There are certain things that men do better—like kill bugs, change tires and fix electronics. However, I will do these things have if I absolutely have to, I prefer not to. Even though I’m a very independent woman, I’m not afraid to admit there are things that I just don’t do when single. Camping was one of them until my best friend in college and I decided we needed to float the Guadalupe River. This trip required an overnight stay in a campground. In a tent. Without electricity. She grew up participating in Camp Fire and had all the skills needed for us to not only have a fun, but also a successful and safe camping trip. Since then, I have not let anything stop me from spending a few nights out on the lake camping with the girls. With a few basic skills and equipment, you can too!
Types of Camping
There is a variety of ways to camp—RV, tent, which includes primitive, walk-up and car, and cabin.
RV camping is done with a recreational vehicle or a pop-up camper. RV-specific campsites will have water and electrical hook ups for your camper to run properly. Most RV camping sites have sewer facilities, as well.
Cabin camping is more like staying in a rustic hotel. You can find cabins with running water, electricity, air conditioning and heat, indoor bathroom, and full kitchen. Cabin camping is more expensive, but can be convenient for girls who aren’t the outdoorsy type, but still wanting a little peace and quiet out in the wilderness.
Tent camping encompasses primitive, walk-up, car, backpacking, and hike-in camping. Primitive camping, either on private land or in state parks means you will have to trek your stuff to a suitable site. Some campsites will be over a mile or more from the park’s entrance. There will be no running water, electricity, picnic table, fire ring, bathroom, or tent pad. Backpacking and hike-in sites are generally primitive sites as well.
Walk-up and Car Camping
This is my preferred type of camping. These types of campsites will either have one main parking lot a very short walk to the campsites or parking right in front of your site. I prefer these sites, because you can bring more gear—such as heavy coolers and comfortable bedding. Plenty of walk-up and car camping sites have covered picnic tables, fire rings, tent pads, running water, and even electricity with restrooms not too far away.
Where to Camp?
A great place to start is by looking at your states’ department of parks and wildlife web site. They should have a listing of all the state parks. The Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife Website has detailed campground descriptions, like which parks have running water, bathrooms, picnic tables, and other conveniences. Texas also offers wilderness classes including basic camping skills. State parks are an excellent place for a beginner camper. Many have park rangers on-site to help in case of an emergency and provide security.
KOA Campgrounds will be more expensive than your local state park, but they offer unique amenities such as swimming pools, hot tubs and mini golf. KOA Campgrounds have cabins, RV and tent camping sites.
One alternative is to camp out at a friend’s property, lake house or deer lease.
Pitch a Tent
Pitching a tent by yourself, can be next to impossible—especially if you are anything like me and horrible at assembling things. The bigger the tent, the more poles and stakes it will take to secure it. Always practice pitching your tent in the backyard first. It can be a frustrating experience—especially if the sun is starting to set.
Investing in an easy set up tent makes setting up camp a cinch. The Wenzel Vortex inflatable tent self inflates with an included pump that works just like a bicycle pump. No electricity, battery power or car charger needed. The Stansport Adventure Dome two person tent is a traditional, affordable and lightweight tent with a quick clip system for easy set up. All you need to do for both tents is stake them down.
Where to put your tent?
Find a flat surface free of rocks, pebbles and sticks. Softer ground like dirt or sand will make staking down your tent easier. Avoid a low-laying area where water can drain. I prefer putting my tent in a shaded area, so the hot summer sun doesn’t cook the inside of the tent during the day. Almost all tents have screened windows. Keep them open during the day to let air circulate.
Start a Fire
If you aren’t in an emergency situation and pack gear in preparation of building a fire, you should have no problems getting a good campfire going. If your campsite does not have a fire pit already in place, pick an open area away from trees to build one yourself. You can use sand or dirt for the bottom of your pit. Dig a circle in the sand or dirt where your fire will go. Build a circle of large rocks around your pit to help keep the fire contained.
Next gather tinder, which is easily ignitable material, kindling, and fuel. Fuel is larger pieces of wood that keep the fire going. At night, before everyone heads off to their tents, put the fire out by shoveling dirt and sand over it until you longer see burning embers. For a detailed description on how to build a fire, read Survivor Skill Set 101: Building a Fire.
Cook a Meal
There are a few ways to cook while camping—with butane stoves and burners, charcoal on a grill, emergency stoves, or directly on the open flames of your campfire. When I camp, I pack a propane stove, propane canisters, and a large bag of charcoal and lighter fluid. I find that using the propane stove is easier and quicker for breakfast and making coffee. Propane stoves can be pricey. However, they are a good back-up cooking source to keep in your emergency gear. Camping isn’t the only reason to use a propane stove.
Many public parks will have a charcoal grill at each campsite. If not, a small foldable grill will work. These grills are easily transportable, lightweight and inexpensive. They do not offer as large a cooking space as your grill at home, but four burgers fit just fine.
To start a fire for cooking in a charcoal grill, place about a quarter of your bag of charcoal in the bottom of the grill. Place the charcoal pieces in a teepee or pyramid shape to maximize the airflow underneath the charcoal. This aids in starting a flame.
