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How To Be A Happy Camper

By John Ballard

“Let’s go camping!”
I can remember my mom saying this to my sister and me when we were little. It meant loading the car with a tent, quilts and blankets, grill, and our bathing suits. It also meant Mom’s chili. I remember she told us what gear to gather, and we toted it to the car, helped her pack it, and were on our way. We usually headed to Fields Chapel — long before it had a gate, parking lot, and designated campsites.

Today’s camping is a little different. It involves reservations, a supply list, lounge chairs, Coleman stove, fuel, and, in most cases, bottled water, not to mention sunscreen. Whether you’re camping overnight at a campsite or heading out for three or four days on the Appalachian Trail, the first important steps are planning ahead and preparing. Your list should include everything you need to make you comfortable and safe. Remember, if things go wrong, your campout could become a matter of survival. If you have planned and prepared, you should be fine until you make it home or help arrives.

Planning involves deciding where, when, and how long you will be gone, as well as what you are going to bring. The first three items on your list should be for safety. Always let someone else know where these items are stored. Cell phones are great, but a dead or lost phone could hamper the trip, and service might be unreliable if you’re in a remote place. Be sure to check the weather forecast in the area you are camping. Do you have a first aid kit? If not, get one. The size and type will depend on the number of people in your group and any special medical needs.

In Boy Scouts, I learned to always have 10 essentials whenever I was on a hike or camping:
  1. Pocketknife
  2. First Aid Kit
  3. Extra Clothing
  4. Rain Gear
  5. Water Bottle
  6. Flashlight
  7. Trail Food
  8. Matches and Fire Starter
  9. Sun Protection
  10. Map and Compass

Toilet paper is another great thing to add to this list. I keep these items handy in a small backpack for any time I’m out and about. There are also more extensive “essentials” lists available online or in library books.

Regardless of whether your campsite has a fire pit, a grill, or if you brought a camp stove, you’ll need fuel. If you choose a fire, bring your own wood for a public site; in the back country, use only deadfall. Obviously, you must bring whatever fuel your stove uses. Bring charcoal to use in an on-site grill. Don’t forget to bring something to light your fire.

Decide what you want to use for a light source after dark. Whether it is a flashlight or a lantern, you will need extra batteries and/or fuel. Never have an open flame inside your tent.

As for bedding, take whatever makes you comfortable: a sleeping bag, blankets, sheets, and quilts. Your choice will likely depend upon whether you sleep in a camp trailer, on the ground, a mat, an air mattress, or a hammock. I recommend testing out your options in your backyard before you try them at the campsite.

Once you’ve made it to your campsite, choose a spot to erect your shelter. A public campsite usually has a specific place for tents. If in the woods, pick a spot that has been used before (if possible). A perfect level spot is a fine place to bed down until it rains — then water stands. A ground cloth (inexpensive tarp) should be spread out in your selected area to go under your tent.

Check for a water source, which can be found at almost all public sites. Most people bring water in plastic bottles, which should be reused or recycled (some campgrounds have on-site recycling). In the back country, you must bring your own water or have a way to purify water from natural sources (springs or creeks). Be sure to research water purification materials and filter systems to select an option that works best for your needs.

If previous campers have left garbage behind, please pick it up. For more information about how litter negatively affects our outdoor spaces, visit Leave No Trace at

After all your proper planning and preparation, along with successfully setting up your campsite, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a happy camper!