Campers, start your campfires!
The Victoria Day weekend, or May 2-4 as it’s also called, is the unofficial start to the summer camping season.
Tents are pulled from basement shelving, their poles checked for dents, sleeping bags are inspected for last year’s smells, air mattresses inflated, rain gear checked for holes, hiking boots for anything resembling treads, etc.
Does the cooler still keep food edible and drinks drinkable? Are there bandages in the first-aid kit? Where are the camping chairs? Do we need to bring firewood? Are we even allowed to have fires? And what’s the weather forecast this weekend? Do we have a sizable tarp to sit under if it rains the entire time?
And for the perpetually connected, is there wifi at our campsite?
Crucial factors all in an enjoyable start to Ontario’s camping season.
But Jason Gingrich, First Kempenfelt Scouter with Scouts Canada, says there’s even more to know, and check, before heading out into the wild, or at least whatever wilderness is left within driving distance, when gas sits around $2 a litre.
“The first thing, in a very scouting fashion, is to be prepared, to have a plan of where you want to go, how long you want to be there,” said the 21-year-old. “We might get some rain, we might get some wind; being prepared for inclement weather is always a good thing.
“A rainy weekend doesn’t have to be a miserable weekend for camping. As long as you go prepared for the weather, you can have a blast," Gingrich added.
Preparation, such as having a tarp so you can sit out of your tent, or even having an extra tarp for your tent, depending on its quality. Some materials aren’t as waterproof as you’d like, Gingrich explained, so an extra tarp can go a long way.
Another valuable skill is learning how to dry out clothes — so if you do get drenched, setting up your tent in the rain, for example, having a drying rack or some sort of a clothes line can be essential.
“We (Scouts) have a thing, to never go camping and not expect it to rain,” said Gingrich, a university management program student. “Even very experienced campers can be uncomfortable. It certainly helps to have some experience to lean on.”
There are dangers campers need to be aware of as well, such as being on the water.
“I wouldn’t encourage a canoe trip on the May long weekend, an expedition,” he said. “It is early in the year to be out on the water, as there’s a very high risk of hypothermia. Even if it's above 20 degrees and it feels like a really warm, nice day, you wouldn’t think about hypothermia.
“But a lot of hypothermia cases actually happen in the spring and fall. If you end up falling into that water and getting soaked in what might be 15-degree water, by the time the sun sets and the wind blows, you can actually be at risk for hypothermia," Gingrich added.
Then there’s wildlife, the critters who live year-round where you’re just visiting for a few days.
“You always want to be aware of the wildlife,” Gingrich said. “Luckily… in this part of the country, we don’t have a ton of danger unless you’re going really far up north, to encounter like moose or even brown bears are pretty rare anywhere near Barrie.
“Black bears are probably the biggest thing you could run into and they’re generally fairly spooked by humans, so they tend to leave you alone and they’re not typically aggressive. As long as you don’t interfere with them, they’ll typically leave you to your business.”
But don’t leave food around, and it never hurts to toss a rope over a tree branch and hoist your food well off the ground at night.
Gingrich said camping is also a chance to improve your outdoor skills. Make fires reliably so you don’t use an entire match box to get flames, for example.
Go with an agenda: What do you want to do when you’re out there?
“We’ve all been cooped up for the last couple of years during the pandemic, so I think this weekend and through this summer, a lot of families are going to get back outdoors,” he said. “It is so important for youths to be able to build that resiliency and self-confidence and problem-solving, whether it’s trying to get that fire going to cook their lunch on the fire or setting up a tent for the first time.
“They can be challenging or potentially kind of intimidating tasks, even for adults. But the process of learning those skills in that safe, fun environment is a great way to develop that resiliency, that teamwork, that problem-solving and that of course has a lot of benefits even in urban life, day to day in the city.”
And don’t forget the tarp.