I had high hopes the first time I took a girlfriend camping.
As a long-time camper, I was confident I could plan the perfect experience: a trip that would convert her to a camper while sealing my reputation as an avid outdoorsman. We would skip the tent and sleep outside in the bed of my pickup truck. In the warm desert air, we would look at the stars while listening to a chorus of hooting owls.
Instead, I listened to her shiver all night and pretended like I wasn’t also freezing.
That was the last time she came camping with me.
Whether you are a seasoned outdoorsman or new to camping, you need to put some thought into that first trip you take your partner on. Follow the tips below to ensure a successful, romantic and cozy camping trip.
1. Don’t Settle for Camp Food Just Because You Are Camping
If this is her first time camping with you, your girlfriend is probably expecting to be foraging for wild berries.
Imagine her surprise when you pull out a cheese and cracker platter and a bottle of wine as a dinner appetizer. While you won’t be making wild Fijian albacore sashimi with pea tendril salad, there is no reason to settle for just-add-water ramen. Go for tacos, pasta, steak and potatoes, and omelets. Ingredients can be pre-chopped and placed in sandwich bags before your trip.
A few camping kitchen tools are a must:
- Stove: The cooking options are limitless with a small two-burner gas or propane stove. I use this Coleman one. Make sure to bring backup fuel and matches or a lighter.
- Cookware: Set aside some cookware solely for camping. Any hand-me-down set of pots and pans works or you can purchase one specifically for camping like this Coleman set. Don’t forget plates and utensils.
- Spices: These are often overlooked when packing for camping but who wants to eat a plain baked potato? Get a set of mixed spices just for camping.
- Ice Chest: What’s worse than a plain baked potato? Warm beer. Go with a large ice chest (100 Quart) and don’t forget the ice.
- Coffee Maker: A fresh cup of coffee in the morning is going to make all the difference.
- Lantern: Start cooking dinner while you still have some daylight but make sure you have some lanterns for when it gets dark.
2. Be a Beast Master, Not Someone Outsmarted by Squirrels.
Now that you have a plan for food, be aware that the outdoors is full of squirrels, raccoons, birds and bears who also want a bite of your steak tacos. Your trip will quickly go downhill if you lose your carefully planned meals to animals. During the day, secure food in the ice chest and in your car, even if you are nearby. If you are at a site where bears are known to be a nuisance and a bear box is provided, use it! Otherwise make sure food and other scented items (toothpaste, deodorant, etc.) are secured in your car at night, not in your tent.
3. Make a Proper Campfire, Not a Pile of Smoke
Building a campfire may appear as simple as throwing a few logs on the ground and holding a match to them; it’s not. The most common mistake I see guys making is creating fires that billow smoke all night. Everyone spends the night playing musical chairs trying to avoid the changing direction of the smoke.
Instead, build a roaring fire for you and your woman to cuddle up to.
I use the tepee method of starting a campfire. Place tinder (dry leaves, small sticks and/or crumpled newspaper) in the center of a tepee of kindling (larger dry sticks). Light the tinder and blow on it to provide oxygen. You can fan the air with a paper plate to speed things up. Wait until the fire is really going before adding larger logs so that you do not smother the fire before it is hot enough.
Most established campsites sell firewood (they do not want you bringing off-site wood as it may carry unwanted insects). If you are bringing your own, choose a hardwood like oak, cedar or citrus as they burn slow and hot.
Because there is nothing less sexy than the man who burns down the forest, make sure to use the fire ring provided and put out your campfire with a bucket of water.
4. Your Tent is Your Castle, Treat it Like One
If you have camped you have seen it too: confounded guys awkwardly fiddling with tent poles and looking for “those damn directions.” If you have a new tent or haven’t pitched yours for a while, do a test run at home before the trip. This helps you ensure you have all of your pieces. Pitching the tent is always the first thing I do at my campsite. It may seem obvious, but it is much easier to pitch a tent during the day than when it’s pitch black outside and you can’t see your hand in front of your face.
Keep in mind that your tent will serve as your changing room and private space. You may not have any issues with public nudity but your girlfriend probably does. Use the rainfly and ensure that she has privacy inside.
When it comes to sleeping, you will never be as comfortable as on your home memory foam mattress. However, just because you’re camping doesn’t mean you need to sleep on hard rocks all night. Before pitching your tent, clear the area of rocks and sticks. Make the inside of the tent comfortable and romantic with a wide air mattress and a double-wide sleeping bag.
If cold weather is still a concern some sleeping bag warmers will be your best friend.
5. Bring Some Entertainment (You Can’t Watch Birds All Day)
You came out here to connect with nature and unplug, but you can only “enjoy the outdoors” so long before you find yourselves staring at rocks. Hiking, camping, and fishing are great camping activities during the day, but be prepared for downtime around the campsite. Some things that work for me include:
- Games: These can be simple “get to know you” games like two truths and a lie, card games like Uno, or for the more ambitious (and those with a truck or large car) bring a cornhole set.
- Star-gazing: Brush up on your constellation knowledge or just make it up.
- Books and magazines: The couple that reads together stays together.
- Booze: The couple that drinks together stays together.
6. Have a Plan for Scary Bathrooms
For your girlfriend, campsite bathrooms may be more terrifying than hungry bears. Some are decent with modern toilets and running water. Others are nothing but spider-infested, crumbling shacks built around holes in the ground.
Be prepared for bathrooms that do not have running water by creating an outdoor sink. Bring a bowl, extra water, mirror, towels, and soap. For trips to the bathroom, have extra toilet paper on-hand. Headlamps are especially useful for middle-of-the-night visits.
Extras to Really Impress
If you have the basics down but want to really impress, think about bringing along some of these items (there’s no shame in “glamping” when you’re with your lady):
- Hot Shower: If you are camping in a sunny area a solar shower bag can be heated by the end of the day for an outdoor shower.
- Campsite furniture: Hammocks and inflatable sofas will make you forget you were ever “roughing it.”
- Pizza Oven: Pizza, beer, and camping go together like squirrels and acorns. Bring along a portable pizza oven for freshly baked pizza.
- Telescope: At some point, she will point out how many stars are visible. This is the perfect moment to bust out your telescope and start throwing around words like “Cassiopeia.”
For you, camping may conjure up images of living off beer and freeze-dried food, not showering for days and digging holes to poop in. Taking your girlfriend on this sort of trip will end in mild hypothermia and broken hearts. Instead, follow the 6 tips above for a memorable trip that will solidify your reputation as an avid outdoorsman…while still keeping your relationship intact.
Oh, and remember: check the weather forecast before you go.
Do you have any camping tricks I didn’t mention? Let us know in the comments below.