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The Camping Experience

Updated on November 19, 2014
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My Idea of a Camping Weekend

The world of camping means different things for everyone. For me , it's a weekend in my own Shangri-La. For others, it's a potential nightmare of bug bites and wild animals, or the chance of sitting in the cold rain around a dark and cold fire pit, not to mention sleeping outdoors that they just can't connect with. It is not for everyone, and a friend of mine is proof positive of that. When I start bringing a TV with cable to the campsite, he will consider joining us.

So what drives people to go camping? Well, I cannot speak for everyone, but I'll bet much of what I like about camping would hold true for most of the camping crowd.

First off, I live in the suburbs of New York City, across the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey. Over the years the area has become noisy and overpopulated. It is certainly not the same area I grew up in. This being said, a few hours ride into west New Jersey or into upstate New York brings me to a more peaceful setting in the woods, back to nature, if you would. Now mind you, this is not the hardcore roughing it as in the "Survivorman" television show. Most of the places I camp in are privately owned campgrounds where you rent your campsite and then have access to their public bathrooms and showers should you wish. And if you want to avoid sleeping in a tent, some of these places even have cabins, but, for a much higher price than a tent site. I like the tent sites because the privacy is usually better, especially if you have made yourself familiar with the campground layout from camping trips past. I'm good with little or no human contact, outside of my camping group, for the whole weekend.

Upon arriving at the campsite, most of the first hour is spent setting camp, including pitching of the tent and spiking it to the ground and unloading the car of all the other camping equipment. I have an aluminum tripod that my propane camping lantern is hung on in the center of the campsite and we set up the camping stove on a picnic table that most of the sites I use supply. The wood for the campfire has to be purchased at these campsites as they don't want you chopping down trees or introducing wood eating beetles from wood that comes from outside of the area. Once the site is set, we get the campfire going and prepare a quick supper, which is usually hamburgers or hot dogs, and on occasion, canned food on the stove. The rest of the evening is spent drinking beer, smoking cigars and talking around the campfire. Nice and relaxing and loaded with laughs.

Camping Food

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Food is usually a big part of our camping weekend, and while hamburgers and hot dogs are a staple, It is certainly not the only food we bring. We will, on occasion, try different ways to prepare the food. The photo above is from a camping trip this past summer. It was just my brother and I on this trip, so I spent the big bucks on a couple of t-bone steaks to start the trip. I used an A-1 New York Steakhouse Marinade on these and the Purdue chicken wingettes that followed these on the grill. They were cooked over charcoal, not an open flame campfire, and were delicious.

The grill in the photo is a Rotisserie & Spit Grill and comes with the attachments to place the spit across the top of the grill. I have cooked whole chickens over the campfire/hot coals, takes most of the day, but, is well worth it. And let's face it, if you can kick back and babysit a chicken over a campfire all day, how great is that. Some other dishes we have thrown together on the camping stove include homemade chicken and turkey soup, beef stew, and even a pot roast. That is some good eating for a weekend of roughing it. Taking a potato, wrapping it in aluminum foil, and placing it in the hot coals will produce a baked potato camping style. Sometimes we'll just take canned goods such as corned beef hash, baked beans, various canned pastas, and some of the dehydrated foods where you just add water. This solves the problem of keeping the meats cold throughout the weekend. I have learned it does not take much for chicken legs to get a little gamey when not kept cold enough. Pancakes, sausage, bacon and eggs are some of the morning breakfast dishes.

A great idea I ran across, but to date have not used, is precooking some of the food the night before your trip and just reheating it over the campfire. It is less likely to go bad if it is already cooked. A touch of food poisoning is no fun in the woods, which, unfortunately, I speak of with experience.

Whatever your taste in food may be, with the camping gear available today, you can most likely enjoy it on your camping trip.

Cooking With A Camping Stove

Coleman Triton Series InstaStart 2-Burner Stove
Coleman Triton Series InstaStart 2-Burner Stove

When I first started camping, using a camping stove was considered a sacrilege to the whole camping experience, amongst my camping group. Over the years, with the experiences of failed campfires and washouts, the camp stove looked more and more like a good idea. Boiling water over a gas flame is much easier than a campfire. Some of the things we cook on the stove now include bacon, eggs, pancakes, sausage, soups, canned foods, and even pot roasts. We've come along way from our camping beginnings.

The stove I use is a two burner propane fueled apparatus like the one pictured, less the wind shields. The wind shields are a nice addition to the camping stoves. There have been many occasions where this would have come in handy, as I have watched the wind blow out the strongest of flame.

 

Camping Equipment

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If you are starting out with no gear, you don't need to go over the top. In fact, if it's possible, I recommend going out with friends who already are equipped, and see if camping is your cup of tea, before investing much money in your own equipment.

