How to Plan The Perfect Family Camping Road Trip

As vacation season quickly approaches we all start weighing the options: a trip to Disney or a theme park, a week at the beach, sightseeing in a new city or a good old-fashioned family camping trip. Why not enjoy them all by going on a family camping road trip. You can hit the road as a family, explore a variety of places and still enjoy the great outdoors. A family camping road trip can also be a great way to bond with your kids and add a little spontaneity and adventure to your next vacation.

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Here are a few of the big perks to taking a road trip with your family instead of the typical single-destination vacation:

It can be educational
Try stopping at a few historic sites and museums to add a little learning to your trip.

It can save you money
Campgrounds are cost effective compared to hotels and you can cook your meals at your site without having to take your family out to dinner. Plus, the money you spend on gas is nothing compared to the cost of airfare for a whole family.

You Don’t Have to Go Far
This country has so much to offer. You don’t have to travel far to see some great things. Every state has loads of unique activities and destinations and plenty of campgrounds if you want to stay local and make it a short trip.

Kid’s learn to explore
Instead of racing to your vacation destination your family will have the opportunity to see all the fun, interesting and wacky things along the way. Don’t be afraid to pull over or take a detour to follow your curiosity.

It’s the best of both worlds
Just because you want to be a tourist during the day doesn’t mean you are locked into a hotel at night. You can enjoy the city by daylight and the adventure of camping by starlight (or flashlight).

You can bring the comforts of home
No need to worry about airline travel and luggage restrictions. One of the best parts of a road trip is being able to bring a few more outfits or your favorite bottle of shampoo.

You can change plans mid-trip
Road trips lend themselves to spontaneity. Whether you feel like staying put for an extra day or are ready to move on early, it’s all up to you.

You can enjoy a variety of things and places
Not only do you get to enjoy the destinations you have planned for each day, you also get to explore all the sites along the way you didn’t know were there.

Tips for a Successful Family Camping Road Trip
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Time to get organized before the big trip.

First, decide how long your trip will be. This will give you an idea of how far you can go and how many sites and campgrounds you will stop at. You don’t want anybody getting bored, but you also don’t want to try and cram too much activity into a short trip. This can lead to burn-out. If you’re only gone 3 days, try to stick to a single campground and spend your time enjoying local destinations you can reach easily.

Once you nail down how long you will be gone, you can start to determine your route. Begin by choosing a general region and slowly narrow down the stops you want to make along the way. Time to map it out! Use Google Maps to check how long it will take you to get from one destination to the next. This will give you the opportunity to weed out any stops that may be too far.

Campgrounds are the next thing you’ll want to nail down. Try to find campsites that aren’t too far off your driving course. You don’t want to travel more than an hour off your route just to find a campsite. What do you do if there is no campground near one of the destinations you chose? Decide if seeing that destination is worth grabbing a motel for a night. If it’s at the top of your list you may not mind shelling out a bit more for a night or two in a bed.

Lastly, you’ll want to iron out all the little details including campsite or motel reservations, meals and snacks, a packing list and car activities.

Here are a few more tips to consider when planning your family camping road trip:

Plan your route ahead of time
Even though you may end up veering off course at some point in your trip it is good to have a basic outline of where you are going, how you are getting there and what you want to see along the way. When you have a car full of anxious, hungry, tired, bored or excited kids, it is a big help to be able to tell them how long you have until the next stop and what you will see there.

Don’t spend too much time in the car
With any road trip you can expect to spend a good amount of time in the car, but when you have little ones tagging along, don’t spend more time than you need to. While you may want to push through a few more hours to get to your final destination, being cooped up in the backseat all day might sour your child’s view of family road trips. Try making stops at intervals that the kids can count on, even if it is just a bathroom break at a rest stop. Sometimes all they need is a few minutes to stretch their legs and breathe some fresh air.

Encourage reading rather than other media
Smartphones, tablets, laptops and media players can all drain a car battery pretty quickly. Instead of leaving your car running all day and night at the campsite to charge your children’s multiple devices, encourage them to use their free time to read. eReaders hold a charge for much longer than other devices.

Always keep an eye out for a restroom
Especially when it comes to a big family, bathroom breaks can’t always be coordinated. When you see a rest stop, a public restroom or a Johnny-on-the-Spot, take the opportunity to ask if anyone needs a pitstop. Stopping for a few minutes every so often is better than pulling off the highway or driving miles down back roads to find a service station.

Get to your campsite before dark
Setting up a campsite is hard enough, but when you’re doing it every night or every few nights with children it can be really tough. Don’t add the complication of pitching your tent in the dark. Try and get to the site with at least an hour of daylight left so you can easily find your site, set up your tents and get your fire started.

Make reservations
Try and make reservations or get tickets ahead of time. Not getting reservations can lead to small frustrations like a long wait at a restaurant or big obstacles like the campground being full or an event being sold out.

Get a motel room
Even though you are on a family camping road trip, it doesn’t hurt to spend one night off the ground with some of the comforts of home. This may not matter if you are only gone for a few days, but if you are planning to be gone for a week or two it helps to get everyone cleaned up and rested.

Bring your bikes
If you plan to explore the local area around the campground bring your bikes along. This way you can leave you car, with all of your gear, at your site and avoid looking for parking or feeding meters. Don’t forget your bike locks!

Essential Gear for Your Family Camping Road Trip
Traveling and camping are always easier when you bring along the right tools. Especially when you have kids who need a lot more creature comforts that adults can live without as well as basic first aid kit should be a necessary part of camping gear. When you have a car packed full of people and camping gear for days on end, it can really help to have a few items to make the experience easier and more fun. Here are some of the essentials that you’ll want to take along on your trip:

Stanley Jump Starter with Compressor

Stanley Jumpit

When you’re spending this much time on the road the most important thing is to keep that car running. It can really be a downer to be stuck waiting for roadside assistance. Bring along this jump starter and compressor combo so you can get the car back in working order.

Emergency Preparedness Kit

Roadside Emergency Kit

If you do happen to get stuck along the way, it’s best to be on the safe side. This kit will help you get back on the road and keep you safe if you need to wait for some help.

Backseat Organizer and Cooler

Car Seat Cooler

With this organizer/cooler combo you can keep the backseat tidy. It makes it much easier for your kids to find their snacks, drinks and toys without you having to pull over every few minutes.

Travel Lap Tray

Kids Lap Tray

It’s hard to play games, color or even eat without something on your lap. This tray table helps by giving you little ones a sturdy place for all their activities while you keep making headway.

Multi-Port Car Charger and Solar On-the-Go Charger

Car ChargerSolar Panel

We use our devices a lot when we’re traveling so we can read, play, look up destination details and use the GPS. It is important to keep these electronics charged. The multi-port car charger will allow you to plug in all your devices while driving instead of charging one phone or tablet at a time. The Solar On-the-Go Charger is great for those times when you don’t want to or can’t rely on the car battery to charge your electronics. All you need is a little sunlight.

Rooftop Storage Bag

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On any road trip the car gets packed up pretty quick. If you’re looking for more room to store some camping gear, try this waterproof bag that straps to your roof. You don’t even need racks.

Car Activities to Keep the Kids Happy
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One of the things a lot of parent’s dread about a long trip with a car full of kids is the constant question, “are we there yet.” Take this opportunity to teach your kids that it’s not always about the destination, sometimes it’s about the journey. But to do this, the trip itself has to be fun. Try some of these activities to keep your kids happy and occupied along the way:

Audiobooks
You can buy them through Amazon’s Audible or check them out at your local library. Even better, download the OverDrive app on your smartphone, find your library and download your borrowed audiobooks straight to your phone. Libraries will often let you check out multiple books at a time in case you will be without the internet for a few days.

Travel Games and Cards
You can find most of your favorite board games in travel size now, like Sequence, Yahtzee, or Battleship. And if they don’t have a travel edition, they usually have an on-the-go version like this Apples to Apples dice game and Monopoly Deal.

Letterboxing
You’ve probably heard of geocaching but have you heard of letterboxing? It’s like modern day treasure hunting without the need for a GPS. Letterboxers will hide boxes with rubber stamps. You stamp your notebook when you find one and leave your personal stamp on the logbook in the letterbox. You can use sites like AtlasQuest.com to learn more about it and find letterboxes along your route.

Individual Activities
Want to keep your kid’s eyes off of their devices and in the world around them? Try organizing a game that requires them to search their surroundings like a scavenger hunt, truck and car spotting, or bingo. Check out these free printable road trip games and also our very own License Plate Game here on Beyond The Tent.

Interactive Games
Especially if you have kids who get carsick, try some activities that don’t require them to read or write. Games like Would You Rather, 20 Questions or Round Robin Stories are also great for a media-free evening around the campfire.

