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A Simple Start to Camping

A little over a year ago, my family helped me name this blog during a camping trip.  Today, I have a special treat for you- a guest post from my mom!  She's been a wife to one for 36 years, a mom of five children for 34 years, a grandma to five for 8 years, and a pharmacy tech for 35 years.  She loves camping, gardening, sewing, remodeling, and spending time with her family.  You can follow her on none of the social media platforms, but you can please follow me.

Oh, and as a bonus, all the pictures from today have been taken by one of my sisters.  She loves photography and does all my kids milestone pictures.  You can also not follow her on any social media outlets, but please follow me (Facebook <> Instagram <> Pinterest).



Growing up in Illinois, my husband and I had never camped.  After we got married and moved to the beautiful Pacific Northwest, we couldn't help ourselves, we had to get out and experience it.  When I think back to our first trips, I'm amazed that I was willing to continue going.  At first, we tried to use our household items while camping, only to spend hours scouring pans after a trip.  We have found ourselves with no way to open a can, cut the watermelon, or get out of the rain.  It's tiresome to break lots of plastic forks in a nice, flame boiled steak.

Over the years, we have honed our skills to the point where we add food and clothes, and we're off.  I am hoping to share my hard-earned shortcuts to a great outdoor experience without spending a week preparing and a week cleaning up from two nights out in nature.

So, what do you need to get started?  There are two pitfalls: (1) buy all the best at REI and never use it (2) make do and be miserable.  Both groups are left with less than glowing reviews of camping.  Here's my get started list in the order of importance.


1- Somewhere to Sleep

You can buy a reasonable tent at a variety store that will serve for many years without spend large amounts of money.  If you love camping, you can upgrade later.  I would recommend a simple, one room tent that is easy to set up and is tall enough to stand in the middle.

Don't be fooled by the number of mummy bag people they use to determine the size of tents.  If you are a family of 4, get the 6 man tent!  Two people can use a 3-4 man tent.  You will probably not sleep in neat, mummified rows, and you will have your clothes to store as well.  Set the tent up at home the first time, in case it is dark when you arrive at the campsite.  NEVER, EVER, EAT OR DRINK IN YOUR TENT!



14-person Large Family Tent (comfortably sleeps 10-12)

3-person Dome Tent (NOT tall enough to stand up)

Pop-up Dressing Tent (great for large families)

12-person Cabin Tent (sleeps 8-9)

10-person Family Cabin (comfortably sleeps 6-8)

Air Mattress (the height makes it easier to get out of it)

6-person Instant Tent (comfortably sleeps 3-4)

9-person Cabin Tent (comfortably sleeps 5-6)

6-person Tent (comfortably sleeps 3-4)

16-person Four Room Lodge (comfortably sleeps 10-12)


2- Sleeping Bags

A good bag with a temperature rating of somewhere in the mid 30's should do for most situations.  When they rate the bags, they are not talking about the point at which you FEEL like you are freezing to death as must as at what point you WILL freeze to death.  You can always stick a foot out if you're not, but if you're cold, you and everyone else will be miserable.

If you are camping with young children, consider adult sleeping bags that zip into a double bed and add the small ones to your bag.  You can easily keep track of how cold their little hands are and snug them in before they wake up.  At around age 7, consider their own bags, not the cute ones but the warm, functional ones.  Here are a few recommendations:










3- Cookware

Whether you use a propane stove or the fire pit, you will need a kettle for heating water.  Enamel kettles are reasonably priced and will serve you well, as long as you don't put them on high flames.  Ours is 30 years old, and I may replace it in the next year or two.

You can cook a lot of meals with a marshmallow fork or pie iron.

A grate is better if you want to do hamburgers or large pieces of meat.  We like to put a grill replacement grate over the one on the campfire pit.  The provided grate has larger spaces and isn't always in the best condition for putting meat directly onto it.  An additional grate allows you to spin the meat on and off the hot spots and move it closer to you for flipping the meat.  Add at least two super good grill gloves to your supplies, too.



Enamel Pot  ♜  Tablecloth  ♜  BBQ Tools  ♜  Pie Iron



Invest in a nice vinyl tablecloth.  You never know what shape the picnic table will be in when you arrive.  Sometimes you will follow a camper who has not used a picnic table and left the table covered in grease, or maybe the birds left their mark.  A clean surface to eat and play games is appreciated.  Don't buy a "picnic" tablecloth, as they don't have enough body to be wiped off, stay in place, and not rip before the weekend is done.  Kitchen quality will last a few years, if no one puts a hot marshmallow fork on it.



