Author Topic: Idiot's intro to camping?  (Read 2546 times)

startingsmall

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Idiot's intro to camping?
« on: February 21, 2018, 10:34:52 AM »
I'm potentially on the verge of a major work change (going from FT employee with a lot of freelance side hustle  to limited PT employee + side hustle) that will dramatically increase the amount of time that my husband, daughter, and I have together as a family.  We've discussed using this opportunity to take up camping.

We're in Western NC, about an hour from Asheville, Boone/Blowing Rock, Blue Ridge Parkway, etc, so this is an area where there are definitely opportunities for camping.

Although neither of us having much camping experience, I'm a Girl Scout troop leader and will be getting some training that way. (Attending an all-day training on campfires and outdoor cooking next month, for example. Attending a mommy-daughter camp later this summer. At some point next year, may work up the nerve to take a bunch of 1st & 2nd graders camping.)

So... I've tried to do some research online, but what I really need is some more basic info than what I seem to be finding.

Specific questions include:

- Tent vs camper: We have a dog that we'd like to take with us, so I lean towards a camper for that reason. The view from my window at work is of a camper sales place and I kind of lust after those little A-frame pop ups. But they don't have bathrooms, and having a bathroom seems like it would be one of the major benefits of spending the money on a camper? Though being able to leave the dog unattended in the camper and have air conditioning may be enough benefit.

- Where do you camp? When I look online, I find Blue Ridge Parkway sites that apparently can't be reserved in advance (so does that mean you can always get one, or what happens if you show up and all the campgrounds are full?). I find lots of commercial campgrounds, but that doesn't really sound like what I'm looking for.... I want to be in the outdoors, not surrounded by people.

I feel like I should clarify that, obviously, we wouldn't buy a camper right off the bat. I'm just trying to come up with some sort of basic goal/framework/vision so that I can start doing more research.

We have discussed a future scenario where my husband transitions to public school teaching, I quit the FT/PT work completely and just do side hustle, and we travel extensively during summer. Not sure if that will ever happen, though, or if we'll be exclusively weekend campers.

Thanks in advance for any input you may have, because I don't even know if I'm asking the right questions!


CindyBS

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Re: Idiot's intro to camping?
« Reply #1 on: February 21, 2018, 11:06:46 AM »
I would advise more of a dip your toe in the water approach.  Can you borrow camping supplies from someone?  If so, then do that before buying anything.  Even if you don't want to be in a big commercial campground, that may be the way to go until you are comfortable with  camping.  For a first trip, maybe do just 1 night, do it on a day with good weather, make very simple meals - maybe even just bring sandwiches or get take out and then free up time/energy to focus on things like learning how to make a good camp fire.  Stay somewhere with a lot of amenities, nice bathrooms, etc.   Best to find out what you like under those conditions than while really roughing it in bad weather.

I have had many years of tent camping with my kids and have thoroughly enjoyed it.  We camp in both private and state park campgrounds, and have done a few backpacking trips as well.  We do not have a camper.

BDWW

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Re: Idiot's intro to camping?
« Reply #2 on: February 21, 2018, 11:08:24 AM »
I would say the first thing to do is figure out what type of camping/experience you want.
There are lots of varying definitions.

There are campgroundstm that have full camper/rv hookups, and are more like RV parks in the country. These allow you to be close to the outdoors, but with all the amenities of civilization. /notreallycamping :)

I'm not real familiar with NC, but generally the next step is campgrounds on forest service or state land that are more basic. Usually include spaces and a outhouse and firepit, but no hookups, electricity(no A/C w/o generator), etc. You're usually a bit more isolated, and closer to au natural.

Next would be undeveloped camping directly in a national forest - again not sure what's available where you are - this would basically be the most rugged you would get with a camper. You can find spots where other people have camped, with perhaps a rock firepit, but generally you're on your own.

Finally, hardcore would be backcountry camping where you would need a tent and be backpacking into somewhere completely undeveloped. I suspect this is not in your near future.

Basically, what are you expecting your camping experiences to entail?


hoping2retire35

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Re: Idiot's intro to camping?
« Reply #3 on: February 21, 2018, 11:10:35 AM »
Hello SS, I am just south of you.