Ready To Get Exploring?
Try these 6 Family Camping Trip Routes Around the United States.
Our nation has so much to offer from national parks and historic sites to big cities and white sand beaches. Here are some of the best camping trip routes and destinations by region that you should try on your next family camping road trip:

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Acadia National Park, ME
New England

This relatively short route can be easily extended over a week or more since there are several big destination spots along the way.

Start at Melville Ponds Campground while you explore the Newport, Rhode Island area.

Next up are Cape Cod and the North of Highland Camping Area, which is a short walk to the beaches and right near Provincetown.

The next stop on the route is the historic city of Boston. Stay at the Minuteman Campground, which offers transportation to the city center. Plan to stay here for at least two nights so you can spend more time exploring all that the waterfront city has to offer.

Try some lobsters and visit the lighthouses in the next city on this route, Portland, Maine. Stay at the Hid’n Pines Family Campground nearby the city.

The last stop is in Acadia National Park. Famous for being the first eastern national park, it boasts beautiful views of the rugged Maine coastline, excellent family camping and hiking options and best of all, it is dog-friendly.

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Assateague Island, VA
Mid-Atlantic Loop

Try this loop of the Mid-Atlantic area to explore some of the nation’s most iconic cities, beaches, and some lesser known hidden gems. You’ll want to plan at least 10 days for this trip.

Start out in New York City. You can explore the Big Apple with Floyd Bennett Field in Gateway National Recreation Area as your home base. Just hop the ferry over to Manhattan to sightsee during the day.

Take the NJ Turnpike down to Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell, the Mutter Museum and ride one of the duck boats. Stay at Timberlane Campground, the closest tent camping site to the city center.

Baltimore is the next stop on the list. Make this one a day trip and explore the Inner Harbor area. Stop to snack on some Maryland blue crabs from Captain James before heading out of town.

Head straight to your campsite at Greenbelt Park Campground just outside of Washington D.C. Spend your evening roasting marshmallows in this woodsy oasis near the capitol city. Be sure to get there early because the sites are first-come-first-serve. The College Park Train Station (4931 Calvert Rd, College Park, MD), which takes you right to the city center, is only a few minutes from the campground and has a parking lot for a small fee on weekdays and is free on the weekends.

Once you’re done exploring the capitol city, head to Assateague Island where you can camp on the beach. Plan a day of hiking to explore or just stroll the beaches to catch a glimpse of the island’s famous wild horses.

Take the Lewes Ferry from Delaware to Cape May, NJ and settle into the Adventure Bound Camping Resort for some rest, relaxation and lots of summer fun for the last day or two of your trip. Cape May is only a 2.5-hour drive up the coast and back to NYC to complete this fun-filled loop.

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Savannah, GA
Southeast

Follow this route through the deep south to enjoy some old-world southern charm, white sand beaches, and historic sites.

Start your trip in historic Charleston, South Carolina where you can stay at the campground at James Island County Park with easy access to the city. Make sure to visit Fort Sumter for a Civil War lesson and take a tour of downtown to learn about this antebellum city.

Take a short drive down to Charleston’s sister city, Savannah, Georgia to grab some soul food, stroll River Street and take a ride in a hearse on one of their famous ghost tours. Stay at River’s End Campground on Tybee Island and enjoy beautiful beaches, or camp out in the low country at Skidaway Island State Park.

Next, take a drive down to the panhandle and enjoy the white sand beaches of Pensacola, Florida. Stay at the Pensacola Gulf Islands National Seashore while you soak up some rays and the kids play in the calm gulf waters.

Finish your trip in the jazz capital of the country, New Orleans, Louisiana. Try some crawfish, enjoy some live NOLA jazz and explore the French Quarter. Stay nearby at the New Orleans West KOA for easy access to the city.

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Great Smokey Mountains National Park
Midwest

Didn’t think there was much going on in the Midwest? Let this trek through the middle states prove you wrong with adventures in national parks and world-renowned cities.

Begin your journey in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where you can enjoy hiking, biking, and wilderness camping. Feeling adventurous? Plan a night of camping in the backcountry.

Travel just a few hours to the home of country music in Nashville, Tennessee to enjoy plenty of live music and some of the best barbecue in the nation. Stay nearby at the Anderson Road Campground.

Take a ride north over the Mississippi to St. Louis Missouri to see the gateway arches and explore the city’s rich culture from art and science museums to outdoor adventures. Stay at the Onondaga Cave State Park and explore the network of caves while you’re there.

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Monument Valley, UT
Southwest

One of the quintessential road trips is through the American southwest, and for good reason. With miles of open road, towering rock formations and legends of cowboys and outlaws you’ll be glad you tried this trek through several of the region’s most iconic parks.

Start in Santa Fe, New Mexico where you can stay at the Rancheros de Santa Fe Campground with easy access to Old Town. Explore the city or take some day trips to explore ruins, old mining towns, and colonial villages.

Drive north to the Rio Grande National Forest where you can stay at any one of their convenient campgrounds while you enjoy the beauty of the rocky mountains.

Next, you’re off to Utah. Make sure to take in the sites along the way like Monument Valley, where many of the famous westerns of the 50‘s and 60‘s were filmed. Make your way over to Zion National Park for an amazing hiking and camping experience among some of the most beautiful rock formations in the country.

To close out your trip, drive south to Grand Canyon National Park, featuring one of the most well known natural sites in the world.

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Mt. Ranier, WA
Pacific Northwest

One of the most beautiful and untouched regions of the country is the Pacific northwest where scenic coastline meets lush forests.

Start in the Siuslaw National Forest on the coast of Oregon for excellent hiking, swimming, and fishing.

From here you can choose to drive up the coast on Route 101 to take in more of the Pacific coastline, or head inland to shorten the trip to Portland, Oregon’s largest city. Camp at Oxbow Regional Park while you explore the city.

Take a day trip to the nearby Mt. Hood National Forest or grab a campsite there to explore the area for more than one night.

Finally, drive north to Mount Rainier National Park to see the active volcano and hike and camp near its icy slopes.

Family camping road trips have a special place in American culture and they are a fantastic way to introduce your children to the natural wonders, historic sites and diverse cultures this country has to offer.

Not sure what to pack? Read Family Camping Checklist to make sure you don’t forget anything on your next trip.
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HOW TO NAVIGATE THE WILDERNESS LIKE A BOSS

So more recently than I like to admit — after years of teaching mountaineering and wilderness navigation classes — I climbed a mountain alone and walked off the wrong side.

Because I was supremely overconfident, I didn’t even notice I’d screwed up until I was about a few hundred feet down. It was early in the season, and there I was surrounded by steep snowfields with no ice ax. Oh, and it was also late in the afternoon and about to get dark.

When it hit me that I was lost, I spent about two minutes totally panicking and forcing myself to take calming breaths. Being lost alone in the wilderness really is no fun.

Fortunately, I knew that I had a long catchline (the trail) to the east. I decided I’d head that way so long as I didn’t run into any steep snow.

AND IT WORKED. USING A FEW BASIC WILDERNESS NAVIGATION TECHNIQUES, I FOUND THE TRAIL WITHOUT EVEN TAKING THE MAP OUT OF MY BACKPACK.
I tell you this story to make two points.

One, it’s easier than you think to get lost — especially if you are hiking off trail in an unfamiliar area. So it’s important to be prepared.

But …

Two, knowing some wilderness navigation techniques will also set you free to leave the trail and explore new areas with confidence.

Skills like reading a topo map, using a compass, and route finding can open up a whole new world of adventure for hikers and mountaineers. Many of the most beautiful hikes in the world don’t have trails.

So in this post, let’s look at some wilderness navigation techniques you can start practicing today. When you master these, you’ll always know where you are in the backcountry.

A NOTE TO MY LOVELY READERS OUTSIDE NORTH AMERICA
Apologies in advance: much of this info is specific to the lower 48 states of the USA (though Hawaiians, Alaskans, and Canadians will find some useful resources).

If your region has useful wilderness navigation resources or websites that visitors should know about, please share them in the comments. Links are welcome.

Featured image: Summit of Mt. Ouray, Colorado

Post images: Wilderness navigation class near Deckers, Colorado

Colorado Mountain Club students practicing map and compass navigation
Colorado Mountain Club students practicing map and compass navigation

TOPO MAPS 101
Topographic maps are ideal for wilderness navigation because they use contour lines to the show the shape of landforms (mountains, valleys, ridges, saddles). A contour line connects points at the same elevation.

Here’s one of my favorite topo maps, which shows the summit of Mt. Rainier. See how the contour lines outline the shape of the crater?

Topographic map of Mount Rainier
Topographic map of Mount Rainier

WHY YOU SHOULD ALWAYS CARRY A TOPOGRAPHIC MAP AND KNOW HOW TO USE IT
With the rise of accurate, durable GPS devices and phone navigation apps, reading topographic maps has become a bit of a lost art.

