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The lure of s’mores, the abundance of stars, and the exhale of all that is bothersome, this is why we camp. For those of you who are just embarking on this journey, prepare to fall in love and have confidence that sometimes the bumps along the way turn out to actually be gifts in disguise.

On one trip in which yours truly, forgot to pack the top piece to the tent, our posse of campers discovered sleeping out, as in under the stars. We watched a meteor shower one night, snoozed beside a rushing creek another, and surreptitiously staked out a spot for an overnight on a deserted beach on the coast of Oregon (this would be the momentary lapse of, “most things on a dime are legal”).  Oddly, it was this trip – that included some hiking along gated trails in Silver Falls State Park – that made us acutely aware that we desired a rougher around the edges experience. The left behind tent morphed “formulaic camping” into rugged and surprising. Our trip went from a disappointing Cannon Beach stop, with a few too many other beach goers to an overnight on an empty stretch of sand, off the beaten path. This unplanned moments of the journey spun us into an awareness of the kinds of trips we’d seek in the future. We found ourselves pining for more of a John Muir style journey and we got it on a return and redo of Oregon.

Camping is a subjective event, it’s a little bit Robinson Crusoe, a wee bit Gilligan and a whole lot Three Stooges so relax, enjoy, and have a sense of humor even when it snows in September or when the top half of the tent remains home in a closet. For a rain forest nirvana camping experience, check out the Hoh Rain Forest in Washington.

The photo below is an amazing fee campsite that ran us $22 per night in the peak season. Also available are really swank-a-licious cabins at the  adjacent resort.

A trip in September and a surprise snow

A trip in September and a surprise snow
Convict Lake at sunrise during a snowstorm
Convict Lake at sunrise during a snowstorm

And then there’s dispersed…

Dispersed camping Sedona

The above image is an example of dispersed camping. What is dispersed camping? It’s primitive, meaning generally you bring in your own water and the bathroom is behind a rock. The up side? It is free. The above site was alongside a creek, about 10 miles outside of  Sedona, AZ. We put up our tents, made a fire and had the best night of Honey Jack and tall tales with a cousin while the little guy snored nearby.

Now for the gear for regular camping (not backpacking), yes, you can shop anywhere. Go ahead and find the best deals.

1) Tent – Only as big as you need however I like a 3 person for 2 people in order to fit gear etc. but, that said, I have an REI Quarter Dome tent that goes up so smoothly, you could almost do it blindfolded. I find it to be easier to deal with than the cheaper ones I had in the past but if you are just starting and not sure if this will become a regular thing, $30 or $40 at any store will do the trick. Even better, borrow a tent from a friend and try it out.

Below is the Quarter Dome tent that sleeps 3.

Tent at the campsite
Tent at the campsite

And now for a sassy red and silver, $30 tent that has been through six states and multiple car camping trips. That’s right $30!


2) Sleeping Bags – Make sure they are rated warm enough if you make this a habit! For weather that drops into the 20s or below and for camping in snow, my Sierra bag (rated 20) from REI has been fantastic and my guy swears by his Marmot bag.

3) Sleep Mat – This seems a luxury, it is not. It will up your body temp when the ground is cold and keep hips and back in better shape. Pillows and camp chairs can also go on your list. If you are just starting out, try inexpensive foam for car camping.

4) Coleman Stove – Two burner traditional is still the bomb but the solo backpacker one burner can do double duty quite nicely. And make use of your fire ring’s grill at the campsite as we did with these chicken k-bobs with orange peppers (prepped at home and brought along in a cooler).

Chicken k-bobs

5) Dishes – I bring from home when car camping. I have a crate that has dishes/silverware and pots and pans from Salvation Army as well as my spices, table cloth, batteries, headlamps etc. *I just leave the crate packed and ready to go.

6) Lantern – believe it or not, you really don’t need one. Inexpensive headlamps do the trick but pack extra batteries. Photo below is a fellow adventurer, reading in the tent by headlamp.

Night view camping at Convict

Night view camping at Convict

Gear up with the basics and add in what you desire along the way. Watch for sales and also utilize thrift stores for dishes etc. and most of all, enjoy the journey!

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We’ll be adding helpful links as we come across them and please let us know if your encounter amazing camping websites.  


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