Camping 101

Our campsite at Wonder Lake, Denali (Mt. McKinley) in the background 2012

A few weeks ago a reader asked if I would write a post about camping. She explained that she hadn’t done much camping and would be interested to know how we camped, since we have been doing so much of it in Alaska. So here is my post about spending the night outside 🙂

The great thing about camping is that there are so many ways to go about it. Everyone has there own “style.” You can adapt and change based on the location, who you are going with, and how much  “luxury” you want or require. Lucas and I have certainly grown and changed as campers since we first started pitching a tent together six plus years ago. And continue to enjoy everything from “luxury” car camping to minimalist backpacking.

One thing I have come to strongly believe in is the “leave no trace” ethics of camping. Although I didn’t always know all the guidelines when I first started camping (and I’m still learning and trying to get better), I think it is so important to protect and respect the outdoor places we enjoy. I think learning how to camp in a low-impact way is SO important if we want to keep our wild places wild. Leave No Trace is a nonprofit that helps educate people on good practices for camping. Here is a link on the seven guiding principles of the organization if you want to learn more.

Okay, off my soap box and back to camping. Both Lucas and I camped before we met. I started camping as a kid with my family, and he was actively involved in Boy Scouts. As a kid I did a lot “car camping.” Which means you can pack your car as full as you want, drive into a campground, park, and drag out what you need. To car camp you can be a little less organized and add in items that I would never make room for when backpacking. This is a great way to start camping. It is low pressure and you always have an out (your car) if things get really crazy.

My parents have this fabulous camping story (before my brother and I were born) about a time it was raining. As the story goes, my mom says something like, it’s really raining hard. And my dad says something like, it isn’t that bad. And moments later as my parents are laying inside their tent, the Kleenex box floats by. That is a moment to head to the car.

Our 1st tent

For car camping you need basic equipment, tent, sleeping bag, extra, but it doesn’t have to be top of the line or high tech. I camped for years with family and friends in a huge, old, blue canvas tent that was a puzzle to set up and sagged like a wet doughnut, but it was perfect for that time in our lives (it has since been retired).

When Lucas and I first started camping together in state parks near Pittsburgh, PA we car camped exclusively. We would drive in, set up the tent, go out and hike all day, and come back to cook dinner over an open fire. We had a small two-person tent (that made it all the way to Alaska) that we bought with a sporting good store gift card we won in a raffle. A joint purchase, it was our first “home” together. Our early camping days were low budget and awesome.

Isle Royale National Park 2009

When we moved to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where outdoor paradise was less than a ten minute drive, we took camping up a notch and started backpacking. Our first big trip (7 days) was to Isle Royale National Park. We backpacked from one end of the island to the other, carrying everything we needed for the week on our backs. This was a whole new way to camp, and for the most part, it is my favorite way to camp. You step into nature and don’t reemerge until the trip is over, and I love that. Being submerged in wild. But it certainly isn’t the kind of camping everyone might want to do.

To backpack, you need to be prepared and organized. Since you don’t have a safety exit (like a car) it is important to be sure you have everything you will need (or could need) before you leave. Gear for backpacking is more expensive, but the good news is, once you have it, you are set for a long time (unless you want to upgrade or go lighter). Lucas and I started out with mid-range gear and have been slowly upgrading and adding as we move into our 4th year as backpackers. Like our new tent- larger and lighter than the original (which we still have).

For us, the big thing we did to transition from car camping to backpacking was research, talking to people who were already going into the backcountry, reading online forums, and then, going out and trying it. We started out with a one night trip to see what worked and what didn’t. (We took more crap than we needed.) And we began to figuring out our preferences. Some of the key differences are food (no coolers, unless you want to carry it!), water (you need to be prepared to carry or purify all water for the trip, depending on the area you will be backpacking), less (better) clothing, full first aid kit, stove (fires are often not allowed in the backcountry), emergency supplies (duck tape, whistle, extra), maps/GPS, and research (know the weather, terrain, camping conditions, and so on).

Denali State Park 2011

But as much as I love backpacking, I also love the comfort and convenience of car camping, which we still do often. And will be doing for approximately 19 days this summer on our road trip from Alaska to Ohio. More on this soon.

Until then, enjoy the long days of summer!


4 Comments on “Camping 101”

  1. I will return to backpacking one of these days. I tend towards minimalist- layered clothing, First Aid kit, more water than I could possibly use, though, and relatively small meals, pre-packed in zip lock bags. Having lived so long in Arizona, I am reluctant to build fires.


  2. Awesome! Thank you so much for this – I really enjoyed reading about your camping adventures and I got some good ideas of my own. And, I love the UP! I’ve never been to Isle Royale though, so maybe I’ll make that my first camping trip.


  3. Heather says:

    “Camping 101 | becominganomad” really got me personally addicted on your blog!

    I personallywill certainly be back a lot more regularly.
    With thanks ,Gregory


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