Picture this. We’re all sitting around a warm, crackling campfire. The glow of the flames adding a cozy feel to the moment. Water is boiling on the stove above the campfire to treat everyone to hot chocolate. We’re laughing, telling stories, bonding. Above us, dark clouds are looming. It’s still calm on the ground, the weather forecast said it will be clear skies. As we’re pouring boiled water into mugs for hot chocolate, a strong gust of wind rushes in. It knocks over the mugs, and sends sparks and smoke everywhere. It starts raining….someone doesn’t have their tent staked down yet, the storm picks up and things start getting crazy. That’s camping. It’s not always picture perfect. It’s easy to assume that camping is all magical — It is but with a bit of madness. What we don’t usually see on Instagram and in photos is the process of setting up camp, the bugs attacking you from everywhere, the fact that you haven’t showered after a long hike, and the unpredictable weather that should be expected in certain locations. To shed some light on this, here are some situations where we entered the dark side of camping.
Another strong gust of wind came over the edge. This time, it picked the tent up from the ground. I was holding onto the tent while it was literally, flapping in the air like a kite. This time, the wind didn’t stop. It kept coming. I managed to get the tent close to the ground and dragged it to the side of the jeep, hoping the jeep would break some of the wind. At least enough for me to disassemble the tent and flatten it. But no, the wind changed direction and I wasn’t protected anymore. Find out what happened in the rest of the story.
Lesson learned. Be prepared for unexpected weather. Things will go a lot smoother if you’re prepared. Laugh about the situation once it’s over (and if it’s laughable), it will feel better.
How I lasted 8 hours on a diy menstrual pad
I woke up, stretched, breathed in the fresh air and looked out of my tent. What an awesome view, I thought. Smiling and in a good mood, I gathered my bathroom stuff and walked over to my peeing spot. Even my peeing spot had a good view. I squatted, peed, looked down, and…blood. Dang it. It was not expected for another 2 weeks. Oddly, I didn’t have any pre-period symptoms either like cramping and bloating. A feeling of dread. I knew I didn’t take any period stuff. It was only a weekend trip, I was not expecting my period for another 2 weeks. I thought I would be okay without it. I went back to my tent and hoped that somewhere in my backpack was period stuff. Nope. Thankfully, we were heading back to the city that day. Unfortunately, we were in the backcountry, hours away from the nearest town, through miles of bumpy off roading trails. We all know bumpy roads are not good for keeping that flow in. It was also early in the morning, we had plans to have breakfast, hike and hang out at a nearby lake. With no period stuff and determined to not ruin the day, I had to improvise. I used everything I could from my first aid kit. Anything that was absorbent and waterproof. I wrapped my underwear in layers of tissue sponge, gauze, non-adherent pads, and medical tape. That set up lasted me for 8 hours. Once we reached town, we went straight to the nearest store. It was such a relief and a bloody mess.
Lesson learned. Always take period stuff, no matter what. Even for short trips and even if you’re not expecting. Trust me, it’s better to be prepared than sorry, like I was.
Huge moths flying into our ramen
We’re going to make fancy ramen and it’s going to be awesome! Said my imagination. We arrived at the campsite later than intended. The sun was down by the time we set up the tent. It was dark and we still had to make dinner. We set up headlamps so the bugs can be attracted to the light instead of us. But of course, they were also attracted to us. I have to admit, the lights were too close and too bright. A big moth flew into one of the ramen bowls we were prepping, flapping around, spreading it’s moth dust all over the broth and noodles. I picked it out with chopsticks and got rid of the area of the broth where all its dust was floating. Then, another moth flew into the other ramen bowl! C’mon guys, why would you dive directly into your death?! This moth was smaller, less dust, equally gross. I picked it out with chopsticks also. We stared at our ramen bowls, than we ate it and washed it down with beer.
Lesson learned. Use red light next time and/or put the lights in more strategic positions. Make dinner while the sun is still out.
A bee took a swim in our coffeeCondensed milk all over our utensils
It’s not recommended to take any food items that’s sticky, but we really wanted to make Vietnamese coffee (which a bee flew into). We stored condensed milk in a container with a lid that you pop on and off. After traveling through bumpy backcountry roads, the lid popped open and spilled on everything that it was stored with. We also had ghee in the same container, which also opened and spilled. The ghee was mixed with the condensed milk. It was a sticky and oily situation. Being in the backcountry, we had limited water but enough trash bags. We decided we could do without all the stuff that’s now all sticky and oily so we stuffed everything in a trash bag and dealt with cleaning it once the trip was over and we were back home.
Lesson learned. Only use bottles with lids that you can screw on!
Summertime usually means fire restrictions
Summer time in dryer states means fire restrictions. So if you’re in Arizona, and envisioning a magical camping trip with a magical campfire in the summer, it probably won’t happen. Please respect fire restrictions and do not make a fire! Wildfires can become devastating and out of control. You do not want to cause that sort of destruction. Instead, just chill and use a stove. Also, you won’t have to deal with smelling like smoke!
Sleeping isn’t comfortable
Sleeping on the ground isn’t comfortable unless you have an air mattress, which isn’t practical for camping. I usually use a foam pad and a sleeping bag. It’s never super comfortable but I’m usually tired enough to fall asleep easily. Do yourself a favor and take two small pillows. One to rest your head on and one for your lower back (I sleep on my back during camping, it’s the most comfortable position). I place a small pillow on the curve of my lower back for support. When I don’t, I wake up with my back feeling pretty sore. To save space, we use camping pillows made with down feather so it’s lightweight and can be compressed. To save money, you can make your own camping pillow with down from old pillows, tyvek, and pillow cases. The tyvek is so the pillow can be water resistant. If you’re car camping, just go ahead and take a full sized pillow. Inflatable travel neck pillows also work well for camping/backpacking!
It’s easy to assume that camping is all magical — It is but with a bit of madness.
Doing dishes sucks anywhere and they suck more while camping. Washing dishes with limited water can be a challenge especially if you’re eating something that requires more cleaning like spaghetti or oatmeal. You have to learn to reuse water and soap and to clean those dishes with the least water possible. Using a thick sponge helps because the sponge can retain more water and soap, which you can squeeze into a container and reuse for the dishes.
Going to the bathroom is kind of a challenge
You’re squatting behind a bush far from your campsite being irrationally afraid of bugs or small animals attacking your butt while you’re doing your business. You better be good at squatting wide so pee doesn’t get on your legs. It will also be scary the first few times going to the bathroom at night. It’s even harder in harsh weather. You might also stumble upon other people’s toilet paper. Please don’t add to the toilet paper trash and pack it out or bury it!
Camping is rough, it’s dirty, it’s not pretty — and some for reason, we love it and would put ourselves through it over and over again.
Because it’s worth it. It’s worth it for the landscape, the challenges, the intense hikes, the don’t worry about anything but what’s happening right now. It’s worth it for whatever intrinsic reason you do it for.
Things are bound to go wrong eventually, and when they do, it challenges you. You find out what type of person you are and how you deal with situations in the moment. You learn to not sweat the small stuff. It’s important to keep this in mind when camping, things will go wrong and when they do, are you prepared? How will you deal with it? Having an unrealistic expectation of camping may disappoint you and cause you to be unprepared.
Be prepared, and if you’re not, solve the issue with what you have at the moment. The magic of it is, even when things do go wrong (depending on how wrong), you can fix the situation, move on, and wake up the next day to an awesome view and fresh air. Embrace all aspects of camping, not just the picture perfect moments. Embrace the bugs, the dirt, the weather, the little annoyances, and everything else. Don’t sweat the small stuff and you’ll have an awesome time.