One Day, I Will Pack Correctly For Camping. But until then, I will continue to write myself lists like this in a public forum so that I can maybe shame my brain into remembering that soap is a very important thing to pack. We just got home from a quick 3-day excursion to Killarney Provincial Park, where we were spending a couple of days doing some serious hiking and trail running, and playing with our camping setup. Pretty quickly, we learned a few things about us and camping. This isn’t about backcountry camping where you’re hiking with all your gear—I think our ideal camp situation is one where we can come back to base camp after a day of playing in the woods and enjoy a slightly more comfortable setup. (That said, I do love backcountry as well, and I’ve talked A LOT about my gear for that!)
OK, on to what we learned from this trip:
I forgot packing cubes
We had a busy week leading into the trip, trying to triple down on work so we could be relatively offline for the couple days, plus family visiting and Peter racing MTB Nationals, so like a genius, I started packing days ahead. Smart, except that I was just throwing stuff into my duffel bag without organizing it, just putting it in as I thought of it. The upshot was that every time I needed socks/underwear/shorts/etc, I was digging around in it like it was Mary Poppins’ bag and it was a disorganized mess. And I even have the packing cubes at home, I just didn’t use them. Never again.
I forgot soap
Actually, we both did. Soap for the shower, shampoo, dish soap—nada. The park is pretty far from the nearest town, so we weren’t about to drive out to get some, but luckily, the one bathroom had the gross pink handsoap. I used one of our tiny tupperwares to steal an ounce or so and we used that for everything. Not an ideal situation, especially when you’re all grimy from sunscreen and bugspray.
I forgot a spatula
Because we packed so haphazardly, it had been a while since I had checked our food box (we didn’t do any cross country drives this year so it’s been very underutilized lately). So, I kind of forgot that in addition to not having dishsoap (or a proper sponge), we didn’t have a spatula or a cutting board. The cutting board is NBD, but the lack of spatula was a little rough, especially with new pots that we didn’t want to scrape up using a fork.
I also forgot bugs
I mean, I knew we would be dealing with bugs. But I didn’t think too hard about what would be the most comfortable when bugs became an issue. I had one long sleeve shirt that wasn’t soaked with sweat from running, and a pair of sweatpants, but the shirt got gross pretty fast because it was never meant to be a camping/getting dirty kind of shirt. A lightweight plaid button down would have been better so I could put the collar up, and again, that is a thing that I own and just didn’t bring. We also should have caved and gotten firewood and done a campfire, but hindsight is 20:20.
And the good…
We learned how to use a camp stove
If you’re looking for an easy to use / idiot-proof camp stove, I highly recommend this set from Primus. It is not super lightweight so it wouldn’t be great for hiking unless you’re sharing the load with someone, but it’s awesome for more of a basecamp (and car camping/vanlifing) setup because it’s a bit more stove-y. Neither Peter nor I have ever really done proper camping with a stove like this, so this was a good gentle introduction. One of the days we were out, we covered over 25 miles in a hiking/running combo, so it was super, super nice to be able to come back to our site and actually make a proper dinner instead of just eating sandwiches.
I brought a sheet
Honestly, it doesn’t take up much space but adding a sheet to your sleep setup in the summer is SO GOOD for camping. (I also brought a pillow. Compared to using my sweatshirt rolled up like I normally would, this made sleeping infinitely better. Very fancy, I know, but when you’re putting in 20-mile+ run and hike days, it’s nice.
We learned what we do need
We haven’t done a couple days camped like this ever, really. Any other campsite has had electric and water access and a lack of bears. This time, we figured out what was great (a hug vat of water, a camp shower for dishwashing), what wasn’t (see above), and what we need to switch up. Most notably, if we’re going to do any longer trips like this, especially ones that are focused on a race or a goal run where sleep and comfort at camp are key, we need a different sleeping pad situation. Ours are fine for backcountry hikes, but not great for comfortable nights of sleep before hard efforts. There are a couple double sleeping pads I’m looking at now versus something like an air mattress, but we’ll see. Another need: If we’re going to spend more time at parks that are buggy like Killarney, especially if I want to get any work done while I’m there, we may need to get a pop-up with mesh sidewalls that can serve as a rain and bug shelter. I feel like those are both a little ~fancy,~ but I think if we want to spend more time at campsites (and more working camp trips where I can be online), we’re going to have to make some concessions to comfort versus minimalism. I’m not quite in a spot where I think we need an RV to be comfortable, but a bit more effort into making our van and our tent space ideal for quality sleep and work would be good!
Honestly, I’d give this camping effort a solid B grade. We didn’t forget anything major, and the stuff we did forget could have mostly been avoided had we just taken a bit more time packing—but it was easily remedied when we got home and I repacked our food box.