There is something so fulfilling about being truly on your own and surviving with bare minimums.
This last summer, my wife and I took Maya to the Lincoln National Forest for a 2-night stay in a primitive style campground. A primitive campsite doesn’t have a table, a fire pit, garbage service, running water, or any electricity.
That means, along with our supplies, we had to pack in all our water and pack out all our garbage. Of course, Maya was completely unaware of all of this and was just thrilled to be outside.
It also means that we had to carry clubs, and speak like troglodytes. Just kidding. That would have been fun though.
Maya, my wife and I all love being outside. This was a great anniversary getaway for us this year. Here are 5 things I learned from this trip:
1. Pick the hard-to-get-to campsite with a view
Primitive camping is fun. It isn’t easy though. Don’t believe that for a second.
After a long drive, we found the perfect spot at the top of a big hill. The view was gorgeous. Meaning that we had to practically cross a gorge to get there.
The hike to our campsite was probably about a quarter-mile straight up a hill.
But the view was literally so beautiful that we decided to carry a cooler full of all our food; 7 gallons of purified water; our 4-man sized tent; and all our clothes and camping supplies right to the top. (Getting the really pretty spots requires a sacrifice of sweat to the camping gods.)
After we had all our stuff together and had recuperated our strength, we set up our tent and a rain tarp while Maya chewed on a stick. It took a good part of the day to get everything gathered and set up, but the view on that hill was worth every aching stride.
For dinner we had Pizza in our beloved cast-iron dutch oven. It didn’t come out perfectly, but camping has a way of making everything taste absolutely amazing. Aside from the view, this was the highlight of the day for me. Which reminds me…
2. Pack good food
Here’s what we had planned for meals on this 2-night trip:
- Tin Foil Dinners
- Pork Chops
- Bacon Scalloped Potatoes
- Omelets sous vide
- Biscuits and Gravy
- Instant Oatmeal
It’s important that you don’t plan every meal to be super time-consuming. Make sure to plan meals that you like, but also be sure to throw in a few quick and easy meals in case there is poor weather or you take longer than planned with other camping activities.
Everything tastes better on a campout. This is good because most meals don’t usually come out as perfectly as they do back at home. The fact that you can still pull off a stellar meal without all your kitchen gadgets will make you feel pretty self-sufficient nonetheless.
3. Leave the schedule wide open
How much time did you spend watching Netflix this week?
Consider this, on a campout, you will probably not have access to regular entertainment. So what do you do?
Here are some of my favorite things to do while camping:
- Lay in a Hammock for hours
- Start a fire for no reason other than to watch it burn and poke it with a stick every now and then.
- Hike at a really slow pace through a short trail.
- Play card games
- Chat with campmates
My advice is don’t go on a campout with a huge to-do list of experiences. Let those experiences happen naturally. Plan for a lot of free time. If you think you can manage it, I’d also recommend leaving behind as much technology as you can. Don’t be that guy who brings a T.V. on a camping trip.
4. Plan on things getting ugly
The boy scout motto is “Be prepared.” I know this because I obtained the rank of eagle scout 8 years ago. Oddly enough, I never felt adequately prepared for a campout. Then, I got married. This one is something that I learned from my wife. It doesn’t matter where we are in the world. I could turn to her at any point in time and say, “I need a roll of gauze, some Neosporin, 30 toothpicks, 4 ibuprofen and a shovel” and she would reach down into her Mary Poppins bag and pull out all of that and a swiss army knife to boot.
Here are some tips to help you make sure you’re prepared for things to get ugly while you’re camping.
- Bring the biggest first-aid kit that you can find.
Basically, find the smallest hospital that you can, and then attach a handle and wheels to it. You do not want to be stuck out in the woods with a roll of bandaids after you just accidentally stepped into the fire ring or took a wood chip to the eye while hacking apart some wood. Bring a good first aid kit.
- Bring extra clothes.
Bring extra for your extra. If you get rained on in the middle of the night and find a river running through your tent, you’ll be glad you have a dry set of clean clothes to change into. Which leads me to my next point:
- Waterproof everything.
