IDEA #79. Get some friends or relatives together and camp out for a night—or more. Make sure you get permission and observe good camping practice—leave no trace!
Camping out is about as fun as an activity can be, but successful overnights in the out-of-doors are the result of some careful thought and planning. Much of this planning has to do with the campers’ understanding of their own capacities as well as practical knowledge.
The first order of business in planning a camp-out is to determine who the participants will be. Good campers are old enough to be independent of the need for comforting adults or frequent trips to the bathroom; fear of the dark is also something of a limiting factor, although sometimes an overnight in a tent with trusted friends or family members can be enough to help dispel this phobia.
Destination and equipment are equally important, as the object is to minimize the risk of having inclement weather or other environmental factors intrude on the participants’ good time. Perhaps a back yard or some public space very close to home seems like a good place to begin (and of course, make sure that anywhere you plan to camp allows such activity). Unless there is absolutely no risk of rain or animal visitation, some kind of tent is required, but this need not be an expensive model from an outdoor-equipment store—hundreds of thousands of pioneers and soldiers have made it through the night under the equivalent of a blanket or tarpaulin tented over a rope strung between two trees or other objects, with the corners somehow fastened down. Sleeping bags or blanket rolls (made by pinning a blanket together into an envelope) keep out the chill. Some sort of small flashlight—to be used for serious business only!—completes the absolute basics.
Of course, if the hike is to distant place, there will also be the need for food and other necessities, including perhaps even recommended tools for dealing with human waste. Camping equipment and camping regulations can be quite elaborate in many locations, and prospective campers who are combining their overnight or nights with some hiking on trails or on public land should check with local authorities before setting out. In some parts of the country there are very strong prohibitions on camping or very serious regulations to be followed.
The need for camping safety cannot be overstated. Camping seems to involve knives and fire more than other activities, and the young camper needs to be instructed in proper use of sharp tools and in the basics of campfire safety. On the whole, fire management and cooking are best done under the supervision of someone wise in the ways of Smokey the Bear and of the specific equipment being used, and local regulations must be strictly observed not only to protect the participants but to protect the environment. A campfire, incidentally, can never be put out thoroughly enough.
Perhaps the most important goal of the thinking child’s camp out is to begin to instill a sense of environmental stewardship into the young camper. For many decades the Leave No Trace movement among outdoorspersons has emphasized the idea that a good camper literally leaves behind no evidence of his or her having been present in an environment. Whether the site of the camp out is a family backyard or a designated campsite in a national park, when the group leaves in the morning there should be no sign at all that they have been there.