Tips for the Family Camping Trip
By: Tracy D. DeStazio
When it comes to the family camping trip, there really are two “camps,” so to speak. There are those who prefer “established” camping, which includes amenities such as bathrooms and electricity — much of what you might find in a modern campground. Then, there are those who would rather experience “primitive” camping without amenities.
Depending on the adventuresomeness and ruggedness of your own family, you may fall wholeheartedly into one of these categories when it comes time to plan your next outdoor trip.
When you think of destinations, you might imagine the deep piney wilderness of places such as the DeSoto National Forest, located here in southern Mississippi. A camping experience unique to coastal Mississippi, however, is boat-in backcountry camping, whereby campers arrive by boat to one of the barrier islands to set up their campsites.
This particular brand of primitive camping produces some of the roughest environmental conditions a camper can experience. With the right knowledge and tools, though, your family can successfully manage this outdoor experience without returning home too worse for wear.
“There are so many variables with this type of camping that it is difficult to anticipate what you might encounter,” Chris Bramblett, a park ranger at Gulf Islands National Seashore, explained. “You really have to prepare for anything, and that includes unusual wildlife and unpredictable weather.”
The most important survival tip, Bramblett suggested, is to bring lots of water.
“A lack of fresh drinking water accounts for most of our camper turnarounds,” he said. “Each [adult] person drinks one gallon per day, and most campers will need three gallons in a 24-hour period for drinking, cooking and cleaning.”
At the same time, though, Bramblett also said it is best to pack as lightly and efficiently as possible.
“You will have a better camping experience that way, and backpacking is really the ideal.”
This is especially true for campers who wish to quickly move from island to island (or from ridge to ridge, if camping in the forest).
Bramblett reminded campers to leave family pets at home.
“To protect the pet from wildlife, and to minimize disruption to the ecosystem,” he said, pets are not allowed on most of the barrier islands. Glass containers of any type are also prohibited, he added.
There are a few universal tips to keep your family safe while camping.
“Let people know where you’re going and when you’ll be coming back,” Bramblett advised. This is especially true in locations where cell phone reception is unreliable or non-existent.
Letting the park service — as well as family and friends — know your whereabouts and schedule ahead of time may prevent a park ranger or Coast Guard search later on. Make sure family and/or friends know who is in your party, and who to contact if your group is overdue in returning home.
“We want to teach campers how to camp properly in a primitive way,” Bramblett said. “This means following ‘leave no trace outdoor ethics’ and taking everything back home with you that you brought in.” Depending on the location, this can include all trash … and used toilet paper!
Furthermore, Bramblett said to “camp softly” and keep a respectful distance from any wildlife with which you may come in contact.
“It is all of our responsibilities to take care of our islands [and all national parks],” Bramblett concluded. “We need to protect these wilderness areas to preserve them for the future.”
For more information on camping along the Gulf Islands National Seashore (U.S. National Park Service), visit Nps.gov/gulfislands. For camping locations in the De Soto National Forest, visit Fs.usda.gov/detail/mississippi/about-forest/districts/?cid=stelprdb5213031.
Camping Life Hacks
These simple life hacks will make your family camping trip a fun and successful adventure!
- Prep meals ahead of time if possible. Pre-boil pasta. Pre-cook meat. Bring boiled eggs instead of scrambling them at the campsite. Pre-assembled meals in foil “packages” can be thrown on the fire and cooked as-is.
- Pack your cooler with frozen water bottles instead of ice. They’ll keep your food cold and then you can drink from them once they’ve melted. Frozen bottles can also be used to treat camping bumps and boo-boos.
- Stuff your clothes for the next day into the bottom of your sleeping bag before you crawl into it; they’ll be toasty warm in the morning when you wake up to get dressed.
- Store your toilet paper roll inside of an old, plastic Folger’s coffee can (with a lid) to keep it dry, especially if you are dodging the rain in the middle of the night on your search for a suitable “spot.”
- Place a tarp underneath the tent to keep moisture out and to protect the bottom of your tent from sticks and other sharp items from nature.
- Bring old newspapers to stuff into damp shoes during the night; the paper absorbs the moisture.
- If you can’t find waterproof matches, store regular matches in a plastic Tic Tac or Q-tip box to keep them dry.
- Use trick candles (that don’t blow out) to start your fire.
- If you forgot to bring fire starter sticks, use Doritos or Fritos for kindling to start a fire. They are dry and oily and will catch fire and burn easily.
- Place a damp, soapy washcloth in a Ziploc bag for washing of face and hands. Damp towels (and clothes) can be hung over the tent lines to dry in the sun.
- Bring a tub of antibacterial wipes — they have many uses while camping.
- Bring extra Ziploc bags for storing leftover food and and large black trash bags for keeping bedding and clothing dry or for hauling away trash.
- Useful tools to bring: Duct tape; work gloves (for gathering wood); a small, foldable shovel; a little hand-held broom (for sweeping out the tent and cleaning up the campsite upon departure); a First Aid kit with small tubes of medicine and superglue; and, for the die-hard campers who choose to backpack “light” in places where potable water isn’t available, a LifeStraw or other water filtration/purification device (these will not work with saltwater, however, as they have no desalination abilities).
Tracy D. DeStazio is a freelance writer and editor living in Biloxi. She has been married to her high school sweetheart for 23 years and they have three children. She remembers well the “primitive” camping trips of her childhood.