Do you feel comfortable packing up for the weekend, booking it out of town and spending your days making do with less in the great outdoors? Maybe you grew up helping pitch a tent, building a fire and whittling sticks for roasting plump marshmallows. It's no big deal. It comes as a second nature to you.
Or, it doesn't
Maybe you're feeling like campers belong to an exclusive club, one that you're pretty sure you'll never belong in. Outdoorsy people who apparently were born knowing how to set up a shelter, kindle a fire and cook delicious meals on it. They bravely navigate hiking paths, glide their canoe across the lake, deal with creatures of all sorts, and know where all the best camp spots are. Seasoned campers are intimidating!
When you don't feel confidant in your abilities, it's natural to shy away and proclaim "That kind of thing isn't for me". Well, that's one way to look at it. Another much more fun idea is to test yourself!
In my early 20's I was busy figuring out how to make supper and keep up with chores in my city apartment, never mind considering surviving in the wild! Surely I'd starve, freeze, dehydrate, and be eaten by a bear or at the very least, giant bugs! The whole situation seemed like a trial and not at all worth the effort.
Except that my friends were having such amazing adventures
I didn't want to miss out on anything good in life. That motivation lead to a great new set of experiences for me and my family. All it took to open the door was a little research, planning and some trial and error to convince myself that yes, I too belonged in camp club!
I've come up with a Q&A based on questions I had when camping was new to me, and ones I hear from other newbie campers. I speak from my experience as someone who has camped in both tents and a small trailer in front country campgrounds within Canada and the USA. It's not nearly as wild and scary as you might imagine. I hope you feel encouraged to dive in and try camping for yourself this year!
ANSWERS TO COMMON FIRST TIME CAMPER'S QUESTIONS
Is camping expensive?
The answer to this question depends on a few factors. Is a camp spot less expensive than a hotel room; in most cases, absolutely! However, I wouldn't consider camping to always be budget friendly.
The biggest expense to a new camper will be investing in equipment like shelters, bedding, cooking tools and other camp gear. If you know others who camp, you might be able to borrow a few items. Look for lightly used items at thrift shops, garage sales or in online classifieds. The good news here is if you do buy quality camping equipment, you will get years of use out of it. Start with essentials and build on it over time.
An ongoing expense will be park permits which need to be purchased annually, and day use site fees. The cost of booking a site depends on the size of the spot, the park which it is in, and what utilities you require on site (electrical outlet, water hook up, sewer hook up).
For a weekend (2 days) in an Ontario provincial park site with electrical hook ups, a shared water tap and washroom facilities on site, we pay $55 CAD (2015 season).
What are the dangers involved in camping?
Is it risky? Is it uncomfortable? Should I be worried about animals like bears and wolves?
I've heard many adrenaline filled camp stories, but they all come from campers who hiked and stayed "back country" which is further off the grid. Beginner campers are going to feel much safer and more comfortable in "front country" serviced sites which are accessible by vehicle and can be booked privately or through provincial / national park sites. Here are some basic tips for keeping yourself feeling one with the forest instead of at war with it!
- Keep your food stored safely in your vehicle or camper to deter unwanted visits from black bears and pests.
- Put all garbage in park receptacles (or again, in your car) overnight or when away from the campsite.
- Bring bug spray which works for both mosquitos and black flies. Citronella candles and other bug deterrent.
- Know the weather forecast before you leave, coming prepared for cold nights, rain and UV rays!
- Become familiar with recognizing the hazardous plants in the area, such as Poison Oak or Poison Ivy.
- Have a first aid kit packed just in case.
Where should I camp and how do I book a spot?
If you've never camped before, knowing where to camp and how to book a site to stay in will be one of your first obstacles. Depending on where you are wanting to camp the reservation system differs. I definitely suggest you choose a campsite close to home, less than a couple hours away if possible.
National Parks and Provincial / State Parks have their own booking systems where you can browse a variety of areas and choose a campground to stay in. On these sites, you will be guided through a regulated reservation system that requires you to sign up for an account. To complete your reservation, you will need to provide a credit card and are usually charged upon booking. Some booking websites will allow you to view a photo of the camp sites availabe so you can choose one that looks more private, sunny, closer to restrooms, and so on. First time campers will probably enjoy staying in a park with some modern facilities such as fire pits, washrooms with flush toilets and running water, showers, a camp store, interpretive programs, canoe rentals, marked and maintained hiking trails and sites with electrical outlets, water hookups and even sewer connections. Always read the park information on the site and look at the park maps to be sure it has what you're looking for in a campground.
