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Camp Queer: A camping guide

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Photo by Lauren Vasatka
Photo by Lauren Vasatka

Washington is one of the most beautiful states, and lucky you, now it's camping season. Warm and sunny weather is a rarity here, so why waste this opportunity to get your dose of vitamin D?

Maybe you don't know where to start, or you haven't camped since you were a child. So here we will go over some basics: what you'll need to prepare, how to be safe, and how to have fun. With these tips, you can explore Washington state with more confidence.

Photo by Lauren Vasatka  

Washington has you covered with its many natural wonders. Spend time researching attractions and locations that you may be interested in. Some apps are great for finding the perfect place for you; I recommend Alltrails or my partner's favorite, iOverlander.

The time of year and weather will be significant factors in your decision-making. For example, it's important to know whether a location currently has a burn ban before you start packing ingredients for s'mores. An area you wish to explore might also have certain environmental protections you should know about. For instance, Olympic National Park has full protection, meaning you can't take anything natural home. So leave that shiny pebble on the beach for the local wildlife.

Always research what passes or licenses you'll need. I recommend investing in a Discover Pass, which gives you vehicle access to Washington state parks.

There are many flavors when it comes to being outdoors and camping. Find your niche, and don't be afraid to dabble in things you wouldn't normally do.

A critical part of any adventure is being prepared. I was talking to a stranger one time about her camping experiences. She said she always wanted to go camping but didn't know anyone who was a camper. She described how she figured out where she was going and loaded her little dog and supplies into her Toyota Prius. When I asked how that went, she said, "Not well." She was embarrassed to say that she had forgotten one of the most important things: water. She enjoyed her time there but said that camping may not be for her.

Not being prepared is a common problem among new campers. Here is a simple list of the basics even if still on a budget (camping can be very inexpensive once you're past the initial start-up costs):
• The necessities include a headlamp or solar-powered flashlight and a cooler filled with two bags of ice to be kept in the shade. A helpful trick is to have a second cooler filled to the top with ice if you stay for over three days.
• Pack plenty of dry goods, and always bring more water than you think you'll need. Two gallons for two days is fair, but be prepared for spills or drinking more water than expected. Only drink water you find out there if you can purify it or know how to find safe, natural sources. That creek may look crystal clear and refreshing, but who knows what may have happened upstream or what parasites could be lurking.
• Bring some firestarter and a couple of campfire logs in case of heavy rain. I recommend wax-based firestarter cubes, because they are lightweight and waterproof.
• Pack a small basic tent, a tarp, and something to tie it down.
• A portable stove may seem bougie, but it is handy if you experience unexpected weather or are in an area with a burn ban. I recommend a cast iron skillet for your cooking, and remember utensils and bowls.
• Add a lighter or torch, trash bags, a map, a knife or hatchet, and toiletries to the list. Here's a pro tip: keep your toilet paper in a sealable bag, but if you can, use wipes.
• Finally, if you can afford it, invest in a handheld GPS tracker like the Garmin GPSMAP 65r. A lot of trackers have emergency buttons to signal for help or even allow you to send text messages. This could be a lifesaver if you're lost in the woods, get a flat, or are injured.

The journey
So, now you are ready to hit the road! We all know Seattle traffic sucks, so here is how I try to beat it.

Holiday weekends are their own circle of hell when it comes to traffic, but on an average weekend, leaving on Friday around 2 to 3 p.m. at the latest is best. If camping during the week, any time of day will work except for 7—9 a.m.

Make sure you bring snacks and drinks at the start of your trip to avoid unnecessary stops. Once you're out of the city and on the back roads, remember not to wait until you're almost empty before planning to refuel, because gas stations become harder to find.

Also, take your time, even if you're excited to get to your destination. The state patrol is always out; tickets aren't a fun way to start your adventure.

Turn on an audiobook and enjoy the ride!

The setup
You will either be a campground queen or a primitive camping legend. Whatever level of difficulty you decide, be safe about it, and pick where you're going to be with caution.

Campgrounds are great for beginner campers, but they have their pros and cons. If you decide on hard mode, make sure you bring protection and that other people know where you're going.

Remember that nature won't always be cute and fluffy. To quote my fiancée, "I respect nature enough to know it can hurt me." Set up your camp with wildlife in mind by keeping your food and trash sealed and high up. Keep food out of your tent. Do not approach wildlife, and if you have a small dog, make sure they stay close to you.

If you are setting up a campfire, do it safely. It's easy to convince yourself that you have control of the situation, but anything can happen. Do not set up the campfire near your tents or vehicles. Be mindful of where embers could go, and keep in mind that fire can travel up tree roots. Always put out your fire when you're done watching it.

The fun
You likely won't have a phone signal, but camping is a time for logging off. If you have a signal, consider only using your phone for geocaching and nature identification.

You can use geocaching apps to find hidden caches left by others. Make sure to bring a pen to sign any logbooks to prove that you found it and a small trinket to trade with other items in the box if allowed.

For nature identification, I recommend using the Seek by iNaturalist app to learn more about the plants, animals, and fungi surrounding you. My partner loves going off-roading, fishing, and hiking. Her absolute favorite, however, is reading in the quiet solitude of nature.

Experiment and find what makes camping fun most, but most importantly, research, prepare, and stay safe!