Camping for real this summer: Need your advice on equipment, how-tos!

It’s taken two years of baby stepping into camping but we are finally ready to go tent camping this year and set it all up ourselves.

If you remember last summer we camped in Yosemite National Park but in the Curry Village, they set the tent up for you and you had a bed. The campground was also just a short walk away from a cafeteria and restaurants. This was a safe way for us try sleeping in a tent, using a communal bathroom and showers and having some meals outside.

So this summer we are planning about three nights of camping in Yellowstone and then maybe two in the Grand Tetons. (You don’t make reservations for the campgrounds in the Grand Tetons so we could stay longer.) We may also camp in Zion National Park in Utah either driving up or down.

In Yellowstone we will be on a campground with bathrooms and showers and will be about a mile from food services if we need them. We are planning to set up our own tents, sleep on air mattresses and make at least two of the three meals at the campsite.

So now we really need all your best camping advice about buying equipment:

We want a pop-up tent to make it easier. I think one that sleeps at least 8?? Do you have recommendations on brands, types, features, things to look out for?

Do we need that rain fly built in or should you just hang some kind of tarp on top?

Air mattresses – brand, type, with the pump or use a separate pump?

Cooking equipment – what are absolute musts? What are the simplest things? Do we just want a grate to put over a campfire to put a fry pan on? Do we need to buy a gas cook top? What do you try to cook at the campsite?

How do you keep ice, meats, yogurt, eggs cold enough over more than a day or two? Are you just buying new ice every day and really packing it? What am I missing? (The tip from last year to freeze the giant water bottles was really helpful. It really kept the coolers cold for 24 to 48 hours but we will be gone for longer than that.)

So what are must-haves for real tent camping?

35 comments Add your comment


April 22nd, 2013
12:08 pm

No advice on camping…not my cup of tea. Advice on spelling EQUIPMENT. My cup of tea, if my fingers and keyboard cooperate…haha! Have a great day all!


April 22nd, 2013
12:14 pm

Leave as much food out as possible, the bears will come-a runnin’.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

April 22nd, 2013
12:15 pm

I am blaming that mistake on Game of Thrones — typing coherently and following Games of Thrones is very hard!!


April 22nd, 2013
12:48 pm

Yah! I LOVE camping! I could probably write a book of recommendations but I’ll start with tent/sleeping first:

My recommendation is always to get a tent with a full rain fly but we live in the south where it’s common to have rain regardless of the time of year. I grew up camping out west though and can’t remember it raining on us ever (I’m sure it did, it just wasn’t common). IMO though nothing makes camping more miserable than being wet and all your gear being wet. You will not find a full-fly on “Wal-mart” tents though and they are typically more expensive (check out REI’s site and compare their large tents to those sold at Wal-mart and you’ll see what I mean). If you don’t think you’ll have rain then just buy two tarps in case. You’ll want one to be slightly smaller than the footprint of the tent (your ground tarp should never extend outside of the tent footprint, otherwise water simply drips off the tent, onto the tarp and ends up between the tarp and the tent floor, usually making it’s way into the tent). The second tarp should be large enough to cover the tent and you would either tie to adjacent trees or stake down with ropes/stakes so that it forces the water to flow away from the tent. I also recommend a tent with a vestibule so you have somewhere to put shoes/extra gear that you don’t necessarily want inside the tent.

Air mattresses – don’t buy these until after you’ve bought a tent so you can make sure you can fit them. With 3 kids and space at a premium, I’d recommend you buy an air mattress for you and the husband and buy either sleeping pads or cots for the kids (they take up a lot less space and don’t get holes nearly as easily as air mattresses). We have a couple of air mattresses from Target. You can buy them with or without a rechargeable pump. As long as you buy the same brand, the pump will work on all of them so if you buy multiple, just buy one with pump and the rest without.

