6/20/2013 — Whether you grew up camping with nothing but a tent, a sleeping bag and a rudimentary knowledge of how to build a fire or you’ve never camped at all, the Hippo has talked to experts about everything from camping with pets to the best campfire foods to help make your next outdoor overnight adventure a success.
In this camping guide, Jeff Mucciarone explains why tent camping is the only way to go for some, while camping in an RV offers a little more luxury in the great outdoors. Kelly Sennott found out how to make the most of cooking over a campfire. (Yep, s’mores are a staple, but consider popcorn as well.) She also talked to the pros about how to prepare for camping with pets, kids and those city folk who have never seen a night sky untainted by the glow of urban lights. Cory Francer got the latest on technology and whether devices like smartphones and laptops have a place in nature.
Plus, the Hippo compiled a list of state park campgrounds and the amenities they offer, so check out that handy graph. If you can’t deal with a pit toilet and no showers, this will help you quickly find out where not to go.
Don’t let summer pass you by without spending a night in the wilderness (or an RV park with a heated pool). Happy camping!
What is "real" camping?
Tent or RV, it’s about getting away from the real world
By Jeff Mucciarone
A few weeks ago, my wife was staring at a campground map on our laptop trying to figure out what campsite would be best for the two of us and our 4-year-old son.
“What about this one?” she asked. “It looks out of the way.”
Keep in mind that we were trying to make a decision based on a map that is not to scale and does not indicate which guests are likely to be carousing during “quiet hours.” We couldn’t be too close to other sites. We couldn’t be too close to bathrooms, but not too far away either. And certainly, we couldn’t be too close to any RV sites.
Why not, though? Having an RV doesn’t predispose people to that aforementioned carousing. Maybe it just feels weird to be “roughing it” while the fella in the next site over relaxes on a bed, while he watches the Red Sox. (Or maybe it’s jealousy.) At the heart of it, we’re both looking for a similar outdoor experience; some just want more flexibility and convenience as well.
It’s true, says Pam Jaynes, owner of Silver Lake Campground in Belmont, sometimes campers joke that camping in an RV or a camper isn’t “real camping.” But the reality is RV camping and tent camping just come down to different strokes for different folks, and well, yeah, money.
“It really depends on what you want,” Jaynes said. “It’s really going from one extreme to the other. With tent camping, you’re really pretty much roughing it. RVs, they’re so fully equipped now, with heat, AC, all the luxuries of home, a stove, a refrigerator.”
Lots of campgrounds have sites with water, electric and sewer hookups, along with cable television and Internet access.
“When you pull into a campsite with your trailer, you can have everything,” Jaynes said.
Some people don’t want everything. If tent camping is your idea of a good time, you’re probably drawn to the more rustic feel. You’ve got to set up a tent. You’ve got to make a fire, or use some kind of a camp stove to cook your food. You’ve got to sleep on the ground, and you’ve got to find a way to enjoy the experience, even if the weather doesn’t cooperate.
“It’s just being out in the woods, being next to a stream or a lake,” said Tara Blaney, park manager at Pawtuckaway State Park. “It’s always nice when you have some water nearby.”
“It just strikes a little bit more of a primal chord,” added Mark Beauchesne from the state Fish and Game Department.
There’s the element of bringing your own supplies: shelter, food, sleeping bag, means to cook. Beauchesne will sometimes intentionally plan on catching fish for meals while camping. If you don’t catch anything, you go hungry, he said.
Beauchesne has memories from remote camping on Lake Umbagog, which offers campsites accessible only by boat.
“Even as a kid, three boys about 12 years old, [the adults] just dropped us off,” he said. “You could just do your own thing. It was independence.”
One thing stands out about camping: “The sleep is unbeatable,” Beauchesne said. “You’ve spent the whole day outside. And that’s the beauty of camping, period. ... You might hear a few loon calls and then you’re out. I think it’s the sensory overload when you get outside in nature. ... It puts us in a relaxed state.”
Like Beauchesne, Blaney immediately thought of camping at Lake Umbagog when asked about her favorite camping memories.
“You’re on a primitive lake all by yourself, no cell phones,” Blaney said. “When I camp, I camp to get away from it all.”
Camping at a big campground like Pawtuckaway where it’s family-oriented, there can be a lot of kids and families. It can become like a neighborhood. And that’s great, Blaney said. For some people, that is getting away from it all.
Tent camping is also about making do. You might forget the eggs or the cooking oil or the utensils, but once you’re camping, just make do with what you’ve got. In that sense, it takes some pressure off, Beauchesne said. One time, camping with a buddy, Beauchesne was able to make it work with a single fork for several days — they’d forgotten utensils.
Yes, rain can put a damper on a camping trip. When it rains, Beauchesne sets up “tent city,” simply using tarps to create a dry area in a campsite, most likely over the picnic table.
