Hot Dogs, Ketchup, Hot Dog Buns and a stick... is this your grocery list and supply list all in one for your typical family camping trip? C'mon guys and gals! Live a little! There is no reason why you and your family can't eat good on your next family adventure and make the trip as well as the meals memorable.
With a little planning and thought put in, you can ensure you hear cheers and not growning at dinner time.
With the right gear anyone can prepare similar, if not better meals then you typically make at home. So lets start with the gear for a typical family campout:
A Coleman 2 Burner Stove
Single Fry Pan or Cast Iron Pan
Small/Medium Sauce Pan with Strainer lid
One Large Pot
1 Good Knife
Not a lot of gear, right? With these simple kitchen items you can make all of the following dishes described and pictured below. Don't be afraid to eat good during your camping trip. And, with help from the kids and family cooking and even cleaning up can be a quick and fun experience for everyone.
I have a "chuckbox" also known in Boy Scout circles as a "patrol box" to store all of the above items in as well as other camping supplies and cook from. Check out this Facebook video for more on the design and layout.
A few tips to help you on a multiple day trip:
Need help planning your menu? Download the Hiking Forward Family Camping Menu Planner.
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Recently, I have had the opportunity to attend a couple group camping trips. You all know as you do, that I love being outdoors, the deeper in the woods the better. But, recently I have found myself wondering about large group versus small group campouts and car camping versus car camping with a slimmed down amount of gear. The question is, does the gear do more then weigh us down? Is there an emotional tie one way or the other? Some people may need more comforts from home while others truly need the sense that they are not at home an need less creature comforts to feel comfortable while in the woods.
This is clear as mud, right? Good… lets carry on.
When I typically car camp… George (that’s my Jeep) is usually packed to the gills with gear. I have a lot of gear. Yes Scott… so do I, you’re proabably saying. No seriously, I have a lot of gear and I usualy bring extra’s of things for others who forget something or something breaks, “No worries I got one!”. I’m THAT GUY.
Plus in addition to being that guy, I am always bringing new gear to try, put through it’s paces and review. This is on top of the normal gear one needs on a camping trip with fifteen of your closest buds from you local hiking group. Lately, I got the feeling that with so much stuff I was constantly touching something, looking for something, wondering where I put something etc. This truly started to drive me almost insane. I was relishing in the ability to be backpacking instead of car camping where every ten minutes I was looking inside George for something, a knife, my headlamp, more beer, rope, more beer etc.
Having lots of stuff gave me almost more options to be doing something with something all the time. Being in the woods for me means doing nothing but being able to relish in the woods and soak it in. So, is the gear getting in the way? My mates would say hell no! As we collectively scarfed on 16 pounds of smoked ham that I smoked on one of these recent campouts. Damm that was good stuff. Yes, I brought my smoker car camping. I wouldn’t do it if the stuff I smoked didn’t taste soooo damn good.
I won’t say that I didn’t enjoy myself on this particular campout, but I will honestly say that these thoughts came into my mind which led to this post. Camping is not about the gear. It’s about nature, escaping, friends and or family and reconnecting with yourself. No matter what gets in the way of that goal, in my opinion needs to re-evaluated if it hampers your ability to feel how you want to feel when you’re outside.
I paused on writing this post right after this particular trip because I wanted to see how I would do with a new thoughtout perspective on an upcoming one night trip. So, a few weeks ago I did attended a simple one night trip. While the weather was less then favorable, I did have a good time. While I downsized the “stuff” (for lack of a better term) I still don’t feel that given the time I was camping the gear met the trip.
Awareness of the somewhat emotional weight of gear and how it can impact me and my camping experience was now more present in mind as I gathered my gear and prepared for my night away. On this particular trip I hammocked versus tented. However, on this trip I still fell into some but not all of my habits that caused some internal strife once I arrived. I hate messing with gear or searching for things versus enjoying the moment. While I admit I did less searching and messing, that may have to do with the weather conditions and the time of the trip versus the previous three night four day excursion.
In addition to gear weight and how it impacts your trip, the other element that can have a positive or potentially negative impact on your camping experience is the number of people in your group. Small groups, who are like minded, are safer bets, especially if you are familiar and have similar skill levels. The larger the group the odds grow of potential differences in personalities, experience, skill and knowledge level. While most of the time these differences are subtle they have virtually little or no impact on you or your camping experience.
So in closing, maybe you don’t resonate with these issues but if you do, be aware of how group dynamics and gear impact you before you head out. Having an understanding of these things will ensure that you can fully enjoy each and every outdoor experience.
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I was in a band in high school. I know, you’re thinking ‘that’s where I’ve heard his name before!’ We were called Sweet Crazy Money and it consisted of myself and three friends. These guys are some of the best men I know now. Two or them were brothers and are still my best friends. But at the time I was mostly friends with the older brother Andy and hung out with Brent the younger brother almost exclusively for sports and band stuff. The friendships with these two would prove invaluable for, among other things, my love of hiking. See when Andy went off to college in Kentucky I hung out with Brent much more. 10 years ago I took my first real hike. It was one of the high points of my manhood.