But no matter how fancy and expensive your technology is, it can always run out of batteries or croak from too much moisture or stop working in the cold (ahem, iPhones) or fall off a cliff and smash.

Also, your device needs a satellite signal to locate you — and it will always decide to lose this at exactly the wrong moment.

So no matter how awesome your GPS is, always carry a topo map of the area in a waterproof case. Better yet, bring two copies. (One could blow away or get wet.)

HOW TO PRINT A TOPOGRAPHIC MAP
Where do you get these topo maps, you ask? Well, if your trip is in North America, you can print your own for free using CalTopo.com. Here’s a video that explains how.

An alternate free mapping platform that a lot of people rage about it Hillmap. It’s got some cool features that CalTopo doesn’t. One of my favorites is that it lets you chose from different map sources and versions (some of which may be more up-to-date than others).

HOW TO READ A TOPOGRAPHIC MAP
Map reading takes practice. At first, everything may look like a snarl of lines and shapes.

But keep trying, and you’ll eventually be able to look at it, picture the landforms in 3D, and match what you see on the map to what you see in front of you.

If you’re brand new to reading topographic maps, here’s a quick tutorial. For a full list of map symbols, check out this map key from the United States Geological Service (USGS).

HOW TO USE A TOPOGRAPHIC MAP WHILE HIKING
Printer ink runs when wet, so always carry your map in a waterproof case. SealLine makes these awesome ones that attach easily to your backpack strap. Or you can improvise a decent map case from a Ziploc bag.

As your hike, pull out your map frequently and look at it. You should always be able to locate yourself among the land forms and features. Use landmarks like trail junctions, streams, ridges, and passes to track your progress.

Also, check the direction you’re heading (north, northwest, etc.). If you’re off trail, know which direction you should head to return to the trail or road.

TOPOGRAPHIC MAP CAUTIONS
Topo maps aren’t perfect. Source data for some mapping software (including CalTopo) may be decades out of date. To further complicate things, the government now updates maps using aerial photography, not surveying.

Be especially cautious about relying on manmade features like jeep roads or buildings to locate yourself. We have a couple of famous “topo” roads in Colorado that show up on maps, but don’t actually exist. Note that natural features can also be altered by human activity (for example, forest cover).

SPECIAL NOTE FOR ALASKA HIKERS AND MOUNTAINEERS
Until 2009, the USGS only produced large-scale maps (1:63,360 or 1:100,000) of Alaska. While better than nothing, these historical maps show fewer features and can be difficult to navigate with on foot.

The government is now in the process of publishing more detailed maps (1:24,000 scale) of the state, but progress has been slow. You can read more about the project, including how to download Alaska topo maps, at the USGS National Map page.

COOL COMPASS TRICKS
A lot of hikers who faithfully carry maps avoid using compasses. Because let’s face it. They can be a little intimidating.

If you are a person who hated high school geometry and hasn’t picked up a protractor since, you may squinch at the thought of shooting a bearing or triangulating a location.

But fear not. You can actually get a lot of use out of your compass using first grade math (or none at all). Let’s take a look at some basic skills.

CHOOSING A COMPASS
You may own a novelty compass that’s hanging on your keychain or integrated into the end of a trekking pole. But for backcountry navigation, you’re going to need a proper compass with a bezel and a baseplate like this Suunto A-10 compass:

Suunto A-10 compass at REI
Or if you want to shoot lots of bearings and go more advanced, here’s my Suunto MC-2 compass (which I’ve been totally in love with since 2013).

suunto mc-2 compass at rei
Here are some useful compass features to consider when making your choice:

Sighting mirror — Folds over so you can shoot a bearing and read the compass at the same time. In my experience, this makes bearings much more accurate.

Clinometer — Allows you to measure slope angle. Especially useful for mountaineers and winter hikers and backpackers who need to check for avalanche terrain.

Declination correction — In just a minute, we’ll talk about magnetic declination, an annoying feature of geology that introduces some extra math into your compass work. However, if your compass has declination adjustment, you can set it once and save yourself some adding and subtracting. (You’ll need to update it if you travel to a new location, however.)

Luminescent markings — Make the compass markings easier to read at night.

Global needle — Most compasses only work in the northern or southern hemisphere, but global needle compasses work everywhere.

UNDERSTANDING MAGNETIC DECLINATION
Topo maps are oriented toward true north (the North Pole).

However, the earth’s magnetic pole (which compass needles point at) doesn’t actually match up with the North Pole. And to further complicate matters, the magnetic pole moves around over time.

So when you’re using a map and compass together, you need to know the distance (in degrees) between magnetic north and true north so that you can account for it in your calculations.

This distance is known as magnetic declination. It varies with your location, and it also changes over time.

Here’s a rough breakdown of magnetic declination in the lower 48 of the USA in 2018.

Magnetic declination map of the United States
Magnetic declination map of the United States

To find out the current magnetic declination for your area, print a CalTopo map (or just pull up a print preview on the screen). The declination will appear at the bottom to the right of the scale.

Or you can use NOAAs handy calculator.

DECLINATION EXAMPLES
In April 2018 in Denver, Colorado, USA, the magnetic declination is 8 degrees and 11 minutes EAST (according to NOAA).

There are 60 minutes in a degree, so let’s round that number to 8 degrees.

Because degrees are measured clockwise from true north, numbers to the east are positive. So we’ll call this +8 degrees.

So when using a compass to orient myself in Colorado, I need to subtract 8 degrees from my intended direction of travel. (Or, if I have a compass with declination adjustment, I can set it to -8.)

Check the website and see if you get the same number for Denver. Then check the magnetic declination for your own zip code. How many degrees is it? And is it positive (to the east) or negative (to the west)?

HOW TO READ A COMPASS
Simply using your compass to orient yourself can solve many problems in the wilderness:

Traveling the right direction when visibility is limited (for example, in a snow storm or dense forest)

Navigating toward a catchline (a linear feature like a road, trail, or river) when you are lost

Making sure you descend the correct side of a summit (ahem)

Determining the direction of sunrise and sunset

Before you start to use your compass, it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with its parts. Here’s a helpful diagram.

Diagram of compass parts
Diagram of compass parts

Next, watch this video to get yourself and your compass pointed in the right direction.

ALIGNING YOUR MAP
This video shows you how to turn your map in the right direction so that what you see on the map matches what you see in the landscape.

NAVIGATING TOWARD A CATCHLINE WHEN YOU’RE LOST
A catchline is a long linear feature (river, coastline, trail, road) that you know you can reach by walking in a certain direction. This quick video shows you how they work and how to identify them on topo maps:

ADVANCED SKILLS
More things you can do with a compass:

Shoot bearings

Triangulate bearings to locate yourself on a map

Walk a bearing in dense forest where visibility is limited

Navigate around obstacles and get back on track

Use back bearings and leap frogging to improve accuracy

And much more!

It’s hard to learn these skills from a single blog post, so I definitely encourage you to take a map and compass course, particularly one that takes you into the field to practice. For inexpensive options, check out your local mountain club or outfitter.

To see some of the skills you’ll learn, check out this excellent video from REI. (The section on taking bearings starts around 3:20.)

PHONE APPS AND TECHNOLOGY
While you should never trust your life to a battery (or a finicky iPhone that shuts off in the cold), GPS devices can make navigation faster and more reliable.

I recommend adopting them after you’ve mastered your map and compass basics for two reasons.

First, you won’t be tempted to cheat (because they do make everything easier).

And second, knowing some map and compass principles will help you better understand your technology and do more with it.

Some options to consider:

SIMPLE PHONE APPS
These user-friendly apps show you where you’re located on a topo map.

You can also upload GPX data to display certain waypoints and landmarks on the same map. And you can also set your own waypoints as you go.

To use them, you’ll need to download the topo map from the cloud ahead of time. These files can be large, so I recommend doing it at home on WiFi as part of your trip prep.

Once you’ve got the map downloaded, the app runs off GPS satellites. So you don’t need cell service to locate yourself or track your movements.

Two useful apps in this genre:

Topo Maps ($8, iOS only) — includes maps of Canada. Uploads GPX waypoints, but won’t show tracks. Note: there is also an iOS app called Topo Maps+ that is a totally different app but may also be worth a look.

Backcountry Navigator ($12, Android) — I’m an iPhone girl, so I haven’t used this one as much. But it seems pretty similar to Topo Maps.

ADVANCED PHONE APPS
If you want a phone app with (almost) all the bells and whistles of a handheld GPS, check out GaiaGPS ($20/year, iOS and Android). This service combines the trip planning and mapping power of a computer with the portability of a phone app.

The GaiaGPS website has a mapping platform similar to CalTopo, but it’s a bit more user friendly. Choose from a variety of data sources for your base map (Gaia Topo, Nat Geo Trails Illustrated, etc.) Then upload GPX files, add waypoints, and plot routes along roads and trails.

