Before you go camping, have a dress rehearsal for your gear
It’s best to find out in advance what’s missing and won’t work. The time for such discoveries is not when you start to pitch a tent upon your arrival at the campground right at dusk on a Friday night.
Now that we have a 6-year-old daughter, dance recitals and end-of-the-year concerts have begun to fill the schedule. For the kids, they get to dress up and perform on stage in front of an audience. One instructor reminded both kids and parents the importance of the four P’s – Practice, Prepare, Perform and Pack!
Campers might take a tip from this advice and take time for a walk-through or dress rehearsal before they go camping to be sure they have everything they need and that it still works. It’s best to find out in advance what’s missing and won’t work. The time for such discoveries is not when you start to pitch a tent upon your arrival at the campground right at dusk on a Friday night.
If you have room in your backyard, garage, or even your living room, give your tent a thorough check-up. If it’s been rolled up in the basement or on a storage rack in your garage, open it all the way to be sure there are no mice nests or chewed holes. By this time of year, mice have most likely moved back outdoors, but they love winter camping in our gear. The best way to inspect a tent is to pitch it and then go over it thoroughly.
Do a basic cleaning. Sweep any dirt out of the floor of the tent and then finish it up using the small attachment on your vacuum. When I first bought our tent shortly after our daughter was born, it was recommended to me to use a non-detergent soap for cleaning. I spent $10 on a bottle of unscented Castile Liquid Soap, and 5 years later two-thirds of the bottle still remains. I use a nonabrasive sponge, cold water and the soap to gently scrub any dirty areas. Beware of perfumed soaps that may attract insect, rodents, and bigger creatures.
When you’re camping out in the Badlands of North Dakota or in the woods of northern Minnesota, one of the sounds of nature you don’t want to hear is water dripping inside your tent. I like to shore up the waterproofness of my shelter every other year by spraying the seams, floor, and rainfly with a can of Kiwi Camp Dry Heavy Duty Water Repellant ($7).
Check to make sure that the small bag of tent stakes is with your tent, and dispose of any bent ones. My daughter’s job each spring is to touch-up the tops of our tent stakes with glow-in-the-dark paint ($9) so we won’t trip over them at night.
Inspect your camp stove to see that the valves turn easily by hand. Check the stove by hooking it up to your fuel source such as propane, butane, or an isobutane blend and see that it works properly. Be sure your fuel tanks are full or nearly so before you start your trip. Nearly empty tanks are light in weight compared with full tanks. Compare them with tanks at a store; if yours is much lighter, it’s best to take some new ones along.
Check flashlights and headlamps for bad batteries and replace if necessary. It’s always a good idea to have at least one flashlight or headlamp for each camper.
Get out your air mattress and inflate it; and leave it overnight to see if it holds air. If the mattress was folded during storage, leaks may have developed along the creases. Repair any leaks with a suitable patch, being sure the patch is big enough to cover the hole and extend a good margin over all the sides.
Unroll your sleeping bags, unzip them, and look them over. Check the zippers to see that they run smoothly and are not catching in the material. If you haven’t been using a sleeping bag liner ($20), this might be the year to start. A liner saves the inside of the bag and makes it quite a bit warmer when temperatures dip down during late-spring and fall camping trips. If your sleeping bag requires cleaning, have it dry-cleaned ($27 at Camelot Cleaners in Fargo).
Clean any coolers you plan to use to store food and drinks by mixing 1 cup of distilled white vinegar with 3 cups of hot water. Pour the mixture into the cooler and wipe everything clean using the solution and a microfiber cloth.
If you have any boxes or totes that contain camping gear such as dishes, towels, soap, etc., check them over to see what is in each container and what condition everything is in.
How well stocked is your first aid kit? You may have used some items and forgotten to replenish them. It’s worth the time to check these things and restock with fresh supplies, including purchasing new bug spray every 3 years and suntan lotion every year, as they do expire.
When everything is in good order, it’s not as ridiculous as it might sound to have the family walk through a camp set up rehearsal. You may be surprised how many things you’ve forgotten. I print off a list of items we will need, and like to recruit the help of our daughter to check them off as I go through each item.
It might also be helpful to do a dry run and rehearse packing the car or truck before the day you plan to leave on your outdoor adventure. You may have added new items to your camping gear, or may have added a new young member to the family who now takes up that once empty spot in the backseat where you used to store the large cooler. My wife is an expert when it comes to the process of fitting every item neatly in our vehicle, after what I can only assume was a childhood spent playing Tetris and Jenga.
A lot of tears and trouble will be avoided if you discover all of these things during a rehearsal and not right after work on a Friday afternoon. You’ll also help teach the new generation of campers what many of us adults have learned along the way about camping, and life in general — “Be Prepared!"