The outdoors are an infamous pastime, and one I guarantee you’ll enjoy – if you do it right. What follows is a short, printable guide to your home away from home, including food, water, shelter, and not getting eaten by !BEARS!
Food, Water, and Shelter – how not to “Die”
These are your three vitals. Without food, you’ll die in a week or two from starvation. Without water, you’ll die in a day or two from dehydration. Without shelter, and in the event of poor weather, you’ll die and/or be maimed in the process slowly, quickly, or… you get the point.
Don’t worry. Dying is a very avoidable occurrence when camping. Millions of people manage to do it every year.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s focus on what matters – having a good, comfortable time while camping. I’ll go over safety at the end of this post.
This guide, again, will focus on “car camping” or camping overnight with close access to a vehicle. There are other types of camping – overnight camping in the wilderness, commonly referred to as backpacking – but I won’t get into that here.
You’ll need a few essential pieces of equipment when camping and I’ve listed them below, along with links to relevant articles on picking the best equipment for you. If you are just starting out as a camper, there is nothing wrong with buying entry level equipment, but keep in mind that specialized equipment and gear, while more expensive, will give better performance in most conditions. Enough of that, though – here it is!
A sleeping bag
An air mattress or sleeping pad
A cooler, preferably 48-quart
A thermos, for coffee and water
A camp cook set (my recommendation, a stainless steel Stanley camp cook set)
Bottled water or a water filter
Provisions (food!), covered below
Fire-starting materials, i.e., newspaper, tinder sticks, matches or a lighter
A camp chair for every camper (optional)
Toliet paper and other hygiene products as needed
A tent is essential, although I know a few who like to camp from a sleeping hammock. I can’t speak to that, though. You want to pitch your tent somewhere flat, ideally with both shade and nearby trees to shelter from any possible wind and rain. Make sure you check the forecast before you go camping – you can be prepared and aware and ideally, both.
Camping at a campground versus off a dirt road or another site are quite different experiences. Campgrounds will usually have a fire pit, a flat, sometimes landscaped area to pitch your tent, and nearby sanitation facilities. You have no guarantee of those amenities elsewhere in the wilderness, and while you can find a flat space for a tent rather easily, the other amenities you’ll have to do without or make your own.
Different tents are rated for different temperatures, so keep that in mind – sleeping bags are similarly rated for different temperatures, as explained [here]. It is very easy to be too hot or too cold, so take some time and pick the right one, and if you need some advice, read this [article]
Bringing an inflatable air mattress, a warm sleeping bag, a good tent, and your favorite pillow will do wonders to help you sleep soundly at night. If you didn’t bring a sleeping pad or air mattress, it is important to pick a flat space on soft dirt – try to make sure the ground underneath your tent is clear of rocks and other hard objects.
You want to bring a cooler. A 48-quart cooler (like this one) is usually my choice and adequate. Coincidentally, a 10-lb bag of ice, like you can find at any grocery store and most gas stations, fits conveniently in the bottom of it. Put your food on top of it – your food will literally be “on ice.” Keep this cooler in the back of your car, or use it as an extra seat around a campfire.
Below is a small guide to what I typically would pack and eat over the course of a day in the mountains. I tend to stay away from foods that can spoil, like lunchmeat, mayonnaise, or raw food that needs to be cooked, and instead eat things such as granola, beef jerky, or pre-cooked, preserved, or canned foods. That’s my preference, but if you followed my advice then you have a cooler with ice in it that probably hasn’t melted yet and I’m sure whatever food you decide to bring will keep for some time.
Oatmeal mixed with peanut butter and granola
I usually pack oatmeal, granola, and peanut butter. I mix these together in the morning, using hot water. A savvy shortcut is to heat the water the night before and store it in your thermos – this way you can wake up, mix some oatmeal and the like, and then make coffee.
Instant coffee isn’t quite like the real thing but I’m naturally a late riser, so mornings can be rough for me. I try to make them as easy as possible, and instant coffee does the trick.
Canned corn beef hash has always one of my favorites, but takes a little more effort and a skillet. Whatever you do, make sure it is similar to what you normally eat or palatable like the above foods
. You don’t want to upset your stomach.
