Tag Archives: advice

Tips for Planning a Successful Group Camping Trip

Contributed by Katie Levy of Adventure-Inspired

Group Camping with several tents in the woods

Image: Katie Levy

With prime camping season around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about trip planning if you haven’t already. And when it comes to spending a night (or several) outdoors, sharing that experience with a group of people can be incredibly rewarding.

After going on multiple camping trips with friends and local outdoor clubs, I’ve learned that a handful of key things planned, or not planned, in advance can make or break a group camping trip. If you’re hoping to get a group camping trip in this spring or summer, keep these things in mind.

Make campground reservations far in advance.

One of my favorite things about camping during the off-season is not having to worry about finding a campsite. Most people aren’t interested in camping in the snow, making it easy to drive to a campground and find a last-minute spot. But with some of the most popular camping months around the corner, campgrounds are going to get crowded.

If you’re planning on staying in a campground with a group, look for group sites that accommodate large numbers of people and snag them ahead of time. Some campgrounds don’t have group sites, and if they do, there are typically only a few. You can also look for campgrounds that allow you to reserve sites next to or across from each other if group camping isn’t available. My friends and I did that on a trip to Acadia National Park and it worked perfectly, but only because we planned ahead.

Decide whether to do group meals, and plan accordingly.

Planning meals for a group camping trip

Image: Katie Levy

Letting everyone fend for themselves on your group trip is certainly an option, but group meals can make things more efficient and cheaper. Instead of numerous individual coolers and items bought separately, you can buy in bulk and have the experience of preparing meals together. But if you do decide to do group meals, preparation is essential.

Start by figuring out the number of meals you’ll have, and write down options for each meal. Give your tripmates time to discuss them, and once the meal plan is set, determine who’s doing the shopping and how the items are going to be stored. Finally, pack plastic bags to make divvying up things like trail mix and sandwiches easier.

Understand everyone’s experience level.

Gear check for a group camping trip

Image: Katie Levy

Whether you have a group of seasoned camping veterans, absolute beginners, or a mix of both, knowing your tripmates’ experience levels is important. If you have beginners in the group, they might have more questions about gear and food than a veteran camper would, and they may need to pick up more gear in advance of your trip. They may not understand basic principles of overnight food storage, campground etiquette, or even what sleeping in a tent is going to feel like.

Ultimately, the goal is to make the trip enjoyable for everyone. Understanding both experience level and expectations from your tripmates makes having fun a whole lot easier.

Make a gear list and divvy up group gear.

If you’re going camping, odds are you’re bringing things like a tent, a stove or other cooking device, cooking utensils, cleaning supplies, and other items multiple people in your group may have. But it’s not (normally) necessary for everyone to have their own tent, stove, or bottle of dish soap, and it’s possible some people in your group might not have essential items others in the group can share with them.

Make a gear list in advance that includes things like sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and other personal items everyone needs. Then make a separate list of group gear items like stoves, cooking utensils, cleaning supplies, and tents so the gear can be divvied up in advance of the trip. I’ve found making a spreadsheet in Google Docs with multiple tabs for group food, group gear, and individual gear requirements is the easiest way to keep track of everything. A list, or multiple lists, also helps you avoid forgetting anything.

Make and share a plan for finances in advance.

Even when you’re planning a group trip with friends and/or family, finances can be tricky. If you’re ponying up for a campground reservation and group members drop out at the last minute, it’ll cost you. But asking for money upfront can cause its own set of challenges.

Think about whether you want to ask for a down payment in advance, especially for things like reservations. It can prevent folks from backing out at the last minute and helps ensure the known costs are covered before the trip. You can also estimate costs associated with food and ask for all or part of that ahead of time.

I’ve found that on group trips with friends, covering the reservations in advance and dividing up additional costs like food after the trip works best, but that’ll vary depending on who you’re going with. Get everyone in the group on the same page about estimated costs and what’s being collected and when; it’ll make things a lot easier in the end.

Image Credit: Katie Levy

Image: Katie Levy

What other tips do you have for a successful group trip? Have you been on a trip that went extremely well or extremely poorly? If so, why do you think the trip went the way it did? We’d love to hear from you!

Five Tips for Beginning a Garden

Spring is finally here, making this the absolute best time to finally start that garden you’ve been meaning to get around to. Whether you’re looking to plant a lush garden full of wildflowers or you want to grow some of your favorite veggies, this is the prime time to lay some seeds down and watch your beauties grow. Here are five tips to get you on your way toward your dream garden.

