Having a bad camping experience, especially if it's your first, leaves a negative impression on one of the best ways to enjoy the natural world. That is unfortunate because it is so simple to have a great time. To assist with making your camping trip a fun one, follow these guidelines.
- Reserve your site ahead of time, especially if it's a weekend, a holiday or extremely popular campground. Most prime campgrounds require at least a six-month advance reservation. Check with the campground office before you make the trip.
- Don't duplicate equipment, such as cooking utensils and lanterns. Be sure to pack the necessities, but don't load the vehicle for a weeklong excursion, when you're camping for only a couple nights.
- Dress appropriately for the season. Be aware of the forecasted temperatures and possible precipitation. If you will be camping at a higher elevation than your home, pack warmer clothing than what you have been wearing around your neck of the woods. Rain jackets are a must each camping trip, as is an extra rain tarp to throw over your tent if a leak develops. Rain can ruin a happy camping trip quicker than anything, unless you're prepared.
- Set tent on a level surface. Even if you're pitching your tent on a naturally soft material such as leaves, pine needles or thick grasses, lay down a tarp first to protect the tent floor and impede moisture. But before laying the tarp, pick up any small sticks and rocks that will damage the tent floor and create big problems for campers sleeping on the ground without a sleep pad.
- Use a sleeping pad — or two — as a comfortable night's sleep catapults the camper into the day refreshed. Not only will a sleeping pad provide comfort, it will provide warmth from the cool ground in the spring, fall and winter. Air mattresses provide a lift off of the ground, but they also are not as warm as sleeping pads, as the air space between camper and floor allow heat to escape.
- If you use the bathroom several times at night, plan ahead before waking and stumbling around in the dark. Keep a flashlight, toilet paper and hand sanitizing gel at your sleeping bag's side. When nature calls, you will be ready to go. Just be sure you know exactly where the bathroom is located and the obstacles along the way before the potty trip starts.
- If you are not walking into a primitive campsite, and you have ample space in the vehicle, pack a few extra snacks. A few extra things to snack on during a rain-delay at camp will keep most campers happy — especially young campers. Also throw a couple games or magazines in the packing efforts to keep campers entertained until the rain moves on.