Wednesday, August 26, 2020

9 Tips for First Time Campers

You’re planning to take the plunge – your first camping trip! Everyone says it’s SO GREAT, but secretly you think a weekend at the Marriott would be way more fun.

Will you burn down the tent? Give everyone food poisoning? And what about the rain? WHAT ABOUT THE RAIN?

Don’t worry, camping is easy if you follow a few simple tips and don’t stress the small stuff!  You’ll unplug, hang out and make s’mores. You’ll sing songs by the fire that you forgot you knew, and rediscover the joy of reading by flashlight. You may even be the first one up in the morning, boiling water for coffee and savoring the quiet before everybody else gets up.

Packing - use a checklist!

Here are our tips for first-timers, and remember, everybody was a beginner once!

1. The first time, go car camping within 30 miles of your home. Take your car (or rent one), throw your stuff in the back and go for it! That way if there’s a disaster (hurricane) or everyone just plain hates it (it happens) you can drive home, take a hot shower and order a pizza.

2. Choose your campsite as carefully as possible. Look at the campsite maps and think it through. You want to be close enough to the bathrooms for a run at night, but not so close you hear your fellow campers there. You want to be a little secluded, but the first time out you want to be able to park your car right at the camp site (not carry your stuff in). 

3. Put your tent up at home before you go camping, so you know how to do it. Do it twice, if you need to! Get a big tent, if you’re a family. Everyone should be able to sit up in it and read or play cards, and smaller people should be able to stand up, change clothes, etc. (When you go hiking and are carrying your tent on your back is when you bring a tiny tent.)

4.  Meal plan. Plan what you’re going to eat, and don’t bring too much! Breakfast and lunch should be simple, and dinner can be a bit more elaborate, sitting around the fire affair. Plan for some fun camp food traditions, like paper bag eggs or spider dogs. Tips on how to pack the coolers here.  And don’t forget the s’mores .

Paper Bag Eggs

5. Pack simply, but thoughtfully. We freeze 6-8 tall water bottles to keep our cooler nice and cold for a couple of days and then become cool drinking water. Bring a fully charged phone charger, but know that not all camp sites have wifi. Bring mosquito spray. Bring warm clothes – even in the summer (it can get cold at night). Bring a lighter to light your fire and stove. Bring flashlights and extra batteries. Our packing list is here.

6. Plan to arrive at the campsite in the late morning or early afternoon. You want to have time to set up your tent and get your things in order before dusk. You don’t want to set up your tent in the dark – and I say this from experience. Fighting off the mosquitos and keeping the kids calm while setting up a big tent is no fun!

7. Bring a small camping stove and test it before you go. Most stoves need a small propane tank that can be bought separately at the store or on line. They’re easy to use, but most have to be started with a match or lighter, FYI. 

At a scruffy campground somewhere in New Jersey

8. Bring games, books, cards, crafts, whatever might be fun on a rainy day.

9. Know the campground rules. The most important ones are: 1) Pack all your food away in your car at night or when you’re out hiking (to keep bears away), and 2) Don’t bring in your own firewood (this is to control pervasive insects). But each campground has its own rules. Observe them, or you might get a ticket! (Again, speaking from experience.)

And remember, it’s all about being together on an adventure. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I remember once when we took our three kids camping when they were all under five years old to a scruffy campground with a dirty brown pond, and on the last night it stormed so hard we packed up the tent and all our stuff in the pouring rain and hightailed it out of there. The kids thought it was hilarious, and frankly, so did we. So go for it, and enjoy it!

You may also like: 

Need more recipes? Check out our popular Camping Cookbook!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Our Very First Group Camping Trip

photo credit: Nadine Wegner

By guest blogger Peter Valentine

Our kids’ class has a tradition of reserving a block of sites at a Campground in the Catskills for a start of summer multi-family camping trip. While we love camping, we were reluctant to open our quirky unit to a 24/7 togetherness campaign. Our messy, disorganized family of five can barely get to school on time (OK, we’re never on time) and running with the pack is often a challenge. But this year, we decided to give it a try.

