a peek inside the fishbowl

25 Jul, 2017

Camping questions and answers

Posted by andrea tomkins in: travel talk

I write about our camping adventures every year, and every year I have the same problem: how much detail should I provide? On one hand, the details are good to recount for me and my family (i.e. blog as scrapbook) but can be a bit long for casual readers. I will try to find a middle ground, but before I dive in to our Bon Echo trip I thought it might be useful to answer some questions about camping I’ve been asked over the years.

Why do you camp? (The real question, being: ARE YOU CRAZY.)

We are nature lovers here at Casa Fishbowl and we’ve camped since the girls were toddlers. We do it because it’s fun! As an added bonus, once you have the equipment it’s pretty cheap too. I should point out that we aren’t hard core backcountry campers. I am talking about car camping, in which we drive to a campsite, unpack our gear, and sleep in a tent that is a few metres away from our vehicle. (It sounds weird when you put it that way, doesn’t it?)

My maximum capacity for camping is five nights, at which point I am tired of eating out of a cooler, cooking food over the fire, and sleeping on an air mattress.

How do you store your food while you’re camping?

The campsites we book do not have an electrical hookup. We use bags and bins – stored in the vehicle – as dry storage for non-perishables and a series of coolers for meat/milk/cheese/butter, fruits and veggies, and drinks (each category actually has its own cooler). Coolers need ice, which we buy in bags every day* while we’re camping after our ice packs melt. It works. We also freeze a bunch of things before we leave. Juice boxes act as little freezer packs, one dinner’s worth of meat gets frozen too. We bring two 1L cartons of milk and one is frozen beforehand. Frozen food keeps the other food cold!

Some camping food tips:

  • Bring something you can eat for dinner if it’s pouring and can’t light the fire (PB&J is fine).
  • Higher calorie snacks – like nuts – help tummies full between meals.
  • Don’t leave food outdoors and/or in tents (critters can be a problem). Related to this: check backpacks for food before bringing in the tent at night!
  • It’s very helpful to pre-chop veggies, pre-grate cheese, peel veggies, etc. before heading out on a camping trip. Doing a bit of meal prep beforehand will save your sanity, trust me on this.
  • Picky eaters will quickly learn there are no alternative dinners available. Our attitude was: you don’t like it, sorry, that’s all we got. It’s a limited menu when you go camping. That being said, it’s not like we were serving foods they hated. It is something to think about while menu planning.
  • The cooler is not a fridge, so no grazing or browsing allowed. This is key if you want to keep your ice from melting and your food from spoiling.

*It’s a good idea to make sure your campground sells ice before you book your spot!

What do you eat for dinner while camping?

We tend to eat a lot of junk food while we’re camping and we don’t prepare anything too fancy. I recommend eating the most tender and perishable foods on the menu first. (For example, we eat our salads in the first few days because they don’t last.) This year I added corn to the menu. We soaked the cobs in water, husks and all, and roasted them over the fire. It worked!

Cooking corn over the campfire

Our camping menus are almost the same every year, this makes menu planning a lot easier. Family camping dinners this year included: Chicken breast (marinated beforehand), packaged salad and baguette; turkey burgers, coleslaw, and corn on the cob; beef and pork kebabs, rice, cucumber spears; fried ham slices, pineapple rings, campfire bread sticks (a.k.a Pillsbury dough wrapped around sticks); hot dogs/buns, raw veggies. Lunches are usually sandwiches and wraps with cut up veggies on the side. Let it be known that Mark insists we fry up a can of Spam every year.

How do you wash dishes while camping?

(1) Heat water in a kettle over the fire or on the camp stove. (2) Wipe food off plates with paper towels. Burn paper and food residue in the fire afterward. (3) Once the water’s hot, pour it into plastic washing sink and over plates and cutlery. (4) Add a bit of dish soap and cold water as needed from water bag. Wash as usual.

We limit the number of plates and cups we bring with us because it’s a pain to store too many and have to deal with a big pile of dirty dishes. We essentially have four dinner plates that we wash after every meal (unless it’s just toast crumbs, which get brushed off), four sandwich plates, four bowls, and four cups (well, six if you count our insulated coffee mugs.

Speaking of which…

HOW DO YOU MAKE COFFEE WHILE CAMPING?

There are fancy coffee kits you can buy at camping stores, or you can go instant, but we have a french press and it works great. We went through a couple of glass ones before we figured out that acrylic is best for camping. Have you used a french press? You pour course ground coffee in the bottom, pour boiling water over top, and after a few minutes push the plunger down. Voila!

What do you do about water while you’re camping?

I think almost all of Ontario Provincial Parks have potable water, but I would check beforehand. There are water taps located throughout each park and they are easily accessible by foot. In other words, there are a lot of them and they’re well spaced out between the sites. You bring a water bag or container (these are sold at camping and outdoor stores) and fill it. That’s it!

What is the bathroom situation like?

