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How to become a successful tent camper...

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I would love to become a successful tent camper because of its ease of travel and cost but every time I have tried as an adult I have failed miserably. I think it is because #1 I lack the proper equipment and #2 I lack the knowhow. I also do not tolerate hot, sunny temperatures well so anywhere I camp has to have a lot of trees.


So, I need some advice in the following areas...

  • What tent & other equipment to buy
  • Where to camp in Ohio and other areas in the East. I would like to see the ocean with my kids this summer but it would have to a very frugal trip.
  • I would also love to go to Williamsburg & Jamestown so any advice about that...
  • I need helpful advice about storing and preparing food.
  • I need advise about traveling. We have a full size van. I would like to bring bikes but I need some sort of bike rack for 6 people.


Any other thoughts?

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I'm in the same situation as you. I'm opting for "practice, practice, practice."


We have an 8 person tent that I picked up on sale a few years ago. It's not hard to put up, just time-consuming.


Other than that, we just load up a cooler with ice and a few essentials (milk, hot dogs, granola bars, etc.) and a flat of water. We bring blankets, sleeping bags and folding chairs and call it good.


Finding a place with trees is essential for us, as my kids get heat exhaustion super easy and then it turns into bloody noses and vomiting everywhere. (You don't have to go through that too much to learn the lesson.) I've found that I have to actually visit campsites in the area to figure out which ones will work for us, as websites and pamphlets like to exagerate about the tree cover.


Hopefully we can get some canoes in the future, as I'd love to re-visit my childhood love of canoeing. The big head-scratcher regarding camping for me is keeping my kids entertained. You can only go on so many nature walks, right?


Good luck with your summer camping plans!

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An important part of ANY trip is to think about your must haves.


For me and camping, I must have a place to sleep that is clean: thus I have a two room tent, one for sleeping, one for other things like:


playing games when it rains

bathing at night

the dog to sleep

taking shoes on and off/storage of dirty clothes.


Very strict rules about shoes in the bedroom (yes a family bedroom)

I sleep on my side so I pack a small shovel to dig out the ground under my hip into a hole for my big butt:D


I need a reasonable place to cook -- thus a stove and a couple of good tables.


Cooking here at high altitude takes a very long time, so I pre-cook my food (chili, pasta dishes, chicken stir fry, fajitas.....)


I hate having soggy cooler things (like egg cartons and cheese... so I freeze all my pre-cooked meals and leave them in zip lock bags (to easily toss and not wash) I freeze 1/2 the milk in plastic juice bottles and I freeze several bottles of water (why take ice that must be tossed when it melts, take water and drink it!!)


Pack a cover for the food area (rain and sun block)

pack a clothes line for the wet things children do





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Well, there's camping ... and then there's really camping. ;)


For most of our camping trips, we only go 2 or 3 nights. These trips, we don't have to bring ALL our stuff, just the basics. Tent, sleeping bags/pillows, cots, clothing, main camping tub (full of flashlights, lighters, lantern, bug spray, sunscreen, paper towels, cooking sticks, etc...), camp cook bin (1 pot, paper plates, plasticwear, cups, coffee pot, etc...), and a cooler full of food.


We have rubbermaid bins full of our camping gear, already organized and ready, so I really don't have much to pack and prepare when we go. For these quick camp trips, we always eat every easy things. Cereal in the mornings (the little box that you cut open and pour the milk right into the bag) because we don't do a fire pit until dinner time. (Some times I make muffins to bring for breakfast instead.) Sandwiches for lunch. I have everything already precut for lunches so we can have our cooler in the back of the vehicle and eat where ever we happen to be. Normally I make a pasta salad ahead of time to have with the sandwiches, and some sort of fruit (like watermelon or grapes). Snacks are also things I've prepared beforehand also (homemade granola bars, trail mix, apples, string cheese, ect...) Dinners we stick with the basics -- hotdogs cooked on sticks, canned beans cooked right in the can, tacos (precook the meat and put into a foil package to throw right on the coals to reheat, prechop all the veggies), burgers. And of course, we always do a night of s'mores. :)


Now, if we're talking really camping, then I'm afraid I can't give too many pointers. I really don't like camping anywhere without bathroom facilities, so my in-laws would say we aren't really camping. ;) Also after 3 nights, I'm ready to be in a real bed. I don't like cooking elaborate meals -- it feels like all you do is cook if you do that. I like to spend my days hiking, touring, swimming, fishing, boating, doing something, not just planning the next meal. We do have the gear to be out for a longer period of time, but it hardly ever gets used.

