The 4th of July is right around the corner, and many families will head to campgrounds. Some things to keep in mind:

Get the Kids Involved

When you take kids camping, keep them busy and off their phones and portable gaming devices. Start out with a little required work—setting up the tent, collecting firewood, etc. Then move on to a whole lot of fun. Go hiking with your son or daughter, show him or her animal tracks, fish for trout or bream, etc. The more active your kids are the more fun they’ll have, and they more they’ll enjoy the outdoors and camping and want to go with you again.

Fire Up

Make sure open-air fires are legal and safe in the area you’re camping. Depending on weather conditions, there could be seasonal restrictions, so check.

To build a fire put your lighter or matches to good tinder, like cedar shavings or handfuls of dry, brown grass or pine needles. Better yet, here’s a modern-day trick: Shave off slivers of one of those “fast start” sticks you use to light big logs in your fireplace and pack them in a plastic sandwich Baggie. Pop your super-hot flame on that fake tinder and your fire will blow up fast. Top with handfuls of small, dry, dead twigs and then move up to mid-size sticks and logs. Every kid needs to learn the basics of fire-building.

Be Bear Aware

To fully and safely enjoy your camping experience in Bear Country, follow these “10 Commandments of Camping” from the Missouri Department of Conservation:

  1. Keep a clean camp. Food and all items that come in contact with food carry odors that bears find attractive.
  2. Thoroughly clean all utensils immediately after use. Never deposit food residues such as cooking grease in campfires.
  3. Place garbage where bears cannot smell or gain access to it, either in bear-proof containers or dumpsters. DON’T burn or bury garbage. Bears will dig it up.
  4. Do not eat or cook in your tent. Avoid storing food or attractants in tents, sleeping bags or backpacks. Suspend such items from trees when backpacking.
  5. Treat nonfood items such as gum, soap, toothpaste or deodorant as food. They are attractive to a bear’s acute sense of smell.
  6. Immediately store food articles (including pet food, livestock feed and garbage) in airtight containers after every use. Coolers are not airtight, and bears often associate them with food. Secure coolers in a locked trunk or truck cab concealed from view.
  7. Plan your meals. Generate as little food garbage as possible.
  8. Never attempt to feed a bear or any other wild animal.
  9. Never approach wildlife, especially black bears. They are dangerous.
  10. Keep your dog on a leash and clean up leftover food and scraps after your dog has finished eating.

Tent Know-How

Kampgrounds of America (KOA) offers these tips for tent campers.

New tent? Practice setting it up in the backyard before going on a trip.

Invest in good sleeping equipment. Choose air mattresses, cots, or sleeping bags that will give you adequate rest so you can get the most out of your daytime activities.

To stay dry, use a ground cloth under your tent as protection from rips and moisture…use the rain fly, even if the sky looks clear…to prevent rain from leaking into your tent, apply a seam sealant to the inside and outside of all exposed tent seams.

Keep your tent clean; use a whisk broom to sweep out dirt and leaves…place an indoor/outdoor rug in front of your tent entrance for dirty shoes.

Bring duct tape for quick repairs of small tears, splintered tent poles and the like.

Bugs Off! 

To ward off ticks, mosquitoes and other pests, you and your kids should wear light-colored clothing and avoid thick woods and brush as much as possible…. cover as much skin as possible…wear boots and tuck your pants inside. “High tops” keep ticks, fire ants, spiders and the other creatures from crawling up into tender places, and you  and the kids will appreciate their basic snake protection…before you hit the woods shower with an unscented hunter’s soap–the less you smell, the less bugs you’ll attract…never use scented soap, shampoo, shaving cream or cologne; that sweet stuff will draw mosquitoes, flies and bees to your body and into camp. Use a good bug repellent.

Have fun and happy 4th!