Setting up at Campgrounds

You’ve chosen your campgrounds, packed up your gear, gathered up friends and family, and made the journey.

Now what?

Work now, play later

You basically have two choices when it comes to settling in at campgrounds. You can stop the car, jump out, and have fun. Later, after hiking or boating all day, you’ll straggle into camp and set up tents as evening falls. In a hurry to finish this task before the light fails, you’ll have all kinds of comical mishaps — or they would be comical if they were happening to someone else on YouTube.

Sorting out the sleeping bags will offer more opportunities for hilarious hijinks, and someone will stomp off in a huff and start the fire. Finding the food you were planning to cook must now be done by the light of that fire because the flashlight rolled off somewhere. This means that the spicy stew you planned is actually just a can of beans and a can of tomatoes, because those spices aren’t identifiable in the dark.

Alternatively, you can arrive at camp, set up the tents, give everyone time to organize his or her personal gear, get the cooking area in order, and head off for your day of fun confident that your evening will also be fun.

Mise en place

Putting up the tent or tents is clearly more fun when you’re fresh and not rushed. If your tent has pockets or other compartments for gear, put the flashlight and the things you’ll need in convenient spots.

Teach your kids to put their toothbrushes and washcloths in the same place every time they put up the tent. You’ll spend much less time searching and quarreling later, and they’ll have a good habit for a lifetime.

You know what you’re going to need at bedtime. Maybe it’s a book and a battery lantern. Maybe it’s a package of cookies. We aren’t judging. Just make sure you put it in an easily accessible spot.

Set up the camp kitchen, too. Lay the fire in a fire pit or get the cookstove and the cooking utensils in place. In many campgrounds, setting out food ahead of time is a mistake. Even if the food is safely stowed in tins, raccoons will run off with it. Unwrapped food can draw bears.

But you want to get as close as is reasonable to what chefs call mise en place: setting every ingredient out in its place.

If your campground makes it practical, set out the cans and packages, and even fresh ingredients in plastic storage bags. Put everything for your evening meal neatly in a storage box near the fire, with all the utensils you’ll need and a bottle of water. You’ll be happy you did.

Clean up

Once everything you’ll need for the evening is in the right place, put away anything else that’s hanging around, including bags and wrappers and trash. Coming back to a clean campsite is restful, and a great start to an enjoyable evening.

When you get back to camp, you can have an enjoyable meal and a pleasant time around the campfire.

When you wake up in the morning, it will be fairly easy to strike camp and pack up if you’re moving on. If you’re staying at the campground and having adventures during the day, get everything in order again before you leave.

Whether you’re camping by yourself with minimal gear or setting up a super comfortable base camp for a week with your extended family, these habits will make it more fun.

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