“One of the cool things about camping is that it allows people to adapt to their circumstances,” Beauchesne said. “You learn not to sweat the small stuff. You’re going to remember the good times you had, not that you forgot the utensils.”
Beauchesne isn’t much for RV camping, but he has utilized a camper when hunting, particularly in cold weather. Spending the day outside, the camper was a good place to recharge the batteries, and to warm up, he said.
The comfort of home, sort of outside
With RVs, it’s all about comfort and convenience, said Ray Panzino of Cold Springs RV in Weare. Campers can sleep in a bed, inside, protected from the elements and bugs. Panzino likened it to staying in an apartment, versus a hotel room.
“It gives you a lot more creature comforts,” Panzino said. “They like the campground and the camping atmosphere, meeting different people from different places, but they also want the comforts of home, especially on a cruddy day, because you can get out of the elements.”
RVs are appealing to people who want the campground experience, but also to those who see the cost-effectiveness and the flexibility. They see how, over time, investing in an RV will save families money on vacations — instead of spending money on airfare and hotels for vacations year after year, Panzino said.
“It’s basically a vacation they can use over and over again,” Panzino said.
RVs can be expensive, particularly when compared to the equipment needed for tent camping. But they provide flexibility and mobility. Jaynes said she’ll see campers buy a relatively inexpensive pop-up trailer and then upgrade gradually over time. Panzino said people can get into an entry-level trailer for a couple thousand dollars.
“When you pull in with an RV, you’re already stocked with food, clothes, everything you need,” Jaynes said. “That’s why it’s so popular.”
Blaney gravitates toward tent camping, but she has driven cross country in a camper. She agreed RV camping can still be a relatively pure camping experience. You you can still cook over an open fire. You can still sit at the picnic table outside.
“You can still definitely get the feel of camping, but sometimes it just depends on the campsite itself,” Blaney said, adding sometimes RV sites are a little less rustic in design. “Some that are strictly RV sites, there isn’t a lot of nature there. It could be an open field with a concrete pad.”
At Pawtuckaway, RV sites don’t have utility hookups and they are still surrounded by trees and water. The majority of campers at the park are tent campers, Blaney said.
Some will park their RV at a campsite for the entire summer season. Jaynes said people can get tired of pulling it around, so sometimes it’s just easier to bring it up once, set it up, and then it will be ready to go whenever people want to go camping.
Panzino contests that RV camping is certainly still camping. It’s just that RV campers have some structure, convenience and shelter to fall back on.
“The experience isn’t different as far as that goes,” Panzino said. “It’s just what you have, when you need it.”
Norma Corry, a Gilford native, said her RV is a hybrid model with a hard shell top and a screened-in popup.
“You get a little of both worlds,” Corry said. “You go to bed at night, and the screens are open, you get the fresh air. It’s almost like being in a tent.”
But she has her own bathroom, a couch and a table indoors that provides a comfortable area to relax in poor weather. Corry said she’ll often choose campgrounds without utility hookups, as she’s still looking for a rustic feel. While she will tent camp occasionally, Corry said she appreciates the comfort of a bed, rather than a sleeping bag on the ground or an air mattress.
Corry’s favorite place to park the RV is at a small, family-owned campground in Bar Harbor, Maine. The campground overlooks the sound, providing a view of the sunrise. She can also hear the calls of loons at night.
“I just really love the outdoors,” Corry said. “It really brings you right back down to nature. It helps fulfill that need.”
“I think people camp for mostly the same reason, because it’s fun and they like to be outside and in a nice environment,” Blaney said. “Some just want to spend some more money and they don’t like sleeping on the ground.”
Find a way to get away
Hop in an RV or load up the family car with tents and sleeping bags; just get outside and relax. Camping remains an inexpensive way to enjoy the outdoors and to see interesting places.
“If you’re looking to recreate and have some vacation fun with the family, you can go to Walmart and gear up, and not spend a lot of money,” Blaney said, adding that campers can compound their savings by bringing in their own food and cooking it at the site.
Located an hour and a half from Boston, Pawtuckaway provides plenty of nature.
“You can go from an [urban] environment to bam, you’re on a lake with loons and bald eagles, and you didn’t drive five hours,” Blaney said.
The company you keep
How to accommodate every camping buddy
By Kelly Sennott
Packing for camping is hard. You don’t want to forget anything anything important (not having your tent or pop-up chairs could spell disaster), but on the other hand, you can’t bring everything. Similarly, the crowd you camp with will affect how you prep for the week- or week-long outing.
If you’re taking the dog (or cat, bird, bunny):
More campgrounds are catering to pets today, particularly dogs, according to Sylvia Leggett, owner of Roberts Knoll Campground in Alton. She regularly takes her golden retrievers along with her when she camps. She thinks that lots of pet owners, like her, enjoy camping while they travel because most hotels/motels don’t allow animals.
