Kids play on the shore during a family canoe trip
By Emily Morrison

Growing up, my family’s idea of camping meant staying in a hotel with no pool. After we hit the mall and the movies, we’d go back to our air conditioned room, flip through the pay-per-view channel and say, “Next time, let’s make sure there’s a hot tub at least.” 

Like most Mainers, we had a camp, but we didn’t think of ourselves as campers. We had beds, stoves and screens in our windows. Life didn’t get much better than heading “upta camp.”

It wasn’t until I married an outdoor enthusiast in my early 20s that I learned what camping really entailed and I gotta tell you, I wasn’t a big fan. No place to plug in a hairdryer? Bugs in the tent? Lumpy ground? Shared outhouses? No thanks. 

But, after twenty years of marriage to my personal guide to the outside, I’ve learned a few things, and surprisingly, they’ve made the difference between booking a hotel with a pool and discovering how to rough it with the best of ’em.

Plan, plan, plan

It really pays to consider everything that can go wrong. Like, what if it rains for two days straight? What if the mosquitos are unbearable? What if the stove runs out of gas? What if the stove doesn’t work? What if someone gets hurt? What if someone gets really hurt? 

Answering these questions will help you prepare for emergencies, but you should also anticipate what creature comforts you’ll need. Planning for crisis and comfort prepares you for almost anything.

A few packing secrets

Bring extra toilet paper and pack it in zip lock bags. Take it off the roll before you stuff it in the bag. And remember, it’s better to have too much “TP” than not enough. No one needs to come down with poison ivy on their unmentionables.  

Remove most food from its packaging and put it in, you guessed it, more ziplock bags.  

If space and weight of your gear is in issue, consider using what you have for multiple purposes. For example, you can use your fleece top and pants as a pillow and your socks as mittens! 

When it comes to food

When planning meals, keep it simple. Mac & Squeeze Cheese is an easy crowd-pleaser. For breakfast, bring instant oatmeal packets. You can eat the oatmeal straight from the packet even with hot water in there (that way you don’t dirty dishes in the morning when you want to get going). 

For lunch, instead of bread that can get smashed and torn, go for wraps. Even if it adds a little more weight to your pack, always bring an extra snack that’s high in energy. Nothing brings morale down quicker than needing food and not having it.

Speaking of morale, don’t skimp on the chocolate! It’s light, easy to pack, and when you find yourself at the summit after a grueling, and perhaps unpopularly challenging trail, a little chocolate goes a long way to boosting the blood sugar as well as the mood.

Don’t forget to enjoy your family

It seems like this last one should go without saying, but everybody knows that close quarters, rainy weather and a few bug bites can burst your balloon. Remember, camping is about more than enjoying every cold morning or damp night. 

It’s about making memories with your loved ones that last a lifetime.

And if you can keep this in mind all the times you run out of toilet paper and realize you forgot to pack an extra pair of underwear, then you’ll be a happy camper for life.

See this Section as it appeared in print here