Escape to the outdoors, but follow these tips before you go!
Nature! All that fresh air! Trees and clouds and vistas in every direction! Why, the entire month of June is dedicated to it as Great Outdoors Month!
With five more days to celebrate, plus the Fourth of July coming right up — and on a Friday, which means a glorious three-day weekend! — there can only be one thing to do: go camping.
Yes, the joy that is sleeping outside can best be relished in these all-too-brief summer months, when the food to eat is s’mores and the thing to do is watch glowing amber sparks dance from the campfire and into the dusky, star-spattered sky.
Here, we present Get Out! Tips for Camping:
Don’t die. Those wonderfully vigilant folks at the Centers for Disease Control just want you to stay alive while camping (cdc.gov/family/camping) and thus advise:
■ Keeping food safe. Pack it in tight, waterproof containers or bags and keep those containers in an insulated cooler. And, as you would at home, wash your hands before touching food, cook it to a non-botulism temperature and chill leftovers. Also, save the bears from themselves and keep your food out of their sight.
■ Avoiding wild animals. Not only might they bite and perhaps maul you to death or give you rabies, but they also can be carriers of plague and hantavirus. No, just leave them be, in the manner of being a good house guest. Also, if bringing pets camping, keep them on a leash; otherwise, the bears thank you for a lovely amuse-bouche.
■ Not poisoning yourself to death with carbon monoxide. Never use heaters, gas stoves, lanterns or charcoal grills inside a tent or camper. Also, a charcoal grill inside a tent? What the heck?! That’s a recipe for a sati pyre! Don’t set yourself on fire.
■ Combatting bugs that bite. Sheesh, mosquitoes can give you West Nile and ticks can give you Lyme disease. They’re a peril. Therefore, generously apply insect repellent that contains at least 20 percent or more DEET to exposed skin. Also, insect repellent that contains permethrin can, when applied to clothes, repel ticks. Do daily tick checks and consider it a bonding experience with others, wear light-colored and long-sleeved shirts and long pants, especially at dawn and dusk.
■ Neither freezing nor roasting to death. Bring adequate clothing and protection for cold nights and adequate hydrating and shade for hot days. Drink plenty of alcohol-free and sugar-free fluids, dress in light-colored, loose layers during the day and bundle up at night.
■ Wearing sunscreen. Always. Without exception. If the sun is shining, the skin should be protected with an SPF of at least 30, reapplied often.
■ Getting vaccinated, because outside is wonderful but also dirty. Consult with your doctor, of course, but vaccinations to consider before going camping may include meningitis, hepatitis A, tetanus and whooping cough.
■ Being prepared. Check the weather before you leave and pack accordingly. Let people know where you’re going. Have a map and a GPS or compass. Bring adequate food, water, weather protection, first aid supplies and anything else that will prevent you perishing in the great outdoors.
The U.S. Forest Service also has your back. Its tips for outdoor safety are at fs.fed.us/recreation/safety/safety.shtml.
Don’t burn anything down. A campfire is one of life’s greatest pleasures, but is a serious threat in the hands of inattentive dodos. Don’t be one. The National Fire Protection Association advises (firewise.org) these simple steps:
■ Use an existing fire pit if available, but if not, choose a spot wisely. It should be at least 15 feet from tents, shrubs or other flammable materials. Don’t build a fire if conditions are windy or especially dry.
■ If you’re creating your own fire pit, choose a spot that’s downwind from tents and gear, that has no branches or limbs hanging over it and that is protected from wind gusts. Clear a 10-foot diameter circle around the fire pit and rim it with rocks.
■ Build the fire wisely, using the tinder-kindling-fuel method, and never presume that bigger is better where campfires are concerned. Big is irresponsible and dangerous, while small can be hot and wonderful and cook your hot dogs to perfection.
■ Extinguish the fire completely before leaving the campsite. Let it burn down to embers if time allows, then pour water on all the embers, not just the red ones. If necessary, stir it with a shovel to make sure all the embers are extinguished.
Find the perfect spot. Yes, the more adventurous might enjoy backcountry and dispersed camping — but be sure to check with the proper authorities to learn the rules and regulations for the areas where you’d like to camp — but the easiest weekend camping is done at established camp sites.
While popular sites can fill up months in advance, who knows? You still might get lucky for the Fourth of July weekend. Try these resources for campsite information and reservation:
■ recreation.gov, for campsites on federal land.
■ blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/gjfo.html, for campsites managed by the Grand Junction BLM field office.
■ fs.usda.gov/gmug, for campsites in the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests, managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
■ nps.gov, for information about campsites in national parks.
■ cpw.state.co.us/buyapply/Pages/Reservations.aspx, for campsites in Colorado state parks.
Consider what to bring. Everyone is going to present you with a different list of what to bring, and only you can know what is essential for your own comfort at that of your camping companions. But at least consider bringing:
■ A ground cover or tarp
■ A sleeping bag
■ Enough food
■ Fuel for a fire
■ Waterproof matches
■ Lots of water
■ Flashlights or lanterns
■ A map, compass and/or portable GPS
■ A first-aid kit
■ Rain gear
■ Playing cards, games or other entertainment
■ Camp chairs
■ A can opener
■ A multi-purpose Leatherman type of tool
■ Biodegradable soap
Need more advice? Go to coleman.com/checklists/tent-camping-checklist or rei.com/learn/expert-advice/ten-essentials.html.
Finally, in order of best to worst, here are the most essential camping foods:
■ S’mores, that celestial combination of graham crackers, Hershey chocolate bars and marshmallows either toasted golden brown or lit on fire.
■ Hot dogs. Cooked until they get those little black bubbles. Placed in a white bun. Topped with mustard. Amen.
■ Banana boats, that delectable concoction wrapped in foil and cooked in the white-hot embers of a campfire. Some delightful banana boat ingredients include mini-marshmallows, chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, caramels, butterscotch chips, coconut and chopped nuts.
■ Trail mix, because it’s easy to eat and doesn’t require cooking. However, it must include M&Ms, otherwise it’s worthless.
■ Pancakes, which OK, aren’t always the easiest to cook over a fire without burning, but few things in this entire world taste better than pancakes eaten in the great outdoors.
■ Anything cooked in a Dutch oven, from stew to pineapple upside-down cake. Everything’s good in a Dutch oven.
■ Spam, because if ever there’s a time to eat it, it’s on a camping trip when everything tastes good.
■ Foil dinners. You know the ones, involving sliced potatoes and hamburger and carrots or corn. These aren’t farther up the list because they can be a little fickle — it’s too easy for the potatoes to remain crispy while the hamburger cooks black. Still, when cooked to perfection in the fire’s embers, they are delicious.
■ Cornbread, which must be cooked in a skillet over the fire and generally ends up a flat slab of Sahara-dry sadness.
■ Fish, but only because it’s difficult to eat something you just clubbed dead and gutted, if you’re of a certain disposition.
■ Anything requiring a recipe. Please. You’re camping. This is no time for ingredients, it’s time for fingers dipped directly into the peanut butter!