Make sure to drink water. It’s easy to get dehydrated, especially when you’ve departed from your normal daily routine.
Peanut (and jelly/honey/more peanut butter) sandwiches
If you’re going hiking, you can take more granola, some jerky, maybe some peanut butter sandwiches. I prefer anything that doesn’t take too much prep work or effort (it’s possible you may have not slept well the night before, since you were adjusting to new surroundings).
I usually have a hike planned out near my campsite, and either hike or fish during the day. Either way, it tends to be pretty active, so for lunch I like to eat something high in protein and calories. Peanut butter has both, and putting it on bread is a classic, high-calorie, safe (no risk of food poisoning), and tasty treat. Granola is good as a snack, and so is beef jerky.
However, a little secret – there is nothing wrong with eating only beef jerky. I do it all the time.
Whiskey, to aid with starting the fire
For dinner I like something hearty. Chili is a good choice but not my favorite; I’ll usually bring packs of pre-cooked bratwurst and warm them over a roaring fire. At this point, I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’ve been active all day; while I want good food, I also don’t want to spend very long cooking it.
Pre-cooked food, then, is the way I go.
Whiskey, also my recommendation, has two solid aspects to it – first of all, it is a high proof liquor. It’ll get you tipsy, then it’ll get you drunk. Second, and more important, is that alcohol burns, and the high alcohol content of the whiskey, or any hard liquor of your choosing, means that getting the fire started and warming up food will be that much easier.
But Fletch, you say, can’t I just use lighter fluid? Yes, I suppose you can. I wouldn’t recommend drinking it, however.
Stay hydrated is something people take for granted, but to go camping I’d recommend you bring plenty of it, and then some. Drink roughly a gallon of water per day. Bring more than that – you can use the extra to wash your hands, brush your teeth, put out the campfire that you may have stoked too high, unless you really want to wait for it to go out. Water is a tool as much as a camp axe or a hammer is, but the difference is you need it to survive.
Again, I recommend a gallon of water, a gallon jug actually, per person per day. It’s easy to keep track of that way, and you can use any extra water to douse your campfire at night.
There are a few kinds of camp safety to talk about, and I’ve saved the best for last.
For campfire safety, don’t stoke the fire too high, and try not to burn more than what you need to cook or to keep warm. Stray embers can ignite dry brush during a drought, and a forest fire is the last thing you want starting right next to your camp.
Animals are a concern, whether the aforementioned bears or just noisy raccoons. However, if you keep all of your trash in one place, you can easily throw it in the back of a vehicle while you sleep. Do the same with your cooler. Animals are attracted to campsites by scent, and if you leave food out then you or the next camper to camp there will have a problem with the local wildlife. An alternative is to hang it from a tree with rope, or put all of your food in a bear box and store it a hundred feet or so from your campsite – generally, I’d rather bring a couple extra trash bags, double bag any garbage, and leave it in my vehicle.
If you read the above list of food as well, you’ll notice that none of the food I recommend is very perishable, or smells – this is a key determining factor when I make that decision. You don’t want the inside of your vehicle to smell like trash.
The last note I’ll make for safety is just general common sense. If you are out in the wilderness, you’ll be miles from the nearest hospital – be careful.
No-one likes to talk about it, and I’m not talking about brushing your teeth. Using the facilities, dropping the kids off at the pool, some other choice words – make sure you bring toilet paper or baby wipes for your own personal hygiene, and have a disposal method. Generally, you want to bury anything you don’t pack out of the wilderness, so bring a shovel (or folding entrenching tool) if you aren’t near a toilet and try to bury it about a foot deep and at least a hundred feet away from any water sources like lakes, rivers, hot springs, etc. so you don’t contaminate groundwater for future campers.
Camping can be a great experience for people of all ages and backgrounds, and there is no reason to make it harder than it has to be. I’d rather camp in comfort than be miserable, and it is easy to do with a small amount of preparation and thought. I hope you find this guide helpful and informative. If you have any suggestions for me, whatever they may be, or any questions regarding my content, please comment below. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it, and I hope you grow to love the outdoors as much as I do!