Camping 101: Activities for Everyone

There is a lot of planning involved when going camping.  What gear should you bring?  Do you have enough food?  What about clothes?  It's easy to get lost in the chaos of planning what to bring and completely forget about another vital aspect of camping ...

What are you going to do when you get there?

Now some of you may be spontaneous and plan to improvise activities along the way, and that's fine, but even for those on-the-fly campers it's a good idea to have a few backup ideas planned out ahead of time.  If the weather changes, for instance, and you find yourselves confined to the tent, having a set of cards or a board game available may make all the difference.

Today, we would like to cover some of the activities that you and your family and/or friends can do while camping.  While choosing activities, keep in mind the ages of those camping, their skill levels, their interests, as well as things like cost or accessibility.

Girl playing in sand

Water Activities

If water is easily accessible at or near your campsite, you should definitely consider how you plan to utilize it.  Swimming is a classic camping activity and many campgrounds have beaches, which may or may not have lifeguards on duty.  Plan ahead and bring appropriate PDFs for kids while swimming, for everyone while enjoying boating activities, and for your pets if they will be joining you on the water.  Ask at the check-in desk for information about rentals if you don't have canoes, SUPs, or kayaks of your own.  

  • Swimming
  • Canoeing, Kayaking, or SUPing
  • Boating
  • Personal Watercraft (Jet Skis)
  • Skiing, Knee-boarding, or Wakeboarding
  • White-water Rafting
  • Sandcastle Building
  • Snorkeling
  • Fishing
  • Water Sponge Fight*

* Instead of water balloons, which make a mess, why not use sponges instead?  In my family, we cut a few sponges into strips, line them up side-by-side, and tie the strips together in the middle to create a "sponge ball" that can be reused again and again.  More fun, less mess.


Adventure Activities

For those camping at primitive sites or off-grid areas, your campsite might not have much to offer in the way of activities.  You can still fill your camping trip with plenty of exciting adventures.  Just make sure to be safe, plan ahead, and bring appropriate gear.

  • Biking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Hiking
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Rock/Mountain Climbing
  • Nature Scavenger Hunt
  • Wildlife Art/Painting
  • Photography
  • Map Making
  • Geocaching (see earlier post to learn more)

Playing Cards

Tent Activities

No matter how well you plan, Mother Nature doesn't always cooperate and there are times when you may find your fun-filled weekend cut short by a rainstorm.  That doesn't have to mean the end of your fun, however, and if you plan ahead even those rainy days can produce some amazing memories.

  • Cards
  • Board Games
  • Stories
  • Coloring/Crafts
  • Puzzles
  • Reading
  • Play Music/Sing

Painting Outside

Campsite Activities

Sometimes it's nice to stick close to the tent rather than travel to an activity.  Be sure to avoid entering other campsites or disturbing other campers.

  • Hide-and-Seek
  • Tag
  • Play Catch
  • Have a Friendly Competition
  • Limbo
  • Yoga*
  • Drawing in the Dirt
  • Treasure Hunt
  • Bug Hunt
  • Painting/Nature Crafts

* Get the whole family involved by taking turns creating new poses inspired by things found in nature.

Playing Guitar

Nighttime Activities

While camping, don't think the fun has to end when the sun goes down.  Besides the classics, like making s'mores and telling ghost stories, there are plenty of other family fun activities to do after dark.  Just be sure to follow any quiet hours your campground has in place and remember to be careful exploring the dark as it is easy to get lost.

  • Stargaze
  • Build a Fire
  • Tell Stories
  • Sing/Play Instrument
  • Capture the Flag
  • Shadow Puppets
  • Hide-and-Seek/Sardines

We hope that this list gives you a few new ideas for your next camping trip and helps you to create fun-filled memories that last a lifetime.  Have fun and get camping!

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Camping 101: Sleeping Bags

In our previous article, we took a closer look at the available types of sleeping pads.  Like most things, finding the pad that works best for you may come down to trial and error, but hopefully our post will give you a better idea of where to start.

Sleeping bags are no different.  There are many different styles, designs, insulation levels and types, and extras that are combined in multiple ways, which can make sleeping bag selection seem like a daunting process.  Armed with a clear understanding of how you plan to use it and a little knowledge about the options available, you should have no trouble selecting the ideal sleeping bag for your next adventure.


