camping map

There’s no better way to capitalize on the welcome return of fall weather than through camping. Thanks to the advent of light weight, affordable gear, it is a hobby completely open to interpretation and discovery, one each participant can define exactly as far as they want to go.

Camping holds a happy place in the daydreaming imagination of every outdoor enthusiast. Whether you picture yourself hiking high along the continental divide, walking through a wooded pass among the Blue Ridge Mountains, sleeping somewhere back of beyond along the Appalachian Trail, cupping your hands over a fire on an Alaskan plateau, resting comfortably among the sea oats and sand dunes on the Carolina coast or anywhere else, it’s an enjoyment of nature to its fullest. Camping can serve as a key logistical part of a greater adventure, but camping strictly for camping’s sake sets so many otherwise burdensome restrictions free, it’s well worth a look on its own.

While you won’t be able to car camp your way into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, doing so at any of Mississippi’s state parks or other public lands is an ideal way to get at least out of earshot of the background rumble of our bustling everydays. In addition to state parks, there is great camping handily available along the Natchez Trace nearby at Davis Lake and other national forest locations, as well as on land overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers along the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, at Grenada, Enid and Sardis Lakes and many more. You can begin your exploration of where to go by perusing state parks at mdwfp.com, and the scope of opportunities only grows wider from there.

At every store aimed at outfitting the outdoors, camping gear pours forth in wondrous variety from a bottomless cornucopia of options but, at this time of moderate weather, virtually every piece of it can be considered optional. Instead, begin your exploration by deciding what you want to do, then equip yourself with just what you’re wiling to carry or haul and nothing more. What follows are a few categories for consideration.

Sleep tight

If you’re spending the night, you’ll want to equip yourself with something to sleep in, on or under. If you want a tent, it’s not necessary to buy heirloom-quality equipment to start out. Easily-assembled tents have grown surprisingly affordable over the years. Tents, especially those to be used in the South, can be thoroughly effective at a very affordable price. They might not do in Alaska, but they’ll be perfect at Tishomingo State Park.

I do recommend buying a tent rated for twice as many people as you plan for it to hold. That provides a sufficient margin of elbow room without becoming ridiculously bulky.

Modern tents are supplied with poles strung together with elastic shock cord, and it’s pretty simple to figure out which of the tent’s sleeves and clips are meant for which poles, provided one does so with ample daylight and no particular rush involved. One or two trial assemblies in the front yard are enough to get the hang of it. Do make sure all zippered doors and windows are closed before assembling. That will ensure they’ll not be stretched out of shape and staked down in such a way they won’t close once the tent’s up.

Sleeping bags, no matter what their price range, are rated by minimum suggested temperatures. A zero degree sleeping bag will be much warmer than a bag rated to 50 degrees. I recommend buying a lightweight bag and adding an insulating ground pad and a blanket or two. That way you can easily adjust how warm you are. Unless you’re sleeping atop ice or snow, any ground pad will provide a great deal of insulation between your back and the ground. Trying to sleep in a zero degree bag on a 50 degree night is very unlikely to be comfortable, even with the bag unzipped.

If your pack or kit can possibly accommodate a traditional bed pillow, I highly recommend bringing one along. Sleeping well is a comfort that cancels out a great many other discomforts, and having a good pillow is a shortcut you’ll thank yourself for later.

Eat well

Plan your meals thoroughly in advance, and make sure you’ll have everything you need along to see them through. A great many cooking and meal preparation steps can be knocked out in advance in the comfort and convenience of your own kitchen. Eggs destined to be fried or scrambled can be cracked and carried in any type of box or pitcher whose lid can be secured. Any ground meat intended for use in something else can be browned in advance at home. It’s easy to put together spaghetti with meat sauce or a good stew if the meat’s already been browned and the vegetables already peeled and chopped or sliced. Instead of packing a loaf of bread, mustard, deli meat and cheese in separate parcels, make up a loaf’s worth of sandwiches in your kitchen, then put the sandwiches into the newly-emptied bread sack for transport. These steps save considerable hassle once you’re on the scene.

If you like coffee, treat yourself by making sure you’ll be able to prepare a few hot cups every morning. Camping stoves that burn propane are inexpensive and handy. A Coleman stove is a great solution for cooking, as is charcoal. If space is a consideration, bringing along an entire grill isn’t necessary. If you have the means to make a fire, the metal cooking grate portion of a grill and some means of suspending the grate above the fire and level, you have what you need to grill or to heat pots or pans for cooking as well.

Stay warm, dry

One feature of fall weather in the South is the daily likelihood of a pop-up rain shower, so you will want to bring along a poncho or rain suit. If the weather suddenly turns cold and breezy, a rain suit worn as an outer shell is surprisingly insulating, trapping body heat in the pocket of air created among layers of clothing that separate suit from skin.

The advice to dress in layers has become a cliche’ for a reason: it’s right. In addition to equipping yourself to adjust how warm your are very precisely, having multiple thin layers allows for handy changes of clothes. It also means if you’re caught in a downpour away from your rain gear, you’ll have ample dry clothes to change into back at the tent or car.

Mild weather hypothermia is a legitimate concern, and having plenty of thin layers of lightweight clothing is the best way to make sure it’s a problem that never comes up.

Include everyone

If you’ll be introducing youngsters to the fun of camping, it’s important to remind yourself to do so at every step along the way. They enjoy camping for the same reasons you do, and having an active hand in each step of the planning is part of that enjoyment for them as well. The feeling of confirmed self reliance is a great joy at any age, and it’s never too early to help kids fall in love with the outdoors.

Let them help select what foods you’ll have along, what hikes or activities you plan to do, where you’ll choose to set up camp and more.

Make sure each child has his or her own flashlight, water bottle and favorite snacks. For safety’s sake, make sure each child has a whistle or some method of attracting attention should they get turned around or separated on a hike, near camp or anywhere else.

Have the little folks pack some of their own stuff, and make sure they’re involved in the ongoing process of camp chores. Get a canteen so they can help haul water, bring along a folding shovel so they can help dig holes. Arm them with some kind of camera, whether a digital snappy or a single-use film disposable, and encourage them to take pictures as the event unfolds. You’ll both enjoy and treasure these images later on, and it’ll make them that much more enthusiastic about going again.

Creature comforts

There’s no end of gadgets and gizmos geared toward the camping life, but the comforts you’ll find most welcome generally identify themselves through experience. Some of those include a ChapStick, a few dry chemical-style hand warmers and a small folding chair for sitting around camp or by the fire.

For chilly days, having an insulated neck gaiter that can be pulled up to cover your cheeks and ears while stopping the breeze from going down your collar is a real treat.

Staying hydrated is not only important for safety and health, it’s a big key to simply enjoying the adventure as well. Drink plenty of water all along the way, make sure everyone else does the same, and you’ll ensure a comfortable experience all around.

Kevin Tate is a freelance writer. Email kevinmtate@gmail.com.

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