Happy camper compendium: A guide to packing, cooking, safety and fun

14 ways to help you be at one with nature

"Keep close to Nature's heart," naturalist John Muir once said. "Break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean."

Excellent advice! The only thing we'd like to add is a few ideas on how to follow it. As you get ready to briefly break with urban life, consider coupling Muir's recommendation with the tips below.

1. Use our amazing car-camping list

john caldwell, nait forest technology instructor

In 2011, Forest Technology instructor John Caldwell (class of ’94) spent three weeks managing a camp for more than 100 firefighters who battled the Slave Lake blaze.

How did he make roughing it a bit smoother? By making sure he had the right things to make the place as homey as possible. On your next car-camping trip, you can too! Here's Caldwell's list of supplies.

2. Go public

tent in back country

The vast majority of land in Alberta is public – that is, it's there for us to enjoy. We asked a NAIT Biological Sciences Technology and Marketing grad and wilderness tour guide about how to have an off-grid camping adventure safely and respectfully.

3. Build a fire from anything, anywhere, safely (if you're allowed)

No pit? No problem (unless there's a fire ban, so be sure to check). Get all fired up with these blaze-building instructions from Forest Technology instructor Chris Klitbo.

4. Save on gas

man's hand pumping gas

Particualrly if you have a trailer in tow, gasoline is going to be a big part of your travel budget. Try these fuel-efficiency tips from Automotive Service Technician grads and put the savings to good use on stocking up on essentials like marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate.

5. Know your fish

alberta fish identification guide

Would you know a cutthroat trout from a westlope cutthroat? You should, because one of them is protected and you're not allowed to take it home. To help you have a fishing season free from fines from wildlife officers, pick up a copy of this guide written by a Biological Sciences Technology grad.

6. Make a wasp trap

dead wasp floating in a glass

What's camping without wasps? A lot more fun, that's what. From a NAIT instructor who loves the outdoors but knows how these aggressive insects can ruin the experience, here's how to build an inexpensive trap.

7. Avoid a bear attack

bear in alberta

While we want to immerse ourselves in nature, some aspects are best enjoyed at a distance. With bears, that means hundreds of metres. In those rare instances where that distance is unexpectedly lessened, these tips from our friends in Forest Technology are worth a look.

8. Avoid food poisoning, too

how to pack a cooler

While wildlife is part of what make camping trips memorable, the same can't be said about some microscopic creatures that might turn up. “There’s bacteria everywhere,” says a former NAIT food and catering services sous chef Roberto Valencia Robles (Baking ’11, Culinary Arts ’12) of the great outdoors. “It’s not an operating room.”

Here are his tips on how to keep them out of your cooler.

9. Make some fancy bread

red river bread in a frying pan

This is, admittedly, a step up from smores – but it's just as delicious. Check out this recipe and method from a Culinary Arts instructor for a rustic loaf that you can make at the campsite. It takes time but you're on vacation. You've got nothing but!

10. Pack properly for the backcountry

backcountry hiker

You may have to pack less and lighter, but that doesn't mean you have to skip out on the creature comforts. Here, veteran long-haul hiker Andrew Johnson (Machinist ’04) shares his list of 20 essentials he never leaves home without.

11. Get lost in a good book

born to the wild by rob kaye

During more than three decades working with Parks Canada, Rob Kaye (Biological Sciences Technology – Environmental Sciences ’76) developed a unique relationship with the backcountry that he'd later chronicle in his memoir, Born to the Wild. It's rare and entertaining insight for anyone with a love for the exhilarating, restorative nature of, well, nature.

12. Don't get lost in the wilderness


Losing yourself to the experience of nature is great. Just don't get lost in the process. If you do happen to wander too far off the beaten track, here's help from a Forest Technology instructor on how to find it again.

13. Watch out for ticks

spraying insect and tick repellent

Getting bit by a tick sucks – literally. These little bugs wait in tall grass and low-lying vegetation and they're out for blood. What's more, they can carry Lyme disease, a serious illness caused by a bacteria spread by infected deer ticks. That's not to say there's any reason to be afraid. Instead, follow these tips from a Biological Sciences Technology instructor.

(Worried about your dog and ticks? These tips from a Veterinary Medical Assistant instructor are for you.)

14. Get there and back safely

road trip

It wouldn't really be getting away if it didn't put some miles between city and wilderness. That means making sure your vehicle is up to making the trip. Before you go, run through this five-point DIY inspection from an Automotive Service Technician instructor to get you to your destination and back home again – safe, happy, and with your spirit feeling squeaky clean.

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