You can view the mapping platform with a free account, so definitely check it out if you are considering Gaia. (You’ll need to subscribe to print maps or transfer them to your phone.)

The GaiaGPS phone app pinpoints your location on your map. It also allows you to record tracks of your trips (similar to a handheld GPS or an app like Strava). Reviewers give this app high marks for battery life — it shouldn’t drain your phone juice, even in tracking mode.

GaiaGPS also works in international destinations. It’s vector base maps cover the entire world (in theory). You can also access detailed topo maps of many regions, including Europe, Canada, and New Zealand.

Gaia’s social sharing feature that allows you to post your data and download trips posted by other users.

HANDHELD GPS DEVICES
While phone apps have come a long way, GPS devices still have a few big advantages over them. Compared to phones, GPS units tend to be more rugged and durable in the outdoors and more sensitive to satellite signals. And assuming you have enough batteries on hand, you can run your GPS indefinitely.

Some useful features to consider when choosing a GPS:

Size and weight — Lighter is better, but potentially more expensive.

Wireless transmission — Transfer files directly to your computer, mobile device, or a friend’s GPS.

Touchscreen — Some users love it, but it will require you to take off your gloves in winter.

Barometer/altimeter — Improves the accuracy of elevation readings.

Memory — Consider more if you want to store multiple trips in one device. Some GPS units accept SD cards.

Manufacturer’s mapping software — Loading maps created on third-party software (including CalTopo) to your GPS can be fiddly. It’s easier to use the manufacturer’s proprietary software. If you plan to do this, make sure that software has the features you want.

Pikes Peak from Deckers area of Colorado
Pikes Peak from Deckers area of Colorado

ROUTE FINDING TIPS
Here are some ways to determine the fastest and safest path when hiking off-trail in the wilderness.

Look for landmarks you can use on the return. Turn around frequently to see what these features will look like on your way back.

When possible, use linear features like rivers, cliff bands, ridge lines, and valleys (handrails) to keep moving in the right direction.

Traveling on ridges is usually comfortable and efficient. It’s also hard to get lost on a ridge (so long as it’s the right ridge!)

Walking up and down the fall line is often less tiring than side hilling or traversing. Consider it even if you will lose some elevation.

Drainages (rivers, etc.) should be followed with caution. In temperate climates, they may be choked with vegetation.

It’s often faster to hike around a marshy or densely vegetated area than through it.

Consult your map frequently. Always locate yourself before continuing.

SO THERE YOU HAVE ‘EM. ALL MY FAVORITE WILDERNESS NAVIGATION TECHNIQUES AND TIPS.
And now that you’ve tried them out, I urge you to KEEP PRACTICING.

Map and compass skills are like high school Spanish. Unless you keep learning and speaking, you’ll forget everything in college. (Except maybe “da me una cerveza” and “una Corona por favor.”)

This stuff could be life-saving, and it’s also going to open amazing doors for you in the wilderness. So never stop exploring — and checking your topo map as you go.

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HOW TO NAVIGATE THE WILDERNESS LIKE A BOSS

So more recently than I like to admit — after years of teaching mountaineering and wilderness navigation classes — I climbed a mountain alone and walked off the wrong side.

Because I was supremely overconfident, I didn’t even notice I’d screwed up until I was about a few hundred feet down. It was early in the season, and there I was surrounded by steep snowfields with no ice ax. Oh, and it was also late in the afternoon and about to get dark.

When it hit me that I was lost, I spent about two minutes totally panicking and forcing myself to take calming breaths. Being lost alone in the wilderness really is no fun.

Fortunately, I knew that I had a long catchline (the trail) to the east. I decided I’d head that way so long as I didn’t run into any steep snow.

AND IT WORKED. USING A FEW BASIC WILDERNESS NAVIGATION TECHNIQUES, I FOUND THE TRAIL WITHOUT EVEN TAKING THE MAP OUT OF MY BACKPACK.
I tell you this story to make two points.

One, it’s easier than you think to get lost — especially if you are hiking off trail in an unfamiliar area. So it’s important to be prepared.

But …

Two, knowing some wilderness navigation techniques will also set you free to leave the trail and explore new areas with confidence.

Skills like reading a topo map, using a compass, and route finding can open up a whole new world of adventure for hikers and mountaineers. Many of the most beautiful hikes in the world don’t have trails.

So in this post, let’s look at some wilderness navigation techniques you can start practicing today. When you master these, you’ll always know where you are in the backcountry.

A NOTE TO MY LOVELY READERS OUTSIDE NORTH AMERICA
Apologies in advance: much of this info is specific to the lower 48 states of the USA (though Hawaiians, Alaskans, and Canadians will find some useful resources).

If your region has useful wilderness navigation resources or websites that visitors should know about, please share them in the comments. Links are welcome.

Featured image: Summit of Mt. Ouray, Colorado

Post images: Wilderness navigation class near Deckers, Colorado

Colorado Mountain Club students practicing map and compass navigation
Colorado Mountain Club students practicing map and compass navigation

TOPO MAPS 101
Topographic maps are ideal for wilderness navigation because they use contour lines to the show the shape of landforms (mountains, valleys, ridges, saddles). A contour line connects points at the same elevation.

Here’s one of my favorite topo maps, which shows the summit of Mt. Rainier. See how the contour lines outline the shape of the crater?

Topographic map of Mount Rainier
Topographic map of Mount Rainier

WHY YOU SHOULD ALWAYS CARRY A TOPOGRAPHIC MAP AND KNOW HOW TO USE IT
With the rise of accurate, durable GPS devices and phone navigation apps, reading topographic maps has become a bit of a lost art.

But no matter how fancy and expensive your technology is, it can always run out of batteries or croak from too much moisture or stop working in the cold (ahem, iPhones) or fall off a cliff and smash.

Also, your device needs a satellite signal to locate you — and it will always decide to lose this at exactly the wrong moment.

So no matter how awesome your GPS is, always carry a topo map of the area in a waterproof case. Better yet, bring two copies. (One could blow away or get wet.)

HOW TO PRINT A TOPOGRAPHIC MAP
Where do you get these topo maps, you ask? Well, if your trip is in North America, you can print your own for free using CalTopo.com. Here’s a video that explains how.

An alternate free mapping platform that a lot of people rage about it Hillmap. It’s got some cool features that CalTopo doesn’t. One of my favorites is that it lets you chose from different map sources and versions (some of which may be more up-to-date than others).

HOW TO READ A TOPOGRAPHIC MAP
Map reading takes practice. At first, everything may look like a snarl of lines and shapes.

But keep trying, and you’ll eventually be able to look at it, picture the landforms in 3D, and match what you see on the map to what you see in front of you.

If you’re brand new to reading topographic maps, here’s a quick tutorial. For a full list of map symbols, check out this map key from the United States Geological Service (USGS).

HOW TO USE A TOPOGRAPHIC MAP WHILE HIKING
Printer ink runs when wet, so always carry your map in a waterproof case. SealLine makes these awesome ones that attach easily to your backpack strap. Or you can improvise a decent map case from a Ziploc bag.

As your hike, pull out your map frequently and look at it. You should always be able to locate yourself among the land forms and features. Use landmarks like trail junctions, streams, ridges, and passes to track your progress.

Also, check the direction you’re heading (north, northwest, etc.). If you’re off trail, know which direction you should head to return to the trail or road.

TOPOGRAPHIC MAP CAUTIONS
Topo maps aren’t perfect. Source data for some mapping software (including CalTopo) may be decades out of date. To further complicate things, the government now updates maps using aerial photography, not surveying.

Be especially cautious about relying on manmade features like jeep roads or buildings to locate yourself. We have a couple of famous “topo” roads in Colorado that show up on maps, but don’t actually exist. Note that natural features can also be altered by human activity (for example, forest cover).

SPECIAL NOTE FOR ALASKA HIKERS AND MOUNTAINEERS
Until 2009, the USGS only produced large-scale maps (1:63,360 or 1:100,000) of Alaska. While better than nothing, these historical maps show fewer features and can be difficult to navigate with on foot.

The government is now in the process of publishing more detailed maps (1:24,000 scale) of the state, but progress has been slow. You can read more about the project, including how to download Alaska topo maps, at the USGS National Map page.

COOL COMPASS TRICKS
A lot of hikers who faithfully carry maps avoid using compasses. Because let’s face it. They can be a little intimidating.

If you are a person who hated high school geometry and hasn’t picked up a protractor since, you may squinch at the thought of shooting a bearing or triangulating a location.

But fear not. You can actually get a lot of use out of your compass using first grade math (or none at all). Let’s take a look at some basic skills.

