By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
With winter definitely gone and summer not yet under way, this is an ideal time for local outdoor adventures of any scale. From hiking in the Smoky Mountains to camping out in your own backyard, there’s rarely a better time to be outside with enthusiasts of any age group or interest level than right now.
One of the most appealing aspects of camping in the South is you’re free to proceed with as little or as much gear as you prefer. Provided thunderstorms aren’t in the forecast, even camping out overnight without a tent or with only a pop-up blind or tarp shelter is certainly an option. As long as you’ve covered the essentials and have a contingency plan in mind, an overnight camping trip doesn’t have to involve a tremendous amount of gear.
The essentials begin, as with any construction, from the ground up.
A good sleeping bag, a ground pad and an actual pillow are the starting point for any overnight adventure and should be chosen with a requisite amount of forethought.
Sleeping bags are rated to suggested minimum temperatures. One rated to zero degrees will be much warmer than one rated to plus 30 degrees, but these are relative to the user and to the climate. Some users may prefer to err on the side of being too warm, while others might choose to take a lightweight sleeping bag into any situation and add blankets as necessary.
Whatever sort of shelter you do plan to use, you’ll definitely want to practice its assembly in advance. Even a shelter as simple as a pop-up hunting blind can be a trial to set up if your first attempt takes place in the dark at the end of a long day while impatient people look on and offer advice.
Here are a few more pointers and ideas for those new to camping, or new to camping with kids:
• As leader of the camp-out, your attitude will be critical. Everyone else will take their cue from you. Part of the camping experience, and sometimes all of the camping experience, is defined by how campers meet and deal with adversity, and at least 70 percent of that depends on a cheerful spirit exhibited by the leader.
Attitude, food, fun
• The other 30 percent of a camping trip’s success depends on having good stuff to eat, and there are lots of great ways to take care of this necessity. If anything, camping food may outrank every other necessity after drinking water. It may or may not rain or get cold, but you can count on everyone getting hungry. The maintenance of a good attitude on the part of the crew will hinge on the grub. Make sure you’ve provided stuff they actually like to eat. This isn’t the time to introduce them to wild dandelion salad as a staple food.
• No matter what their age, make sure everyone is involved in the planning process. Have the little folks pack some of their own stuff, and make sure they’re involved in the ongoing process of camp chores. Get a canteen so they can help haul water, bring along a folding shovel so they can help dig holes. Arm them with some kind of camera, whether a digital snappy or a single-use film deal, and encourage them to take pictures as the event unfolds. No matter how they’re framed or focused, pictures taken from a kid’s eye view will be some of the best memories you can have.