Setting up camp for an extended stay:
Part One: Tent Camping
Park the vehicle off the campsite briefly and decide where to place the tents. Move the table around if you need to and set the kids to picking up rocks, pinecones and sticks from the site. If fires are allowed, toss the sticks and cones into the fire pit for now.
Back the car into the site and unload the tent stuff onto the picnic table.
Lay out the ground cloth and set up the tent, being sure to take into account the way the door faces and any hook-ups to other tents you need to make.
When the tent is up and secured tight, tuck any of the ground cloth that might be sticking out up under the tent bottom. This keeps the water from running under the tent if it rains. Lay out your tent rug in front of the door, one just inside the door and one adult and child(ren) combo go in the tent shoeless while the other adult child(ren) combo hands in bedding and clothing. Once the tent is set up and cozy, tuck a flashlight into each tent pocket, leave it and do not return until bedtime.
Forbid any children coming and going in the tent-they will track in dirt and leaves and you get to sleep on them. Plus, any normal child will be overcome with the desire to tumble and roll in the bedding, making a mess in no time flat. Try to resist the same temptation yourself. As the adult, you must set a good example.
After the sleeping area comes the kitchen area. Set up a screen tent if you have one. If not, then lay out the stove, fuel, utensils and food. Remember if you are camping in bear country, you will have to store all of this in your trunk at night, as well as any soaps and shampoos. I have found using the end of a picnic table is the best place to set up to cook. If you have a second table you brought from home, make an L shape for greater efficiency, placing your stove on the more stable unit.
The next item is comfort-set up your folding chairs around the fire pit (or central area if there is no pit) and unload the car to empty. Set up the lanterns, your hammock and anything else you need to be comfy. Some people string up tarps, I like to set up the clothesline first thing.
In the trunk for the week, place:
Swim Gear: suits, towels, sunscreen, floats, water toys, underwater camera, umbrella, water shoes, hats
Nature Gear: nets, bug box, underwater viewer, bug tweezers (the kind with the little viewing chamber instead of pincers), notebook, colored pencils, guides, magnifying glass, binoculars
Lounge/picnic Gear: stadium chairs or large cloth (Neat Sheets or a 'blanket' tarp work well)
Part Two: Camping in Primitive
If you are backpacking in, then this is not the place to look for info, but if you are driving to a primitive area to camp, keep reading.
A primitive site has no water and no electricity. It may have a pit toilet-or even a flush toilet, but usually no showers. The sites are usually widely spaced and you can often have the whole place to yourself.
The first item of business is setting up the sleeping area. After the tent is up and secured, set up the kitchen. 90% of primitive sites will not have a table, so I bought my own folding table. For a stationary campsite, a comfortable place to cook and eat makes all the difference-especially with kids along.
In primitive camping a few things will be different about the cooking area. First, you will need a place to store water for cleaning and you will need a grey water hole to dump scraps and dirty water into. To make a grey water hole, cut out a piece of sod and dig down a couple feet, keeping the dirt close to the hole. You can pour your cooled wash water (use only biodegradable soap-or even better-no soap) and cooking water in this hole. When you leave, fill the hole back in and replace the sod.
For bathing you can pack a solar shower and use that, make your own, or go without. Don't bathe in waterfalls, lakes or streams using even biodegradable soap. It will upset the pH levels and can kill plants and animals that call the area home. If you have long hair wear it in braids or get a nursing scrub cap that totally covers your ponytai.
The toilet must be attended to. If there is a toilet in the campground, then you are all set-always remember to bring a roll of toilet paper from home. If there is not one-you have a few options. The cheapest being to dig your own latrine using a larger-scale grey water hole described above. The alternative to that is to bring along a portable toilet from home. You can even buy a little tent JUST for the potty! They are very nice these days, just change out the liner and add some stuff to keep the smell at bay-why it's almost like you have your cat along! Just remember, you must take ALL your trash out with you.
How to pee in the woods-a
Locate your spot and make sure you are off the trail. One of the longest-remaining images blazed in my brain happened when I was backpacking in Montana and rounded the curve to see a 75 year old woman's white wrinkly rump RIGHT THERE and being the general self-destructive idiot that I am, I gaped, giving my brain plenty of time to register the view fully.
Now that you are where you can't
be gaped at, unzip, pull your pants and undies to your knees-this is the trick,
so repeat it-TO YOUR KNEES. Now spread your feet, squat and be amazed as you
totally miss your pants AND your feet! If you are feeble and wimpy and need
help, you can press your back against a tree for support, just look out for
stuff like bugs and poison ivy.
Make an extra effort to have tissue with you as girl's have very delicate hinies. If you must use nature, use grass as leaves of most any tree can cause irritation.
A few other considerations:
Do not nail into trees for any reason.
Don't hang your lantern against a tree, always use the table or a lantern hanger. You can buy one for very little, it has a chain that goes around a tree and a hanger about 8-10 inches long that props against the tree, keeping the heat of the lantern away from the living bark.
Keep your noise to a minimum. Don't listen to your radio any longer than it takes to get the local weather.
Keep an eye to security-if someone moves in that you are not comfortable with, leave. It's better to move camp or go home early than have your experience ruined or you be uncomfortable. You are the adult, it's your job to check in with your gut on things like that. With security in mind, look for primitive areas with regular ranger patrol. Most state parks will enforce quiet time and have checks through the night, even in the primitive area.
Don't let your kids run wild and teach them campsite boundaries-never walk through another person's site.
Keep your valuables in your car and don't use a hide-a-key particularly at trailhead parking. I have heard rangers tell about people who lurk at popular trailheads, hidden, and watch for people who hide their keys, then just go help themselves.
Don't bring along anything you can't live without. The camera can be replaced, even with photos still on it, at worst it's an annoyance and very inconvenient. But the laptop with all your previous photos and personal files would be a major loss, not to mention a breach of security. If you have to be connected, consider a second laptop just for travel so you can dump photos and check e-mail and that's about all maybe have a few games installed. You can pick up a functional computer for under $300, even one with a dvd player. That is a lot of money, but consider if someone could get access to your banking info or your children's photos, your home address. Your personal notes and files and so on. It would be a devastating loss and suddenly $300 is pretty cheap for some peace of mind.
If you must have your own computer with you, consider buying a storage system for sensitive or important files you can pull off and leave at home, burn all your photos to cd before you go and put passwords on your computer at start-up.
The same thing for your in-car navigation. Be sure you set the pass code, because if it is stolen, someone could go anywhere you have ever entered an address for.
*off the nagging soapbox of
The main thing on any trip is to just have fun. Get there early enough to set up in the daylight, get a list of things to do around the campground and local area, plan an activity a day, but be flexible. You may spend the whole week in the tent out of the rain or sitting on the same stretch of lake beach watching your kids build one castle after another punctuated with dips in the cool water and lots of 'Watch THIS' paired with frantic leg waving above the water, who knows what under the water and dripping wet triumphant self-exclamations of how much better that one was. And you clap, mostly in relief, thinking an alligator may have had their head for a second there. Was that a flip? A handstand? Nature is full of mysteries!
You can vacation alone when you are old, enjoy your kids while they want you to see everything they do.