Most of the campers that I know started camping as children, introduced to the great outdoors by their parents. Others started as teens, enjoying campfires in the company of good friends (and maybe even a good drink or two). And then you’ve got people like me: the person who hadn’t pitched a tent until well into adulthood and had no idea how to start a fire (some twigs and a match will do the trick, right?). So should a dangerously unskilled person like this even bother camping? You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, after all. Well, I beg to differ. I pitched my first tent at the age of 24, and since then, I’ve been striving to go camping at least once every summer. And while I am still a beginner in many (okay, most) aspects, I firmly believe that the beauty of camping and being at one with nature can be learned and treasured at any age. Here are a few things I learned being a new camper.
1. Don’t trust the weather forecast
If the forecast calls for sunshine and lollipops, you’ll probably get at least one day of torrential rain and whatever the opposite of lollipops is. Okay, maybe you won’t. But either way, it’s best to be prepared. I used to think tarps were only used by hardcore campers, but during one particularly wet camping trip when I woke up with the shadow of a hundred slugs on the top of my tent, I realized tarps aren’t fancy—they’re necessary. You’ll also want to pack quality rain gear and waterproof shoes to keep you dry, because there’s nothing worse than being soaked to the bone.
2. Making a campfire is easy…
…if you come prepared and you know what you’re doing. One of my good friends makes starting a fire look effortless: collect some sticks, add some logs, strike a match, and bam, you’ve got a dazzling fire that will be the envy of every camper. Well, if you’ve never started a fire before, it’s not that easy. On my first attempt, after more than an hour of rearranging logs, adding fire starters, and tearing pages out of my magazine to add to the fire, a not insignificant flame started to grow. Although I was shivering by the time the fire had started and my ambitious plan to have a hot dinner had already turned into an unachievable dream, I learned two things. First, come prepared. A fire doesn’t start with a few massive logs, so be sure to have some tinder and kindling sticks on hand. Second, make sure you use dry wood—almost dry won’t cut it.
3. Canned food is good food
Maybe that fire won’t get started or your cooking equipment is embarrassingly minimal. Canned food to the rescue! If you close your eyes and open your imagination, that unheated canned soup can almost taste warm. A full can of lentils will keep you feeling satisfied and proud, for you will most certainly have met your required daily fibre intake. And canned fruit makes a delicious breakfast, snack, or dessert! Oh yeah, just don’t forget the can opener.
4. Store food away from your tent
A few summers ago, I went on a solo camping trip to Killarney. Although I couldn’t start a fire and my diet consisted purely of canned food, granola bars, and fruit, I at least knew to store all my food and any scented objects in my car. Unfortunately, the campers next to me did not. Their poor decision to erect a “food tent” on their campsite resulted in a midnight invasion of ravenous animals snorting and growling as they picked apart the tent and its belongings. The animals not only pillaged the careless campers’ entire food supply, but they also made my blood run cold. For a solid ten minutes, I sat upright in my tent, body shaking and teeth chattering, not knowing what animals were causing such commotion. Only when a patrolling park warden shouted, “They’re just raccoons!” did my heart rate begin to slow.
5. Basics are beautiful
You can’t have coffee in the woods without heat—and since I didn’t know how to make a fire on my first (or second, for that matter) camping trip, I had to forgo coffee. While this wasn’t an ideal situation to be in for a coffee lover such as myself, the smell of the forest as I breathed deeply and the crunch of the earth below as I hiked the trails was just as rejuvenating as a morning cup of joe. Sometimes you need to be alone with nature, free from the captivity of modern life (and coffee) to appreciate how stunning our natural environment is.