Remember that air mattresses tend to make you colder because the air inside the mattress cools off at night. That may be fine in the summer in Ga but if the lows in the summer where you’re going are in the 40s, remember that what you’ll be sleeping on will be the same temp. We either bring fleece sheets or an extra old comforter to put on top of the air mattress so we don’t get too cold when the temps drop.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

April 22nd, 2013
12:53 pm

I think it is going to be cold at night and early morning — does REI sell the cots?? where would you get those — do they fold up??? We’re just taking the minivan


April 22nd, 2013
12:59 pm

REI sells just about everything but I will give a plug for one of my favorite online outdoor supply stores – Sierra Trading Post. Sign up for their emails and don’t buy anything unless you have a discount code!


April 22nd, 2013
1:27 pm

Theresa, we have a Coleman flat grill that works perfect for breakfast ($50). Also remember your flat pan and utensils to cook with. We also have a mosquito light that you just set outside your camper/tent and it gives off light as well as takes care of pesty bugs. I think it was about $40 at Walmart. We camp in a travel trailer so we don’t quite rough it enough for some folks but it works for us.


April 22nd, 2013
1:41 pm

My last post is awaiting moderation since I included two links.

As far as cooking goes, I’d recommend a camp stove (just a Coleman 2 burner would be fine). While it’s easy to grill burgers or dogs over a fire, it’s not the easiest way to say boil water or fry eggs. We usually end up cooking on the stove & we use a dutch oven. I’m a huge fan of dutch oven cooking – opens up a whole new world of possibilities. We’ve cooked everything from breakfast casseroles, biscuits & dump cakes to pork chops and stuffed bell peppers in a dutch oven.

Good camping food: instant oatmeal, eggs, bacon (I buy the pre-cooked so it’s not as greasy), sausage, pancakes or breakfast burritos for breakfast. For lunch we normally do sandwiches to keep it easy. Dinners are always across the board but just about anything you make at home, can be made outside. Chili and cornbread is a regular for us. You can pre-brown the hamburger and freeze in a ziploc bag, then just toss in the cooler so you don’t have to worry about it spoiling. For chicken, you can do the same or buy canned chicken so you don’t need to refrigerate. We made a chicken and rice “casserole” on our last campout that was super easy: instant rice, canned chicken, a can of cream of mushroom soup and salt & pepper. Cook the rice, dump the rest of the ingredients in and cook until hot enough to serve, add a vegetable and dinner role and you’re done.

To keep stuff cold, yes just buy a bag of ice a day. Since you’ll end up with water in your cooler though, make sure you have a way to keep water from seeping into stuff that needs to be cold. I find that ziploc bags aren’t always reliable and tend to use plastic containers to keep things dry.

Have the phone...

April 22nd, 2013
2:03 pm

…numbers for Motel 6 and Days Inn on speed dial for when you get tired of the bugs and the heat/cold and cannot get the fire started upon which to cook food – staying at those places will seem like you are still camping, however…

And, Techmom...

April 22nd, 2013
2:04 pm

…you are taking this way too seriously…


April 22nd, 2013
2:21 pm

With all due respect, this is precisely why I DO NOT camp.


April 22nd, 2013
2:37 pm

I camped last year at Merlefest – first time in about 25 years. I decided to be comfortable, so I rented the biggest tent REI had. Put a queen air mattress, sheets, and a bunch of quilts and even 40 degree nights are ok. The tent was large enough to put everything out of the way and still have room to walk. Also, I liked being able to stand up in the tent — makes getting dressed a lot easier.

Have you considered two tents? One for the adults and one for the kids? Give everybody some space.

Food: We just went for a long weekend, so we bought ice every day. We did less cooking than we had planned to do. At the end of a long tiring day, a ham sandwich and some chips seems like a fine dinner.

I know I’ve seen an electric cooler somewhere. It plugs in to the vehicle’s power port. I have no idea whether it really works or it’s just another gadget.


April 22nd, 2013
2:38 pm

Roughing it to me is a shower head with only 3 massage settings.