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My advice is to get a tent that you can stand up in and that has a fully sewn in/zip in bath tub style ground sheet. Also its useful to allocate somewhere for storage so you aren't falling over your bags. We often use one bedroom for sleeping and one for stuff. I like tunnel tents because they have lots of space that you can fully stand up in. We have had lots of geodesic dome tents and I really don't like them anymore, they are such a struggle to put up and you can usually only fully stand up in part of them.

Edited by lailasmum
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Tents - for 6 people, get an 8-10 person tent or 2 4-person tents. The stated sleeping capacity is how many people you can cram in side by side to sleep, but you'll lack room to move or keep things. Keep your cooler or two in the tent (or something else) to use as a seat. Much easier to get dressed if you can sit down. Plus it can be used as a nightstand. Sleeping bags are nice, but blankets and pillows can be used just as well. Get a sleeping pad of some kind. I've gotten good tent and other equipment deals at Campmor.com, which always has stuff on clearance. Also check Craigslist. You may know people who will lend you equipment, too.


If you plan to use shower facilities, bring flip flops or water shoes.


Basic cooking equipment - long sticks or hot dog roasters, large tea kettle or saucepan (for boiling water), a coleman stove and non-stick skillet are really nice to have (if you don't have a stove, get a grill rack that you can set up over the fire to hold your pans), 2 "kitchen" tubs for washing & rinsing dishes/yourself/clothes/etc. A Cooler or two. A long plastic cover for the picnic table which is hopefully provided at your campsite. Otherwise, bring a folding table for food prep and serving and eat in your camp chairs.


Camp chairs for sitting around the fire.


Firewood - before you go camping, make sure you find out if you can collect or buy firewood at the grounds. Different places have different policies and you may need to bring your own wood.



I hate food prep when camping, so I plan meals to be as easy as possible. Lunches are NOT cooked - it's usually hot and no one wants to go through all that trouble in the middle of the day.


Take a Coleman stove along and a big non-stick skillet. We like to make eggs or pancakes ("just add water and shake" pancake mix) with bacon or sausages. On the day we leave, we have something simple like mini cereal boxes to avoid having cook.


My favorite lunch meal is "build your own nachos". A big bag of chips, sour cream, cans of corn and refried beans (?), jars of salsa and cheese sauce, and whatever else you can think of. Other good choices - pre-made sub sandwiches, chicken salad and fruit. Just take out of the cooler and you're ready.


Simple dinner is generally hot dogs roasted on a stick. Every night is fine, but if they get annoyed at that, you can make beef patty packets (hobo burgers) ahead of time. Marshmallows. Tonka pie makers make great hot sandwiches and desserts if you are so inspired.


Camping is hard and tiring, but many hands make for lighter work. It helps to have experienced Boy Scouts with you :) and to know some good camping songs to sing while you're doing the work. The best part of camping is sitting around the campfire at night and poking at it with a stick.

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  • I need helpful advice about storing and preparing food.



Eat bread, cheese, salami, fruit and raw veggies, or some combination thereof. They can be kept wherever they fit, and all you need to do to prepare them is open the bag and maybe cut them up. A ploughman's lunch style. And yes, you can eat that way three times a day.






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The right equipment is very important. You want a tent that will be stable in wind and keep you dry if it rains. You want to be able to sleep somewhat comfortably, have someplace to keep your clothes and your food, and have enough things to do that everyone has fun. You don't want the whole trip to seem like a chore and misery. This is supposed to be fun.


-We always make sure to get water and electricity hook-ups at our site.

-Some places WON'T allow you to bring your own firewood due to wood diseases.

-We have designated dishes, utensils, pots/pans, folding tables, dishpans and dish drains, first aid kit, baggies, aluminum foil. Dishes come in to get a good wash after each trip then go right back into a tote that we bring camping.

-Certain food items stayed packed for the season - tea, coffee, sugar, cooking oil - in tightly sealed plastic containers.

-We have designated sun screen, bug spray, feminine products, toiletries (and tote), towels, extra rolls of toilet paper, paper towels, a sewing kit and a roll of quarters that stay packed for the season.

-We bring hand-held electronic games (for rainy emergencies only), sidewalk chalk, bubbles, bikes, coloring books/crayons, glow sticks, sand toys, magnifying glasses, books, cameras - for the kids to play with but most campgrounds will also have a pool, playground, arcade room and activities on weekends. We tend to do very few of the scheduled activities and stay with quieter, less quiet campgrounds - very woodsy and shady. Usually with a lake/beach, or river rather than a pool. We bring an extra small dome tent that we set up for the kids to play in during the day, which helps cut down on them running in and out of our tent all day.