A huge flower garden near a lake.

A gorgeous flower garden to get you inspired. [Image: theunboundedspirit.com/the-sacred-art-of-gardening]

1. Find the perfect spot.

Sunlight coming through trees.

Make sure you find a sunny spot for your garden. [Image: skyway-es.com/sunlight-therapy-heliotherapy]

When deciding on the perfect spot for your garden, you’ll want to use a place that’ll give your plants everything they need to flourish. Most flowers and vegetables need between six and eight hours of full sunlight to grow to their fullest potential. When choosing your spot, make sure trees, buildings, or any other types of obstructions don’t block the sunlight. Similarly you’ll want to ensure that the plants will be protected from windy days as well as the impending cold. Some plants are able to survive in a shady spot, but make sure you check the tags or with a local garden just to be certain. Make sure you can easily bring water to the spot—if it’s easily accessible, tending to your garden will be much more enjoyable and more difficult to neglect doing. Additionally it’s helpful to have your garden in a place that you’ll be able to easily notice if there are any issues. Put it right outside a window you look out of every day or right near your back door for instance.

2. Get to know your dirt.

A hand holding soil.

Get acquainted with the soil you’ll be using in your garden. [Image: www.urbanfarmonline.com/urban-gardening/backyard-gardening/building-super-soil.aspx]

The soil you use in your garden is the most important factor that determines whether you’ll have healthy, abundant growth or if your plants will perish. Before anything you’ll have to clear the present sod and any large rocks, which will prevent your garden from becoming immediately overgrown with various weeds. Make sure to dig when the soil is moist so as not to ruin the structure of the area.

From there you’ll want to start improving the quality of your existing soil. Soil tests can be done through your county cooperative extension office or at a nearby nursery where they’ll tell you exactly what your soil needs and how to remedy the situation. The best course of action is to mix compost (dry glass clipping, decayed leaves, etc.) or mulch in with the soil, ensuring a healthy starting point for your garden. Don’t be confused between fertilizer and compost—fertilizer feeds your plants while compost feeds the soil.

3. Choose your garden.

Vegetable and flower garden with a scarecrow.

Maybe this could be in your yard! [Image: www.gardeningknowhow.com/special/containers/designing-your-container-vegetable-garden.htm]

Now is the time to finally decide on what type of garden you want to cultivate. Before you start buying plants, make sure to educate yourself on what can/cannot grow in your local environment. There’s a lot of research required in this step of the game, but it’s also the best part! Look into drought tolerant plants, annual plants that need to be replanted every season, perennials that come back year after year, easy care plants, plants that will attract the most amount of bees, and any other specifications you can think of. What it’s going to boil down to is choosing the types of plants/vegetables that you like the most and bringing them home to your garden.

4. Purchase your gardening gear.

Various gardening tools.

A list of must-have gardening tools. [Image: gardeningtoolsplus.com/garden/garden-tools-their-meaning.html]

It’s important to at least have some basic tools on hand, but try not to go overboard on a purchasing frenzy. You’ll want to have a spade, garden fork, shears, hose, hoe, gloves, rake, shovel, hand weeder, and a basket for moving around your soil/mulch at the very least. After awhile you’ll develop a preference for certain tools and will have a better idea of what you absolutely do and do not need.

5. Set a schedule.

A drawn gardening schedule with pictures of various vegetables.

However you want to draw it up, a schedule is incredibly helpful when gardening. [Image: urbangardencasual.com/2012/04/11/successful-gardening-101-how-much-do-i-need/]

After you’ve planted your seeds and the seedlings start to peek their faces out from the soil, you’ll want to solidify a schedule as to properly care for your new plants. From weeding to staking to trimming to watering, you’ll always find something that needs to be done in your garden. As time progresses it’s important to keep a record of your garden successes and failures. In this way, you’ll be able to learn what’s working and what isn’t. A concrete schedule will help you remember what time of the year certain plants will bloom so you know when to give what plants your attention.

This list should at least put you on the path toward developing your own dream garden. Get down and dirty, and embrace spring with open arms. Make sure you download our Pocket Ranger® mobile apps to visit a local park near you for some inspiration!

How to Avoid an Avalanche

Whether you’re hiking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing through the mountains, avalanches are not to be regarded lightly. We’ve all seen enough video clips and movies to know that they are a force to be reckoned with and one to be avoided at all costs. Even in situations where you played by all the rules and did everything you were supposed to, Mother Nature still sometimes throws a curveball and you might find yourself on a remote snow-covered mountain that’s showing the signs of an avalanche. Here is some information on what exactly you’re up against as well as how to properly prepare yourself.

