Preparing for our first backpacking trip

After hiking up Harney Peak last year, I looked up Missouri’s highest point of elevation. It turned out to be a rather disappointing 1,772 feet at Taum Sauk Mountain. But this discovery yielded an interesting bit of information. There is a hiking trail between Taum Sauk and Johnson Shut-Ins (site of one of our camping trips last year) with a length of 14 miles. The hike up Harney Peak left me itching to do more hiking and 14 miles seemed like fun. However, a hike that long would take us the better part of a day and we wouldn’t have time to do a roundtrip back to our car.

Then, sometime over the last two months I read about Missouri’s Ozark Trail. It is a hiking and backpacking trail (with a lot of mountain biking and equestrian access as well) with a total length over 350 miles at the moment.  The trail is situated mostly in the southeastern quadrant of Missouri and stretches almost down to Arkansas.

I spent several hours one night reading stories backpackers had written about their experiences on sections of the trail, including the section between Taum Sauk and Johnson Shut-Ins. That’s when I got the idea to do a backpacking trip with Fox.

We bought hiking boots about two months ago, but most of our camping gear is suitable only for car camping. In order to better understand what we are getting into and how to prepare, I started reading lots of guides to backpacking during my train commute to and from work (The guides on REI’s website seemed quite good).

Seeing as we normally camp with a queen-size air mattress, relatively heavy tent, and heavy blankets, we had some big holes to fill in our gear inventory. We would need at least one frame backpack, a lightweight tent, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads. We have been doing a lot of reading across the Internet about pros and cons of various types and brands of tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, sleeping pads, stoves, water filtration systems, clothing, and other accessories.

So far, we found a great clearance deal on a Kelty Coyote 80-liter backpack for me as well as clearance deals on Kelty Cosmic Down 20-degree sleeping bags (Long for me, Women’s Regular for Fox). We didn’t intend for this to sound like a Kelty advertisement, but their backpacks and sleeping bags have been consistently recommended on review sites for their quality at a reasonable price point. Also we keep finding great sales on their stuff where we look.

We are still looking for a good four-person tent (maybe the Kelty Gunnison 4.2 since it reviews well and is only $200 at REI) and sleeping pads (probably NEMO Astro Insulated) and probably a backpack for Fox too. If we need a backpacking stove, we recruited my little brother to go with us and we got him one for Christmas. We were thinking ahead there.

My plan at the moment is to keep an eye out for a dry weekend this spring and drive down to Taum Sauk Mountain State Park early in the morning. We will then park where our car will hopefully not get disturbed for a couple of days. Then the three of us and our dog, Mishka, will set off for Johnson Shut-Ins. We will hopefully arrive at Johnson Shut-Ins State Park a couple hours before dark so we can get to a campsite and get our tent up without trouble.

We may spend a day hanging out at the park and spend a second night there, or we may head out the next day. This part is still up in the air. The park has a good showerhouse, camp store, and campgrounds with fire pits, so we will still have nice amenities and won’t have to make camp in the wilderness this time.

I have been spending a lot of time looking forward to this trip. The thought of hiking through the wilderness while carrying everything we need to survive holds a particular sense of excitement for me. It’s definitely my most anticipated adventure for 2015 that we have planned so far. I’m looking forward to making some good memories this year.

Campfire Tea Kettle

As cooler weather approached us, I began to lust after campfire tea kettles. I would linger by them in outdoor and sporting goods stores. My web browser somehow found its way to pages with tea kettles for sale or reviews on this particular camp cookware. Griff probably was tired of hearing me talk about them.

 

The tea kettle we chose

On a trip through Wall, SD, I found exactly the one that I wanted, but we did not have room to take it with us on that trip.  I wanted a tea kettle that was big enough to make several cups of hot drinks and something that looked nice. When we returned, I read thoroughly about it and decided that there really was not much that was going to change my mind. So, Griff and I placed an order and it was shipped to us a few days later. We are now the proud owners of a GSI Outdoor enamelware tea kettle.

 

Tea kettle over fire

Our GSI Outdoor enamelware tea kettle over the fire.

Using the tea kettle

We have only been able to use the tea kettle on one campout to date. On that cold camping weekend, hot tea and hot chocolate helped keep our spirits high and brought us much needed warmth. Griff and I happily added tea bags, cocoa mix and travel coffee mugs to our packing list for that trip. We had hot drinks even as we left the campground and headed on our 6.5 hour journey home.

The main issue that we had is that I realized too late that the lid had a groove at one end to keep the lid in place and I accidentally broke that groove off when I placed the lid on it the first time. We never tried to grab the handle without a pot holder or towel, but we assume that it was probably too hot to touch otherwise. The water did not take an exceptionally long time to boil and it poured out of the spout easily.

