Camp Like Champ!

By CTD Suzanne published on in Basics 101, camping, How To, Outdoors

There are certain things that men do better—like kill bugs, change tires and fix electronics. However, I will do these things have if I absolutely have to, I prefer not to. Even though I’m a very independent woman, I’m not afraid to admit there are things that I just don’t do when single. Camping was one of them until my best friend in college and I decided we needed to float the Guadalupe River. This trip required an overnight stay in a campground. In a tent. Without electricity. She grew up participating in Camp Fire and had all the skills needed for us to not only have a fun, but also a successful and safe camping trip. Since then, I have not let anything stop me from spending a few nights out on the lake camping with the girls. With a few basic skills and equipment, you can too!

Types of Camping

There is a variety of ways to camp—RV, tent, which includes primitive, walk-up and car, and cabin.

RV

RV camping is done with a recreational vehicle or a pop-up camper. RV-specific campsites will have water and electrical hook ups for your camper to run properly. Most RV camping sites have sewer facilities, as well.

Cabin

Cabin camping is more like staying in a rustic hotel. You can find cabins with running water, electricity, air conditioning and heat, indoor bathroom, and full kitchen. Cabin camping is more expensive, but can be convenient for girls who aren’t the outdoorsy type, but still wanting a little peace and quiet out in the wilderness.

Tent

Tent camping encompasses primitive, walk-up, car, backpacking, and hike-in camping. Primitive camping, either on private land or in state parks means you will have to trek your stuff to a suitable site. Some campsites will be over a mile or more from the park’s entrance. There will be no running water, electricity, picnic table, fire ring, bathroom, or tent pad. Backpacking and hike-in sites are generally primitive sites as well.

Walk-up and Car Camping

This is my preferred type of camping. These types of campsites will either have one main parking lot a very short walk to the campsites or parking right in front of your site. I prefer these sites, because you can bring more gear—such as heavy coolers and comfortable bedding. Plenty of walk-up and car camping sites have covered picnic tables, fire rings, tent pads, running water, and even electricity with restrooms not too far away.

Picture shows a campfire and a picnic table with a hill in the background.

Plenty of walk-up and car camping sites will have covered picnic tables, fire rings, tent pads, and running water.

Where to Camp?

A great place to start is by looking at your states’ department of parks and wildlife web site. They should have a listing of all the state parks. The Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife Website has detailed campground descriptions, like which parks have running water, bathrooms, picnic tables, and other conveniences. Texas also offers wilderness classes including basic camping skills. State parks are an excellent place for a beginner camper. Many have park rangers on-site to help in case of an emergency and provide security.

KOA Campgrounds will be more expensive than your local state park, but they offer unique amenities such as swimming pools, hot tubs and mini golf. KOA Campgrounds have cabins, RV and tent camping sites.

One alternative is to camp out at a friend’s property, lake house or deer lease.

Pitch a Tent

Pitching a tent by yourself, can be next to impossible—especially if you are anything like me and horrible at assembling things. The bigger the tent, the more poles and stakes it will take to secure it. Always practice pitching your tent in the backyard first. It can be a frustrating experience—especially if the sun is starting to set.

Investing in an easy set up tent makes setting up camp a cinch. The Wenzel Vortex inflatable tent self inflates with an included pump that works just like a bicycle pump. No electricity, battery power or car charger needed. The Grand Trunk Uinta quick set tent takes seconds to put up using a main center pole. All you need to do for both tents is stake them down.

Where to put your tent?

Find a flat surface free of rocks, pebbles and sticks. Softer ground like dirt or sand will make staking down your tent easier. Avoid a low-laying area where water can drain. I prefer putting my tent in a shaded area, so the hot summer sun doesn’t cook the inside of the tent during the day. Almost all tents have screened windows. Keep them open during the day to let air circulate.

Start a Fire

If you aren’t in an emergency situation and pack gear in preparation of building a fire, you should have no problems getting a good campfire going. If your campsite does not have a fire pit already in place, pick an open area away from trees to build one yourself. You can use sand or dirt for the bottom of your pit. Dig a circle in the sand or dirt where your fire will go. Build a circle of large rocks around your pit to help keep the fire contained.