Spray lighter fluid all over the charcoal to so it looks wet. Give the fluid at least 10 minutes to soak through. Using a long match or a long barbecue lighter, light the charcoal. It will flame up and spread throughout the charcoal quickly. I know it’s tempting, but resist putting more fluid on the briquettes. If you add too much lighter fluid to the charcoal, it may not burn all the way off before you start cooking and your food will taste like lighter fluid.
After the flame has died completely down, take long tongs and spread your charcoal evenly over the bottom of the grill to create an even heating surface. Your coals are ready after all flames have extinguished and they become grey and ashy. This can take about 30 minutes.
Before putting food on the grill, take a rag or grill brush lightly covered in vegetable or olive oil and rub the grates with the oil. This prevents the food from sticking.
To make things even easier, use a charcoal pre-soaked in lighter fluid. There are even bags of charcoal designed for you to set the whole bag in the bottom of the grill and light the entire bag on fire.
If you would like to cook over the open campfire, making a foil packet is an easy and fun way to cook a meal. Use heavy-duty aluminum foil to prevent rips in your packet. Take finely chopped potatoes, carrots, squash, mushrooms, onions and a whole chicken breast or hamburger patty seasoned with salt, pepper and your preferred seasoning, and butter and wrap the whole thing in foil. Before closing the foil packet up, add a small amount of water to prevent the food from sticking and to allow a little steam. Place the foil packets directly on the fire and let cook for about 30 minutes. Remove the packet wearing oven mitts or with heavy tongs, as the foil will be hot.
Food Storage Tip
Take two coolers with you—one for meat and one for beverages. Keep drinking ice separate from your meats. Wrap your meats up tightly in leak-proof zip lock bags so there is no cross-contamination. Bears and raccoons are inventive and can easily break into coolers. At night, either keep the coolers in your car trunk or place them under the picnic bench so the bench seat prevents the cooler’s lid from opening.
Catch a Fish
Catch and release fishing is not as hard as it seems. All you need is a pole and bait—neither is expensive. If you are camping near a lake, there should be plenty of bait shops along the way. I usually just buy worms, because they are cheap and easy to hook.
If you need a pole, look for a spincast, fresh water pole. This is the easiest to learn and there are plenty of affordable choices for a basic rod and reel combo pole. Zebco makes a pink basic rod and reel for around $15 that includes a variety of fishing tackle.
Hook a Worm
The key to using worms as bait is to keep the worm as alive-looking as possible. You want it wriggle and draw attention. Using the smallest “unbarred, circle hook” (ask the store where you purchase your pole for hooks), hook the worm through his middle so both ends wriggle. Alternatively, you can hook it right through its head.
Once you have your bait on the hook, reel in the line in using your reel, letting the hook stop 3 to 5 inches from the top of the rod. Pull the rod to your side, stopping it right behind you. Then quickly bring the rod back in front of you quickly, releasing the line as you swing forward. Let the line then fall into the water.
When a fish is nibbling, you will most likely see your bobber move and dance on the water, and you will feel a tug on your line. This is when you need to jerk your pole up to hook the fish. Sharply pull up with your pole. If you have caught a fish, you will feel a significant weight difference on your line. Go ahead and reel him in!
Unhook a Fish
A key component to catch and release fishing is preventing harm to the fish. Once you have caught him and taken pictures, put the fish back in the water to remove the hook. Some fish can stick you, so make sure when you grab him, run your hands down his fin in the direction they are facing. Using fishing pliers, pull the hook out of the fish’s mouth the same way it went in.
Regardless if you are camping with one other person or a group of girls, safety is important. Before reserving your campsite, ask the park if they have 24-hour security. Plenty of national parks have a park ranger on duty at all times. Always tell someone where you are going and how long you plan to be gone. Even though I strictly forbid the use of electronics while camping, my phone is always fully charged and near by. Pack a first aid kit and learn the basics of first aid and CPR. It is not necessary to have an emergency radio with you, unless you want some tunes, but do check the weather before heading out to avoid storms or unexpected extreme temperatures. Check your local laws before packing a gun. Some states do not allow you to carry inside parks.
Camping is a fun, safe and affordable vacation that anyone can do. With a little bit of gumption, determination and some gear, you and the girls will have a great time!
To read more about the basics of camping:
- Camping on a Budget
- Creature Comforts for Luxury Camping
- Basic First Aid Typical Camping Accidents and Product Review MHR-325
- First Aid 101: Fishing Accidents
What to Pack Check List:
- Two Coolers- one for meat and food and one for beverages and drinking ice
- Lighter, fire starter or matches
- Fresh propane canisters
- Camp stove
- Cook wear
- Lantern and flashlight
- Utility knife
- Camp chair
- Sleeping bag, blanket, pillow, and air mattress
- Water jug
- Bug spray
- First aid kit
- Large dry box for dried goods such as chips, cookies, S’More fixings, and bread
- Waterproof phone case
- Inflatable float
Ladies, do you have a good first-time camping story or tips for first time campers? Share it with us in the comment section.