When it comes to camping there is no substitute for experience, and the best way to gain knowledge is to get out there and make some mistakes. Fortunately, there is a lot of good, common sense, information out there, like learning to setup your tent before you go camping and using checklists to reduce your chances of forgetting something important. I thought I’d share some of the mistakes that are permanently engraved in my memory, so that you can hopefully spare your family from a frustrating camping experience.
Arriving in the dark
I’ve done this once and it was definitely not the way to begin a relaxing weekend of camping. I intended to make it to the campsite before dark, of course, but it took a bit longer to get everybody ready and the drive was longer than I had planned. Needless to say, everybody was hungry and we must have looked pretty silly fumbling around the campsite with flashlights, trying to figure out where to put our stuff. Oh, and we still had to fix dinner. In the dark.
Not emptying the trash
I keep a collapsible garbage container at the campsite to cut down on the number of trips I have to make to the garbage cans. Of course, I always empty this in the evening so we don’t have a raccoon party in our campsite, at night. On one particular evening, however, I was pretty tired and I convinced myself that the garbage only had cans and paper in it and the raccoons wouldn’t be interested in it. I spent the better part of the next morning collecting the trash that was strewn about, all over our campsite and the surrounding woods.
Not putting on the rain fly
We have a great campground in the Santa Cruz mountains that is only about 20 minutes from our house, so it’s one that we tend to frequent quite often. The first time we stayed there, it was in August and the temperatures were well into the 80’s during the day, so I didn’t bother to put the rain fly on our tent. In fact, I didn’t even consider it, since it hadn’t rained in over six months and there wasn’t any precipitation in the forecast. What I failed to take into consideration, however, was the effect of the coastal fog which can roll in during the night and park itself in the treetops of the Santa Cruz mountains. Needless to say, it must have rained half an inch that night, just from the fog condensing against the treetops and everything got thoroughly soaked.
Picking a bad campsite
I pride myself in picking great campsites online. I will study the campground map, check Google™ Maps and even hunt for pictures on Flickr®. On one particular trip, however, I really messed-up and chose an area of the campground where the campsites were very close together and we ended up with the neighbor’s tent only about six feet away from ours. I love meeting new people when we camp, but that was a bit too close!
Running out of propane
We were camping one winter and the temperatures were dropping into the low twenties at night, so I brought along one of those small tent heaters that use the 1 lb disposable propane bottles. I thought this was a great idea, since my camp stove and barbeque grill use the same canisters. The propane ran out sometime around 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning and much wailing ensued.
Not keeping the tent zipped-up
On a camping trip in the high desert of Eastern Washington, the kids were playing in-and-out of the tent all morning and I forgot to make sure that they zipped-up the door. Later that afternoon, my oldest daughter came to me saying that, “there’s a big spider in the tent.” Sure enough, a female black widow had found a cool, dark place to make her new home. In our tent.
Not bringing a lantern or headlamp
We did not pack a lantern or headlamps at all, when we first started camping. We had flashlights, of course, but in the evening, we did things around the fire so there we never really had a need for artificial illumination. Then we camped in a campground that did not have lights in the restrooms. Sure, we had flashlights, but it’s mighty inconvenient trying to hold a flashlight while you’re using the facilities. The other alternative is for someone else to hold the door open, but that doesn’t provide a lot of light and you have to find a “buddy” every time you go to the restroom. We now pack headlamps, which are probably one of the greatest inventions ever (thanks mountain climbers!).
Good to see some common mistakes, the same i did it in my summer camp back this year. Even i not kept my tent zipped up, but anyways good tips to keep in mind for future camping plans.
Thanks again !!
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Ha, once my daughter brought a friend camping and one night she had to go into the woods to pee, after she walked half naked into the canopy to get tp to wipe and she turned around and saw like 3 or 4 raccoons just growling at her…. I woke up to her whimpering outside the tent 🙂
Hah! Oh, I think we have all been there, Emily 🙂
All classic camping mistakes. I would also recommend bringing an extra tent even if it is small. We traveled 10 hours to a festival and broke one of tent poles while setting up. If we wouldn’t have had my wife’s extra one we would have been crashing with someone else for the weekend.
It’s strange how those poles always seem to break at the worst times. I keep saying my next tent is going to have aluminum poles, but I’ve still got fiberglass for now.
The rain fly. The rain fly!!! That’s the one that stands out anyway. It’s just so easy to say – “It’s not gonna rain, I wanna see the starts.” or “There’s no way we’ll need it”. Well, when I say one of these things it usually rains. I’ve learned to ALWAYS put it up. 😀
I’ve given up, too 🙂 Unless it’s really hot and muggy, then I might take it down just to get more air.
did a spot with hook ups, my friend picked it out, full sun, no shade.
extention cord didnt work, had a better backup cord, ok.
nitelight bulb burned out, no replacement with us, ok have a flashlite.
flashlite bulb died within minutes, great, we’ll just fire up the propane lantern for a couple minutes in the tent, great. next day went for camera and view screen on back of digital got broken. we still went home with big smiles.
Don – that’s what it’s all about, just keep smiling 🙂
My latest camping mistake was overpacking on a recent wilderness canoe trip and having to portage all that camping gear about 12 miles. I was miserable and should have known better. But I did learn my lesson.