April 22nd, 2013
3:01 pm

Like MJG..Not gonna camp..Unless it’s at the Hampton Inn..Or somewhere that has air conditioning.. Agree with malleesmom and xxx on their comments also..Enjoy your camping Theresa..


April 22nd, 2013
4:06 pm

HAHA! Camping is WAY too much work for me. Yes, I camped in a Starcraft pop up as a girl. I will admit that I have never slept in a tent. No, I do not even stay at Motel 6 or Days Inn. I have just been informed that I am Gold Elite with the Marriott and I am thrilled. When I am on vacation, I want to relax and not worry about all the stuff I might need. I am fine in a condo, with a kitchen. It is not about the royal treatment but it I am not hauling a million things out into the wilderness. NO WAY! I want a toilet, clean sheets, and a shower. I do not even need a TV and could go without a computer for a few days too!


April 22nd, 2013
4:12 pm

Glad to hear you are doing this! It will be great for all, I am sure.

I would buy carefully, as you don’t want to blow$500 and then not like it. Also, it seems like you are going to some pretty posh places, rather than minimalist, survival camping.

I do not camp. I gave myself permission to never do it again after the last two times. On one, I awoke gasping and got hubs and kids out. Tent did not have enough fresh air circulating.

The final straw was at St. George Island, where we camped near an amorous bull alligator, and thousands of raccoons, possums, or armadillos rustling through the palmetto grass, with Mosquitos the size of B52s, in 90 degree weather with 90 percent humidity. We were surrounded by folks “camping” in their 30 ft mobile campers, complete with TV and AC. By 11 I was ready to kill someone! I told the children and ex husband I was leaving, and I’d anyone wanted a ride they had 10 minutes to get ready! It was awful!

We have a place here in the men’s where you can go glamping. Think Glamour Camping. Bet there are other places that do it, if you find “roughing it” (with a cook stove and air mattresses!) too much.

As for me, only if I am homeless will I ever camp again!


April 22nd, 2013
4:26 pm


Good advice coming your way! Why not look into renting equipment (check REI)? It will let you ease into camping without the sticker price. My husband and I camp a lot but we lost a lot of our equipment in a recent house fire. We’ll be looking at REI again this summer. Good luck! Oh, and for meals? Check online- there are super simple meals to make/take.


April 22nd, 2013
4:35 pm

In the mountains, not men’s, for the glamping.


April 22nd, 2013
5:46 pm

What is the Thrones Game?!?!!


April 22nd, 2013
5:47 pm

Betting on the Royal family?

A reader

April 22nd, 2013
6:01 pm

As far as cooking equipment, go minimalist and use old stuff from your kitchen. Do not plan to re use the pots and pans again except for camping because they get covered in soot. That is why you go minimalist. You can cook anything over a fire that you can cook on a stove. I never got the hang of baking so no advise there.

Plan your meals ahead of time. You can bring some stuff and plan to buy some stuff when you get there (use google to find the closest grocery to your camp site). Keep the first night and the last meal very simple because you will be busy setting up and taking down camp.

Don’t forget gallon jugs of water for cooking, rinsing, and hand washing, or buy a 5 gallon water jug that you can fill up there. Bring dish soap, hand sanitizer, sun screen, and deep woods off.

If you do bring an air mattress, invest in an inflater that you can plug into the car. Otherwise someone will be light headed trying to blow up the darn thing.

Bring several tarps. They are not that expensive and you may not need them, but if it rains a lot then you will be glad you have them. If it does not rain then you don’t even have to take them out of the package.

Look up poison ivy and poison oak online and make sure your kids know what it looks like. If you have boys, warn them to wash their hands before they relieve themselves so they do not get poison ivy on their privates. This is not a joke.

Most importantly, do not sweat the small stuff. You forgot something? So what, at least you are on vacation! You forgot something important? In the US there is a Walmart within 30 miles of any given spot (except Alaska) so just go buy it.

Have fun!!