I would start off camping in a tent just to see if you even like it.  Just because you like hiking and going to the woods does not mean you will like sleeping there. Start off with a tent, you can always use it in the backyard or just somehting for your daughter to play with. The camper potty is used pretty minimally (just for the ladys during the night) otherwise it is the portapotty/trees.

Dog can be tethered to a nearby tree or just sleep in there with you. If you are worried about someone stealing the dog, a camper isn't really break-in proof.

When you first want to go camping keep an open schedule. if it is projected to rain or the low is below 60F(maybe 55F if you are sure you are packing well) then skip till the next weekend; at least until you are sure what night time temp you are ok with, all of which is especially important with little kids.

To find a spot you can just go to your favorite hiking spots and look for others camping, or just look for where others have had camp fires (usually in more popular areas for backpack campers). Another thing I like to do before I drive to a new area is just go to google maps and type "campground near xxxxx(local town/community)". Just scroll around and look at pictures then drive to see it before you make plans to stay there.

Just 1 kid? We have 3 and go camping, but it may not be like what you had in mind, I am guessing you figured this already though. Just start off easy; flat dry space, access to water and restrooms, somewhat more public and open. Move on from there.


This weekend looks borderline warm enough, just bring extra blankets, pjs, socks, etc.

Nate R

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Re: Idiot's intro to camping?
« Reply #4 on: February 21, 2018, 11:13:29 AM »
Agreed on doing a tent first, figure out if you like it. LOTS of complexity can be added in quickly with a camper. And you're MUCH better off knowing what you need and don't need via experience.

We tent camped with 2 dogs for a while, using dog crates when we weren't around. We had 2 different campers after that, too. Had a hard sided small fiberglass camper (Casita) and we had a small pop-up for a time. BOth have their own pros and cons.

State parks are a common place. REserveamerica.com might be worth checking out to see what's around you.

hoping2retire35

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Re: Idiot's intro to camping?
« Reply #5 on: February 21, 2018, 11:20:43 AM »
https://www.fs.usda.gov/activity/nfsnc/recreation/camping-cabins

Look around here, national forest sites still seem rustic but have water, bathrooms, easy access.

startingsmall

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Re: Idiot's intro to camping?
« Reply #6 on: February 21, 2018, 12:01:36 PM »
Wow. You guys are awesome. I think there's a basic framework that I was missing, and these posts have definitely helped provide it!! I only have a couple of minutes to respond, but figured I'd try to address a few points...

Can you borrow camping supplies from someone?  If so, then do that before buying anything.  Even if you don't want to be in a big commercial campground, that may be the way to go until you are comfortable with  camping.  For a first trip, maybe do just 1 night, do it on a day with good weather, make very simple meals - maybe even just bring sandwiches or get take out and then free up time/energy to focus on things like learning how to make a good camp fire.  Stay somewhere with a lot of amenities, nice bathrooms, etc.   Best to find out what you like under those conditions than while really roughing it in bad weather.

Unfortunately, we don't know anyone that camps.... at least not well enough to borrow anything. And the people we do know who camp all have huge obnoxious campers. We do already have a decent tent, though... and I like your idea of starting with a super easy trip. We'd start with a night in the backyard first, then do something super easy our first tine (I like the idea of a cooler full of sandwiches!)

I would say the first thing to do is figure out what type of camping/experience you want.
There are lots of varying definitions.

There are campgroundstm that have full camper/rv hookups, and are more like RV parks in the country. These allow you to be close to the outdoors, but with all the amenities of civilization. /notreallycamping :)

I'm not real familiar with NC, but generally the next step is campgrounds on forest service or state land that are more basic. Usually include spaces and a outhouse and firepit, but no hookups, electricity(no A/C w/o generator), etc. You're usually a bit more isolated, and closer to au natural.

Next would be undeveloped camping directly in a national forest - again not sure what's available where you are - this would basically be the most rugged you would get with a camper. You can find spots where other people have camped, with perhaps a rock firepit, but generally you're on your own.

Finally, hardcore would be backcountry camping where you would need a tent and be backpacking into somewhere completely undeveloped. I suspect this is not in your near future.

Basically, what are you expecting your camping experiences to entail?

