Camping we will go! A first timers story

I went camping and SURVIVED! I just got back from a 2-night camping trip in Santa Barbara at Los Padres National Forest. Now, if you know me or even if you don’t, I would describe myself as fairly athletic but being outdoorsy, especially for camping, is completely out of my realm of comfort. For example, a few weeks ago I went hiking with a friend in San Diego. We stopped to take a picture and my hat brim hit the bush in front of me. I jumped (and shamefully squealed) thinking it was an animal while my friend stood there hysterically laughing and probably in shock by my ridiculous reaction.

Regardless, I am trying to say “yes” to more opportunities and pushing myself outside my comfort zone, so when asked if I wanted to join my friend camping, I took a deep inhale and told her “I’d join”. I was excited and nervous for this trip so naturally,  I called one of my friends that camps often and asked him what items I needed and then ran to REI (at least 3 times) to buy some beginner gear. Now we weren’t backpacking, so we weren’t “roughing” it, but we also weren’t ‘glamping’ (which I’ve done before and loved), so it wasn’t too glamorous. What I have now learned, is that car camping is a fairly happy medium between the two.


For my own sanity and future experiences (if she’ll let me go with her again), I am going to deem my friend as an “expert camper”. She appeared to have done her research on local hikes, watering holes and campground rules. She had not one, but 2 axes which she used on the wood for the fire as well as a stove top, bins with ALL THE camping materials, coolers, 2 first aid kits and ingredients for s’mores (very important).

tent setup

When we arrived at the campsite, we unpacked the car and set up our home for the next 2 nights. She scouted the best location for us to pitch the tent and following her lead, we put it together and got situated. After hanging out for a bit and trying to find some reprieve from the heat, she started the fire and the grill for dinner.  I was in charge of dinners (which I ALSO stressed over), but settled on kabob style chicken and veggies for the first night and turkey burgers, tomato/pepper/cucumber salad and marinated squash for the second.

After dinner we sat around the fire, an obvious staple of camping, and got our s’more on. I may not be a pro camper, but I will give you this one (maybe 2) pro tip. BRING FANCY MARSHMALLOWS! I had Smashmallow strawberries and cream marshmallows as well as cookie dough marshmallows that I brought with me and the strawberry ones were a game changer! SO DELICIOUS! Second pro-tip (which is actually from my friend-the expert camper)- put the graham cracker with the chocolate on it by the fire so that the chocolate melts while you are roasting your marshmallows! Genius!

camping fireside smashmallow                         camping marshmallows

The tent my friend has was basically just a screen so it was amazing to fall asleep and wake up to the sky and all of natural surroundings. She made some coffee and breakfast and we set out for a hike up to Knapp’s castle. It was a difficult hike as it was majority uphill, little shade and very hot out. My friend also had her adorable French bulldog with her, which she carried most of the way! The difficult, what seemed like forever trek up the mountain, was well worth it when we got to the top and saw the views from the castle ruins of the mountains.
knapps castle arch               knapps castle arches

hiking buddy                los padres national forest

After we hiked down, we returned to the campsite, rinsed off, cooked dinner, s’mored (yes, I’m making it a verb) and hung out by the fire. We sat and stargazed once the sun went down, which was gorgeous under the clear skies, before heading to bed. Once the sun came up, we cooked up some breakfast and efficiently packed up before heading home.

So there you have it! I survived my first camping experience, and you know what? I’d do it again! Before I sign off to take the most amazing shower of my life and to wash all my dirty clothes, let me leave you with a few more pro-tips that I learned (some by trial and error of the experience, some from my expert camper friend).

Pro tips:

  1. As already mentioned, bring fancy marshmallows. This is definitely worth it! Snackapade makes some awesome flavored marshmallows which will help elevate your s’more game.
  2. Marinade/chop/prepare your food before you get there. One less thing to do while you’re there after a long day of hiking or activities and it makes for easy storage and clean up.
  3. Bring extra sneakers- my friend forgot her hiking boots and the soles of her campsite shoes fell off during the hike! (take her expertise for what it’s worth after that 🙂 )
  4. ALWAYS carry your knife, you never know what’s out there and luckily I didn’t have to ward off any creatures. Who am I kidding, I wouldn’t have been able to protect myself – see above story about my hat and a bush.
  5. Make sure you have enough water, and snacks, when you hike.
  6. Be sure NOT to place your chair on rocks when sitting by the fire. Laughter may cause you to tip over.
  7. Lastly, have fun. You’re bound to get dirty, bit by some mosquitos, forget cooking oil, have some restless nights or some loud neighbors but it’s all about the experience and memories.

on top knapps castle arches

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