Camping Close to Home

Family life can be hectic. Carpooling and after-school activities, morning alarms, homework—and dinner still needs to hit the table! Sometimes, families just need a break.

It’s not how far away you go that matters; it’s how far away you feel. 

Family life can be hectic. Carpooling and after-school activities, morning alarms, homework—and dinner still needs to hit the table! Sometimes, families just need a break. Yet scheduling and planning a vacation can become a hassle, too. Hotels, itineraries, travel coordinating, and dare we mention the budget?

Camping together as a family can be the antidote to all of the above. Breathe in fresh, outdoor air, savor a crackling fire, witness a glorious sunset, and identify constellations in the starry night sky. Most important, relax and enjoy time together as a family. And the best part? You can easily slip away into Mother Nature’s playground at multiple campgrounds right here in our Great Lakes Bay Region.

Whether your family owns an RV or calls a tent home while camping, a quick pack-down of the essentials will have you in the great outdoors in no time. Rather than list the obvious necessities to bring camping, such as sleeping bags and bug spray, we thought it’d be more fun to mention seven items you might not think to pack—but you’ll be glad you did!

Peruse the list, pack it up, and get on to playing, swimming, and having fun as a family while camping in the Great Lakes Bay Region.


Tents are cozy and fun, but they can also feel cramped and musty, just as the bedroom of a camper or RV can get mighty stuffy on a hot, humid night. Don’t forget to pack a fan! A fan keeps the air moving, and keeps kids and parents comfortable at bedtime. It also provides white noise for people not used to falling asleep in silence.

Most campgrounds offer electricity, allowing easy operation of a fan. (Note: Don’t forget to bring along extension cords.) However, should you find your family camping in primitive locations, a power inverter will allow your car battery to function as a power source for a fan, coffee pot, or even a DVD player (just in case your family might enjoy a movie at night or on a rainy day). Power inverters vary greatly in size and cost. They can be found at Northwoods Wholesale Outlet (229 W Fifth St, Pinconning; 989-879-1110,

Too cool

Campers and RVs often come equipped with refrigerators, and tent campers know the importance of a cooler—and the importance of avoiding soggy sandwiches and water-logged watermelon!

Companies such as Yeti offer rugged coolers, which include a dry goods basket designed to hold food safely above the melt. Yeti coolers can be purchased locally at Little Forks Outfitters (143 E Main St, Midland; 989-832-4100,, and range in price from $250 – $450 and more. However, if your family already owns a cooler, an item called a cooler shelf may be something you don’t want to forget to pack. Ranging in price from $10 – $20, the nylon mesh shelves fit most standard coolers, are removable and washable, and will keep food (or bait) out of cooler water. Cooler shelves can be purchased through Amazon or at

Another tip for keeping food safe from cooler-water ruin, at least at the start: Don’t forget to pack empty milk jugs. Before camping, fill as many jugs as your cooler(s) will hold with water, and freeze them. They will keep a cooler safely cold for more than a day. Also, once thawed, your family has readily available, clean drinking water. You could even cut a milk jug in half to create a makeshift water bowl for Fido!

Good eats

Obviously, your family will remember to pack marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate, because what’s camping without s’mores? But, this year, don’t forget to pack Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, too. Place one on a graham cracker, and set it on a warm rock by the fire so it begins to melt while you toast your marshmallow to perfection. (Thank us later!)

Also, don’t forget to pack pie irons. Your family can enjoy grilled sandwiches over the campfire, or individual pizzas, fruit pies, breakfast omelets, French toast, grilled catch-of-the- day…. Food options are just about limitless with pie irons. (Not familiar with the gadget? Pie irons are two castings that are hooked together with a hinge and attached to metal rods with wooden handles, allowing easy cooking over a campfire.) With parental supervision, even kids can cook at camp with pie irons. Round, square, and even double-molded pie irons can be purchased at Frank’s Great Outdoors (1212 N Huron Rd, Linwood; 989-697-5341,

Bright idea

Most families think of bringing flashlights or lanterns for camping. But, don’t forget to also pack headlamps. Hands-free lighting allows easier nighttime hook-baiting while fishing, and outdoor reading at nighttime—and, honestly, kids just find them downright fun! Available in varying sizes and weights, with multiple options including tilt and red-light beacon mode, headlamps can be found at The Stable Outdoor Outfitters (300 S Hamilton St, Saginaw; 989-752-7161,

One final shining solution: Remember those milk jugs you brought? Strap a headlamp around the thawed, water-filled jug, with the light pointing inward, and you’ll have a luminous, low-budget lantern!


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