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Camping 101: Novice campers prepare to rough it in the woods

Posted: Thursday, May 02, 2002

POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) -- Spring snows blanketing most of the valleys and mountains surrounding southern Idaho have dampened the enthusiasm for camping and getting out to discover Idaho's wild side.

Nevertheless, it's time to begin planning for the first trip of spring. As the snows melt and the wildflowers begin to make their appearance, minds will once again return to the green meadows of the mountains and a desire to hike down a secluded trail while listening to the sounds of nature will return.

The question is, will you be ready?

For first-time campers and families with young children, the adventures of the woods can sound nearly fanciful. Visions of spending an Eddie Bauer weekend in the woods, with no rain, no bugs and eating ashless, dirtless food, that looks like it came from the cover photo of an outdoor cookbook fill their minds. The wonderful day will end with a peaceful sleep, beneath a blanket of stars, on a windless night in the mountains.

The next thing that pops to mind is loading tons of costly gear into the minivan to head off for the woods with the first balding tire popping on a sharp rock protruding from a dusty narrow road and the second one going flat after hitting a hole in a cattle guard.

Camping and preparing to go camping get easier with practice and finding out what works, buying the right gear and being prepared for anything.

Regardless of whether they have been camping or not, many people have most of the car camping gear they will need inside the walls of their homes and garages.

Pillows, matches, a barbecue grill, pots, pans, bowls, blankets, first-aid kit, cooking and eating utensils most folks are in pretty good shape. The key items like a tent, sleeping bags, ground pad, lanterns and a cook stove are the ones they are likely lacking. These items can be costly, but if a person shops around, they can gear up a family of four for under $300.

One of the key things is finding good gear you won't have to replace after just a few trips to the woods.

Family tents that allow campers to stand upright will cost $100 and up. Generally the more expensive the tent, the better it will stand up in the wind and to harsh weather conditions.

Dome tents by nature will withstand harsher weather than the cabin-type tents, because they don't have as high a profile and generally have more supports in the roof and walls.

Make sure to have a good rain cover, or throw a tarp over the tent and tie it down to give campers more protection from the elements.

Make sure not to scrimp too much in this area too small a tent makes it hard to move around in and get out of in the dark when the call of nature comes to the children.

Sleeping bags come in several shapes and sizes, from nylon mummy bags to rectangular flannel-lined bags. Lightweight nylon mummy bags are nice for backpacking, but can restrict your movement. The traditional sleeping bags, like the rectangular flannel-lined ones, are too heavy for backpacking, but most people sleep better in them.

A good two-season traditional sleeping bag will cost $20 to over $100 for a four-season bag. The lighter-weight mummy bags can run from $50 to over $300.

One other nice feature of the traditional sleeping bags is they zip together. This is a good way to keep the children warm. Always throw an extra blanket in the car before heading out for covering up the kids when the nights turn cold.

A good ground pad serves more than one purpose. First, it protects the camper from the hard ground. Second, and more importantly, it insulates the camper from the ground, keeping the sleeper warmer at night.

Ground pads range in price and size like any of the other gear. Ground pads cost from $5 to $100. It's nice to have some type of air pump to fill the mattress, so you don't have to blow until you're dizzy.

The big mattress pads are nice until they get holes in them. Because they are so large, to reduce weight they are made of thinner material. They generally won't last as long as the more traditional ground pads.

A good lantern can come in handy, but isn't a necessity. There are three basic types of lanterns propane, kerosene and battery-operated.

The type of fuel the camper's cook stove uses could determine the type of lantern they want.

Lanterns can run from $20 to over $60.

Nearly anything the +outdoors+ person desires can be found in the line of cook stoves, from one burner to four.

The low end of the stoves can cost as little as $37 for a double burner propane. Camp Chefs are at the top end of the market, costing around $250.

Regardless of the camping gear a person buys, in the end you get what you pay for. Before buying any gear, do some research so you know what you want the gear to do for you. Then ask lots of questions before you buy it.

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