Back to Nature (Published on - Nov. 22, 2006)
Get out!
For months we’ve sweated, mowed the lawn, intently watched radar images of the Caribbean, stockpiled plywood, hulked broken tree limbs and debris to the curb, shopped for batteries, water and flashlights.

Now it’s Florida’s turn to play. Go ahead. Get out the tent, hang the sleeping bags on the line, oil up the pan, we’re going camping.

What’s that you say? “Camping’s not for me. I’m not going to sleep on the ground, cook over a fire or go without a shower for days.”

Well, like anything else camping is what you make of it. You can take many different approaches to what kind of “camping” you desire. Some campers and backpackers go to the extreme preferring to cut the excess paper off of their maps, trimming their toothbrush handles down to a stub, anything to cut down on weight to enable all they need to survive to be carried upon their backs from shelter to shelter, dried food and just enough water.

Maybe you have a secret yearning to canoe down a river and camp alongside the riverbank, alone with no traffic sounds or phones. You may even relish a good hearty storm, as I do.

But if this isn’t your cup of tea then there’s just the right kind of camping getaway available including a little luxury. How about crisp linens and gourmet meals? Cable TV? Plush or primitive there are countless alternatives for getting away. These days, just about anything goes.

Let’s take a look at alternatives. Consider renting an RV, pop-up camper or how about sleeping in a tree house, camping cabin or luxury cabin. Fundamentally camping offers families a time to get away from the stress of everyday life and an opportunity to share this magical planet with our children.

Take a tour at and These Web sites offer a wide range of suggestions for planning your holiday. There are tour companies specially designed to offer the consumer the best of both worlds. Some of these packages include: hotel accommodation, gourmet breakfast, transportation to the trail, meals provided along your hike, transportation back to your accommodation where a massage and hot sauna is waiting. Afterwards dress for a formal dining night out.

The sky’s the limit as long as you have a budget to match. In case your budget is modest like most of us beware of trying to put together a budget camping experience that ends up with tragic disappointment.

The most common mistake made is going to the local discount retail store to buy “cheap” equipment so the family can “try it out.” Big mistake. Your experience outdoors is doomed for failure from the start.

Don’t be left out in the cold with inappropriate sleeping gear or feeling all wet under a tent that didn’t live up to your expectations of reasonable shelter. Imagine this. Here you are in the middle of a National Forest. It’s raining, you’ve got two children held hostage inside of a leaking tent, wet boots, wet clothing and someone has just spilled corn flakes and milk on the sleeping bags. The tent is too low for anyone to stand upright. Your back is killing you and you’re wondering if you’ll ever have normal hearing again.

On one expedition I observed a comparable scene. I shouldn’t say this was comical, but perhaps a tragic comedy, it remained to be.

We’d driven all day and were relieved to arrive at our target campground. Our reserved spot was back along a craggy, high rock ledge that led down to a beach a hundred or so feet below. Although several hours of daylight were still promised, shrouds of cool mist began to roll in from the sea, eventually obscuring the afternoon sun.

We began to set up quickly and with practiced precision, secure our campsite. We positioned the Jeep as a barrier between our campsite and the northerly direction of the fiercest winds. In due course, we became completely isolated and enveloped within thick, heavy clouds.

As night fell, an enormous storm rolled in from the sea and came upon us. The winds raged, buffeting our tent all night. We snuggled down deeper within our securely anchored, reputable tent, cuddled in well-tested sleeping bags, upon warm, comfy self-inflating mats. We pretty much slept through the storm without a lot of notice.

In the morning I awoke first. I’d planned to put on a fresh pot of coffee when I was met with a startling sight. The landscape was dotted with brightly colored, soaking wet, imploded dome tents. Wet residents huddled around wet smoking fires trying to warm themselves. These campers learned an excruciatingly, difficult lesson that night – one that all of you need to remember.

However necessary, however possible, even if you must borrow gear if required, do not purchase off brand, local store special camping packages, simply cheaply made gear unless you have no objections to getting fleeced and soaked resulting in a poor quality, second-rate experience. Remember that tent, that thin shell of material, is the only thing between you and the Great Outdoors. Let’s take a closer look at tents.

Tents: First decide what kind of experience you need. Do you want to spend a week upon a primitive island roughing it or catching some zzzz’s loafing in the chaise lounge while the kids use the KOA pool?

Weight becomes your deciding factor in either case when choosing your equipment. A 5- to 7-pound tent is appropriate for backpacking onto an island. Whereas a 30 pound tent wouldn’t be considered too heavy if you’re offloading it from your trunk directly to set-up.

Height also is a consideration. Are you planning on sliding into your sleeping bag with just enough headroom to sit up and touch the gear loft or do you need 6 feet, at least, headroom so you can make beds in the adjoining chambers of the main tent’s compartment. Suggestion: You don’t necessarily need the latest, greatest design. You’’ll probably be just as comfortable with last year’s design, which may be reduced considerably, better suiting your budget.

There are several categories for tents: expedition, four season and convertible tents, three season camping and backpacking tents, large family cabin and dome tents, tarps and shelters. As you can detect by the categories, your three major considerations are size, weight and weather.

The new improved dome tents are smaller and often lighter weight, and made of rugged materials. They are easier on the back while backpacking and because of their lower profile they are better able to withstand wind and rain.

Domes usually have the minimum of poles making them easier to set up. Cabin tents offer stand-up headroom, near vertical walls, lots of ventilation enabling your camping experience to resemble a vacation home.

We own two specifically designed tents. Our main base camp tent is the Eureka Tetragon 9. It is 9 feet by 9 feet. It has two large mesh windows, one large mesh front door and large mesh top vents. Our second tent is a three-season, adventure backpacking dome, lightweight 6 pounds, 7 ounces, 7 feet by 7 feet floor dimension, and 4 feet 4 inches center height, Eureka Tetragon 7. In addition to being reasonably priced, it seems to withstand just about anything, although we haven’t been snowed in with this one, as of yet.

Ask yourself, do you need to pay extra for a four-season tent or would you be just as satisfied with a three-season tent, saving quite a few dollars?

There are some features you can’t live without. Proper ventilation, front door D-style opening, bathtub bottom design, double sealed seams and a fly that shelters openings and windows.

Proper ventilation is obvious. A tent can “weep” to the degree that you may believe it’s raining inside. Great ventilation is a must-have feature.

D-style door opening: There’s nothing worse than a trampled-down, mud-laden door rolled up at the bottom of a tent opening.

A protective fly that extends out beyond the windows is necessary. Once more this seems obvious but there are quite a few tents on the market that look “pretty” with cute little overhangs when once sodden with water dump that water directly into the windows. Pretty design does not compensate for practical requirements.

Before buying a tent do your research. Visit sites like Read the reviews. Study the specifications and have a good idea of how you will use this shelter. Remember it’s all you will have between you and inclement weather.

Tips – Reseal all seams and give an extra coating of spray waterproofing before your trip. Never pack a tent wet, if possible, dry it out as soon as possible. A ground cloth will add years to protecting your investment. Go with a reputable dealer. Discover deals online at numerous sports outlets, such as,, and

Remember, the secret to enjoying your experience, Back to Nature, is first, be prepared.

Karen can be reached at

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