car-camping-tip-4aDid you know that setting up camp is when most problems occur and tempers flare? Some simple steps can help.

A good rule of thumb, when you arrive at a campsite give yourself a breather, let the kids run around and unwind for twenty minutes. Use this time to identify where things are within your camp, and make some decisions about where and how to organize your supplies. Then include everyone with unloading the car and setting things up.

The goal is to create a situation where everyone has some personal ownership for the success of the camp. Involving everyone saves time so Mom and Dad do not get stuck with all the work (or get angry), and the kids know where the gear is located.

The Tent:


  • If your tent is new, set up the tent at least once before you go camping as a rehearsal. This action saves time and minimizes surprises.
  • Look for slopes and low spots on the ground. Slopes might not look like much from eye level but when you are trying to sleep a gentle slope can feel very steep. Place a ground cloth where you want your tent to be and lie down for a minute. How does the angle feel? Slopes sometimes go too low spots or depressions that can collect rain. Also, cold air moves to low spots. Is this where you want the tent to be?
  • A small pebble under the tent will feel like a boulder when you are trying to sleep. Do a thorough sweep of the ground where the tent will be placed and remove any twigs or small stones.
  • When placing your tent, check to see what is above you. Dead branches hanging above your tent can fall. If you can, move to a location where you are not directly under the branches.
  • Set your tent so the door is facing a direction that offers you privacy.
  • If your tent has tie-downs or other cordage consider where you might need to walk. You do not want to trip over the tie-downs at 3 o’clock in the morning on your way to the bathroom.
  • Bring a small hand-sized whiskbroom for cleaning out dirt and leaves that will be tracked inside your tent.
  • Keep the presence of dirt down with a small rug or mat outside the door of the tent; this also creates a place for removing and putting on shoes.

The Table:

  • Use a table covering; it is not just for appearance, it is also for sanitation and helps to keep food scraps off the ground that might attract unwanted visitors.
  • Does the table allow you to set up a stove at one end?
  • Can you have safe access to your food and equipment?
  • Look at trees surrounding the table. Can you use a tarp, rope or bungees to rig a rain/sunshade? Or, if you have a screen room, does the placement of the table allow you to maneuver and be at a safe distance from the fire?

Food Storage:

  • When you check in at the park, inquire about the campground’s food storage policy. Has the policy changed since you made your reservations? Are there any known problem animals in the area? Can the food be kept in the car, or must it be stored in an onsite food storage locker?
  • Food storage lockers can be made of wood or metal. Most wooden lockers are being transitioned to metal because of a longer lifespan. The downside of a metal locker is that they often can become oven-like when subjected to direct sun for long periods of time. Look for where the sun might be in relationship to your food locker at different times of the day. If the locker is in the shade in the morning will it also be in the shade in the afternoon?

Handy to Have Items:

  • Bring a large container to carry water, but make sure one person can carry it when full. You will want to have the water close by, at your table for drinking, cooking, washing dishes, etc.
  • Rather than one big trash bag, bring an extra quantity of small trash bags and toss the trash after each meal. Reduce the amount of trash by using the recycling bins at the park.
  • Most importantly, have the entire family (or those within a tent) agree to the location(s) of the critical items, like car keys, the first aid kit, and flashlights.

When setting up the campsite have everyone in your family help. It helps to lessen problems and ensures that everyone shares in responsibilities.

Next, let’s talk about food!