Camping for newbies

My husband and I have finally decided to take the kids camping.

We haven't been camping since before my oldest, who is 7, was born. Before that, we only camped once, so we're still newbies. We do have a tent and some long metal sticks for roasting marshmallows, which is all the equipment we need for camping in our backyard. Backyard camping would be just fine with me, but the rest of my family wants the full experience: hiking beautiful outdoor spaces, cooking over an open fire, sleeping under the stars, etc.

Fortunately, there are people who write books packed with everything the novice camper needs in order to venture farther than his own yard. I found books that offer suggestions on where to camp, how to camp, how to stay alive while camping, and even how to tell a good campfire story.

"Moon Oregon Camping: The Complete Guide to Tent and RV Camping," by Tom Stienstra, is a great resource. It lists a variety of campsites, from easy-access spots to secluded, mountain areas. The book includes driving directions to each campground, fee information, reservation requirements and regional maps. Stienstra knows camping and is a two-time Outdoor Writer of the Year winner with the Outdoor Writers Association of America. His book offers clear summaries of each campground's special features, facilities and nearby recreation. He also has loads of tips on camping gear, safety and camping with kids.

Since I'm not a detail person, I also wanted to find a book on planning the whole camping event. "Foghorn Outdoors: Camper's Companion," by Rick Greenspan and Hal Kahn, was perfect. It not only suggested camping necessities, safety tips, and camping websites, it also offered some food packing advice and tasty-sounding recipes such as tandoori trout. Best of all, it's a funny, easy-to-read guide with sections on stargazing, fishing and equipment. It even explains how to lie in a hammock without rolling out, and has tear-out sheets for checklists. Reading this book made me wish the authors were coming along with us. They'd keep us laughing when the tent collapsed and they apparently can make a gourmet meal out of just about anything.

Although my idea of camping is a hotel with a forest view, I love to read about surviving in the woods. I gobble up true stories of hikers and campers who somehow end up lost or fall into a ravine and survive by their wits and the bit of know-how they gleaned from reading a survival book. "How to Stay Alive in the Woods: A Complete Guide to Food, Shelter, and Self-Preservation That Makes Starvation in the Wilderness Next to Impossible" is the type of survival book that such savvy campers have read. Originally written in 1956, this sturdy book offers tips on finding food, staying warm, orientating yourself and keeping safe. Though there are parts that seem a bit outdated, such as the section on available medical supplies, it is still a good read. Now I know that poplar, red cedar, elm and willow are good for starting friction fires (though matches are still king) and how to make a fish trap out of sticks.

With books helping us decide where to camp, what to take, and how to stay alive, all we need are some good campfire stories to thrill the kids before we tuck into our sleeping bags. "Campfire Stories, Vol. 1: Things That Go Bump in the Night," by William Forgey, is great for kids. Adults may prefer stories with a bit more edge, but for kids ages 5-10, Forgey offers some mildly suspenseful tales that feature rats, ghosts, vampires and, oh joy, cannibals. The best thing about the book is that it comes with storytelling tips for campfire novices.

I'm actually looking forward to our first family camping trip. I'm confident that whatever happens it will be fun, or at least we will remember it that way. Besides, it is hard not to have fun when you are equipped with good books, eager kids, and lots of marshmallows.

Angela Howe-Decker is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at

Share This Story