A great many people, and more all the time, live their entire lives without ever once sleeping out under the stars.Alan S. Kesselheim
A campfire provides warmth to the otherwise cold night at camp and where all the conversation and storytelling begins. We talked about everything and anything under the stars and formulated plenty of adventure ideas and travel plans around the campfire. There is something about the smell of the crackling wood and the embers from the fire that keeps us entranced. The warmth is soothing and relaxing, typically ensuring a good night’s sleep.
Growing up in Malaysia, I was never an adventurous child. Hiking and camping were never on my radar. Although, I did hike up a mountain and camp during a high school trip, and all I remembered was how uncomfortable it was. Living in the Pacific Northwest of the United States has allowed me to appreciate the beauty and the quietness of the outdoors when stopping at roadside viewpoints is no longer enough. Reading about those beautiful places and seeing the pictures in social media and magazines were huge motivations for us to start exploring. When our kids were younger, we would pack up the car and make our annual camping trip with our friends in the summer. Although, I always felt I needed a vacation after the trip because of all the things we were packing, unpacking, loading, and unloading. Oh, and let us not forget about all the washing and cleaning afterward. Therefore, at the time I was in a love-hate relationship with camping. Over the years, with the help of our outdoorsy friends, we had streamlined this process and started to enjoy camping. In this post, I will share some of our experiences specific to car camping and hope to inspire you to start your camping tradition. There are many ways to camp, and traditionally camping involves sleeping in a tent staked to the ground, and cooking outside. We have camped in established campgrounds, dispersed campsites, private, state-operated, or National Forest land. If you are a beginner, I would suggest car camping in an established campground, which means camping at a place where you can drive your car right to your campsite, and with amenities like flushing toilets, water, and hot showers nearby. You can also choose to set up a tent or sleep in your car.
Looking for a campsite can be a daunting task if you have no idea where to look. First, decide on the area you want to visit, then start your research for available campgrounds and campsites. For established campgrounds, I usually start with the state park website for the state we intend to visit. Most state park websites are easy to navigate with all the campgrounds listed as a list or on a map. There will be information about the campgrounds and available amenities, opening dates (not all campgrounds open year-round), site availabilities and whether they are reservable, etc. Next, I would search the National Park and National Forest campgrounds. These campgrounds are typically smaller, with or without water and usually a vault toilet or if you are lucky, a flushing toilet, and with no shower, and most are first come first serve sites with no or only seasonal reservation available. There is also free dispersed camping that you can drive up in national forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, but there are usually no comfort amenities, and I would not recommend doing this if it is your first time camping.
It is important to carefully read the description of the campgrounds and the campsites you choose. In this section you will find information about the condition of the site, such as the size of the space and the tent pad, whether it is on a flat surface or a slope, exposed or shaded. The campsite on a flat surface is important to me because we sleep in our van, and I want to make sure the ground is leveled. I recently read a warning about high wind in a campground and tents are not recommended. Hence, very important to read all the information so you would not be disappointed. Most, if not all campsites will list the number of people, tents, and cars allowed on the site (in case you want to share the site with friends and family). During the hot and dry summer days, burn bans are common, which means no open fire is allowed. You can find this information on the campground website or call the office before heading out there. If you like your showers, you will want to check if you need to bring money or it is free. Sometimes, potable water may not be available in the campground, which means you would need to bring your own water supply.
Congratulations! Now that you have found and booked your campsite. You can start planning for the trip. The first step is to have a checklist that includes all the gears and supplies you would need to pack with you. I use checklists and itineraries all the time to keep myself organized. I would print out my checklist before each camping trip and update the list as needed after each trip. REI has an easy-to-use checklist to get you started. Here are a few suggestions from my experience.
- As a beginner, you have the option to buy or rent your camping gear. Check with your local outdoor specialty stores for rental information.
- Learn how to use all the camping equipment and practice setting up your tent before leaving your house.
- Research your camp area and print out your reservation if needed. There is no cell service or internet access in most campgrounds. It is also good practice to download a map of the area with Google Map so you can get directions to any of the fun destinations when cell service is not available. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of the parks require entry permits. Therefore, prior research and reservation will ensure that you can get to those places without any issues.
- A well-insulated cooler will go a long way when camping, keeping your food at a safe temperature. I usually prep our meals before the trip and freeze them whenever possible. I recently started a list of easy-to-make camp meals and trying my best to use just one pot for cooking. I would either warm up our pre-cooked meals or assemble all the pre-cut ingredients for a quick meal. This new process had effectively decreased our time spent cooking and washing dishes.
- Securing your food from wildlife is often overlooked by a lot of people. Birds, squirrels, rats, raccoons, and even bears can be seen at the campgrounds, depending on where you are. Some campgrounds provide metal containers for food storage, and you should never leave food unattended. Keep them in a secured/locked cooler or tie them with a rope and/or place them in your car. I recommend not to store any food in your tent. Keeping your site clean will keep any uninvited guests away.
Camping is a fun way to enjoy yourself in the outdoors. The days seem longer because you would wake up early, often right after sunrise or when the birds chirp. You might even want to wake up earlier to catch the sunrise, take a sunset walk or wait for the stars to make an appearance. If allowed, a campfire would be a perfect ending to an adventurous day. Where will you be camping this summer?