Brent had read the book Wild At Heart by John Eldredge. He too had realized the woes of Florida life and our lack of elevation. So, he declared that he was going to climb a mountain. Five friends were joining him and I, one who relishes awkwardness because I just never feel it, invited myself to join them. The 6 of us were off into the great unknown, literally, we just drove north.
Now that I have kids an itinerary is crucial. Back then we went until we saw a mountain and a path. All I know of the location of this trip is that we were in Sapphire, North Carolina. And I only know it because of the YouTube video I made. It has it in there (I’ll post the link to the video at the bottom. It was made in 1847 so go easy on me for the editing. I think I was using DOS back then). My father signed me up for Cub Scouts and I had been on fishing trips were I’d traversed a creek or two. But up until that point in my life I had never been on an actual hike in the forest. Here’s how much of an idiot I was: 1) I bought brand new work boots for the hike. Hey, I had no idea what terrain lay outside to borders of the Sunshine State. Could be Georgia, could be Mordor. 2) For food I packed 5 raw potatoes (I’m Irish. Sue me.) and 5 cans of soup. In other words, I packed 45 pounds of food. Did I mention I didn’t bring foil to cook to potatoes in or a spoon to eat the soup with? No? Well, I didn’t bring foil to cook to potatoes in or a spoon to eat the soup with. The hike was a hilarious 5 miles. I say hilarious because at one point I thought we had gone two miles and looked over my shoulder to still see our car roughly a few hundred yards away.
The trip itself and the company were spectacular. Just some dudes who went from Boys to Men (That’s what we should have named the band! Man we blew it. No wonder we came to an end of the road). We had to cross two suspension bridges very Indiana Jones style. One morning I spotted an otter living it up in the mist of the river. I made friendships for a lifetime that I truly felt were cemented on that trip. I lived with two of the dudes in college. I went to 3 of their weddings and even DJed one. Mind you I’m not a real DJ, but I can make some magic on the ones and twos. Two of them live in different states but when they come in town I give a free basketball clinic just to remind them who the boss is.
Down side, Brent got an amoeba in his cornea that he found a few weeks later and almost lost his eye…what a wuss right?! On the way out I actually had to walk backwards because of the blisters that had formed on my heels courtesy of those sweet new Walmart boots. 0 star review by the way. We stayed 2 nights and when I left my body was a broken vessel of pain. The only cure was Burger King and big ups to the King for setting me straight. When I got home I made this video to solidify the memory. I watch it a few times a year. Honestly, it’s the reason I’m writing for this blog. It’s the reason I find solace on the trail. It’s the reason I look forward to the open air. Eventually, it will be the reason my boys and I log hours, see mountains, and eat trout we caught in a river we cook on a fire we made.
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With the temperatures dropping quickly (we had our first frost a few days ago!), if we still want to spend time hiking and camping, we will need to prepare a little differently. Winter tends to be colder, windier, and wetter. The days are much shorter, which means less hours on the trail. Footing can become more dangerous. However, do not let that list scare you away from camping and hiking when the seasons change, because there is one HUGE advantage to the cold dark days of winter. NO BUGS!!! (Insert happy dance) For the purposes of this blog, I won't be getting into trips where things like snowshoes, crampons, or sleds are needed. That falls into mountaineering and I lack advanced knowledge about that.
Mike has done a significant amount of cold weather camping and hiking. I have hiked in all sorts of conditions, but haven't backpacked in the dead of winter yet. So that leads me to my first tip: go with someone who knows. As with anything new, it always helps and makes things safer if you learn from someone with experience. But if the weather isn't too severe and you think you want to get a taste of what it's like in the winter, I still recommend not taking on this experience by yourself for the first time. Symptoms of hypothermia, altitude sickness, and dehydration can be hard to spot when you are the one suffering. For that reason, I recommend having a buddy or 2 along to help keep an eye on each other to prevent something minor from turning into a true emergency.
Plan, plan, plan
For your first winter camping trip, I would recommend going to an area that you are familiar with. But if you can't do that, get your maps ahead of time, look carefully at the routes, the elevation changes, & the location of shelters. Remember, you will have less daylight hours to work with, so plan your distances accordingly. Hiking through snow and/or ice will slow you down too, so you should plan on reducing your daily mileage by 50%. Know where the nearest help is located (Ranger's station or such). Know how far away you will be from your vehicle or help throughout the route. Basically, just know where you will be and where you are going as well as planning some bail out spots or routes just in case. Let someone at home know your plan and educate them on when they need to call for help for you. Let everyone in your group know the plan as well as contingency plans in case you become unable to lead the group for some reason.
