WE’VE ALL BEEN THERE.
For the leave-Friday-afternoon camping trip, the frantic Thursday night search for sleeping bags (in the garage?) and the camp stove (didn’t we have fuel for this?). To make order out of this chaos, we compiled our top pre-trip tips (see below). We also drew up our ultimate list of camping supplies.
Tent, group cloth, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, flashlight, knapsack.
Cooler and ice, stove and fuel, butane lighter or matches, can opener, cutting board, chef’s knife, cast-iron skillet, saucepans, wooden spoon, heatproof cups, plates, silverware.
Coffee, coca mix, milk, butter, eggs, oatmeal or granola, bacon, bread, fruit (fresh and dried), oil, salt and pepper.
Before you hit the road:
Don’t wait to pack your camping gear until the night before you leave. Two nights before is good. The weekend before, even better.
Designate one corner of your garage as the camping corner.
Newbie? Don’t let our list scare you. The big-ticket items (tents, sleeping bags) can be rented in some areas.
Bring two sets of car keys. And have them carried by two people. Because spending hours looking for your keys somewhere on the Bluebird Trail where you think you dropped them is no fun. Nor is realizing that your car is locked with the keys inside, along with the s’mores ingredients.
And the bourbon.
SET THE BAR HIGH.
That’s where Danielle Rowland and Roland Mott; Subaru’s Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers, come in. They teach minimum-impact outdoors skills across the country. They have a lot of useful tips (see above). But their first advice is a little surprising: to pick up your campsite. It seems obsessive, cleaning up before you even start putting up tents. But the practice helps maintain a clean campsite for the rest of the trip. And that’s especially important in ecologically sensitive campsites like Big Basin. “Microtrash is all the tiny flyaways that people sometimes miss; crumbs, bits of wrapper, twist ties from bread,” Mott says. “It’s little, but over time, it builds up- and could hurt a raccoon or bird if they tried to eat it.”
Camp in comfort:
PITCH YOUR TENT ON LEVEL GROUND
Anybody who has ever spent a restless night slowly sliding headfirst out of a sleeping bag or rolling from one side to the other knows why this is important.
SEPARATE EATING AND SLEEPING AREAS
Picnic tables and campfire circles inevitably morph into party central. Even in a small campsite, create psychological space by grouping tents a few yards away from the action.
Car camping lets you bring more gear than if you were hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Camp chairs make a convivial campsite; lanterns make it cheery at night (and help you not trip on your way to the bathroom). Touches like environmentally friendly cloth napkins and matching tin ware can make your picnic table Michelin-star-worthy.
Cabela’s Lounge Cot
Air Head Pillow
REI Kingdom 6
The North Face Wawona 6
SLEEPING PACKS / BAGS
Rtic Classic Folding Chair
GCI Outdoor Kickback Rocker
Goal Zero Crush Light Lantern
GSI Outdoors Selkirk 540
2-Burner Camp Stove
Top camping sites in our area:
Big Hill Pond State Park
Big Hill Pond State Park is located just north of the Tennessee/Mississippi border along TN-57 between Ramer and Pocahontas.
Bledsoe Creek State Park
Bledsoe Creek State Park features 57 standard campsites with hookups and recently upgraded amenities, including grills and picnic tables. Eight primitive campsites are situated along the waterfront and offer scenic views of the lake.
Booker T. Washington State Park
Situated on the shores of scenic Chickamauga Lake, not far from the city of Chattanooga, is the 353-acre Booker T. Washington State Park. Many visitors enjoy the phenomenal scenery through the challenging, yet rewarding, six-mile mountain biking trail.
Chickasaw State Park
The park is situated on some of the highest terrain in west Tennessee. Three campgrounds are located within Chickasaw State Park (RV, Tent, Wrangler) each with picnic tables, grills and playground for the little ones, including more than four miles of easy to moderate hiking trails and bicycle friendly roads.
David Crockett Birthplace
This historic park includes a limestone marker and replica cabin, as well as visitor center exhibits. Nearby is the Cherokee National Forest and his father’s Crockett Tavern Museum in Morristown. In addition, it offers a paved bike trail, with more than six miles of hiking trails of Shoal Creek and Crockett Falls, limestone bluffs, abundant wildlife and serene forest.
Fall Creek Falls State Park
200 campsites located throughout five different areas. The park also offers 16 backcountry sites for the more adventurous campers. The park also manages Virgin Falls State Natural Area which has 14 campsites divided into four areas.