At the end of the camping trip, the pretty green tea kettle appeared to be thoroughly burnt. The tea kettle had been left on the fire when there was little water left in it which eventually left a residue on the metal that made it appear burnt. I sighed as I thought about how nice it was at the beginning of the trip but I supposed that all things rugged must look rugged. When I got home, I soaked the tea kettle in soapy water and then washed it with the dishes. Believe it or not, the tea kettle looks almost as good as new. It made me love the tea kettle that much more for being easy to clean.

 

The future of the tea kettle

We had considered camping this weekend, but it did not work out for us. Today, we discussed how nice the tea kettle will be on cold weekends like this. We also discussed how having a tea kettle opens up so many more possibilities for us while camping. We can now make oatmeal for breakfast, continue to have hot drinks and many more meal options. We also now have the option of hot water for washing dishes. We are making big plans for future camping trips with this tea kettle.

First tent camping packing list

Packing for a camping trip can be a challenge when someone has never camped or only camped a few times. To face this challenge, about a week prior to the trip, I started making a list of what I thought that we should pack.

Here was my first packing list:

Sleeping needs:

  • Tarp to place under the tent
  • Tent
  • Hammer
  • Air mattress
  • Battery-operated air pump
  • Sheets
  • Blanket
  • Comforter (It was cold enough that weekend to need a blanket and a comforter, but we usually will take only one or just the sheets.)
  • Pillows

Cooking/Eating needs:

  • Cooler
  • Ice
  • Camp forks
  • Plates
  • Cups
  • Silverware
  • Napkins
  • Wet wipes
  • Trash bags
  • Table cloth
  • Aluminum foil
  • Paper towels
  • Pot holders (for pulling things off the fire and/or setting hot items on)
  • Tongs for grabbing our foil packs off the fire
  • Can opener (We were going to get a can of black beans to add to our burritos, but forgot to buy the black beans on our way.)
  • Dish soap
  • Dish rag
  • Food screens to put over plates to keep bugs away.

Hygiene needs:

  • Toiletry items (shampoo, soap, etc.)
  • Towels and wash cloths
  • Small mirror
  • Toilet paper (I wasn’t sure if the campground would have any. They did.)
  • Kleenex
  • First aid kit
  • Tweezers
  • Eyeglasses (I wasn’t sure about messing with contacts while camping)

Other needs:

  • Cash for firewood and ice
  • Bug spray
  • Tick deterrent
  • Camp chairs
  • Lantern
  • Flashlights
  • Sunglasses
  • Hats
  • Swim suits
  • Swim towels
  • Sun block
  • Camera
  • Batteries for air pump and lantern
  • Twine (Heard it was useful to have on camping trips)
  • Scissors (Always seem to come in handy)
  • Binoculars
  • Umbrella (You never know when it is going to rain)
  • Knife (Griff said that we needed it, but I have luckily not yet found out why…)
  • Deck of cards
  • Book (I enjoy reading.)

For basically a first time camping trip, this list turned out to be pretty good. We realized that there are a few things that we would want to acquire over time and a few things that we would not take every time. However, we used basically the same list for the second camping trip and between the two trips we used just about everything. This packing list is a pretty good beginning campers packing list if they cook with aluminum foil or on camp forks.

In a later posts, we will explain different packing lists for different camping trips, how we have become smarter about organizing our camping gear and how we store our supplies in our home.

The beginning of our camping adventures

stars above campsite, Lake Wappapello

Night at Lake Wappapello

The lizard stood facing the door as if it were waiting to be let out like a house-trained puppy. Fox pushed on the wooden slat and watched the green creature scurry over the path and duck into a crack between the shower house and the sidewalk. As she walked down the hill, she reflected on the weekend. Camping with Griff’s family at Lake Wappapello State Park had been fun and now it was time to go home…

We are Griff and Fox, a couple who got married in May and went on our first camping trip together in July 2014. That camping trip to Lake Wappapello was the start of discussions about future camping trips including the when, where, who, what and how of it.

The weather was unusually cool for July creating the perfect conditions for enjoying campfire discussions. Several discussions centered on how each of the four households prepared for camp.

Household 1: The parents brought a kayak, a screened canopy for the picnic table, a dutch oven, a tea kettle, a cast iron pan and so much more.

Household 2: The brother brought water toys, a tent that may have been a little too small for his growing family, a table cloth and entertainment for their daughter.

Household 3: The sister brought a sleeping pad and a cooler.

Household 4: We brought prepared meals in aluminum foil, camp forks, a picnic basket and Griff’s camera (He rarely leaves home without the ability to photograph something.).

The fascination with how different people prepare and react to camping was what led to our decision to begin this blog. Fox, having only been camping twice during college and did not do any of the work for it, did not really know how to camp. She sought advice from Pinterest and blogs about tent camping, but discovered that she could not find information for “normal people.” So, the blog came to fruition with the idea that other people may also want to learn the basics of tent camping, hiking and simple outdoor recreation.

Follow us as we explore the outdoors. We hope our blog will inspire others to get outside and experience nature in an easy, comfortable and fun way!