How to Camp Like a Pro

Photo by Zeppelin Zeerip

With the first day of spring nearly a month behind us, camping season is rapidly approaching. The days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer and the smell of a summer campfire is just downwind. But along with marshmallow-roasting, star-gazing and tent-pitching come risks of forest fires, conflicts with bears and threats to personal safety. Check out some tips below about how to have a safe, fun and successful camping trip!

Photo from Serkan Turk

Building a Campfire:

One of the best parts of camping is building a campfire. The flame can be used to cook your meals, keep you warm as you sing songs or tell ghost stories late at night, and help keep bugs away. However, campfires are one of the leading causes of wildfires in the U.S., so it’s important to know build one, safely and effectively (USDA). 

1. Before you build a fire, always check for fire danger in your area. If there are notices restricting campfires or the fire danger is “high”, “very high” or “extreme”, don’t build a fire! Notices like these exist for a reason. You can see up-to-date notices on websites like this.

2. If there are no campfire restrictions and fire danger is low to moderate, build your campfire in an existing fire ring, instead of building your own. If you’re not camping at a campsite, stack a circle of rocks around your intended campfire location, before lighting a flame.

3. If you’re building your own fire pit, choose an open area, far from overhanging brushes, dense grass and trees. Always remember to clear brush, dry needles and other flammable vegetation away from the area prior to lighting a flame.

4. Don’t make your fire any bigger than you need to. While a big flame can be exciting, fires can easily blaze out of control. 

5. If your fire starts to get out of control, put it out. Always make sure you have water and dirt nearby to kill the flame if necessary.

6. Finally, NEVER leave your campfire unattended! Even if the wind is calm, your fire is small and you’ve built a tall ring of rocks around your pit, natural elements are unpredictable and fire can jump from place to place with just a little push from the wind.

Photo by Jo Savage

Putting Out Your Campfire:

1. First thing’s first – put that flame out! Drown the fire with water until a flame is no longer burning.

2. Next, mix the embers with dirt. One of the biggest mistakes campers make is assuming that, once the flames are gone, the fire is out. However, burning embers only need a puff of wind and some exposure to oxygen to burst into flames and reignite a fire.

3. Add more water to the dirt and embers, mix, and stir. Make sure that every ember is soaked all the way through.

4. Always touch the rocks, embers and dirt to make sure they’re cooled down. If anything is still hot, it’s not safe to leave.

5. Finally, when you think you’re done, add more water! Overkill is good. 

Emergency Car Shovel

Photo by Zeppelin Zeerip

Bear Safety:

Camping is exciting because it allows us to reconnect with nature and our hunter/gatherer ancestors. However, it’s easy to forget that, though we dominate the civilized world, the natural world is something that we share with many other species. It’s important to keep the two worlds separate, not only for our own safety, but for the safety of other animals.

Pay close attention to the following tips regarding bear safety, to protect yourself and respect nature.

1. Always check if the area you plan to camp in is bear country. Bears don’t live everywhere, but a quick google search can save you the trouble of being unprepared.

2. If you’re going camping in bear country, always carry several cans of bear spray, and know how to use it! For tips on how to use bear spray, check out this video.

3. Never cook in your campsite or leave food unsecured. When you’re done eating, clean up quickly and store the food in a bear-safe box at the campsite or the inside of a hard-sided vehicle. If you’re traveling without a vehicle and camping outside of campgrounds, suspend all bear-attractants 10-15 feet up a tree and at least four feet from the trunk. Check out this video for a detailed explanation on how to suspend a bear bag.

4. Remember that food is not the only smell that attracts bears. Properly store toothpaste, pet food, garbage, lotions and fuel.

5. Always make sure your pets are on a leash or in your tent.

6. Never bring food or bear attractants in your tent.

7. Always have bear spray!

8. To know what to do when you come face to face with a bear, check out this link.

Photo by Zeppelin Zeerip

Personal Safety and Good Camping Etiquette:

While it’s important to prepare for the fun stuff (don’t forget your marshmallows, hiking shoes and fishing gear!), it is critical to be prepared for a worst-case scenario. Look over the following checklist to ensure that you’re ready to camp.

1. Make sure you have a well-stocked first aid kit. Chances are, you won’t have to use it, but better safe than sorry!

2. Always tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to return, especially if you’re camping solo. Even if you’re going with someone, it’s good practice to let a friend know what your plan is.

3. Pack bug spray, a rain shell and sunscreen, regardless of what the weather forecast reports. If the weather takes a turn for the worst or you end up hiking all day in the sun, you won’t be sorry.

4. Make sure your tent is waterproofed and you have all the proper supplies. There’s nothing worse than waking up wet from rain, or getting your tent halfway set up and realizing that you forgot a set of tent poles.

5. Bring a hat, gloves, warm socks and a warm jacket. Even in the middle of the summer months, temperatures can rapidly drop at night, and it’s better to have too many layers than not enough.

6. Don’t forget to bring a sleeping pad. While you might think “roughing it” in the wilderness sounds like a good idea, the reality is that backs and rocks don’t get along all that well. Trust us, your spine will thank you in the morning.

7. Finally, remember to respect nature. Make sure to enjoy your trip, but don’t forget that you are a visitor. The rule of thumb is to leave your campsite better than you found it. Don’t move anything you don't have to, clean up your trash, and use biodegradable soap. And if the group before you left a mess, it is best to clean up after them too.

Photo from Trevor Cleveland

All in all, have fun! And as the summer months approach and your sleeping bag makes its way off the shelf in the garage, start reminding yourself how to camp like a pro. Let’s make this the best summer yet!  👊🤙

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