Thursday, October 9, 2014

Car Camping for Beginners, Part III: Food, Fire, & Fun

car camping guide

This is the last post in a three part series offering some basics in car camping. In Part I we discussed where to find a good campground and the differences in types of campsites. Part II covered gear and clothing to consider. In this last post, we'll talk about what to eat and cooking options, a few tips about campfires, and some ideas for entertaining yourself if you feel a bit stir crazy staring at trees and creeks. Lastly, I l'll close with a few parting tips before heading out. Let's get into it…

What To Eat
With car camping, your food choices can be as easy or complicate as you choose. If you're heading out for a quick overnight trip, I suggest keeping things easy with meals and snacks that don't require much work. Good options are…

  • Sandwiches
  • Fruit - fresh or dried
  • Fresh carrot and celery sticks
  • Nuts/Trail Mix
  • Hot Dogs/Sausages (or other meats easily cooked/heated over open flame)
  • Canned beans
  • S'mores (of course)

Hot dogs, canned beans, and s'mores have become camping cliches for good reason - they cook easily and taste better over open flame. If you expect to have a lot of time around camp, you can bring a pot or skillet that will work over an open fire or on top of hot coals. This allows you to go all backwoods gourmet making stews, roasts, and more. Cast iron skillets and dutch ovens do especially well over coals. You can always split the difference between meals "prepared" by opening plastic packages and more labor-intensive gourmet cooking by prepping a campfire dish at home that simply needs to be put on the fire or coals when you arrive. I like to take full advantage of the luxuries of car camping, and I always bring a cooler as well as a pot (or coffee press) and some type of stove for fast coffee brewing in the morning (here's a post on cookware and stoves for backpacking that also work well for car camping, of course.) I suppose this is a good time to talk about campfires.

What to Burn (Campfire Tips)
  • Only use local firewood, and consider bringing "fake logs" like Duraflame, etc. to supplement. Make sure any wood you burn is local because burning timber from foreign regions can introduce invasive blights and diseases. Many campgrounds will have wood you can purchase on site, or you can gather wood from the surroundings (but only use already downed limbs - do not cut or break limbs/trees). I was surprised to learn a while back that "fake logs" like Duraflame are actually better for the environment that buying real wood. This because the logs are made from a renewable wax base (less carbon emitted) and excess sawdust (a good way to repurpose waste.) They are also super easy to light, and keep the fire burning for a long time.
  • Bring a good firestarter. If you're using fake logs, you don't have much to worry about in terms of getting your fire started. Even still, it's a good idea to bring some easy-to-light, "DIY tinder" along. Good options include cotton balls soaked in vaseline or cotton balls wadded inside of mini cheese wax coverings.  

What to Do
If you don't spend much time outdoors and if, like so many of us, you spend a lot of time staring at some sort of screen (phone, TV, computer, tablet), you might find yourself a little stir crazy. If you can resist the temptation to stare at your phone every five minutes, it feels great to unwind and get some distance from the abstract, second-hand world of technology. Here are some things to consider.
  • Hiking
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Cards/board games
  • Playing acoustic instruments and/or singing
  • Photography
  • Non-distracted conversation (crazy, I know)
Other Tips
  • Arrive well before dark. Give yourself plenty of daylight to set-up camp, gather firewood, and get a feel for the layout of your park and campground.
  • Grab a map of the park. A map will give you a lay of the land and might turn you on to some areas or activities in the park or surrounding area you would have otherwise missed.
  • Bring a long chain, rope, or cord for your dog. Most parks will designate that you keep your dog leashed at all times on a six foot leash. The strictness of this is rarely enforced (the 6 foot length aspect), so long as your dog is fairly well behaved. Being able to tie your dog to a tree or post with some freedom to roam most of the campsite is usually nice for both you and the dog. (Click here for tips about hiking and backpacking with your dog.)

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