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!).