Cheat Sheet

Camping For Dummies

Like any endeavor, camping is more enjoyable with a little preparation, so assembling and packing the equipment you need is your first order of business. If you’re tent camping, it pays to heed certain rules — you don’t want to share your snacks with the wildlife, do you? And what’s camping without a campfire? Knowing how to get a campfire started is a welcome skill to have.

Camping Checklist

To go camping on short notice with the least hassle, keep the items in the following list assembled, packed, and ready to load into your vehicle. A large plastic cargo box is a good container.

Camp tent Can opener Tablecloth
12 x 12 heavyweight blue plastic tarp Plastic cutting board First-aid kit
Sleeping pads Kitchen knives Camp soap, sponge
Camping hammock Spice kit Dishwashing basin
Duct tape, 50-foot nylon cord Barbecue tongs and fork Dishtowel, paper towels
Bungee cord assortment Serving plates and cups Resealable plastic bags, large garbage bags
No-stick skillet, large pot, small pot Knife-fork-spoon sets Folding chairs
Two-burner stove Aluminum foil Lantern, flashlight, extra batteries
Wooden matches Spatula, pot grips, oven mitts Frisbee, Nerf balls, football, playing cards, travel games
Water filter, 5-gallon water jug

How to Load Your Vehicle for Camping

Getting ready for a camping trip involves lots of packing — clothes, camping gear, food and cooking equipment, as well as sport and game equipment. When it comes to loading up your vehicle, use the following guidelines:

Place all camp gear, coolers, food, and fuel in the trunk. Stow liquids carefully so that they don’t tip. Don’t forget the goodie bag full of play stuff to keep restless travelers happy.
Use a car rack to handle overflow from the trunk. Never pack camp gear inside the passenger compartment; preserve that space for comfortable travel. If necessary, rent a larger vehicle. Attach removable sun screens to the inside rear windows.
Take blanket and pillows inside the car as nap-aids. Carry a litter bag within easy reach of all travelers. Dispose of litter at each pit stop.
Put maps (carefully marked with the route) within easy reach of the driver or navigator. Keep extra clothing inside, like jackets if you’re going to higher elevations. Those extra layers will make you more comfortable at rest stops.
Keep coins handy for tolls. Stow boats on the roof rack.
Keep a small cooler inside the car loaded with drinks and snacks. Toss a few old towels nearby to soak up spills and cover hot seats. Stow bikes on the rack, too. No room? Rent one of those special bike racks for rear mounting.

Tips for Tent Camping

Camping is a wonderful way to spend time in the great outdoors. But if you’re tent camping, you don’t want to welcome too much of the great outdoors into your tent. Happy campers observe simple rules, such as those in the following list, to keep tenting tidy and safe:

  • To keep the inside clean (or at least cleaner), park your boots and shoes outside the tent. You can herd those wet and dirty items into a big plastic bag to protect them from weather.

  • Don’t bring food into the tent. Animals can smell it a mile away, and you don’t want a bear — or any smaller critter, for that matter — sharing your tent.

  • Safety first: Don’t light matches or use any flame-powered device inside the tent. That includes flame-powered heaters of any kind. Tent fires are extremely serious, possibly deadly.

  • Resist the impulse to use the tent as a springboard. Kids of all ages are tempted to fling themselves against the side of the tent for the bounce-back effect. Sometimes the tent breaks. That’s b-a-a-a-d!

  • Walk, don’t run, close to tents. Stakes and guylines are easy to trip over, and no camper enjoys a face-plant.

How to Start a Campfire

Even when you’re camping, you don’t have to rub two sticks together to get your campfire going. You can choose that method of course, but most fire-starting begins with a good supply of wooden matches. Use them to ignite any of the following:

  • Commercial firestarters such as fire ribbon or petroleum-based tablets (Esbit by MPI Outdoors, for example) work very well.

  • In an old egg carton, fill each egg slot with finely shredded newspaper and a few spoonfuls of sawdust. Pour on melted wax to bind the sawdust and paper into a solid lump. After the wax hardens, you have a dozen little firestarters.

  • Fill a film canister with lint from your clothes dryer. Be sure that the lint is from wool, cotton, or fleece garments — not fire-retardant fabrics (of course). Lint ignites readily and starts big-time fires.

  • Look to nature. Even in the worst storm, you can find dry tinder around the base of tree trunks, under rock ledges, in tree hollows, and next to downed logs.

  • Make your own kindling by whittling a small log down to the dry center and then whittling dry shavings from this piece. Who brought the marshmallows?

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