4- Water Container

If you start a fire, you should have at least 2.5 gallons of water handy.  Most campgrounds have piped water in various places, but you have to haul it to your "kitchen."  Don't go too large, because you don't want to be the only one who can carry it!  (I also recommend investing in a folding wagon like this one to carry the water)

I don't recommend the collapsible containers, which tip, pitch, and roll, as you use the water in them.  We found that they were always covered in dirt.  We have used both ones with a spout and ones without, and they both had the same problem.  The best choice will depend on your family.  Children probably can't pour from a large container, but then again, you may not want them using water you need for cooking.  Here are a few recommendations:








5- Clean Up

You will need a way to wipe off the tablecloth and do a few dishes.  When getting started, an enamel pot is a good choice.  It can double for making rice, boiling veggies, scrambling eggs, making pancakes or washing dishes.  A large, plastic, serving bowl doubles for rinse water and mixing/serving.  Think dollar store for the bowl and other kitchen items.




6- Rubbermaid Bin (or 2)

This was the turning point in easy camping!  The rubbermaid bins allow us to "grab and go" with ease.  In this tub, you will put the essentials: dish soap, aluminum foil, kitchen knives, a can opener, Pam spray, rope, extra tent stakes, metal silverware, plates, cups (we like reusable plates and cups, but paper is fine too), coffee mugs, lighter, camp ax, flashlights, extra batteries, sun screen, bug spray, camp games, and the toiletry bag (more on that later).  The idea is that everything essential to camp life is in one place and doesn't have to be gathered and then returned to the house after the trip.






Dish Pan  ♢  Batteries  ♢  Flashlight  ♢  Hatchet

Coffee Mugs  ♢  Rope  ♢  Sunscreen  ♢  Toiletry Bag

Bug Spray  ♢  Can Opener  ♢  Cutting Board  ♢  Lighter



7- Coolers

Safe food storage is important; although you can camp with only items that don't need to be refrigerated such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, instant oatmeal, or the many "just add water" choices available at the grocery store.  Most of us can't imagine being without refrigeration, so that leads to a cooler.  If you are going to buy a cooler, invest in at least a 7 day cooler.  Don't waste your money on anything less than that.  Maybe wait to see how much you like camping before you upgrade to a Yeti, which is the best quality on the market.




8- Toiletry Bag

In our camping bucket, we have a bag with duplicates of items needed for personal care.  We don't camp where there are showers, but when you get done swimming, it's nice to apply deodorant.  Each family will have their own needs, but we have deodorant (guys and gals), baby soap (spot washing, doesn't irritate if not rinsed well), lotion, comb, chapstick, hair gel, toothpaste, and a toothbrush for every family member (and a new one or two just in case).

For some reason, my mom forgot one of her favorite parts of having a toiletry bag- baby baths by the campfire.  She still does them for her grand kids (who are young enough), so I'm surprised she left it out.  After the dinner dishes are done, she heats up more warm water and empties out one of her rubbermaid bins.  Combining the hot water with cold tap water, she mixes the perfect bath for little ones.  She washes them with baby soap, dries them, and dresses them in foot pjs.  Her rule is that after a baby is clean and in pjs that child is no longer allowed to walk around or eat until morning.  Washing off the food and marshmallow is a great way to deter animals from the campground and keep everyone safer.  Plus, there is almost nothing better than holding a clean, snuggly, warm baby by the fire on a cool night with the multitude of stars overhead.




9- First Aid Kit

We have our household medicine cabinet in a fishing tackle box and stick it in the car when we go on trips or camping.  I think this is essential, but since it's not a camping exclusive for us, it is lower on the list.  At a minimum: bandaids of all sizes, antibiotic cream, hydro-cortisone cream, Benadryl, tweezers, pain reliever, and burn cream.  Consider keeping it in the camping box; although temperature extremes (such as storage in a garage or RV) may effect the quality of bandaids, medicines, and other products.


I recommend that you have a designated storage place, like the garage, for all camping equipment so that none of it gets left behind.  Everything but the food and clothes go right from the vehicle to the shelf, and you're done.

Go!  Have an Adventure!

Thanks, Mom!  I'm hoping she'll come back to the blog soon to talk about camping in the rain next!  Let us know in the comments what other questions you have for the expert.




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