9 Tips for a Happy Camping Trip

July 4th — arguably the biggest camping holiday of the year — is just around the corner. Hopefully you’re able to stretch it into a long weekend, and venture outdoors, into the wild.

But, there’s nothing worse than a bad camping trip, especially since it is so easy to have a great time. To assist with making your Independence Day outing this year a happy one, here are some pointers, from Menasha Ridge Press’s Best Tent Camping series:

(Photo credit: Steve Cadman)

Reserve your site ahead of time.
Especially if it’s a weekend or a holiday, or if the campground is wildly popular. Many prime campgrounds require at least a 6-month lead time on reservations. Check before you go.

Pick your camping buddies wisely.
A family trip is pretty straightforward, but you may want to reconsider including grumpy Uncle Fred who does not like bugs, sunshine, or marshmallows. After you know who is going, make sure that everyone is on the same page regarding expectations of difficulty, sleeping arrangements, and food requirements.

Don’t duplicate equipment.
Discuss who will bring what equipment, like cooking pots and lanterns. No need to double up among campers in your party. Carry what you need to have a good time, but don’t turn the trip into a major moving experience.

Dress appropriately for the season.
Educate yourself on the highs and lows of the specific area you plan to visit. It may be warm at night in the summer in your backyard, but in the backcountry it might not be the case.

Pitch your tent on a level surface.
Preferably one that is covered with leaves, pine straw, or grass. Pitch your tent on a tarp or specially designed footprint to thwart ground moisture and to protect the tent floor. Do a little site maintenance such as picking up small rocks and sticks that can damage your tent floor and make sleep uncomfortable. If you have a separate tent rainfly but don’t need it, keep it rolled up at the base of the tent in case it starts raining at midnight.

Prepare for ground sleeping.
If you are not used to sleeping on the ground, take a sleeping pad with you. Take one that is full-length and thicker than you think you might need. This will not only keep your hips from aching on hard ground but will also help keep you warm.

Plan meals beforehand.
If you are not hiking into a primitive campsite, there is no real need to skimp on food due to weight. Plan tasty meals and bring everything you will need to prepare, cook, eat, and clean up the mess.

Prepare for nighttime bathroom time.
If you’re prone to using the bathroom multiple times at night, you should plan ahead. Leaving a warm sleeping bag and stumbling around in the dark to find the restroom — whether it is an outhouse, fully plumbed facility, or just the woods — is second best. Keep a flashlight and any other accoutrements you may need by the tent door and know exactly where to head in the dark. For guys, a practical (but often scoffed) solution is to keep a wide-mouth  Nalgene-type bottle in the tent and use that inside the sleeping bag at night. Be discreet, though, and dispose of the night’s work appropriately.

Watch for hazardous trees.
Standing dead trees and storm-damaged living trees can pose a real hazard to tent campers. These trees may have loose or broken limbs that could fall at any time. When choosing a backcountry campsite or a spot to rest, look up.

For more tips on making the most of your upcoming camping holiday, find your local Best Tent Camping guide! Series includes guides to over 30 regions across the country.

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Tanya Twerdowsky
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