Picture shows a campfire.

Gather tinder, which is easily ignitable material, kindling, and fuel to start a fire.

Next gather tinder, which is easily ignitable material, kindling, and fuel. Fuel is larger pieces of wood that keep the fire going. At night, before everyone heads off to their tents, put the fire out by shoveling dirt and sand over it until you longer see burning embers. For a detailed description on how to build a fire, read Survivor Skill Set 101: Building a Fire.

Cook a Meal

There are a few ways to cook while camping—with butane stoves and burners, charcoal on a grill, emergency stoves, or directly on the open flames of your campfire. When I camp, I pack a propane stove, propane canisters, and a large bag of charcoal and lighter fluid. I find that using the propane stove is easier and quicker for breakfast and making coffee. Propane stoves can be pricey. However, they are a good back-up cooking source to keep in your emergency gear. Camping isn’t the only reason to use a propane stove.

Many public parks will have a charcoal grill at each campsite. If not, a small tailgate-style grill will work. These grills are easily transportable, lightweight and inexpensive. They do not offer as large a cooking space as your grill at home, but four burgers fit just fine.

To start a fire for cooking in a charcoal grill, place about a quarter of your bag of charcoal in the bottom of the grill. Place the charcoal pieces in a teepee or pyramid shape to maximize the airflow underneath the charcoal. This aids in starting a flame.

Spray lighter fluid all over the charcoal to so it looks wet. Give the fluid at least 10 minutes to soak through. Using a long match or a long barbecue lighter, light the charcoal. It will flame up and spread throughout the charcoal quickly. I know it’s tempting, but resist putting more fluid on the briquettes. If you add too much lighter fluid to the charcoal, it may not burn all the way off before you start cooking and your food will taste like lighter fluid.

After the flame has died completely down, take long tongs and spread your charcoal evenly over the bottom of the grill to create an even heating surface. Your coals are ready after all flames have extinguished and they become grey and ashy. This can take about 30 minutes.

Before putting food on the grill, take a rag or grill brush lightly covered in vegetable or olive oil and rub the grates with the oil. This prevents the food from sticking.

To make things even easier, use a charcoal pre-soaked in lighter fluid. There are even bags of charcoal designed for you to set the whole bag in the bottom of the grill and light the entire bag on fire.

Picture shows a meal made in a foil packet.

If you would like to cook over the open campfire, making a foil packet is an easy and fun way to cook a meal.

If you would like to cook over the open campfire, making a foil packet is an easy and fun way to cook a meal. Use heavy-duty aluminum foil to prevent rips in your packet. Take finely chopped potatoes, carrots, squash, mushrooms, onions and a whole chicken breast or hamburger patty seasoned with salt, pepper and your preferred seasoning, and butter and wrap the whole thing in foil. Before closing the foil packet up, add a small amount of water to prevent the food from sticking and to allow a little steam. Place the foil packets directly on the fire and let cook for about 30 minutes. Remove the packet wearing oven mitts or with heavy tongs, as the foil will be hot.

Food Storage Tip

Take two coolers with you—one for meat and one for beverages. Keep drinking ice separate from your meats. Wrap your meats up tightly in leak-proof zip lock bags so there is no cross-contamination. Bears and raccoons are inventive and can easily break into coolers. At night, either keep the coolers in your car trunk or place them under the picnic bench so the bench seat prevents the cooler’s lid from opening.

Catch a Fish

Catch and release fishing is not as hard as it seems. All you need is a pole and bait—neither is expensive. If you are camping near a lake, there should be plenty of bait shops along the way. I usually just buy worms, because they are cheap and easy to hook.

If you need a pole, look for a spincast, fresh water pole. This is the easiest to learn and there are plenty of affordable choices for a basic rod and reel combo pole. Zebco makes a pink basic rod and reel for around $15 that includes a variety of fishing tackle.

