Family camping trips are all about making s’mores and singing Neil Diamond’s ultra-classic “Sweet Caroline” around the campfire, right? We certainly hope so. Not everything always goes according to plan though, and even the most experienced campers can make silly mistakes. Whether you’re car camping or taking to the backcountry by foot, canoe or kayak, ensure your holiday under nylon is relaxing instead of aggravating. Learn from our past mistakes and avoid these easy-to-fix missteps.
1. LEAVING FOOD IN YOUR PACK.
Everyone worries about the 400-pound hungry ursine that might come knocking in the middle of the night, and that’s a legitimate safety concern in bear country. Far more common however, is the chubby-cheeked, 19-gram field mouse that will scurry into camp and use its tiny jaws to chew through your fancy $400 backpack, all to get at the leftover nub of a forgotten Clif bar you didn’t really enjoy in the first place. Fortunately, following bear safe practices will also vermin-proof your gear.
2. NOT TAKING CARE OF YOUR GEAR POST-TRIP.
It sucks when you pull out gear for your next trip and it’s not been repacked properly or pieces are missing. “Have you seen the tent poles?” is not a question you want to ask at midnight when you roll into a sleepy campground. Far worse, gear that’s not cared for doesn’t last long. Damp gear rots, loses waterproofing and durability—plus it smells. Forgetting to clean your water filter pump post-trip is a sure way to take the manufacturer’s claim of 10,000 clean liters pumped and reduce its output to nine measly trips. Wash, dry and repack everything when you return home.
3. BURYING BEAR SPRAY AT THE BOTTOM OF YOUR PACK.
It can’t help you there. Bear spray is a great safety tool (and provider of peace of mind) for campers in bear country but you need easy access to it. Side pockets of hiking packs work well but even better is a specialized holster. Pretend you’re in a spaghetti Western and practice drawing your piece from your chosen location— don’t get stuck asking the bear to stick ‘em up empty-handed.
4. LETTING A FIRST-TIMER PACK WITHOUT SUPERVISION.
First-timers know nothing, not even what you probably consider to be common sense. On portage-heavy backcountry canoe trips we’ve witnessed newbies bring: beans rehydrating in glass mason jars, a five-pound citronella bucket candle to ward off mosquitoes and a portable Coleman gas heater for use inside a flammable nylon tent. We’ve also seen them forget maps, matches and tents. Give your first-timer a list of essentials, encourage them not to deviate from it, and then give the gear a once-over pre-trip.
5. NOT MAKING A LIST.
Newbies aren’t the only ones to benefit from list making. “I’m 52. I don’t think I should check a list—I know I have to,” says canoeing guidebook author Kevin Callan. “It started out by forgetting small items, such as toothpaste and after dinner snacks. The moment I started forgetting T.P. and extra rations of whiskey is when I started making a list religiously.” It’s the only way to make sure you don’t leave something important behind.
6. PACKING FOR AN EXPEDITION ON A WEEKEND TRIP.
Stop bringing so much stuff. If you’re packing enough gear to survive an Apocalypse, then of course it’s going to seem like a lot of effort to get outside. Once you’ve looked after your needs for shelter, water and food, the rest is gravy. Pay attention...