CHOOSING A COMPASS
You may own a novelty compass that’s hanging on your keychain or integrated into the end of a trekking pole. But for backcountry navigation, you’re going to need a proper compass with a bezel and a baseplate like this Suunto A-10 compass:

Suunto A-10 compass at REI
Or if you want to shoot lots of bearings and go more advanced, here’s my Suunto MC-2 compass (which I’ve been totally in love with since 2013).

suunto mc-2 compass at rei
Here are some useful compass features to consider when making your choice:

Sighting mirror — Folds over so you can shoot a bearing and read the compass at the same time. In my experience, this makes bearings much more accurate.

Clinometer — Allows you to measure slope angle. Especially useful for mountaineers and winter hikers and backpackers who need to check for avalanche terrain.

Declination correction — In just a minute, we’ll talk about magnetic declination, an annoying feature of geology that introduces some extra math into your compass work. However, if your compass has declination adjustment, you can set it once and save yourself some adding and subtracting. (You’ll need to update it if you travel to a new location, however.)

Luminescent markings — Make the compass markings easier to read at night.

Global needle — Most compasses only work in the northern or southern hemisphere, but global needle compasses work everywhere.

UNDERSTANDING MAGNETIC DECLINATION
Topo maps are oriented toward true north (the North Pole).

However, the earth’s magnetic pole (which compass needles point at) doesn’t actually match up with the North Pole. And to further complicate matters, the magnetic pole moves around over time.

So when you’re using a map and compass together, you need to know the distance (in degrees) between magnetic north and true north so that you can account for it in your calculations.

This distance is known as magnetic declination. It varies with your location, and it also changes over time.

Here’s a rough breakdown of magnetic declination in the lower 48 of the USA in 2018.

Magnetic declination map of the United States
Magnetic declination map of the United States

To find out the current magnetic declination for your area, print a CalTopo map (or just pull up a print preview on the screen). The declination will appear at the bottom to the right of the scale.

Or you can use NOAAs handy calculator.

DECLINATION EXAMPLES
In April 2018 in Denver, Colorado, USA, the magnetic declination is 8 degrees and 11 minutes EAST (according to NOAA).

There are 60 minutes in a degree, so let’s round that number to 8 degrees.

Because degrees are measured clockwise from true north, numbers to the east are positive. So we’ll call this +8 degrees.

So when using a compass to orient myself in Colorado, I need to subtract 8 degrees from my intended direction of travel. (Or, if I have a compass with declination adjustment, I can set it to -8.)

Check the website and see if you get the same number for Denver. Then check the magnetic declination for your own zip code. How many degrees is it? And is it positive (to the east) or negative (to the west)?

HOW TO READ A COMPASS
Simply using your compass to orient yourself can solve many problems in the wilderness:

Traveling the right direction when visibility is limited (for example, in a snow storm or dense forest)

Navigating toward a catchline (a linear feature like a road, trail, or river) when you are lost

Making sure you descend the correct side of a summit (ahem)

Determining the direction of sunrise and sunset

Before you start to use your compass, it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with its parts. Here’s a helpful diagram.

Diagram of compass parts
Diagram of compass parts

Next, watch this video to get yourself and your compass pointed in the right direction.

ALIGNING YOUR MAP
This video shows you how to turn your map in the right direction so that what you see on the map matches what you see in the landscape.

NAVIGATING TOWARD A CATCHLINE WHEN YOU’RE LOST
A catchline is a long linear feature (river, coastline, trail, road) that you know you can reach by walking in a certain direction. This quick video shows you how they work and how to identify them on topo maps:

ADVANCED SKILLS
More things you can do with a compass:

Shoot bearings

Triangulate bearings to locate yourself on a map

Walk a bearing in dense forest where visibility is limited

Navigate around obstacles and get back on track

Use back bearings and leap frogging to improve accuracy

And much more!

It’s hard to learn these skills from a single blog post, so I definitely encourage you to take a map and compass course, particularly one that takes you into the field to practice. For inexpensive options, check out your local mountain club or outfitter.

To see some of the skills you’ll learn, check out this excellent video from REI. (The section on taking bearings starts around 3:20.)

PHONE APPS AND TECHNOLOGY
While you should never trust your life to a battery (or a finicky iPhone that shuts off in the cold), GPS devices can make navigation faster and more reliable.

I recommend adopting them after you’ve mastered your map and compass basics for two reasons.

First, you won’t be tempted to cheat (because they do make everything easier).

And second, knowing some map and compass principles will help you better understand your technology and do more with it.

Some options to consider:

SIMPLE PHONE APPS
These user-friendly apps show you where you’re located on a topo map.

You can also upload GPX data to display certain waypoints and landmarks on the same map. And you can also set your own waypoints as you go.

To use them, you’ll need to download the topo map from the cloud ahead of time. These files can be large, so I recommend doing it at home on WiFi as part of your trip prep.

Once you’ve got the map downloaded, the app runs off GPS satellites. So you don’t need cell service to locate yourself or track your movements.

Two useful apps in this genre:

Topo Maps ($8, iOS only) — includes maps of Canada. Uploads GPX waypoints, but won’t show tracks. Note: there is also an iOS app called Topo Maps+ that is a totally different app but may also be worth a look.

Backcountry Navigator ($12, Android) — I’m an iPhone girl, so I haven’t used this one as much. But it seems pretty similar to Topo Maps.

ADVANCED PHONE APPS
If you want a phone app with (almost) all the bells and whistles of a handheld GPS, check out GaiaGPS ($20/year, iOS and Android). This service combines the trip planning and mapping power of a computer with the portability of a phone app.

The GaiaGPS website has a mapping platform similar to CalTopo, but it’s a bit more user friendly. Choose from a variety of data sources for your base map (Gaia Topo, Nat Geo Trails Illustrated, etc.) Then upload GPX files, add waypoints, and plot routes along roads and trails.

You can view the mapping platform with a free account, so definitely check it out if you are considering Gaia. (You’ll need to subscribe to print maps or transfer them to your phone.)

The GaiaGPS phone app pinpoints your location on your map. It also allows you to record tracks of your trips (similar to a handheld GPS or an app like Strava). Reviewers give this app high marks for battery life — it shouldn’t drain your phone juice, even in tracking mode.

GaiaGPS also works in international destinations. It’s vector base maps cover the entire world (in theory). You can also access detailed topo maps of many regions, including Europe, Canada, and New Zealand.

Gaia’s social sharing feature that allows you to post your data and download trips posted by other users.

HANDHELD GPS DEVICES
While phone apps have come a long way, GPS devices still have a few big advantages over them. Compared to phones, GPS units tend to be more rugged and durable in the outdoors and more sensitive to satellite signals. And assuming you have enough batteries on hand, you can run your GPS indefinitely.

Some useful features to consider when choosing a GPS:

Size and weight — Lighter is better, but potentially more expensive.

Wireless transmission — Transfer files directly to your computer, mobile device, or a friend’s GPS.

Touchscreen — Some users love it, but it will require you to take off your gloves in winter.

Barometer/altimeter — Improves the accuracy of elevation readings.

Memory — Consider more if you want to store multiple trips in one device. Some GPS units accept SD cards.

Manufacturer’s mapping software — Loading maps created on third-party software (including CalTopo) to your GPS can be fiddly. It’s easier to use the manufacturer’s proprietary software. If you plan to do this, make sure that software has the features you want.

Pikes Peak from Deckers area of Colorado
Pikes Peak from Deckers area of Colorado

ROUTE FINDING TIPS
Here are some ways to determine the fastest and safest path when hiking off-trail in the wilderness.

Look for landmarks you can use on the return. Turn around frequently to see what these features will look like on your way back.

When possible, use linear features like rivers, cliff bands, ridge lines, and valleys (handrails) to keep moving in the right direction.

Traveling on ridges is usually comfortable and efficient. It’s also hard to get lost on a ridge (so long as it’s the right ridge!)

Walking up and down the fall line is often less tiring than side hilling or traversing. Consider it even if you will lose some elevation.

Drainages (rivers, etc.) should be followed with caution. In temperate climates, they may be choked with vegetation.

It’s often faster to hike around a marshy or densely vegetated area than through it.

Consult your map frequently. Always locate yourself before continuing.

SO THERE YOU HAVE ‘EM. ALL MY FAVORITE WILDERNESS NAVIGATION TECHNIQUES AND TIPS.
And now that you’ve tried them out, I urge you to KEEP PRACTICING.

Map and compass skills are like high school Spanish. Unless you keep learning and speaking, you’ll forget everything in college. (Except maybe “da me una cerveza” and “una Corona por favor.”)

This stuff could be life-saving, and it’s also going to open amazing doors for you in the wilderness. So never stop exploring — and checking your topo map as you go.

