We did our first camping trip of the fall! Sadly, it rained for two whole days. As in we only saw the sun for maybe an hour. We knew what we were getting into when the weather predicted downpours all week, but we signed up for our campsite and committed to our romp with the outdoors. If we’re going to camp, it might as well be muddy and nasty!
We learned some important lessons during our trip. It turns out that camping is hard. Especially in bad weather. We hope these tips will help other aspiring campers that are intimidated by the wet stuff. If we can survive in the rain, so can you!
1. Prepare for the elements
The forecast was just not in our favor, so we scrambled together as many wet-weather necessities as we could. Waterproof boots, rain jackets, tarps, and plastic bags (ziplocs, grocery bags, etc.) were clutch for keeping us dry. If possible, use equipment designed to withstand rain and wind. Get a footprint and tarp for your tent, and look for waterproof sleeping bags that can dry quickly. You’ll thank us when the torrential rainstorm hits!
Make sure there is a dry place to store your gear. We used our car to store anything we didn’t need right away, and kept everything else stuffed in our daypacks. Compression sacks and dry bags can also make room for storage and separate wet clothes and supplies.
Our makeshift rain shelter saved the day, and it was surprisingly easy to set up. Never underestimate the power of a $10 tarp and a bag of bungee cords! You can never have too much rope, so bring a ton of it so you can hoist your tarp to any tree anywhere. If we hadn’t made this shelter, we would have been stuck in our tent all weekend. No one wants that.
2. Don’t overpack
We were a little too liberal with the amount of gear we brought. The forecast spooked us into bringing extra clothing, outerwear, towels, and shoes in case we got soaked. Luckily we made such a boss rain shelter that we managed to stay dry and didn’t need any of it!
We brought a duffel bag for our spare clothes, but it took up way too much room in our tent and we ended up leaving it in our car. The clothes we really needed fit in our packs. We could have saved space by just leaving our duplicate items at home. Next time we will plan our clothing based on how much can fit in our packs and whether it can be re-used or air dried. No need for three extra t-shirts if the trip is only two nights!
3. Research parks and trails
We’re still learning the ins-and-outs of camping in our region, so our campground selection was the result of Googling and picking at random. We ended up in a family campground at a local state park that mostly caters to families camping in RVs. There was access to water and bathrooms, which made our soggy weekend a little more comfortable. The only downside was smelling our neighbor’s pancake breakfast every morning!
Pick a campground based on the activities you want to do on your trip. Seems obvious, but it can be easily overlooked! If you want to be secluded from people, don’t pick a campground with densely packed campsites. If you’re bringing a large group, make sure the site has enough space for multiple tents and supplies. Does your ideal camping trip involve multi-hour hikes? Choose a site close to your hiking route so you aren’t hiking another 5+ miles back to your campground.
Many websites and apps have trail information for hundreds of state and national parks around the U.S. We used AllTrails to research the trails in our park, which told us the difficulty of each trail and gave tips from other hikers. Unfortunately the weather limited the amount of hiking we could do, but we made a bucket list of trails to explore next time.
4. Pick supplies wisely
Even when car camping, there’s a limited amount of supplies you can feasibly bring to your campsite. Choose wisely. Prioritize multi-purpose items that are compact and versatile. We brought a roll of trash bags so we could line our daypacks for extra protection, store wet gear, collect our trash, and fashion some ponchos in a pinch. Our food was stored in ziploc bags that we re-used throughout the weekend, which also helped keep supplies dry.
Speaking of food, don’t bring more than you need! There’s nothing worse than bringing a bunch of hot dogs or lunch meat only to have it spoil before the end of your trip. Limit the amount of perishables, especially if you’ll be exposed to the elements. It’s easier and cheaper to bring meals that are simple to prepare, like oatmeal or soup. We snacked on trail mix, beef jerky, and dried fruit, which usually kept us full between breakfast and dinner. Don’t forget to bring tea or coffee! It’s the tastiest way to stay warm and alert.
It’s much easier to bring a full size camp stove when you don’t have to hike to your campground. We liked the convenience of a two-burner stove so we could boil water and cook simultaneously, but it’s certainly not essential. We plan to get a compact backpacking camp stove that we can throw in our packs with a propane canister. Much smaller and simpler.
5. Get that campfire going! (or not…)
The state park we visited restricts use of outside firewood, so we arrived to our campsite with only fire starter and lighter fluid. We knew getting a campfire started in the rain would be a chore, but we held out hope! Thankfully the ranger on duty gave us newspaper and kindling when we purchase our firewood, so we ended up with everything we needed for a roaring fire.
Unfortunately, we only got one fire successfully lit. The poor thing lasted fifteen minutes before the rain picked up again. Everything was so wet that there was no way to get a good one started. So we went fire-less, despite other campers’ success in lighting their own fires nearby. If we’d brought a Duraflame log, we maybe could have hacked the system, as well. We could only stare longingly at their s’mores 🙁
The lesson here? Sometimes plans just don’t come through. That’s part of the experience! Even though we couldn’t huddle around a campfire, we still had plenty of fun snug in our (blessedly dry) tent. Camping is camping. Don’t let the rain get you down!
Camping Trip Rating: ☔️/10
We made a goal to get outdoors as much as possible this fall. We’re glad that our camping trip was a success in spite of mother nature’s plans. The fresh air, lush forest, and deer sightings are what we’re chasing, not a picture-perfect camping experience. If anything, we’ve gotten the rough stuff out of the way. Now camping will be easy-peasy!
~ Ms. RW