Camping: Plan around your Families Wants and Needs

By Earl Taylor

When Moses headed into the wilderness, he was told to take just his staff and the bare necessities with him; God told him that He would provide. Moses ate manna, quail and had water gushing from a rock. Pretty good first camping experience if you ask me; all except for the fact that it lasted for 40 years. Moses was the first recorded camper; in the book of Exodus, it says, “Moses and the Israelites camped by the water near the twelve springs and the seventy palm trees.

We don’t camp that way anymore nor do we stay that long. There are fewer and fewer wilderness camping experiences in our fast paced world. Camping has evolved throughout the years from its humble beginnings. Camping has grown into a 700 billion dollar a year industry. It is now big business and urban America can’t wait until Friday to leave their cemented world behind and hit the road to the nearby campground.

However, there are a variety of levels of camping. If Moses was the first to go rugged, the today’s RV campers are the antithesis of the Moses approach. If Moses were leaving Egypt today, he would be leading a caravan of multi-sized RV’s that rival some homes. His forty years of struggle would have been reduced to finding enough high powered outlets and sewer hookups.

As a man, I can live without most things of comfort for a certain period. I can forgo showers and sheets. I can get by without desserts or other delicacies. I can eat from a can or a freeze-dry pouch. I don’t need to shave. I can eliminate my waste on or leaning against a tree. I am an easy keeper.

During a 2001 elk hunt in Colorado, we hiked into a wilderness area and set up our base camp; complete with two small dome tents, light sleeping pads, cold weather sleeping bags and a small propane cooking burner. We had no campfires; elk were within smelling distance. We filtered our water from a nearby stream. We drank only water and instant coffee. We ate instant oatmeal, freeze-dried entrees, and trail mix. There was nothing superfluous about our set-up. It snowed. It rained. It was sunny. And we shot two bull elk with our bows.

Could have I taken my wife and young kids on such a trip? Never in 1000 years. The five-mile hike into our campsite area would have taken all the fun out of the adventure. The cold and monotony would have left my family in tears. I loved it; they would have hated it.

In case you were wondering, most women think differently than men; especially when it comes to camping. When our children were young, and our budget was meager, my wife packed for our late summer and fall camping trips with the kids. We had a tent that I could stand up in and get dressed. There were mattresses and pillows. There was electric skillets, Bunn coffee pots, and there were meat and vegetables. Breakfasts had eggs and toast. We were living the life.

Today, it is rare to see a tent at a public camping area. RV’s and campers have replaced the simple tent. Camping is no longer a bare-bones operation; every comfort from home is transported to the local county park outside of town. Toys, trinkets, tools, and technology is the norm. And mom is very contented and dad has plenty of options to keep himself and the kids occupied.

City dwellers are looking for a wilderness experience without discomfort or pain; not having a 50 amp plug-in creates anxiety and a sense of deprivation; only one a/c unit can run of the feeble 30 amp breaker. Today’s campers want cable, they want access to shade and tables, and they want their wilderness experience to be without cold, heat or snow. They want total comfort away from home, and all that is completely fine.

However, many first time campers choose the wrong level of camping. Often, what starts out as a dream vacation, ends up being a nightmare for the entire family. What was visualized while at home, never becomes a reality once the campsite is set up. Camping is hard work. Most people under-estimate the time and the equipment needed to provide for a weekend at the state park.

I have set up our camp site next to others and wonder who packed for them. No cook stove, no lantern, no plates, no nothing but a cooler and a lawn chair and a pup tent. They seemed content at their level of camping. Those who prepare correctly, often have the packing of camping gear down to a science. Purchase plastic totes that will stay packed between outings. Tarps, lights, extension cords, cookery, and stoves are to be left packed and ready for the next outing. Having your camping gear packed year-a-round cuts down re-inventing the camping experience every time. Buy some garage sale utensil and cookery and leave them packed up for your camping trips.

According to Tanner Scheuermann, Operations Manager with the Boone County Conservation Board, which oversees Don Williams County Park and Swede Point, “We have seen an increase in demand for electrical hookups and overall usage of our camping sites the last couple of years. The demand is such that we are upgrading and even adding higher amp electrical pedestals. Rates for electrical service is still only $18 per night.” Scheuermann continues by stating, “Our county golf course has seen a decline in usage since 2002, but recently we have lowered the rates to make it more affordable for a family to golf together while they are camping nearby.”

Understanding the level of camping your family is willing to endure is the key. Knowing what the family will tolerate sets the course on how much money it will cost to provide your family with an outdoor weekend of fun. For those who need it all, it will cost you; $200-$500 a month camper payments are the norm. Multiply that out, and your wilderness vacation could cost you $2,400-$6,000 a year. Add gas, insurance, and storage and pretty soon what looked so attractive at the RV show in February begins to not pencil out financially.

I am cheap and pragmatic. I don’t want the hassle of owning an RV. I don’t want to clean it, store it, or worry about keeping the mice out of it. I don’t want to be forced to own a truck strong enough to pull my wilderness house around. For me, it is a tent, or it is a cabin. I could not enjoy myself camping in an RV, knowing how much it costs me.

But you are not me and your finances and family are different than mine. If it is your desire to spend time at the lake or in a park with your family, you might need to be willing to spend the dollars to keep the family comfortable and contented. Remember, if mama isn’t happy, no one is happy; so spend accordingly. If your family is young, then consider the amenities that the campground offers – is there safety and a nearby playground? If your family loves to navigate with bicycles, make sure there is trails and bike paths available. Remember, what is great for Dad, usually isn’t a good fit for the rest of the family. Good fishing for dad does not make it a good time for the rest of the family.

My advice to young families wanting to try their hand at camping would be to start slow. Don Williams, the county park 4 miles north of Ogden has three cabins for rent; the smaller two rent for $90 per night, and the larger one rents for $110 per night. The cabins are complete with beds, plates, cooking equipment and showers. I have rented a smaller KOA type of log cabin complete with just beds and a deck for around $40 per night while visiting other state parks in Iowa. This cabin camping allows you to test the waters as to how your family camps together without RV payments that will come due every month.

As a family, some of our favorite memories were made while tent camping. We cooked together, cleaned up the campsite together, and we played together at the beach or riding our bikes. Our evening campfires were full of s’mores and smoke and smiles. When our children are reminiscing about their childhood, they never mention any of the normal tourist attractions we saw; their favorite memories are a simple campsite, the food we tried to cook, and the time spent together as a family in a tent. Don’t make camping complicated, make it fun for everyone.
Now go and pack and enjoy.