The most fun section of camp to set up is your hangout space, which is why you have to save it for last. This post is the third of our series “How to Set Up Camp.” We suggest starting with your sleeping area and then setting up your camp kitchen. Once those are organized, you can start to relax as you build a festive atmosphere around you.
Step 1: Collect
As you’re grouping things together in your sleeping and kitchen area, you’ll come across the fun stuff. This includes chairs, fire making supplies, lighting, games, and music. Gather all of that together where you plan to have a fire. If there is no fire ring, imagine where a fire would go best in your location. This may just be whatever space is leftover in your campsite, but if you have a choice, look for:
clear of brush or low hanging tree branches
shelter from the wind (ideal: a tall boulder to bounce fire light off of)
Do this even if you don’t plan to have a fire.
Step 2: Build Your Campfire (or “Campfire”)
A campfire provides warmth and light in the evening, but it also creates the iconic camping experience that leads to bonding, sharing and true relaxation. Even if you’re camping in an area where you cannot have a fire, you can create the same central experience for your group.
Here’s a link to a cute infographic that makes it easy to remember how to properly start a campfire.
It’s shockingly easy to create a similar ambiance to a campfire without the real deal. Truly any light source will do. I often carry LED tea light candles with me backpacking, and I recently fell in love with these ENO Lights. Even a headlamp or two, strapped around a water bottle or simply thrown on the ground (maybe under a white bandana for a softer glow) will do the trick.
Your people may scoff at the idea at first, explaining that it’s just not the same. But once there is a light source to hover around, they’ll find themselves entranced, chairs will form a circle, and the storytelling will begin. Do not skip this.
Step 3: Make it Feel Like Home
Cozy up the place and pull out all the luxury items. Place chairs in a circle. Hang any extra lighting around the outside, such as twinkly lights or a lantern in a nearby tree. If you brought music, set up the speaker in a location where it’s not likely to be knocked over. If possible, direct the music towards your group and away from others. Any games or toys should be gathered in one central location for easy finding whenever the time is right. If you have a spare table, set it up near the games. Some items we like to bring are:
tiny instruments to share, like a harmonica, nose flute, jaw harp, and egg shaker
an extra cooler for drinks
Any little extra will make a big impact if you pull it out at the right time.
Often, you’ll have some intermingling of the cooking and hangout areas if you plan to use the campfire to cook. Make sure to leave a clear path between the kitchen area and the fire, for ease of rushing back and forth. If you plan to make dessert over the fire, prepare it while you prepare dinner so you can move seamlessly to it when you’re ready. Set up the cleaning space close to the campfire if possible. This will encourage helpers without seemingly banishing them from the fun or warmth during their shift. As night falls, cold and tiredness set in, making everything more of an effort as it gets later, but it’s still very important to do a thorough job of buttoning camp up before bed.