you. Please deliver one to room 204. And do you have blue?”) It’s quite another to share a sleeping bag at 8,500 feet because yours got left behind. Camping trips are the stuff of which memories—and sometimes legends—are made. Here are some tips for making your next foray into the great outdoors a success.
Being well-prepared is probably more important in camping than in other family activities because it’s so much more difficult to run to the store for things you might have forgotten. To help avoid lengthy backtracking, create a master checklist of items you need, use, and want. Take into account everything from menu items to medications, and group items into like categories. For one of the most extensive checklists I’ve ever found, visit http://www.lovetheoutdoors.com/camping/Checklists.htm. If you prepare according to this list, you’ll be set to survive in the great outdoors for approximately a year. You may also want to add a pack of pens and a pad of paper to your equipment.
To create your home away from home, you need the right equipment and the right tools. Here are some things to remember as you collect your supplies:
- Include all equipment needs on a checklist.
- Store equipment in bins or specialty carriers grouped by category (e.g. personal care, cooking utensils, hardware). You can also color-code your boxes for easy recognition. Our family designates green for kitchen and cooking items, light blue for personal care items, and dark blue for hardware items. Creating camping boxes accomplishes at least two purposes:
- Having items divided by category makes equipment easier to find.
- When you decide to go camping, you can just grab the boxes and go rather than having to collect equipment every time.
My favorite containers for camping boxes are heavy-duty Rubbermaid totes. You could also use Rubbermaid Action Packers, which are configured for padlocks, or Outdoor’s modular camp organizer (http://www.campmor.com/outdoor/gear/Product___90548).
- Keep a master list of items in each of your containers so you can note what you run out of and restock before the next adventure or so you can add items you wish you would have had with you.
- Consider taking a 3–4 person tent to use specifically as an equipment tent for things like your camping boxes, coolers, paper products, craft supplies, etc. Having a separate tent for these items will help you keep a cleaner campsite and make it easier for you to find what you need when you need it.
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The reality of camping is that you may not fully enjoy yourself if you have to eat s’mores for every meal (unless, of course, you’re between the ages of 4 and 14 or you really, really love s’mores). To make your menu part of the camping mystique, here are some guidelines:
- Make a menu and review each meal to determine any and all ingredients and the equipment needed to prepare the meal.
- Separate your meal ingredients according to food type. This is especially helpful within your cooler(s). If you categorize your food, you won’t let cold air escape your coolers by opening them over and over, and it will simply be easier to find what you need.
- Remove all food items stored in coolers from cardboard packaging so the cardboard doesn’t get soaked by melting ice.
- Store small items like butter, yogurt, etc., in plastic shoeboxes inside the cooler.
Be familiar with the area where you’re headed so you can be prepared for the available activities or so you can create your own fun. And remember the map! Also make sure to let someone know where you’re going for safety purposes.
Packing the Car or Trailer
Keep in mind the order in which you set up camp. Put the set-up items you need first into the car last so they’re the easiest to access when you arrive at your camp site. For example, keep the tarp, tent, tent stakes, and equipment camping box near the door or trunk opening so you can access them quickly. Things you might need for nighttime, like the flashlight and everyone’s overnight bags, can be buried farther in.
When you return home, take time to air out the tent and sleeping bags and get everything put away as quickly as possible. This way, you’ll avoid damage to your equipment and clutter in your home or storage area.
Make note of any items you need to restock for the next trip. You can either keep the lists in your camping bins and restock before your next camping trip, or restock right away so you’re ready for your next big adventure.
I hope you enjoy making family memories on your next camping trip and that some of these suggestions will help you all be happy campers!