The essentials for your next camping trip
A few weeks ago, Memorial Day weekend marked the “unofficial” start of summer.
But any kid will tell you that summer doesn’t really start until school ends, usually around mid-June.
Well, now it’s mid June, and I tend to agree with the kids, mostly because summers were made just for families to have fun together.
Some of my fondest childhood memories center on our family camping trips. We had a nice tent and watched the big archery tournaments all over the northeast of the country.
In fact, this is how my mom and dad first discovered New York’s Finger Lakes area, often coming to Sugar Hill for fun archery and camping.
The Department of Environmental Conservation has announced that all of its campgrounds are open. Most of them, especially those found in the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains, are located in places that are just too beautiful to be described in simple words.
And, there are scenic spots like we enjoy in New York City that are scattered throughout the Northeast and Midwest, not to mention the beautiful Blue Ridge and Great Smokey Mountains.
It is true that each campsite offers something unique. Activities available can range from fishing to hiking and exploring the lush forests that typically surround these places will be both exciting and educational. They provide endless opportunities for families to enjoy some of the state’s finest natural resources.
There are over 50 DEC operated campgrounds and a number of “day use” areas located primarily in New York’s two mountainous regions. And every year, millions of people visit them to take in the spectacular scenery, climb mountains, and attend special events in and near campgrounds.
Add in many historic sites like Fort Ticonderoga and many small villages with unique restaurants and attractions and you have a recipe for real family summer fun.
Their price ranges from around $ 12 to $ 20 or a little more per night. All campgrounds are open at least until Labor Day, and many remain open during fall foliage season and even during hunting seasons.
What about the logistics of a fun and safe camping trip? Rising gasoline prices are causing all kinds of disruption in family plans for many people, especially when it comes to summer vacations. Many parents, hoping to save money to help pay for the rising costs of commuting, are looking for ways to entertain the whole family much closer to home.
Well I would like to suggest that they try to take a family camping trip.
As a side note, did you know that camping is America’s favorite summer family pastime? Unfortunately, a lot of people who might want to try camping don’t because they don’t know the basics. They may be afraid that attempting to go camping will turn into disaster and embarrassment.
It’s a shame, mainly because family camping is so much fun. And, it’s really easy to learn how to take care of all the basics. That said, here are some tips to help get you started a little easier.
First of all, New York is full of great public and private campgrounds. I doubt any other state has more state parks open to campers.
And they cover all ecosystems, from the shores and islands of Lake Erie, Ontario and the St.Lawrence River, almost all of Finger Lakes, Catskills and Adirondacks, and even as far as Long Island and the lower reaches of the Hudson River.
Always start with a quality tent that is suitable and usable. Get one that will leave enough interior space for the family to sleep comfortably.
Make sure there is also little room for bags, food, and other items, so these items can stay dry.
A quality tent may cost more than a tent at a discount store, but it is less likely to break down in adverse conditions such as heavy rain storms. It will also last a long time, making it the best deal in the long run.
Another handy item is a good camping stove and a folding table to set it up. Making sure these two items are of good quality as well means dinner won’t end up on the floor as the table legs have bent under the strain. And cooking on a good camping stove is also a lot of fun.
Don’t forget the fuel for the stove. While many campers choose camping stoves that work with small cylinders of propane gas, don’t overlook the older style that works with stove / lantern fuel. Bottled gas is more convenient but costs a little more.
Personally, I prefer the liquid fuel models. I know from experience how to keep such a stove burning evenly for a long time. And, two gallon fuel cans will keep my stove and lantern running for a week or more. This translates to much less expense than the styles of bottled gas.
Comfort while sleeping is, in my opinion, the most important factor when camping. In the morning, it makes the difference between being really rested or starting the day with a bear-like attitude with a toothache.
If tent space isn’t an issue, go for comfortable beds. It will provide full body support above the ground, which can be important. At the same time, the equipment can be stored underneath, a simple idea to save space.
The second best thing is a quality air mattress. When properly inflated, no part of the body comes in contact with the ground when the body is fully extended in the sleeping position. Just remember that any air mattress that doesn’t hold air all night is worth nothing, which is why I mention “quality” again when I buy one.
Other important items to always take on any camping trip include a well-stocked first aid kit, sunscreen, and bug spray. There are always minor emergencies to deal with. Things like minor cuts, burns, or scrapes can quickly ruin a trip.
And splinters are often as common as deer flies, especially if you don’t have a good pair of tweezers. Insects are always a problem, so it makes sense to use a good repellant such as Deep-Woods Off.
Activities in or near the camp are important. Fishing in the nearby ponds, lakes and streams can fill a morning with excitement and fun. Remember to purchase freshwater fishing licenses if necessary.
A topographic map can add a lot of fun to any hike. A board game or two can come in handy on a rainy day, and having a good bird identification field guide and wildlife field manual adds to the fun as well. Bring a pair of binoculars so wildlife can be viewed in detail from a safe distance.
There are other useful elements to consider. Sunscreen can prevent painful sunburns. A suitable lantern extends the day well. And don’t forget the utensils for eating and cooking. I prefer hard plastic plates (washable) with a metal knife, fork and spoon.
A coffee maker is worth its weight in diamonds early on a freezing morning. A good griddle has a dozen uses at camp. And food cooked in a Dutch oven, although it takes a little time to master this technique, is best of all.
Oh, another thing. Don’t forget the trash bags and toilet paper.
Be sure to take a fully charged cell phone in case of an emergency, but keep it turned off to avoid the temptation to check in with work, friends, or anyone else who isn’t actively camping with you. Any of the portable GPS units can serve as both a fun device and other emergency rescue device.
This list is far from complete, but I hope it can serve as a starting point. Anyone considering family camping should pick up one of the family camping guides available at any good bookstore. Good luck and good camping.
For more information, including a list of each campground and schedule, log on to the DEC website at www.dec.ny.gov. And click on the “Camping” link in the Outdoor Recreation section. Or, you can call the DEC Recreation Office (518 / 457-2500).
Useful links for campers
Len Lisenbee is the outside columnist for the Daily Messenger. Contact him at [email protected]