If you're looking for something fun and adventurous to do for your last summer vacation, camping can be an exciting and easy weekend getaway. In fact, camping can be as easy or a complicated as you want it to be. You can travel to a faraway locale, or stay as close to home as your own backyard. You can spend the night in a lodge with homelike amenities, or you can eschew home comforts entirely and rough it in a tent. No matter where or how you choose to camp, becoming one with nature as you gaze up at the stars is something that everyone should experience at least once in life.
While camping is a fun and a memorable Labor Day weekend getaway, it does take some planning beforehand. The further away from civilization you go, the more items you will need to pack and the more planning ahead you will need to do to make sure you don't leave behind anything essential. When it comes to packing for your trip, "essential" is really the key word. Concentrate on those things that you cannot make it through the weekend without. There are a few things that are not strictly necessary but help you to enjoy your trip, such as cameras, binoculars, and outdoor games, but bringing a lot of nonessential items will detract from the experience and take up a lot of room in your car. Remember, too, that anything you take with you, you need to bring back.
The best items to have on your camping supply list fall under five main categories: food, water, clothing, shelter and bedding, and safety.
Part of the fun of camping is preparing your own meals outdoors, whether that be over a campfire, in a Dutch oven, or on a camp stove. However, when you're thinking about what kinds of food to bring, there are two important ideas to keep in mind: preparation and preservation. The resources available to you to prepare meals in the woods are limited, so don't bring anything that's too difficult to prepare. While it may not be possible to avoid perishable foods altogether, keep foods that require refrigeration to a minimum and be prepared to store them at an appropriate temperature in an ice chest.
For meals and snacks, ideal camp foods are those that do not require refrigeration and are portable. Here are some examples of foods that travel well:
- Granola bars or breakfast bars
- Trail mix (also known as "gorp")
- Fresh fruits with a reasonably long shelf life, such as apples, oranges, or pears
- Peanut butter
- Carrot sticks
- Juice boxes and bottled water
- Graham crackers, chocolate bars, and marshmallows (for s'mores, of course!)
If you're planning to cook over a campfire, don't forget the fire-building necessities. Pack things you need to start a fire, such as matches and lighter fluid, but don't bring firewood from home, especially if you're traveling a long distance. Wood that is chopped and bundled can contain hidden parasites that are harmful to local plant life. Many campgrounds, including private campgrounds as well as those in state parks, have firewood available for sale at a very reasonable price. Otherwise, you can find a firewood vendor close to where you're camping.
Most campgrounds will have drinking water available to you, but some may not. You need to find out beforehand, and if the campground doesn't supply drinking water, you'll need to bring along your own.
Even if the campground does provide drinking water, it's usually not available right at your campsite. You usually need to fetch it yourself, which means you'll need something to carry it in.
Remember, too, that water is not just for drinking. If you plan to make your own campfire, make sure you have a bucket of water handy for when it's time to put the fire out.
Packing clothing for a weekend camping trip can be a bit tricky. You want to dress appropriately for conditions without bringing too much. Plan your outfits around the principle of dressing in layers so you can add or remove items as necessary. Here are some ideas on what to pack:
- At least one long-sleeved sweatshirt or jacket
- T-shirts, shorts, and long pants
- Pajamas, preferably made of a moisture-wicking material
- Boots or closed-toe shoes
- Rain poncho
- Undergarments, possibly including long underwear (which can also double as sleepwear)
Shelter and Bedding
A tent is probably the most primitive type of sleep shelter available, although some expensive, high-end tents have multiple rooms and more creature comforts than you might expect. Most tents are rather simple, and that's just the way some campers like it. However, there are some extra accessories you can bring to make your tent more comfortable:
- Ground cover (also known as a tent footprint)
- Canopy or tarp
- Sleeping pads or inflatable mattresses
Make sure your tent is large enough to accommodate everyone in your party.
To find out what kind of camper you are, take this quick quiz. If you'll be staying in a lodge or a cabin, or if you bring a trailer camper or RV, the shelter part is taken care of, but you'll still need to think about bedding, which is usually not provided in cabins or lodges. Traditionally, this means a sleeping bag. If you're staying somewhere that provides beds, or if you're sleeping on air mattresses, you can also use ordinary blankets and sheets, but sleeping bags are easier to pack up and carry around, and they also add to the fun and novelty of camping.
As fun as camping can be, there are hazards involved as well, and it is best to be prepared for them. Never leave for a camping trip without a well-stocked first aid kit. You can buy a first aid kit or make your own; the American Red Cross provides a list of what you need. Always bring along sunscreen of at least SPF 30 and insect repellent; use each every day. A flashlight or lantern is essential for nighttime after the campfire is put out.
Before leaving for your campsite, please verify the fire restrictions for the area. Never make a campfire without at least a bucket of water nearby, and if you have a portable fire extinguisher, keep that handy as well.
These are just some ideas on what you can bring to make the most of your weekend camping trip. You can customize the list according to your situation and preferences. Have fun, and happy trails!
This article is intended to be a general resource only and is not intended to be nor does it constitute legal advice. Any recommendations are based on opinion only.