Photo Courtesy: Nikki Tiani-Moroney

You won’t be hard-pressed to find dozens of wilderness, camping and nature exploration reality shows on television today, but don’t let the fun and adventure fool you. Venturing out into the woods is rather difficult if not done properly, and the participants on these shows have entire crews of people to turn to if the going gets rough. Christopher Fenn, local wilderness aficionado and expert hunter suggests bearing these five tips in mind when planning your first — or next — camping excursions.

Christopher Robert Fenn
Christopher Fenn has had a fairly extensive upbringing in the Pennsylvania wilderness. Camping with his dad and younger brother since his early days of adolescence, Fenn was taught to appreciate the art of hunting and fishing and to enjoy the beauty of nature in all of its simplicity. Cook Forest, Pa., was always a favorite locale to camp for a weekend since Fenn was small; his entire family has been renting the same cabin for decades. In addition to venturing to Cook’s Forest, Fenn and his younger brother, Andrew, frequently built tents in their cousin’s heavily-wooded backyard to enjoy a weekend of campfires, fresh air and familial bonding. The following are some of his time-tested, best tips for campers, whether they be novice or seasoned explorers.

Keep it simple.
Essentially, if you’re a first-time camper, or someone in your party is new to the outdoors, don’t attempt to pitch a tent in the deep woods. Stay along the trail, familiarize yourself with the area and please don’t attempt to eat off the land. Experience and practice will eventually teach you everything: if the water is safe to drink, the berries are poisonous, and that pretty looking leaf isn’t, in fact, poison ivy. These may seem like obvious suggestions, but the number of people who are new to camping and do not take precaution is staggering. Don’t become a statistic on the five o’clock news.

Pack properly (as light as possible) to meet your needs & don’t over pack.
That 30-pound portable stove? Your dad’s old fold-up Army urinal? Your Loboutin’s, Coach gym pack and colossal MAC collection? Leave it all at home. Camping is all about the present; the here and now. Don’t burden yourself with tons of unnecessary equipment that will ultimately slow you down. Only bring the necessities, and remember how accessible the woods are — you can make your own cooking range, latrine and bed with the very minimum implements. Fenn’s best tip: pack things that you wouldn’t mind getting wet, dirty or wrinkled, and cram it all into the smallest pack possible. Lastly, if you camp in varied areas, it will require some obvious adjustments to your packing needs, so remain aware.

Check the weather.
Again, this may seem a no-brainer, but bear in mind how temperatures can fluctuate. One 80-degree day, calling for the least clothes possible, sunblock and a visor could turn into an icy, bone-chilling downpour, soaking your equipment and rendering you frigid. Pack lightly, but pack smart, too. Wear your layers and strip down as needed — believe Fenn, that extra pair of socks or second poncho could come in handy.

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Dress in (or carry) layers.
Think head, body and feet. This is the easiest and most efficient way to control body temperature. Sure, you checked the weather, but the weatherman isn’t always 100 percent accurate. Plan for extreme highs and lows, especially when the day fades to night, and remember that each layer has a function. Your base layer (against the skin) wicks away moisture, the next (insulating) layer holds in body heat and the third layer, the shell, protects you against the elements (wind, rain, hail, sun).

Have a Plan B.
You packed your gear; you checked it twice. The weatherman gave your excursion a “go”, the mosquitoes aren’t quite in season and you gathered a knowledgeable camping party: everything looks great, except for the fact that you find out moments before departure that three miles of your trail collapsed down an embankment. Always prepare for the unexpected by researching several areas for your contingency plan. Call a few local campgrounds to check for availability, look on that nature reserve’s site to ensure your trail is accessible and find out if you’re going to be encroaching on another camping party’s site. Being over-prepared never hurt anyone, and you’ll probably earn a scout’s badge in the process, or at least reap the office cred come Monday.

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Nikki Tiani-Moroney is a full time mum of two boys, wife of a professional poker player/photographer/amateur pencil-sharpening competitor and writer from Pittsburgh, PA. When she isn’t studiously neglecting her housework in favor of a good book, she’s out simultaneously fighting crime and picking up sidewalk litter while savoring an occasional cigarette. Her work can be found at