Private campgrounds are fun because they often offer some extras, like a pool for campers, playgrounds, a mess hall, laundry facilities and themed social nights. If you're looking for a mix between a resort and camping experience, this might be a good option for you. To book a site, do a online search for private campgrounds in your province or state of choice, and visit their website or call directly. Booking is more similar to that of a hotel or resort. Know that the most popular ones fill up right at the start of the season, as there are less spots and regulars who love to snap up their favourite sites asap!
What kind of shelter should I use?
Hammock, Tent, Trailer, Motorhome. All are good options, but some come with more familiar comforts than others. The most common option for a new camper is a tenting experience. We began experimenting with camping as tenters and graduated to our little Boler trailer. I personally prefer RV camping but both options have their merits. Here are a few to consider.
- Easy to pack and fairly simple setup / takedown
- Can use any vehicle to travel (as long as your tent and gear fit in the back)
- Greater options for campgrounds and sites, requiring less space and hook-ups
- Takes no more fuel than a regular road trip in your vehicle
- Less expensive startup cost
RVing / Motorhomes
- Feels like a little home away from home.
- Warmer on cold nights, cooler on hot muggy days.
- Modern convinces like fridges, stoves, lights and in some cases washrooms.
- More protection from the elements, like a sudden thunderstorm.
- Keeps pests away for a better sleep.
- Probably offers a more comfortable bed, but not always!
- Less concerns about black bear and other animal invasion. Some campgrounds are restricted to hard side trailers only for this very reason.
With all shelter options, make sure you know exactly how to set up and take down, how to properly operate any features. As you might imagine, there is a far greater learning curve with learning how to use an RV. It's a great idea to do a trial run at home, even with an unfamiliar tent. This way you'll feel confident setting up camp when you arrive. More time to chill by the fire!
What will i eat and drink?
Whatever you do, make sure you bring LOTS of food when you camp. Feeling well fed will go a long way to keep your camping mojo thriving. Easy prep meals are key, with ingredients which are easily stored in sealed containers, or pre-made before you leave home. Think camp classics like roasted hotdogs over the bonfire, pan fried pancakes, oatmeal with berries and good old sandwiches! If you're RVing it you can get a bit more fancy with what fresh food you bring in your fridge and freezer but it's always nice to have some canned or dried goods to whip up a quick meal with. Bring lots of water and drinks, some healthy snacks to get you through the day, and some easy clean up cups, utensils and plates. Remember to always clean your food mess up and never leave garbage or dirty dishes unattended on site. You don't want to attract wildlife or unwelcome swarms of wasps!
what should i bring with me?
There are a few tools and other items which will make a difference in how easy your camp experience is to enjoy. Here is a quick essentials list we make sure to pack every time we leave for the woods.
- ax for chopping firewood ( this will be available for sale in bundles but will still need to be split into smaller pieces).
- matches or lighter
- pans and pots for cooking
- oven glove for handling hot pans
- can opener
- utility multi tool with serrated knife
- propane for camp stove (and RV uses - you will need to be familiar with)
- lanterns, candles and flashlights
- canopy or tarp to set up as a shelter from rain or as ground cover
- camp chairs
- duct tape (so many uses!)
- extension cord
- a fan and heater
- first aid kit
- Bug spray and deterrents
- hand sanitizer
- cell phone, car charger or portable charger
- camp blankets for cool nights, covering picnic tables and lounging on the shoreline
- a deck of cards
- collapsible backpack
- garbage bags
- dish soap and scrubber
Did I forget something? Just to let you know, you always will. At least we do! Fellow campers are usually very helpful in cases like this so don't be shy to ask for help or advice on where you might find what you need.
what will I do to pass the time?
That's the best part about camping! You might just love the opportunity to pass the time sunning in a camp chair, sipping on a beer or glass of wine, reading a good book, or just chilling to the tune of singing birds and the rustling of leaves in the summer breeze. If that sounds a bore, no worries! Try taking a hike on a marked path, going to a beach or waking the rocky shore, renting a canoe, fishing, visiting an interpretive centre, creating camp crafts out of found objects, taking a bike ride, nature photography, or taking a drive to explore the other areas and parks nearby. Evenings are a wonderful time to get the bonfire started, play a game of cards or Yahtzee and just spend time together. Star gaze on clear nights and watch for fireflies. Take this time as a chance to completely unplug, or enjoy the night cuddled up in your sleeping bags watching a movie together on an iPad. Whatever you decide to do, everything feels like an adventure while camping. Its a great time to be alone, and in my opinion, and even better time to share with the ones you love.