The Pack Report

The Ultimate Guide to Summer Camping

Camping may be the ultimate summer escape. It puts you back in touch with nature — something many humans rarely experience in daily life. It gives you uninterrupted time to bond with loved ones without the distraction of screens. Best of all, it’s affordable for any budget.

However, knowing what to do — and avoid — can significantly enhance your enjoyment of your trip. It also pays to get mindful. What activities and environments do you enjoy, and what irritates you? Finally, the right gear and preparation help you avoid dangers on the dusty trail.

Are you ready to load up the family truckster and get a little wild? Here’s your ultimate guide to summer camping.

To Boondock or Seek Amenities?

Your first decision is whether you prefer the convenience of a paid campsite or the solitude afforded by boondocking. Both camping styles have advantages and disadvantages.

Pros of Paid Campsites

Paid campsites provide amenities, regardless of whether you pack a tent or RV. Many such facilities have the following:

  • Running water: Huge for getting clean and using the restroom
  • Designated sites: No worrying that someone took your favorite spot. You’ll also have electric and water hookups if you reserve an RV site and a place to empty your tanks.
  • Sports courts: If your family enjoys volleyball, pickleball or basketball
  • Designated pet areas: For Fido
  • Child care: A few campsites have paid childcare and special activities for the kids to give caregivers a break
  • Stores: Many campsites have small general stores to buy drinking water, firewood, and snacks

The Cons of Paid Sites

Paid sites can get crowded, so if you seek solitude, you might opt for boondocking. Additionally, all those people in a small area can make things pretty stinky around the latrine area.

Advantages of Boondocking

Boondocking means going off-grid camping with no access to amenities. It takes place on dispersed campsites on public lands, typically out west. That means you must carry portable power, any water you need — everything. Depending on your gear and setup, it can range from truly rugged to quite pleasant.

Many people gravitate to boondocking when they don’t want to deal with crowds. It’s perfect for when you want to be alone, but you are ultimately responsible for getting yourself safely in and out of your site.

Tent or RV Camping?

If it’s the “roughing it” experience you crave, you can’t beat a tent. It’s also the most affordable camping method.

Tent camping doesn’t have to mean discomfort. Consider some of these upgrades to make your stay more cozy:

  • A roof mount: To increase your safety and keep critters out, look for a tent that attaches to your SUV’s roof.
  • An air mattress or cot roll: An air mattress or small flat cot between your sleeping bag and tent bottom keeps you off the cold ground and rocks.
  • A welcome mat: A ratty old piece of carpet outside your tent’s door works wonders for keeping dirt out.

If you live in a desert region, a sunshade is also invaluable for keeping your tent cool during the day, as shade is hard to find. Ensure you leave at least 12 inches of space between the top of the tent and the sunshade to allow sufficient airflow to cool things down inside.

RVs make camping more like glamping, as you can access an enclosed indoor space and a limited running water supply. If you don’t own such a vehicle, you can now rent one from major sites like Cruise America or directly from owners on sites like Outwander. Most RVs have small bathrooms and kitchens, making cooking and cleaning up much easier.

Keeping Cool Under the Summer Sun

Unless you own or rent an RV, you won’t have access to air conditioning when summer camping. That means the heat is on — how can you stay comfortably cool?

Cooling Methods

Water is your friend for keeping cool. If you find a natural waterway, use it to:

  • Dampen a towel or clothing: Wet clothes are cooler except in extreme humidity. For mild discomfort, a cool, damp towel around your neck drops your body temperature a few degrees.
  • Spritz: If you have one of those handheld misting fans, fill it up and use it.
  • Pulse points: If you don’t want to submerge yourself, try letting cool water run over the pulse points at your wrists and ankles. Your blood is closer to the surface, and the cooling effect travels.

You shouldn’t drink water from a natural source without purifying it. A set of water purification tablets is a wise thing to add to your utility belt or backpack, and many filtration straws have loops that let you clip and carry them.

Stay Safe From Heat-Related Illness 

Your number one rule is to stay hydrated. In general, you need about two cups of water for each hour of hiking, but your needs may vary depending on the climate and terrain. For example, temperatures in the southwest desert often soar into triple-digit territory during the day, requiring you to stay out of the sun and sip up.

