Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The great American summer camping trip. It's easier than you think.

Many of us have found memories of camping with our families as a child.  Hiking, stories around the fire with roasted marshmallows and maybe smores if we were lucky.

As we get older, we tend to forget about the little things and simplicity of  simply being outdoors, even if it is at a State Park.  Those of us who love the outdoors some times forget that "base" that got us into the outdoors.

Just because we can't exactly go ultralight backpacking on a 3 day excursion into the back country with our family, be it because of a spouse who doesn't camp or children simply too small, chances are our first experience was at State or National park camp ground and THAT is what sparked our interest in the "woods".  Especially for someone like me who grew up in the suburbs.

Our first camping trip this year was to Chain 'O Lakes State Park near Albion, IN.  The main feature of the park are the lakes, as the name implies.  The State DNR created channels that allow you to paddle a canoe or kayak between each of the seven lakes.  We spent one day on these lakes, enjoying the different foliage and fauna of the area.  This was my youngest daughters first experience on a canoe and it was a "really cool" experience.

The park also offers numerous hiking trails and a nature center.  Hiking trails vary in intensity and are laid out well so you can pick and choose your way around.  This is especially helpful if after an hour or two of hiking those little legs of your youngest start to wear out and you want to cut your hike a bit shorter but not have to back track.  Many parks have similar layouts.

Cooking over a wood fire.  You just can't beat it.  I saw a few other campers with charcoal but why?  You're going to have a camp fire that night anyway, why not just start it a little earlier?  Grass fed beef was on the menu this night.

As night falls the stars appear overhear, I am still in awe of the beauty of the night sky and kids love to gaze up into the heavens at things they don't normally get to see.  Living close to large cities, light pollution hides most of the stars in the night sky from our view when we are at home.  One day I hope to move further out from cities and live in the 'middle of no where'.  Until I can find a job that will allow me to do so, we're stuck with only seeing a few dozen stars at night, compared to the thousands we saw while camping.

Camping doesn't have to be hard or expensive.  For example, sites at Chain 'O Lakes range from the teens to mid twenties a night, depending on if you opt for a primitive site or one with a small electric box.  Skip the cheap camp cookware sets at wallyworld and buy one decent cast iron skillet.  Preferably something that will pull double or triple duty like a 16" deep skillet.  Once you start cooking with one, you might find you use it at home more than your modern cookware.  They will also last your family for generations if properly cared for.
Great Basin (left), Coleman 10 person, Screenhouse for dog crate (right).

Tents are the hard part.  You can go cheap, middle of the line or very high end.  I have one tent I bought back in 2000 that my daughters used for this trip.  It's a Great Basin locker dome and has held up amazingly, I think I paid $100 for it.  I have used multiple times a year since I got it.  I haven't bought a bigger tent that is 'high quality' yet.  My higher quality camping gear is still centered around camping light or single person.

The newest addition was a tent big enough for all of us.  I took a gamble on a Coleman 10 person tent from a big box wholesale store because of the stores no hassle return policy.  Also because my wife was basically about to refuse to camp with me again without a full on air mattress and tent big enough to stand up in.  Hey, it's about getting outdoors and giving my children a fun camping experience.  If that means a bigger tent and air mattress, so be it.  *For the record, my 2" self inflating REI mat is still more comfortable than an air mattress.

When forking over money for a tent, keep in mind "What would I be paying if I was in a hotel".  All of a sudden dropping a few bills on a tent that you can reuse (with care) for many years to come doesn't seem so pricey after all.  Also keep in mind you can bring your dog at most campsites and there isn't an upcharge. 

The important thing is to GET OUT THERE!  Get your kids into the 'wilderness' anyway you can.  Get that love of the outdoors in their blood early.  Many State Parks have shooting and archery ranges nearby  as well.  Make it as fun as possible and build those memories that will last a lifetime.  Just because you can't make it Yellow Stone National Park this year, doesn't mean a fun 3 day weekend isn't within your grasp.

Get out there and remember, sometimes you just have to say: Frack it, we'll do it live!
Did someone say Clampets?

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