CAMPING IS SOMETHING of a rite of passage for kids, both boys and girls. Perhaps you remember going when you were young. If you don’t, maybe it’s time to start. If you have kids, anyway, wouldn’t you love to pass down one of the great American pastimes?
Even if you went camping as a kid, perhaps this is your first time “in charge” of a trip. If you’re bringing your kids along for their first jaunt into the great outdoors, or even trekking out on your own or with a few buddies for the first time, perhaps it’s best not to take on too much right away. You’re looking for a good time, right?
There are probably 101 ways to do camping, ranging from everything-on-your-back solo treks up the side of a mountain to backing your car into a paved space next to a designated camping setup. Try to aim for somewhere in the middle, although if you’re bringing kids along they might like the “parking lot” type campgrounds – lots of possible play buddies around.
But there are some ways you can get the ease of car camping combined with the seclusion you may be looking for. Choosing the right gear is also key to making this camping trip a breeze.
THE SITE: For starters, many state and national parks offer the type of camping that allow you get out there on your own while allowing you to keep your car close by. Even many parks’ hike-in sites allow you to park your car just a few hundred yards away.
THE TENT: Especially if you’re just getting into camping, it’s probably not best to drop mega-bucks on one of the fancy tents at a high-end gear store. Just drop by the sporting goods section at a Wal-Mart or Target and pick up one of the $50 jobs. They usually have several different types to choose from, so take a look at each of them. Obviously, you’re not going to get the top quality of some of the high-end brands, but don’t just pick the cheapest thing on the shelf. This is a good place to find a good compromise. If you decide to stick with it, you can always upgrade your tent later.
THE SLEEPING BAG: It’s likely you’re heading out in the summer, right? If so, almost any sleeping bag will do. They come with temperature ratings. Something with a 50-degrees rating should do fine. If you’re camping in a colder environment, pick an appropriate rating. This might be an area where you can ahead and go for a quality bag if you want to. Even when not camping, having a good sleeping bag can come in handy.
THE STOVE: Sure, you can cook everything over an open fire but, hey, it’s easier to use a camp stove, right? For car camping, go for one with two burners. Most of them even have a handle you can use to carry the stove to your campsite.
COOKWARE: An inexpensive mess kit comes with everything you need to cook a small meal – a plate, a small cup, a saucepan and a small pot. They all fit together for easy packing. A mess kit is a neat thing to have, and they start at around $7. But it’s not a necessity. You can just grab a box and toss in a few of your home pots and pans. This might be the way to go, especially if you’re taking kids along. It’s easier to fix them the meals they’re used to that way. What better for a 7-year-old than mac-n-cheese and camping, right?
THE FOOD: You can make it work with just about anything you want, but non-perishables sure do make things easier. One of the family-sized cans of chili can be a meal all itself. You can make mac-n-cheese with just the mix and water, so there’s even no need to bring milk or butter. Another thing that just needs boiling water is one of those all-in-one rice mixes. If you have a cooler and ice, you can even bring along bacon for breakfast.
LIGHTING: Obviously, a flashlight is a must-have here. But you can also bring along any number of lanterns and area lights. Try a headlamp for hands-free lighting. Make sure to toss a few extra batteries in the trunk of the car.
THE CLOTHES: You can basically wear just about anything you want. A good, old pair of jeans and a T-shirt will do. You might want to invest in a good pair of hiking boots, though. This is especially a good idea if there is any long walking over rough terrain – called hiking – planned.
OTHER GEAR: A good cooler is probably one of the first things in the “other” category you’ll want to pick up. Men love toys, right? Here’s where you can get your gadget fix. Aside from a few of the essentials – like a water canteen, a pocket knife and a first-aid kit – feel free to stock up on any of the items you see in the camping section of your sporting goods store. To be honest, there are really no rules here. You’re out for a good time, right? If you want the cool multi-tool with 57 things on it and a toothpick, pick it up. You’re a grown-up now, take advantage. There are, however, a few things you might want to definitely consider. A sleeping pad may be in order if you have back problems; you’d be surprised how big a difference one makes when sleeping on the ground. Speaking of sleeping, there’s nothing wrong with tossing a pillow into the gear. But if you want a little more minimalist feel, just pack a pillow case. Stuff in all your clothes for the weekend, and – poof – a pillow.
Coming soon on The Man F.A.Q., a how-to on a more minimalist camping trip.