I grew up in a camping family. A hardcore camping family. Every weekend, weeks at a time, all seasons, all weather. Most of my favorite memories growing up are with my parents and siblings out camping. Some of my earliest memories included sites without water and facilities where we had to establish our own shower and bathroom areas. I’ve had to dig mini-trenches around our site to spare us from the rain at Yuba Pass, had to abandon our site due to excessive wind at Lake Lahonton to find a windless campground, and had been forced to ditch our entire belongings at 3am due to snow at Frenchman’s Lake and return hours later to continue the trip. Not even crazy weather stopped my parents and my family from a good time and good memories!
Yes, good memories! These events are the memorable outliers in countless days of camping. We’ve hiked the mountains around Lake Davis and Davis Creek endlessly, have played more card games than the average person even knows exist, know the secret soft-serve ice cream stand in Chilcoot, been woken up to hundreds of sheep with bells on as they were herded through our camping spot, and, most importantly, bonded as a family away from the noise of tv, gadgets, and a constantly connected world. Camping was a great escape in my childhood and I intend it to be one for my children as well.
I realize these adventures aren’t for everyone. Too much gear, too great of a distance, the dirtiness, the rush to get going and set-up just to sit around. I get it. So, here is a simple guide for making your camping trip as easy and enjoyable as possible until you are ready to take it to the next level. With a constantly packed weekend of birthday parties and sports, this method has become my go-to because the most important requirement for this method is your family and some good friends.
So, in a nutshell, the components are:
1) One Night
2) Minimal Distance
3) Minimal Gear
4) Minimal Set-Up
5) Family and Friends
The hardcore among us will have their thoughts on this minimalist approach, but I am introducing a method for non-campers to get out and enjoy our beautiful state, become familiar with a great American tradition, be less intimidated by the camping process, and more confident to take this adventure to the next level. Baby steps here.
Step 1: Pick a Night
Pick a Friday that fits your busy schedule. Campgrounds fill up during the weekends, so a Friday is optimal. Avoid holidays like the plague. The crowds, the party, the noise – not my style of a relaxing overnighter.
Step 2: Pick a Location.
Want an exceptionally close introductory campground? Davis Creek on the west side of Washoe Valley. It is about 15 minutes from town, it has a lot of pine trees, full restroom facilities, easy hiking trails, and is an established campground. Anyone from Reno who has camped enough times probably has a memory from Davis Creek. It is a frequent haunt of Boy Scout troops and church outings – both of which I have enjoyed at this very campground as a boy! Cost is around $20 cash.
Step 3: Prepare Your Gear
We have some variables here depending on your comfort level. First, your vehicle is going to help decide how much gear you bring. If you have a crossover SUV, minivan, or larger, you are set. You can get away with a car if just you and the kid.
You don’t need much gear here. Start with as little as you can (pack the car full still) and refine your camping go-kit each time you camp.
Depending on the size of your family, one tent should be sufficient for four people. I highly recommend the 90 second install tents found at Costco from time to time. They just pop up! My family uses two 5 person tents, one for wife and me and the other for the boys (ages seven and four by with the dogs). Don’t go bigger on tents unless you want a tent set-up headache – which defeats the point of this trip. Grab a tarp to place under the tent on set-up to protect the bottom better.
Inside the Tent
Blow-Up Mattress, Sleeping Bag, Pillows, Blankets
Getting a $20 queen size blow up mattress from Target will make your night more enjoyable if comfort is of concern. I highly recommend it. We are a soft people now, no need to go total caveman here. Before you go, make sure you have the ability to blow the mattress up at the campground!
Depending on the season, sleeping bags and a blanket should be sufficient. My sleeping bag is some ridiculous sub zero temp thing so I sleep on top of it wrapped in a blanket. It can get a bit cold at night, though. It can also be pretty hot. Just depends on the weather. Bring a change of clothes, fresh socks/underwear, sweatshirt. Just an overnight bag.
Don’t forget a pillow.
Outside the Tent – Food, Snacks, Drink, Miscellaneous camping gear.
We fill a medium cooler with ice, drinks, easily prepared foods, snacks, and, well, more “drinks.” We grill hotdogs over the fire pit with grilling posts (grab a set anywhere), have snacks, and stuff for S’mores. Nothing crazy, very simple. No need to get all fancy on the first trip. If you want, bring a cast-iron skillet for beans, eggs, bacon, whatever else to spice up the meal. Bring plastic utensils and paper plates. Think picnic.
You should also bring a couple gallons of water, first-aid kits, a small hand held shovel, lanterns, flashlights, fire starting material, firewood, plastic table cloth, and lawn chairs. Don’t forget the lawn chairs. All this gear should fit in the vehicle, perhaps tightly. We bring all this with two kids and two dogs.
Don’t forget some games and non-electronic entertainment like card games and board games without too many pieces. Again, swing by Target, grab some cheap games.
Step 4: Minimal Set-Up
Other than the tent, this should be about as easy as it gets. Set everything out and get to relaxing!
Step 5: Family and Friends
Then most important step! Camping is a great time for the family. Lock the phones and electronics in the car and bond as a family should. Go for an easy hike along the trails to the pond, get a little adventurous and hike up the actual Davis Creek (along the trail). Sit around the camp sight and have a good time. This is a great opportunity to throw a ball around, to teach the kids how to build a fire, to tell stories about your youth. These memories will last longer than whatever is happening on the internet.
And the friends. The Reno Dads founders have for the last couple years executed a few of these quick and easy trips each summer together. We grab a couple sites and let the kids explore their backyard. A bottle of bourbon or two definitely keeps the night light!
Step 6: Pro-Tips
1) Know the weather. Properly prepare.
2) Familiarize yourself with your gear. Set your tent up at home first.
3) Get a site as early in the day as you can. I swing by the site in the morning, set-up the tent, and return later on with the crew.
4) Know basic first-aid, let friends know where you are, keep your cell phone handy – general common sense safety and security practices.
5) Be respectful of the environment and of others. As hunters know, part of conservation is using our natural resources responsibly and respectfully so others, and especially the next generation, can also partake. Follow the park rules, keep the fire reasonable, the noise down, and be a good citizen. Unfortunately, this needs to be said, especially at a campground so close to town.
Between busy schedules, Davis Creek is a great location to have a night out, get up in the morning, quickly pack out and be home by 9am to deal with a busy Saturday. The location is safe, close, and about as easy as camping gets. Your kids will greatly benefit from even a trip or two each summer.