How-To Guide/Travel: Camping in Tents

This summer is going to be a little different. Many organized activities for kids are closed. Popular tourist sites aboard are not admitting Americans. Airplane travel with social distancing sounds risky. Without the usual summer plans options, many families are going to hit America’s camp sites.

Last year, I wrote a blog post with lots of tips and tricks. And recommended some hot spots near us in upstate New York. This summer, I am organizing and rewriting some of my old posts under the header How-To Guides:

Across backroads and beaches, on deserts and in bayous, America is covered with quirky campsites. In every state, you can find places to pitch a tent or two, build a fire, and enjoy a beer on a picnic bench. These campsites – some private and others owned by state and national park services — are the perfect getaway for groups of friends or families. 

Camping is affordable; most sites cost $20 or less per night. It is healthy; you are guaranteed to get your 10,000 steps in, if you want to take a stroll around the site. It is restful; with the right equipment, you’ll sleep like a baby. Honest! 

There are all sorts of levels of camping, depending on your experience and adventure level. Rugged campers lug everything on their backs and hit the trails for weeks at a time. There are the glampers, who sleep in cabins with electricity, wifi, and air conditioning. The RV-ers crisscross the country in their Winnebagos and accordion campers. 

We are intermediate campers, which means we drive to a site, pitch a tent, sleep in a sleeping bag, use the site’s restrooms or outhouse. We might cook some meals there, but we prefer to hit the local bars and restaurants for meals. For us, a campsite is a place to sleep, an opportunity to check out the local sites and nature. You should leave the site and go explore.

There are several online resources to find a campsite, including ReserveAmerica, Recreation.gov, and Campendium. This article in Curbed provides nice reviews of the different sites. Reserve a place for two nights minimum to make it worth the effort of setting up a site. 

The month before you leave for your trip, you need to go on a buying spree. The good news is that once you buy this stuff, you can use it over and over. It will be easier to up and go, if the tents and sleeping bags are piled on a shelving unit dedicated for camping in the basement.

Most people go camping in late spring and summer, but the fall is also an excellent time to head out to the woods. The temperature in the Northeast is not hot and muggy. The leaves are turning, so the views are magnificent. It’s a good way to take advantage of local Octoberfests. And camping gear is all on sale.

You can find your gear on a camping speciality store like REI or Campmor, but Amazon also has a good selection. 

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. 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. 

Invest in a comfortable sleeping environment, so bring your own pillow – camping pillows suck — and invest in quality sleeping bags and air mattresses. Since our campsites are primarily a zone for sleep, not a place to hang out all day, our tents are fortresses of sleep.

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 one 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.

Most camping sites come with their own picnic table, so if your trunk is short on room, you can skip folding chairs. But if you 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 in case it rains. When it dies, we’ll replace it with the hardtop version.

Lanterns are needed, of course.

Put your food in the car overnight, so you don’t get a visit from bears who can smell your s’mores a mile away. 

My favorite camping/hiking memoir: Wild.