Camp Tricks

Weekend Camping: Mastering “The System”

August 24, 2016
©istockphoto/Dean Mitchell

©istockphoto/Dean Mitchell

Summer weekends are for camping. But if you’re not ready, those summer weekends will get eaten alive by laundry, grocery shopping, and the yard. Before you know it, you’ll be getting ready for work again Monday morning; the worst part is summer doesn’t last long. How to get out more? The answer your camping conundrum is The System.

The System relies on a set of routines for getting you out of town quickly. Like any system, it works best when followed rigorously until it becomes a habit, and then second nature. When you get to this point, camping will be a breeze. Here’s how to make it work.

Organize Your Gear
Get some shelves for your basement or garage. Organize your gear and label it. If that seems a bit too OCD, remember that you’re going to be trying to pack quickly amidst life’s other demands and that your friends and your kids will likely be helping you pack or unpack. So add some serious easy-to-use organization. Soon you’ll be just running down the row of shelves grabbing what you need.

Make Plans Early
Off all the delays in getting going, the biggest one is usually deciding about who’s coming and where you’re going. Figure that out early in the week, or even better, make a list of places you want to camp early in the season. That way you don’t spend hours scratching your head and looking at maps.

Part of planning inevitably means navigating other people’s schedules, and who can get off when and has to be back for some event. Those can also kill (or seriously shorten) trips. Make plans with the core folks and then stick to the plan. Others can join you if they can.

Keep it Close and Easy
You’ll have some exotic destinations in mind for the summer: distant national parks, destinations that take a full day or driving or more. But the bread-and-butter a great camping summer is the close and easy escape can get to in under two: familiar but still great for a night under the stars. Don’t subject yourself and your family to a 4-hour drive each way every weekend. Remember, this is supposed to be fun.

Have No Reservations
Look for spots that don’t require reservations—small Forest Service, BLM, or county campgrounds where you can just roll on in. Or better yet, know where you can legally camp at your own whim—most undesignated Forest Service and BLM spur roads. A surprisingly well-kept secret: Forest Service Fire Maps show lots of tiny roads at most people don’t know about.

Stash Food Like a Survivalist
Don’t get sidetracked by a big grocery trip. Stash a special camping box with nonperishable food (cans, pasta, coffee, freeze-dried food for backpacking). Then you can grab and go. My strategy is to dehydrate leftovers over the year, vacuum seal them, and put them in the freezer. The advantages are that it’s cheap, healthy, and I eat just like I eat at home. A quick stop for produce, perishables and cold beer, and you’re on our way.

Be the Early Bird
Even if you don’t want to eat worms, get there early. The best way is to load the car Thursday night, and then scoop up the kids and/or your pals on Friday from work. Then you can nab the best campsites and get the benefit of two nights under the stars instead of one.

Clean Your Gear
Now for the fun part. Clean your gear when you get home, either Sunday or Monday evening. Make sure it goes back on those same labeled shelves…after all, you’ll be looking for it again on Thursday night, which is only four days away.

See you around the campfire.

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