Nuggets of Wisdom From My Failed Camping Trips
I’ve done my fair share of camping. I’ve hiked many trails and set up many tents, traveled the United States in an RV, and even set up tarp shelters. But guess what? Not all of those experiences were Instagram-worthy and I learned A LOT the hard way.
Specifically, a canoe camping trip down Florida’s Peace River comes to mind and a last-minute “by the seat of our pants” trip to a not-so-desirable strip of government-owned BLM land in Utah. The former involved feral hogs and the latter 30 miles per hour winds.
Yeah, it got interesting! So, seeing how I have all this life experience, it seems only natural that I should impart my hard-earned wisdom unto you. Here is what happened on those trips, what I learned, and what you should know as you prepare for your next tent camping trip:
The Peace River originates just south of Lakeland and flows south through Wauchula, Zolfo Springs, Arcadia, and finally through Punta Gorda where it meets the Charlotte Harbor.
The portion of the river from Wauchula to Arcadia is the most popular trip as it’s relatively shallow and calm and great for beginning canoeing. There are campsites dotting the river bank equipped with firepits and soft sandy spots to pitch a tent. Sounds great, right? But, stubborn as we are, my husband and I decided we didn’t want to deal with bumping into other campers so we opted for the lower portion of the river, putting in our canoe where most people were taking theirs out after completing the trip.
We planned to do a 24 mile stretch of river in 3 days and packed accordingly. Freshwater, a small camping stove and pot, waterproof bags, a tent, and a small hatchet were some of our supplies. But no sleeping pads… It took me WAY too long to learn the value of something comfy to sleep on and I would continue to go without one on the next several trips.
The start of the trip was magnificent! We had the place to ourselves, wildlife was abundant and we enjoyed crystal clear shallows for a picnic on a sandbar. However, as the day began to fade away and we searched for a camping spot we found our options were limited. In our haste to get our 10 miles in for the day, we blew past all the best spots to set up and found ourselves in deep, dark water bordered by thick brush with no sandy river banks.
Finally, as night began to fall, we rounded a turn, and there it was refuge! A nice sandy outcropping that would suffice for the night. We pulled ashore and set camp only to be startled a few hours later to the terrifying sound of squealing feral hogs. They had come down to the river bank to dig up and munch on roots. And then you have to watch out for the raccoons! These little cute varmints are more than eager to eat whatever leftover food you might have laying around your campsite!
Now back to the most destructible varmint. If you don’t have experience with feral hogs you might think I’m being dramatic but trust me I’m not. These pigs can grow as large as 150 lbs and 5-6 feet long with 2 inch long tusks. Without exception, everyone I know who works with the parks department in Florida has a hog story and it usually involves being chased by one.
We did our best to make noise from the tent to scare them off. We discharged a flare and then pulled the canoe alongside the tent just in case. We slept fine until 6 am when our piggy friends came back, so we loaded up, determined to finish what was left of our 3 day trip in 2 days.
The last portion of the river, as we approached the harbor, was very popular with boats, it became wide and deep with stronger currents and choppy water. It was a tough final 10 miles to our exit point. While it wasn’t the most enjoyable trip I’ve ever done, it wasn’t all bad. However, there is SO much to be learned especially in regards to safety. Here are the takeaways.
● Make sure you are familiar with your travel route and tent camping location by doing plenty of research. Google reviews, guide books, blog posts, and camping forums are a great way to get insider information on locations from people who have actually been there. Even better is calling a local ranger’s station in the area to ask questions and get up-to-date information on conditions.
● You should carefully consider what wild animals and insects frequent the area and if they have an active season that might make them more likely to cross your path. Carry protection as needed
● Until you have enough experience to go off the beaten path to find secluded camping spots it’s a good idea to stick to areas that are more established. These areas may get more use but they are popular for a reason.
● Bring a sleeping pad!
It was late April in Utah and my husband and I were itching to camp. We had been given a fancy new tent and sleeping bags for Christmas that were just screaming to be let out! Spring weather in Utah can be super unpredictable so we watched the weather closely and planned to head out to some government-owned land just west of Utah Lake. We drove out, found a spot to park the car, loaded up, and headed towards some low-lying hills.
The problem was that we were carrying our packs as well as a bulky bundle of firewood, an 8 person- 25 lb Coleman tent, awkward roasting sticks, and still no sleeping pads! I’m not sure why I was convinced that my body would just figure out how to sleep on the hard, rock-ridden ground but I continued this trend for a few more trips. We had intended to hike through a ravine in the hills to the mountainside, about a 4-mile trek. We made it maybe 2 miles. Boy were we dedicated to that trip!
We set up our brand new tent and had just gotten comfortable when a spring desert storm rolled in. A 10-degree drop in temperature, pelting rain, and near 30 mph wind had us questioning our judgment and the toughness of our tent, which kept folding in on us during big gusts and popping up again when the wind let up. Such conditions also made it impossible to have a fire or cook anything. So much for bringing firewood! We ate goldfish, pistachios, and beef jerky and slept with the tent blowing down on us all night. So, what can we learn from this experience?
● Don’t pack too much or too little. Under packing for a camping trip is just as bad as overpacking and can leave you needing essentials with no way to get them. However, overpacking can be annoying and slow you down immensely.
● Packing Tip: Make 2 piles, one for essentials and another for extras. Pack your essentials in your car or pack and then add as many extras as you have room for, leaving behind those you don’t. I also try to be aware of the things I didn’t use or eat when I am unpacking after a trip and take a mental note to leave them at home next time.
● Make sure you watch the weather and get out or to higher ground if you need to. Flash floods, tornados, etc. are serious weather events so make sure you check the forecast before you head out and consider carrying a radio to keep you posted.
● Bring a sleeping pad!
Hopefully, you gleaned some knowledge from my early experiences and don’t have to suffer through something similar yourself. Otherwise, I hope you at least had a good laugh.
Stay Safe and Be Wild!
Also, please check out our Camping 101 article for more great camping tips!