April 22nd, 2013
6:33 pm

Buy block ice – it last a lot longer. Or else buy dry ice – it is colder. Cooking over a fire is not that easy – unless you are grilling hot dogs on spits.


April 22nd, 2013
6:36 pm

carry Crocs or waterproof flip-flops and wear them in the public shower – keeps you from getting athlete’s foot


April 22nd, 2013
6:51 pm

We are planning a “first time” camping trip for our family, so this blog is timely and helpful. Thanks “Techmom” for all the thorough, detailed tips. When you don’t yet have equipment, like my family, there is a lot of planning and thought required, so I appreciate the advice. I know that will help make the experience more enjoyable and “avoid” the bad experiences people tell about in their stories.

To the person who criticized, if you’re not interested in the topic, what’s the point of making a negative comment about someone else who is simply being helpful?

And, “A Reader”, thanks for your great tips!

Roy Clark

April 22nd, 2013
7:16 pm

Be sure to bring extra pairs of clean underwear and granny panties


April 22nd, 2013
8:23 pm

@ a reader…I was in Montana once and the closest Wal Mart was 90 miles. We had snow on September 18 and I did not bring gloves and a scarf with me, from Atlanta. Luckily, my clients let me borrow theirs.


April 22nd, 2013
9:13 pm

Go online and look up “camping checklist”. you should find what you need. Remember paper towels, TP, and a fold up laundry hamper. Both parks that you mentioned have bear/food issues. Check online at their official websites for any required food keepers. Bring a fan to circulate the air in your tent and to help start your campfire. You will need a shower bag and if your kids are picky or sensative, bring air freshener (public restrooms tend to smell). I have a coleman grill to go for cooking, you can use a campfire (if they are allowing them) for hot dogs marshmallows etc…Fresh caught fish and instant mashed potatoes are perfect. Fruit instead of veggies. Keep in mind you don’t have a fridge for leftovers. PLEASE bring a screen tent or mosquito netting to hang over the picnic table. Nothing worse than flies and bugs while eating. Go to craigslist for gently used camp gear, cots, lanterns etc. Much cheaper and you get free advice when you talk to the owners. Bring extra rope to make a clothes line. A bug zapper for moths and make a wasp trap from a soda bottle. Hope you have a great time camping.
I would also suggest you do a trial run at a local campground. We are starting the grandkids in the back yard, then at the nearby campground. See if you and they like it before you are 1000 miles from home with no motels nearby.
Whatever type of tent you get, practice practice practice. Put it up and take it down several times so you know how and where everything goes. I can remember my parents arguing heatedly while putting up the tent. You don’t want to start your vacation with a fight. I would seriously consider 2 tents. One for your stuff to go in when you leave your campsite, and 1 to sleep in. Stay organized…and don’t sweat the dirt. Kids don’t need to bathe daily. Hands and face are good enough.


April 23rd, 2013
6:20 am

You can also pick up gently used gear from stores like Gear Rival. REI does rentals so you can test out something before you purchase something. Lots of people buy camping gear for their first trip and never go back. They sell their items on Craigslist. I highly recommend freeze dried meals – you can get a good deal in an emergency kit from big stores like Costco..etc. Ice bags every day or every other day to keep food cold.
I agree about taking two smaller tents. We use two small tents for our family and it takes up a lot less space and are a lot easier to put up. I use storage bins for our clothes and such outside our tents. In fact, we use storage bins to keep all our gear in. When we plan on camping, we just grab the appropiate bin labeled “car camping” or “backpacking” from our attic and we never have to run around finding things we need.
Be sure to SEAL your tent before you go!


April 23rd, 2013
10:20 am

We just got back from a week in Cherokee and the woman next us (in a tent) must have not thought about it being see through so we got more than our share of a view that night while she was getting ready for bed. Tip – don’t dress/undress with the camp light on in the tent.


April 23rd, 2013
10:24 am

Haha – I’m glad someone wasn’t offended by long posts! I do love camping and I think it’s a great way to disconnect from the hustle of normal life and really spend time not only in nature but with your family.

