Gear, planning, peeing outside: Seattle outdoors experts give their tips for first-time campers – The Seattle Times

Imagine spending a night sleeping on dirt, fending off bugs and making friends with the local wildlife.
Washingtonians love to hike and camp, but if you’ve never spent the night in the woods, the thought of camping can feel intimidating or even ridiculous. Sleeping outdoors certainly requires some adjustments to your bedtime routine, but with practice, camping will begin to feel comfortable and fun even for the greenest novices.
Gear and preparation are key, as is learning to feel OK disconnecting. Experts Teresa Hagerty, founder and guide for Cascade Mountain Adventures, a Seattle-based adventure company specializing in women-only outdoor activities, and Ben “Bucky” Bukowitz, sales associate at Ascent Outdoors, an outdoor gear shop in Ballard, shared their tips for first-time campers looking to get outdoors.
Both Hagerty and Bukowitz emphasized the importance of buying or renting the highest quality you can afford on the “Big Three”: tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag.
“There are fewer things worse than a wet, cold or terrible night’s sleep,” Hagerty said. “We recommend tents sized up for one more person than expected, sleeping pads with an R-value of 3.5 or higher and a sleeping bag rated at 30 degrees or warmer.”
Rentals are available from major Seattle retailers like REI as well as a slew of smaller organizations ranging from The Mountaineers to Ascent, Gearhouse and others. When in doubt, ask an expert for help.
With all of the gear options available on the market, finding the right setup can feel overwhelming. provides honest reviews for just about any piece of outdoor gear you could imagine. Once you have an idea of what you want, head to your local outdoor store to test out the gear. Most outfitters allow guests to test out products in the store before purchasing.
“Have someone work with you to put everything together,” Bukowitz said. “That way you can feel and see how parts connect. Ask the employees questions. They will have all the answers.”
Finding the right gear can take some time. If you want to test something a few times before purchasing, rent a setup, or ask a friend if you can borrow gear. Camping with a more experienced buddy is the perfect way to learn the ropes.  
Quality camping gear isn’t cheap (several hundred dollars all-in). If purchasing the Big Three all at once isn’t in the budget, look to buying used gear. In Seattle, Ascent, Wonderland Gear Exchange, REI and others sell used gear that has been evaluated by staff for reliability and quality.
“There is so much good gear for all types of outdoor recreation,” Bukowitz said. “It’s easy to find used camping gear and tools in shops and online.”
In addition to the Big Three, always bring the 10 Essentials, layers for cold nights and mornings, rain gear (even in the summer!) and comfortable shoes for hanging out at camp. Once you have camping gear, head to to hunt for campsite reservations (ideally well in advance).
Some are turned off by the idea of camping due to the lack of bathroom facilities, bugs or getting dirty, but there are varying levels of camping, which can help new campers ease into the idea of leaving the luxuries of home for a few days.
“It is liberating to disconnect and let go of some of these standards in the outdoors,” Hagerty said. 
Car camping at an established campground is an ideal starting point. Many campgrounds include showers (usually with a small fee) and shared bathrooms. 
When your car is right there, it allows you to bring more creature comforts: your own pillow, bigger cooking equipment, additional food. Over time, you’ll learn what you actually use, which will prepare you for more rugged adventures.
Hagerty also suggested first-timers include some fun items. 
“Throw in some playing cards, twinkle lights, a flying disc or your favorite stuffed animal after the essentials are covered,” she said. 
As far as hygiene goes during camping excursions with no access to toilets or showers, it just takes some getting used to. Baby wipes make decent makeshift showers, or you can bring a small bottle of biodegradable soap and a washcloth if you’re staying near a water source. 
Washington-based Kula Cloth makes delightfully quirky reusable pee cloths, which make peeing outdoors pretty fun, frankly. When it’s time for No. 2, it’s really not as scary as it seems, plus you’ll likely have a pretty sweet view. Find a spot off trail and away from a water source, dig a cat hole 6-8 inches deep and 4-6 inches wide, bury your poo and pack out your toilet paper.
“If you are ever feeling nervous, just take a deep breath,” Bukowitz said. “Chances are if you come upon other campers, you can at least feel all right knowing they probably haven’t showered either.”
Once you have the gear and the mindset, it’s time to plan that camping trip!
If you have friends who are experienced campers, ask if they will join you for your first outing. They’ll probably be thrilled to show you the ropes. If you don’t know anyone who camps or are new to the Pacific Northwest, Facebook groups can be great places to meet camping buddies.
“We have a wealth of local outdoor communities like The Mountaineers and social media groups including PNW Outdoor Women, Women Who Hike Washington and many more,” Hagerty said. “They are welcoming to beginners and a great place to find community.”
People of color looking for community in the Great Outdoors can check out groups like Outdoor Afro, Latino Outdoors and Outdoor Asian, while QPOC and OUTVentures serve the LGBTQ+ community. 
Before leaving home, check the weather and do your research on the area. Washington Trails Association is a fantastic resource for trail conditions, as well as other pertinent information about bears, other wildlife and fire bans. Always share your trip details with a trusted friend or family member.
“A solid foundation, built on essential skills and environmental awareness, is the key to a lifetime of successful outdoor adventures,” Hagerty said. “Camping should be both a safe and enjoyable experience with space for childlike wonder.”
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.


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