Summertime provides ample opportunity to get out and follow your Adventure Foot, and one of the very best ways to do that is to go camping! Whether you’re tent camping with the kids out of the back of the mini-van or planning a backpacking excursion “off the grid,” a few simple steps can make your next camping trip a safe and fun adventure!
A Little Planning Goes a Long Way
We’ve all forgotten something important on a trip before, but when we forget something important on a camping trip, it tends to cause more inconvenience than usual. I’ve found that the way to become a better camper and to forget fewer things is to make a list! Make a list of the items you’ll need and lay the items all out on the kitchen table before you start packing them in your bag. When all your items are laid out, you can make sure you haven’t forgotten anything crucial to the trip- matches, bug spray, sunscreen, toilet paper… don’t leave home without them!
Just as important as what you bring is what you do not bring. If you’re taking the kids, leave the Nintendo DS at home! Camping time is unplugging time and you will thank yourself for giving all the technology a rest. Also look for things you can leave out of your life for a day or two. Pare down the things you’re bringing to just the necessities. Decluttering is part of the beauty of the outdoors. Besides, whatever you don’t bring, you don’t have to carry!
I like to keep a running list for camping trips. At the end of the trip, I look to see if there are any items in my pack that I haven’t used at all, and I cross those off for next time. It lightens the load and helps me to be a more efficient camper. Likewise, if some item would have made my life easier, I add it to the list and next time I’ll have it!
Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires
Fire safety is every camper’s responsibility. When building a fire, find out if the campground or space has any rules in place for fire building. Check for dry conditions and don’t build fires any larger than necessary. Fire pits or rings are great assets at campgrounds; use them! They’ll keep the debris all in one place and also help keep the fire from spreading. If there is not a fire pit, look for a campfire site that is downwind and at least 15 feet away from shrubs, overhanging branches, tents or any other flammable objects.
Please remember: do not transport firewood from one place to another. There is plenty of loose wood around to collect and burn, and moving firewood is one of the main vectors of invasive species like the extremely destructive Emerald Ash Borer Beatle.
The Bare Necessities
Water, shelter, food, and waste disposal. That’s what you’ll need for a camping trip. If you’re heading out to a state park or campground, water might be easy to come by and all you’ll need is a few water bottles. If you’re backpacking or going on an especially long hike you may need to bring water purification equipment or tabs. Plan ahead and know where your water sources are.
Shelter is important too. Check the weather forecast before you go and pack appropriate gear. In my experience, a forecast for 25% chance of rain turns to 100% if I forget my tent’s rain fly or my poncho. It’s just the way it works. Also, pack appropriate gear for the temperatures. You don’t need that sub-zero sleeping bag if it’s not going to dip below 70 degrees at night. Likewise, a nice day doesn’t guarantee a warm night, so check and double check the forecast! It’s not a bad idea to look for safe places to go in case of a storm even if none are forecast.
Food safety is especially important on camping trips, and I’ve heard more than one story of a great camping trip spoiled a day later by intestinal distress. Don’t forget your safe food handling practices just because you’re out in the woods. Make sure you cook any meat you are eating thoroughly, be aware of opportunities for cross contamination (don’t touch the fish and then the apples!!), and store food safely. Make sure you’re storing your food and trash out of the reach of wildlife too. Even though there aren’t bears in Illinois, a cranky raccoon wandering through camp isn’t much fun either.
Waste disposal doesn’t often get much forethought, but it’s important to plan for too. Bring trash bags and make sure you keep your campsite clean. You’ll often hear the phrase, “leave no trace.” This basically means: bring everything out of the woods that you took into the woods.
And while we’re on the subject of waste… sometimes you’re by a porta-john or latrine, and sometimes you’re not. If you’re in the back country, protect the ecosystem and other travelers by following trail rules. This often means digging a small hole 10-15 feet off the trail and away from any water sources, doing your business, and covering it up. If my cats can cover up their dootie, so can you. In especially delicate ecosystems, you may be required to bring any solid waste with you out of the woods. Obey rules and posted guidelines!
Maps, Flashlights, and Emergencies
My smartphone has Google Maps, a flashlight, and can call 9-1-1. Guess what doesn’t usually work in the woods though? My cell phone! Come on people, you knew that!
Make sure you’re bringing several light sources for your trip. I’m a fan of hands-free headlights and small LED flashlights. On longer backpacking trips, I like a hand-crank flashlight and radio combination, which can be used regardless of battery life.
Bring basic first aid equipment for emergencies and even consider a flare or other signaling device if you will be a long way from emergency services.
And bring a printed park map. Keep the printed map in a plastic bag or have it laminated.
The last great piece of camping advice comes to you courtesy of my grandpa. He said, “Beware of things that bite, sting, itch, or get you all wet!” Make a list of the hazards you might experience in the area you’re camping. Know how to identify poison oak and poison ivy. Know how to identify and safely remove ticks. Know if anyone in your party is allergic to bee stings and bring appropriate first aid materials for that person. Know how to identify a potentially hazardous snake or a harmless one (clue: most snakes in our area are harmless). And lastly, be aware of any water hazards, especially if you have kids around. Don’t build your tent close to the creek; flash floods can happen whether it’s raining where you are or not. Keep the kids away from lakes or ponds after dark. Don’t cross flooded streams. Just use your common sense!
So there you have the Adventure Foot Guide to Safe and Fun Camping! Be sure to check out these related blogs about some of my favorite local state parks. I highly recommend Wakonda State Park in La Grange, MO, (second winter Wakonda link here!) Cuivre River State Park in Troy, MO and Siloam Springs State Park in Liberty, IL (second Siloam link here!) for local camping adventures. You might also check out Sand Ridge State Park near Peoria. This park is enormous and especially fun in the late fall and winter! Oh and don’t forget Mark Twain Lake! There’s no excuse not to camp with so many great places to go!