If you’ve been on Match.com or OKCupid, you’ll see that pretty much every woman’s profile says she enjoys camping. I’m calling shennanigans on that one. There are of course tons of women who love camping and tons of women that have out-hiked and out-climbed 99% of the men on the planet, but at least in my experience (and with my luck) the women who love camping don’t tend to love me, and vice versa. Rather than just go out with the guys, I chose to share my love of camping recently with my current lady, and I worked really hard to make sure the trip went as smooth as possible.
Now, let me be clear, I’m not dating any little wilting flower–the weekend we chose to go camping was the same weekend she was to run a half-marathon obstacle course race called the Spartan Beast, which involved swimming with a backpack in 35 degree water, crawling under barbed wire, and being covered in mud for 9 hours. But she still thought that camping was going to be the uncomfortable part of the weekend. Too many nights spent in leaky tents, lying directly on the ground, with a Walmart sleeping bag can make you think camping is for the birds. Anyway, by the time the weekend was over, she realized that camping can be fun, warm, dry and comfy, and she may even come to love it.
There are many types of trips that would be great for a first-time camper, whether you’re full-on glamping with an SUV full of goodies at a campsite with a swimming pool, staying at a state park that has pay showers and toilets, hiking out to a lean-to with an outhouse, or remote camping where you have to purify water and manage your own waste disposal systems. Obviously, the closer your trips are to the first type, the easier it will be on your significant other, but you can always do successively more rugged trips to ease them in gradually.
First things first, choose a trip that’s within both of your limits physically and hygienically. If she pales at the idea of pooping in a cat hole, you’re going to want to find a campsite that has some sort of toilet facilities. If she’s going to want to shower or bathe, either camp near a body of warm water, or start her off at a place with a shower. Women often have different hygienic standards than men (source: any college dorm in America) and failing to attend to these properly will instantly make her trip miserable, so find out what she’s comfortable with, and don’t make any assumptions.
If you have the luxury of choosing the timing of your trip, then aim for good weather. Look for warm, dry, windy nights to avoid bugs and rain. If, however, you know you’re going to get stuck in a monsoon, make sure you have lots of towels, spare clothing in a waterproof bag, a waterproof tent, and some sort of tarp that you can cook and eat under. The night of the Spartan Beast we had a huge thunderstorm, so I spent a long time making sure I had my cook stove set up over the picnic table before the rain started, and it saved the day. Being able to cook and eat and stay dry meant that we didn’t have to stay tent-bound.
Make sure your SO is dressed properly for the weather, and has spare clothing just in case. If you happen to sneak along an extra jacket or fleece blanket to throw over her shoulders when you’re sitting by the campfire, you’ll get major brownie points. Make sure she has a change of shoes in case one pair gets wet or muddy.
Good food and wine go a long way. If you’re car camping, there’s no excuse not to fill the cooler with fresh food. You can cook over the fire or over a campstove, but cook something she likes! If she likes steaks and burgers, great, but it isn’t very hard to make a Caesar salad or spaghetti pomodoro, either. If I can pull off boeuf bourgignon and zabaglione with wild blueberries while kayaking, you can pull off something better than hot dogs from the gas station. But don’t forget dessert – everyone likes s’mores. Every good meal deserves a tasty beverage. If your campsite doesn’t allow glass containers, simply pour your wine or spirits into a collapsible bottle.
Now is a great time to bring along extra amenities you might normally leave at home. Folding chairs, extra dinnerware, full-size pots and pans, a tablecloth, solar shower, candles, or maybe an iPod dock for romantic music if it won’t bug your neighbors. I don’t always have a campfire if I’m remote camping, but there’s nothing better than a roaring fire to warm your body and soul. Plus if you have a campfire, you have the best nighttime activity – I call it Caveman TV. Even if it’s pouring rain, if you get a fire hot enough it will keep burning and keep morale up. Speaking of morale, be positive! Tell your SO all the things you love about her, then tell good stories. Nothing makes a best friend like swapping campfire stories.
Prepare for the creepy crawlies. If it’s skeeter season, bring along an effective bug screen and use it frequently. Setting up citronella candles or a thermacell works great to keep them away from a larger area. If you’re in tick country, check yourself often, use a repellent with DEET, and spray your socks and pants beforehand with a permethrin spray like Repel Mosquito Stop. Make sure your SO knows how to properly store all of the food and “smellables,” including any personal toiletries she may have. You won’t want to wake up to a bear in your tent because she left a minty lip balm in her pocket. In some areas, your car is a safe place to keep your food, but in others you may need to use supplied lock boxes (in Yosemite there have been cases of bears jumping on car roofs to bust open locked doors, but don’t tell her that!)
Make sure the sleeping arrangements are comfortable. If you have a bad night’s sleep, you’re going to hate camping and so is she. Invest in some really comfortable sleeping pads. While the foam ones are a good price, inflatables are lighter, more packable, and absolutely worth it. If it’s not too cold, you can always bring a comforter from home along with your own pillows, but many sleeping bags can be zipped together for a his and hers bag. This definitely makes for a warmer night for both of you.
Now, this is just my experience here, but really, all of these suggestions apply for men and women, especially if they’re a little unsure about the great outdoors. Ease them in slowly and they’ll love it!