Ah, the great outdoors!... Or maybe for you it’s just “the good outdoors,” or even “the tolerable outdoors.”
We get it. Through-hiking the Appalachian trail, starting a fire with just a stick and some conviction, foraging for your lunch – it’s not for everyone. That said, as many of us warily ease back into a semblance of regular life, summer vacations might look a little different this year. Rather than jetsetting to a bucket list international destination, it might make more sense – or simply be more comfortable – to stick closer to home.
If you’re an expert in all things outdoors, you don’t need any further guidance from us on how to make the most of your time out in the wilderness – or not-so-wilderness. So we’ll leave you Henry David Thoreau types with a quick plug: kencko smoothies make for great camping and hiking companions. (It’s organic produce that’s easy to carry, chock full of natural goodness, and won’t attract bugs!)
But for those of us who have only ever been glamping before, and perhaps found it a bit too rustic, this blog’s for you. While there are some seriously dedicated outdoor adventurers among us here at kencko, even they started out a little green when first navigating the natural world. And lucky for you, they’re willing to share some of their early gaffes in hopes other newbies won’t replicate them.
One thing I've learned the hard way is that blow-up mattresses are not meant for sharing. Not with a partner, and definitely not with a wriggly three-year-old. Why do they even make them in queen size? Maybe if you can find someone exactly the same weight and height as you, who spends the night completely motionless, you'll be ok - but if you're not one of a pair of identical twins with sleep paralysis, you're better off on the cold hard ground.
Also, don’t believe the Insta “van life” influencers’ propaganda: camping is not a spontaneous, sexy, free wheelin’ kind of activity. Do not under any circumstances decide to just throw that ol' tent in the trunk and hit the road. You need to drag it out of the garage at least a week before you plan to leave, and have a dress rehearsal in the yard on a sunny day. Put it up, count the tent pegs, vacuum for spiders, then allow last summer’s tent stench to dissipate for a good 8 hours. If you can get everything back into the bag after that, you’re allowed to go camping.
Oh, by the way, does anyone want to buy a queen-sized air mattress? VGC, hardly used.
I was 14 years old and camping with some friends in the tropical rainforest of Itacaré, in the Brazilian state of Bahia. It was our first time camping without our parents around. (Okay, they were actually in a house 100m away but it still felt like a big deal!)
We spent about half an hour looking for a good spot. As you can imagine, it’s difficult in the middle of a forest to find a good place to pitch a tent, away from bushes that might hold surprises (🐍!). Eventually we found what we thought was the perfect spot by the banks of a river on some nice, flat, sandy ground.
We got set up then went to explore a little. When we got back and went inside to rest, within a couple of minutes we realized we forgot to zip up the net and the whole thing was swarming with mosquitos. So there’s your first tip, never forget to close the freaking net!
After a few minutes of struggling with the mosquitos, we found out that our parents had placed repellent in one of our backpacks, just in case. (Thanks, Mom!) And finally we were able to sleep.
Such a beautiful night: the sound of water, the glow of the moon, everything perfect, right? Wrong! We discovered that camping so close to a river isn't a very good idea if you don't know the river dynamics and how the tide works! We woke up with the tent full of water and had to rush out as high tide rolled in. If we’d stayed asleep a bit longer the night could have turned into a tragedy! So tip number two, never camp by a river or sea if you don't know how the tide works.
I have a Volkswagen van and before I became a mom, me and my husband would use it to camp all over Portugal, mainly near hard-to-get-to beaches.
The van’s about 40 years old, so most of my cautionary camping stories have to do with it breaking down. (My first bit of advice is if you have an old car and auto repair isn’t your cup of tea, choose a travel companion who’s a good mechanic!)
But my main story is about a different experience. Most of our beach camping was remote, meaning it was difficult to access, no internet, no cell signal, and few if any other people. Great for a relaxing day at the beach, but not without its issues. For instance, one holiday we found a beach somewhere in the south of Portugal. The ambience was great – just a few vans were parked with small groups of surfers so we decided to stay there. We parked the van and put our beach chairs close to the sea to watch people surfing while we sunbathed and took in the fresh air. At one point, I headed back to the van to grab my book, but during this short journey I felt something strange at my foot. When I looked down I saw a snake!
My movements must have scared her because she bit my foot. I started screaming for help but my husband didn’t hear me. When he finally came looking for me, he took me to the van and asked for help from the handful of people around.