Keep a close eye on the weather leading up to your trip
You can find backcountry weather reports at the National Weather Service site. If the area you are visiting has a website that they update (like the National Park system), check prior to your trip for alerts, trail closures, weather reports, etc. If you are traveling in an area prone to avalanches, check avalanche reports and avoid slopes of more than 20 degrees unless you have specialized avalanche training. Don't be fooled if the forecast calls for some warm days. This may just help snow and ice to melt and refreeze each day which can create difficult to see "black ice" and can make conditions tricky. Warm days can also lead to runoff and turn a babbling brook into a raging river, so keep in mind how the weather will affect water crossings. Understanding how the weather fluctuations affect the area you will be utilizing can help you plan better.
Dress for the conditions
In winter, it is more important than ever to follow a tried and true layering system. In addition to layering properly, in winter you will want to put away the trail runners and use boots. They will give you extra stability on slick footing, they will help prevent snow and moisture from getting into your shoes, and they provide more insulation than low cut shoes. If you will be in deep snow, you may want to also plan on using gaiters to help keep your feet dry and warm. Wool socks are a must, as they insulate even when wet. For wet conditions, I've heard good things about Goretex socks as well, but haven't tried them. I carry a pair of Neoprene socks that I can use if my feet are going to be wet for a while, and those can even be layered with a thin wool sock underneath. Always bring a warm hat, gloves or mittens, and sunglasses or goggles. Also, always bring a spare pair of gloves or mittens and a hat, because if you lose those items, your trip will take a turn for the worse quickly.
Evaluate your gear
You will need a sleeping pad that offers insulation from the cold ground, a sleeping bag rated for the conditions you will face, and a pack big enough to carry the extra layers and gear that winter camping demands. A tarp or footprint for your tent will help keep snow and water from seeping in and making you cold. If you have a sleeping bag that isn't going to be quite warm enough, a good liner can add another 15 degrees of warmth. There are many types of liners, and you can read about them and their various features here. If you find yourself without a liner in conditions that are too cold for your bag, anemergency blanket can be used as a liner in a pinch. A good sleeping pad arrangement for winter camping is to use two pads, a closed cell and aninflatable. The closed cell should be on the ground with the inflatable pad on top of it. This will provide enough insulation from the cold ground and having a closed cell pad is extra insurance should your inflatable pad spring a leak. Using a winter gear checklist can help prevent forgetting important items.
Eat to stay warm
Eating enough calories is one way to help your body stay warm, and your body burns more calories in the cold. Besides the extra calorie burn from staying warm, hiking through snow or challenging winter terrain adds to the number of calories you will be depleting. Plan to add at least 25% more calories to your diet in cold weather. For this reason, dehydrated meals are great. They are warm, have some water content, are usually pretty high in calories, and are comforting. Another tip is to bring along a small amount of olive or coconut oil. You can add a tablespoon to your meal or just eat it straight for an extra 120 calories. Remember you will need more fuel to heat water in cold weather, so make sure you bring plenty! Packets of hot chocolate, hot cider, or tea bags make a nice pick me up beverage when you need one before bed or in the cold, cold morning.
Learn first aid
Many symptoms of things like hypothermia, shock, dehydration, etc., are often subtle and may go unnoticed by an untrained eye. It's important to begin treating these things immediately and appropriately, as an injury or illness compounded by exposure to extreme weather can quickly become a life or death situation. Starting out your trip being properly hydrated, nourished, and dressed can go a long way to preventing conditions from developing. Ensure that you have adequate food and water, our bodies burn calories keeping warm, so it's important to make sure you keep "stoking the fire". Hydration helps keep your circulation flowing efficiently. Many people make the mistake of not drinking enough fluids in cold weather because they don't feel thirsty, but the dry wind can dehydrate you rapidly.
Other tips and hacks
You can put damp socks, mittens, and other small items inside your sleeping bag at night to help them dry. This won't work for large items, as they will add too much moisture to the inside of your bag and end up making you colder. Place your boots in a sack and put them at the bottom of your sleeping bag at night so they are dry and warm in the morning.
Put water next to you, away from the tent wall to keep it from freezing. If you are using bottles, place them upside down. Water freezes from the top down, so when you flip it over, you will have water to drink right away and ice won't clog up the spout or top of your bottle. Use lithium batteries when possible, they tolerate cold temperatures better than traditional batteries.Make sure your tent has enough ventilation for water vapor to escape. If not, the condensation build up will make your sleeping bag and everything else in the tent damp and cold. Do not put your whole head inside your sleeping bag. The moisture from your breath will cancel out the insulating properties of your sleeping bag.
Carry a sleeping bag warmer for emergencies. Carry some hand warmers just because they are nice to have and can help warm up frozen boots or cold hands & feet.
There is certainly a lot more that could be said about winter camping and hiking, and we will cover some more advanced camping skills in future posts. In our part of the country, winter is long and cold, so any fun you can have while waiting for spring to come is much needed. Hopefully these tips will encourage you to get outside this winter too. Being prepared and educated about how to handle the conditions will keep you safe and make your trips fun!
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