“My pets enjoy going wherever I go. They don’t like being left behind,” Leggett said.
When it comes to camping, though, many animals, particularly house pets, are hit or miss in the wild. She advises pet-owners to start slow.
“The first time you’re camping with a dog, make it a short trip,” she said.
It will likely take some time to ease them into it, as taking a pet camping is like taking a little kid camping. “You need to keep an eye on them. … Some pets you can leave alone for an hour or two, and they’ll be OK, but especially in an RV campground, taking off and leaving a dog [at the site] is not a good thing to do,” she said.
Though cats and dogs are especially popular camping buddies, Leggett said she would be wary of bringing certain pets camping.
“I’ve seen people camp with cats, dogs and birds, but I wouldn’t take any kind of exotic reptile camping,” Leggett said. “It’s not appropriate for a campground, especially if something were to get loose.”
Bringing them along on activities, such as hiking, is fine, as long as your pet is used to this kind of exertion.
“If that person can handle a four-hour hike, a dog probably can, too,” Leggett said.
On some trips like these, particularly longer hikes, Leggett says it’s a good idea to bring along water and snacks for dogs. (For this, she advises collapsable water dishes.)
Websites like dogfriendly.com, ucampnh.com and dogpark.com are helpful when deciding where to camp with a pet.
If you’re taking the kids:
Deb Wyman, a Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains troop leader, advises to start kids out on shorter trips.
Amy Bassett, spokesperson for the New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation, agrees. In her experience, she has found that kids get particularly excited about camping for the first time.
“For kids, it’s the adventure,” Bassett said. “They certainly have a perception of what camping is. It’s always a good idea to bring activities for them, like board games.”
Just as with pets, it’s important to look at what a campsite offers when you’re deciding where to stay with kids. Some sites, for instance, offer drive-in movies, kids’ activities, crafts and amenities like heated pools, hayrides and playgrounds.
Alicia Boyer, a regular at Friendly Beaver Campground New Boston, has found that campgrounds with those amenities are helpful for parents. You rarely have to worry about kids being bored.
Boyer began camping in New Boston at 13, and she’s been bringing her oldest daughter to the campground since infancy. Her kids — ages 16, 11 and 7 — all love spending their summers camping.
She says they’re a bit more hardcore than she is, though.
“My trailer is like my house. I have a TV in it, but my kids want a tent. They enjoy leaving their sleeping bags in there. They say that’s real camping,” she said.
Wyman says that camping is also attractive to kids because it allows them to travel inexpensively.
“Camping is an inexpensive way to travel. We’ve [she and her troop] camped in D.C. for a week for the past five years. We camped just outside of New York City for a week. They can see places that they couldn’t have afforded otherwise,” Wyman said.
If you’re taking someone new to camping:
Wyman also advises folks to start camping newcomers out small. Don’t make the first trip a week-long backpacking trip.
“Make it family camping or car camping,” Wyman said. “Have them feel that if they need to bring something, they can bring it. That eases a lot of first-timers’ minds, that they don’t have to be too far from this stuff. Then, they realize what they can get away without having.”
Bassett agrees. She feels that these people might also go for campgrounds that house convenience stores and public bathrooms.
“Most campgrounds have a camp store where you can get a flashlight or food,” Bassett said. Water, food, bug spray, sunblock, rain gear, warm clothes are all important things to remind new campers not to forget (especially as they’re often things experienced campers will forget). Firewood, on the other hand, can be purchased near or at the site you’re staying at. That way, you’ll know that it’s safe to burn.
New campers might even be taken aback at the amenities some new campgrounds house, said Todd Silva of the Cold Springs Camp Resort in Weare.
“We get new campers every weekend, and what surprises them is seeing a resort campground like the one we have. Everything they need is right here, from amenities to WiFi,” he said. “The pools are heated and the roads are paved. Once they park, there’s no reason to leave, as everything is here on site.”
Eggs, burgers, popcorn and s’more good ideas
By Kelly Sennott
There are a few things you can count on while camp cooking. For one, your food will require more preparation, more time and more creativity.
But the result, said Deb Wyman, a troop leader with the Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains, is a tastier meal.
“When you camp, you take more time for everything. It’s much more relaxed,” Wyman said.
Sure, you could try cooking everything in your RV, but Wyman said the real fun comes from seeing brownies roast in a handmade foil contraption, from seeing an omelette cook in a plastic bag. People often enjoy the process, she said, just as much as the eating.
