How to Set Up Your Campsite

By Heather

So. You found a campground, reserved a site, got your firewood, your water and your camping gear.

You just parked at the campsite, you’ve got about two and a half days of camping ahead of you and… Now what?

Before the real fun begins, you’ve a little work ahead of you: Packing and setting up. Oh, does setting up suck! After all that packing and driving, you just want to start the fire and kick back with a drink and some food.

That’s why our unpacking and setting up routine is designed to maximize efficiency so we can get to the fun times faster.

1. Get out your “First Things” bag.

What? You don’t have a First Things bag? Well, please do read my post about why you should have one. It will save you infinite amounts of trouble, especially when you have arrived to the campground in less than ideal conditions.

With a First Things bag, you can quickly start your fire and use other sources of light (lanterns, flashlights) to illuminate your campsite while you set up. Obviously, this won’t matter so much if you’re arriving in daylight.

There should also be stakes in your First Things bag – I use one of those stakes to secure Nabby’s leash while we set up.

2. Take everything out of the car and put it on the picnic table.

Don’t worry about organizing anything, creating any sense of order or putting anything together. Just unload the car. And load up like a Sherpa to cut down on trips.

3. Find your spot and set up the tent.

You’re not likely to need the tent right away, but setting it up is the biggest pain of all, so just get it out of the way. It’s also much easier when two people are doing it.

Look for level ground. Don’t put your tent under an obviously dead tree or branch. Think about where the sun will be rising and position your tent accordingly if you don’t want to be chased out by the sun before you’re ready. Move rocks out of the way.

Once you’re done with this, you can start divvying up the rest of the tasks.

4. Divide and conquer.

Once you’ve set up the tent, you are almost done. My tasks are generally to inflate the air mattress, lay out the sleeping bags and pillows, organize our bags inside the tent and get Nabby her food and water, since it’s usually dinnertime when we arrive.

Darren generally sets up our folding tables and chairs around the campfire ring, places the campfire grill, stacks the firewood and gets a fire going. He then handles organizing the picnic table – laying out the tablecloth, creating “cleaning” and “eating” sections of the table on opposite end:

  • For the cleaning end: Water jug, hand soap, dish towels, dishwashing bins and trash bag, etc.
  • For the eating end: Condiments, seasoning, utensils, cooking tools, napkins, drinking glasses, libations, etc.
  • On the ground, near the table: Cooler, supply bins and food bins, if there is no bear box.
  • If there’s a bear box: All your food and your dog’s food goes in there, plus your toiletries. Don’t keep them in your tent.

It’s all about keeping the picnic table neat and organized.

When that’s done, we usually haul our 5-gallon cooler to the nearest spigot and fill it with water. One person can usually handle this on his or her own, but two people makes lugging that heavy cooler around a lot easier. Plop it on the table on the cleaning end, natch.

And you’re done. Welcome to the fun times.

5. Dinner and drinks.

You’ve earned a beverage. Crack open a beer, some wine or a little bourbon.

Our traditional first night dinner is no fuss: Sausage and baked beans. One time, Steve and Regina also showed up with macaroni and potato salad. That was a good night. Probably best for our waistlines that it’s not often repeated.

At this point, we’re pretty pooped and don’t want to fuss with prep work. Just throw the sausages directly on the grill. The beans will heat faster if you open them up and set the can on the grill over an open flame. You enjoy your drink while this cooks, then eat your dinner.

And that concludes Night One. At this point, we either continue sitting around the fire if it’s not too late or too cold, or we all retire to our tents.

And you will be so glad that you set your tent up first thing!