Are you Afraid of Camping? – Don’t Be!

People often ask me questions about camping, so I thought I’d put together some of the most frequent questions that I get asked and the best answers. What if it rains? What about the bears? Can you really sleep in a tent?

What do you do if it rains?

Rainy Day at Camp
Rain, rain go away…

I remember getting this question from my mother-in-law 20 years ago.  My answer now is fairly similar to what it was then… You get wet.  It’s not the end of the world, while our children and spouses might accuse us of being the Wicked Witch of the West, in reality, none of us will melt if we get a little wet.  As an experienced camper I know that there are some things you can do to make being wet less uncomfortable.

  • First, and I really do mean First here, as this rule applies to pretty much EVERY camping trip you will ever go on, DO NOT WEAR COTTON.   I will repeat that for the folks in the back: DO NOT WEAR COTTON.  No cotton socks, no cotton t-shirts, no cotton jeans, no cotton sweatshirts, no, none, nada, nothing.  Cotton has many redeeming qualities, it’s cheap, it’s easy to work with, it’s comfortable.  It’s also REALLY good at capturing and holding water.  Think of a cotton ball that you put just a drop of water on, the whole thing is soaked in like 3 seconds, and it never dries out.  If you’re wearing cotton clothing the exact same thing happens, except then you’re stuck wearing soaking wet clothes until you can change.
  • Stay as dry as possible.  This means choosing clothing that wicks well (in hot weather) and dries quickly (in wet weather).  So things like synthetics are a good choice.  Think of what you might wear to work out or go to the gym.
    • A good rain coat can make a world of difference.  An old coat that leaks through the seems, or allows water to run down your neck isn’t going to keep you dry and happy.
    • Waterproof hiking boots will keep your feet dry, and dry feet mean that you will be warmer overall.
    • Bring dry clothes to change into (once you’re certain that you’re going to be out of the rain for a while).
  • A good attitude.  I can’t stress how much having a bright outlook when the weather is dreary can change the way the campout is remembered.

Aren’t you afraid that you’ll get attacked by a bear?

Bear picture
Glad he’s going the other way!

It’s true, there have been 21 bear related fatalities in the USA in the last 10 years.  However, only 2 of those fatalities took place east of the Mississippi.  37,416 people died in car accidents in 2016, of those 1,188 car accident deaths happened in PA.  You are MUCH more likely to be killed in the car on the way to or from your campout, than you are to die WHILE camping, let alone at the paws of a bear.

With that being said, there are some simple steps that you can take to ensure that any wildlife encounters are educational rather than tragic.

  • Do not ever, EVER take food, drink, candy, gum or anything food-like in your tent/ sleeping area.  By this I don’t just mean not at night, I mean at any point.
  • Keep your campsite clean.
    • Pick up and dispose of your food related trash immediately.
    • Clean your dishes immediately after each meal.
    • Secure your trash and food at night, and anytime that you are not in camp actively supervising it.
      • Take trash to dumpsters
      • Keep your food in your car overnight
  • If you DO see a wild animal, KEEP YOUR DISTANCE
    • Wild animals are amazing and if you get to see them in their natural habitat doing their normal animal thing, it’s a great experience and one that you will treasure.
    • Snap a picture from a safe distance, that’s what telephoto lenses are supposed to be used for.
    • If you see an animal behaving strangely (nocturnal animal out in the daytime, excessive drooling, acting injured or overly aggressive, etc.) call a Game Commissioner, Park Ranger or State Police.   KEEP YOUR DISTANCE!

How can you sleep in a tent?

getting ready for a nap
Naps are perfectly acceptable at camp, just so you know.

This is usually a variation on, aren’t you cold? uncomfortable? scared?  The answer is in two parts:  get good gear and practice.

  • For gear you need what we call a “sleep system”.  Just like at home you have a mattress and blankets, you will need similar items designed for camping.
    • One of my first lessons from camping was that sleeping directly on the ground is awful, avoid at all costs!
      • You will need a sleeping pad to keep you off the ground.  These come in a wide variety of styles and price points, the one that is right for you depends on a number of factors.
        • What kind of weather will you be camping in?
        • Do you tend to sleep hot or cold?
        • How often do you camp?
        • How much money do you want to spend?
        • What kind of camping will you be doing? (Cabin? Tent? Backpacking? Cowboy?)
        • How much support do you need?
        • Do you have health issues to consider? (back, hip, etc)
      • You will also need a sleeping bag. (Hint: the Disney Princess/Lego one from grandma when you were 8, NOT A GOOD CHOICE)
        • Again, your decision on a sleeping bag will relate directly to your answers to the questions above, and there are many styles and price points to choose from.
        • Sleeping bags (the kind intended for sleeping outdoors anyway) are rated based on the lowest temperature at which they will keep an average male “comfortable” all night long.  So the biggest consideration is what is the coldest weather that you are willing to camp in?
        • In PA, I would recommend a sleeping bag that is rated to 30 or 40 degrees.  That will keep you comfortable all summer long, and at least somewhat into the spring and fall.
      • Pillows are considered optional by many.
        • You can get a “camping pillow”, again choices abound.  I do recommend trying it out before you buy, as I’ve found some camping pillows are much more comfortable than others.
        • You can use the stuff sack from your sleeping bag and fill it with your extra clothes.
        • You can skip a pillow.
      • Generally, I wear warmer PJ’s while camping than I would at home.  I also frequently wear a thin winter hat and /or warm socks.
  • If you have decent gear you will be relatively comfortable all night long.  The second part of sleeping at camp is just practice.
    • Realize that you probably won’t sleep well the first night of a trip, no one does.  Just like your first night in a hotel, or at an unfamiliar house, the sounds/smells/ lighting are all different than what you’re used to.
    • The second night is usually better, if for no other reason than that you’re tired from not sleeping well the first night and being outside and busy all day.
    • The more you get out and camp, the more familiar you will be with the night noises of birds and animals.  You will also become more familiar with your gear, your bed and your tent mate (if you have one).  You may even start recognizing the various nocturnal animals like owls, and frogs.

Camping is a great way to connect with nature and disconnect from the busyness of the modern world.  You can learn problem solving, improve your self-reliance and develop a level of grit that will carry you through anything else that life tries to throw at you.  You CAN do it, but only if you give it a try.

You can reach me at my website for more information or with any questions that you might have about your particular trip.

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