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Camping for beginners

Odds are, your first camping trip will be as simple as: driving to your site, pitching your tent near your car (this is called car camping and many campgrounds are built to accommodate this type of outing) and safely enjoying your time within earshot of other campers. In doing so you are not likely to suffer a catastrophic mishap. Any oversight or lapse in judgment will probably result in nothing more than a funny story to tell when you arrive back at work on Monday. Even so, if you are a new camper there are several things you should be aware of and many possibilities to be prepared for. You are setting out on what should be an enjoyable and memorable experience for your family to share. Being prepared for common, unpleasant camping tribulations will ensure you accomplish that goal. Here are a few camping tips for beginners that any camper could benefit from, be they newbies or hardened, veteran mountaineers.

Follow the rules

If you have not done so already, read our guide on Camping Etiquette. You will be more likely to enjoy your time in Colorado´s beautiful parks if the campers around you are having a good time as well. When you have decided on a campground to visit, familiarize yourself with any specific rules and regulations set by the park.

Be prepared

Boy Scouts make great campers for a reason. Prepare a Check List with everything you may need during your trip. Run through your checklist thoroughly the night before you leave and again just after you have packed up to go. You will find an example of a camping checklist here.

Become familiar with your gear

Go through your equipment before you leave, giving yourself plenty of time to make any corrections. Setting up camp is the worst time to discover a hole in your tent. (You should also make sure your tent is large enough to accommodate everyone) Familiarize yourself with any lanterns, gas stoves or other equipment you have not used before.

Prepare for the weather

This is especially important in the mountains of Colorado. Our weather is predictably unpredictable. In the early summer you can just about set your watch by the afternoon rain, which usually only lasts 30 minutes or so. Be sure to pack jackets and rain ponchos for everyone and you should be fine. It´s a good idea to bring a large plastic bag to store dry clothes should you encounter wet weather.

Place your tent carefully

Find a spot that is slightly elevated in relation to the rest of your campsite. This will ensure any rainwater will flow away from your tent. Try to place your tent on the West side of a tree. A tent set out in the morning sun can become very uncomfortable to sleep in very quickly. Keeping a large tree to your East will provide shade during the morning hours. Avoid setting up your tent too near your campfire pit. Embers from a campfire can be blown several feet by the slightest breeze.

Place your campfire or grill carefully

Most campsites will have a pre-existing fire pit. If so do not build another one. If you do have to build a fire pit, keep it small. Don´t place it near any tents and be sure there are no tree limbs that may hang over the fire. Read our article on How to build a campfire.

Have a contingency plan

It is a good idea to be aware of hotels or other accommodations in the surrounding area in case of persistent foul weather.

Pack the right food the right way

Plan out each of your meals for the duration of your trip and shop accordingly. If you can´t keep meat in a separate cooler, at least pack it in a sealed container and place it in the bottom of the cooler. This will help prevent cross contamination. Bring plenty of ice and make note of the closest place to buy more on your way. Only bring foods that can be easily stored and prepared outdoors with whatever limited utensils you will have. Read our articles on Campfire Cooking and Camp Recipes and don´t forget the s´mores!

Important tip for RV campers

If you are planning an RV trip, be sure you are comfortable with all of your vehicle's functions. Read the manual (there will surely be one) and get familiar with operating it. If you can´t back it up you shouldn´t be driving it.

Tell someone where you´re going

This is an important step that is often overlooked. Tell someone everything about your plans and when to expect you back. A simple email to your mother-in-law is all you have to do to help ensure the safety of your family. Include your destination, the date and time you leave home and when you plan to return, cell phone numbers, the number of people in your party and their names, the route you plan to take and the make, model and license number of the car you will be driving.

And now the most important tip

RELAX! You´re prepared for everything. You´ve checked your list, double checked your gear and brought plenty of water to douse a fire. You know the rules of the park and your family is perfectly safe. Enjoy your time in the outdoors.
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