Juniper was only three months old on her second real camping trip.
My parents drove up from Phoenix for my first Father’s Day weekend and met us in the Lincoln Creek campground 11 miles outside of Aspen, Colorado.
My dad and I went paragliding off Aspen Mountain; our women nervously watched us soar overhead and greeted us in a grassy field off North Star Preserve like soldiers home from war. That weekend we brought mountain bikes, climbing gear, a small raft, coolers, a guitar, and so much baby stuff – I still don’t know how we fit into our creek-side camp site, much less our little Subaru. It’s not always pretty and there are no points for style, but we mountain folk love to get right up close and personal with nature.
Whether we’re pitching tents or sleeping out under the stars, there’s no better way to enjoy the great outdoors than a good old fashioned family camping trip. Now that spring has sprung, the bears have returned to town, and wildfire season is officially upon us, grabbing the kids and heading for the hills is what summertime in the Rockies is all about.
Of course there are starkly conflicting breeds of outdoor enthusiast – from competitive rack-clad mountaineers to bivy sack soloists; from Gucci gear snobs to All-American Coleman camper aficionados. No matter your destination or the label on your stuff, getting where you are going with ease and some manner of organizational prowess is likely to keep you coming back all season long.
Whether you are backpacking, car camping, or hauling multiple recreational vehicles in tow, you’ll benefit from a little organization before you hit the road. Camping is all about two concepts I use with clients all the time: contained clutter and functional storage. My 4 Rules of Organization work gloriously for any way you roll. You’ll want to keep like things together (E.g., first aid kit, kitchen, pantry, gear, clothes, etc.), in separate labeled containers that are easy to find (Ziplock freezer bags, plastic bins or stuff sacks), so that containers are easy to reach, but out of the way. The containers you are most likely to use a lot (or in an emergency) should be the easiest to grab; less urgent items should be further away.
In other words, in grizzly country, don’t hide your pepper spray at the bottom of your pack!
Tempting as it may be to load your gear on top of the kids, your journey will be more comfortable and safer if you can separate passengers from cargo. Soft stuff sacks securely stowed should be the only items packed with kiddos. Plastic bins should be transparent, clearly labeled, long and shallow with tight fitting lids. This enables you to find most of their contents at a glance without digging for hidden necessities. Stuff sacks should be small to medium sized, color-coded, or tagged with some kind of label for easy identification (E.g., the emergency first aid kit is the only bright red stuff sack in our gear). According to Moab four-wheeling standards, anything securely fastened to the exterior of your vehicle is fair game.
Once at camp, everything stays inside its respective bag, bin, sack, or bucket until ready to be used – and then promptly returned. I’ve seen some wild looking campgrounds that are hazardous, dysfunctional and organizational disasters when it comes time for daily basics like food preparation, kitchen management, relaxed lounging, and restful sleeping.
Tidy campsites are safer, less likely to attract local wildlife (and would-be looters), and make enjoying the outdoors infinitely more comfortable – for everyone. After your sojourn, returning your gear to pre-trip conditions guarantees that everything will be clean, re-stocked, organized and ready for your next family adventure. As we mountain folk say in winter, ‘see you on the hill!’