How to Tent Camp
Updated: Dec 8, 2020
Some of my fondest memories of growing up outdoors were camping trips with my dad, brother, and sister. We would pack up the van on a Friday night and head out for wooded adventures on my Dad’s weekends off in the summertime. Waking up to the smell of a morning fire and fresh-cut onions and potatoes brings me back to a wooden picnic table on my uncle’s property where the only sounds were our voices and nature. Now as an adult camping with my wife and eventually our children, replicating the little things that are forever engrained in me will be an adventure and tradition I am excited to pass down.
Camping usually involved fishing or shooting bb guns or bows when we were kids. We were constantly exploring and having fun, and we had most of our meals over a campfire in a cast iron pan. Camp pies in cast iron square makers were also a huge favorite. Two slices of bread and some butter were the base, then you got to use your appetite and imagination to fill the space between the slices. After staring into dancing flames after the sun had set, the bugs would occasionally snap us out of our trance. The best nights were the colder fall evenings when it dipped into the 40s or 50s and you could snuggle into a sleeping bag and enjoy the sounds of nature before you drift off into the night.
Unfortunately, the basic life skills we learned while camping are often forgotten in today’s technological world. Finding our own fishing bait, catching bugs and snakes, and helping assemble and disassemble a tent were just some of the more memorable adventures. We also learned some basic cooking and preparation skills around the campfire courtesy of my dad’s ability and willingness to teach. Building the campfire and getting it started was a vital tradition, and we all took turns wasting paper and matches learning.
After I got married, I went on a camping trip with my wife, my brother, and his wife. It was a budget-friendly, memory packed trip full of fishing, laughs, and adult-beverages. The fall colors on the trees were the backdrop for our delicious campfire meals. We made camp pies, roasted hot dogs, and made smores. We each brought our four-legged friends and took several hikes each day. We played cards and shared stories while enjoying our mobile living quarters nestled in the midwestern fall woods.
Some of the basic steps of tent camping are pretty easy to accomplish with a little practice. Here is a quick checklist to get your brain going in the right direction:
A tent. After fumbling in my childhood with the large, 7,000 tube rod connector style tents, I have enjoyed a Coleman quick set up 4 person tent for the past few years. It is not the lightest tent nor is it expensive, but it gets the job done, and if you can set up a canvas camping chair then you can set this tent up.
Sleeping pad, cot, or air mattress
Cooler. You may need a cooler for some of your food or drink items. Size and cost are up to you.
Flashlights or Lantern. Very helpful in case you get on the road late and decide to try and set up camp in the dark. Spoiler alert it wasn’t easy.
Firewood if able to transport (emerald ash borer rules and regulations for the transportation of firewood).
Hatchet and Utility knife
Fire starting materials. Matches, lighter, paper (stored in a dry bag)
Cast Iron pan, portable fire grate, utensil(s) of some sort
Cooking oil and seasoning(s)
Hand Sanitizer, Soap (hand and or dish) if applicable for your trip
Clothes/Footwear (weather and activity-dependent)
A big tip for any trip is to make a checklist a couple of nights before so you can think clearly without other factors potentially inhibiting your ability to pack everything you need. One of the harder things about learning or trying something new is packing. How do you know what you will need if you have never done it before? I still struggle with overpacking to this day for new adventures. However, the more you do things outdoors and away from modern conveniences, the easier it will be to visualize your packing needs for future trips.
Camping can be a great way to reconnect with nature and practice life skills in a fun environment. Trips can be as close or as far from modern life and amenities as you desire. You also do not have to camp every single weekend in order to secure memories for you and your family. A few trips are all it takes to keep a fire burning in your hearts and minds for many years after the trip is over.