Camping offers the serenity of escape - and, if
it is combined with the exercise of a hiking trip, it benefits
both body and mind. The simplicity of camping combined with the beauty
of nature can help us readjust and unwind from our hectic lifestyles.
Whether you're in the woods, in the desert, combing the beaches, or
climbing mountain trails, you'll want to keep a few survival
techniques in mind to guarantee a memorable trip.
Before You Leave
Know the environment in which you'll be
camping. Different terrain
carries different challenges - for example, pitching a tent on sand is
very different from setting up camp on land, and if you don't have the
right equipment, you could find yourself sleeping under the stars on a
Preparation: You'll also want to be prepared for
any potential hazards - everything from poison ivy
to potentially dangerous wildlife. Contact park rangers, an outdoors
expert at your local sporting goods store, or research where you'll be
going on the Internet or at a library before you hit the trail.
Knowing your surroundings will help you find out what you might
encounter and how you can prepare - or whether you want to avoid the
you'll be hiking to your campsite, practice walking with your fully
packed backpack to get an idea of how the pack fits and whether the
load is well distributed. This helps prevent blisters and strain. It's
also a good idea to practice walking in the boots you'll be wearing.
What to Pack
Here are some camping necessities that you may
want to pack:
easy-to-assemble tent. Before you leave,
practice putting up your tent in your backyard or living room to make
sure it works properly. (But be careful not to leave any important
pieces behind when you set out!)
A sleeping bag. There are many
inexpensive sleeping bags on the market, but you'll want to choose the
right one for your conditions. Temperatures can drop quickly when
you're camping at higher elevations. So buy or rent sleeping bags
designed to keep you warm in low temperatures. Goose down or synthetic
(man-made) materials can keep you toasty in temperatures as low as
minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius below zero).
Insect repellent and sunscreen. For
summertime excursions, use sunscreen and an insect repellent that
contains 10% to 30% DEET. Although you can buy products that combine
sunscreen with an insect repellent, these generally aren't a good idea
because sunscreen should be applied more frequently than an insect
repellent. Apply the sunscreen first.
Medications. Pack a supply of any medicines that
you might need to take during the trip, such as asthma or allergy
A first-aid kit that includes:
calamine lotion (for stings and rashes)
adhesive strips or bandages
butterfly closures (for wounds that require
sterile eye pads
electrolyte tablets (these replace lost
minerals but should be used with caution)
disposable latex gloves
basic first-aid instructions
A survival kit
a flashlight (with extra batteries)
bottled water (in addition to your regular
high-carbohydrate snacks (such as energy
a whistle (this can be heard at greater
distances than a traditional call for help)
a thermal reflective blanket (these
"space blankets" are light and easy to carry and offer
emergency protection against wind and cold)
Cell Phone: You
may also want to consider taking along a cell phone for emergencies.
Not all wilderness areas have cell phone coverage, though, so don't
think of your phone as your only safety device. Tip:
A cell phone, if charged, can be used to dial 911 whether you have
paid service or not.
Remember that saying, "take only pictures, leave only
footprints?" If you're hiking in remote areas with no waste
disposal facilities, you'll need to carry out your garbage and other
unused items. Make this easier by packing as lightly as you can.
What to Wear
Shorts might seem like the perfect camp gear when
you leave the house, but if the weather shifts from sun to storm
clouds, they may leave you with the chills. Try to bring a variety of
clothing, including practical clothes that dry fast.
If you plan to hike, long pants and shirts made of lighter
fabrics are a better choice than shorts. They help protect against
everything from ticks and mosquitoes to poisonous and thorny plant
life (not to mention sunburn). Speaking of insects, you can now buy
clothing that's designed to protect you from sunburn or has been
treated with insect repellents - you'll still need to use a rub or
spray on repellent on exposed skin though!
Layering your clothes, from tank tops to long-sleeved jackets,
will allow you to add or remove layers easily depending on the
temperature. And don't forget to bring extra socks, extra shoes, and
waterproof rain gear. A plastic poncho and rain hat pack well and
offer good protection when unexpected cloudbursts threaten to rain on
your rustic parade.
A hat is a camping essential. If you're
bringing a hat to stay warm, be sure it fits snugly. If you are hoping
for it to provide shade during warm weather adventures, select
something lightweight and well ventilated like a straw or mesh weave.
And remember to pack something waterproof to keep your head dry in
case of rain.
Although your experiences will vary from campsite
to campsite, a few tips always apply. The first rule to remember is
not to camp alone. The buddy system isn't only fun, it's also smart -
there's someone to help in case of an emergency.