Learn the signs of heat-related illness before summer camping. Doing so could save a life. Watch out for the following symptoms, taking rest in the shade and hydrating if they occur:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Painful muscle cramps
  • Extreme weakness and fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or headache
  • Fast, weak pulse
  • Fast, shallow breathing 
  • Clammy, pale moist skin 

If you notice the following symptoms, the individual may have heat stroke — a medical emergency. Get them to a cool area and contact emergency personnel:

  • No sweating because the body can no longer release heat
  • Mental confusion, delirium, hallucinations 
  • Hot, dry skin
  • Throbbing headache
  • Shallow breathing and seizures
  • Rapid, weak pulse
  • Unconsciousness

Protecting Yourself From All Things Itchy

You face two types of itch in the wild — plant contact and bug bites. Either one can leave you miserable. Learn to recognize the common offenders, like poison ivy, oak, and sumac. It’s worth taking a paid nature walk that points these out before your trip to avoid spending your vacation in Calamine Lotion City.

Use a repellent containing DEET to ward off mosquitoes, which can carry diseases like the Zika virus and West Nile. When in tick country, wear long socks and pants when hiking, and inspect yourself after coming in.

Keep your campsite less buggy by throwing a few green pieces of wood on your fire at night. Although these are harder to burn and smokey, the odor keeps flying pests at bay.

Keeping Safe From Critters 

Humans have established their predator reputation in the natural world, and most creatures you encounter will be more afraid of you than vice-versa. However, you must know how to protect yourself and your site when camping in bear country.

Keep all food and garbage locked in a bear box or bear-resistant container. Many paid campsites provide these amenities for you. If boondocking, you’ll need a bear pole or a hang set — including paracord and carabiners — to keep these items out of reach. Your hang should be at least 12 feet off the ground.

To protect yourself and your loved ones:

  • Carry bear spray: You can pick up this high-powered pepper spray for around $50 at most outfitters.
  • Stay together: Big cats like pumas won’t attack multiple targets. Keep little kids within easy reach — don’t let them run ahead.
  • Leash Fido: A curious dog can lure bears right back to your campsite.
  • Make some noise: Most wild animals prefer to avoid humans. They’re more dangerous when startled — especially if with their young. Let them hear you coming and get a bear bell if hiking alone.

Hygiene in the Wild

You might think, “I’m camping! Who cares if I stink?” However, hygiene matters in the wild. If nothing else, you need a way to clean scrapes and cleanse your hands before eating.

Carry a well-stocked first aid kit with you. You can pick up versions meant for camping at many outdoor outfitters. In addition to what they include, add:

  • Hand sanitizer: There’s a shortage of sinks on wild land, and soap and water aren’t always available. Stash lots of it — including clip-on versions you can add to your backpack.
  • Prescriptions: You can get a sweet emergency stash of your prescription medications at Jase Medical. Dedicated boondockers can also invest in a Jase Case — a supply of prescription antibiotics designed for truly worst-case scenarios when medical attention isn’t coming.

The Creature Comforts 

What about the fun stuff? After all, camping is all about good times with family and friends. For that, you need food — and a game or two wouldn’t hurt.

What should you pack? If you don’t have access to cooking supplies other than your campfire, think beyond marshmallows. A well-designed cooler can keep everything you need for a charcuterie board fresh and tasty. As these contain a variety of dried meats, cheeses, fruits, nuts and vegetables, they ensure you meet your nutritional needs without a stove or microwave. You can make a kid-friendly version with sliced hotdogs or cold chicken nuggets.

If taking an RV, you can’t go wrong with a big crock of chili. A portable solar panel is often enough to run a slow cooker or you could invest in a sun oven — a device that uses solar energy to cook.

A simple deck of cards is often enough entertainment for adults, but what if you have little ones? Take some games the entire family can enjoy. Some non-electronic treats they only get when camping — such as new coloring and activity books and crayons — can help ease the sting of not having internet access for a few days.

Get Ready to Go Camping 

Camping may be the perfect summer getaway this year. It can be very inexpensive — great for when your vacation budget doesn’t have much wiggle room. Additionally, it reunites you with nature and what it is to be human in a world without electronic gadgets demanding constant attention.

Use this ultimate guide to summer camping to plan your getaway. The quickest route to rest, relaxation, and a renewed sense of inner peace may lie along some dusty forest trail.

Happy Adventuring, friends!

Happy Adventures - Duluth Pack

Guest blog post contributed by: Jack Shaw