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Have more fun camping

Or this page could be titled:

Must-haves for camping

How to camp for beginners


Camping rule number one: Don't buy a cheap tent

cabintentwithgreentarp 113 pxls: big green box-shaped tent:


Learn to build Campfires that don't smoke too much.

fireamomentafterlighting 113 pxls:


Bears in some places have learned how to break into vehicles, so many campsites have metal boxes to put food and toiletries into. Using a campsite food storage locker has some tips for using them.

Tuolumne food storage locker:


You can Improve your inexpensive rain gear Will you bring real rain gear (like a hooded rain jacket and rain pants) on trips, or will you make a garbage bag 'rain jacket' like the girl on the right is modeling?

rain gear: models show real rain jackets and plastic garbage bag gear


Any time you spend preparing food at home means more time to play. If you do as much cooking at home in advance as possible, with a clean counter to work from and hot running water, you will be able to have great menus with less work.

You could eat grilled chicken spinach caesar salad easily if you grill the chicken, rinse the spinach and grate the cheese at home.

In the photo below, the jar has eggs, a little grated cheddar, sour cream and chives. It's ready to be shaken and turned into scrambled eggs or an omelet. And the eggs store more easily in the jar when in an ice chest than in the package they came from the grocer in.

The prewashed and precut raw bell pepper, celery and cauliflower in the plastic container lasted for days.

prepare food in advance:

Cook bacon, sausage or chicken in advance at home. Then you can deal with drippings much more easily and you don't have to wait as long to eat when you're starving from all that exercise you got hiking and swimming.

For safety's sake, don't bring raw chicken. Much chicken has salmonella which needs to be killed during cooking. It's easier to prepare it cleanly at home and just re-heat it at camp, plus you reduce the risk of raw chicken juice spilling on other things in your ice chest and contaminating everything. We are talking about very sick from salmonella.

Melt the butter and garlic for scampi in advance. Devein the prawns and cook them in advance, then chill them. You can then make the scampi or have a prawn cocktail as the mood moves you.

Create garlic bread and wrap it in foil to reheat over coals. Bake potatoes at home, quarter or thick slice them and wrap them in foil for reheating as well.

Cook pasta in advance and mix it with the marinara sauce in a container. Then just reheat it in a thick pan like a cast iron skillet or over a double boiler.

or cook pasta in advance and reheat it briefly in boiling water, then drain and add a choice of simmering sauce.


For food preparation needed in camp you will want a clean surface. Pack a large, shallow pan, or as in the photo below, a plastic placemat.

placematcleancookingsurface 113 pxls:


For backpacking we use a high powered one burner stove. For camping from a car we use a two burner stove capable of cooking at a simmer on one burner while the other boils at full blast. A thick cast iron pan distributes the heat from a flame more evenly.

twoburnercooking 113 pxls:

Since a high powered flame could cook the handles of some pans, we use handle-less pans and a pot gripper.

panandpotgripper 113 pxls:


When you first fill an ice chest with food and ice everything is fine. As you drive along to your destination, and as days of getting things in and out go by, things get jiggled around. Containers' lids can loosen. The ice melts and water fills up the bottom of the ice chest, but you don't have the time to drain it as often as you should. The ice chest may have been 'clean' to start with, but if it had any even unseen mold or... the water is not so clean. The smaller containers near the bottom of the ice chest end up partially submerged in the melted ice water and some of the water leaks in, possibly contaminating the food. That plastic bag of food somehow gets down into the melted water and is potentially contaminated.

A solution to this problem is to create an extra upper shelf in your ice chest that can hold the smallest containers or plastic bags of items like loose fruit on it. Below, we used an old dish drainer and a cupboard organizer.

icechestinteriorwithcupboar 113 pxls: icechestinteriorwithdishdra 113 pxls:

then finally, put a "layer" of ice on top in zip lock bags that can be easily removed to get at food: zip lock bags of ice: two large zip lock bags of ice cover the top layer of an ice chest

Plastic ice blocks that are advertised to work a whole weekend don't last that long. Ice cubes melt relatively fast. Buy ice in blocks and split it with a hatchet to make it fit around in the ice chest better, or plan a little in advance to make your own mini-ice blocks in pans in your freezer. A loaf pan is a very good size. You'll still need ice cubes, but they will last longer.


If you roll down the top edge of a grocery paper bag it will sit upright for use as a trash bag. You can line it with a grocery plastic bag. Put it up on the picnic table; if you leave it sitting on the ground animals will get into it more easily. (But you will still need to keep an eye on everything at your picnic table, campground animals are used to sneaking up quickly and running off with food/trash, or quickly chewing into packs to find snacks.)

trashbag 113 pxls:


A clothesline can be used to dry swimming towels, but it can have other uses.

