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With prime camping season around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about trip planning if you haven’t already. And when it comes to spending a night (or several) outdoors, sharing that experience with a group of people can be incredibly rewarding.
After going on multiple camping trips with friends and local outdoor clubs, I’ve learned that a handful of key things planned, or not planned, in advance can make or break a group camping trip. If you’re hoping to get a group camping trip in this spring or summer, keep these things in mind.
One of my favorite things about camping during the off-season is not having to worry about finding a campsite. Most people aren’t interested in camping in the snow, making it easy to drive to a campground and find a last-minute spot. But with some of the most popular camping months around the corner, campgrounds are going to get crowded.
If you’re planning on staying in a campground with a group, look for group sites that accommodate large numbers of people and snag them ahead of time. Some campgrounds don’t have group sites, and if they do, there are typically only a few. You can also look for campgrounds that allow you to reserve sites next to or across from each other if group camping isn’t available.
Letting everyone fend for themselves on your group trip is certainly an option, but group meals can make things more efficient and cheaper. Instead of numerous individual coolers and items bought separately, you can buy in bulk and have the experience of preparing meals together. But if you do decide to do group meals, preparation is essential.
Start by figuring out the number of meals you’ll have, and write down options for each meal. Give your tripmates time to discuss them, and once the meal plan is set, determine who’s doing the shopping and how the items are going to be stored. Finally, pack plastic bags to make divvying up things like trail mix and sandwiches easier.
Whether you have a group of seasoned camping veterans, absolute beginners, or a mix of both, knowing your tripmates’ experience levels is important. If you have beginners in the group, they might have more questions about gear and food than a veteran camper would, and they may need to pick up more gear in advance of your trip. They may not understand basic principles of overnight food storage, campground etiquette, or even what sleeping in a tent is going to feel like.
Ultimately, the goal is to make the trip enjoyable for everyone. Understanding both experience level and expectations from your tripmates makes having fun a whole lot easier.
If you’re going camping, odds are you’re bringing things like a tent, a stove or other cooking device, cooking utensils, cleaning supplies, and other items multiple people in your group may have. But it’s not (normally) necessary for everyone to have their own tent, stove, or bottle of dish soap, and it’s possible some people in your group might not have essential items others in the group can share with them.
Make a gear list in advance that includes things like sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and other personal items everyone needs. Then make a separate list of group gear items like stoves, cooking utensils, cleaning supplies, and tents so the gear can be divvied up in advance of the trip. I’ve found making a spreadsheet in Google Docs with multiple tabs for group food, group gear, and individual gear requirements is the easiest way to keep track of everything. A list, or multiple lists, also helps you avoid forgetting anything.
Even when you’re planning a group trip with friends and/or family, finances can be tricky. If you’re ponying up for a campground reservation and group members drop out at the last minute, it’ll cost you. But asking for money upfront can cause its own set of challenges.
Think about whether you want to ask for a down payment in advance, especially for things like reservations. It can prevent folks from backing out at the last minute and helps ensure the known costs are covered before the trip. You can also estimate costs associated with food and ask for all or part of that ahead of time.
I’ve found that on group trips with friends, covering the reservations in advance and dividing up additional costs like food after the trip works best, but that’ll vary depending on who you’re going with. Get everyone in the group on the same page about estimated costs and what’s being collected and when; it’ll make things a lot easier in the end.
What other tips do you have for a successful group trip? Have you been on a trip that went extremely well or extremely poorly? If so, why do you think the trip went the way it did? We’d love to hear from you!
Dennis Taylor - Owner of Outdoor Fact - is a graduate of National Camping School and REI Outdoor School. He knows everything about what gear to take with you, how to plan your trip to stay safe and what to do if you get lost in the mountains. We are lucky to have Dennis with us as he is a ‘walking encyclopedia’ when it comes to the wilderness.