THIS. This was awesome and exactly what I needed. While my husband would probably be perfectly content with Option #1, I'm looking for Option #2... or maybe #3. And maybe #4 someday in the future, though I doubt husband is up for that.  My vision involves being in a state park or similar area, hiking all day, then retreating to a campfire at night. Ideally in a location with a nice view and with few other people within view, though restroom access would be nice (even if it's a bit of a walk). I'm fine with peeing in the woods, but get a bit weird about pooping in the woods.

If there aren't electric hookups, do people end up actually running generators to run their a/c? If so, that seems that it would make tent camping in an area that also allows RVs to be incredibly unpleasant and noisy. Or maybe I'm overthinking it?

I kept looking Googling campgrounds last night and could only find one that wasn't commercialized tourist hell, but now that I changed my search to 'state forest camping' there is A TON. Thank you!!! Exactly what I needed.


Dog can be tethered to a nearby tree or just sleep in there with you..... This weekend looks borderline warm enough, just bring extra blankets, pjs, socks, etc.

This is definitely something that wouldn't happen until I start my new job in a couple of months. (Current job requires 2 months' notice in contract, boo.) Right now, my husband & I never have 2 days in a row off work together.

As for the dog, do you leave them tethered when you're not there? I'm just wondering what we'd do if we decided to go for a bike ride or something.

Agreed on doing a tent first, figure out if you like it. LOTS of complexity can be added in quickly with a camper. And you're MUCH better off knowing what you need and don't need via experience.

We tent camped with 2 dogs for a while, using dog crates when we weren't around. We had 2 different campers after that, too. Had a hard sided small fiberglass camper (Casita) and we had a small pop-up for a time. BOth have their own pros and cons.

State parks are a common place. REserveamerica.com might be worth checking out to see what's around you.

I'd love to hear the pros/cons of tent vs camper vs pop-up, if you'd care to sum it up! I've read several articles, but everyone's opinion is obviously different.

Thanks for the reserveamerica.com recommendation!!!

https://www.fs.usda.gov/activity/nfsnc/recreation/camping-cabins

Look around here, national forest sites still seem rustic but have water, bathrooms, easy access.

Thank you - found several appealing options on there!!

Lichen

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Re: Idiot's intro to camping?
« Reply #7 on: February 21, 2018, 12:16:25 PM »
ReserveAmerica.com is awesome for finding state, county, federal, and Army Corps of Engineers campsites. They list the types of sites, amenities, prices, etc.

Many outdoor shops let you rent gear. REI comes to mind immediately, but most outfitters supply rentals. A major benefit is you get to try before you buy.

Set up and use your gear in the backyard before you go. It's much less stressful to work out the kinks before hand.

Keep food simple for the first few trips, especially with kids. Bring plenty of low preparation snacks. Camping makes kids (and adults!) hungry, and hungry kids (and especially adults!) bare a bear to deal with.

Bring a latching/locking cooler. Campground attract animals looking for a free meal. Many of them can pop open a cooler (looking at you, raccoon...). Even if you plan to keep it in the car overnight, forgetting it for even a few minutes can lead to feeding the wildlife but not yourself. Ask me how I know...

On that note, be aware if there are bear issues in the area where you camp. If there are, then select a site with bear boxes or invest in a bear can or hanging system, and make sure you are shown how to properly use it. The best bear methods depend on the behavior of the local bear population, so call the park rangers if you aren't sure. A lot of developed sites have bear boxes, (at least in the west) which are easier to use as a beginner camper.

BDWW

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Re: Idiot's intro to camping?
« Reply #8 on: February 21, 2018, 12:35:21 PM »
Quote
If there aren't electric hookups, do people end up actually running generators to run their a/c? If so, that seems that it would make tent camping in an area that also allows RVs to be incredibly unpleasant and noisy. Or maybe I'm overthinking it?

Yes, and they can be annoying. Often the campground will have hours that they're allowed to run (typically something 8am to 10pm). Generators are fairly common for many who have campers even without A/C, to charge the batteries on their campers, although solar chargers are starting to cut into that a bit.

Another thing to note with State/Federal campgrounds, is that there often isn't really anyone administrating that campground full-time(so rule enforcement is not guaranteed), typically a ranger just makes a few rounds throughout the day.

