By Chase Berenson
Most Louisianans slept in their beds buried under a mountain of blankets last Thursday as the forecasted low overnight temperature in Baton Rouge was exactly 32 degrees. I, on the other hand, had set up my tent and was camping in the backyard.
Before you ask, no, my girlfriend hadn’t kicked me out of the house. At the beginning of February, T-Boy the nutria (Louisiana’s rodent meteorologist version of Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog) predicted an early spring this year. And we all know that when spring arrives, it’s time to get out there and go camping.
Most people packed up their camping gear last fall and stashed it away without giving it any practical thought all winter. While we dreamt of returning to our favorite campsite once the weather improves, we didn’t think about how many tent stakes we have stored or whether our sleeping bag had gotten a small tear on our last adventure.
That’s why a full-on gear check is a crucial step before heading out on the first trip of the year.
You never want to be that guy who arrives at the campsite around sunset and suddenly realizes you’re lacking a crucial bit of gear or that some small but vital accessory should have been replaced. Furthermore, sometimes just glancing at your equipment, or even giving it a thorough once-over, isn’t enough. That’s why I always set up a full campsite just as it would be out on the trail to ensure everything is together.
Set up camp in the evening, testing your propane lantern as your put up the tent. Fully extend all tent poles and stake all corners of the tent. Inflate your sleeping pad, roll out your sleeping bag. Even go ahead and cook yourself a meal on your camp stove.
Imagine your worst case scenario night on the trail (howling wind and pouring rain?), think of how you’d need to prepare your camp in that situation, and assemble it in the backyard. You don’t want to cut corners on a lovely evening in your backyard only to discover you’re missing one vital tent stake later on out in the backcountry.
Backyard camping also gives you an opportunity to discover your own environment in a serene and still that you may not have encountered actively hanging out in your yard before. Despite spending evenings hanging out with friends back there, I had never been aware of the owls in the tree since they tend to avoid humans. Of course, I also hadn’t noticed the way that the neighbor’s floodlights shine into my yard, and if I was smart I would have planned to camp when the garbage truck wasn’t picking up at five o’clock in the morning.
Despite the downsides, my night of backyard camping was worth it for the sheer joy of being back in a tent, and for the confidence knowing that my gear is ready for whatever conditions I may come up against this season.