Travel: Camping In Tents

I love sleeping outside in a tent. Weird, right?

It’s probably because of all my years in the Girl Scouts. Steve was also a Scout. Unlike me, Steve earned all the badges to become an Eagle Scout. I was a slacker scout, who went on all the trips way into my high school years, but never earned a single badge. I couldn’t be bothered to read the manual. Still, that experience was formative enough to hook me on the outdoors.

I like the mobility of life in a tent; you can find a campsite anywhere. I’ve camped in a New Mexico desert and on an island in Maine. It’s super affordable. There’s nothing like sleeping in the fresh air and drinking wine around a roaring fire in the evening.

We took the boys camping last weekend. We haven’t gone as often as we have liked with them in the past, because Ian had trouble functioning in a world without Internet access, when he was younger. (He’s fine now, so we’re going more often.) Even with those obstacles, we were able to go once a year and accumulate all the right equipment piled on a shelving unit dedicated for camping in the basement.

The fall is actually a perfect time to camp, because the temperature in the Northeast is not too hot and muggy. The leaves are turning, so the views are magnificent. We’re going to go again in the next few weeks to take advantage of the local Octoberfests. And camping gear is all on sale.

In the next post, I’ll share all the links to places we went, in case local readers want the details. In this post, I’ll just give some tips about how to do it:

  • Get a good tent. If it rains, you do NOT want to sleeping in a puddle. Good brands are Kelty, Marmot, or Big Agnes. Make sure the system has a ground cloth and a tarp. Tents can be found at REI, Campmor, and Amazon.
  • With a family with teenagers, everybody should get their own tent. And always go a size up for comfort; a two person tent is really a one person tent.
  • Bring your own pillow. Camping pillows suck.
  • Good sleeping bags are a must
  • I love our air mattresses. I couldn’t sleep outside without one anymore.
  • We only cook breakfast at the camp site. We’ve got a propane stove for that. A coffee press is essential. Need a cooler and ice for eggs, milk, and the white wine.
  • On the way into the campsite, get some wood at the local supermarket. (Don’t forget the fire starter and fire gun like we did this year.) It’s also good to have the day’s newspaper in the car. You read it, then crumple up the op-ed pages for tinder.
  • You have to go for two nights minimum to make it worth the effort of setting up a site.
  • We’re medium level campers. We’re not eating freeze dried lasagnas or carrying all our gear on our back. Nor are we “glamping”. That middle level means that we go to campsites where you can park your car at the site. These sites are also near civilization where a person can find a decent burger and beer in the evening.
  • Most camping sites come with their own picnic table, so if your trunk is short on room, then you can skip folding chairs. But if have room, a comfy chair is nice.
  • With the four of us and all our stuff, we usually do need the car roof top cargo holder. We’ve got the canvas one, which means that we have to wrap everything in plastic garbage bags. When it dies, we’ll replace it with the hardtop version.
  • Lanterns are needed, of course.
  • Put your food in the car over night, so you don’t get a visit from bears who can smell your s’mores a mile away.
  • And here’s my favorite camping/hiking memoir:
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20 thoughts on “Travel: Camping In Tents

  1. Not weird. Insane. 😀 My days of sleeping on the ground are over.

    I forgot to tell you about the heart tree. Did you see it? It’s over near the cabins.

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  2. A wonderful article and your photographs are breathtaking (on the water). I will pass this on to those I know who love camping (only two) as they will enjoy reading your experiences.

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  3. Sounds very civilized!

    I grew up in a backpacking family where my dad would take us kids on multi-day treks with a family of camping buddies. Sometimes, the adult planners of these treks would just look at a map and take us completely off-trail, with the idea of getting from Point A on the map to Point B. We lived to tell the tale. And yes, we did eat the freeze dried stuff, which was absolutely delicious for dinner.

    Mysteriously, my mom always stayed home from these exciting adventures.

    Sis now owns a small commercial campground.

    I haven’t been camping since I was a kid. To be perfectly honest, even going in my backyard in TX is kind of forbidding. I don’t know what it is, but within 5 minutes of going outside, something is gnawing invisibly on my ankles. Chiggers, probably? It feels like an anklet of fire. Plus, the whole outdoors is full of undesirable critters:

    https://tpwd.texas.gov/landwater/land/habitats/trans_pecos/big_game/javelina/

    I don’t think I’d ever want to go camping in Texas, at least not anywhere near where we live.

    I am somewhat open to camping in WA again, but we don’t have any of the stuff.

    It is possible to borrow/rent gear on campus sometimes, by the way, and colleges often do organized mega-camping trips during spring break. We have encouraged our middle child (who would like to do that kind of thing), that we’d be willing to fund him going on those.

