You’ve spent the afternoon climbing a steep mountain trail. A thick pine forest covers the valley below. Although it’s summer, patches of snow dot the ground. Ground squirrels dart across your path. An eagle circles high above.
You come to a ridge and look down on a clear, blue mountain lake. Except for the sound of your own breathing, everything is silent. You take off your backpack and pitch your tent. Later, you cook a meal and watch the stars come out. You’re camping in the great outdoors—an activity enjoyed by millions of Americans. Camping is an outdoor activity involving overnight stays away from home in a shelter, such as a tent, a caravan, or a motor home.

Any time you live for a day or more in the outdoors, you’re camping. You can set up camp in your own backyard or you can spend weeks living in the wilderness. You can drive to many campsites in your car. Other campsites can only be reached on foot trails where no vehicles can go.
Camping is an American tradition. Native Americans, frontier explorers, and Rocky Mountain trappers all learned the skills needed to live outdoors. Today, people camp mostly to relax and have fun. Camping brings us to some of the best places for hiking, fishing, and exploring nature.

Backpacking is the most rugged form of camping. Backpackers carry all of their food and equipment in a backpack. Backpackers must travel light and only carry basic supplies. They may walk for miles over rocky foot trails. Backpacking is the only way to get to many wilderness campsites.
Car campers can bring all the supplies a car can carry. That can include a large, family-sized tent, camp chairs, and a big cooler for food. There are thousands of campsites in forests, mountains, and along rivers and lakes that people can drive to. Most of these campsites have fire pits with grills for cooking. Fresh water is usually available, too.
Many campgrounds have space for recreational vehicles (RVs), such as travel trailers or motor homes. RV camping is especially popular among older people or families with young children. RV campers can be out in nature and still enjoy many of the comforts of home, such as microwave ovens, televisions, and even a hot shower.

Most campers use a tent. Today’s tents are lightweight, waterproof, and easy to set up. Backpacking tents are small and very light. Family tents are heavier and much larger. Some family tents have several rooms. A warm and comfortable bed is another camping essential. Many campers use a sleeping bag on top of a foam or air mattress.
For comfort and safety, campers pack clothes for different kinds of weather. It may be cold early in the day but hot by afternoon. That’s why campers are wise to dress in layers. Sturdy hiking boots, a hat for sun protection, and a lightweight, rainproof jacket complete the outfit.
Campers should pack nutritious, energy-rich food. Backpackers cook on lightweight, single-burner gas stoves. They carry lightweight cooking kits of nesting pots and pans. Car campers have more food choices. They can bring a heavier stove with several burners. Many prefer to cook their meals over a fire.
All campers should carry fresh water in water bottles, a first-aid kit, sunscreen, insect repellent, and a flashlight. Backpackers may carry a water filter for purifying lake and river water. To avoid getting lost, campers should carry a map and compass at all times.

Safety should be every camper’s first concern. Campers can get cold, sunburned, thirsty, overly tired, or injured from an accident. Being prepared is the key to camping safety.
Fire is a great danger in campgrounds. Always keep your campfires inside an enclosed fire pit. Have plenty of water handy. Putting out a campfire with water is an important part of safe camping.
Bears are a problem in some campgrounds. Never keep food inside a tent or anywhere near people. Bears may even break into cars. Many campers hang their food in bags from high tree branches, out of the reach of bears and other camp thieves, such as squirrels or raccoons.
Campers should try to protect the natural environment. Always leave your campsite cleaner than you found it. “Pack it in, pack it out” is a good rule to follow.

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