First time car camping in Sequoia
July 31, 2012 1:52 AM   Subscribe

Need advice for first time car-camping in Sequoia.

My wife and I are planning a camping trip in Sequoia. Neither of us has much experience, but we feel like we're up for the challenge, with a little advice. We're planning to try "car camping", which is (as I understand it) camping along unpaved back roads, farther from civilization, but not quite pure wilderness.

Can any experienced campers give us some advice on things to bring (especially items that might not seem obvious) , things to do, caution, expectations, etc.?
posted by ShutterBun to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
'Car camping' just means you can drive your car to the campsite, as opposed to having to hike, bike or canoe there. It can be in a built-up campground with showers and toilets and a place to plug in your electric razor, or it can be on the side of a logging road.

I've never camped in Sequoia specifically, so I don't know exactly what you'll run into there. Talk to the park service ahead of time and find out what's allowed and what isn't. Don't assume you can just park, pitch a tent and build a campfire anywhere that looks attractive; you can't.

What do you need? Food and the means to prepare and store it, water, light, shelter, and if you'll be away from services for more than several hours, a way to deal with human waste.
posted by jon1270 at 3:53 AM on July 31, 2012

Bring a list of what you are bringing so you can easily see and remember what you brought. While camping, maintain a list of things you wish you'd brought so you remember them next time.
posted by HMSSM at 4:22 AM on July 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Things that are easy to forget:

A torch per person (head torches are good)
Sun cream
Bug repellent / bug bite cream
Clothing that will dry easily if it gets soaked through

Things that will make your life immeasurably better:

A camping chair each.
An aeropress and some ground coffee.
A couple of lemons and a teeny microplane grater. This will improve your dubious camping dessert experience no end.
A flask of good whisky and a bar of dark chocolate. This is for sitting round a fire with. You can also use it to bribe other campers to let you borrow things that you forgot.
If you don't sleep well, one of those foil backed blanket things that people use for blocking out the light from their tent at 5am.
posted by emilyw at 4:41 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

One car-camping tip I've found immensely handy: bring a water keg with a tap*. It smooths any number of logistical bumps -- fetching water, washing ad hoc dishes, washing your hands before/after other tasks, fighting off dehydration. (It needs a raised surface to support it, but lots of car camping sites have picnic tables, and if not there's always your car, rocks, other luggage, etc.)

*I can't vouch for the specific item pictured. Ours is much larger, but multiple small kegs probably simplify car-packing.
posted by feral_goldfish at 5:38 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Try out you gear at home first. Make sure you know how to set up the tent, that the stove works, and the sleeping bag zipper is not jammed or split.
Bring a floor mat to put outside the tent door.
No shoes in the tent, please. Bring a small broom will help sweep it out before you pack it up again. That will make it much nicer for next summer.
posted by SLC Mom at 6:01 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I prefer 5 gallon water containers unless you are are two people away only for a weekend. Other useful things are a tarp.
posted by JJ86 at 6:03 AM on July 31, 2012

If this is your first time, and you don't have any gear, get thee to an REI, where you can rent everything you need and get loads of helpful advice too. You want headlamps, because they make everything So. Much. Easier. You can get cheap LED ones, though I am partial to Petzl. Please don't go to wal-mart and buy a cheap tent, even though it would probably only be a little mor expensive than renting a good one. The Sierras love producing summer thunderstorms, and I have seen any number of destroyed tents in campgrounds.

If you when you say Sequoia, you mean Sequoia National Park, you will need to stay in a campground(or in the backcountry). They might be booked for the summer, which means you may have to stay at one of the many nice National Forest Campgrounds around there. Give the nice rangers a call, but go to the park website first, where you will find LOADS of good information.
posted by rockindata at 6:21 AM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

All these comments are useful.

You'll want to get the large map of Sequoia NF, it shows all roads, paved and unpaved, most trails, and the campgrounds. In contrast to wilderness backpacking, if you find an essential item is forgotten or used up, the stores in the area will usually stock it for campers.

Being ready for some day-hikes is essential. The trails along streams are wonderful. Find a ridge or peak with a view and climb it. Perhaps take a book on the natural history (learn some plants) or geology of the Sierra Nevada. The stars can be spectacular (binoculars!). Ask rangers for recommendations (what's interesting here, concerns, hiking, stores).

Be ready to learn how to do it better, and what you like most, for next time. The mistakes are all survivable, if occasionally miserable, and make the funniest stories and memories.
posted by lathrop at 6:23 AM on July 31, 2012

For your first time camping I might camp in commercial or park service campgrounds. That way there is help nearby if you need it, a camp store when you realize you forgot something important, and just the general security of having other humans nearby. I've got a checklist I use when we go camping. Feel free to help yourself to a copy. (.ODS spreadsheet file)
posted by COD at 6:37 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Keep your campsite clean and don't leave any food laying around or you'll have an upclose bear encounter. That's also a good reason to not eat anything inside your tent or sleeping bag.
posted by buggzzee23 at 7:05 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

You might want to take a look at the list of campgrounds. Most campgrounds in SEKI (NPS acronym for Sequoia-Kings Canyon) are first-come, first-serve (meaning you don't need a reservation or reservations are not taken). Those campgrounds are pretty much where you're going to be able to car camp in a national park. I don't know the specific regulations in SEKI, but in Yosemite, outside of park campgrounds you have to be at least a mile away from any road and four miles from a trailhead or established campground (or something like that) to camp to reduce the impact of camping on the environment. You most likely will not be able to just pull over by the side of the road and set up your tent. Established campgrounds will generally have some facilities, such as running water and some sort of toilet (flush, chemical, or pit), as well as a picnic table and fire ring. In the area where you're going, they'll probably also have bear boxes, where you will need to store your food and toiletries (bears will gladly break into your car if there's anything in it, even just a tube of toothpaste). If a campground has bear boxes, the size should be listed somewhere on the park website. If it doesn't, they might have cables set up for you to bear bag, but you may be required to get a bear canister, which can be rented from places like REI. Generally, campgrounds are not too far off the beaten path in national parks.