What Triggers an Avalanche?

Snow crashing over a snowy cliff

An avalanche at Mt. Rainier [Image: environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/natural-disasters/avalanche-profile/]

An avalanche occurs once the weight of the snow is too much and the snowpack fails and collapses under the pressure. It’s hard to determine what the strength of a snowpack will be since the snow grains vary depending on size, density, temperature, airflow, received sunlight, difference in terrain, and more. A lot of avalanches occur naturally either during a storm or when the snowpack changes, such as by partially melting, but can also be triggered by exploring visitors. There are three different types of avalanches to look out for: slab, powder snow, and wet snow.

Slab Avalanche

A hiker trapped in a series of snow chunks breaking away from the snowpack.

A slab avalanche [Image: www.wayneflannavalancheblog.com/2012/01/i-have-this-picture-on-my-wall-in.html]

A slab avalanche occurs when covered layers of weakened snow fracture and collapse. They mostly happen during and up to 24 hours after a storm that leaves 12 inches or more of fresh powder. This new snow overloads the existing layers and creates a break. These avalanches can be huge chunks of snowpack, sometimes spanning an entire mountainside, and typically carry downslope for a long time with the possibility of reaching up to 80 mph. Approximately 90% of avalanche-related deaths are due to slab avalanches—many who find themselves involved in a slab avalanche will rarely escape alive.

Powder Snow Avalanches

An avalanche coming down a mountainside appearing like a cloud.

A powder snow avalanche [Image: www.planat.ch/en/images-details/datum/2011/06/21/schattenbachlawine-walenstadt]

Powder snow avalanches occur with fresh, dry powder and essentially become a snow cloud. These are the largest avalanches to form out of turbulent suspension currents. Typically these avalanches are able to move along flat surfaces for long distances and only make up a small amount of injuries or deaths comparatively.

Wet Snow Avalanches

A smaller avalanche coming down a mountainside made up of clumps of wet snow.

A wet snow avalanche [Image: www.mtavalanche.com/images/10/loose-wet-snow-avalanche?size=_original]

Although wet snow avalanches move slowly, they can take up a large amount of space, can result in serious injury, and end up being pretty destructive leaving trees, boulders, and most of what they come into contact with in their wake. They occur from a loose snow release in snow packs that have a lot of water saturation and are close to melting point. A lot of times these avalanches occur toward the end of winter as the snow is warmed by the longer daytime hours.

How to Prepare for Avalanches

A diagram of a man trapped underneath snow putting an arm above his head and another across his face to create an air pocket.

What to do if trapped in an avalanche [Image: www.artofmanliness.com/2011/12/14/how-to-survive-an-avalanche]

When going on a wintertime adventure on a snowy mountaintop, it’s best to be prepared for even the most extreme situations. Always check avalanche forecasts with park headquarters before heading out for a trip. At the bare minimum, you should bring a shovel, beacon, and probe with you. Beacons (or avalanche transceivers) are important because they can receive signals from other devices to help locate buried victims. A probe is used to dive into the snow and find a buried victim and works especially well when coupled with a beacon. Avalanche airbags and Avalungs are fantastic items that make it so a buried person has a higher chance of surviving and being rescued.

Sometimes even the most diligent and prepared hiker, skier, or snowboarder will hear the terrifying creaks that signify an avalanche. The first thing you’ll want to do is get off the breaking slab as quickly as possible by moving to the side. Snowmobilers are sometimes able to crank the speed and outrace a broken slab. If unable to escape the mass of traveling snow, try to grab onto a sturdy object such as a tree or rock instead. Humans are denser than other debris and will sink faster in the snowpack. Once the snow settles, it refreezes and makes it nearly impossible to move. Throwing a hand above the snowpack and making room in front of your face are the most important things to do if you find yourself trapped. Some claim that spitting will help you determine which way is up or that swimming will get you away from a traveling snowpack quicker, but there is no proof that either actually works. The longer a victim is submerged under the snow, the less chance they have of surviving the incident (usually being buried for more than 15 minutes leads to hypothermia and a lower chance of survival).

Hopefully, this article gave you some new information and makes you feel a bit more prepared for any winter journeys you may be planning. Download our Pocket Ranger® mobile apps to find a park to explore near you!