Nate R

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Re: Idiot's intro to camping?
« Reply #9 on: February 21, 2018, 04:02:24 PM »

I'd love to hear the pros/cons of tent vs camper vs pop-up, if you'd care to sum it up! I've read several articles, but everyone's opinion is obviously different.

Thanks for the reserveamerica.com recommendation!!!


Everyone's idea of "camping" is different. So it all varies on your "Required" amenities. Keep in mind what you want to do. Are you trying to live in a mini-house on the road wiht all the normal amenities? Or are you trying to be close to nature and IN the great outdoors?

Tent
Pros: Cheap, light, can go in tight spots/walk up access only. (Don't have to be able to get vehicle in.) Easy to store and transport.

Cons: Dog security. Definitely the less enjoyable option in inclement weather. (Even a waterproofed tent feels damp inside when it's been raining all day and you're in there breathing/playing cards, etc. ) Set up time (More difficult to set up if in the dusk/dark.) Have to set up everything inside you want. No amenities on board. No food prep inside.

Pop-up
Pros: Can find used ones cheap! We got ours for $1200, was about 20 years old, and was serviceable, but getting long in the tooth. THere are often ones out there for a few hundred bucks if you're willing to replace or repair the canvas yourself.
Great to tow, lower profile means better highway MPG. Some old small ones can be towed with smaller vehicles. Can get into places larger campers can't.  CAN have amenities... A/C, Fridge, Heater, Lighting, Stove. more comfortable than a tent in cold/bad weather. (Can sit at a table and read / eat/ play games.)

Cons: still a bit of set up. Canvas can tear/leak when aged. (Those A-Frame pop-ups sometimes have leak issues at the seams per reviews I've seen.)  Beds/mattresses often sub par compared to hard sided campers. Eventually things in the cover or base start to rot/deteriorate. Complexity of maintaining other systems, (Draining water, keeping batteries charged, trailer lights, greasing axle bearings, spare tire, ) 
Have to store it somewhere!

Hardsided camper -
Pros: Less setup inside needed. FULL HEIGHT amenities. (pop up often has awkwardly low counters/work spaces to keep height low.) Inside "real" bathroom a possibility. Better separation to outside for dogs or yourselves if wanted. Best in inclement weather.

Cons: Depreciating asset. REALLY aren't built like they used to be (outside of some specific ones), so they deteriorate quickly these days. Leaking roofs, rotted wood, hard to replace/repair that stuff, leaking windows. MORE storage space required. Bigger tow vehicle required, worse road MPG. Often campsites have restrictions on the camper size.  You've got to fill and empty those tanks with your fresh water and waste in them.


Our experience: Got tired of the setup time (IN THE DARK all too often for our schedule) in a tent, and trying to wrangle dogs in there, esp in a rainy weekend where we were miserable, damp, and the tent started leaking AGAIN, I'd had enough. And if I brought a bike or something, it got to be a LOT of stuff to pack in the trunk!
Went to a hard-sided 13 ft fiberglass camper (Like a Scamp.) A 1981 Casita. Expensive even used, due to the cult following. But decent little campers! Could store stuff inside, stand up in it, have it more "Ready" to go, and that little thing could go anywhere! Ours was an OLD model, and the frame cracked, and the shell was deteriorating. (Casita didnt' know what they were doing in the first couple years they made them.) Started tearing it apart to rebuild, and got too overwhelmed with the amount of work required to restore ours. But, I'd consider a Scamp if I were to do it again.

Bought a $1200 pop up from 1996. A "small" 8 footer. (Trailer size when folded up.) PRetty decent, easier to tow than the Casita. Easier to store. Leaked a tad, but worked fine for us for a season or 2. Was getting long in the tooth as well, floor starting to show signs of a bit of rot, cap was started to let water in, etc.

