Turn on the TV, and you won't be hard-pressed to find a reality show that has something to do with camping. But, you may be wondering what life in the wilderness is really like once the cameras are turned off. Are you ready for a behind-the-scenes look into the authentic world of living up close and personal with nature?
Although few things are as polished as they seem on the flat screen, camping is a popular pastime for people of all ages, all over the world. Whether they seek a test of true grit or simply a temporary escape from a fast-paced lifestyle, camping offers outdoor enthusiasts the opportunity to live the simple life.
If you're embarking on the camping adventure of a lifetime, the following 10 tips will help guide your preparations and ensure your safety once you've wandered into the wild. Whether you're planning a staycation in your backyard or hitting the Appalachian trail, there's something here for every would-be and seasoned camper.
Find or Create Shelter Before Dark
One of the most important camping tips is this: Always pitch camp before dark. You'll need to decide on a type of camp housing that suits your fancy, whether that's a tent, recreational vehicle (RV) or a cabin. Some adventurers go primitive and literally sleep under the stars in a hammock. If that's too bare-bones for you, then you may consider packing a tent for your outdoor adventure. Although they're probably the most basic shelters for camping, tents can be rather comfortable with the proper preparation. Ask the salesperson at the outdoor recreation store to recommend a suitable tent for your needs. These needs will determine the size, shape and quality of the tent you select. Keep in mind that with tents, bigger isn't necessarily better -- you'll have to lug it to your campsite, after all. Be sure to try your tent out at home to detect any problems so your camping trip doesn't turn into a nightmare. Bring extra tent poles just in case yours break; that's not unheard of. Keep a window or two slightly unzipped at night to reduce moisture inside the tent. Also, pack an old shower curtain (one that's slightly smaller than the size of your tent floor) to place on the ground to keep you dry in case it rains.
Roll on over to sleeping bag camping tips in the next section.
Pick a Season-appropriate Sleeping Bag
The utmost camping tip having to do with sleeping bags is this: Choose one appropriate for the season. A lightweight sleeping bag will do in warmer months but in the winter you'll need one that's got a lower temperature rating. Always go with one that will keep you toasty in a lower temperature range than you actually plan to camp in, just in case the mercury drops. If you'll be sleeping in a tent, you'll want to opt for a mummy-shaped sleeping bag. This type fits closely around your feet, preserving body heat, and it's also easier to pack. In terms of materials, a sleeping bag filled with synthetic fibers will dry quicker than one stuffed with down, and it's also nonallergenic. But a goose-feather sleeping bag is easier to carry because it's lightweight.
To enhance your sleeping experience with your sleeping bag, place a pad or long cushion beneath it for a much more comfortable slumber. Instead of packing a pillow, improvise by inflating a large, heavy-duty plastic bag, and use that to cushion your head.
Pack the Bare Necessities for Mealtime
A list of camping tips wouldn't be complete without mentioning food and water. Whether your camping trip entails mini adventures, such as hiking or canoeing, or if it just means kicking back in the RV and watching DVDs, you're going to need food. The rule of thumb is to take only what's necessary to prepare each meal. For example, if your group is small, bring two cups of quick-cook oats rather than an entire 48-serving canister of oatmeal. Use sealed plastic bags to mix food. If you're setting up camp next to your RV or car, you have the luxury of being able to use a cooler to keep perishable goods like meats from spoiling.
Making sure you have clean water is one of the most essential camping tips. Unless you have access to clean tap water or a spring you know is safe to drink from, you should carry bottled water with you. Or, you can bring packets of iodine to sanitize water you get from the backcountry or any questionable source. You can also run the cleanest water you can find through a water filter or boil it for at least 10 minutes. To keep your water cold, wrap your container in aluminum foil.
Leave No Trace
As you're living it up on the open range, keep this next camping tip in mind; it will help you protect and preserve nature so that you and future generations can enjoy it again and again. Leave no trace, meaning pick up after yourself to leave the ecosystem undisturbed. Clean up thoroughly after meals and secure your food high above the ground.
Although they may seem like common sense rules, you may not be entirely familiar with the principles of leaving no trace. Plan ahead and prepare to travel in smaller groups, containing most activities at least 200 feet (60.9 meters) away from streams and lakes. Travel and camp on established trails and campsites. Bury solid human waste 6 to 8 eight inches (15 to 20 centimeters) below the surface of the ground. Take baths and wash dishes 200 feet (60.9 meters) away from streams and lakes as well. Strain dishwater, disposing of large particles in proper waste receptacles and strewing the used water. Leave all artifacts and natural objects as you find them. Use established fire rings, keep campfires small, and cook on a stove. Keep your distance from wildlife, and don't feed the animals [source: Appalachian Mountain Club].
Dress for the Occasion
Even if you're not fashion-conscious, planning outfits for your outdoor adventure is just as important as any other camping tip. Dress in loose layers of clean clothing. Of course, in months with colder weather, you'll wear more clothing -- such as hats, gloves, jackets and thermal underwear -- than in warmer seasons. The key is to peel off layers of clothing before you start sweating so that you stay dry. If you perspire and get your clothes damp, you won't be as comfortable as you'd like.