-Dh has a boat so we often bring his boat and go out fishing/boating on trips.

-We use large pieces of foam as mattresses, everyone has their own sleeping bags and pillows.

-Since we always have electrical hookup - we bring along an extension cord and a toaster (ds only eats peanut butter waffles for lunch). We have a coleman stove, a plug-in utility light (the kind with a bulb in a plastic frame with a hook) that we can hook over the picnic table.

-We usually have pancakes, cereal or eggs for breakfast; sandwiches or hot dogs for lunch (we don't make sandwiches up ahead of time, they get soggy); and pasta; burgers over the fire; moon pies (pizza pockets made over the fire) or just about anything else we could have at home.


Dh has been camping for 50+ years so has it down pretty good and we have pretty much anything we could possibly need.

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I hate having soggy cooler things (like egg cartons and cheese... so I freeze all my pre-cooked meals and leave them in zip lock bags (to easily toss and not wash) I freeze 1/2 the milk in plastic juice bottles and I freeze several bottles of water (why take ice that must be tossed when it melts, take water and drink it!!)


I don't like soggy cooler things either but I've had a lot of problems with leaking ziplocks, even when doubled. Now I pack everything in the cooler inside plastic peanut butter jars and do a few wraps of duct tape around the lid to seal it. End of soggy/leaky food problem.

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I also pack all of our clothes in tubs. The boys get one and we get one. For the boys, each outfit is put together including socks and undies. When they were little, these went in individual ziplocks that I reused.

Another "must-have" is a roll of black trash bags. Handy for rain ponchos to mess containment to make shift tarps.

We bring individual milks, bagels, cream cheese, cheese sticks, salami, fruits/veggies, chips, crackers, etc. If we're close to a town, we buy groceries for dinner the same day.

I loathe, hate, abominate tent camping. That doesn't mean I'm not good at it. :P

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It took me years to figure out what was important to me in order to make for a comfortable camping trip. Here is what I came up with:


1. Campsite must have electricity. We typically camp in the off-season down south because we run a seasonal business in the north :tongue_smilie:. We have a portable electric heater that keeps our two-room tent cozy. The second reason is probably the most important. I bring a full-size electric coffee maker. I spent entirely too many cranky mornings waiting for coffee to perk on a fire or a Coleman stove. My husband and I are MUCH happier when we get to have our coffee just like at home :001_smile:. We also use electricity for our air mattresses, which I'll get to later.


2. Spend the money for a good tent. We went through several tents before we found our dream tent: The Cougar Flats II by Columbia. Unfortunately, they don't make it anymore, because I can't recommend that thing highly enough. Get a bigger tent than you think you'll need. Ours has two rooms. The kids get one, with a twin air mattress for each. We get the other room with our queen air mattress. We still have lots of room for our things. I also prefer tents you can stand in.


3. Spend the money on good air mattresses. We've got 3 Intex that have stood the test of time. They have the internal blow-up thingy that makes inflating, and more importantly, *deflating* a breeze! Plug it in, flip a switch, and you're all done. I put regular sheets and blankets on them and it feels like home.


3. I don't do vault toilets or no showers anymore. That kind of ended with the kids.


4. We love camping on the ocean. Edisto Beach State Park and Hunting Island State Park, both nearish Charleston, SC, have beach front camping for $26/night for a site with electricity. A lot of those sites book a year ahead of time, but I'll give you a hint, you'll actually like being further back. The wind can be BRUTAL. I can attest that both of these parks have clean restrooms and showers, too. Hunting Island is very shady...but shady places can lead to bugs, so keep that in mind. We camp off season, so this is rarely a problem for us.


5. We try to eat pretty healthy, but when we camp, all bets are off. You can't go wrong with cereal and milk with fruit in the morning, sandwiches for lunch or dinner, beans and franks for lunch or dinner. We always have granola bars and apples on hand for snacks.

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Camping is so much fun!


One word of caution, be careful during storms if you are near trees. A family was seriously injured recently, when strong winds blew a tree down onto a tent. The family was in critical condition, but are recovering.


If a storm comes through, seek shelter in a bathroom facility. Maybe take a weather radio with you to use while you are sleeping?


ETA: Dead trees are the concern, forgot to mention that, sorry! Don't want to scare you.

