That's the short story, anyway, a very short story of what amounted to a three-week endeavor. We didn't go camping for three weeks, oh no, and we didn't exactly go off any beaten paths. What we did do was learn things. We also bought things. And there was a hefty pile of cleaning, packing, and using things.
First, we decided we wanted to go camping. Easy enough, right? Not for us. We knew it was going to be expensive to acquire our camping gear, partly because of our time constraint--wanting to go this year--and partly because we wanted to buy everything new. Oh, I know camping stuff is supposed to be pre-worn, pre-used, purchased at garage sales, and otherwise handed down. We considered that plan, we really did. When the time came to buy, however, we decided to buy things new to ensure durability and longevity. We knew we'd want to go camping more than once, and we knew we wanted options that could carry into our home life (for power outages, for backyard camping with kids, for whatever arises). The need for "new" didn't mean the need to overspend, however, so three weeks of HEAVY research and cost-benefit analysis ensued. We consulted family and friends, experienced campers, and used our own intuition. Here is a very short list of a few items that made our trip memorable:
Tent: Coleman Evanston Screened 6-person (four, comfortably) $119.99
The price on this has already jumped, so we feel like we got a huge score here. The tent will be plenty big for us as our family (eventually) grows, or if we want to go with other people and only take one tent. The vestibule is wonderful for sleeping "outside" for a couple people, or it is a great place to get out of the rain, take off shoes, and then go into the tent. The footprint, at 10' x 14' is rather large and made getting a site a bit more difficult, but we are still very satisfied with this tent.
Sleeping bags: Coleman Green Valley Cool Weather $32.72
Supposedly these will keep us warm if it is freezing, but the sleeping bags kept us quite toasty through the late summer nights. These are classic sleeping bags, nothing ultra lightweight or fancy. They were sort of a pain to roll up and secure, but practice might make that easier.
Cooler: Igloo MaxCold 70 $47.99
We needed a big cooler, you know, for keeping big things cold. I froze two gallon-sized blocks of ice solid before we left, and they probably would have kept everything cool in the cooler for five days easy. We did pre-chill the cooler by leaving some sacrificial ice in it overnight before we left (great way to clean out the icky old ice cubes in the freezer, right?). All of the items we put in it were also pre-chilled or frozen as well. If the cooler had been in a cooler area in camp, we probably could have gone a whole week with ice left over.
Dinnerware: GSI Outdoors Deluxe Infinity 4-person Set $49.99
For as easily scratched as I know these plates will be (we use paper plates on top of them), the bowls held up fantastically. Our favorite part is definitely the insulated mugs and snap-on lids. The colors are attractive, and the bag for storage was useful. We had HOT tea in the mornings that stayed HOT for a long time.
Tea Kettle: GSI Outdoors 32oz $20.33
Pretty much the most-used and abused item we took on our trip. We had to boil water for every meal, even if it was only for cleaning up. We used the kettle over the fire and on our Weber Baby-Q grill, and it worked wonderfully. We had to learn where to put it near the flames, and the coated handle might melt off over time (sort of okay since it will still work exactly the same), but we successfully boiled water every day. I scrubbed it with a brush when we got home to get some of the soot off from the campfire, but the blackening sort of adds to the charm. And it really can hold 32 ounces of water, perfect for two Mountain House meals, two big cups of tea, or a quick sponge bath. A good pot holder also came in handy with this kettle, so put that on your list if you buy this.
Chuck box! I also spent a little extra to make a chuck box. While that might be lavish to hardcore campers, I am not a hardcore camper. I am organized, thrifty, and crafty, and my version was a cool $20 that kept everything tidy and clean for our trip. Money well spent! You can see other types like mine on YouTube here and here.
I got many, many more items at Target, Bi-Mart, Fred Meyer, Sportsman's Warehouse, and online. Our initial investment was pretty steep, but we can literally be ready to go camping with two hours of notice next time. Just need the destination, a tank of gas, and groceries.
Finally, last week, we actually got to go camping. We went to Trout Creek Campground in Linn County, Oregon. The campground is in the Willamette National Forest, arguably a temperate rainforest for much of the year. We had assumed that since we were camping in late August, we wouldn't get any rain, but we thankfully had planned ahead just in case. The thunderstorm that rolled over dumped just enough rain to get everything wet, but that's about it. We enjoyed two relatively nice days of hiking, reading, and roasting marshmallows and Starburst candies over the campfire. A mix of homemade food, campfire-cooked food, and Mountain House meals kept us full. The campground had potable water, but we only used that for cleaning and drank our own bottled water instead. We stayed dry and cozy in our tent, and our sleeping bags were more than warm enough. However, our sleeping pads were completely underwhelming and will be promptly replaced by almost any alternative. Two nights of terrible sleep later, and we were ready for home. Oh, and the vault toilets, while actually very clean and not scary at all, sort of got old quickly. When ya gotta go, they're great, but there's something about a flush that I really missed. We had originally planned to stay for a third night, but our backs were hurting, and we missed our kitties.
I have uploaded pictures to my Picasa Web Album here.