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15 TRICKS TO MAKE YOUR TENT THE COMFIEST PLACE ON EARTH

Camping is a blast – friends, family, yummy campfire food and fun camping games. Now some will say that the only way to truly experience camping is to sleep on the ground with nothing more than a pillow and a blanket (and the blanket is also optional). But I’m not one of those people and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I like to be able to sleep so I can enjoy all the adventures that might happen the next day. But sleeping doesn’t come easy when there is nothing but a tarp between you and the ground (and I don’t care what they say, grass makes no noticeable difference). So in an effort to help other campers who have the share this opinion of sleeping on the ground with me, we have found some great tent hacks to make your camping trip a little more comfortable.

15 Tricks to Make Your Tent the Comfiest Place on Earth

Tent Hacks to Make Your Camping Experience Cozy
Can’t get used to the hard earth under your tent? Soften the floor with foam floor tiles. You won’t believe the difference it makes! This also works well for keeping mud and dirt out of your floor.

Fill your tent with a soft light all through the night by filling a jug with water and wrapping your head lamp around it. This’ll make the tent a not-so-scary place for kids who are afraid of the dark.

Here’s another alternative for kids who are afraid of the dark: solar-powered twinkle lights! Just don’t hang them directly over kids’ beds, as you don’t want them to knock them down and get tangled up in their sleep. I’d put them on the opposite side of the tent room, actually.

Keep tent zippers from sticking by rubbing them with a wax candle.

Keep everyone’s outfits organized with this hanging sorter from IKEA. What a genius idea! You should also get a smaller one to hang up your outdoor kitchen items.

Are you always tripping over your tent lines because you don’t see them until you’re right there? Mark them off with pool noodles.

Have cold feet at night? Fill a water bottle with hot water and put it down in your sleeping bag to keep your tootsies toasty warm.

Keep your tent from becoming unbearably hot by using a reflective blanket to deflect sunlight.

Use this gear line organizer (affiliate) so that you never have to dig through piles of sleeping bags and pillows to find your phone again.

This lady has all kinds of tricks to make your tent comfier, but we have to agree… an air mattress on a fold-up frame is loads comfier than trying to sleep on an air mattress on the ground. And bring comforters and blankets instead of sleeping bags… at least for the adults. If you’ve ever felt like you were baking in a double sleeping bag, you know what I mean.

If you’re going to be hiking and camping, an air mattress is totally out of the question, but those sleeping pads can be expensive! Try this diy sleeping pad if you’re the crafty sort, and you’ll save a lot of money.

Who wants dirt tracked inside the tent? Eww! Keep a shoe basket near the entrance to collect those dirty shoes and keep your tent floor spic and span.

You know how everything is just so dark when you go camping? Put some cheap solar lights outside the tent and on the way to the bathroom area to help you find your way around instead of fumbling in the dark.

Dealing with trash bags is frustrating, but this pop-up trash can using a hamper is a brilliant idea. (You may want to use rope to tie it to something to keep it from blowing away.) But even better, you should use this same trick inside the tent to hold dirty clothes during your stay.

Keep your tent flaps open with binder clips. We have more binder clip tricks, too.

Keep in mind, very few tents are big enough for your king size pillow-top mattress so no matter what you do, some sacrifices must be made. But you don’t have to rough it completely if you don’t want to. As you’ve seen you have all sorts of ideas for improving you camping conditions so you can focus on more important things like making memories.

For more camping tips, check out these posts:

15 Tent Hacks for the Comfiest Camping Trip Ever
13 Best Sleeping Bags for Kids
12 Winter Camping Tips That’ll Keep You Cozy
15 Must-Have Camping Supplies

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How to Plan The Perfect Family Camping Road Trip

As vacation season quickly approaches we all start weighing the options: a trip to Disney or a theme park, a week at the beach, sightseeing in a new city or a good old-fashioned family camping trip. Why not enjoy them all by going on a family camping road trip. You can hit the road as a family, explore a variety of places and still enjoy the great outdoors. A family camping road trip can also be a great way to bond with your kids and add a little spontaneity and adventure to your next vacation.

How to Plan The Perfect Family Camping Road Trip 3

Here are a few of the big perks to taking a road trip with your family instead of the typical single-destination vacation:

It can be educational
Try stopping at a few historic sites and museums to add a little learning to your trip.

It can save you money
Campgrounds are cost effective compared to hotels and you can cook your meals at your site without having to take your family out to dinner. Plus, the money you spend on gas is nothing compared to the cost of airfare for a whole family.

You Don’t Have to Go Far
This country has so much to offer. You don’t have to travel far to see some great things. Every state has loads of unique activities and destinations and plenty of campgrounds if you want to stay local and make it a short trip.

Kid’s learn to explore
Instead of racing to your vacation destination your family will have the opportunity to see all the fun, interesting and wacky things along the way. Don’t be afraid to pull over or take a detour to follow your curiosity.

It’s the best of both worlds
Just because you want to be a tourist during the day doesn’t mean you are locked into a hotel at night. You can enjoy the city by daylight and the adventure of camping by starlight (or flashlight).

You can bring the comforts of home
No need to worry about airline travel and luggage restrictions. One of the best parts of a road trip is being able to bring a few more outfits or your favorite bottle of shampoo.

You can change plans mid-trip
Road trips lend themselves to spontaneity. Whether you feel like staying put for an extra day or are ready to move on early, it’s all up to you.

You can enjoy a variety of things and places
Not only do you get to enjoy the destinations you have planned for each day, you also get to explore all the sites along the way you didn’t know were there.

Tips for a Successful Family Camping Road Trip
How to Plan The Perfect Family Camping Road Trip 4

Time to get organized before the big trip.

First, decide how long your trip will be. This will give you an idea of how far you can go and how many sites and campgrounds you will stop at. You don’t want anybody getting bored, but you also don’t want to try and cram too much activity into a short trip. This can lead to burn-out. If you’re only gone 3 days, try to stick to a single campground and spend your time enjoying local destinations you can reach easily.

Once you nail down how long you will be gone, you can start to determine your route. Begin by choosing a general region and slowly narrow down the stops you want to make along the way. Time to map it out! Use Google Maps to check how long it will take you to get from one destination to the next. This will give you the opportunity to weed out any stops that may be too far.

Campgrounds are the next thing you’ll want to nail down. Try to find campsites that aren’t too far off your driving course. You don’t want to travel more than an hour off your route just to find a campsite. What do you do if there is no campground near one of the destinations you chose? Decide if seeing that destination is worth grabbing a motel for a night. If it’s at the top of your list you may not mind shelling out a bit more for a night or two in a bed.

Lastly, you’ll want to iron out all the little details including campsite or motel reservations, meals and snacks, a packing list and car activities.

Here are a few more tips to consider when planning your family camping road trip:

Plan your route ahead of time
Even though you may end up veering off course at some point in your trip it is good to have a basic outline of where you are going, how you are getting there and what you want to see along the way. When you have a car full of anxious, hungry, tired, bored or excited kids, it is a big help to be able to tell them how long you have until the next stop and what you will see there.

Don’t spend too much time in the car
With any road trip you can expect to spend a good amount of time in the car, but when you have little ones tagging along, don’t spend more time than you need to. While you may want to push through a few more hours to get to your final destination, being cooped up in the backseat all day might sour your child’s view of family road trips. Try making stops at intervals that the kids can count on, even if it is just a bathroom break at a rest stop. Sometimes all they need is a few minutes to stretch their legs and breathe some fresh air.

Encourage reading rather than other media
Smartphones, tablets, laptops and media players can all drain a car battery pretty quickly. Instead of leaving your car running all day and night at the campsite to charge your children’s multiple devices, encourage them to use their free time to read. eReaders hold a charge for much longer than other devices.

Always keep an eye out for a restroom
Especially when it comes to a big family, bathroom breaks can’t always be coordinated. When you see a rest stop, a public restroom or a Johnny-on-the-Spot, take the opportunity to ask if anyone needs a pitstop. Stopping for a few minutes every so often is better than pulling off the highway or driving miles down back roads to find a service station.

Get to your campsite before dark
Setting up a campsite is hard enough, but when you’re doing it every night or every few nights with children it can be really tough. Don’t add the complication of pitching your tent in the dark. Try and get to the site with at least an hour of daylight left so you can easily find your site, set up your tents and get your fire started.

Make reservations
Try and make reservations or get tickets ahead of time. Not getting reservations can lead to small frustrations like a long wait at a restaurant or big obstacles like the campground being full or an event being sold out.

Get a motel room
Even though you are on a family camping road trip, it doesn’t hurt to spend one night off the ground with some of the comforts of home. This may not matter if you are only gone for a few days, but if you are planning to be gone for a week or two it helps to get everyone cleaned up and rested.

Bring your bikes
If you plan to explore the local area around the campground bring your bikes along. This way you can leave you car, with all of your gear, at your site and avoid looking for parking or feeding meters. Don’t forget your bike locks!