Edited by magnificent_baby
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Probably the most important thing about camping is to be able to sleep comfortably. For that, we love our Thermarest pads and wouldn't camp without them. Even when we took my mom along, she's ok sleeping on one of those (in a sleeping bag on top of one). ;)


Otherwise, a good tent that's easy to put up and take down is important.


Beyond that, go with what you want for the specific trip. We always bring cards or small games, but usually enjoy the campground or the sight we came to see.


Food? It depends on the trip. Ditto that with food preparation equipment.


Personally, we love being away from others, so often pick places without as many amenities so we get quieter campers and campgrounds. Walk in campsites work too. But, we can enjoy ourselves pretty much anywhere and absolutely love camping. My kids are experts on camp set up and take down, but we also don't do as many extras as most on here have mentioned. IF we have electric, we only use it for the laptop. ;)

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We are pretty seasoned tent campers - both backpacking and car camping.


-A good tent or two is a must. We love our 4 person REI half-dome. Easy to put up and rock solid. We only use it for sleeping or really bad weather though. We also have really thick air mattresses (also from REI). You can get by with foam if you are on a budget but you might want to go more plush for the adults since they are heavier.


-We bring our own shade/rain protection with a small EZ-up so we don't have to be too picky about sites.


-Everything is pre-organized in the garage. I have a checklist that I print out and just grab straight from the shelves to the garage. We have a big kitchen kit that keeps all of our cooking stuff organized.


-We do a hot breakfast on our Coleman camp stove. We have a really awesome French press coffee maker built into a themos that we love. Lunch is usually wraps of some form (tortillas pack better than bread) and dinner is usually over the campfire (hot dogs or foil pack dinners).


-With that many bikes you are probably going to have to get a small trailer. That's ok, because it can hold your camping stuff too.


-Never bring food or coolers of any kind into your tents if there is even a remote chance of ever camping near bears. One smear of peanut butter from 2 years ago can become an instant bear magnet. We keep our cooler and food in the car at all times.


As to what to bring specifically, you can find a lot of lists online and then just refine for your specific situation.

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Get a bigger tent than you think you need. Or go by measurements, not how many people are supposedly going to fit in there. Get something comfy to sleep on. Don't forget pillows. Personal experience, lol.


Keep the cooking simple. We don't use a stove much. For a short camp (2-3 nights) we don't bring a stove at all. We have a fire at night and cook sausages or hot dogs or baked potatoes or foil packets of some kind in it. The other meals are cold. I bring trail mix, lunch meats, containers of things like chopped up chicken or grilled veggies, tortillas, hard boiled eggs, etc. We pick at these for breakfast and lunch.


For the cooler I start out with frozen stuff in there, but bring a bunch of ziplocks. As the stuff in the cooler melts (and we've eaten some) I buy ice and double bag it in the ziplocks and use that to keep the cooler cold. The cooler lives in the car. It is not allowed in the tent. We don't eat in the tent either. My tent has a "screen room" on the front where the shoes live. I bring a tray for them to sit on, and we do pull the tray into the tent when the ground is getting really wet so our shoes dont all get soaked.


Also, bring matches or lighters. Again, personal experience. :-D

Edited by AdventureMoms
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I grew up tent camping at least a couple of times a year. But it was out west mainly in the desert. So we didn't have issues with humidity etc. I personally like early spring and late fall best for camping.


I thing a good air mattress or some type of pad is really key to a comfortable night's sleep.


Learning camp fire cooking - hobo meals, shi-kebabs, banana boats, smores etc all make it fun.

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I think you have received a lot of great information already. A couple of things I would add is to invest in some rope and a couple of big tarps. If you hit a rainy spell they give you more outside area to be under without getting soaked plus you can angle them so water is directed away from the tents. My DH is a master of getting the ropes high enough up the trees so the tarps are up out of the way.


I also cook a few meals in advance like meatballs in tomato sauce and freeze them. It helps keep everything else in the cooler cold.


Since you said you have a big van, have you considered a pop up camper. We picked ours up on craigs list. After suffering way to many rainy days tent camping, we decided we wanted to be up off the ground. It also comes with a propane heater and a little fridge that can run on propane or electricity. All our camping gear stays stored right in the camper and doesn't clutter up the house. Hook it up to the car and throw the cooler and the dog in and we are good to go. We take four bikes with us. Three ride on a bike rack that hooks onto the back hatch of the van and the other gets tied to the roof. The camper is easy to tow. I often take the kids myself with it.