What you bring kind of depends on your desired comfort level. When I go car camping, it's only a step or two above backpacking - I have a little backpacking stove and my wife and I pre-make our own dehydrated meals to eat. Other people bring a two-burner Coleman stove and have eggs and bacon for breakfast every day. We take skinny little backpacking sleeping pads, others take full air mattresses. It just depends on what your're comfortable with.
posted by LionIndex at 8:28 AM on July 31, 2012

Here's the SEKI page on food storage in the park. Make sure your coolers and whatever fit in the dimensions provided for the bear boxes. I recently went to Yosemite and stayed in a campground where the boxes were smaller than the dimensions listed here, and we were able to fit most of our gear in there. They're not skimpy, but it does help to consolidate all your "bear might think it's food" items into a couple containers.
posted by LionIndex at 10:11 AM on July 31, 2012

Sequoia is a big park. My wife and I have done several backpacking and camping trips within the park and the surrounding national forrest and wilderness, and it's all gorgeous. We've specifically done a few backpacking trips in the Jennie Lakes Wilderness, which is a small wilderness immediately next to Sequoia National Park, and accessible from the Big Meadows campground. In addition to being a nice place to backpack, the Jennie Lakes area also has some great day hike destinations; both Weaver Lake and Jennie Lake (both links to Google image search results) are nice for swimming and fishing, with Weaver being the easier to reach at only two miles from the Fox Meadows trailhead. Jennie Lake is also great but there is some elevation gain and it may be a bit much for your first trip. One possibility would be to camp in the Big Meadows area -- there are several campgrounds, IIRC -- and then drive to the Fox Meadow trailhead for a day hike to Weaver Lake. Sequoia gets hot in the summer, so hanging out at a lake is a nice way to beat the heat.

As you can tell from some of the above comments, there are A LOT of bears in the Sequoia/Kings Canyon area, so you really will need to apply all of the good food storage and handling techniques described above. Expect to encounter bears, expect that bears will visit your campsite at some point -- perhaps even in the day time -- and don't be surprised or freaked out when they do. The park is their home turf and you are the visitor. They are searching for food, and as long as you secure yours they shouldn't bother you much. I think it helps to go in with the mindset that you will probably encounter them, but as long as you use your head and don't give them a reason to expect a free meal they'll move on fairly quickly.

Also, don't be surprised if you encounter a thunderstorm or two while you're there. These are a common afternoon occurrence in the summer, and no big deal as long as you have a tent and don't leave gear strewn around your camp.
posted by mosk at 10:57 AM on July 31, 2012

Backpacker and music festival goer speaking here.

If you're car camping bring an air mattress, and obviously a pump. Sleeping on the ground sucks when you don't have to. Along with that bring reading material, when car camping there can be lots of downtime.

* I suggest a jetboil if you just want some dehydrated food prep fun, but ifyou want to turn this into more then bring an actual stove, frying pan and food to cook up.
* Water purification drops. Don't trust water sources out there
* Lots of snacks and lots of water

A good attitude will take you miles.
posted by zombieApoc at 11:18 AM on July 31, 2012

Thanks for all the suggestions so far!

To answer a couple of questions, we are planning on Sequoia National Forest (not the Park proper) so we'll be slightly off the beaten path, though not uncharted territory by any means.

Great tips about the headlamps and rain gear, we'll definitely invest in those.
posted by ShutterBun at 1:03 PM on July 31, 2012

OK - you still should check with them about camping regulations, and bear storage rules will most likely still be in effect. If you're going to go camping outside of an established campground, you may need to get some sort of permit, a National Forest Adventure Pass at the very least, although looking at their info page, it seems like their regulations are actually pretty loose and you may not need anything.
posted by LionIndex at 1:19 PM on July 31, 2012

I can add two suggestions. One, bring binoculars or something similar. Wherever I'm camping I always try to take an hour or two to just sit and observe the furry and feathered friends. Amazing things happen when you're quiet and don't move around.

Two, pitch your tent where there will be shade in the MORNING. I usually forget this and end up being the coffee/bacon and egg chef when my tent heats up at 7am or earlier.
posted by snsranch at 6:10 PM on July 31, 2012

Binoculars: check. We're shooting for Big Meadows, or thereabouts. Good call on the morning shade tent location. Definitely going to have to invest in a food vault thingy to keep the bears less interested. Great suggestions everyone!
posted by ShutterBun at 9:05 PM on July 31, 2012

Hi all, I just wanted to give a post-trip follow up and mention that the above advice was SPOT ON! Thanks again to everyone who participated.

In particular: preparing for summer showers: yep, we got sprinkled on. Not too much, but it was good knowing to expect it.

Head lamps: invaluable! We declined on the $30 REI lamps and instead bought a pair of those "itty bitty book lights" from the 99 cent store, and just duct taped them to our hats. Worked like a charm!

I specifically placed our tent for morning shade, and after a long night of "camping" (read: drinking) it was much appreciated.

Thanks once again for all the advice, and I hope future campers will find this thread useful.
posted by ShutterBun at 3:45 AM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

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