Q: What are some good family camping tips?

A: First, you don’t have to “rough it” to enjoy camping. Most campgrounds offer space for your car and your tent on the same site. This car camping allows you pack all sorts of comforts while getting back to nature.

In addition to the camping essentials such as tents and marshmallows, you can bring very comfortable bedding, real food and good cooking gear. Probably the best place you can find ideas and tips is the FamilyCampMan.com blog. It rounds up a lot of experience and lessons.

Although you can pack just about everything in the car, that doesn’t mean you should. For example, David Darling, a former colleague from my Florida days, says, “Leave all electronic media at home.” You can play video games and surf the Net from your couch. A camping trip is a chance to do something different that you can’t do at home.

Dave is one of the many Facebook friends who came to my aid when I asked for family camping tips. What follows is their collective wisdom peppered with my experience.

When you’re looking at tents, choose the size carefully. Bar Harbor blogger and marketer Nicole Ouellette realizes she didn’t plan for all possible tentmates. “Think of how big the tent is. Two-person tent dimensions plus 6-foot-tall boyfriend equals having to curl up. Hadn’t thought of that being 5-foot-6 myself!”

Sometimes those tent-size labels should be taken with a grain of salt. I’m sure a four-person tent can fit four people. If they like each other very much and leave their gear in the car. So count on fitting one less person than advertised.

Before you buy the condo-sized tent (because a screened sitting room is a great idea while camping), make sure you will be going to campgrounds that accommodate the larger tents. Not all sites are designed for anything bigger than a four-person tent.

And when picking a spot to pitch your tent, remember water collects in low terrain. Former co-worker Kevin Qualls reminds us to “choose high ground.” There’s nothing like waking up the sound of a babbling brook — running through your tent.

Sometimes the weather isn’t very dependable. You need to be prepared for rain and a way to keep things dry. Former high school friend Joe Miller depends on garbage bags. “I always have an extra plastic garbage bag (or two!) to store at least one dry article of clothing. It can rain for days and everything may get soaked, but that one dry sweatshirt and wool socks will make the trip!”

Even if you’re not soaked to the bone, having something clean and soft to change into at the end of the day can make you one happy camper.

Wendy Almeida, top mom at RaisingMaine.com, knows a few things about taking the family on an adventure. She packs something very useful on her camping trips. “With us I can’t go without a good amount of clothesline to hang up everybody’s stuff, wet or dry. It’s helpful to hang up towels but also clothes that someone spilled a drink on and/or sat on a dew-soaked chair/picnic bench. And sometimes it’s just easier to simply organize everyone’s stuff based on where it’s hanging.”

Clothesline is easy to pack and set up. All you need is a few trees — which the campground provides at no extra cost. Even dry but dirty clothes will benefit from some time on the line.

My favorite part of car camping comes at mealtime. Get the biggest cooler that fits in your trunk. Stock it with a block of ice and great food. Most campgrounds sell ice so you can freshen the cooler throughout the trip. But it allows you to enjoy steaks at dinner and eggs at breakfast. Your stomach never has to know you left home.

There is one more thing you should pack in the car that won’t take much room. Kevin says: “Remember the toilet paper.” Because, well, you never know. 

Carl Natale is a Registered Maine Sea Kayak Guide and freelance writer. You can read more about his adventures at CarlNatale.com and send questions to:

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