We camp a lot; it’s usually our vacation of choice. Gabriel frequently has stretches of 5 days on, 3 days off work, so it’s easy to skedaddle off to the wilderness. Nobody cares if the children yell and get dirty in the woods. They can forage and explore in the good clean air. The dog can go along. There are no deadlines or ticket lines or even restroom lines. We eat simple food cooked on sticks and drink tea all day long. And it’s quite affordable.
There is a thing though… you women know what I am going to say. It’s the packing up of such a lot of small details that can sabotage the fun. If you have ever planned to have canned baked beans and forgotten the can opener, you know how frustrating it can be to hack open a tin with a sharp rock. Or maybe there were some leftovers at lunch that someone will surely eat later, but you have nowhere bug-safe to put them. It could even be the unbearable clouds of gnats that swarm when you stir the grasses on your walk, made even more miserable because there is no bug spray. Remembering everything– that is the key to a fun camping trip. I have 36 white hairs that attest to the truth of that statement.
A few years ago I noticed that I was making the same lists over and over, every time we decided to take off to a state park for a few days. I even noticed a smoky hue on my roll of aluminum foil and some campish looking stains on dishcloths. I decided to get smart and store all the essentials in a Rubbermaid tote that can easily be grabbed and loaded into the Suburban. It has made camping about 73% easier and spared me a further 49 white hairs. (Those are hanging onto their brown pigment until more of my children hit adolescence.)
I shelled out the money for really sturdy totes with no regrets. We have a cargo rack that attaches to our hitch, and these totes have seen mud, sleet, snow and blazing sun, not to mention thousands of miles. My husband uses one for sleeping mats, tarps, tie-down straps, first aid kit, etc. Another one is assigned to non-perishable foods and packed fresh every time. The totes are stored in a shed and ready to go. While mine is labelled “kitchen camp stuff,” it would be more accurate to say “herein lies the balance between delight and despair.”
Here’s the list of what I consider essentials:
- small bottle of soap
- scrubber and old dishtowels and cloths
- clothesline and pins to hang up wet towels
- plastic tablecloth with clips for picnic table corners
- plastic cutting mats (for butchering freshly caught fish)
- sharp knives and scissors
- cooking utensils, including can opener
- plastic tumblers and bowls
- real spoons and forks (1 set per person… Goodwill sells them cheaply)
- mugs (we hate drinking out of styrofoam around the campfire)
- coffee strainer
- salt and pepper shakers, cooking oil
Then there are the things that I replace promptly as they get emptied out. It is very important to keep these stocked.
- sanitizing wipes
- bug spray
- citronella candles
- strong ziplocs
- heavy duty aluminum foil
- plastic grocery bags and a roll of trash bags
It all packs in neatly, and that canvas roll on top is a design of my husband’s that I sewed up for him before he took the boys to the Adirondacks for a week. He thought it out carefully, and it works great to keep the cooking utensils organized and clean.
The red canvas flaps fold in over the utensils so that it can be rolled up and nothing falls out.
When we decide on our menu, I stick the appropriate cooking vessels on top of the tote, along with a stack of paper plates and napkins. With this array, I have peace of mind that I can feed my crew reasonably well with not too much effort. I remember the time years ago when my mom forgot the frying pan and we tried to make scrambled eggs over the campfire in a deep stock pot. It made great memories, but the cook was a little flustered. I also remember trying to clean a hopelessly scorched iron kettle with nothing but a bit of rag. These small trials sprinkled through life have shaped my ideas of what I must have to function in an outdoor cooking situation. Minimalism is a nice idea, but there are limits. I try to strike the sweet spot between too much and too little. If I were carrying this all in a pack on a trail, there would be a lot of dumping out cargo, but at this point we do cabins with rubber-coated foam mattresses and water hydrants.
Do you go camping? What would you add to the tote?
Maybe you hate camping. Maybe this would fix it. 🙂