Be it a cabin, RV park, primitive tent site or hammock tied between trees somewhere off the beaten path, camping is an enjoyable pastime for many.
It reconnects people to a simpler lifestyle — one that is closer to nature and slower in pace than a typical day at home or work.
What’s more is that campers can choose the setup best suited for their own interests and budgets —from bare bones and backwoods to large scale and luxurious.
Regardless, it offers beauty and relaxation “away from it all” — a respite that’s often warranted in today’s hustle and bustle.
“Camping is a special kind of getaway,” former Boy Scouts of America Troop 446 scoutmaster Bruce Barry said. An experienced camper, Barry first tented as a young scout at age 11 and has been coordinating family camping trips since 1977.
“We enjoy the privacy of being in the woods and listening to the sounds of the forest as we sit around the campfire,” Barry said. “We also enjoy socializing with our friends and family, telling stories from years ago and making new friends.”
Not everyone is an experienced camper though, and the notion of taking the family camping might sound fun, but some don’t know where to go or how to begin.
Those in this category will find a wealth of information from the Pennsylvania Campground Owners Association by visiting www.pacamping.com.
The organization offers a campground directory listing more than 230 campgrounds laid out by Pennsylvania’s geographic regions. The directory also breaks down which locations are pet friendly, offer swimming, hiking, biking, fishing, other organized activities and even those that have a laundry and a snack bar.
Commercial campgrounds are not the only option, as many state parks also provide camping permits — potentially at a fraction of the cost of a campground stay. Some are better than others, and Barry recommends making an advanced day trip to any park in consideration to first see if it’s right for you.
“My wife and I enjoy going to Pennsylvania State Parks because they are not so commercialized, and we enjoy their beauty and the activities offered, such as hiking and bike riding on their well-maintained trails,” Barry said. “We visit a park we have interest in before the anticipated weekend we are going camping.
“I pick up a park map at the ranger station, which allows me to see available sites, and I grade each campsite using a scoring system I developed to make sure everything is good for when we are ready to make our reservations. It is important to make sure sites are fairly level, the size is reasonable for whatever setup your group is planning to use and that there is some degree of privacy from other campers.”
A list of state parks can be found at www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks or by visiting getoutdoorspa.org, which posts various activities hosted by regional state parks on an outdoor calendar.
Some even offer introductory “how-to-camp” workshops and provide a tent and camping gear for those looking to test the waters first without investing in all the essentials.
Speaking of essentials, everyone has their own opinion about what gear should or should not be included on a camping trip. The best advice here is to keep it simple and keep it organized.
“Early in the week before your trip, make a list of what you need regarding food and clothing and start getting it ready so you don’t forget anything,” Barry said. “Do not over pack; remember food is heavy, and be careful not to take anything that will spoil.
“I like to cook on foil instead of in pots because it takes up less space and is lighter. Be creative.”
One suggestion is to keep universal camping items — tent, hatchet, pack, fire starters, paper towels, etc. — stored in one large rubber bin where they are easily accessible. This way, when it is time to start packing, most gear will already be assembled and it will cut prep time in half.
Whenever camping away from civilization, Barry recommends a few special items that should not be forgotten, but can often be easily overlooked by campers who don’t think ahead.
“My Leatherman multi-tool is my No. 1 tool when backpacking,” Barry said. “You can use it for repairs, cooking, preparing kindling for a campfire, cutting bandages, etc. A camping wash cloth and towel come in handy too, as do a trail map and compass.”
Though camping can be a fun adventure for the whole family to enjoy, it can quickly turn sour in emergency situations.
Remember that nature can sometimes be unforgiving, so be prepared with a first-aid kit and always have a plan for the unexpected.
“In bear country, it is always good to have a separate bag to put your food in,” Barry said. “Hang it 1-20 feet high in a tree branch so bears and other animals cannot get to it.
“Do not keep your food in the tent with you, and also, understand the area you are going to be camping. Make sure you have a map or GPS, that someone knows where you are camping and your expected time for returning.”
Good planning and preparation is the key to a successful camping experience. Do research, think ahead, make a list and check it twice.
Most importantly, get out there and enjoy nature at its finest.
A cool summer night camping beneath the stars is hard to beat, and a tasty meal cooked over an open flame is even better.