Adventure’s Guide to Camping September 29, 2020

This latest installment in our Let’s Gear Up series is written by Adventure Strategist John Frahm. When John isn’t wrangling his three kids or whittling bowls on his lathe, he sometimes gets out into the woods. Check out his camping guide and conversation with Clint Carlson, below.

Minnesota has some of the nation’s best outdoor recreational spaces, especially when it comes to camping opportunities. Fall is my personal favorite time of the year to camp — leaves are changing, cool nights for sleeping and warm days for hikes.

Growing up, we camped. Often. In just about any way you can imagine — tent, car, RV, backpacking, BWCA. As I’ve grown older, it’s always been a part of the regular line-up of recreational activities that gets slotted into each year. My wife grew up the same way.

As kids started showing up, we’ve naturally incorporated them into the camping experience. I could write an entire article (nay, novel) on how to (and, probably more critically, how not to) take kids out into the wilderness. But, I’ll save that for another write-up. Or a therapist.

Camping with kids forced me to understand that experience is not a standard rite of passage for all. More critically, how daunting the experience can seem for those who have never been. The thing is, it doesn’t have to be.

One of my favorite things about the activity is no matter how seasoned you are, there is always an opportunity to improve upon your experience with each adventure. Such is life, they say.

50 Campfires is a resource I use frequently. I had the opportunity connect with Clint Carlson, the Creative Director at 50 Campfires and one of their primary content authors. He and I caught up to talk Fall camping in Minnesota. From infrequent to advanced campers, Clint’s wealth of knowledge and our conversation brought to you in summary here:

If you’re at square one, think about camping in its most basic sense: You’re going outside to sleep and eat. Doing each one of those things comfortably doesn’t require a lot.

Step One: Go Outside

Pick a state park close to home for your first adventure (or see some ideas for campsites at our roundup below). If it goes sideways, throw your stuff in the car and boogie on home. Bailing if it’s not working does not equal failure. Learn, change and try something different next time.

No matter what skill level, do your research on the site you are going to book. Pull up the campground map in one browser window on your computer. Pull up Google Maps satellite view in a second browser. See what the actual topography can tell you: Is the site close to a road? Does it look west to catch a sunset? If you do legwork researching it now, the less likely you’ll end up with a lemon of a campsite.

The lack of honest trouble is one of the most endearing qualities of Minnesota camping. There’s not a whole lot that wants to maul you or hide in your shoes. If you can handle mosquitos (or the occasional black fly hatch (shudder), you’re never that far from water, shade or a friendly face.

Step Two: Catch some Z’s

Sleeping can be as easy as an inexpensive tent from a local retailer, warm blankets and the pillows off your bed. You get the same morning experience opening your eyes to nature whether you’ve slept on a cheap home quilt or an expensive ultralight down sleeping bag.

Step Three: Eating

  • Eating can be as simple as a cooler of sandwiches and fruit. And beer… honestly, there’s few things better on earth than drinking a beer outside. Mix in a campfire (the simplest and most foolproof way to start a fire) and congratulations. Crack a second beer, you’re now camping.
  • If you want to simply and cheaply level up your game to hot food, get yo’ self a pie iron. You can put anything (seriously) and everything (no, seriously) into a pie iron. I’ve explored the limits of these things and have yet to find the edges. And if you have young kids, it’s built in entertainment at the dusk hour around the campfire.  
  • Rocket stoves. These are so fun to make. If you want to take a trip down the YouTube rabbit hole, search “homemade rocket stoves.” My favorite practical one is a 4×4 block of cedar with two drilled holes. Lightweight and nothing to pack out once you are done.

If you have a pet that accompanies your camping trips, invest in a dog backpack. Two Nalgene bottles — one filled with food and one filled with water, a tarp and collapsible bowl. Love having my dog with me, but not a fan of carrying dog stuff. Have him tow his own weight.

Lastly:

Always, always leave a beer for yourself in the back of your car for the end of your trip. It will be hot as the sun, but nice reward to celebrate the end of the trip as you dismantle and repack your gear for the trek home.

Some ideas for campsites & where to camp:

  • Breaking out of the typical way you camp allows you to use (and add to) your gear in new ways. If you’re typically a car camper, explore a yurt, like the ones in Upper Sioux Agency State Park.
  • The Superior Hiking Trail along the North Shore is an incredible opportunity for backpack hiking and scalable to any skill level. An easy out, camp and back hike for those who haven’t been. Or point-to-point hike and camp a few sections of the trail. You’re never far from Highway 61 if you run into trouble.
  • Book group sites. Not only are they slower to book out they typically are located in a more private location in the park than the campground sites. Bonus, some have their own restrooms.

MN-based retailers, outfitters, rental and repair resources that can help you prep for your next adventure:

Whether you’re a beginner looking for easy access or an advanced camper searching for ways to dial in your gear, the Minnesota outdoors has something for everyone. Go for it — 2020 owes you some restorative nature time.