Essential Gear for Your Family Camping Road Trip
Traveling and camping are always easier when you bring along the right tools. Especially when you have kids who need a lot more creature comforts that adults can live without as well as basic first aid kit should be a necessary part of camping gear. When you have a car packed full of people and camping gear for days on end, it can really help to have a few items to make the experience easier and more fun. Here are some of the essentials that you’ll want to take along on your trip:

Stanley Jump Starter with Compressor

Stanley Jumpit

When you’re spending this much time on the road the most important thing is to keep that car running. It can really be a downer to be stuck waiting for roadside assistance. Bring along this jump starter and compressor combo so you can get the car back in working order.

Emergency Preparedness Kit

Roadside Emergency Kit

If you do happen to get stuck along the way, it’s best to be on the safe side. This kit will help you get back on the road and keep you safe if you need to wait for some help.

Backseat Organizer and Cooler

Car Seat Cooler

With this organizer/cooler combo you can keep the backseat tidy. It makes it much easier for your kids to find their snacks, drinks and toys without you having to pull over every few minutes.

Travel Lap Tray

Kids Lap Tray

It’s hard to play games, color or even eat without something on your lap. This tray table helps by giving you little ones a sturdy place for all their activities while you keep making headway.

Multi-Port Car Charger and Solar On-the-Go Charger

Car ChargerSolar Panel

We use our devices a lot when we’re traveling so we can read, play, look up destination details and use the GPS. It is important to keep these electronics charged. The multi-port car charger will allow you to plug in all your devices while driving instead of charging one phone or tablet at a time. The Solar On-the-Go Charger is great for those times when you don’t want to or can’t rely on the car battery to charge your electronics. All you need is a little sunlight.

Rooftop Storage Bag

How to Plan The Perfect Family Camping Road Trip 5

On any road trip the car gets packed up pretty quick. If you’re looking for more room to store some camping gear, try this waterproof bag that straps to your roof. You don’t even need racks.

Car Activities to Keep the Kids Happy
How to Plan The Perfect Family Camping Road Trip 6

One of the things a lot of parent’s dread about a long trip with a car full of kids is the constant question, “are we there yet.” Take this opportunity to teach your kids that it’s not always about the destination, sometimes it’s about the journey. But to do this, the trip itself has to be fun. Try some of these activities to keep your kids happy and occupied along the way:

Audiobooks
You can buy them through Amazon’s Audible or check them out at your local library. Even better, download the OverDrive app on your smartphone, find your library and download your borrowed audiobooks straight to your phone. Libraries will often let you check out multiple books at a time in case you will be without the internet for a few days.

Travel Games and Cards
You can find most of your favorite board games in travel size now, like Sequence, Yahtzee, or Battleship. And if they don’t have a travel edition, they usually have an on-the-go version like this Apples to Apples dice game and Monopoly Deal.

Letterboxing
You’ve probably heard of geocaching but have you heard of letterboxing? It’s like modern day treasure hunting without the need for a GPS. Letterboxers will hide boxes with rubber stamps. You stamp your notebook when you find one and leave your personal stamp on the logbook in the letterbox. You can use sites like AtlasQuest.com to learn more about it and find letterboxes along your route.

Individual Activities
Want to keep your kid’s eyes off of their devices and in the world around them? Try organizing a game that requires them to search their surroundings like a scavenger hunt, truck and car spotting, or bingo. Check out these free printable road trip games and also our very own License Plate Game here on Beyond The Tent.

Interactive Games
Especially if you have kids who get carsick, try some activities that don’t require them to read or write. Games like Would You Rather, 20 Questions or Round Robin Stories are also great for a media-free evening around the campfire.

Ready To Get Exploring?
Try these 6 Family Camping Trip Routes Around the United States.
Our nation has so much to offer from national parks and historic sites to big cities and white sand beaches. Here are some of the best camping trip routes and destinations by region that you should try on your next family camping road trip:

How to Plan The Perfect Family Camping Road Trip 7
Acadia National Park, ME
New England

This relatively short route can be easily extended over a week or more since there are several big destination spots along the way.

Start at Melville Ponds Campground while you explore the Newport, Rhode Island area.

Next up are Cape Cod and the North of Highland Camping Area, which is a short walk to the beaches and right near Provincetown.

The next stop on the route is the historic city of Boston. Stay at the Minuteman Campground, which offers transportation to the city center. Plan to stay here for at least two nights so you can spend more time exploring all that the waterfront city has to offer.

Try some lobsters and visit the lighthouses in the next city on this route, Portland, Maine. Stay at the Hid’n Pines Family Campground nearby the city.

The last stop is in Acadia National Park. Famous for being the first eastern national park, it boasts beautiful views of the rugged Maine coastline, excellent family camping and hiking options and best of all, it is dog-friendly.

How to Plan The Perfect Family Camping Road Trip 8
Assateague Island, VA
Mid-Atlantic Loop

Try this loop of the Mid-Atlantic area to explore some of the nation’s most iconic cities, beaches, and some lesser known hidden gems. You’ll want to plan at least 10 days for this trip.

Start out in New York City. You can explore the Big Apple with Floyd Bennett Field in Gateway National Recreation Area as your home base. Just hop the ferry over to Manhattan to sightsee during the day.

Take the NJ Turnpike down to Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell, the Mutter Museum and ride one of the duck boats. Stay at Timberlane Campground, the closest tent camping site to the city center.

Baltimore is the next stop on the list. Make this one a day trip and explore the Inner Harbor area. Stop to snack on some Maryland blue crabs from Captain James before heading out of town.

Head straight to your campsite at Greenbelt Park Campground just outside of Washington D.C. Spend your evening roasting marshmallows in this woodsy oasis near the capitol city. Be sure to get there early because the sites are first-come-first-serve. The College Park Train Station (4931 Calvert Rd, College Park, MD), which takes you right to the city center, is only a few minutes from the campground and has a parking lot for a small fee on weekdays and is free on the weekends.

Once you’re done exploring the capitol city, head to Assateague Island where you can camp on the beach. Plan a day of hiking to explore or just stroll the beaches to catch a glimpse of the island’s famous wild horses.

Take the Lewes Ferry from Delaware to Cape May, NJ and settle into the Adventure Bound Camping Resort for some rest, relaxation and lots of summer fun for the last day or two of your trip. Cape May is only a 2.5-hour drive up the coast and back to NYC to complete this fun-filled loop.

How to Plan The Perfect Family Camping Road Trip 9
Savannah, GA
Southeast

Follow this route through the deep south to enjoy some old-world southern charm, white sand beaches, and historic sites.

Start your trip in historic Charleston, South Carolina where you can stay at the campground at James Island County Park with easy access to the city. Make sure to visit Fort Sumter for a Civil War lesson and take a tour of downtown to learn about this antebellum city.

Take a short drive down to Charleston’s sister city, Savannah, Georgia to grab some soul food, stroll River Street and take a ride in a hearse on one of their famous ghost tours. Stay at River’s End Campground on Tybee Island and enjoy beautiful beaches, or camp out in the low country at Skidaway Island State Park.

Next, take a drive down to the panhandle and enjoy the white sand beaches of Pensacola, Florida. Stay at the Pensacola Gulf Islands National Seashore while you soak up some rays and the kids play in the calm gulf waters.

Finish your trip in the jazz capital of the country, New Orleans, Louisiana. Try some crawfish, enjoy some live NOLA jazz and explore the French Quarter. Stay nearby at the New Orleans West KOA for easy access to the city.

How to Plan The Perfect Family Camping Road Trip 10
Great Smokey Mountains National Park
Midwest

Didn’t think there was much going on in the Midwest? Let this trek through the middle states prove you wrong with adventures in national parks and world-renowned cities.

Begin your journey in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where you can enjoy hiking, biking, and wilderness camping. Feeling adventurous? Plan a night of camping in the backcountry.

Travel just a few hours to the home of country music in Nashville, Tennessee to enjoy plenty of live music and some of the best barbecue in the nation. Stay nearby at the Anderson Road Campground.

Take a ride north over the Mississippi to St. Louis Missouri to see the gateway arches and explore the city’s rich culture from art and science museums to outdoor adventures. Stay at the Onondaga Cave State Park and explore the network of caves while you’re there.

How to Plan The Perfect Family Camping Road Trip 11
Monument Valley, UT
Southwest

One of the quintessential road trips is through the American southwest, and for good reason. With miles of open road, towering rock formations and legends of cowboys and outlaws you’ll be glad you tried this trek through several of the region’s most iconic parks.

Start in Santa Fe, New Mexico where you can stay at the Rancheros de Santa Fe Campground with easy access to Old Town. Explore the city or take some day trips to explore ruins, old mining towns, and colonial villages.

Drive north to the Rio Grande National Forest where you can stay at any one of their convenient campgrounds while you enjoy the beauty of the rocky mountains.

Next, you’re off to Utah. Make sure to take in the sites along the way like Monument Valley, where many of the famous westerns of the 50‘s and 60‘s were filmed. Make your way over to Zion National Park for an amazing hiking and camping experience among some of the most beautiful rock formations in the country.