I have a feeling this question is at the top of the list for many people who haven’t camped. The campgrounds we go to have a combination of toilets and comfort stations. Toilets come in a couple of different styles, with flush toilets and a sink, or, er, how should I put this, toilets that sit over a big deep hole and do not involve running water. (Think: rustic portapottie with the occasional spider.) The comfort stations are larger buildings, centrally situated, that have toilets, sinks, showers, and sometimes even laundry facilities. They look a bit like something you’d see in a rec centre or a school. If you’re camping, where to go will be a daily decision: comfort station (these are usually a bit further from your site, depending on where you booked, of course) or the “pee house” as we called it, for a quick visit?

Our site at Bon Echo was between two comfort stations, although one was a bit closer at 255 steps. We counted.

How do you stay clean?

There are showers available at the comfort station. Each one includes dry area for disrobing and a shower area. The showers are like many public sinks: you press a button and you have a minute or two of water before you have to press the button again. Also, if you go at peak time (mid morning or after dinner) there may be a line up. This is why I swim in the lake every day instead of showering. Hey, it’s better than nothing! FYI, I didn’t stink. (At least no one told me I was stinky.)

What do you do with your garbage?

Bring small garbage bags, or a grocery bag, for every day you’re camping. Hang it on a tree. This is where your garbage goes. (We burned paper wrappings but it’s not a good idea to burn plastic.) Each campground has a designated place to bring garbage and recycling. It’s important to keep your site free of garbage. That way, you won’t be tempting all the neighbourhood raccoons. Incorporate a garbage run into your evening stroll.

Is there electrical access? Cell reception?

There’s no cell reception at Bon Echo for the most part, but there is at other Ontario Parks, so check ahead of time! Some campgrounds have outlets at the comfort station (look for the teenagers charging their devices and you’ll find them) but I didn’t see any at Bon Echo. Unless it’s marked on the map, regular tenting sites do not have electrical hookup.

How do you sleep at night?

VERY WELL. After a long day of hiking, eating, swimming, and sitting around a fire, I am very much looking forward to hitting the hay. We sleep on an air mattress, with sleeping bags. It’s fine for the short term.

How do you deal with the bugs?

I hate to say this, but the only thing that works is DEET in a spray format. Citronella does not deter mosquitoes, deerflies, and horseflies. So, we spray ourselves when we’re in a buggy area. What also helps: ball caps, and light-coloured and loose fitting clothing. This year I bought each of us girls something called a Buff. It’s a stretchy tube of fabric that can be worn around your neck and in a bunch of different ways.

What do you do for fun while camping?

We have camp life down to a very satisfying routine: Wake, eat, tidy, hike, eat lunch, beach/nap time, dinner, fire time, tidy, bed. I find the down time to be that much more enjoyable when we’ve accomplished something that day (hence the hike). Hiking and exploring our surroundings are a big part of camping and include wildlife sightings and nature scouting (I’m interested in cool mushrooms and mosses). Destinations with a payoff are an effective way to maintain a kid’s interest in hiking. For example: a great view, a picnic lunch, the satisfaction of a challenge accomplished. (I have a post coming about something new we added to one of this year’s hikes. I’m not sure if it’s cool, or totally disgusting, but you’ll have to wait and see.) Bring binoculars and a camera too. If you’re up for it, a guidebook might come in handy too to help identify birds, trees, and other flora and fauna you may encounter.

There are loads of things to do at the beach. Now that the girls are older we generally swim, read, and relax, but when they were small we built a lot of sandcastles and moats and played all sorts of water games. Rock collecting and minnow and frog catching are activities that persevere to this day!

What else? Back at the site we play various card games when we’re not reading or napping. This year it was Exploding Kittens, Squarrels, and Uno. Active games like frisbee, catch, and scoop ball are good too. Sometimes we bring our bocce set too.

At night we build a fire and chat. That’s it. Some families tell ghost stories or sing. It’s amazing how much time one can spend just poking a fire and staring into its depths. One year, each of us wrote a secret on a piece of paper and threw it in the flames. Sometimes we bring sparklers and glow sticks. Sometimes we go for a night-time walk to see the stars and look for bats and fireflies (none to report at Bon Echo this year). For us, it’s just a nice opportunity to wind down and reconnect without the interruptions of modern life.

Got any questions? Anything to add?


2 Responses to "Camping questions and answers"

1 | a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive The most important thing about camping with kids

July 27th, 2017 at 8:18 am

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[…] I was tapping out yesterday’s Q&A post about camping I got to thinking about camping with kids. It’s been a great experience for our family, […]

2 | Stacey

July 31st, 2017 at 1:48 pm

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I think you have pretty well covered it here. I would add a disclaimer though. If you are relying on a fire for cooking, check if there are any fire restrictions before leaving. Here in BC, we are under a province-wide fire ban at the moment (and most likely for the rest of the summer), so if you ended up at a campsite without checking, you might have no way of cooking your food. Campstoves are easy to use and give you an alternative to cooking over a fire. You can get campstoves for very little money, or you can probably borrow from a friend.

And a quick “recipe” for a salad with staying power (will last for up to 5 days): Shred cabbage and kale, grate carrots (in approximately even amounts). I make this salad up and it can last in my fridge for a week. We then have quick lunches, or a quick add-on to dinner. We also take it camping and it lasts very well.

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (18) and Sarah (16). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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