A couple of other thoughts TWG:
If you’re going to be gone for several days and have limited space, find out about laundry facilities at the campsites. Most have them and though it may cost you $5 for a load of laundry, it will likely save you from having to pack so many clothes for the kids.

The recommendation to bring a rope for a clothesline is a great suggestion. I also recommend some kind of hanging bag that can brought into the bath house with you to carry your toiletries and change of clothes. We usually bring a pack of baby wipes too for a quick cleanup at the camp site.

Check on the water situation at the campsites. Some sites have water available at the sites which is nice otherwise you might consider a water bladder or simply a couple of gallon jugs that you can refill.

You’ll have to consider how you’ll wash dishes. You may choose to use disposable plates but you’ll still need to clean some stuff. We use plastic dishpans that you can get at Walmart pretty cheap ( For warm water, heat water in a pot as soon as you sit down for a meal so it will be ready when you’re done. Make sure you scrape/wipe your dishes down as much as possible before washing (yes, it is ok to lick your plate clean when you’re camping!!) Pour the hot water into the dishpans and add cold water to bring it to a reasonable temp. Wash in one and rinse in the 2nd. Some people sanitize in a 3rd but hey, I don’t sanitize my dishes at home so I don’t see a reason to in the field.

Pay attention to the food storage & trash disposal rules where you stay. Those rules are there to protect you and the animals who live there. Make sure to dispose of even your dish water away from your campsite/tent. There will inevitably be food particles in that water and you don’t want to attract unwanted guests (animals or bugs).

ganun makes a good point about practicing at home. Put up your tent and take it down a few times until you can do it in the dark without instructions (you just never know!) Practice building a fire and don’t be surprised if you find it easier to buy a $4 starter log & a bundle of wood at the camp store. Even try cooking on your camp stove before you leave home. Let the kids get involved by helping choose the menu and cooking and then cleaning up like you would when you’re camping.


April 23rd, 2013
5:02 pm

Couple more suggestions…shop for foods that only require water to make. For example instant mashed potatos in the packets not box, packets of soup, not cans, rice in boil bags, pasta side dishes, etc. Get one of those salt on one side pepper on the other shakers. When you go to a fast food place grab mayo, mustard, and ketchup packets every time, even lemon juice packets if you want iced tea with lemon or if you like fish with lemon. Get sugar/sweetener packets too. Stock up on these condiment packets they are great for tailgating too. Leave boxes at home. Put cereal in ziplock bags. Hot instant oatmeal in individual packets makes a great breakfast when its cold out and everyone gets to have their favorite flavor. Get a small storage bin and put all your packets in it. Label it “food” and put it where you can get it when you get to the campsite. You can bring alot of the packet food in a small carrier if you leave boxes at home. (dont forget the instructions though.)
Since you are camping in campgrounds you will have electric and water at your site most likely. If you are a coffee or tea drinker invest in a $10 electric kettle. You can have hot water in minutes for soup, drinks, food, washing, hubby shaving, etc. Its safer and easier than trying to boil water over an open fire. Bring a power strip.
Bring clothes that can dry outside on your clothesline. Be creative about sleep wear. The kids may have to pee at night and you don’t want jammies they have to strip out of to pee. Maybe just sweats with a warm shirt and socks. You won’t need a robe if you use sweats to sleep in. Unless they get wet, honestly you can use one pair of sleeping clothes for at least a week.

Make sure each person has a backpack with a water bottle, snack bars, emergency kit, flashlight, camera, binoculars and a whistle. The whistle should be on a lanyard and go around your neck when you get up in the morning. Do not let your child out of your campsite without that whistle. A trip to the bathroom can be hazardous. Animals, strangers, a missed path. Teach everyone to sit and blow if they get separated from the group. You might want to invest in walkie talkies too. These are great for Disney or other parks too. The good ones usually have a 2 mile radius and though you might think you won’t need them, they are great for calling someone over to see something without yelling. Also cell phones may not work. My family used walkie talkies at Disney last year and won’t go anywhere with out them after waiting around for a missing party member for an hour outside a store or bathroom. Hope you have a great time. Don’t forget to practice with that tent before you leave.