Put one up in the right location with a big tarp on it and you can keep headlights from cars from shining into your tent at night.

Let's say you end up in a campsite across the road from where the free campground shuttle bus drops off people. Most people walk from the bus stop to their campsites along a path between your campsite and the next campsite. But some people walk right through the middle of your campsite, between your picnic table and your tent. If you put up a clothesline in the right place you can divert foot traffic.

The clothesline in the photo below was set up to give a little privacy between our campsite and the next one.


We have seen people get carried away with privacy and space issues. One group we saw put yellow hazard tape around their campsite! If you decide to use a clothesline for a little traffic diversion or privacy making, be discreet and be certain to not block a neighbor's great view.

Most campgrounds have rules about not driving nails, stakes or other objects into trees. Be carefull when you put up a clothesline that you don't strip off bark.


Most campgrounds have restrooms or outhouses, some with nearby dumpsters and recycling bins. Please separate out the recyling and find the appropriate bin or bring it home. If the 810,000 tons of aluminum cans Americans throw away every year were recycled we'd save 730 million gallons of oil by not having to make new aluminum.

Yosemite restroom and recycling bins:

Restrooms in most public campgrounds don't have hot water. And most public campgrounds don't have showers. Camping solutions for women tells how to wash your hair.

Not all campgrounds have drinkable water, so check in advance.

Do dishes the easy way. Many campgrounds will have signs up giving some specific directions. Most don't want you to do dishes in restroom sinks as the little bits of food clog the sink and the smell of food lures animals, (yes, even bears), into the restroom.

Some directions say to fill a wash basin you brought with you with water, do the dishes at your campsite and then dump the dish water into the toilet OR into a specific utility sink for waste water, often located in the restroom building, but separate from the restrooms. Don't pour waste water on the ground.

In the pictures below, the Yosemite restroom building has men's and women's restrooms on either end and a center room with a basin for waste water disposal.

Yosemite campground restroom: waste water sign:

The easiest way is to do messy cleanup cooking at home in advance, like grease-producing bacon, and then just reheat the food in camp. When it's time to clean up, start by wiping off the dishes and pans with paper towels. Then you can use just a little soapy water to wash with and will have less waste water to carry and dump.

A medical study of washing dishes in camp:


It is possible to enjoy rainy weather or even camping in the snow. If you plan ahead and pack for interesting weather you don't have to give up and go home when a little of it hits. You can enjoy earlier and later season camping when the campgrounds aren't as crowded.

snow-covered picnic table:

Read Snow or rain camp must-haves

a list of gear is at:

Snow camp equipment checklist

and read Thunderstorm and lightning safety

lightning gif: an animated gif of a lightning storm

A typical campsite will have a parking place (perhaps with a one or two vehicle limit, check with the park in advance). Some are big enough for large trailers or motorhomes, but most do not have electrical or sewer hookups. Not all campgrounds allow pets. Each campsite usually has a firepit and picnic table, some have a food storage locker, some have a raised pad on which to pitch your tent. You need to plan and pack for all your other needs. Camping equipment checklist is the De Anza College list for late spring, summer and early fall camping.

typical Tuolumne campsite:


Learn to tie and use proper knots. A bowline makes a loop of any size that will not jam or give. A sheetbend is used to tie together two ropes of different thicknesses. A sheepshank is used to shorten a rope.

A page of Animated Knots (how-to) is at:


The most important camping advice might be to Do some research in advance of the trip.

Read what the Rangers would like you to know before you set out.

Yosemite campfire hours sign.: Yosemite campfire hours sign with an additional note that fires must be put out using water

All US National Parks have info starting at:

All California State Parks have info starting at:


Grand Tetons recommended reading has a link to the park newspaper, a booklist and other links, such as:

The Smithsonian Institution Online museum has: Tracking the Buffalo, Stories from a Buffalo Hide Painting

"In the use of the bow we had to become very skillful, for in my days of boyhood it was the means of getting all our food, mainly the buffalo. It not only took a skillful man, but a brave one, to face a herd of buffalo with nothing but a trusty bow and a quiver full of arrows". Luther Standing Bear (Lakota Sioux), 1931


Clark: "...bison were so numerous and loud that the men had difficulty sleeping."

The Journals of Lewis and Clark Table of Contents is at:


The Mountains of California by John Muir can be read at:

Can I recommend these chapters?





