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Expert Camping Advice

Expert Camping Advice
June 30
13:30 2017

People who say they don’t know how to camp are simply setting the bar too high. Camping just means sleeping somewhere away from a permanent structure for the night. Throw a mattress into a truck bed and park it by a river, boom, guess what, you’re camping there, Davy Crockett.

So let your imagination roam. You can camp on romantic beaches, in remote backcountry, in deep winter snow, on the sides of mountain cliffs — or at any roadside Kiwanis. Just be sure to pack for the occasion. You’ll need different tools and insider knowledge for each situation, so we tapped the expert experience of REI Adventures senior instructor JJ Jameson and Jesse de Montigny, a certified mountain guide with Alberta’s Yamnuska Adventures. They clearly know their shit, so get schooled before you get fooled.

What to bring beach camping
Know before you go: Jameson said it’s important to find out “whether or not it’s legal” to camp where you’re camping, information that can be gleaned from the entity (state park, national seashore, municipal park) that owns the land. Beaches also tend to attract more bugs than any other camping location, which clearly can get gnarly if you’re not prepared.

Damn-glad-I-brought-it item: Buy a soft-bristled paint brush from a hardware store for de-sanding every part of your body before entering your tent. “Sand gets everywhere,” says Jameson. He recommends brushing off your arms and then working your way down your body to your legs before backing into the tent to get your feet.

Trip-saving advice: Again with the bugs. Head nets can be a life-saver along with citronella candles or anything that creates a fog, Jameson says. Also, unless you want to hate yourself by Day 2, bring sunscreen. De Montigny recommends camping in the grass just off the beach for a less sandy but equally pleasant experience.

Caution: You need to be aware of the tide when beach camping. It can also be very windy, which is why de Montigny recommends a two- or three-season tent to prevent sand from blowing in. It also tends to rain more on the beach, so a tarp is quite useful. “Beach and water camping attracts a lot of animals,” adds de Montigny. He recalls camping off Vancouver Island and watching a bear being chased away by wolves not far from his site. In situations like these, store your food and waste away from your camping site to avoid any unwanted run-ins with hungry mammals.

Beach camping must-dos: Jameson says if you’re camping in an area with live seafood like mussels, you can scrape them off the bottom of rocks and toss them with a cup of white wine poured into a pot. He warns to eat them only if the shells open when cooked. If they don’t open, you don’t eat.

The payoff: Sunrises, sunsets, stars, romance.

What to bring backcountry camping
Know before you go: Jameson and de Montigny both say planning is critical when it comes to backcountry camping. And since you can’t pack everything, you need a plan for every part of your trip. You also need to be extremely conscientious of water and how you’re gonna get it. Too much (it’s heavy!) or too little of it (you’re dead!) can ruin a trip.

What you’ll need: Lightweight stove, lightweight tent, gas, water treatment system. Jameson says iodine tablets tend to leave a taste. To filter water, he prefers a gravity filter (which you can hang to a tree and have the water filter down), a pump filter, or even UV filters that can clean cloudy water by infusing it with bright light.

Damn-glad-I-brought-it item: A satellite phone or split devices that allow you both to text or call friends, and send an emergency signal to a call center that then routes your location to the nearest emergency service provider. For hygiene and cleaning, Jameson recommends baby wipes and a small bottle of liquid soap — Dr. Bronner’s is great all-purpose soap.

Key tip: Jameson recommends a mini stove burner that attaches to a gas cartridge that you can fold out and put your pot on for small meals like pasta, fried eggs, or pancakes. The handiest foods are compact and ready-to-eat: salami, for instance, or power bars. He also says that packaged, dehydrated ready-made meals have gotten a lot better lately.

Trip-saving advice: De Montigny says people “bring way too much stuff” on typical trips. For a four to five day trip, one change of clothes will suffice. You also need a better-quality tent because “if it breaks, you can’t crawl into your car.” He recommends tents between 5 to 8 pounds versus the unwieldy 25-pound tents some people break out for car camping.

The payoff: “You’re often going to areas that are completely new to you,” says de Montigny. “You’re connecting with the outdoors, not sitting by your car on your cell phone.”

What to bring car camping
Know before you go: Car camping is the inverse of backcountry camping. “Bring everything,” says Jameson. “Bring your favorite pillow, bring an inflatable mattress — bring two of them. There’s no reason not to be really comfortable.” When it comes to car camping, comfort is king.

What you’ll need: Large tents — big enough to stand up in — make changing clothes a helluva lot easier, says Jameson, and car camping is the time to deploy them. Bring a chair to set up outside your tent, pack an icy cooler full of beer and groceries, and make yourself at home.

Drawbacks: “Because it’s easy,” Jameson says, “you get all kinds of people.” More people equals more noise, which can be your jam. If it ain’t, you might have a hard time feeling like you got away from anything. “People who work hard to have a wilderness experience don’t want to hear you,” says Jameson, “just as you don’t want to hear them.” To be safe, pack earplugs.

Caution: Even though car camping can feel like home, de Montigny says you still have to worry about animals. Bear encounters in places like Yosemite are not uncommon. He adds that “even though you’re in the frontcountry,” storms can be just as ferocious, so you need to be prepared for wind and rain.

Funny stories: One time car camping in Austria, Jameson recalls waking up and seeing a guy unzip his tent at 8am in a fully pressed suit and heading off to work on his bike. Another time he car camped at Floyd Bennett Field in Jamaica Bay in Gateway National Park, where old airfield runways crisscross the grounds and the NYPD conducts full-on training exercises including rappelling from helicopters and high-speed car chase practice. In short, know what you’re getting into.

What to bring winter camping
Know before you go: This isn’t for beginners. “It’s next level,” says de Montigny. “It’s cold, there’s less daylight, and there’s often snow. You need to be really conscious of where you put your stuff down so it doesn’t get wet.” You also don’t want to bring snow into your tent, so pack a small shovel. You’ll also need more fuel because you’ll probably be throwing snow into a pot to melt it for your water source.

What you’ll need: Heavy warm-weather gear, snow spikes, trekking poles, one or two small shovels, LED lights, and plenty of things to keep you busy: books, cards, puzzles, anything to play in the early onset dark. You’ll also want a backup light and spare batteries. The food you’ll eat is also more of the fatty, high-calorie variety since you’ll be expending more energy in the cold. Pack chocolate, honey, cheese, and sausages.

The one must-do thing: If you’re up for it, Jameson recommends building a quinzee snow shelter, which is kind of like an igloo made of snow instead of ice. It takes a lot of effort to dig out snow and mold it into a cave, but there is no experience like it. He recalls building one in Central Park and another in New Hampshire — he and his friends dug out a shelter big enough to fit five mattresses, for the ultimate man cave.

The payoff: Untouched terrain, fresh powder, complete solitude, true stillness, and quiet. “It’ll be all yours,” says de Montigny. Jameson adds that “the full moons are spectacular” and the light radiates off the snow to where you can walk at night without a headlamp.

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