To close out your trip, drive south to Grand Canyon National Park, featuring one of the most well known natural sites in the world.

How to Plan The Perfect Family Camping Road Trip 12
Mt. Ranier, WA
Pacific Northwest

One of the most beautiful and untouched regions of the country is the Pacific northwest where scenic coastline meets lush forests.

Start in the Siuslaw National Forest on the coast of Oregon for excellent hiking, swimming, and fishing.

From here you can choose to drive up the coast on Route 101 to take in more of the Pacific coastline, or head inland to shorten the trip to Portland, Oregon’s largest city. Camp at Oxbow Regional Park while you explore the city.

Take a day trip to the nearby Mt. Hood National Forest or grab a campsite there to explore the area for more than one night.

Finally, drive north to Mount Rainier National Park to see the active volcano and hike and camp near its icy slopes.

Family camping road trips have a special place in American culture and they are a fantastic way to introduce your children to the natural wonders, historic sites and diverse cultures this country has to offer.

Not sure what to pack? Read Family Camping Checklist to make sure you don’t forget anything on your next trip.
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15 TRICKS TO MAKE YOUR TENT THE COMFIEST PLACE ON EARTH

Camping is a blast – friends, family, yummy campfire food and fun camping games. Now some will say that the only way to truly experience camping is to sleep on the ground with nothing more than a pillow and a blanket (and the blanket is also optional). But I’m not one of those people and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I like to be able to sleep so I can enjoy all the adventures that might happen the next day. But sleeping doesn’t come easy when there is nothing but a tarp between you and the ground (and I don’t care what they say, grass makes no noticeable difference). So in an effort to help other campers who have the share this opinion of sleeping on the ground with me, we have found some great tent hacks to make your camping trip a little more comfortable.

15 Tricks to Make Your Tent the Comfiest Place on Earth

Tent Hacks to Make Your Camping Experience Cozy
Can’t get used to the hard earth under your tent? Soften the floor with foam floor tiles. You won’t believe the difference it makes! This also works well for keeping mud and dirt out of your floor.

Fill your tent with a soft light all through the night by filling a jug with water and wrapping your head lamp around it. This’ll make the tent a not-so-scary place for kids who are afraid of the dark.

Here’s another alternative for kids who are afraid of the dark: solar-powered twinkle lights! Just don’t hang them directly over kids’ beds, as you don’t want them to knock them down and get tangled up in their sleep. I’d put them on the opposite side of the tent room, actually.

Keep tent zippers from sticking by rubbing them with a wax candle.

Keep everyone’s outfits organized with this hanging sorter from IKEA. What a genius idea! You should also get a smaller one to hang up your outdoor kitchen items.

Are you always tripping over your tent lines because you don’t see them until you’re right there? Mark them off with pool noodles.

Have cold feet at night? Fill a water bottle with hot water and put it down in your sleeping bag to keep your tootsies toasty warm.

Keep your tent from becoming unbearably hot by using a reflective blanket to deflect sunlight.

Use this gear line organizer (affiliate) so that you never have to dig through piles of sleeping bags and pillows to find your phone again.

This lady has all kinds of tricks to make your tent comfier, but we have to agree… an air mattress on a fold-up frame is loads comfier than trying to sleep on an air mattress on the ground. And bring comforters and blankets instead of sleeping bags… at least for the adults. If you’ve ever felt like you were baking in a double sleeping bag, you know what I mean.

If you’re going to be hiking and camping, an air mattress is totally out of the question, but those sleeping pads can be expensive! Try this diy sleeping pad if you’re the crafty sort, and you’ll save a lot of money.

Who wants dirt tracked inside the tent? Eww! Keep a shoe basket near the entrance to collect those dirty shoes and keep your tent floor spic and span.

You know how everything is just so dark when you go camping? Put some cheap solar lights outside the tent and on the way to the bathroom area to help you find your way around instead of fumbling in the dark.

Dealing with trash bags is frustrating, but this pop-up trash can using a hamper is a brilliant idea. (You may want to use rope to tie it to something to keep it from blowing away.) But even better, you should use this same trick inside the tent to hold dirty clothes during your stay.

Keep your tent flaps open with binder clips. We have more binder clip tricks, too.

Keep in mind, very few tents are big enough for your king size pillow-top mattress so no matter what you do, some sacrifices must be made. But you don’t have to rough it completely if you don’t want to. As you’ve seen you have all sorts of ideas for improving you camping conditions so you can focus on more important things like making memories.

For more camping tips, check out these posts:

15 Tent Hacks for the Comfiest Camping Trip Ever
13 Best Sleeping Bags for Kids
12 Winter Camping Tips That’ll Keep You Cozy
15 Must-Have Camping Supplies

camping,camping world,academy sports outdoors,rei,rei.com,trails near me,hiking,hiking trails near me,academy sports outdoors,great american outdoors act,gander outdoours,bass pro shops,cabela’s,cabelas,cabela’s sporting goods,cabelas.com,bass pro shops online

15 TRICKS TO MAKE YOUR TENT THE COMFIEST PLACE ON EARTH

Camping is a blast – friends, family, yummy campfire food and fun camping games. Now some will say that the only way to truly experience camping is to sleep on the ground with nothing more than a pillow and a blanket (and the blanket is also optional). But I’m not one of those people and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I like to be able to sleep so I can enjoy all the adventures that might happen the next day. But sleeping doesn’t come easy when there is nothing but a tarp between you and the ground (and I don’t care what they say, grass makes no noticeable difference). So in an effort to help other campers who have the share this opinion of sleeping on the ground with me, we have found some great tent hacks to make your camping trip a little more comfortable.

15 Tricks to Make Your Tent the Comfiest Place on Earth

Tent Hacks to Make Your Camping Experience Cozy
Can’t get used to the hard earth under your tent? Soften the floor with foam floor tiles. You won’t believe the difference it makes! This also works well for keeping mud and dirt out of your floor.

Fill your tent with a soft light all through the night by filling a jug with water and wrapping your head lamp around it. This’ll make the tent a not-so-scary place for kids who are afraid of the dark.

Here’s another alternative for kids who are afraid of the dark: solar-powered twinkle lights! Just don’t hang them directly over kids’ beds, as you don’t want them to knock them down and get tangled up in their sleep. I’d put them on the opposite side of the tent room, actually.

Keep tent zippers from sticking by rubbing them with a wax candle.

Keep everyone’s outfits organized with this hanging sorter from IKEA. What a genius idea! You should also get a smaller one to hang up your outdoor kitchen items.

Are you always tripping over your tent lines because you don’t see them until you’re right there? Mark them off with pool noodles.

Have cold feet at night? Fill a water bottle with hot water and put it down in your sleeping bag to keep your tootsies toasty warm.

Keep your tent from becoming unbearably hot by using a reflective blanket to deflect sunlight.

Use this gear line organizer (affiliate) so that you never have to dig through piles of sleeping bags and pillows to find your phone again.

This lady has all kinds of tricks to make your tent comfier, but we have to agree… an air mattress on a fold-up frame is loads comfier than trying to sleep on an air mattress on the ground. And bring comforters and blankets instead of sleeping bags… at least for the adults. If you’ve ever felt like you were baking in a double sleeping bag, you know what I mean.

If you’re going to be hiking and camping, an air mattress is totally out of the question, but those sleeping pads can be expensive! Try this diy sleeping pad if you’re the crafty sort, and you’ll save a lot of money.

Who wants dirt tracked inside the tent? Eww! Keep a shoe basket near the entrance to collect those dirty shoes and keep your tent floor spic and span.

You know how everything is just so dark when you go camping? Put some cheap solar lights outside the tent and on the way to the bathroom area to help you find your way around instead of fumbling in the dark.

Dealing with trash bags is frustrating, but this pop-up trash can using a hamper is a brilliant idea. (You may want to use rope to tie it to something to keep it from blowing away.) But even better, you should use this same trick inside the tent to hold dirty clothes during your stay.

Keep your tent flaps open with binder clips. We have more binder clip tricks, too.

Keep in mind, very few tents are big enough for your king size pillow-top mattress so no matter what you do, some sacrifices must be made. But you don’t have to rough it completely if you don’t want to. As you’ve seen you have all sorts of ideas for improving you camping conditions so you can focus on more important things like making memories.

For more camping tips, check out these posts:

15 Tent Hacks for the Comfiest Camping Trip Ever
13 Best Sleeping Bags for Kids
12 Winter Camping Tips That’ll Keep You Cozy
15 Must-Have Camping Supplies

camping,camping world,academy sports outdoors,rei,rei.com,trails near me,hiking,hiking trails near me,academy sports outdoors,great american outdoors act,gander outdoours,bass pro shops,cabela’s,cabelas,cabela’s sporting goods,cabelas.com,bass pro shops online