Then we ended up buying a piece of land, eventually wanting a spot to return to, where we could keep stuff on site. Also more private than many state park campgrounds. No worries about parties all night long 25 feet from my tent.  No towing needed! Bought a 1980s 25 foot hard sided camper for $2K to sit on the site until we can afford to build a small, off grid cabin.  (We really enjoy living "simply" at times. ) This camper is definitely at the end of it's life. Appliance problems, multiple leaks, etc.  We use this place as a home base for day trip/adventures in the area. Hiking, hunting, biking, canoeing, swimming, foraging. We've grown to enjoy knowing that I'll have firewood there, a decent firepit that's dry, and I can leave junk there! But, I can also forsee in teh future that we may get a small tent again for an occasional trip elsewhere every now and then. So, kinda full circle.


trollwithamustache

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Re: Idiot's intro to camping?
« Reply #10 on: February 21, 2018, 04:06:32 PM »
Camper requires formal campground, which means other people running generators.


NoraLenderbee

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Re: Idiot's intro to camping?
« Reply #11 on: February 21, 2018, 04:31:17 PM »

I would say the first thing to do is figure out what type of camping/experience you want.
There are lots of varying definitions.

There are campgroundstm that have full camper/rv hookups, and are more like RV parks in the country. These allow you to be close to the outdoors, but with all the amenities of civilization. /notreallycamping :)

I'm not real familiar with NC, but generally the next step is campgrounds on forest service or state land that are more basic. Usually include spaces and a outhouse and firepit, but no hookups, electricity(no A/C w/o generator), etc. You're usually a bit more isolated, and closer to au natural.


THIS. This was awesome and exactly what I needed. While my husband would probably be perfectly content with Option #1, I'm looking for Option #2... or maybe #3. And maybe #4 someday in the future, though I doubt husband is up for that.  My vision involves being in a state park or similar area, hiking all day, then retreating to a campfire at night. Ideally in a location with a nice view and with few other people within view, though restroom access would be nice (even if it's a bit of a walk). I'm fine with peeing in the woods, but get a bit weird about pooping in the woods.

IME, many national parks provide option #2, but there are central toilets in the camping areas, which may just be vault/pit toilets, or may be flush toilets. So you do not have to sh*t in the woods, and you can wash your hands.

Don't forget a bottle of wine and a corkscrew. ;)

bogart

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Re: Idiot's intro to camping?
« Reply #12 on: February 21, 2018, 10:06:14 PM »
We "camp" (see below) and I have camped in NC, SC, VA, and can offer the following insights ...

We = me + DH + kid ranging in age from 3-13 (over the years) + often 1 or 2 dogs.

I have tent-camped with a dog and have camper-camped with a dog.  The a/c is a useful thing for leaving the dog in the summer (would not dream of leaving a dog in the car in the summer) but otherwise, I feel perfectly comfortable leaving my dog in the car with the windows cracked in the shade ... would be fine doing this in the NC mountains most of the year, personally (while headed on an outing for a part of the day, not all day!).  I absolutely positively would not leave a dog tethered in a campground without supervision, that's a situation awaiting problems -- other campers, or other campers' kids, or animals of all flavors including bears in Western NC, approaching your dog, no good.

We do not take our dog camping with us in the summertime usually, because we drive far enough that we cannot just leave him in the car (or camper) when e.g. we are stopped to buy groceries en route.  Just have to expect setting out that it will be too hot and so we don't ... though we have, and have managed/wrangled it, but obviously you have to put the dog's safety high on your list of priorities and that can end up creating complicated situations or constraining what you can do.

Our current situation is that we own a ~28 ft. hard-sided camper, and camp in that (and only in that).  DH will not tent camp (anymore), so -- that is that.  We like it fine and pull it with a big truck; we camp almost exclusively in state parks and only in campgrounds that have water/electric hookups, which mostly leaves NC out of the picture (there are a few state parks that offer them, including New River and Stone Mountain, but not lots).  SC and VA both have lots of state parks with full hookups.  You can find all of all these states' state parks -- not federal etc. -- on ReserveAmerica.

But I was a tent camper for a long time and agree with those who recommend starting there.  You don't need a lot of gear, and assuming you are car camping (or in your backyard) you can always head home (except -- another thing I don't like about the NC parks -- they lock the gates in the evenings and do not tell the campers the code, so you have to find the host if you want to leave and are generally not allowed in/out except for emergencies, after hours.  The SC parks also lock gates, but use a combination that they provide to the campers so you are free to come & go as you please).