We started out early (for us) and still managed to be the last family there.  And as we tried to maneuver our food up to the now-waning community grill, and as our tent and gear still sat in a pile beside our car and as our kids’ requests for this and that grew more intense, all my fears were confirmed. This would be a prolonged display of the fact that our family was in a constant state of chaos management.

And then one Mom handed me a plastic cup of single malt whiskey. And another Mom and Dad fed our kids. And another Dad came over and helped pitch our tent.

Still, we were destined to be known as the weirdest family there. Apart from our ragtag pile of camping gear, we had all kinds of odd habits. For one thing, our teenager insisted on sleeping in the car. With my shame held at bay by the whiskey (it was good whiskey), I let slip to another couple that our older boy would not be sleeping in spacious comfort in our big army tent. Rather, he would be stuffed in the back of our aged station wagon that night, along with the coolers and the bag of oranges we would probably forget to eat.

The other couple immediately started cracking up laughing, but before I could think of a defense for this practice, the wife told us that her husband is terrified of the outdoors and has spent every night of every year of the class camping trip in their car. As night fell and we all laughed over our whiskeys he confessed, “I just hate tents. I don’t know what it is.”

So we all went to our tents that night soon after dark (as it goes with camping). And two campers went to their cars. And in the morning everyone was off running with the pack, getting sunburnt, eating other people’s food as we fed other peoples’ kids and we all gathered round at night for more whiskey.

I guess it does take a village after all, but the greater lesson I think that I learned is that every family has their quirks and you won’t ever know the joy of discovering them if you stay at home.

Peter Valentine writes a daily poem using words found in the New York Times crossword puzzle.   Visit him on Facebook here.  

You may also like:
Family Camping Packing Checklist
Camping recipe: Muffin Tin Eggs (great for groups!)

Download our popular e-cookbook: The Real Family Camping Cookbook

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Retro Camping Recipe: Hobo Dinners

I hope you enjoy this retro recipe from Betty Crocker - nobody takes pictures of food like Betty, am I right? In fact we make something just like this on camping trips - Stew in a Can. It's fun to put all the ingredients in a can, cover it up and let it cook away on the grill - or right in the hot coals of the fire. Kids can put whatever they want in their own "hobo can" and check it as often as they like. So maybe this recipe isn't so retro - or maybe I'm the one who's retro. ;)  Have fun! - Maggie

You might also like:
Retro Camping Recipe: Grilled Rice Pudding
Retro Camping Recipe: Campsite Quickie
Retro Camping Recipe: Camper's Coffee Cake

Download our popular e-cookbook instantly:

"Maggie da Silva has a cool blog and an e-cookbook devoted to the joys of family camping meals. Some smart ideas in here for summer hijinks on the road." – The New York Times

Monday, August 4, 2014

Tablecloth weights: who knew?

I was sitting on the patio at my in-laws’ house enjoying a nice cup of coffee when something gently bonked my leg. It was a teeny, tiny silver elephant, which was clipped to the corner of the tablecloth. This wee pachyderm appeared to be weighing down the tablecloth so it wouldn’t flutter up and blow away. A tablecloth weight! How genius! Who knew?

It turns out, after an exhaustive Google search, that there are about a zillion kinds of clip-on tablecloth weights that you can purchase instantly, and for not too much $$, either.  Check these out:

First off, how about the cute, little pewter RVs pictured above! Come on, campers, you know you want ‘em.

Or these slightly creepy 2” large black ants (these ones won’t spoil your picnic … in fact they might save it). You can find these at:

And who doesn’t appreciate a little encouragement at the table? How about some Happy Luck Smile Love pebble clips?

But if you're like me you're probably thinking, hey, I could make those! So here are some instructions to make ‘em yourself: think once you figure out the clippy things, you can attach just about anything, like a painted rock, seashell, or even a little bag of sand or pennies.

If you do craft a set, please send me pictures! I want to see what you created.  Meanwhile, I guess I don’t have to weigh down my tablecloths with ketchup bottles anymore…

You may also like:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Homemade camping fire starters put to the test! (hint: the Girl Scouts win.)