They were all very kind and advised us to call an ambulance. But nobody had cell reception. The closest hospital was 30 miles away, so we hopped in the van, hoping it would run, and knowing it’s only capable of going 50 mph on an open road.
Everything turned out okay. I only had to spend an hour at the hospital to make sure I wouldn’t have a reaction to the bite, but it was still a terrifying experience. So my other piece of advice is to make sure you aren’t too far from cell coverage. And a simple emergency kit is also very useful!
A few summers ago, my friend qualified for a 100-mile footrace and asked me to run with him for about 17 miles of the race, providing moral support. I was to tell stupid jokes and keep his mind off the fact that he’d been running for 7 hours, and would be running for at least 7 more.
I have a background running track and figured I could handle it – surely one can’t run too quickly while covering 100 miles?
On race day, I waited for him around 60 miles into the course, and was overjoyed to see him trotting in among the top-10 competitors. He was having an incredible day! Nevertheless, my pal was weary, and I – fresh as a daisy – sauntered alongside him onto the trail.
“I feel terrible,” he said. Understandable!. So I launched into a monologue about god-knows-what to distract him. It seemed to work. He relaxed, and as he took frequent sips of water and pretended to care about what I was saying, he found some missing pep in his step
The midday sun bore down on us – my friend’s pale complexion blotted with sunscreen, my just-as-pale complexion not – as we neared the checkpoint where I’d peel off. And as my friend spoke, I noticed I couldn’t really understand him too well.
“Paul, you haven’t had any water this whole time have you?” I half-heard him say. I shook my head, slowed to a walk, and feeling like a sun-dried raisin, waved him ahead. I walked the remaining few miles to the aid station, arriving half an hour after the athlete I was responsible for. Most people laughed at me and tossed me some water – apparently I made quite the impression as maybe the first pacer in race history to get dropped by their runner.
The morals of the story are twofold: if it’s hot, drink water, and if it’s sunny, lather on some sunscreen.
I am not a camping person in the slightest, but all of my friends who are into it have some real cautionary tales (many of them bear-related) that I felt I needed to share. I know if I ever camp again I’ll take these lessons to heart – I think you’ll understand why!
Lesson #1: Check your propane tanks! My friend Sam went on her first solo camping trip recently. Besides being scared of every noise and thing that went bump in the night (which she soon realized was really just her moving around) she also had quite an unfortunate dining experience.
She brought a box of mac and cheese to prepare for dinner, along with two cans of propane. One turned out to be empty and the other was pretty much shot as well, so all she could do was get the water a little bit warm then let the noodles soak for a bit. The culinary outcome was partially cooked pasta with not-fully dissolved cheese mix – and it was NASTY 🥴. So if you want a yummy, well-cooked meal, you might want to check your tanks before hitting the road!
Lesson #2: Unless you want to get up close and personal with a bear, put your food away! (Okay this is probably a more important lesson… I’d rather eat a gross meal than ward off a bear, personally!) On another camping trip, this time with friends, Sam went to some mountains where there are often bear sightings. She really wanted to see one (from a distance!)
On their last night out, Sam and friends were the only people left at the campsite. They were eating dinner and getting hyped up telling bear stories, when Sam heard the tiniest crack behind her. She whirled around but didn’t see anything – but once she let her eyes adjust, she saw two beady eyes staring back at her from 10 feet away. Everyone bolted to action, waving their flashlights around and honking on the car horn until the bear got scared and trotted off. It turns out wanting to spot a bear from a safe distance, and having one sneak up on you at night are totally different things!
Then my friend Charli had a somehow even more terrifying bear-based encounter camping during a dry summer in Colorado. A nearby camper had their tent slashed – probably because it was a bit desperate for food, and there had been food left in the tent. Thankfully no one was in the tent at the time. A few nights later, when Charli was sleeping (and even though she didn’t have any food near her) the bear came back, slashed her tent, STUCK ITS HEAD INSIDE, sniffed around, and when it didn’t smell anything non-human, left. Luckily (I guess?) it was a black bear, and unlike grizzly bears, they don’t eat people! Do you hear that? That’s the call of the wild… or nearest state park… or hiking trail… or maybe even just a tent-sized patch of grass in your friend’s backyard! Learn from our mistakes, get out there, and try to steer clear of snakes and bears.