Here are points I like to consider when heading out to camp. First of all, it helps to live close enough to decent campgrounds to visit regularly. Getting to know the drive and the area you’ll be camping in builds your confidence with each trip.
Art by Lisa D. Hickey
RESERVE or GO OUT EARLY
It is not worth anyone’s time to pack the cooler, tents and everything needed into the vehicle, then drive an hour or two or whatever it takes, only to arrive at a sold out campground. It’s worth reserving a spot ahead of time. Some campgrounds are only first come first served so I always arrange time off for driving out mid-week. My week-long camping vacation is Wednesday to Tuesday, and not weekend to weekend. If I had to work, I’d drive out Wednesday evening, set up a tent on the campsite I wanted, and pay for the days until I can return (yes this can be frustrating to those who wing it but it’s the only way to get a site for a Friday arrival in a non-reserve campground, unless you do what I do and head out mid-week). One simply must head out on Wednesday. Thursday is pushing it. I’d never head out on a Friday. There’s enough campers around that for the past couple of years whenever and wherever I go camping, the place is sold out by Friday morning, if not Thursday.
SITE HAS PLENTY OF TREES
Trees are everything camping is about for me and I’m so lucky to live not far from heavily forested areas. I love the look of trees, the sound the wind makes in their branches, the shade they offer, the designs in their trunks. I especially enjoy how they help me create shelter with tarps. Camping is about creating shelter. That’s what we’re doing after all, right? We’re building a ‘home away from home’. And even though the metal fire ring and gravel area are ‘fixed’ there are often several tree trunks to select from for securing tarps for shelter and privacy.
I love this old hammock!
HAS A GOOD PAIR OF TREES
My ideal campsite will have a well-placed pair of strong trees for my camp hammock. And by ‘well placed’ I mean, among other things, upwind of the fire. A hammock secured between two trees for a midday rest, reading, watching the sky, listening to birds, feeling the breeze, just dozing… it’s like heaven in a campground. The most refreshing short sleeps of my life have taken place in my camp hammock.
KNOW THE SIZE OF YOUR SET-UP
Campsites are all different shapes, sizes, and orientation to the wind and the sun. Working around the fixed firepit and picnic table, it helps with choosing a great site to know sizes of everything you’ll be adding. For me it’s a 17’ SUV (with bike rack), 8×8’ tent, 5×3’ privacy tent, 12×12’ shade shelter, various tarps, the chopping area, woodpile, a couple of folding chairs and a hammock (or two). You can use a cheat sheet with measurements and a tape measure but soon you won’t need that. Every camper who sets up his or her own tents and tarps learns to assess a site. One has to be able to stand in an empty space and visualize the ‘set up’. If it doesn’t feel right, move on and keep looking. Being able to pick and choose from empty campsites until I find the right one is why I head out camping mid-week.
PLACEMENT OF THE ESSENTIALS
BEAR-BINS: How far away are the daily-use bear bins? After the last meal of the day, wrap everything up into a tight garbage bag and take it over. This is part of my daily bike rides, my evening campground trip over to the “bear-bins”, or bear-proof heavy duty metal garbage bins. When it’s getting dark it can feel a bit scary but I have bear spray in my holster, and I know how to use it! Also, I listen carefully and keep alert.
PLAYGROUND: People generally choose nearby if they have kids, or farther for more quiet. Obviously. However, even though my kids are grown and I prefer hearing birds and breezes over boisterous children, I’ll choose to camp near the playground over the bear bins, which are usually at the opposite end of the campground. Some of my camping trips located near playgrounds had hardly any noise, and I’ve been far from the playground and had an RV full of school aged kids park beside me. It’s all good.
A small Mule deer buck greets me just outside the bathroom.
BATHROOMS: The vault toilets/bathroom building (without plumbing, these well-built concrete structures have very strong hinged doors) is a tricky item to consider at your campground. I often aim for being three to eight sites away. You don’t want to be too far away, but at the same time the closer you are, the more annoying the sounds (I’ve never had an issue with odor). Sure there’s the increase in foot traffic, but worse is the slamming door. The heavy doors are spring-loaded and most people just dash out, letting them slam. I don’t like that sound myself when I’ve had to camp close to the bathroom building, so I’m one who catches the door as it closes. It only takes a second and I walk away from the building quietly, without the door slamming.
WATER: Again, weigh the pros and cons of having to travel farther but having less foot traffic, or the opposite. Water weighs so much that I try to incorporate my bike if possible, or will use my vehicle as a last resort, but mostly I bring enough water from home to last several days. Note, for extra precaution the pump water from campgrounds should be boiled before using.
PHONE: Yes, some of the campgrounds I enjoy are so deep into the mountains that there is no cell service. At these places I trek to the old-school payphone at least once a day to let someone know “Hi! All’s well.” Plus how much longer I’m staying. As a solo camper I prefer sites with service for the safety it helps provide. But at times, when my desire to go camping is stronger than the sites available, I’ll drive farther out and camp anyways. It requires more trust, and confidence. Yet it’s always good to know the site manager has a Satellite phone for emergencies.
Learn the manager’s site.
MANAGER: Personally, I prefer to be close to the manager’s site. First of all firewood is always available for purchase from their site, in addition to the trucks that come around a couple of times a day. I’ve also found that unruly off-leash dogs and late-night partying tends to not occur in campsites close to where they are. I prefer to be within emergency whistle or air horn hearing distance to them. Usually it’s an older couple living in their gorgeous RV for the summer season, plus the day staff who drive the firewood trucks, are who manage campgrounds. I like to learn their names early in the season. These hard working folks deserve a greeting from appreciative campers like me.
Every time I go camping it’s in the perfect site! But some locations have been better than others. These tips help me in my quest for the most comfy, cozy site. I hope they can help you too. Keep clean campsites, never feed the animals, and let’s all be safe. Enjoy!
[Copyright © 2017 Gina~Inga, Front Yard to Backcountry]