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Ask A Sacramento Guide: Packing List For Your Next Campout

When it's time to go camping, the choices of where to head in the Sacramento/El Dorado/Placer county area are many. Right in Sacramento is the Folsom Lake Recreation area, which offers quite a few camping units. Branch out a bit, and the choices expand and offer camping for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts. The entire Sierra Nevada to the east of the valley is overflowing with possibilities. The I-80 and U.S. Highway 50 corridors are absolutely alive with an astounding variety of places to pitch your tent. Lakes, rivers, streams, back country, wilderness and resorts all offer something different in the way of camping. Packing for your camping trip is very site specific, but there are some essentials that should go with you wherever it is you choose to pitch your tent.
lake of the sky
Peter Hussmann
Lake Of The Sky Outfitters
1023 Emeral Bay Road
South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150
(530) 541-1027

Peter Hussmann turned his love of the outdoors into a business that caters to those who head out into the forests and mountains. Lake of the Sky Outfitters will celebrate two very good years in May of 2013. He has been backpacking, hiking and exploring the Tahoe area and the Sierra for over 39 years. Over that time, he's become extremely aware of the necessities that are needed for a trip to the woods. The list of necessities is different for each type of camping experience. Wilderness trips require different gear than a few days in a developed campground. Lake Tahoe and the surrounding forests offer a diversity of terrain and conditions that are pretty unique to our slice of the mountains. It isn't possible to put it all in five tips, but the ones Peter suggests are common to most camping experiences.

Bay Area Vector Control Team Investigates West Nile Mosquito Presence
(credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Tip 1

Bring insect repellent and Stingeze (aloe vera works to soothe stings and bites, too). Mosquitoes do persist throughout the summer, as do those biting black flies. Around the lakes and streams that dot the Sierra there are two main hatchings of mosquitoes. One generally happens in June and the next one takes place a couple of months later. Not only can a swarm of mosquitoes that looks like a low-flying and weirdly moving cloud pepper you with itching welts, but nowadays they could bring some very unpleasant side effects. Slathering bug repellent on your exposed skin will make your trek in the woods much more comfortable. Bring enough to cover you for your stay in the forest.

first aid

Tip 2

Always bring an up-to-date first aid kit. Be prepared to deal with scratches, cuts, stings, sunburns (the sun is more intense at high altitudes), altitude sickness (headaches, nausea) and sprains. Along with the first aid gear, bring a backpackers' wilderness first aid manual. Depending on where you are, you may have to wait a bit for the medics to arrive if something goes haywire. Knowing what to do with the stuff in your kit is just as important as having the kit with you. As Hussmann says, "Nature is only dangerous for the unprepared."

Related: Best Ways To Experience The Sierra


Tip 3

Bring tarps of the waterproof type. You'll need them to cover firewood or anything else you want to stay dry. Putting one under your tent is a good idea too. If you are heading out to an undeveloped site, or into the wilderness, a rain fly for your back pack and tent and rain gear are a must. Although the Sierra Nevada has some of the finest weather of any mountain range in the world, thunderstorms do occur. They can just blow up out of a clear blue sky, and they often do. Pay attention to the weather reports, but always bring your wet weather stuff. Murphy's Law rules at the campout. If you don't have your rain gear, it will rain. If you have it, then it doesn't matter if it does.

bear vault

Tip 4

If your campsite doesn't provide a bear box for your food, it's up to you to bring your own. Odor-proof food containers and bear canisters can generally be rented from a camping type store or from the USFS. It is important to keep a clean campsite at all times to avoid problems with bears, raccoons, squirrels and hungry children. At some of the more primitive sites, either you animal proof your food or be prepared for the animals to eat it. Bears know what ice chests look like. A bear can easily open your ice chest, as well as your car or camper. If your car is close to your campsite, you trunk may be a good place to store your food, if it is in an odor-proof container. Avoid foods with strong odors and always keep food out of your tent. Remember that a fed bear is a dead bear, especially in the Tahoe Basin. Feeding wildlife is a bad thing to do, and though the forest critters may look cute, all wild animals have sharp teeth for a reason. Being bitten by a forest critter is always a rotten experience.

Designer Clothes

Tip 5

The temperatures in the mountains tend to vary throughout the day. When the sun starts going down, it will be cooler, and will stay that way until it rolls back up. You'll need layers to stay comfortable. The smart thing to do is to leave your cotton clothing at home. Your camping wardrobe should consist of synthetic, wool or synthetic and wool blends. These materials wick moisture away from your skin, dry faster and will still keep you reasonably warm if you get wet. With a change in temperature, which is a certainty in the mountains, you can put on or take off a cozy layer to maintain your comfort level. Staying warm and dry in the mountains is extremely important.

Related: Getaway Guide: One-Tank Trip to Donner Trail

Charles Ferris is a freelance writer who has lived in the Sierra, halfway between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, for the last 37 years. In 2010 he retired from teaching after 36 years . He and his wife hike, kayak, cross country ski, snow shoe, ride mountain bikes and road bikes, year round. His work can be found at

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