Half the fun of off-road driving is finding that perfect spot to go camping. Depending on your personal preferences, that spot could be a lake, an isolated beach, a mountainside with good climbing opportunities, a riverbed for stone hounding, an old ghost town, or if you’re simply an avid outdoor adventurer, all of the above. What changes your appreciation of your camping trip from “I should have stayed home” to “that was fantastic” is the amount of preparation you put into the trip.
Know the Land
Begin by learning something about the geography and climate conditions of the area you have chosen for your trip and prepare accordingly. For rain country, high mountains or cold climates, you’ll want to carry plenty of extra-long sleeved shirts, jeans, sweaters and a jacket with additional rain gear. Don’t neglect your shorts and tee shirts, however. Even in the high mountains, a sunny day can be very warm. Buy a pair of stout hiking boots and get used to wearing them before starting out on your adventure. Hiking boots feel stiff and confining before you become accustomed to the firm ankle support and heavier tread, but they’ll prevent a lot of potential accidents such as twisting your ankle, shoe penetration by sharp rocks and other objects hidden by ground litter, slippage and mud saturation.
Sleep is Key
A good sleep the night before will increase your morning appreciation of your camping trip better than tossing, turning and shivering all night. If you’re considering cold weather camping, invest in a sleeping bag designed for at least a twenty degree chill factor. Mummy bags are best if you’re planning on back packing as they are extremely compact, but it is hard to get used to the idea of sleeping in a cocoon. If you’re not too worried about space, buy a rectangular bag and a sleeping pad. If you have a significant other, you can buy two matching bags to zip together them together.
Pack Some Snacks!
Always pack a little more food and water than you think you’ll need for your stay. It can be surprising what an appetite the fresh air will give you, plus you never know when an emergency will make your trip a little longer than expected. Keep fresh food to a minimum and stock up on dehydrated and dried foods. If you’re planning more than an overnight trip, camp in a spot that has a creek, river or lake close by. This way you’ll have access to water for cleaning purposes. To save more on water and for safety, buy a water container with a filter, and boil all water from creeks, rivers and lakes before using it. Do not plan on using creek, river or lake water for drinking. Carry at least two gallons of fresh water for each day you plan to stay out.
If you are in bear country, do not store food in your tent. Keep all foods in air-tight containers, lock them in your Wrangler or tie them up in the trees. Even food placed in your Jeep should be in air tight containers. Bears have a wonderful sense of smell. They can and will break into vehicles if the food smells enticing enough. Don’t believe for a minute that your beer is safe just because it’s in a cooler. Bears love beer. There have been numerous incidences of bears guzzling down beer while the campers are sleeping peacefully. While there has been plenty of debate as to what to do if you see a bear, from spraying it with mace to playing dead, one of the best ways to avoid bear visits is to take along your family dog. Beside an extremely efficient snout, bears have very sensitive hearing. They do not like loud noises. Banging pots and pots usually discourages them, but if not, a barking dog will nearly always drive them away.
Playing with Fire
An entire section could be devoted to how to make a fire. It’s not as easy as you might think, especially in a rainy climate. Carry several boxes of stick matches along if your fire building skills aren’t up to par. For good insurance, have at least two boxes ready even if they are. Keep them in a water tight container. Begin your fire slowly, making a tee pee with small dry sticks over dead leaves, dried grass and a couple of paper wads. Gradually add to the fire with larger and larger sticks until you can add a few pieces of split wood. Then relax and enjoy the warmth. Please do not resort to gasoline. Gasoline is unpredictable and often uncontrollable. If there are any nearby trees, the fire can leap up and feed on the branches. For the same reason, control your urges to create a bonfire. For all practical purposes, carry two or three bundles of split, dry firewood along. This will save you from having to scramble for wood to feed your fire, and provide you with dry wood in case it rains. An easy way to get your fire going is to invest in a metal cylinder made especially for fire starting. Once your pile of sticks has taken flame, just pop the cylinder over it and you’ll have a hot fire in no time. Remember to dig a pit and line it with stones for your fire and put out all unattended fires with water.
Where’d My Bars Go!?
Your cell phone might not work if the area you chose is remote or in the mountains. This means your GPS finder isn’t going to work, either. Buy a compass and learn how to use it, along with a map of the area. Also, invest in a CB or short wave radio. This will help you keep track of the weather conditions, provide music when you crave it, and give you contact with rescue workers in an emergency.
Batteries are King
Batteries are easy to drain when you’re out in the wild. Be sure to bring plenty of extra batteries for your flashlight, your portable radio, battery operated storm lantern and other battery powered devices you might have. For ultimate safety, carry an extra battery for your vehicle, along with jumping cables. This way, if you accidentally drain the battery of your vehicle, you’ll not only have a replacement, but can recharge the one you just killed.
Carry along a fully stocked auto medical emergency supply kit. Most accidents involve nicks, scrapes and burns, but they can also involve sprains, deep cuts and wounds, animal bites, insect stings and other more serious problems. If you’re going into an area where there are snakes, bring along a snake bite kit. Also carry a mechanical tool kit for any vehicular problems that might come up with your Wrangler.
Other Goodies to Bring Along
Other camping equipment involves an axe or hatchet, a portable shovel, plenty of rope or line for making your camping spot more habitable, at least one tarp and a snap blade knife. A very useful item to carry along is a multi-use pocket tool, such as a Leatherman or Swiss army knife. They contain two or more blades, a screw driver, cork screw, punch, and in the case of pocket tools made especially for camping, a can opener and spoon.
Don’t carry along your house hold dishes for camping. Pots and pans used over an open fire or Coleman stove are difficult to scour. It is smarter to get a set of camping pots and pans that are made to fit easily inside each other to take up less space. Cast iron pans, however, are also great for camping and you don’t have to worry about tarnishing them. If you camp by a lake or creek that has a sand bank, just rub any sooty area’s caused from cooking, with a bit of water and a handful of sand. The soot will come right off.
A Coleman stove is much easier to cook over than a campfire, especially if you’ve had no previous experience. Other items you might wish to carry along are a field guide to the edible plant life and to hiking trails, a pair of binoculars for observing wildlife, a magnifying glass, a camera and lots of insect repellent.
Plan your trip according to the type of recreation you’d like to get involved in, and bring the appropriate gear. Don’t engage in a new recreational activity while in the wild until you’ve learned the basics. This includes rafting, canoeing, swimming, mountain climbing, cliff scaling and even fishing can use a little preliminary guidance. Once you’ve become familiar with the type of terrain, climate conditions and plant and wild life you can expect, you’ll be a happy camper.