PHOTOS: SHUTTERSTOCK; DESIGN: MARISSA DICKSON
We’re all looking to pack our bags and get out of town these days, but maybe not exactly ready to take off overseas. Setting up a camp in a nearby state or national park is one of the best ways to combat that urge to travel. For those new to camping (or who just haven’t done it since they were kids), let us jog your memory. Camping as an adult is a lot more fun, especially because you can bring adult drinks. So prepare a tent, mix up your favorite ocean spray® cocktail in a thermos and consult our guide to a successful trip.
Check local rules
With mask regulations, trail and business openings, and travel restrictions in a patchwork state across the country, you’ll need to do some initial research when setting up your itinerary. Some public campgrounds, including trail refuges, may still be closed to visitors. Your local trail or park website should have information, with major trail systems like the Appalachian Trail posting regular updates on both COVID and other security measures. After that, you’ll always want to confirm with a local who knows the area you’re planning to camp in – this can be about etiquette more than anything else. No one wants to have a smelly eye for not wearing a mask on a crowded trail.
Lean into glamping
Glamping means that instead of going on a nature hike with everything you need on your back, you can post yourself on a yurt, trailer, or other pre-made site for beginners. While dedicated hikers and backpackers may be interested, it’s perfect for people to learn the ropes. Instead of buying a whole new set of ultralight gear and hiking for three days, load up the car and bring your inflatable mattress. Remember: the purpose of camping is to have fun. If that means bringing in an extra batch of cocktails, so be it.
Find the perfect spot
Choosing the right location is the most important part of creating a good camping atmosphere, so choose carefully. the National park service can help you find a site, as they map all of their camps suitable for camps (each with their own map). Of course, there is no shortage of guides either, whether you want to go glamping or want a location specific listing (as in new York or Denver, for example). Other key considerations for where to pitch your tent once you have a site in mind: Avoid hills – the top will be windy, the base will be wet, and the slope will have you rolling in your sleeping bag. Reduce your exposure to sun and wind by covering yourself with trees above you and making sure you are far enough away from cooking areas. The last thing you want is a curious creature looking for food or a stray ember near your tent.
Simplify the lighting of the fire
If you can start a fire using flint and tinder, stick to it. For the rest of us, throw a lighter in your bag. There is no need to complicate your task. Better yet, bring a tea light to help start the fire or dryer lint to use as tinder. After that, it’s about starting small. Start with extremely dry bark, leaves or stems in a loose ball, then thin twigs (again, the drier the better), then sticks, then work your way up into logs. Remember to position your logs in a cone shape to maximize their exposure to the flames, and make sure you have good air circulation. You’ll have a roaring fire before you know it.
Store your supplies properly
Bears in your honey is the worst case scenario. Or, more likely, chipmunks. For proper food storage, check your local campsite rules (these will depend on the wildlife in your area.) National and private parks will often have ‘bear boxes’ at campsites, so be sure to use them unless that you don’t want to wake up to the holes in your backpack where the squirrels have stuck. In the backcountry, examine bear cans or other animal-resistant bags. The old system of hanging a bag from a tree is obsolete, as they are usually ineffective against a specific bear cub. For liquids, make sure all your containers are tightly closed. And make sure you bring enough small containers or you’ll be carrying 2L bottles up a mountain. That means carrying small versions of your favorites, like Ocean Spray® Cran-Mango ™, the perfect refreshment at the top.
Go big on the food
Speaking of food, camp food is a rare opportunity to cook over an open flame, so make the most of it. A simple rule of thumb is about 2 pounds of food per person, per day, with more if you do a strenuous activity like hiking. Make sure the supply includes a variety of vegetables, proteins, and fruits, as well as snacks. Bring hot dogs if you want, but it’s more fun to cook a big meal over the fire, like this cranberry pineapple chicken, which can marinate in the cooler before camping. This also applies to cocktails. Bring a pre-mixed jug of a shareable option like a ocean spray® Summer Spritzer – it packs up nicely and is perfect for cooling off after a long day of camp preparation.
Make room for items that will improve your comfort
Some things go very, very far on a camping trip. Sunscreen and bug spray are some of the most economical ways to keep your vacation from being ruined. Another element that goes a long way: lighting. A good headlamp makes your life a lot easier after the sun goes down, but also consider other options like hanging bulbs or an inflatable solar lantern. Another cool article: flexible cutting boards. They give you a much larger workspace so your food doesn’t end up in the dirt.
Kiss new friends
Camping follows the timeless rule that experiencing adversity together creates strong friendships. Hiking in the mountains, lighting a whimsical fire, and cooking in the dark will help you get to know each other. It’s also the best possible time to tell scary stories, miles from civilization and everything. Campfire games like Mafia, Charades, or Never Have I Ever might sound cliché, but they bring people together. And if all else fails, don’t be afraid to sing campfire songs that everyone knows. It may take a bit of coaxing, but once the cocktails flow and the fire roars, even your most shy friends will join in the fun.