Then, there's footwear. When you're camping, you need to protect your feet. Wear closed-toe shoes that have some sort of moisture-absorbing lining. Hiking boots are ideal, and one way to prevent blisters when you're exploring trails is by rubbing a bar of soap on your heels and underneath your toes before you head out. Keep the soap with you, and if your feet become tender, apply more soap to any potential hot spots.
Always pack a waterproof poncho to protect you from the rain; the last thing you want is to get your clothing drenched. Wearing wet clothing could cause hypothermia.
Avoid Bugs, Bears and Poisonous Plants
This set of camping tips concerns bugs, bears and poisonous plants. When pitching your tent or setting up another type of shelter, be on the lookout for wasp nests and other insects and bugs. If you're hanging out near vegetation, it's a good idea to wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants. It won't hurt to apply insect repellent either. Check yourself frequently for ticks as well.
You probably know to avoid poison ivy and how to spot its three-leafed clusters. Poison oak and poison sumac -- which tend to have more than the three telltale leaves per bunch -- are also ones to watch out for. Wearing clothing that covers you from head to toe when you're near plants, bushes and trees will help reduce your chances of getting a rash. It's a good idea to have calamine lotion and an antihistamine or allergy medicine on hand in case you come across an irritant.
As we learned earlier, proper storage and disposal of food helps keeps bears from crashing your wilderness party. Secure food items high above the ground, such as on a rope or very tall tree branch. Be sure to read HowStuffWorks' How to Survive a Grizzly Bear Attack to learn all about grizzlies and black bears and how to avoid a run-in with either of them.
Don't Get Lost
Experienced camping enthusiasts know this camping tip, so plant it in your brain: Don't get lost. It's a major mistake campers make, but you can avoid wandering too far away from your campsite by carrying a few simple tools at all times. A compass, map and GPS device can keep you from disappearing into the land of the lost. Of course, none of these tools will do you any good if you don't know how to use them. So, take some time well in advance of your camping trip to learn how to read a map and use your compass and GPS. (Plus, by the time you get to the end of this article, you'll have even more camping tips under your belt to keep you on track.)
Tote a Survival Kit
When it comes to camping, nothing could be truer than the Boy Scout motto "Be prepared." Carrying a survival kit when you venture away from your campsite is an indispensable camping tip. So, what do you pack in this kit? For starters, you'll want to have water-purifying tablets, a water filter and a metal bowl. Then, add a survival knife, which can be used to hunt, to protect yourself and to signal for help. Not just any blade will do; it's worth investing in one from a camping or outdoor goods store.
Another must-have in your survival kit is waterproof matches stored in an airtight container. You can make waterproof matches by dipping regular ones in either nail polish or paraffin. A plastic medicine bottle or 35 millimeter film container makes a handy caddy for your waterproof matches. Keep a flashlight in your survival kit, and store extra batteries in an airtight container similar to the ones you store your matches in. Having a flare gun and a mini LED torch aren't a bad idea, either.
In addition to toting a survival kit, you should also have a small first aid kit with you. Stock bandages, wound cleanser, latex gloves and cold packs in it.
Practice Good Hygiene
We mentioned earlier in the camping tips section on clothing that cleanliness is important. The same goes for your body, no doubt. But you may be wondering how to maintain hygiene in less than ideal conditions. Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in your pocket, and always cleanse your hands before eating, drinking or putting your hands near your face. Use rubbing alcohol and cotton balls to freshen up nonsensitive areas of the body. Use a sponge, a bowl of water and biodegradable soap to take bird baths once or twice a day. Brush your teeth using purified water with toothpaste or baking soda, and follow with dental floss. Your feet will get pretty grimy while camping, so take advantage of moments near a stream to take off your shoes and soak your feet in the water for a few minutes. Steer clear of colognes, perfumes and fragrant lotions because they attract bugs.
Wrap various personal hygiene items like your washcloth, toothbrush and soap individually in aluminum foil when you're packing up to ensure that the rest of the stuff in your backpack stays dry.
Take Extra Precautions When Camping with Kids or Pets
Camping with kids or pets takes a lot of work, but it can be a pleasant experience. As we've learned, planning is the secret to successful camping. This carries through to camping with your children and furry friends. Be sure to have the appropriate clothing to protect your child, whether that means sun hats in the summer or warm, long-sleeved clothing he or she can wear if the outside temperature suddenly drops. Next, just like you practice a fire drill, work with your children to help them learn how to prevent getting lost and what to do if this should happen. Provide a flashlight or glowstick to each child, and review the rules several times a day to remind children what to do to stay safe.
Bringing your dog on your camping trip can make even a modest shelter feel like a home away from home. A few things you'll need to ask yourself is whether you're equipped and willing to restrain your pet should a wild or domestic animal wander by. Also, you want to be sure that your pet's vaccinations and licenses are current. Of course, you need to bring your dog's leash, and keep the pet contained at all times. You'll need to provide your dog's food in a clean bowl, as well as fresh clean water, in addition to properly cleaning up and disposing of its waste.
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