A blue enamelware pot

Under the Open Sky

American families are buying tents and sleeping bags and taking to the open road. Along the way, they’re developing an active healthy lifestyle and experiencing God’s wondrous creation. Whether you’re a first-time camper or it’s been a few years, we’ll get you started with advice on gear: tents and sleeping bags, cooking and safety, and those extras that take a camping trip to “wow.”

Tents. There are plenty of reasonably priced family tents available. Tents are rated for the number of people they will hold. Buy a slightly larger one to stow your gear. Choose between dome- and cabin-style shelter.

  • Dome: Easier to set up. Curved sides allow less room inside.
  • Cabin: Straighter sides, more room. More challenging to set up.

Sleeping Bags. When everyone is warm and comfortable, your trip will be a lot more fun, so take some time here. Kids need smaller bags to keep body heat in and stay warm. Choose a bag based on:

  • Shape: Bags come in mummy and rectangular shapes. Mummies are warmer, but some find them uncomfortably confining.
  • Filling: Choose between down or synthetic. Both are good, but if down gets wet, it loses its insulating ability and takes quite a while to dry.
  • Season: Manufacturers rate bags for temperature range. It cools down more at night on the ground; it’s often easier to cool off than warm up, so buy accordingly.

Air Mattresses. Invest in a quality mattress that won’t easily develop leaks. The best are designed for home use with a built-in pump; some are available in a smaller size for kids. You’ll need electricity to inflate—either batteries, an inverter that plugs into your car power outlet or a hookup at your campsite. Self-inflating sleeping pads are a popular option.

Lighting. LED flashlights draw less power and last longer than older, conventional battery flashlights. You’ll need:

  • LED flashlights for each person. Headlight bands are helpful.
  • At least one general camping lantern.

Cooking & Serving. Meal prep is easy with the right gear.

  • A two-burner camp stove using small propane bottles is an excellent choice. Side wings provide wind protection. Tuck in waterproof matches, an igniter and extra propane bottles.
  • Inexpensive everyday cookware works well.
  • Store spatulas, serving spoons, knives (wrap in tea towels for safety), silverware and spices in a plastic storage container.
  • Pack a plastic table cloth, plastic dishes or sturdy paper products, aluminum foil, resealable bags, trash bags and paper towels.

Water & Cooler. You’ll need a water container. Pack a rigid container or the easier-to-tote collapsible-plastic type. Purchase where camping supplies are sold. Make sure everyone has their own water bottle too. If you need to keep food cold, take along a cooler equipped with wheels.

Campfire Fun. Getting that fire started can be challenging.

  • Bring along fire-starter sticks, available in camping supply stores.
  • Throw in a bag of charcoal. Wood may not be available at the site.
  • Include long metal campfire forks for roasting marshmallows and cooking hotdogs, chops or steaks.

Camp Comfort. Be sure to bring folding chairs for kids and adults. An inexpensive screen house protects against mosquitoes.

Safety. Be prepared for the unexpected. Include:

  • A first aid kit.
  • A solar/crank-powered weather radio.
  • Whistles (string around necks). Blow it in case of emergency.
  • Life jackets, if camping near water.

Fun. Fishing poles, water toys, bicycles, bug jars, a magnifying glass, walkie-talkies, a GPS for geocaching, card games—you know your family.

Food & Critters. Never take food into your tent. Critters—ground squirrels, raccoons, even bears—get in your tent to eat your food.

List It and Stow It. Dinner’s no time to discover the kitchen gear got left behind. Make a master list and check items off as you pack. Stow gear and supplies in soft-sided duffle bags and plastic bins with lids. When storing, dry out all gear, especially your tent. Always store gear together, protected from water or other damage.

Rental Equipment. New to camping? Try it out by renting equipment. Check with camping stores in your area or visit www.lowergear.com.

Camping Apps. Here are a couple to get you started.

  • Star Walk: Lets you point your iPhone or iPad at the sky and see what stars, constellations and satellites you’re looking at. For Android, try Google Sky Map.
  • AllStays Camp & RV: Shows most city, county, state, federal and many private campgrounds nationwide; links to reviews; iPhone, iPad and Android.