There are two weekends left in National Camping & Great Outdoors Month, and although the whole thing is a not-so-subtle marketing ploy by REI, I'll take any excuse to encourage people to spend more time in nature.
Same goes for John Ricci, owner of Wandrian Adventures a New York City-based company that's committed to responsible travel (www.wandrianadventures.com). Ricci has spent many a night under the stars, having explored 44 countries and six continents throughout his adventures.
Here, some insights from Ricci to help novices have a great time in the great outdoors.
What basics should you look for and ask about when reserving a campsite?
Is there running water? Are there bathrooms? Is firewood provided? Are there quiet hours? Are kids allowed? Is there a place to go swimming or shopping nearby? What other activities are there and is there a cost?
ShermansTravel's readers are pretty savvy, especially when it comes to their budgets and getting a good deal. So what camping items are better to rent than buy for novices?
If you are not planning on camping more than twice a year, I suggest renting everything (tents, sleeping bags, packs) since you will most likely go "car camping" [using your car as "home base," which requires a little less planning]. If you plan to hike to a site or go more than twice a year, then I suggest buying a pack and water bottle, both of which can be used elsewhere. If you plan on more than that, check out organizations like Sierra Trading Post or online sites like www.Altrec.com or www.backpacker.com for your first tent, as it will be cheaper and allows you to enter the camping gear world at a much lower price point.
What are your must-have items?
Three things you should always have when camping for any amount of time: good toothpaste, because it always has a way of making you feel fresh even if you cannot shower; duct tape, for anything, including surgery; and a way to make fire that will work even if it’s wet. I was once on a river in Ethiopia for 29 days and showered in dirty water as much as I could, but after I brushed my teeth, that fresh breath always woke me up in the morning. Once I had a cut that we had to staple shut without anesthesia and it was duct tape that kept it dry day after day on the river. And of course fire is self-explanatory. One other thing is baby wipes. You can use them to "shower" and, like toothpaste, they make you feel fresh.
When it comes to etiquette in the great outdoors, what are some important dos and don'ts?
Think about what you are doing and how it will affect the environment. No matter who you are, you can always treat the environment a little better. Carry in/carry out everything you bring with you and take only pictures, leave only footprints. Also be cognizant of the proximity to others, as they're also out there to enjoy themselves and might not like your music, discussion, or taste in food. If you snore, be upfront about it and make suitable arrangements so everyone can sleep well. And hygiene is everything; once it starts to go bad, it can multiply problems for you and others in your party. Finally, never leave a fire unattended, and just because the water looks clean doesn’t mean it is.
Where are some of your favorite places to camp and enjoy the outdoors?
In the United States, South Branch Pond at Baxter State Park, in Maine, the Grand Canyon, and West Water Canyon, in Colorado, which you reach by raft. Internationally, the Omo River Valley in Ethiopia, Ferienparadies Natterer See in Austria and Mombo Camp in Botswana.
Based on your camping experience, what would you say would surprise novices the most about it?
How absolutely comfortable you can be with the gear we now have at our disposal. With some proper planning and money well spent, you can have a great weekend as a novice for well under $200 for a small family. Teaching moments are multiplied in the outdoors, and there is so much to see, do, enjoy, and explore, and it's always close by.
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