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10 steps to make your camping dream a reality.


Decide on a destination - Wisconsin has many great state and county parks (visit Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website). Devil's Lake State Park near Baraboo is one example. Research campgrounds, site availability, recreation opportunities, etc. Do the sites have the facilities your family needs - showers, restrooms? Most important is to pick a place the whole family will enjoy. Note that a sticker is required for entry to all Wisconsin state parks; they cost $25 for an annual pass or $7 for a day pass.



Purchase a tent - There are a number of tents on the market in many sizes, anywhere from solo tents to larger 12-person models. Make your decision based on how many people are going to sleep in the tent. If you're camping near your vehicle, weight isn't an issue. If you decide to go backpacking on a trail, the lighter the tent the better. Prices range from about $40 for a simple two-person tent to $600 for a four-season expedition tent. Average cost is roughly $70 to $250 (View all Tents).


Choose sleeping bags - Sleeping bag prices usually are based on the equipment's temperature rating - from minus-20 degrees ($100-$400) to plus-50 degrees ($40-$200) (View all Sleeping Bags). When camping in summer, choose a bag that is rated for a warmer temperature. Remember that you want to be comfortable and not overheated. Everyone sleeps differently, so take that into consideration when buying for the family. The kids might need a colder-rated bag for when the temperature drops at night. Earlier-season camping can be tricky because the temperatures can vary drastically, so check the weather before you go.



Bring proper clothing and footwear - Remember that the weather influences your camping experience, so to get the most out of your time outdoors, be prepared. Bring clothes for any type of temperature. Rain jackets and pants ($25-$200) or rain ponchos (starting at $5) are good to have so you can enjoy the trip even in the rain. If you plan to do a lot of hiking, boots are a good thing to consider. And pack sandals if you'll be chillin' at the beach.

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Put together your food supply - If you're car camping, load up the cooler with family favorites. Keep it simple, because the easier the meal is, the easier it is to clean up and the less waste you have to worry about. For shorter trips, perishable items are great, but for longer trips, non-perishable or dehydrated foods work well. Look into dehydrated meals ($3-$7); they are quick and easy and actually taste pretty good (view all Packaged Food). When away from home, snacks and desserts are always a nice treat to comfort homesick kids. S'mores are always a camp favorite around the fire.



Decide how you want to cook meals - If something needs heat to make it work, there's the stove or the fire. Do you want to try to cook over an open flame, or invest in a camping stove for ease and convenience? It's possible to do a bit of both. Building a fire is a fun experience as long as wood is available. A fire also helps when roasting hot dogs or marshmallows. Buying wood ahead of time is a good idea, in case wood is not available at your camp site. But note that because of concerns about the spread of gypsy moths, ash borers and other invasive species, if camping at a Wisconsin state park, the wood must be from within a 50-mile radius and can't come from out of state. Using a stove works well for meals that require boiling water, or for frying foods. Stoves are also handy when the weather is bad and firewood is wet. Camping stoves range in size and in price. Larger gas stoves cost around $40-$80. With these, you can usually bring cookware from home. Smaller backpacking stoves work great, too ($10-$140). They are lightweight and easy to use. Smaller stoves also usually require smaller cook sets ($10-$60) for easy use and less bulk. (View all Camping Stoves & Accessories)



Think about water - Does the place you're staying have available water? Almost every park will have running water, but if you decide to hike into the backcountry, you'll need to find your own source. For car camping, bring a large jug to contain water ($5-$20). It can be used for drinking, and also helps with cooking and cleaning. When in the backcountry, a water filter ($70) is great to have, or use Iodine tablets ($10), which make water safe to drink. Always check with the park about facilities and access to water.



Accessorize - It's good to have some handy accessories along during a camping trip. You'll want a lantern for light in your campsite at night ($10-$30), as well as flashlights ($6) or headlamps ($20) (View all Flashlights & Headlamps). Always bring a knife or a handy tool set; a Swiss Army knife is great ($10-$30) (View all Knives & Tools). Don't forget the camera, either, as camping can be the best time to get great shots of wildlife and fun family memories. Binoculars ($20-$500) are always nice to have along on any outdoor trip. Pack sunblock that is at least SPF30; it's never pleasant to get sunburned. And bring bug spray - no matter where you are, the insects will bite. As for wildlife, most places in Wisconsin are safe, but if traveling to the northern part of the state, be wary of black bears and other creatures, and plan accordingly.



Plan activities - While camping, it can be fun to spice up a trip with some sort of game or activity. If hiking, bring a bird field guide ($12) and try to identify what you see. If the weather is bad, having board games or card games can save everyone's spirits.



And finally, remember... just have fun!