Hook a Worm

The key to using worms as bait is to keep the worm as alive-looking as possible. You want it wriggle and draw attention. Using the smallest “unbarred, circle hook” (ask the store where you purchase your pole for hooks), hook the worm through his middle so both ends wriggle. Alternatively, you can hook it right through its head.

Casting

Once you have your bait on the hook, reel in the line in using your reel, letting the hook stop 3 to 5 inches from the top of the rod. Pull the rod to your side, stopping it right behind you. Then quickly bring the rod back in front of you quickly, releasing the line as you swing forward. Let the line then fall into the water.

When a fish is nibbling, you will most likely see your bobber move and dance on the water, and you will feel a tug on your line. This is when you need to jerk your pole up to hook the fish. Sharply pull up with your pole. If you have caught a fish, you will feel a significant weight difference on your line. Go ahead and reel him in!

Unhook a Fish

Picture shows a little girl fishing.

Catch and release fishing is not as hard as it seems. All you need is a pole and bait—neither is expensive.

A key component to catch and release fishing is preventing harm to the fish. Once you have caught him and taken pictures, put the fish back in the water to remove the hook. Some fish can stick you, so make sure when you grab him, run your hands down his fin in the direction they are facing. Using fishing pliers, pull the hook out of the fish’s mouth the same way it went in.

Be Safe

Regardless if you are camping with one other person or a group of girls, safety is important. Before reserving your campsite, ask the park if they have 24-hour security. Plenty of national parks have a park ranger on duty at all times. Always tell someone where you are going and how long you plan to be gone. Even though I strictly forbid the use of electronics while camping, my phone is always fully charged and near by. Pack a first aid kit and learn the basics of first aid and CPR. It is not necessary to have an emergency radio with you, unless you want some tunes, but do check the weather before heading out to avoid storms or unexpected extreme temperatures. Check your local laws before packing a gun. Some states do not allow you to carry inside parks.

Camping is a fun, safe and affordable vacation that anyone can do. With a little bit of gumption, determination and some gear, you and the girls will have a great time!

To read more about the basics of camping:

What to Pack Check List:

Ladies, do you have a good first-time camping story or tips for first time campers? Share it with us in the comment section.

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Comments (8)

  • Bill from Boomhower, Texas

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    Suzanne, we do the RV thing nowadays, Hell my yard looks like a dealer lot, but the Campfire thing brought back memories of when I was young and good looking, and took my daughter on an overnight tent camp out with the Campfire girls, down at Fossil Creek, the State Park. It rained late that night, and the next morning, but nobody’s spirits were dampened, and the night before, they whipped up a great big pinapple up-side down cake in a big dutch oven, covered in the coals. Yum-yum!

    Reply

  • Bill from Boomhower, Texas

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    Dinosaur Valley, that’s what it was called. Yeah, the first day, we swam in the dinosaur tracks in the river.

    Reply

  • CTD Suzanne

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    Bill,
    Some of my fondest memories growing up are the monthly daddy/daughter trips my father and I went on during my elementary school years. They always involved camping, caving, hiking, and exploring the outdoors. It instilled in me a sense of adventure, confidence, and a respect for nature.
    I appreciate and love reading your comments!

    Reply

  • Pete Hallock

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    You forgot Map Paper ( Sierra Club talk for toilet paper..) when the Sierra Club was terrific with pack pack, horse back and other agendas club trips
    Pete
    Calfornia

    Reply

  • Rick Rosado

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    I’m guessing none of you ever just put on a backpack and tried to survive on just what you can carry and build a shelter by whats on the ground and your backpack.

    Reply

  • mike

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    After a few years of belonging to the NCHA and always going camping during dads vacations before and after that and that I now actually work at an RV dealer about the only thing (well there were a few things) that got my attention was that apparently you’re single ;) Hi, how you doin?

    Reply

  • Bill from Boomhower, Texas

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    Watch out Suzanne! He may be after your outboard motor!

    Reply

  • Rick Rosado

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    to me none of this is true camping . camping to me is going out in nomans land with whatever you can carry in a backpack with a compass and a map . with no GPS or cellphone . and building a shelter by whatever you have and can find . like to rough it

    Reply

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