April 24th, 2013
12:55 am

If you want to experiment with some fun food preparation, just go to Pinterest and check out “camping food recipes”. LOTS of suggestions for fun, easy and creative meals, there, far beyond S’mores (although those are good, too.) If Girl Scouts your daughters’ ages can do it, you can do it! Look up some fun recipes for “Armpit Fudge” and making ice cream! And there’s nothing wrong with trying out a few recipes before you go on the grill outside — just to get the hang of prepping it, etc.

On the coolers, an “electric” cooler will cost you between $90-$120. They are only actively cooling when they are plugged in, but it does save on ice for long trips. Don’t leave them plugged in without the car running — they will drain your car battery.


April 24th, 2013
2:03 pm

ganun, you know it’s stealing to take those little packs of condiments for home use don’t you? I mean how much cheaper can you get than a bottle of mustard or ketchup?


April 25th, 2013
9:40 am

So buy a box of them at costco. DONT bring bottles of ketchup, mustard, mayo etc. They take up room and should be kept cold once opened. Go wild, ask for extra ketchup next time you hit a drive thru..I promise the condiment police will not pull you over. If you do buy a box of the packets at costco you can use them for tailgating, school lunchs etc. they last a long time and don’t need refrigeration. My point was for you to avoid boxes, jars, containers that take up room. You want to keep packaging to a minimum for space utilization. Single use packets that are disposed of after use are the way to go when camping. If you have a trailer with fridge and cabinets its different, but tent camping is all about space utilization. Remember what you take with you you either dispose of or you cart it around with you and bring it home. Who wants to tote empty plastic storage dishes and 1/2 full ketchup bottles for 2 weeks. Paper plates can be burned in your fire pit as can paper towels. My mom used handiwipes for dishes and table wiping. After a few uses you can pitch it and they don’t take but a few minutes to dry on the line. Dont forget a ziplock of clothes pins. Good for hanging bathing suits and towels up to dry.

A good thing to do when you have a quiet moment is to grab a pad and pen and picture your campsite in your mind. You’ll have your tent, picnic table, fire pit. You’ll need chairs, beds, clothes, something to eat on, cook with, eat with, serve with, wash up with. You’ll need bathroom stuff, daytime wear, safety stuff, first aid stuff, night time wear, outer wear, swim wear, towels for washing, bathing, swimming. You’ll need a backpack for each person, refillable water bottles for each, a whistle for each, flashlight, camera and binoculars for each oh and stick a mirror in each backpack too. Rafts for sleeping and swimming (dollar store) for the kids, air bed for adults. Sleeping bags, pillows, and extra blankets. Tarps, screen room or mosquito netting, rope. Small hatchet, small shovel, 5 gal bucket with top. Trash bags (in a pinch can be a poncho) paper towels and TP. Bring a small fan and extra batteries for your flashlights. You can put all your cooking stuff in a tub, your bedding in a tub, tools in a tub. Outer wear and rain gear you may or may not need can go in a tub or bag. When you set up and break down camp, tubs make it easy. Line them up and everything goes in as you come to it.

If you fish, try to find online those rods that come in a carry case. We have some that will fit in motorcycle saddle bags. You’ll need a tackle box, but keep it simple.

I know this is a lot..but the more organized you are, the smoother the trip will go and you will all be “happy campers”.

Walker Redkey

April 27th, 2013
7:01 am

Some people vacation in permanent camps with cabins and other facilities (such as hunting camps or children’s summer camps), but a stay at such a camp is usually not considered camping. The term camping (or camping out) may also be applied to those who live outdoors, out of necessity (as in the case of the homeless), or for people waiting overnight in queues…

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