What to Pack for Camping Trips

Make sure your family camping trip is safe and enjoyable by packing the right gear.

| October/November 1992

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    Your only real obstacle to a memorable outdoor venture is careful preparation and planning.
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    Culinary training is significantly easier in the wild. If you can boil water, a hundred delicious campfire meals are waiting to be prepared.
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    Map your hiking route carefully. Going the extra mile should be a matter of choice, not necessity. A fun five miles is always preferable to a fit-to-be-tied 10.
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    If a top-of-the-line tent is beyond your budget, you can make your own from polyethylene, duct tape, nylone line, and a grommet kit.
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    It's convenient to camp near a water source, but be sure to find out if the river or stream has a tendency to flood. A washed-out camp is sure to dampen the fun.
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    A good rule for fires is: If it doesn't snap, don't burn it. There's nothing as dispiriting as watching a fire smoldering under green and rotting wood.

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Knowing what to pack for camping trips makes all the difference between a happy family vacation and a miserable one.  It's almost too painful to remember that camping trip last summer, but your family will never let you forget. In the first place, a sleeve of your favorite flannel shirt caught fire and burned to the elbow while you were drying it. Your uncle's heavy old canvas tent you could barely squeeze into sideways leaked so badly that the kids woke up miserable and cold in a swamp of soggy sleeping bags. You painfully recall that unbelievably large blister on your eldest's heel and how it became so badly infected. And thank God that no one sprained an arm or ankle.

And that peak! You were so certain everyone would enjoy the glorious view— if only you had been able to reach it! Once a few miles from campsite, though, your long-range recreational patrol quickly became a portable feast, a mobile buffet for mosquitoes, deer flies, and a variety of other noxious blood-suckers. How could you possibly have forgotten the jungle-strength insect repellent? After the kids walked hip-deep into that poison ivy and the calamine lotion ran out, even Mom got discouraged. Remember her rash of questions: "Is this really necessary? What was wrong with Disneyland in the first place? Wouldn't reservations at that nice state park we passed have been a better idea?" Come to think of it, you recollect the rest of the family pitching similar heart-felt suggestions at you, intimating that anything was preferable to this…this camping. Let's face it, your touted organizational skills, so useful around the house, proved woefully in adequate to the task of wilderness survival. Maybe that call of the wild was a crank.

Yet with each spring and summer, symptoms of camping fever break out. You recognize them by now. You've rented The Bear video for the second time this month because the kids asked to see it again. As you mow the lawn, you find yourself thinking about peaks in the Hindu Kush, shooting white water in the Appalachians, tightrope walking above emerald ice-melt on cabled monkey-bridges high across some forgotten gorge. A year has done wonderful things for the kids' stamina too, and even your wife has forgotten the worst of the previous year. You begin to imagine that your suggested backpacking proposal might be passed by a healthy margin. The plans you have for a family hike will unfurl and be quickly accepted by all in the spirit of fun and adventure. Dream on.

Fact is, you are not into the woods yet. The good news is some ground work can get you there. And try to keep in mind that there are some excellent reasons for camping in the first place. It's easy. It's cheap, builds skills, and can be comfortably scheduled. Your only real obstacle before venturing is lack of good information about preparation and planning. That can certainly be overcome. Your pursuit of hiking happiness, while not guaranteed, is much more likely to be successful if you remember that, although this is not Everest you are tackling, the outdoors can be tough on the uninitiated. Take it slow and easy. The Grand Tetons aren't going anywhere in a hurry.

The Camping Essentials

First, a trip to your local outfitters. Don't panic. Most of what you will need you probably already own. Often, the rest can be borrowed or rented. And if you've been camping before, you have probably geared your family over the years much better than you might imagine.

Each person will need the basics: backpack, rip-stop and non-plastic poncho, day/fanny pack, gators (nylon covers for the leg below the knee), shorts, ankle-supporting, lug-soled, and well broken-in hiking boots, hat, a one-quart canteen, bandanna, wool socks, cotton wick socks, long underwear, long loose pants, spoon, bowl with lid, insulated cup, and sleeping bag. A middleweight Qualofil or similar synthetic fiber sleeping bag that has a warmth range down to 10°F is best. This size bag will keep you warm throughout the year—with the exception of very late fall through very early spring. You will also need a sleeping pad (to soften the ground underneath you), toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper, T-shirt, wool shirt, wool sweater, several large plastic garbage bags, a small flashlight, and hand towel. It's also a good idea to bring whistles in case anyone (especially one of the younger folks) gets separated.

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