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Tips for a Happy Camper

Before you stake your tent in the ground, outdoor experts give you tips on how to be a happy and healthy camper.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Ahh, the peace and tranquility of camping in the great outdoors. There's nothing like it. The fresh air, the sounds of nature, the clean water, and sleeping under a blanket of stars.

Oh, wait -- don't forget the bugs, the risk of getting lost in thousands of acres of uninhabited forest, hungry bears, and an unexpected downpour. On second thought, maybe camping isn't quite the summer vacation you had in mind.

Before you pull up your tent stakes and tight roll your sleeping bag, give Mother Nature another chance. Camping really can be a vacation like no other -- in a good way. Outdoor experts give WebMD tips on how to be a happy and healthy camper, starting with a good game plan.

Plan Ahead

"One of the most important parts of camping is to plan ahead and prepare," says Bruce Jurgens, a spokesman for Recreation Equipment, Inc., or REI.

There's more to camping than packing your car full of gear and hitting the road. Savvy campers need to consider a host of scenarios, and plan accordingly. One of the first things you should think about is your destination of choice.

"Pick a location for your camping trip that your group agrees on," says Jurgens. "Everyone should feel comfortable and excited about the destination you've picked for your trip."

Like you do when you are learning any new skill, take lessons from the experts, too.

"What's in your head is just as important as what's in your pack," says Rob Burbank, director of public affairs for the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). "Learn about outdoor skills, and know how to do things like read a map and compass. Learn how to read the weather. And it's really worthwhile to take basic courses in backcountry navigation, wilderness, first aid -- anything that will help you have a safer and more enjoyable time."

Another very important camping tip is to never set off on your adventure without leaving a trail of bread crumbs behind -- that is, make sure that someone who is not going on the camping trip knows where you are going and when you should return, so if rescuers need to come find you, they know where to look.

"Always leave someone with information on who you are going camping with, where you are going, and when you should be back," says Jurgens. "You probably won't need to enlist their help, but it's a must when you are preparing to camp."

Camping Must-Haves

Now that you know how to prepare for a camping trip, it's time to start packing. Jurgens, an REI store manager in Reading, Mass., recommends these camping must-haves that should be the first things you stuff in your backpack.

  • Map, in a watertight case or bag
  • Compass
  • Rain and wind parka, and extra clothing for unexpected weather
  • Extra food and water -- at least 2 quarts
  • A first aid kit
  • Flashlight, maybe in the form of a headlamp to keep your hands free
  • Matches, also in a watertight case or bag
  • Fire starter, such as paper or lint in case you need help getting a fire going
  • Sun protection, such as sunglasses and sunscreen
  • Whistle, for the "just in case" scenario
  • Pocketknife
  • Toilet paper and a bag to carry it out
  • A space blanket in case of an emergency to retain body heat

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