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Our family of 8 enjoys camping.

Here's what makes it more enjoyable for me. :)

1) Two tents. One for Mom and Dad (and of course, including whichever kiddo was the baby at the time. One for the kids.)


2) Electrical hookups are a requirement. Please forgive me, but I cannot wilderness camp for this large family without a mega investment of $. We bring an extension cord and hang up a shop light (thus avoiding a lantern purchase), we also plug in a griddle for making quesadillas or pancakes. I plug in a hot pot to make hot water or a big electric soup pot to heat up the pre-made soup I brought with us.


3) I strip the foam pads off the kids' beds and I bring those eggshells for them to sleep on. I've found that the eggshell keeps their sleeping bag from sliding around on the floor of the tent.


4) Dustpan and small broom


5) Borrow, borrow, borrow to start out. It's just way to cost prohibitive to go out and buy everything a person needs to go camping the first time. We would try to buy one or two new things each time we went and we would borrow the rest. Over a period of several years, we accumulated to a point that we weren't borrowing. I've found that people who like to camp are pretty generous about sharing. :)


6) Don't waste money on little kid sized sleeping bags. They grow out of them too fast and my kids hardly stay in the sleeping bag anyway (unless it is really cold).


7) Metal plates make your food get cold really fast. Don't be tempted.


8) The kids are going to be excited. Don't get worked up if they won't go to sleep. Just get them their own tent and pitch your tents so that your doors are really close together. :)


9) Try to avoid campsites directly next to the trash bins which are the favorite night time feeding ground for racoons and skunks. :)


10) Plan an easy meal for the night you arrive. It's often so time consuming to set up tents.


11) Do try to come camping in Arkansas. :) We sincerely have some of the most fabulous camping. Our state parks are like resorts. Want waterfalls, caves, mountains, trails, lakes, forests, meadows? Come on down!

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  • I need advise about traveling. We have a full size van. I would like to bring bikes but I need some sort of bike rack for 6 people.



Any other thoughts?


We also have a full size van. We purchased a hitch receiver platform and 4 large stacking hard plastic rubbermaid type boxes that we strap down to the platform. We have strapped bikes on top of the boxes and over the hitch between the platform and the back of the van. I think this is the one we got.

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We just bought a camper. I am scared of bears lol.


I tent camped as a kid, and the key is good lighting, a good Colman stove, lots of paper and plastic utensils, small pots that are easy to wash, cots are better than air mattresses so you do not wake up on the ground when the air leaks out, and a good fan to plug into the outlet at the campground. It takes practice and the understanding that you might not look good or smell good when you go venturing out so keep the trip short lol. Oh yea, and always, always wear shoes in the public showers to avoid unwanted ickies.

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We camp once a year for 15 days on a little island with no running water and a composting toilet. It has been our summer vacation for 9 years.

So, perhaps I can offer a bit of help. ;)

We have a "10 person" tent

It goes up in no time at all, and my teen has done it for me for years.

So, tent goes up ON A Tarp.


Then the two queen air mattresses get blown up and put on either side of the tent. Dh and I have one side, the girls have the other. Then the duffel bags and each persons gear bag go at the end of the bed. We don't bring a ton of clothes but make sure we are covered for cold or hot. Ereaders, mp3 players and books and games like scrabble slam, bananagrams and a deck or two of cards are critical as are cameras and such.


My personal commode goes in the back because I refuse to leave the tent at night and let me tell you how handy that came in during the monsoon last year!


The we tarp the top of the tent in case of rain, sloping it off the back.


Folding chairs for each of us.

Coleman lantern.

rechargeable air pump for air mattresses

Propane Grill and kitchen tools

plastic plate, cup, and bowl for each person plus coffee/tea mugs

teapot as well as some paper stuff

coffee carafe with filter thing scavenged from old machine, set it up and pour boiling water for fabulous camp coffee ( I dislike camp percolators)

rope for a laundry line and tarping and clothespins

duct tape

a dry cooler (pantry) and a wet cooler

jugs of water to refill water bottles

5 gallon shower set in sun to warm before hanging, keep a spare going at all times

battery jumper with air compressor , ac/dc and usb ports to recharge all our electronics

A little dustpan and broom for interior tent tidying, I keep a doormat in front of the tent as well to cut down on tracking dirt and sand in the tent.

Flashlights for each person

first aid kit


tons of bug spray

trash bags for dirty laundry and trash

milk crates and a board to set up a table



That is the list for us of essentials. :D

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