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Camping for Beginners: How to Pack and Plan Like an Expert

camping
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Tips for your next camping trip, whether it’s 15-minutes away or halfway around the world.

Written by: Lisa Hummel, Sockwell Sales Rep and Rock Climbing Enthusiast

For as long as I can remember, camping has always been a restorative experience where I can truly relax and enjoy my surroundings. I can trace my camping experiences back to summer camp, growing up as a kid in Wisconsin. The experience left an enormous impact on me, and since then, I have always sought out beautiful places and like-minded people to share this hobby.

For the past 16 years, my camping trips have existed solely around rock climbing, taking me to incredible places around the world.  There’s no better way to explore new places than hiking to a scenic spot and sleeping under the stars. Whether it’s in the rural olive and grape country of Spain or 20 miles just outside of El Paso, TX in Hueco Tanks State Park, camping has always left me replete with contentment and enrichment.  

I always enjoy packing for a camping trip; preparing meals and organizing all the gear and gadgets, seeing how it will fit into my pack.  There are times to be efficient and whittle the pack list down for the sake of your shoulders, back and legs; but there are also times when bringing everything but the kitchen sink is better! 

Tip #1: It Pays to Prepare

Socks for hikingThe Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River Range near Lander, WY, is by far one of my most memorable trips.  The remoteness, stunning beauty and preparedness it took to gain access to the stellar rock climbing ticked all the tenets of backcountry hiking, camping and climbing for me.  In researching and preparing for the approach to the Cirque, there was a lot to consider. 

The hike into the Cirque, beginning at Big Sandy Trail Head, would be long and strenuous—18 miles out and back. We’d need to carry enough camping equipment, climbing gear and food for five days and two people.  Trekking poles, sturdy shoes, shoe-sole inserts and Sockwell Compression Socks were a no-brainer for the long hike in. 

Conveniently, I live at the base of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee, so hiking to the top and back—a six mile round trip trek—was a great way to train for this adventure. To train, we’d load our backpacks, walk out the front door and hike to Sunset Rock at the top of Lookout Mountain, get some climbing in (I can always make time for a climb), then hike back home to get comfortable with the gear. 

All the research, preparing and training paid off.  We successfully climbed the Northeast Face of Pingora with no hiccups, which was our main objective, along with a couple other routes in the Cirque of the Towers.  We made it in and out safely, exhausted but feeling very accomplished!  A burger and beer at the Lander Bar never tasted better!  Looking back at this trip, it feels like the culmination of years of experience and dedication to camping and climbing, a well-deserved check on the tick-list.

There is a plethora of websites to help prepare for any camping trip.  I use Mountain Project, as it is climbing focused, but a simple search can yield more than enough tid-bits to be informed about what you are getting into.  Don’t let the trip be your training, take some time to physically prepare for the weight you will shoulder and the hike you will endure, and you will have a much better experience.

Tip #2: Whittle it Down to the Essentials… or Don’t!

camping for beginnersSome trips are all about sticking to the essentials to keep up your energy on the trail, but others are just about enjoying your surroundings with good friends! Another favorite camping and climbing trip, which has become a tradition amongst my girlfriends, is our occasional pilgrimage to Ten Sleep Canyon, WY.  When the summer refuses to relent in the Southeast, Ten Sleep Canyon offers cooler temps, beautiful vistas and world-class sport climbing.  Since the camping is car-side, easy to access and free, it is encouraged to bring everything (plus the kitchen sink)!  Speaking quite literally, we set up a full kitchen with fresh veggies, canned goods and plenty of libations—coolers with ice and all! 

While climbing is still the main objective in Ten Sleep, this trip is much more laid back; sleeping in, drinking coffee for hours, lazing about camp until early afternoon, reading and stretching, and cooking extravagant meals (as far as camping meals go) are the normal routine.  A good book, or two, and a deck of cards are must-haves on these trips. If art is your thing, bring the palette and brushes! I think the main takeaway here is to find content in the people and scenery surrounding you rather than the technology. Take it all in, breathe deep, empty the mind and focus on here and now!

Tip #3: Great Gear Can Go a Long Way

what to bring campingI’ve worked in the outdoor industry for a long time, so I have a few favorite items that make it on just about every trip. The good news is, you can rent a lot of gear from your outdoor retailer, which is a great way to test out products and brands. Whether you’re renting or ready to take the leap and start camping more often this fall, here’s a short list of items worth checking out.

Trekking poles: If you plan to hike more than roughly five miles, trekking poles are your friend.  They help carry weight and maneuver efficiently on rough trails and steep terrain. 

The Trifecta: Feeling good on your feet is essential for a great trip. Trust me on this: don’t buy new shoes right before a big trip, take time to break them in! And the same rule applies with inserts. I prefer Aetrex brand inserts and Sockwell Compression Socks during any extended hike (and after while relaxing). This trifecta keeps my feet dry, comfortable and blister free.  I prefer a little cushion in my socks, so my go-to Sockwell socks are the Chevron or Damask. Looking good on the trail is a bonus!

Treat Yourself: Even when putting a lot of thought into packing light, make sure to treat yourself with one or more special accoutrements (and you’re hiking companion)!  The smallest things like a chocolate bar, six-pack of beer or hot cup of tea can really elevate your trip. You deserve a couple creature comforts out there.

When you’re whittling it down to the essentials, ‘Good To Go’ Meals are light-weight and some of the tastiest dehydrated meals that are also surprisingly filling! We like to bring hard-boiled eggs too, as they provide great protein in a pinch. 

Get Your Best Sleep: Rest is so important and a good sleeping bag and pad are also essential.  I use Big Agnes’s Q Core Insulated pad with the Roxy Ann 15 sleeping bag, it makes all the difference! I also love my Sockwell Plush Essential Comfort Socks for getting cozy on extra chilly nights.

Tip #4: Just Be

campingI’m serious. Really challenge yourself to be present and in the moment. Empty your thoughts and mind, and enjoy where you are!  Try to have no expectations and enjoy the whole experience, hiccups and all.

I’ve learned a lot over the years in the dirt, yet it is ultimately putting in your own time, trial and error, plus a little grit that allows any camper to have a great trip. Whether it is the first or fiftieth time out camping, there is always something to gain—an experience; a nugget of information, a breath of fresh air, a new and enlightening view.

There’s no right or wrong way to camp, but it never hurts to be prepared. Where are you camping this fall? Tag us in your camping pictures at @SockwellUSA.

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