I have never been a “camper”. My parents never took me camping as a child, I never went camping with friends in college, and I never had any intention of going camping…ever. I didn’t see the point of camping, “I can go to the same outdoor location, play all day, but for the 8 hours when I’m asleep and not aware of where I am…why would I choose to be outside?” Friends would prod and poke and I would retort, “we’ll go to the lake, we’ll go for a hike, but when we’re done, you can go back to the tent with the bugs, and I’ll go to the hotel with a warm shower and air conditioning”. Everyone has their vacation preferences, and tents we’re never on mine.
Last Summer I went camping for the first time. My wife has always enjoyed the idea of camping, and had mentioned many times that she wanted to take the kids camping one day. After I had been on my Preparedness Journey for almost 2 years, I knew (in the back of my mind) that I was preparing for a long-term camping trip, but it was difficult for me to commit to actually going on a camping trip. Luckily we have some great friends who were willing to meet me where I was and help me take the leap into camping. To say camping was outside of my comfort zone is an understatement, a gigantic understatement. I am grateful that there was enough peer pressure and peer support to make me say “Yes”.
Not only was the camping experience incredibly fun, beyond my expectations, the amount I learned on the trip was immeasurable. Going camping forced me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to feel comfortable in a new zone. This process also provided me with immense confidence about how to respond to a disaster. I am writing this at a picnic table, in the middle of Central Oregon. Yes, I agreed to go camping again. I am still learning, still having fun, and doing so with absolutely no cell service. As I reflect on my first camping trip and this second camping trip, there are several lessons that I think are important, especially for people who are not “campers” like me.
Don’t make your first camping trip a hike-in backpacking trip. There were so many differences between what I knew as a “normal” vacation, and camping, diving into that deep of a deep end would have totally killed the idea of camping for me, forever. My first camping trip was a 2 night, 3 day trip to a KOA in Central Oregon. We went with 3 other families, two of them were “campers” and the other family was like ours, “non-campers”. The KOA was a wonderful baby step into the world of camping providing: excellent facilities, electricity and water hookups, a pool, clean bathrooms and showers, and a well equipped store on site. The 2 night, 3 day time frame was also perfect, just long enough to go through the camp setup, enjoy camp, and camp tear down phases without it seeming like an overwhelming duration. Remember, you can always do more and stay for longer on your second trip, the first trip is about getting comfortable with the idea that you are camping, and making it enjoyable enough that you’ll want to do it again.
Go with a Mentor
There are so many things to know when you go camping. Your first trip will go much smoother if you go with someone who has gone camping several times. We had one family who stepped up to be our unofficial mentors during the first camping trip and continue to be on our second trip. As with anything new, I did a ton of research trying to figure out what we needed to go camping. I had a good idea of what gear to take and found a few tips and tricks, but our mentors were able to help us understand how to take those lists and turn them into an actual camp. They were able to tell us what gear we actually needed, which was very helpful, but the most amazing thing was that they were able to show us how to setup and run the camp. I knew we needed a tent, I didn’t know that we should have a small broom to hep sweep it out. I knew we needed to wash our dishes, I didn’t know what equipment and what method we should use to actually do that. I knew we needed coffee, I didn’t know how to use a percolator. Get a mentor, they are invaluable.
Take Notes, Improve, Repeat
During the first camping trip, I took a bunch of notes, and so did my wife. When we started preparing for our second camping trip, we revisited our notes and started checking things off the list.
We had some gear but our mentors had a camping setup. They had “camp boxes” that were tubs filled with items that were designated for camping (kitchen items, tools, linens and towels). Before we left for our second trip, we went out and got our own tubs to make our own “camp boxes”.
During our first trip we used the picnic tables to prepare food, and do dishes, and eat on. For the second trip we went out and purchased a foldable camping kitchen. It has two sinks for washing dishes, a shelf for plates, a towel bar, and a movable wire extension table that can be used to hold a camp stove or other supplies. This was a great addition to our setup and provided us with a functional kitchen, that neatly folds back down to the size of a small folding table.
After our first trip we recognized rules and policies that our mentors had in place for how their kids used their tent, and how their family operated within the camp. Before we left on our second trip we made our own policies and ran over them with our kids so our tent would stay cleaner and our camp would be much more organized and fun for everyone.
Now we’re on our second trip, and I’m taking notes. The learning curve was steepest from the first trip to the second trip but there are lots of refinements that are popping up during this second trip – here are a few:
- We need to add an extension cord to our camp box. We brought a power strip, but forgot to grab the extension cord. By putting one in our Camp Box we won’t forget it next year.
- We need to add a tent fan to our camp box. The first night we were at camp it was over 90 degrees and there was no air movement in the tents. Adding a fan will help make those warm nights more comfortable.
- We need to coordinate our gear better next time. Now that we’ve all gone camping, we all showed up with similar gear, which was more gear than we needed.
So why do I think going camping is so important? As you move along your Preparedness Journey, you will acquire gear and knowledge, but at some point, you need to practice. I had so much gear and so many strategies and tips, but lacked experience and confidence. If an emergency had happened I would have figured it all out, but going camping gave me so much confidence, like a 3 day crash course or an earthquake dress rehearsal. Going camping took the uncertainty out of camping for my whole family. Going camping took the fear out of what we would do when a disaster strikes. Going camping taught me how to go camping.
While all of that seems pretty logical, taking baby steps, having a mentor, and taking notes made it all possible. I don’t know that camping will ever be my first choice vacation (it’s hard to compete with Disneyland or a Hawaiian beach), but camping is probably in my top 10 now. I strongly encourage everyone to find a mentor, or be a mentor, and go camping. Camp at a state park; camp in your back yard; camp somewhere else that sounds like fun to you, but go camping!