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Fall offers opportunity for first-time campers
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The sight of a flickering camp fire. The glow of faces bathed in warm firelight. The sound of crickets chirping in the background.
Research shows connecting with nature and one another is helpful to hurried and task-weary souls. Camping is one way to relax, get outdoors and reconnect with loved ones. If you have never experienced the rewards of camping, fall is the perfect time to try it.
Camping calls us back to the simple life, but most Americans are used to the convenient life. So if you don’t want your first camping experience to be your last, follow these basic steps.
Camping requires gear for shelter and food.
Sleeping under the stars is lovely, until mosquitos choose you for their buffet. A tent provides shelter from biting insects and unexpected rain showers. Borrow or buy one large enough for everyone in the camping crew and their personal belongings. A tarp placed under the tent will keep moisture and sharp objects from coming through the bottom.
Bring items for a good night’s sleep without central heat or air. Proper bedding includes warm sleeping bags or blankets and foam padding or air mattresses to soften the ground. An extra blanket can be the difference between a good and a bad night.
Food is next on your list of survival basics. First-timers should keep it simple with easy-to-prepare meals such as sandwiches or canned goods.
Many campsites provide a grill and picnic table, so you don’t need much cooking gear. If you are feeling adventurous, bring a propane stove and a skillet and sauce pan for hot meals, and a Dutch oven for baking on hot coals.
Gathering firewood is fun, but the Mississippi Forestry Commission advises campers in Mississippi to buy and use locally harvested firewood to prevent the spread of pests. Many nearby states have areas under quarantine for pests such as emerald ash borers, thousand cankers disease and laurel wilt, and it is illegal to move regulated items from quarantined zones out of those states and into Mississippi.
Paper products make cleanup easier, but you will need cooking and eating utensils. Don’t forget dish-washing supplies, an ice chest and plastic bags for food storage and disposal. If you plan to roast marshmallows or hot dogs, bring utensils with long handles to prevent burns.
Other items to bring include clothing you can wear in layers; bug spray and sunscreen; flashlights and extra batteries; can openers, lighter fluid and matches; a first-aid kit; and duct tape for emergency repairs. If children are going, pack things such as playing cards, binoculars or fishing gear.
Before leaving home, make sure you can use your gear correctly. Practice setting up the tent, and pay attention to how it came out of the bag so you can repack it. Light the camp stove and brew coffee in a percolator. Make a packing list.
Your first camping trip should be short and local. It is easier to deal with the unexpected in a familiar area. Choose a location with some perks, such as shower houses and electricity, to ease the transition to “roughing it.” Private campgrounds often have nicer amenities but may cost more than those in state or national parks or on federal land. Public campgrounds may have scenic or recreational features, and many offer online information and registration at http://www.ReserveAmerica.com.
Lastly, check the weather and make any relevant changes to your supplies. Plan on arriving with plenty of daylight left in the day. Setting up a tent in the dark is not for the faint of heart.
Respect other campers by using facilities properly and leaving no trace of your visit. Remember that wild animals may strike or bite if they feel threatened, so be aware of your surroundings at all times. But most of all, have fun!
Fall’s cooler days and crisper nights beckon, so grab some camping gear and head outdoors with friends and family. If you follow some basic steps, you’ll be glad you heeded that call to nature.
Editor’s Note: Extension Outdoors is a column authored by several different experts in the Mississippi State University Extension Service.