Look up wildflowers at the California Academy of Sciences at Golden Gate Park site at:


Some great pictures of climbing as well as beginning and advanced photo tips for hikers, climbers:


How much water will there be in the Yosemite waterfalls?


Plan a trip around a full moon for night hikes, or less moon or a later rising moon for stargazing.

You can get the exact times of sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset, transits of the sun and moon, and the beginning and end of civil twilight and the moon's phase for any location and date at:


In most cities and suburbs you can't see all the stars you can while camping farther away from night light. Almost any night you can see an occasional sporadic shooting star, but you can also plan a trip around a meteor shower peaks for guaranteed shooting stars (in good weather, away from lights and with not too much moonlight).

The list below has some of the biggest meteor showers. All times are Eastern Standard Time, so if you are going camping where and when they observe Daylight Saving Time, add an hour.

If there is a full moon or near to a full moon during one of these showers you'll see less or hardly any shooting stars, so especially watch for a year when there is no moon during these days.

We set an alarm to wake up at the right time and then set out from the usually treed campsite to a more open area. We bring lounge chairs (with blankets, sleeping bags and insulating pads) we can lie down on our backs on instead of regular chairs we have to crane our necks back to watch from. Turn off flashlights, it will take ten to twenty minutes until you can see the sky well. Or bring red cellophane covers for flashlights to protect your night vision. We bring binoculars and sometimes a telescope to look at specific stars, but for shooting stars you need to watch the whole sky.

The directions to look are somewhat arbitrary, some showers seem to come from all parts of the sky. Some shooting stars you might see might not actually be from the desired shower, but who cares?

Quadrantids (6 to 12 an hour) run Jan. 1-5 and peak January 3 or 4 (look Northeast from 4 to 6 am).

Lyrids (10-20, occasional outbursts of 100 an hour) are April 16 to 25 with a peak 21-22 (look overhead 2 to 4 am) for fast streaks.

Eta Aquarids (20-40) are April 19 to May 28 with a peak May 4-5 (look Southeast) 2 to 4 am for very swift, long paths.

Delta Aquarids (15-25) are July 27, 28 and/or 29 (look South) 1 to 3 am for slow, long paths.

Perseids (60-100 an hour!!!) are July 17 to Aug. 24 with a peak August 11-13 (look Northeast) 1 to 4 am for a very fast, very frequent display.

Orionids (15-25)are October 2 to Nov. 7 with a peak Oct. 21 maybe 22 (look South) 2 to 4 am for swift streaks.

South Taurids (10-20) are November 2-4 (look South) 1 to 3 am for very slow, bright shooting stars.

North Taurids (10-20) peak November 12-14 (look South) 12 to 2 am for slow fireballs.

Leonids (25-50) peak November 17-18 (look South/Southeast) 4 to 6 am for very fast shooting stars.

Geminids, maybe the most reliable, (50-100) are December 7 to 17 with a peak Dec. 13 or 14. (Look overhead) 1 to 3 am for an average show.

Ursids (15-25)are December 22-23 (look North) all night for an average show.


Dec. 13 - 14, 2012, no moon durign the Geminid meteor showers, up to 60 multicolored meteors per hour.

August 13 - 14, 2015 no moon during the Perseid meteor showers, up to 60 meteors per hour.



More info is at:

GORP and hiking snacks

insect repellant

Road trip advice and etiquette

loading a kayak on a car

Quit being paranoid about sharks

rogue or sneaker waves

Yosemite nature and photography links

Cell phones in the wilderness which has advice on how/when to use a cell phone to contact 911 in the wilderness and a warning about interference between cell phones, iPods and avalanche beacons.

At altitude

Hiking Advice has hot weather hiking advice, hiking logistics and the answer to the question: When is the best time of day to cross a mountain stream?

GPS is not infallible


Natural Resources Defense Council

Water Quality at U.S. Beaches How to find out whether state and local authorities test for beach pollution, and what they do if they find it.

The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency has a beachgoer's guide at:

Leave no trace


A good way to wake up the whole campground is to set your car alarm. Then if a curious animal or clumsy person bumps the vehicle at night you've succeeded. (The alarm won't keep bears out of your vehicle).

Tent walls are thin. You can wake up everybody in the vicinity when you want to get into your car and you use the keyless (remote) door opener and the car makes the usual loud beep. People don't think to just use the key to open the door or don't know that if you look in the owner's manual you can find a way to disable the beep.

For a laugh, go to: Camping Blunders

for fun: an eight person tent holds this many campers

 Updated Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 1:30:27 PM by Mary Donahue -
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