A Beginner's Camping Experience

By Seth Mielke | Last Updated on September 18, 2023 at 4:44PM ET

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This was my first time camping alone. Generally in the past, I have camped with people, next to a car, with chairs and beers and music, inflatable mattresses, cheeseburgers, s'mores, and bathrooms. This time I wanted to try something different. The Location I chose the Scioto Grove Metro Park to camp, as they offered free overnight reservations at five different sites along their REI River Trail which extends a few miles along the wooded area next to the Scioto River. On the map, I checked the differences in location between the five sites, and site #4 looked the most intriguing to me, based on how far away it was from most of the park and the facilities. To me, it seemed to be the most private spot where there would be much less foot traffic in the evening as I was setting up. I liked that idea of having a private retreat in the woods where it was just me. My Gear I made a checklist of the things that I thought I'd need for the one night stay at the park. Here is what I came up with:

  • Dress Warm
  • Tent
  • Water
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Pillow
  • Granola Bars
  • Beef Sticks
  • S'mores Supplies
  • Stick
  • Matches in Plastic Bag
  • Lighter
  • Lighter Fluid
  • Newspaper Ads
  • Chair
  • Toothbrush and Paste
  • Flashlight and Lamp
  • Towel
  • Book and Journal and Pen
  • Knife
  • Compass

Life is about the journey, not the destination

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This is what the bench said at the point that I almost decided to give up my quest. The hike from the parking lot where I checked in to campsite #4 was a total of 2.1 miles. This bench was at about the halfway point, and it was at this point where my sleeping bag started to unroll and the tent was starting to feel a little bit heavier. Beads of sweat were pouring down my face; it was only about 74 degrees outside. I should have packed lighter. I had a bunch of water, a DeWALT flashlight, a sweatshirt in my backpack. I was carrying my old heavy sleeping bag in one arm, and a 22 POUND - SIX PERSON FAMILY TENT. While writing this article, I checked online for different tent options. I found out you can get really good one-person tents that are rain proof for solo camping. Most weight less than 4 pounds; some even less than a pound! This would have been ideal. I felt silly camping in a tent built for a family by myself [https://www.rei.com/product/204311/the-north-face-wawona-6-tent]. It is a great tent though! My main takeaway from my stop at the bench was to pack lighter. I did not stop here though. I kept going.

Camp Site 4 - Home at Last

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Pictured above is camp site number 4 with the tent [mostly] assembled. I did not put the additional section on the Wawona 6 tent because the stone pad that the tent sat on was not large enough to extend the extra portion of the tent out onto, so it would have been an awkward setup. Also it was a one night stay so it wasn't a big deal. This was my second time setting up the tent and it was not too bad to put together. Having daylight helped immensely. The tent has color coded orange poles that fit across the top and one extra gray pole that go across the front. There's one more pole that I did not use, for holding the extra section. And it was a calm night so I did not use the stakes to hold the tent in place. The rain tarp went across the top of the tent [it is a different piece from the tent itself] and it latched with two loops on the back of the tent to hold it in place. Each camp site gets equipped with free firewood provided by the park which is awesome. There was not a lot of firewood but the ranger said they could provide more if I need it. All I had to do was give them a quick call. That is nice. So it was from my 4pm check-in to this point at about 5:45pm that I was all set up. So far the trip was made up of the following: check-in with the park ranger, walk about a mile to get past an ongoing wedding at the lodge half-way, cross a rope bridge, turn eastbound and slightly around the bend of the river toward the south, and finally end up 2.1 miles from my car with all of my gear and get set up. Home at last! Now what?

Beautiful Evening

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Once setup, I was worn out. But I had to get out there and explore a little. There was a side path that led away from the regular trail, and it went down to the river's edge. There were a lot of animal footprints in the mud along the river and the views were great. It was about 6:30pm and the sun was low in the sky, reflecting across the river. So calm outside also. It was really peaceful. Probably my next foray into wilderness adventures will involve either a canoe or a kayak. The water looked so nice. But I knew that I had to get back to the camp site and start my fire before I lost all of the daylight. Even having a flashlight, I felt more comfortable getting a fire started earlier. So I headed back home to my tent and my snacks and mainly my lighter fluid.

Nighttime in the Woods

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It was nice to have lighter fluid. It certainly made life easier. Once I got the fire started, it started getting dark outside. This was more motivation to keep the fire going as bright as possible. For a while I kept piling on the stack of wood that was supplied by the park but it didn't take long to realize that it was not going to last at the pace I was burning wood. Luckily the campsite that I was at had big piles of sticks and leaves near the back. Powered by a s'more that I made, I was able to keep the fire high for most of the evening. This became a full time job. Load sticks onto fire, eat a s'more, and repeat. A few times, I walked out of the camp site into the grass path to look up at the nighttime stars. What I could see from the path was beautiful, but I wish I had taken more time and walked down the path further to get a full view from the larger grass openings in the path. This will be my goal next time when I am not traveling with a 22 pound family style tent and several more pounds of things that I didn't need. I was honestly wiped out. My vision was able to adjust and see a lot after a minute or two away from the fire. While I was right next to the fire, I could not see hardly anything out past the ring of light from the flame. This would be pretty scary truly out there in nature. Even in the park, alone, it was a little nerve wracking to not be able to see what was coming. At about 9pm, I put one more log onto the fire, and then packed things into the tent for the evening. Sleep I wish I had packed some sort of small inflatable mattress. I slept on a pile of stone pebbles just underneath my sleeping bag. This was brutal. Maybe I'll get one of these: https://www.amazon.com/Sleeping-Pad-Ultralight-Built-Lightweight/dp/B09WDMDQSX/ It look awesome. I think I am talking myself into it now. What a big difference this would have made. Rain I woke up at 4am approximately to light tapping on the tarp. It continued and picked up the pace. It was rain and the tarp on the tent was working. This was a great moment in my night as I had not planned at all on getting rain. For some reason, it was not at all a thought of mine, even as I was putting the tarp on the tent earlier in the evening. I think I was just doing it out of habit. I started laughing out loud with happiness at my dry, warm sleeping bag. Life was good underneath the dark rainy sky. This was one of my favorite moments in the trip. The Return Trip, Slip, and Fall The next morning, I packed up. I chugged the remaining water that I had packed, and put on a sweatshirt so I would not have to carry it back. I took one more look around and I was out of there. 8am approximately. The rope bridge on the way back had moist boards from the rain the night before. Two steps into the bridge, and I was airborne! I miss my bed and warm coffee and bowls of cereal and my wife. I landed with a thud but it did not hurt at all. God is good. I got back up and dusted myself off and kept going because there was not really any other choice. On the halfway point back, I dropped my gear off behind a metal bin and decided to go get my car and come back for it. If somebody stole it, I didn't care at that point. I was so happy that I took off on a fast jog. Life was good again, hiking with nothing on my back and no unwieldy sleeping bag in my arm, no heavy tent in my other arm. I was booking it. I made it to my car, said hello to a lady who had stayed at camp site number one, and drove back to my gear. It was still there, so I decided to pick it up and put it in my car. And so was the night at Scioto Grove. Thank you for reading. What to Improve

  • Get a smaller tent
  • Pack lighter in general
  • Get an inflatable mattress
What Went Right
  • Rain tarp on the tent was great!
  • S'mores were delicious
  • Lighter fluid helped a lot to start the fire
  • Extra brush and sticks near the site kept the fire hot and bright
  • Sunset river view was beautiful and the weather in general was perfect as it dipped into the high 50s during the night, and back up into the low 70s in the late morning


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