Unsolicited Camping Advice For The Moderately Adventurous

June 23, 2016

By the time you read this, my family and I will be enjoying our rented slice of heaven — campsite 23 at Interstate Park outside of gorgeous Taylors Falls, Minn. I don’t really know where the above photo was taken, but it’s probably just a strong tee shot from where I will have pitched my tent for a four-day getaway.

With a couple of young kids — 6 and 4 years old — car camping is the way to go. Backpacking or even simply parking and hiking into a campground is straight-up out of the question. Luckily, I’m a damned good car camper, so the Keliher clan is in for a great time. And I’ll take this brief opportunity to share some quick advice with you, in an effort to make your next — or your first — camping adventure a memorable one.

Ditch the air mattress: They’re the devil’s work. You’ll pop at least one a year, and even if they avoid puncture, they leak throughout the night and ruin your back. I just bought a self-inflating foam sleeping pad, and it’s the bees knees. I’ve only “used it” in a quick test in my living room, and I can already tell it’s galaxies better than a traditional air mattress.

Bring bacon: And bring extra. Any of the most common fire-pit camping meals — burgers, cold-cut sandwiches, breakfast of any variety, etc. — are easily improved by adding bacon (as is nearly everything in life). Pro tip: Cook the bacon in a big, bad-ass cast iron skillet, and then cook your burgers in the bacon grease. (Also, try making bacon toast in the bacon grease.) Thank me later, and then just tell your cardiologist you have “bad genes.”

Bring bourbon: There’s no room for high-maintenance cocktails, and beer takes up too much space — in your cooler and in your stomach. Plus, you’re supposed to be roughing it, and you’re likely going to have to fight off a raccoon before the day ends. So get tough and take your booze like Don Draper: “big and brown.”

Buy firewood locally: If you’re at a state park — or just about any other campground, I’d imagine — you’ll usually be able to buy firewood right there. You can buy it outside the park, but pay attention: If you’re bringing firewood into a state park, it must be from within 50 miles of the place you will camp and from a DNR-approved firewood vendor.

Make a clothesline: If you’re anywhere near a body of water — or if, for some strange reason, you feel compelled to shower while camping — you’re going to have wet clothes and towels. String some rope between a couple of trees, and your laundry will actually be nature-fresh like the pretend it is in all those detergent commercials.

Scope your site: The Minnesota DNR website has detailed maps of every campground and, blessedly, photos of every individual campsite. You have no excuse for poor placement. Look at the map to figure where you can get potable water, where the toilets are, and how close together the campsites are. You’ll want to be near a water source. You’ll want to be somewhat close to the nearest toilet, but not too close — there’s that lovely stench if you’re downwind, not to mention the excessive foot traffic around your campsite. Once you’ve ID’d some good options on the map, look at that campsite photos to get a feel for the tree coverage and what the tent pad looks like. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want pretty good tree coverage for shade (no one likes waking up in a boiling-hot tent) and privacy. We went camping twice last summer and, after a quick walk around the campground, we confirmed that without prior experience, we snagged the best campsite at each place.

I could go on, but I have to go pack. So I’ll just leave you with this: Try the damn bacon-grease burgers. Seriously.