July 8, 2005

Family Camping Without Stress
by Robert Streeter

As a fan of comedy and a student of human nature, I find it no coincidence that many comedians find a wealth of material in the family camping trip. Face it, there is a whole dynamic to these outings. The dad is trying to get the family involved in the outdoors. Children are trying to have fun. Mom is trying to cope without some of the basic amenities, and generally acting as a referee.

Before going camping, you need to get everyone on the same page. If mom's bottom line is that sleeping in a tent in the rain is no fun, then backpacking into the middle of theAdirondacksis a mission with a high chance of failure. Most people have a horrible time when they push things beyond the limits. Instead of going for the wilderness experience the first time out, go for a campground with some showers and amenities, or rent a cabin or a camper where everyone will be high and dry if it rains. If the full package, tent included, has to be part of the equation, all is not lost. Most campgrounds have well-drained areas for tent sites. Get a little experience first before "roughing it." If you do want a tent, take time deciding before buying. Make sure the tent has plenty of room for all the people and equipment who are going to use it. Put a tarp on the ground under the tent to keep the floor dry. Tents made of one piece of material for the floor are less likely to leak than one with a seam. A good tent with a rain fly is worth the investment. Sleeping on the ground is OK if you have four legs, but for most of us, plunking down on terra firma is not going to yield a good night's sleep. The ground is cold at night, and not always very even. The solution is air mattress or a foam sleeping pad.

Food is another issue for a camping family. Cooking out is fairly easy if you plan for it. Don't try to pack stuff that can spoil or is complicated to cook. Figure on simple meals, and use as many dehydrated package-type meals as you can. The family camping trip is not the place for a gourmet five-course meal. One of the best meals I have eaten was fresh fried caribou tenderloin and a package of buttered noodles. Coolers have come a long way, and there will certainly be a need for refrigerating some foods. Block ice lasts much longer than bag ice and can be made ahead of time by freezing some milk cartons filled with water. Finally, don't wait until the morning you want to leave to get all the gear together. The last-minute scramble to find the stakes for the tent, or remembering that you forgot to buy something, starts the trip on a bad note.

These are just a few tips meant to take some of the trauma out of camping. No one was born an expert at anything. Einstein didn't have a clue about the theory of relativity his first day on the planet. Similarly, the seasoned campers who laugh at rookies were all rookies themselves and were seasoned on some miserable camping trips.

There is also more good news. Someone has finally come up with a "Beginners Guide to Camping" that you can watch. The DVD is available at http://www.barnesandnoble.com, and was created by Mark Holzman. The DVD contains tips to make the family camping trip more enjoyable for everyone.

© 2005 Times-Union
reprinted with permission