If it can be damaged by water, put it in a Ziploc bag. One rainstorm is all it will take to send you straight home if your stuff gets wet.
- Bring Rope and lots of it.
Learn how to tie some basic knots too while you’re at it. A rope is one of the most versatile tools you can have. When you need it most, you’ll be glad you have it.
- Don’t underestimate the value of a shovel and a saw.
Initially, when my wife told me that she thought we should buy a shovel, I teased her about scheming to dispose of my body.
Later on, while we were camping I had to apologize because I ended up using that shovel for everything from putting out the fire at night, to moving coals, to leveraging up some good rocks for a fire ring.
A good saw maybe isn’t as valuable or as easy to use as an ax, but it is probably a little safer. Collecting firewood can be difficult if you don’t have something to help you segment the bigger branches. Because we had a saw, we didn’t need to buy firewood.
NOTE: Not all campgrounds will let you collect firewood. Some require a permit and some have restrictions on what wood you are allowed to collect and how much.
Check with the local authorities before cutting down or collecting any wood.
5. Bring the dog
Maybe you’re thinking, “Should I bring my dog camping?”
Here’s my answer:
Just do it. You know that she wants to come anyway.
Maya had the time of her friggin life on this trip. She got way more exercise than she normally does at home and we were able to spend some quality time bonding and exploring new places together.
She got better at listening to commands and even learned some new things about other animals.
Over the course of this trip, we came across a severed deer leg, a skunk, and a bear. We also heard coyotes and saw lots and lots of bugs. It was exciting, a little scary and an amazing experience.
We obviously don’t want Maya to get herself in danger while we are camping, but it was awesome to be able to experience some new things together. We were able to safely enjoy all these experiences without disrupting or aggressing any of our neighboring animals.
Our last night camping Maya actually alerted us to a critter that had snuck its way into our campsite. We woke up and managed to scare it off before it figured out how to open up our food. I was glad that she was there to alert us.
So, bring the dog. But here are some tips:
- Be sure the campground is dog friendly.
Not all campgrounds allow dogs. (Only the good ones.) Check beforehand to be sure that your dog will be permitted on the sites and on the surrounding trails, lakes and areas.
- Bring enough water.
Always make sure your dog has access to water. Whether it’s in a fancy dog water bottle or their regular water bowl, wherever you go make sure they have water nearby.
- Bring something to keep them warm
Dogs get cold too. This was one that I didn’t think about enough beforehand for this trip. Consequently, I lent Maya my jacket a few times because I could tell she was getting cold. Pro tip: Keeping your dog close to you at night will also help ensure that you both stay warm throughout the night!
- Protect your pet’s paws
Camping exposes your dog’s paws to lots of different terrains. I know from experience that paw injuries are horrible things. If you know you’re going to be on rough sand or rocky gravel for an extended period of time consider bringing some shoes to help protect your dog’s feet. Also, be careful letting your dog explore downed pine trees and other sappy trees. The sticky sap can mat up the fur between their paw pads and make some very uncomfortable sores after it’s hardened. You will have an absolute blast and come away with a newfound bond with your pet. Camping with a dog is much more fun than not.
What is the point of camping?
Whether you’re new to outdoor camping or more experienced, everyone who does camping right knows that there is something magical about being in the thick of God’s green earth.
Camping helps families grow closer together and gives individuals a greater appreciation for the outdoors. I came away from this with such a renewed value of the beautiful world we live in.
For me, part of the fun of camping is seeing how well I can measure up against the elements. It feels good when to say that you have the skills to hold your own in the wilderness to a certain point. (I ain’t no Bear Grylls but I like me some camping.)
Camping is also a great way to relax. It might sound like it’s difficult to camp, but I feel refreshed every time I come away from a camping trip. If you come prepared, camping does not have to be a difficult thing.
Camping helps people learn more about themselves and the world around them. It’s a great bonding experience, and a lot of fun if you come prepared. Where will your next camping adventure take you?
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