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    1. Amy, I just read a book about a man through hiking the Lone Star Hiking Trail. But, unlike most books in that genre, he’s not looking for enlightenment. He’s looking for big foot. So, you’re right to avoid camping in TX. /jk

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    2. I would very much like to hiking Washington State. Pennsylvania forests are nice enough, but there’s no real wilderness. And you really need to stick to the trails if you want to go anywhere. Too much undergrowth in the woods otherwise. Also, Lyme Disease everywhere.

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      1. MH said, ” would very much like to hiking Washington State. Pennsylvania forests are nice enough, but there’s no real wilderness. And you really need to stick to the trails if you want to go anywhere. Too much undergrowth in the woods otherwise. Also, Lyme Disease everywhere.”

        Bummer!

        Western WA has some extremely underbrush-y bits, along with some areas with less.

        This plant somehow suddenly appears whenever you need to grab something on a steep hillside near a creek:

        https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/plant-of-the-week/oplopanax_horridus.shtml

        The last time we were in WA (this July) it was late enough that we were able to forage blackberries, huckleberries and salmonberries with the kids:

        http://nativeplantspnw.com/red-huckleberry-vaccinium-parvifolium/

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubus_spectabilis

        The kids also got to see banana slugs this last trip:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_slug

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  4. These are lovely pictures. I am much more into glamping now that I can afford it, but I love to canoe. I even have my own custom paddle that my brother made (bent handle to reduce shoulder strain). When my kids were little, we would tag along on some of his family trips since he’s a professional. He put himself through college working as a canoe guide in the Boundary Waters. Then spent a year or so running the Boy Scouts’ winter camping program in the Quetico (Canada’s version of the Boundary Waters).

    So, based on things he’s taught me. Please be careful storing food in a car. A determined bear can break in. The kind of site where you’re camping, it shouldn’t be an issue, but, you don’t want your car destroyed.

    Once, when he and my sister-in-law were dating, they went camping with another couple – her friends. The other guy insisted he would take care of the bear bag. He has very grainy vhs footage of the bear taking it down and eating everything. All they had left were some instant coffee packets. A planned one week trip became a one night trip. I’ve never hung a bear bag because he has never let anyone else do it since.

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    1. I was told once in a national park (maybe Yosemite?) that bears recognize coolers as a source of food, so you shouldn’t leave one visible inside your car.

      If I go camping again, I’m planning to buy a hugely expensive air mattress from REI. On my last camping trip friends had one and I was very jealous. But really I’m happier with outdoor-oriented vacations where I swim, kayak, and walk a lot during the day and sleep in a bed at night.

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  5. This is the sort of thing I’m happy to read about, but have no interest in actually doing. (Perfect subject for the never-never self-help category of books.) I’m allergic to all flora, and a fair amount of fauna, so I participate vicariously.

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  6. We have done camping/bicycling tours each year since moving to Berlin. Good times! Tents and gear goes into a trailer that two of three kids are now big enough to pull.

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      1. Actually, I’ve been considering a Subaru but I’m not making any major purchases for a while. To much crazy to spend that kind of money until it is unavoidable.

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      2. My ads are for the Company Store and quilts. I thought these the ads were targeted based at where we’d been visiting and not on Laura’s content. So, no gun rights ads for me.

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      3. We have one of those quilts. It weights like twenty pounds and is too warm to sleep under. It’s really just something nice enough that we have to store it well.

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      4. To be clear, I was considering a Subaru while looking at a printed newspaper. I haven’t been searching for one on the internet.

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  7. Love that you are still finding ways to bring the entire four person family together. I am starting to think about what that will look like as our children grow.

    I think my camping days (which were never extensive) are over. But, one of my most memorable trips was a canoe through Boundary Waters with spouse. I was an entirely novice camper but it was wonderful being on the lakes alone, with no motors (either boat or car). Most of our trip was rented from a provisioner in Ely.

    Kiddo just did a Grand Canyon raft trip, which wasn’t “glamping” but pretty close.

    I am considering highly provisioned trips through greater wilderness — at least partly to avoid the other tourists. As you said, “But it’s a little annoying to see people on vacation, who probably (let’s just admit it) look a lot like us. Sigh. ” For me, that’s the photos. I enjoy taking pictures as part of my travel. I like to think of myself as more than a selfie taker in front of viking ships and I don’t take pictures just to show people I’ve been somewhere. To avoid being judgy (or judged) I’d like to be on trips with smaller crowds (which means finding less traveled — and potentially more expensive) routes.

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  8. bj said, “Love that you are still finding ways to bring the entire four person family together. I am starting to think about what that will look like as our children grow.”

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