The novice camper’s survival guide

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Illustration by Robby Day

Choose your poison: backpack camping, car camping, trailer camping, beach camping… saying you’re camping when you’re actually staying in your friend’s cabin in Yosemite?

Good news! If your family never taught you how to camp, and you don’t know how to make a fire or sleep on the ground, I have some words of wisdom for you.

Educate Yourself Before You Go

If you’ve never been camping before, contact Portland State’s Outdoor Program to find out if there is a camping trip coming up soon.

The Outdoor Program is located on SW 5th Avenue behind the Academic Student and Recreation Center. The OP program staff can help you sign up for a trip and tell you what you need to be prepared. The OP is open to Rec Center members and nonmembers, meaning you can bring a non-PSU buddy along. There is nothing better than going on your first camping trip with experienced individuals there to teach you how it’s done.

Be Prepared

If you feel confident enough to camp on your own, try to be more prepared than I was last time.

I recently backpacked and camped overnight on the Eagle Creek Trail in the Columbia River Gorge. October was off-season, so the trail was pretty empty and very peaceful. I had all the rain gear I needed, so even though the next morning was pouring, I stayed pretty dry and content. When I got back to my car, however, I found my passenger window smashed, my radio, speakers and repair tools stolen, and my gas line had been cut and drained.

With the poor cell service of the woods, it was pretty difficult to reach any of my friends, but eventually my friend’s mom was able to leave her job in Gresham and bring me two gallons of gas. I duct-taped my gas line shut and made it home.

After my peaceful, dry hike I shivered in my car for two hours while I waited for help and felt like a fool. I learned later not to park near the trailhead, but as close to the main road as possible to thwart thieves. I was thankful for my emergency blanket and extra layers of clothing. I was protected by all-waterproof gear. I had brought extra socks to keep me warm while I slept. I ate canned chili and crackers like a queen.

I was prepared for one pleasant night in the woods, but not for a band of car-breaking jerks.

Get the Right Gear

I cannot offer specific advice on what gear to purchase or what safety precautions to take, because going somewhere unprepared, especially alone, can be life-threatening. If you’re going to go into the wilderness, spend the money to take a compass navigation class. Invest in a pair of waterproof hiking boots. Find yourself a rape whistle and some pepper spray. Buy yourself a camping for dummies or idiots book from Powell’s.

The Outdoor Program offers inexpensive gear rental that includes sleeping bags, tents, water canisters, stoves, compasses and even things like rafts and kayaks or ice axes and helmets for mountaineers.

If you are wanting to get in shape for a backpacking trip, PSU offers a one-credit Spring Term Day Hiking class.

And if you have any doubts about the fun of camping, keep in mind that a camping trip on the beach isn’t a bad first date. I got a husband out of it!

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