How to be a happy camper: The wide-eyed beginner’s survival guide
So! You have decided to go camping. Maybe you fell into a rabbit hole that affects the wilderness (#campinglife #wanderlust #homeiswhereyouparkit) and thought you’d look pretty cute on the front of a canoe too.
Or maybe you have a year’s worth of vacation days and anything is better than spending them in your home without a balcony. Even in the forest, the yips of the coyotes tremble – or are they wolves ?! – as your only soundtrack that splits a single granola bar among five people, as this camp, it turns out, doesn’t have its own restaurant.
And that’s the thing about innocent novice camping: it’s daunting, and for any romantic option – naming constellations while lying on a flannel blanket under dancing fireflies – there are about a hundred horrific unknowns. What if you can’t start a fire? How does the washroom situation work? Where do you actually store ?!
Relax, says Bruce Kirkby, an adventure ambassador for MEC, the supplier of all things outdoors. “Don’t be afraid,” says the wilderness guide, who grew up in Etobicoke and now lives in the BC mountains. And yet: “You can always call the time, get in the car and drive home.”
Read on for his expert advice to the growing legions – seriously, bookings at Ontario Parks are up nearly 100 percent year over year – for nervous campers visiting for the first time.
Where to camp (and how to book)
Get in early. “For your first trip, I would advise against anything that is not a car campsite,” says Kirkby, referring to a campsite that you can drive your car to. The catch is that booking a campsite in 2021 is a competitive sport, especially if you go to the most popular parks (those that are near big cities like Algonquin and Sandbanks).
This year, bookings at Parks Canada locations – such as Point Pelee, Ontario – will open in late April for travel in May. Meanwhile, the Ontario Parks websites are continuously taking bookings and open at exactly 7:00 a.m. five months in advance. This means that you will almost certainly be late to spend Canada Day at Bon Echo, for example. But! Keep an eye out for last minute cancellations or consider a smaller or more secluded park.
Keep it short – and close. “A night or two is a great first time,” recommends Kirkby. “The goal of your first trip is not to make it miserable.” Maybe save the 21 day backcountry hike after you’ve practiced a little? He also recommends going somewhere within a two or three hour drive and canceling if the forecast predicts heavy rain. “That shouldn’t be an emergency,” he says.
Avoid the tent if you can. Tent construction faces divorce and job loss when it comes to life’s biggest stressors. (Anecdotal, that is.) Avoid the tears and go straight to the options for “Comfort Camping”.
This Parks Canada initiative has “covered structures” in locations across the country. Recent setups include Ôasis pods that resemble small cocoons, some built in the middle of forest canopies or with views of water. So far, you can book them in Ontario at the Trent-Severn Waterway National Historic Site.
There are also oTENTiks, the preassembled love child between a hut and a tent, and the MicrOcube, a kind of square bunkie that is a little over 100 square meters (not yet in Ontario). They’re not entirely glamping, but they put up a sweaty, structurally dubious tent every day.
What if you go the tent route? “Try everything in your yard first,” says Kirkby. Whether you bought one or borrowed one from a friend, pitch your tent at least once before you leave. The same goes for using your camping stove. “It’s one less thing in the mix when the situation is a little more uncertain.”
How to survive
Dress for the beetles (and the weather). Sure, mosquitos are annoying, but has a black fly ever bitten you in the neck? Edward Cullen has nothing to do with these voracious bloodsuckers. To avoid the worst of the mistakes, Kirkby recommends camping outside of the “hellish” high season for insects, which in Ontario runs from June to July.
Avoid the 99 percent DEET spray (a less intense concentration should be sufficient) and opt for long clothes and a splash of off! or other aerosolized insect sprays. “Wear socks in pants and a loose cotton shirt with a ball cap and a headscarf around your neck. The more you cover up, the fewer insects will get in, ”he says. While you’re at it, throw in a warm layer for cooler nights.
Safe for creation for your website. “Wild animals are a lot more afraid of you than they are,” says Kirkby, who has spent a lot of time in bear sanctuary. If you’re not in the backcountry, you’re more likely to encounter raccoons and mice than grizzlies or mountain lions (though be sure to respect park rules if you’re in an area where they’re a problem).
“Food is the main thing,” says Kirkby when it comes to avoiding encountering a raccoon scratching your tent door in the middle of the night. “The less you are open around your campsite, the less animals are attracted to it.” Seal everything in plastic containers in your car, tidy up the grills after cooking, and – I will not repeat – do not store any food in your tent.
Don’t worry about the washroom situation. “Don’t be afraid of the Kaibo,” laughs Kirkby, using Northern Ontario slang as an outhouse. “The modern facilities in parks will exceed your expectations.” Most campsites have toilets and showers nearby, which are cleaned regularly.
If you are camping somewhere without primitive comfort, Kirkby recommends digging a shallow hole to run your business (away from fresh water and at least 100 yards from the location) and then burning your toilet paper in the fire when you are done. Avoid washing in lakes and rivers (and use biodegradable soap if necessary) and use wet wipes if necessary.
How to thrive
Let the nature and valet parking entertain you. Worried about boredom? Do not do it. “We’re used to programming our lives, but the nature of nature is that if you take care it will deliver little things,” says Kirkby. “Sit down and watch the sunset or listen to an idiot call. Boil bacon over a fire and smell this smoke. It only speaks to something in us. “
Provincial and National Park Services also often have programs (this year, if COVID guidelines allow), e.g. For example, a nocturnal howling circle to make wolves howl back, or a geologist pointing out local rock formations. Explore the hiking trails nearby and make room for chance.
The Star understands travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic. But like you, we dream of traveling again and we publish this story with future trips in mind.