Every summer my family and I hit the road for a few weeks, seeking adventure and a better understanding of the world we live in.
We do our best to use dispersed camping in national forest lands, rather than stay in crowded campgrounds. We make most of our meals on a two burner stove out of the back of the car. We plan on getting dirty.
This year our family took off for Southern Utah and Colorado. I’d give my packing job a B+; perfectly acceptable, but with room for improvement. Here’s what I learned…
Pack your uniform
The Mud and Grace Summer Essentials are largely road trip ready, so I packed up the rougher elements like the hiking shorts and trail running shoes, and left the linen and jersey to have a stay-cation in the closet. Having a bag full of familiars, rather than untested outfits was golden. The questions of the day were largely “Tank or t-shirt? Red or blue?” This eliminated that vacation horror of looking through the pictures your husband has taken and coming across a snap of yourself in something really awkward.
If you don’t wear it at home, you’re not going to wear it on vacation
I bought the long PrAna shorts four years ago because I thought they would be practical. Over the years they have slid down when worn with a backpack, rubbed terribly at the hem, clashed deeply with my climbing harness, and consistently bunched out at the pockets.
So naturally I packed them and brought them on the trip.
After taking these shorts on a 3,100 mile drive with my family, I threw them in a bag and sold them at Buffalo Exchange. If I never wanted to wear these shorts in Oregon, why on earth would I want to wear them in Utah?
Respect the Dust
Sand, dirt, silt, red dust, brown dust, it was everywhere. Every item of clothing, every shoe, every bag was covered (and at times filled) with dust.
And I had actually packed white clothing?
Packing with respect for the dirt you intend to play in makes any camping trip easier. When throwing your clothes in a bag, imagine them a little wrinkled and dirty. How’s that going to work? My summer wardrobe has a lot of black and white, which are not the most dust-friendly hues. I’m beginning to understand why khaki is the original outdoor sportsman color.
Be ready for anything
I didn’t know we’d go scrambling up a canyon when I put this dress on. The Patagonia sport weight dress made the packing list because we planned to visit the ruins of the Ancestral Pueblo at Mesa Verde. Cliff dwelling is so spectacular, it calls for a nice ensemble.
But when the day also included a scramble, a long drive, and dinner out, the dress hung in there. It also came in handy when my husband hurt his knee and we had to stay in a casino/hotel in West Wendover (now that’s an experience…)
In the ideal camping road trip wardrobe, none of your clothes should be at all limiting. You just don’t have the packing or mental space for it. By all means bring a dress, just make sure it’s ready to move.
Your britches may get too big for you
I am a compulsive sizer-upper when it comes to shorts. I want to move! But apparently there is a limit to how large you want your pants.
When I tried on the shorts in the store, they were roomy. After a day of hiking, they got baggy. After five days of running amok in the Southwest, getting washed in a river and laid out to dry on a scrub bush, they were huge. The same went for a few of my tops, but that didn’t present the same issue of total clownishness. Pack pants that fit.
Re-purpose and share useful pieces
My kids and I ran across the gnat encrusted expanse for about a half mile until we hit the Great Salt Lake. Upon reaching the water (still gnat-full) we had to wade out another quarter mile before it was deep enough to try floating. Having come so far, we submerged ourselves in the salt water. While we did, as expected, bob like corks in the salt water, we also felt searing pain in every scratch and bite we’d endured over the last week and a half. The three of us came screaming out of the water and ran all the way back to the car.
The locals, I am told, don’t go to Salt Lake.
I learned another lesson that day as well. After a quick outdoor shower, I was so anxious to leave I pulled a tank over my swim top and left the paddle board shorts on for the drive. It was a cute ensemble. The next day I put the shorts on again and wore them with a different top. New shorts!
Similarly, when my daughter stole my hat on the third day of the trip, I asked her what I was supposed to do for sun protection. She offered up one of the hats she’d brought. From then on the two of us traded ball caps each morning, expanding our hat options. I can’t wait until we can share shoes.
I only wore the flannel shirt and joggers once, and I never took the rain jacket out of the bag. But if you don’t pack a warmth layer, you will need it. I could have packed smaller, throwing in silk or wool underwear instead, but I like having a warmth layer I can easily pull on, rather than strip down to get warm. No, although largely unworn, I wouldn’t want to travel without these three essentials.
The ultimate wardrobe
Overall, I have never felt so well prepared for a camping road trip. Getting dressed was easy and for the most part I felt presentable everywhere we went. My plan for next year’s two-week road trip? The following:
Three pairs of hiking shorts that fit
One pair of running shorts
4 tank tops, 3 t-shirts
3 sports bras
A 2-piece swim suit of top and swim shorts
1 or 2 hats, coordinated with daughter
1 pair of sandals
1 pair of trail running shoes
6 pairs of socks
1 sport weight, solid color dress
An insurance policy of 1 pair of joggers, 1 flannel shirt and 1 rain jacket
All of these items need to look good with dust, and be willing to play.