What to bring: Wyman says you can really cook most anything outside, from fluffy cakes to filet mignon — but it’s important to bring the items you’ll need for your cooking. A pot/pan (or both), aluminum foil, hot-pot tongs/gloves (so you can lift/adjust pots and pans off a stove or fire) and silverware are generally good things to pack. The types of meals you’re planning will determine what these items are
What kinds of food to cook: This may depend on the type of outing you’re planning. The Boy Scouts say that winter menus should generally contain more fats and carbs, as your body burns these substances to help you keep warm. Summer meals, meanwhile, can be lighter. Carrots, apples and certain cheeses will last longer than most fresh foods, but usually, these fresh foods are best used in “car camping” or in shorter trips, anyway.
Where to keep your food: Lots of people will bring coolers. Most people will find that ice packs work just fine, but campers might also find it helpful to store coolers in a cold brook or river nearby. Wyman advises campers of all ages, in all areas, to be wary of where they store food overnight. Hang food in a tree so that bears won’t be able to reach, or store your cooler under a heavy water jug/or picnic table. Most importantly, never keep food in your tent. (Never!)
What to cook: The recipes are endless. Here are a few suggestions by Girl Scout alumni, troop leaders and affiliates.
• Eggs (or omelette) in a bag: Put eggs, cheese, vegetables, etc., into a small freezer bag. Remove all of the air. Put this bag into another bag. Again, remove the air. Place this bag into a pot of boiling water. (This will probably be over a portable stove or oven.) Removing the air is important, Wyman explained, because you don’t want your food to float to the top. Let sit until cooked.
• Brownies in a box oven: Box oven brownies are worth trying just for the pure magic of it all, Wyman said. There are a few different techniques in making a box oven (it’s worth a Google), but Wyman advises the “open top box oven.” These contraptions are made from empty cardboard boxes (12-packs and computer paper boxes work well), aluminum foil, sand and charcoal. Brownies, cookies and all sorts of cakes can be made using a box oven.
• Foil meals: These might also be called “zip packs.” It’s sort of like a personalized stir fry. These are best cooked directly on a fire’s coals (never directly in a flame — that will cause it to burn). Campers can throw everything in these foil packs, from chicken and vegetables to beef and potatoes. To avoid leakage, wrap each pack in two layers of tin foil. Wyman says to cook chicken for 20 minutes on one side, 15 on the other; hamburgers, 12 minutes one side, 10 minutes the other. If you’re going to use oil, Wyman advises using an oil spray to avoid drippage.
• Popcorn: Girl Scout affiliate Kathryn Moakler Goodman recommends using Jiffy Pop with a long set of tongs.
• When in doubt, cook it on a stick: Hot dogs, marshmallows, bratwurst, and even meat/veggies kabob medleys all work.
Nature vs. technology
By Cory Francer
As technology has rapidly improved and personal devices have become more portable, the traditional camping trip packing list has gone through some changes.
In addition to the tents, sleeping bags, campfire food and hiking boots, campers are bringing along smartphones and other devices to help them stay connected while getting away. Taking technology into the woods may seem counterproductive, but Joe DiPrima, owner of Cozy Pond Camping Resort in Webster, said most campers are only using their devices for the bare necessities.
DiPrima’s campground offers wireless Internet service within its boundaries, but he said as he’s walked the grounds, campers with smartphones are typically just using them to check their email or the weather, or to find nearby attractions and daytime activities.
“It’s not like they’re out there working on their computer or checking their phones all the time,” DiPrima said. “It’s not something they really need to have but something they want to have.”
At Cozy Pond, DiPrima said campers should not expect to be able to stream video or music on their devices. He said the campground does not have the necessary bandwidth for those more involved processes, and it ensures that Internet use is limited to the essentials.
Gregg Goldberg of Sandy Beach RV Resort in Contoocook also serves as the president of the New Hampshire Campground Association. He said technology usage at his campground is most popular among kids, and it’s mostly during downtime when they will send text messages or play video games.
Recently, he said, he’s seen groups of kids fishing at his campground and partaking in a group s’mores-making activity. Mostly, he said, families still want to preserve the rustic camping experience, but in addition to looking up weather updates and nearby activities, he said smartphones are a great way to communicate with other campers.
“When you see adults on smartphones, you see them on the social media end of it,” Goldberg said. “It’s a great way to talk about the experience.”
While many campgrounds are now providing Internet access and electrical hookups, there are still places to go to escape from technology completely. Colleen Mainville, a public affairs specialist for the White Mountain National Forest, said the campgrounds in the forest don’t have Internet access, and cell phone service can be difficult to find. Similarly, Amy Bassett, a public information and outreach specialist with the Department of Resources and Economic Development’s Division of Parks and Recreation, said New Hampshire’s state parks also do not offer WiFi.
Mainville said for many families, leaving the technology behind is the best way to foster a memorable experience.
“Our campgrounds are great for families with small children,” Mainville said. “It’s a different kind of experience. For my own family some of our greatest memories are of that rustic experience.”