Time to air out that old sleeping bag! Camping is everything this summer — it’s inexpensive, it happens outdoors, and it’s all about social distancing. It’s basically you+family+woods. The recent North American Camping Report from KOA (Kampgrounds of America Inc.) revealed that 32 percent of people who have not camped before expressed a desire to try it this year. Across the board, 46 percent of the travelers surveyed by KOA consider camping to be the safest type of travel. Medical experts cited by NPR, CNN, and the Wall Street Journal, among others, have deemed camping a lower-risk summer activity if you do it mindfully.
“There is a natural ability to social distance in campgrounds, with ample space between campsites, plus RVs and cabins that are self-contained units,” says Toby O’Rourke, president and CEO of KOA. Guests bring their own possessions and prepare their own food. We’d suggest bringing your own soap, disinfectants, paper towels and toilet paper, too; the less stuff you touch, anywhere, the better. Contactless check-in also boosts the safety factor, says Caleb Hartung, CEO of Campspot (www.campspot.com), an online booking portal for RV parks, family campgrounds, and glamping resorts.
Bathhouses are a key consideration for tent campers, so campground owners are taking extra precautions to keep them clean and sanitized, O’Rourke says. Still, these shared spaces can get crowded, so keep that mask on, and wait until the restroom is empty before using it if you can.
So, you’ve whittled some S’mores sticks and re-familiarized yourself with ghost stories (and the lyrics to “Kumbaya.”) What else can you do to make sure your 2020 camping trip is memorable for all of the right reasons? Here’s what the experts say.
Choose your style
“A rustic tent site in a dark sky region with no Internet access may be your cup of tea, or perhaps a canvas glamping tent with a kitchenette and a queen bed on a lake is more your style. There’s no one right way to camp,” says Hartung. Choose the type of lodging that suits you best.
If this is your first time camping, avoid remote wilderness areas and consider a cabin, says Dan Yates, founder of Pitchup.com, (www.pitchup.com) the world’s largest outdoor accommodation booking platform. Some private campgrounds, including KOA properties, offer basic cabins for rent. Commercial campgrounds (as opposed to parks and wilderness areas) are a good choice for Nervous Nellies because they are staffed with folks who can help answer questions. They also operate camp stores stocked with necessities, in case you forget something.
“The camping community is incredibly welcoming and friendly, so never hesitate to ask for help,” if you need assistance with your RV, tent set-up, or even your campfire, O’Rourke says. (From six-plus feet away, and wearing a mask, of course.)
It’s fun to be spontaneous, but that won’t work this summer. “With capacity reduced and a surge of interest in camping, book ahead,” Yates says. Plus, state parks and commercial campgrounds opened later than ever this year, so the camping season is compressed. Online booking is the way to go; you can find out what campgrounds and campsites are available on your preferred dates in an instant, plus scan for amenities and even cleaning protocols on sites like Pitchup.com.
Camp close to home
Some states are still urging out-of-state visitors to quarantine upon arrival, a good reason to stick to your home state. And there’s this: if the weather punks out and you want to want to bail on your campout, you’ll be happy you didn’t make a long drive! If you’re a never-ever camper, you’ll be surprised at the number of state park campgrounds and camping resorts in our neck of the woods, even close to the city. For example, Hingham’s Wompatuck State Park (www.mass.gov.) is just 19 miles from Boston but it’s a gorgeous, 3,526-acre green space, with woodlands, streams, and a reservoir. More than 250 campsites are available in a section of the park that’s set back from the day-use area.
Give your gear a trial run
Shake out the sleeping bags (or de-spider them, as our kids would say) and test the zippers, inflate air mattresses to confirm they work, and try setting up your tent if you have the space. This will help you avoid potential embarrassment later, says Dan Yates. On one of his trips, “it took three times longer than expected to get to our camping site, and it was pitch dark when we got there,” he recounts. “We put up a six-person tent right out of the package, car headlights blazing, as the other campers watched with increasing annoyance. This is not an experience I want to repeat!” Also, a trial run will let you know if anything major is missing, like tent stakes or poles, always a possibility if you’ve borrowed your gear.
Get the kids involved
Camping with small fry? Download a campground map and give them a say in picking the campsite, choosing a hiking trail, or figuring out what would be fun to cook on the campfire. The more involved they are at the outset, the more invested they’ll be in the trip. With kids, we’d definitely choose a camping area with things to do, like swimming, biking, and hiking trails. Just steer clear of contact sports with other campers.
Give yourself some space
Set up your campsite as far away as possible from nearby occupied sites. It will boost your comfort level, and — Covid-19 notwithstanding — who wants to hear a stranger snore all night?
Packing basics (plus a few extras that will make all the difference)
Tent? Check. Sleeping bags and pads: check. Lantern: check. Insect repellent: Check. Food and drinks packed in a cooler with ice: Check. A couple of pots and pans, dishes, and cutlery: Check. Biodegradable detergent, a dishcloth, and towel: Check. Water bottles for all: Check. Marshmallow roasting sticks: But of course.
Experienced campers bring along a few other things to make life easier in the woods, like headlamps (much easier to keep track of than flashlights), and waterproof matches (everybody forgets the matches). A small rug or mat for the vestibule is handy; you’ll leave your shoes on this so you don’t track debris into your tent or tear its fabric. And “don’t underestimate the necessity of a tarp between the ground and your tent, along with your tent’s rain cover, to keep moisture from building up inside your tent,” says KOA’s O’Rourke. Tents typically come with a separate rain fly that needs to be attached to the tent. (If you don’t do this, you’ll be tempting the rain gods. Trust us on this.) Also, “an extra tarp and rope can be used as a sunshade for areas where you’ll be cooking, eating, or relaxing,” O’Rourke adds. Extra clothing is also a dandy idea, just in case it gets colder or wetter than expected — this is New England, after all. Of course, you’ll want to pack hand sanitizer and a disinfectant for wiping down picnic tables, faucets, and the like. Don’t pack firewood (so you don’t transport critters); buy it at the campground, a nearby store, or from a local roadside vendor.
Think about stretching the season
With the resurgence in camping and a shortened season, snagging a campsite may be difficult this summer. If you get shut out, consider pushing your trip into autumn. The weather in much of the region is still lovely then, and most campgrounds stay open into October. Yeah, you may have to bundle up a bit more after dark, but there’s nothing like a toasty fire on a chilly night.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright are co-authors of Frommer’s “The Unofficial Guide to the Best RV & Tent Campgrounds: The Northeast.”
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org