That said, lets talk about the basics. You will need a tent to start with. This can be basic, like mine in the photo above, or you can go big, as they have tents that are the size of small condos now. It is all based on need. Mine is a four man tent, as it usually is just my brother and I, with an occasional nephew who tags along. Nothing fancy, and it was under fifty dollars. It replaced a tent that I had for over twenty years and was now tearing in the corners and had a zipper that would split open on the entrance flap.

A good sleeping bag is a must on those chilly nights. I have two sleeping bags. One is a mummy bag rated for twenty below zero, which keeps me nice and warm on those colder camping trips, though, I must admit, I have never tested the twenty below range with it. I also have a fleece summer bag, which is basically a blanket with a zipper. Most sleeping bags come with a temperature rating for warm, cool, or cold weather and come in various sizes. Shop around, you can get a good bag at a decent price.

Other must haves include a good flashlight or lantern and a camp stove or grill to cook your food.

What I have done over the years is put together a few plastic storage bins that now contain cooking and eating utensils, spices, cleaning soaps and brushes, matches, lighter fluid and rain ponchos. All of these things are strictly camping gear, kept together in the bins, which eliminates the problem of forgetting key things like a spatula for flipping burgers or the coffee pot.

You don't have to spend a fortune on this stuff either. Walmart carries a lot of gear by Ozark Trail which is of good quality and price. My camp stove and lantern are both Ozark Trail and I have owned the stove for years. It is just a basic model with two burners, and no bells and whistles like wind guards. The original lantern met a destructive end at the hands of a couple of nephews, but that is another story.

Camping and the Mother Nature Experience

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Being prepared for the weather is as simple as a change of clothes, a rain poncho, and proper outer wear, depending on the time of year your camping. I have had trips where it was misting all day long, and still had a great time. The mist did not drench us, campfire was maintained, and the bugs were kept at bay. I have been in thunderstorms where the wind and rain wreaked havoc on the campsite, putting out campfires and drenching all the camping gear. Most of the time the storms quickly pass and as long as you can get the fire going again, it is not that big of a deal.

Camping in the fall makes for nice crisp days with the added scenery of the leaves turning color. Cold weather camping is fun for the adventure of it, but I am usually good with just one night of it.

While sitting in the woods, be sure to look around and take in the scenery. You never know when you will be back.

Wild animal encounters are also part of the experience, and is a chance to observe these animals in their natural habitat. I have run into bear, deer, skunks, racoons and wild turkeys.
With the black bear encounters, the key to safety is to observe from a safe distance and not be perceived as a threat, especially with a mother and her cubs. I have watched as people would follow real close to a mother and cub that wandered through the campground, taking photos and having good time, but the danger of that bear turning on them was very real.

With everyone armed with cell phone cameras today, the opportunity for some real nice wildlife and nature photographs presents itself. Just do it safely.

How to Build a Campfire : Different Types of Campfires

Camping Recreation

For recreation, I like to sit around reading a good book, kick back on a hammock strung between two trees, toss around a football or Frisbee, or maybe have a catch with a baseball. Just sitting around the campfire ring talking and joking around with friends makes for a good time, especially with the beer flowing nice and cold. Sometimes, doing absolutely nothing but sitting, beer in hand, and enjoying the setting of the woods does the trick.

If you have children with you on your camping trip, they do need to be entertained. I have learned this from many trips that have included my nephews, and sitting around shooting the breeze does not not rank big as entertainment for them. That is why I usually have the football, Frisbee, and baseball glove in the car.

My brother usually has a chess board with him, and we will play a few rounds of that when the mood hits us. Board games are great to have in case you find yourself sitting out a rainstorm in your tent. And don't forget the deck of cards for some friendly rounds of camping poker.

The camp site I most frequent has a fishing pond, swimming pool, and a game room by the office. This helps when you have a few fidgety kids with you. Again, where I am usually camping is not exactly the deep bush that Survivorman is in.

And, there is always hiking around the trails to alleviate some of the pent up energy that the younger crowd has.

Lighting Your Campsite

Coleman NorthStar  Propane Lantern with Soft Carry Case
Coleman NorthStar Propane Lantern with Soft Carry Case

Having the campsite lit from the glow of the campfire is nice ambiance, but can leave you stumbling around as you walk out of the light range. I like to light the site with a propane lantern like this one. The amount of light they give off is adjustable and is incredibly bright at its maximum. This particular one has an "instastart" ignition system so you are not messing around with matches, and has a stand to place the propane tank into. I like to leave this lit overnight on a low brightness level for those middle of the night bathroom trips. I don't like to be surprised in the dark as I unzip my tent.

 

Some Camping Disasters

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Well, 'disaster' may be too strong of a word, but not every trip out goes as planned, and weather is usually a big part of that. You just have to roll with the punches, and make the best of any given situation. Here are some experiences that we could have done without.