When we bought our camper, the advice we were given (by a dealer, of all things) was to buy a used camper and see what we did/didn't like about what we'd bought.  He said that was the best way to learn and that we were bound to find certain things we couldn't stand (no matter what we bought) and that this would allow us to avoid the big depreciation on a new model.  It was great advice, we bought an '06 in '09 and have actually only just traded it in.  And sure, it wasn't in great condition in its final year, but in point of fact we've gotten great use out of it and -- the things we couldn't stand notwithstanding -- have enjoyed it a lot.  So no, they are not built to last forever, but they don't actually fall apart the minute you get them, either (it was a Jayco, which is a tremendously common and not particularly high-end brand, just to situate that data).

Oh ... and yes, IMO a nice part about having the camper is, indeed, having the plumbing.  Though as I tell my DH, ir we have a programmable coffee pot -- and we do -- then it's not really camping (thus the quotes in the first line of my post).

JLee

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Re: Idiot's intro to camping?
« Reply #13 on: February 22, 2018, 02:34:29 AM »
Plumbing and AC is nice...but if you want that, you can always stay home or get a hotel/airbnb next to the trailhead. ;)

Sometimes it's nice to get out like this.

neophyte

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Re: Idiot's intro to camping?
« Reply #14 on: February 22, 2018, 06:56:11 AM »
If you can't borrow gear, I'd look into trying to rent until you figure out what you like.

I'm a hammock camper, so I'll put in a recomendation for that. I find it much more comfortable than sleeping on the ground in a tent, but depending on how many kids and how old they are that might not be a good option for you. A hammock is really a one person deal. 

hoping2retire35

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Re: Idiot's intro to camping?
« Reply #15 on: February 22, 2018, 07:44:55 AM »


Dog can be tethered to a nearby tree or just sleep in there with you..... This weekend looks borderline warm enough, just bring extra blankets, pjs, socks, etc.

This is definitely something that wouldn't happen until I start my new job in a couple of months. (Current job requires 2 months' notice in contract, boo.) Right now, my husband & I never have 2 days in a row off work together.

As for the dog, do you leave them tethered when you're not there? I'm just wondering what we'd do if we decided to go for a bike ride or something.




https://s15-us2.ixquick.com/cgi-bin/serveimage?url=https%3A%2F%2Fexploringangobservingcities.files.wordpress.com%2F2014%2F07%2Fdog3.jpg&sp=c3840276c7a8b78b938848fa63429e5c

bogart

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Re: Idiot's intro to camping?
« Reply #16 on: February 22, 2018, 09:14:48 AM »
https://s15-us2.ixquick.com/cgi-bin/serveimage?url=https%3A%2F%2Fexploringangobservingcities.files.wordpress.com%2F2014%2F07%2Fdog3.jpg&sp=c3840276c7a8b78b938848fa63429e5c

Ha!  Easy if they're that size.  Mine would involve something more akin to this --
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vdto2MAsU0s

I do actually own the Springer dog exerciser (quick online search will turn it up) and find it works pretty well as a safe way to leash the dog to the bike, but my current guy, while cooperative, isn't a huge fan of joining me for bike rides (noticeable contrast with an earlier dog); I think trying to keep a steady pace set by me, even though I do of course pay attention to his cues, is hard on his joints, so I now use it on an as-needed-when-camping basis rather than a for-fun-while-camping basis.

Mtngrl

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Re: Idiot's intro to camping?
« Reply #17 on: February 22, 2018, 12:35:34 PM »
Camper requires formal campground, which means other people running generators.

We almost always boondock in the national forest with our fifth-wheel camper -- no other people around and no generators.

That said, we started with a tent, eventually moved to a pop-up camper, finally, after many years, bought a small fifth wheel.

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Re: Idiot's intro to camping?
« Reply #18 on: February 23, 2018, 02:27:33 PM »
Tent camping is totally fine IF you have a good sleep system.  A cheap air mattress does the trick if you are starting out and car camping.  I would buy a small battery powered blower to fill it up.  I camp a lot, both car camping and backpacking and the best 'mattress' you can find is the megamat duo 10 which is the size a full bed.  This sleeping pad is more comfortable than my bed at home and uses a combo of air and memory foam.  https://www.rei.com/product/113720/exped-megamat-duo-10-sleeping-pad