Thursday, September 4, 2014

Tips for First-Time Campers

Have you ever sat down and wrote a bucket list of things you want to do? I did that the other night and two things on the list were "go camping" and "see really big trees." Since I live in California, I thought I could knock both out at once! For those of you who have never gone camping before, or maybe you've gone camping but not in a national park, I'd like to give you some tips, given my experience. My husband and I spent 24 hours in Sequoia National Park so here's your...

Top 12 Tips for First-Time Campers:

#1. Have enough gas in your car AND know where gas stations are in/around your site. We were very fortunate to have one of the employees of the national park offer to take us to a gas station so we could fill up an empty water jug (since there weren't any gas cans available)! Nevermind the fact that there was also the smell of burning rubber and plastic under the hood...  maybe have your car get a tune-up before taking it on the road!

#2 - Know how to put up your tent AND be aware which way it's facing. If you're borrowing a tent from a friend, ask them to do a 5-minute demo. Trust me, this will save you time and headaches down the road. If your tent is missing pieces, has a tricky zipper, needs a hammer for the stakes - these are good things to know ahead of time. Also, before you set your tent down, check to see if there are rocks on the ground and if there's an incline. You don't want to put your head at the bottom of the incline, unless you like waking up to headaches the next day!

#3 - Always have your wallet on you. Need to buy firewood? Need to show your identification to check in to your campsite? You'd be surprised how easy it is to forget this step!

#4 - If you're camping at a national park, buy a passport at the Visitors Center. If you plan on camping again, you'll definitely want to pick up one of these. It's a little book that allows you to collect stamps from most national battlefields, national monuments, national parks and state parks, etc. For the collector, it's fantastic! However for the forgetful, it may not be ideal. Of course, you could always stamp a piece of paper and bring that home if you forget your passport, but it's not exactly the same...

#5 - Understand how to make a fire. Everyone thinks they know how to make a fire - you put down some sticks or crumpled paper, put wood on top, light the paper, ta-da!... well, at least that's what I did and I failed miserably. My husband once camped in the woods for two weeks so he understood there was a process and taught it to me: first you twist paper and lay it down (so you're essentially making paper sticks), then you put down twigs on top and start the fire. You then build on that small fire with small sticks, then big sticks, and then the firewood! If the fire is going down, blow on it but be very careful - my husband accidentally got two nasty blisters on his hands so be mindful with working with fire. And have your logs shaped like a teepee - it'll help the fire get started, I promise!

#6 - If camping during the summer, have plenty of bug repellent and sunscreen available. Your trip will be a lot less enjoyable if you're stuck itching 113 mosquito bites (been there, done that) or have to suffer a bad sunburn.

#7 - Be mindful of others when using your flashlight. If you're at a campground with other people, point the flashlight down at the ground. I must have been blinded half a dozen times in 10 minutes because people weren't aware of how far their light traveled!

#8 - Speaking of light, bring your lantern and soap to the bathroom. We were fortunate enough to have working toilets nearby, however there weren't any overhead lights or soap, so have those handy. While you're at it, have some hand sanitizer with you too!

#9 - Other campers can be so incredibly nice! I can't tell you how thankful we were to be surrounded by nice people (it's rare in LA). There must be a camping code that says, "When in doubt, help others out." One guy (we called him Spaghetti Mike) offered us food because he had made too much (which reminds me - don't forget plates and silverware!). Another guy offered to drive our firewood to our campsite so we wouldn't have to carry it. A third guy offered to drive us to get gas! I guess the Simpsons were right -- "You can always depend on the kindness of strangers!" But be sure to pay it forward - offer to take a photo for a group, make your campsite cleaner than it was when you first found it, and if a park ranger helped you out, let their manager know. It's the little things, folks.

#10 - If you need ice, you might be better off buying it on the campsite (if they have a market available). At Sequoia, you can buy 7 lbs. of ice for $3.99 or 20 lbs. for $9.69, which seemed incredibly cheap to us!

#11 - Wear layers. It can get chilly at night and you don't want to be unprepared so pack a hat if you're hair-deprived, lots of socks and sweaters, etc.

#12 - Use the bear locker! Not sure what a bear locker is? Neither was I, until I saw it for myself. It's a giant container at your campsite that holds anything that might smell good to a bear. This includes (but isn't limited to): food, trash, lip balm, repellents, ice chests, cans and bottles (even if unopened), toothpaste, deodorant, lotion, soap, cigarettes/cigars, infant car and booster seats, and cleaning supplies. Clean out your car before your trip and if you have anything in there that might smell good to a bear, move it to the bear locker. Your insurance company will thank you.

And there you have it folks, my top 12 tips for successful camping. If you decided to visit Sequoia National Park for 1 day, check out General Sherman, the largest tree in the world. It's quite beautiful and you'll feel like a mouse standing next to it!

TOTAL COSTS: $42 + food and gas for a day
$20 entrance fee into the park (unless you're active-duty military)
$22/night at Lodgepole in Sequoia National Park

TOTAL AMOUNT OF TIME: At least 1 day
Try to spend at least two nights there, if you can. We only could stay one night and missed out on so much!

EASY-PEASY SCALE (1 super easy - 5 very difficult): Varies
I understand it's not easy for most people to drop what they're doing and go camping, especially if they don't live near a national or state park. However, I do think it's at least worth a try!

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