Make sure the folks back home have your camping
itinerary and check in with them at regular, previously arranged
intervals. Many park areas offer an opportunity to sign in at the
beginning of a trail. Take advantage of this system (or tell a ranger
at the park's ranger station when you're setting out). That way, if
conditions get rough, your chances of getting help are better. Of
course, most campers breeze through their outdoor adventures without a
snag. But part of the serenity of camping is knowing someone will know
how to find you if you need help.
How can you keep your campsite safe, beyond using
common sense and the buddy system? Here are some tips from the
Plan your site.
Pick a clear spot on a hill or slope to avoid potential flash flooding
after a sudden rain. There's nothing like the power of water in motion
to wash away your love for camping along with your gear. If you're in
an area that may attract bears or other wildlife, plan your site so
your cooking area is well away from your sleeping area. The U.S.
National Park Service recommends people sleep about 100 yards, or 90
meters, uphill or upwind from where they cook.
Don't play with fire.
Make sure open campfires are legal before you start one consult a park
ranger or campsite staff member to find out. Once you've determined
it's OK to have a fire, carefully consider where your fire will burn.
Ten feet away from your tent is a good rule of thumb.
Store food safely. Food
that's not stored properly can attract all kinds of wildlife,
including animals that are potentially dangerous, like bears. The
National Park Service recommends hanging food above ground in special
bags; you can also rent special bear-proof containers at some ranger
Be aware of what's going
on around you. Make a mental note of your
surroundings, including who is nearby and what they might be doing.
Lock your car, even if you think no one is around. Be friendly, but
not too friendly. Be ready for the unexpected.
Don't forget to take
along plenty of drinking water, even if you're
headed to a mountain retreat where the water looks clear, cool, and
tempting. No matter how crystal clear stream, river, or lake water
looks, it can be contaminated with parasites that make people
seriously ill. Sure, packing water may seem heavy, but it's one of the
essentials of camping. Bottles are unwieldy to carry and you have to
carry the empties back with you, so many seasoned campers find it
easier to take along drinking pouches filled with water.
Wildlife species native to remote areas also use
the waterways, and germs from sick animals can contaminate lakes,
streams, or rivers. These can make people sick, too. You can bathe and
swim if it's not restricted, but bring your own water to drink - and
drink plenty of it, to avoid dehydration.
There are many edible
plants along the trail, but don't try harvesting them unless you know
what you're doing. Some berries, leaves,
mushrooms, or roots look yummy but they can make you sick. If you want
to harvest goodies on your trip, study up by reading books or visiting
reputable Internet sites before you head out - and then take pictures
Do not feed the
animals! National parks and other campsites are
alive with wildlife, from birds to bears or chipmunks to snakes. It
may be tempting to lure the animals into your campsite with food just
to get a closer look. But do yourself and the animals a favor and
Wild animals need to stay wild. Not feeding them
helps preserve their survival - as well as your own. It's easy to
think of animals like horses as domesticated, but any wild animal can
bite and even smaller animals can do substantial damage to a campsite.
Even if you escape the close encounter without losing a finger, the
next family to land in the same campsite might not be so lucky.
Once an animal knows it can be fed at a certain
location, it will instinctively return. Just as the next person to
encounter the animal may not fare as well as you, the same animal may
not be as fortunate with other people. Attracting animals to campsites
puts them at risk for cruel treatment from people who may not be as
kind as you.
Finding Your Way
Compass: Getting lost while camping and
hiking is probably the biggest problem most campers face. It's a good
idea to learn how to use a compass and map to get from place to place
- most campers have no idea how to use a compass. To avoid getting
lost, stay on well-marked trails and never camp without a friend or
family member along for the ride. Before you start on your adventure,
obtain maps from the park or forest ranger.
If you and your buddy do get lost, follow trail markers to the nearest
ranger station and wait for help to arrive. If you can't find a ranger
station, look for a safe, sheltered place and wait for help to come
looking for you it will if you've followed procedures such as signing
in on trails and leaving information at home on where you'll be. An
ordinary sports whistle is a camper's best friend when it comes to
calling for help. The regular repeat of the clear tone can help
guarantee your cries for help will be heard at distances the human
voice can't travel. If you have a cell phone and can obtain a signal,
try contacting park rangers by phone. Hiking
Ask a Ranger: If
you do have an unexpected problem, no matter how small it seems to
you, don't hesitate to ask park rangers for help. Asking directions or
advice can mean the difference between a treasured memory and a
If you really want to head for the hills and none of your buddies
are into it, take along a parent or other relative. Sharing the beauty
of the great outdoors can actually help you get to know the adults in
your life better, without all the usual distractions of life. A great
camping trip not only leaves you with memories to treasure, it may
start you on a lifelong passion.