Kettletown, CT State Park provided these handy little firestarters
We made two firestarters for our last camping trip, and the campground gave us one when we bought wood so we decided to do an in-the-field comparison of all three. We saved the scientific test for the last day, which was good because we got a lot of dew that morning and the kindling and newspaper was all damp and didn't want to catch!

Firestarter 1: Wood chips and wax
The campground gave us starters made out of woodchips and wax, housed in those tiny paper cups they give out medication in at mental institutions. 

Results: The lip on the paper cup made a good wick, so the starters caught fire right away. They burned steadily and didn't go out.  I did wish they made more of a blaze, though, since everything was so damp.

Firestarter 2: Toilet paper rolls and dryer lint

We used graph paper because we didn't have any newspaper
These firestarters were fun and easy to make. Simply save up your dryer lint and empty toilet paper rolls, stuff the lint into the rolls, wrap in newspaper and tuck in the ends.

Results: Maybe these would start faster if we had used newspaper and not graph paper (apparently we don't know what's going on in the world but what we do know we like to chart). But either way, I had the same conclusion as with the wood chip starters, which is that the lint didn't make much of a blaze, so I had to tease the flame with bits of this and that to get it going.

Firestarter 3: Egg cartons and crayons, or "Fire Kisses"

"Fire Kisses" in the making
Our friend Samantha turned us on to "Fire Kisses" - the firestarters she made in the Girl Scouts. These are egg cartons with saw dust and wax (or old, broken crayons) wrapped in wax paper. We did a version of these with scraps of paper and wax bits, and we stuck them in a very low oven to melt the wax.

Results: As Samantha predicted, these worked the best! You break them off one by one and use them as needed. The egg carton cardboard catches really fast and the combination of cardboard, paper and wax made a flame that was big enough to get our damp, morning fire going. Go, Girl Scouts! (And thanks to Samantha. )

You may also like:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Camping recipe: Muffin Tin Eggs

Muffin Tin Eggs

This is a fun way to make eggs for a bunch of people at the same time, or make eggs for some people in a muffin tin and pancakes for others in the skillet. 

Serves: 6

6 strips of bacon
6 eggs
muffin tin

1. Cut each strip of bacon in half, making 12 pieces total.
2. Put 2 pieces of bacon into the bottom of each of the 6 muffin tin cups in a cross, making a little bacon "basket."
3. Place the muffin tin on the grill over the campfire and cook the bacon until done to your liking.
4. Crack an egg into each cup on top of the hot, cooked bacon and cook more until the eggs are done.

You can make fried and scrambled at the same time!

• On occasion I've been teased that all of my recipes contain bacon! Instead of bacon, you can cook the eggs in butter.
• This dish is especially nice with a few leaves of fresh spinach cooked between the eggs and the bacon.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Retro Camping Recipe: Campfire Fondue

One of the last things I would consider making on a camping trip is fondue: think about all the tiny, little bugs flying into the pot! But according to Betty Crocker, it's quite practical. All it takes (according to Betty) is a can of soup and a block of cheese - then you can dip whatever you want into it. In Betty's view, that means "Zebra Bread" (doable), apple wedges, canned vienna sausages (haha, OK, Betty) and canned potatoes (ick).

I don't know if it's the can of cheese soup or the Tahitian Treat in the photo, but count me in as a convert. Next camping trip we're definitely having fondue!

You Might Like:
Retro Camping Recipe: Grilled Rice Pudding
Retro Camping Recipe: Campsite Quickie
Retro Camping Recipe: Camper's Coffee Cake

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Camping Giveaway: Win a Sierra Cup!

I have a fun contest to share with you all today, especially the campers! This classic Stainless Steel Sierra Cup is familiar to many campers. It has multiple uses: as a small bowl, plate or drinking cup, and can also be used as a small cooking/warming pan/pot. The Sierra Cup is a timeless, ultra-durable piece of camping equipment that has been and will always make an ideal addition to your outdoor and camping supplies. 

This month we’re giving away THREE Sierra Cups to separate winners! 

RULES: Rafflecopter keeps track of the entries and randomly selects the winners. All entries will be confirmed before a winner is selected. Invalid entries will be removed. Once we contact the winners they have 48 hours to respond before a new winner is selected. US residents only.

We’ll be running the contest through November 30th. Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway