It’s finally spring and our BFF, sunshine is fixing to hang around for the next few months so your friends here at Kelty are officially gearing up for our favorite kind of outdoor adventure: camping with friends. Whether it’s your first group camping rodeo or you’ve done this every year for a decade, planning a camping trip for a group is definitely NOT like slipping quietly into the wilderness with your favorite wingman.
But while camping with friends does indeed require certain sacrifices, we believe that the memories you make on group camping trips are worth their weight in Goldschläger. Here’s a handy WHO / WHAT / WHERE / HOW group camping checklist to ensure all your times together are good ones—along with our favorite places to camp with the crew.
WHO. Folks, this is probably the most important item on our group camping checklist. We’ve all endured trips with less-than-awesome companions, so let’s pay special attention to who we decide to invite. Chances are, you already know which friends (and which friends’ partners) will take issue with your John Denver karaoke skills and unrepentant fondness for your “lucky long johns.” You also know who can handle a true backcountry experience, and who’s most likely to give the local bear population an open invitation to dinner. It’s wise to keep ALL of these elements in mind when making your group camping guest list.
WHAT. Once you’ve gotten your guest list together and determined who’s available when, this list can help you define what kind of trip this particular combination of people will enjoy. Even around the Kelty offices—where it’s our literal job to be great at camping—it’s rare to find a group camping guest list that’s comprised of 100% hardcore backcountry campers.
So, start by giving yourself a high-five for deciding NOT to hassle with a truly primitive group camping trip! Then, based on the size of your group and how much time remains between now and your getaway, decide whether you’re going for a group site in a national or state park, or a private campground. Note that the former may require up to six months’ advance booking, and that the size of your group may exclude you from some locations in both types.
WHERE. Lucky as we are to live in the Centennial State—home to an astounding 53 fourteeners—it can be hard for Coloradans to remember that not everybody’s in top form at altitude. The same goes for surf trips with landlocked friends (like us). So, have a chat with your group camping guests about their ideal topography, and plan accordingly. A few faves:
Piñon Flats Campground / Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Loop 3 of this campground offers three reservable group sites that fill up quickly. May and June are pure perfection in the shadow of southern Colorado’s otherworldly dunes, but the rest of the summer is hot and crowded. Our advice is to book in May or wait until September.
Sky Meadow Group Camp / Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Two large camps in nature’s cathedral hold up to 40 people each. The size and scope of this ancient redwood forest mean TONS of privacy, with access to lots of nearby trailheads.
Harriman State Park / Rockland + Orange Counties
This vast park New York state park system has 31 lakes and more than 200 miles of trails, along with a variety of group camping facilities. Even cooler: these facilities, many of which are fairly elaborate, were built in 1913 to provide the urban poor with outdoor experiences.
HOW. Now for the really fun part: making sure it all comes together! Here are our top seven tips for keeping logistics drama to a minimum, while maximizing your group camping fun.
- Get an App. Avoid the endless “reply all” chain and get thyself one of these travel apps, which enable you to share itineraries, make packing lists and much more.
- Assume BYO for each couple or family’s camping/cooking gear, tech and first aid, unless otherwise specified. Instruct each family to secure off-grid phone backups.
- Assign Captains for important stuff, like cocktails, meals and activities. Trust me, including “Cap’n Appetizer” on a trip years ago has changed the way we camp forever. Each captain is in charge of organizing that category, with the help of the group.
- Pre-Cook. Vacuum-sealing delicious pre-cooked meals will dramatically uplevel your camp-cooking game—and leave you more time for campsite shenanigans! Make sure your meal captains are cognizant of any food allergies or strong preferences.
- Pre-Book. Make sure your appointed Cap’n Activities reserves any gear, like canoes or SUPs, in advance—especially if your trip is taking place during high season.
- Back it Up. No matter where you’re headed, have a backup/emergency plan; know in advance where to find the closest medical help. When in doubt, ask Cap’n Uh-Oh.
- Pack it Out. You simply must have a “leave no trace” plan to dispose of your waste. This will vary based upon your group camping facilities, so discuss your P.O.O.P. (Pack Out One’s Poop) policies in advance, so each family can secure the right equipment. You might even want to appoint a Cap’n Crap.