OK. This is not a post about becoming a camping champion with all the latest gear, or about becoming a weeks-long camping champion. This post is about becoming a camping family who can drop the cares of the work week on a dime, leap into the car and head out for some microadventuring on a whim! I am not going to lie to you– I used to think of camping/backpacking as something that you needed to Plan Ahead For. However, the past year has taught me that 1) Camping does not need to be Big Deal Outdoors and 2) even 24 hours of outdoor time can seem like a real getaway. This trip was just such a trip–we left our home around 1pm on Saturday and stopped in Oakland for lunch/beers on Sunday, but it felt like we really got away from it all. It made me rethink my “Oh-so-much-to-get-ready-for” attitude about camping, and if you are someone who likes camping but has previously considered it a huge chore to prepare for, I encourage you to rethink this perspective! It can be easy! Read on!
For many people, camping conjures up loads of packing and remembering All The Things; when faced with such a long list of tasks (particularly on a Friday night, and particularly when you have children), it’s easier to just lie on the couch and have an adult beverage instead of rallying for a weekend camping trip. However, it is completely possible to work on your last-minute packing skills AND enjoy your adult beverage AND rally for a night outdoors. Below, we present to you the Crash Course in Last-Minute Camping:
- Create an ease-of-packing system that works for you. We have almost all the cooking stuff in one big plastic bin that easily comes out from the garage and straight into the car (see picture). Keep other stuff (sleeping bags, tents, etc.) handy and near your bin. This is actually much less onerous than one would think. We are not very organized humans. No one here gets excited about the Container Store. Just get a big plastic bin. Put things in it. When you come home, wash things that need washing and put them back in the bin immediately.
- Make a short list of the food/cooking necessities that you would not leave in the garage but which are necessary for camping. (Coffee, for example, although the coffee making system should stay in the bin.) One key piece that we have not exactly dialed in yet (see #1, and us not being excessively organized humans)– find a regular place for containers for things like olive oil or milk/cream for coffee (if you are a human who so defiles their coffee, like one of the Bay Area Families Outside’s parents) so that you can easily find them. (Also, make sure that the coffee is ground beforehand. One of us may or may not have forgotten about this last year on a 3 day trip to Pinnacles. It was v. close to a tragedy.)
- Make an short list of clothes to pack. Emphasis on short. What are the absolute necessities for an overnight? How many changes of clothes do your kids really need? One important note– don’t skimp on your diaper packing, if your child(ren) are still in diapers. My parents took us on an overnight backpacking trip when my brother was 18 months old and he had an unfortunate situation with his stomach that involved going through ALL THE DIAPERS. It was rough times…
- Spend a little time figuring out some easy recipes that you can have over and over. Burritos are one of our favorites– canned beans, instant rice, a jar of salsa, tortillas and maybe some cheese, and we’re set. Also very easy/useful– pesto pasta. Breakfast can be instant oatmeal or even easier– bagels and cream cheese. We’re big foodies over here at Bay Area Families Outside, but all that goes out the window when camping. (Except for coffee and beer consumption. We do not skimp on those. Ever.) If you’re trying to really cut down on your planning, pick up sandwiches at the store.
Here’s what you want to be able to do– throw everything in the car with as little effort as possible. If you have lists that you use over and over again (make a doc on your computer that you can pull up/print out in an instant) then you eliminate much of the drain of packing. There are many lists available online– you can peruse them at will if you would like, but I find that many of them include WAY more than needed for a quick overnight. What are you REALLY going to be sad about if you leave behind? (Example- flashlight= very important. Can opener if you are having canned food for dinner= very important.) Again, making sure these things are in your big bin means that you lessen the chances of forgetting something you will really need.
Overall, the goal is just to get outside for the night. The Bay Area has SO many campgrounds within a 90 minute radius of almost any location, it’s incredible. We’ll be publishing a list of last-minute camping suggestions in an upcoming post, but we encourage you to do some googling and get out there!