I can only imagine how tough it is to pack for a canoe trip, Darren. It’s a lot more forgiving when that pack mule is a car 🙂
1) Did you read the New York Times article about the Wonderland Trail. I wrote a commentary on it on my sitehttp://outdoorbaby.net/heidis-blog/outdoor-wonderland/ I thought you may have some suggestions for him since you wrote this article.
Heidi – I must have missed that one! Great story – it reminds me of the summer a few years ago, when we were camping in the Siskiyou Mountains during a heat wave. It was so miserable!
FYI, the voice of the Fetchit character was done by a white guy named Danny Webb. But, this iniaomotfrn certainly doesn’t make this cartoon racist at all.If a white guy does an impression of a specific black guy and has to wear some kind of brown paint in order to help that impression, that’s fine. There should be no problems. It only becomes racist when the performance implies that “this is how ALL black people act”. That’s when it could become hurtful.And, since this cartoon has a caricature of a specific black actor (namely that of Mr. Stephen Fetchit) then it is not racist at all. The crap shoot at the end might be, but hey Dave Chappelle portrayed that very same thing in the first season of his show. In this case, it’s harder to tell.
This is what happens when I post from my time machine…all the tenses get scrambled…
I’ve seen that happen after a strong gust of wind, too!
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VE – you should have taken my “advice” instead 🙂
You know…I took your advised and made the tent before leaving…but it was such a pain getting it into the car…
The worst goof we made camping was when we went on a fly-in out of Long Lake in Adirondack Mountains and once they drop you off to your camp for the weekend there is no way out until they come back for you except for a very long hike. Well, we forgot to pack an extra days supply of meals in case the weather was bad enough that they couldn’t get us out. Well, Sunday came and the weather got bad and we took stock of our supplies. All we had left was a can of cheeze whiz and some crackers 2 hot dogs (there were 4 of us) and a couple cans of beer. Luckily the sky cleared enough for us to get out before night.
Caroline – that *almost* sounds like a hearty meal! I suppose it would be pushing it quite a bit for four people, though.
Been there — done that! Except setting up in the dark. Wait, we did once. And the raccoons — in our tenting days, I used to have a basket of food that we would bring. One day, we were just starting to set up and I had placed the basket on the picnic table to get it out of the way. Not even ten seconds later and with my back turned, a certain raccoon (whom I nicknamed Rob-bie) stole the croutons I had on the top of the basket. There he was, ripping my bag apart in a ditch near our campsite and helping himself to them. What nerve! LOL
Liz – they have absolutely no shame!
….forgetting tent poles…starting to leave a rest stop in The Yukon without one of the kids…running out of propane…no matches…leaving the coffee out and the raccoons got it (I might do that again, because the thought of raccoons eating a bag of coffee and being up for 3 days just makes my day.) …setting up in the dark…setting up in POURING rain…hungry kids…
Uh oh, Jenn, you’ve now scarred one of the kids for life! 🙂 Setting up in the pouring rain – ugh!
Except for running out of propane, I can relate to all of these goofs. We’ve been camping so much, dumb stuff is bound to happen. Or, well, we’re bound to do dumb things, I should say. Doesn’t matter how experienced we are, we still find ways to mess up. These days, when car-camping especially, that usually takes the form of forgetting things … like the time we brought all of the food and cookware, but somehow left the camp stove behind. “I thought YOU put in the car,” is what you hear around our campsite now and then … and more often than I should admit.
Deb – I think that’s the downside of even using lists; the “I thought you packed it!” syndrome. But, we can usually work around a forgotten item – did you cook over the campfire?
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We’re pretty good about stashing our food and trash overnight in the car. But it works much better if you roll up all the car windows.
One night I forgot that step. We were lucky and a raccoon only got half a loaf of bread.
Carl – I’ve seen a video of a black bear popping-out the side window of a car to get at something. It looked like he’d done it a few times before 🙂
My all time favorite and “we should have known better” was when we had a pizza that we had picked up in the local town before arriving to our campsite in North Georgia’s state park Amicolola. We put our left over pizza into a zip loc bag and placed them into our cooler which happened to be right outside our tents. Well as you probably guessed we woke up in the wee small hours of the night to hear a rather large raccoon helping himself. Now of course we realized that rushing out of our tent to go after what ever was in our cooler would be foolish. Instead we had to wake everyone up in the tent into a panic look for our flashlight and then finally make it out to save our leftovers. The next day literally five feet away from our campsite we found the zip loc torn to shreds and disposed of it properly. Oh, the carnage! Looking back it was pretty ridiculous, but also quite hysterical. Ah, the memories we make for ourselves! Thanks for such a great blog. It reminds of the fact that I cannot wait to be done with my BSN and get back outside! I miss the outdoors!
Michelle – those raccoons never cease to amaze me 🙂
When I arrive in the dark, I leave my headlights on for a few minutes while I put up the tent and get it ready for sleeping. Cooking and the rest I can manage by flashlight.
Gotta be careful about not draining the car battery, though.
John – that’s a good idea. Do you carry jumper cables?
Unfortunately, arriving in the dark is our norm. Though it ensures we always have our lanterns with us and the starving kids don’t complain about the simplified dinner – often eggs and bacon as convenience stores usually have this in stock… And we now know our tent poles quite well…
Brian – any plan that begins with bacon is destined for success 🙂