Indian Mountain State Park
Indian Mountain State Park offers 47 campsites with paved pads to serve both RV and tent campers. With picnic tables and grills provided for each site, a night stay within the park is sure to be a memorable one. It serves as a living demonstration of how good environmental practices can reclaim wasteland and convert it to beneficial use.
Norris Dam State Park
Located on the shores of Norris Lake, with more than 800 miles of shoreline, Norris Dam State Park offers recreational boating, skiing and fishing. The park offers a fully equipped marina with boat ramp available to the general public.
Reelfoot Lake State Park
Reelfoot Lake State Park is located in the northwest corner of Tennessee and is noted for its fishing, boating and wildlife viewing. The 15,000-acre lake was created by a series of violent earthquakes in 1811-1812 that caused the Mississippi River to flow backwards for a short period of time, creating Reelfoot Lake.
Warriors Path State Park
The park is home to premier boating and fishing activity, hiking trails, an internationally-renowned mountain bike trail system (which is a designated National Recreational Trail), an award-winning nature and education program and a nationally recognized golf course.
Every camper’s nemesis: Wildlife
Here are our hard-learned lessons.
1: Do not think you are faster or smarter.
2: Do not leave food out in your campsite, then walk away - “for just a minute”, thinking that they won’t get it. (See lesson 1)
3: Do not leave food in the backseat of your car and then forget to roll up the windows. Do not leave food in your tent either. They will get it.
4: Bear-resistant food boxes are also all wildlife-resistant food boxes and are your friend. Use them.
Start the perfect fire:
From home, bring a butane lighter or matches, kindling and logs of different sizes, grilling tongs and thick grilling gloves.
Our favorite design combines a log cabin-style arrangement on the outside (4 large logs set in a box shape) with a Tipi of smaller wood in the middle to help it catch. Use enough fuel to cover the grill area.
It takes 30 to 45 minutes for a fire to burn down to low flames plus embers, the ideal stage for cooking. This is your golden time for happy hour and dinner prep.
This is the key to a good campfire. Apply the laws of fire physics, stacking the wood to provide good airflow and ensuring the smaller pieces of kindling, once lit, would warm the bigger logs. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect - you’re not building a pyre at Burning Man or anything. See tips to the right.
DO YOU COFFEE?
Is there camping without coffee? No. Although you may remember with dread the days when camp coffee was powdery instant mixed with cakey creamer, it’s now entirely possible to brew a cup- even a wilderness latte- that would do credit to Honeybee or Awaken in Knoxville.
CLASSIC CAMPING TREAT.
For camping trips, s’mores are essential. We advise a Do-It-Yourself s’mores tray that makes it easy to customize the treats. Put the kids s’mores on one side and the adult s’mores will be on the other side. -So an adult side? Like with whiskey? Sadly no whiskey. Still, it’s easy to offer adults more sophisticated ingredients, like coffee flavored marshmallows and bittersweet chocolate.
(The kids? They’ll be fine with classic chocolate bars and puffy, white supermarket marshmallows.) The biggest s’mores innovation is a technical one: s’more roasting sticks, telescoping forks that let you roast your gooey creation from your camp chair and keep the hair on your face and arms.
Tools to use:
Campfire Fork, $9; crateandbarrel.com
BBQ Dragon Marshmallow Roasting Sticks, $25; bbqguys.com
Max Mallow Low Carb Keto Marshmallows; maxsweets.com
Did you really want whiskey? try Bourbon Marshmallows by Wondermade; mouth.com
Campers’ S’Mores Truffle Bar, $4.75; Seattlechocolate.com
Cashew Butter +Pure Vanilla Bean Dark Chocolate, $7.25; hukitchen.com
Brew the best camp coffee:
BEGIN WITH THE BASICS
Heat water in a pot and pour into a #4 plastic filter cone (and #6 coffee filters to avoid spilling) atop a GSI Outdoor Enamelware Coffee Pot (REI; $25)
MEMORIZE THIS FORMULA
1 cup of coffee grounds + 6 cups of water = 5 potently strong cups of Joe.
Don’t bring the water to a full, rolling boil- bubbling is all you’re after. Any hotter, and it’ll bring out the bitter acidity in the coffee when you pour it over the grounds.
INVEST IN A MILK FROTHER
(Product, $2.50; ikea.com). They’re small, lightweight and create great foam. Heat milk in a separate pan, stirring often. You don’t want it to scorch. Once it starts steaming, remove from heat and froth away.
with your preferred proportion of coffee to deliciously foamy milk.