senior couple camping with RV
As the summer heats up, many people head to the wilderness for recreation. It’s the perfect season to enjoy time with family and friends, visiting your favorite campground or national park or exploring new places. For seniors age 62 and older, a lifetime pass to America’s national parks is only $10—and it never expires! At some locations, the pass can also get you a discount on camping, guided tours and other amenities at the park. So, let’s plan your next trip today!

Whether you enjoy “roughing it” by camping in a remote location with a tent and a minimal amount of gear, or you prefer to use an RV as your home away from home, with a little advance planning and the right equipment, your camping trip can be enjoyable, rejuvenating and worry-free.

Planning and Packing

Before you head to a campsite, do your research. Familiarize yourself with the area and the available resources. Find out details such as whether your intended campsite has fresh water, bathroom facilities, restrictions on campfires or specific regulations for tents, RVs, pets, ATVs, etc. Choose a destination that fits your needs and create a packing list of necessary supplies.

LovetheOutdoors.com provides this very basic list of camping supplies:

  • A tent, tarp and sleeping bag
  • A pot, pan, dishes, utensils, and fire-starting materials (preferably waterproof matches or a butane lighter)
  • A utility knife and length of rope
  • Plenty of water (get gallon sizes for cooking and cleaning)
  • Energy rich, easily prepared foods and snacks (think items like pasta, beans, ground beef, peanut butter, chicken, trail mix, and oatmeal)
  • Plenty of clothing (a good rule of thumb in temperate areas is enough for two to three layers daily)
  • A tight-closing cooler to store your food items in
  • Hand sanitizer and soap
  • Optionally, outdoor gear like fishing poles and hiking equipment

Depending on your location and the activities you plan, you will want to add much more to this list. Don’t forget to bring a first aid kit, bug spray, sunscreen and personal items like medications. And it’s never a bad idea to travel with a GPS!

If you want a really thorough packing list, visit ScoutLists.com to customize your list for any activity, season and climate. These lists are meant for boy scouts, but every camper should “be prepared” as much as possible. This website even includes lists of what items to have in a first aid kit, depending on your location and planned activities.

Once you’ve packed and prepared, before you hit the road, be sure to tell a friend or family member where you’re going, when you plan to return home and, if available, the phone number for an alternate way to contact you in case of emergency (e.g., the ranger station, the park main entrance, the campground host, etc.)—just in case.

grandfather and grandson camping

Tent Safety

If you plan on sleeping in a tent, make sure you practice setting it up at home first. And try to arrive at your campsite with plenty of daylight left to set up camp. The last thing you want to experience is standing in the wilderness in the dark with an armful of tent poles and no idea what to do with them.

Make sure you set your tent up at least 15 feet away and upwind from your campfire location. Always put a tarp under your tent to keep moisture out, and avoid putting your tent at the base of a hill or in any location that might get excessive water run-off during a rainstorm.

Campfire Safety

Build your campfire only in approved areas. According to SmokeyBear.com, fire pits should be at least 15 feet away from trees or any of your equipment, and away from any overhanging tree branches. Clear a 10 foot diameter around your fire pit, removing any brush, twigs, leaves, dry grass or leftover firewood. You don’t want the fire to have anything to burn except for what is in the fire pit.

Keep your campfire small. A large, roaring campfire may seem warm and inviting, but it can easily get out of control, and it can be difficult to extinguish when you’re ready to leave. Also, never try to burn trash in your fire pit. A lot of materials won’t burn, and you’ll end up leaving dangerous materials like glass and aluminum behind.

Never leave a campfire unattended! If you are leaving or going to bed for the night, make sure the fire is completely extinguished. To put out a campfire, SmokeyBear.com says it’s best to put out a fire with water, covering each burning ember. Then stir the coals and check to see if there are any hot spots. Keep dousing the coals with water until everything is cool to the touch. If you don’t have enough water to put out the fire, you can use dirt, but never cover a fire with dirt and just leave it. Use the same method of stirring and checking for hot spots, to ensure that your fire is completely out before you leave.

family eating picnic together


Food and Water

Make sure you have plenty of safe drinking water. It’s important to stay hydrated while you’re outdoors, but don’t drink water from rivers or lakes. It could make you very sick. If you’re unsure of a water source, bring your own supply of drinking water, or plan on using water purification tablets or boiling any unsafe water prior to drinking.

Plan your meals ahead of time and bring the necessary equipment and utensils for safe food storage and cooking. Even though you are away from your home kitchen, and it takes some adjusting to learn to cook outdoors, it’s still important to follow the same food safety rules that you have at home. Meats, dairy products, and other cold foods must remain in adequate cold storage, like an RV fridge or a cooler with plenty of ice (that’s replenished often!). If you don’t have the ability to keep cold food cold, then plan meals accordingly. There are plenty of food options that don’t need refrigeration: peanut butter, dried foods, packaged or canned goods, energy bars, bread, crackers, etc.

Remember that you’re sharing your campground with wild animals, small and large! So, store your food in places where animals can’t get to it. Your cooler and your tent are not animal-proof! Keep all food locked inside your vehicle or suspended from a tree branch out of animals’ reach. NEVER leave leftover food scraps on the ground! It’s dangerous for wild animals to become accustomed to finding food at campgrounds. Stay as far away from wild animals as possible, and store your food safely, so the animals stay away from your campsite.

When it comes to camping and exploring the wilderness, it’s best to adopt a “leave no trace” philosophy.  With careful planning and preparation, you can have a safe and fun camping trip and keep the wilderness beautiful and pristine for generations to come.