Three of us wanted to start a Super Bowl tradition, and camp out the Saturday night before the game. We decided to go to Stokes State Forrest in northwest New Jersey and spend the evening around a campfire in the cold. It was windy, but we were dressed for the cold and once the fire was lit, it was not so bad. While cooking a late dinner, it began to snow. This was not in the forecast, however, passing flurries are not uncommon in this portion of the state in January, as this is the highlands section of New Jersey and is usually somewhat colder than the rest of the state. It was just a half inch at most, and then as quick as it started it was over. It was enough though, that we were now wet, and, yes, I said that we were dressed for the weather, but warm clothing does not necessarily translate into waterproof clothing. With the wind blowing making us way too cold to hang outside, the night was cut short. Waking up on a cold morning in the woods is not much fun either, as the coffee cannot be made quick enough. Don't get me wrong, the experience was different, that's for sure, but the Super Bowl tradition did not catch on.

Big thunderstorms can wash you out quickly. A pretty big group of us were camping in New York along the Delaware River. There is a rafting company that runs the campground, and the view on the ridge overlooking the river is fantastic. We had a good fire going, and a little rain does not always ruin the evening, as long as you can keep the base coals hot. Unfortunately, a huge thunderstorm had moved in and dumped a ton of rain on us in the course of an hour. We were camping on their lean-to sites, which provided some shelter from the rain, but there was nothing we could do as we watch the fire pit fill with water and listened to the base coals sizzle out.

At the same campground, different trip, my brother and I were using the lean-tos to sleep in as we did not want to be bothered with setting up a tent. My brother refers to these as bat boxes, as we had found dead bats in them on occasion. They are about ten feet wide and enclosed on three sides with an open face to the ridge overlooking the river. We had done our usual evening festivities which included lots of beer and laughs around the campfire. I had broken a cardinal rule of camping this evening, and failed to secure the trash bag, which I usually toss in the trunk of my car. Not really sure if that's the right thing to do either, but it's much better than leaving it in the middle of the site. I was awoken to the sound of empty aluminum cans rattling around and was shocked to see a skunk in the rays of my flashlight, digging in the trash bag not ten feet away from the open face of the lean-to. I spent the next half hour trying to scare away the skunk by flashing the light in and out of its eyes, without spooking it into spraying. I think I fear the skunk more than the black bears on these camping trips. Thankfully, I was successful with chasing away the skunk and not smelling like one at the same time.

One of my more recent trips out included family which meant lots of the kids were with us. Not usually a problem, but a few of them like to be entertained the whole time. I like to kick back and relax most of the time, but I'm not beyond tossing around a football or baseball for a while. In the course of the weekend, two of my nephews were playing catch with a football and took out my propane lantern, breaking the glass globe and bending the fuel knob, a complete loss. These things happen, what are you going to do, it was an accident. Later on, one of my nephews wanted to have a catch with a baseball. No problem there, I pack a baseball mitt for camping trips for this reason. We chose to use the driveway leading into our site to play, I was back near the road that rings the campground, he was where we parked the cars. He had over thrown the baseball and I had to chase it down, and once it was retrieved I was quite a distance from him. Saying to myself that I should not do this, I threw the ball from that distant spot, got great distance on the throw as the ball bounced off the rear hood and the edge of my back window shattering the glass. To top that off, I had recently cancelled the comprehensive insurance on the car because it had over a hundred thousand miles on it and was not worth paying, so the total replacement cost for the back window came out of my pocket. We also had a skunk walk through the site as we sat around the campfire that evening, no spraying but sure made us nervous. To finish the weekend off, I realized that my two football throwing nephews left my football in the woods. The one and only time that a camping weekend could not end quick enough for me.

These tough times camping, whether caused by Mother Nature or ourselves, won't keep me from going again. The good times outweigh the bad times by a ton.

To Camp Or Not To Camp

Ending this hub with some of the camping mishaps may not be the way to encourage you to get out there, but keep in mind those are an accumulation of years of camping. Weather is always going to be an issue, but you can plan around it. You are in the woods, so wildlife encounters are also going to happen. Following camping rules of proper food and trash storage can keep the critters out of your camp site, and bears generally like to keep their distance from humans.

If your someone who likes nature, being in the woods, or are just looking for some peace and quiet and some good times with friends and family, grab some basic equipment and get out to a campground, you will not regret it.

The worst part of the whole camping experience is when it's time to leave. Even when everything is packed and ready to go, we'll sit around for some final laughs, stalling for as long as possible and then leave with heavy hearts. It's never any fun heading back to the rat race.

Ready To Give Camping A Try

After reading through this, are you ready for a weekend in the great outdoors?

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Your Input

Whether you're an experienced camper, or, someone who has not tried it yet, but would like to, I want to hear from you. Please leave your thoughts, experiences, advice or general comments below.

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