For hikes that involve an overnight stay in the wilderness, preparing for a campout is the next step up into enjoying the outdoors even more. Campouts are a special time of connecting with nature and deepening friendships with your camping companions. To those who haven’t done much or any camping, it may sound like a lot of work just to sleep on a thin mat in potentially cold weather, but I don’t look at it that way at all.
Instead, picture a beautiful, wooded setting in a clearing, possibly with hilly or mountainous views in the distance, a late afternoon warming sun followed by the reddish tones of sunset. Donning a few layers of clothing keeps you warm, and the glow and warmth of a fire adds to the intimacy of the site. Any kind of food tastes better in the outdoors and topping a meal off with a few cups of wine adds to the serenity.
By the time you crawl into your tent, strip off some clothing and tuck into your sleeping bag, you will be amazed how warm you are with just the sleeping bag as your blanket and the thin layers of your tent as protection from possible wind and rain.
The only real tough bit is getting up in the morning and getting enough clothes back on in the cooler temps of early morning, but once you are out of the tent and moving around, all is good again.
Added Equipment for Camping
See the Equipment List for Camping. It is an add-on to the Equipment List for Longer Hikes.
Picking a Location to Set Camp
Unless you are hiking to a known area with campsites, you will need a strategy to pick a good clearing in which to set camp. There are a few conditions you are looking for:
- Enough flat land, void of rocks and roots to set your group’s tents. If some in your party snore, you will want to have a bit of distance from those tents.
- When placing tents, pay attention to the wind direction and set the tents upwind of where you expect to have a fire to avoid smoky tents.
- Stay away from totally dead trees that look unstable – you do not want a strong wind to fell a tree right onto your tent.
- Make sure there is a water source within reasonable walking distance from your site. Know the local regulations that typically say you need to camp at least 100 or 200’ away from a water feature.
- Ideally, find the remains of a fire ring, which often happens even in the wild if the setting is right. You can improve the ring to protect the fire and there may be some good, dry partial burnt logs for your fire. If you can’t find a fire ring, you can make your own.
- Also, ideal would be a big fallen log or a few flat-top big rocks at the site for sitting and relaxing later around a fire and eating.
Setting up Tents
If you have not done much camping or you have a new tent, practice setting up your tent at home before the trip. That way you know all the pieces are there and you have a feel for how to set up the tent rapidly. That is particularly helpful if you find your site and it is raining or about to rain.
With most tents, you can set up the main tent before putting the covering fly on it so that the supporting rods are still exposed. Before tacking the tent down, you can lift the whole assembled tent around to find the best level ground and then use the tent pegs to attach the tent to the ground. In places where a tent peg will not penetrate roots or rocky areas, find some rocks to use as weights (about the size of a football) and tie your tent ends to the rocks. If the ground is not perfectly level, you will be more comfortable if the head of the tent is above the foot.
If there are any insects around, make sure your tent openings are always zipped closed.
Plan to be at your chosen campsite well before dark. I find that ideally three hours before dark is best. That gives you plenty of time to set up tents, organize the fire, cut some dead firewood, and set up a rope traverse across two trees for hanging up all food and other things that have smells like lotions, toothpaste and protein bars. See: Protecting Camp from Bears.
Even after setting up camp, you will want to enjoy taking in the scenery while it’s still light out, maybe scoping out the next morning’s hike out if you plan to start before sunrise. You also do not want to miss the sunsets—they can be gorgeous.