Down Feather

First, let's talk about insulation.  When it comes to sleeping bags, there are two basic types: down and synthetic.  Both offer pros and both have cons, so consider how you plan to use it, where you plan to use it, and how much you want to invest before you buy.  Synthetic sleeping bags usually use polyester as the insulation material whereas down sleeping bags use down (the fluffy feathers that offer insulation to various birds).  When selecting a down sleeping bag, consider buying one that is marked RDS certified (Responsible Down Standard).

Synthetic Pros:

  • Dry Quickly
  • Work When Wet
  • Generally Less Expensive

Synthetic Cons:

  • Heavier Than Down Counterpart
  • Limited Compaction

Down Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Compacts Well
  • Last Long With Care

Down Cons:

  • Loses Insulation Value When Wet
  • Expensive

Temperature Rating

Before we get into the styles of sleeping bags, another important factor to consider is the temperature rating.  There are three types of ratings: Comfort, Limit, and Extreme.  The Comfort rating is the temperature at which an adult female would be comfortable sleeping in that sleeping bag.  The Limit rating is the temperature at which an adult male would be comfortable sleeping (or a female curled into a fetal position).  The Extreme rating is the temperature at which an adult female would remain alive while using the sleeping bag (but probably at severe risk of hypothermia). 

Most sleeping bags will only put the Limit rating on the label if they use this system at all (so ladies, keep that in mind when making your selection).  Many are simply labeled as Summer, 3 Season, or Winter.  Summer sleeping bags generally work well down to 35° F while 3 Season sleeping bags work well down to 10° F and Winter sleeping bags work under 10° F.  The effectiveness of the sleeping bag varies by condition, of course, so having a proper sleeping pad, good sleepwear, and considering your personal needs may change the rating you require.

Sleeping Bag Shapes

Rectangular Sleeping Bags

Rectangular Sleeping Bags

These are rectangular in shape and provide room to roll around inside the bag.  They typically unzip completely, allowing them to be used as a blanket as well.  Their extra space means less heat retention, however, and they don't usually come with a hood, which means more heat loss near the opening on top.

  • Heavier and less heat retention than other sleeping bags.
  • Low cost and easy to find.
  • Can be zipped together with another rectangular bag to make a larger sleeping bag.
  • Best used for car camping and indoor use.

Mummy Sleeping Bag, Bottom

Mummy Sleeping Bags

These sleeping bags are designed to "cling" to your body.  This tapered shape allows the bag to hold more heat and keep you sleeping comfortably in colder temperatures.  They generally do not unzip the entire way, which means less heat loss at your feet but also makes moving while sleeping difficult and may be less comfortable for some sleepers.

  • Lightweight and easy to compact.
  • Have a hood to minimize heat loss at opening.
  • Easy to find but may be more expensive.
  • Best for general camping, backpacking, kayak/paddle board camping.

Double-Wide Sleeping Bags

These sleeping bags are designed for couples or those who can't sleep without a lot of space.  Keep in mind that any body heat gained by having two people sleep in the same bag may be lost by the loose fit of the sleeping bag.  Some of these bags can be completely unzipped, allowing you to break them down into two separate sleeping bags and making them far more versatile.  Others come with hoods to help prevent some heat loss through the opening.

  • Heavier and bulkier than other sleeping bags.
  • More expensive and more difficult to find.
  • Best for car camping.

There are other types of sleeping bags, of course, including some new and unusual styles like the body-shaped sleeping bag that looks a bit like a snowsuit and the elephant's foot style which only covers your lower half while sleeping.  There are also hybrid designs like the barrel sleeping bag, which isn't as restrictive as a mummy but doesn't have the heat loss as one might experience with a rectangular style bag.  And then there are the sleeping bags designed specifically for men, women, or children which take into account body shape, increased insulation at cold zones (more layers by the woman's feet, for example), and extra features like pillow pockets or sleeves for sleeping pads.

When it comes to getting a good night's sleep, no one can tell you which combination of features is going to be perfect for your unique situation.  Instead, think about your needs, set up a list of priorities, and then consider the environmental conditions.  When in doubt, consider borrowing a sleeping bag from a family member or friend to test it out before purchasing.

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Mud Season Madness

It's officially here - mud season.  For those of you who live in a hotter, drier climate and have never fully experienced all of the slipperiness and squelchiness of mud season, let us explain.  It's that time of year when spring has finally shown its bright, sunny face.  The snow starts to melt, the ground starts to thaw, and the resulting tidal wave of water remains trapped on the surface, unable to penetrate the still mostly-frozen ground.  This is the result ...

mud season

Not a pretty sight, right?  But it gets worse.  For those of us with children and pets, spring time is a constant war against dirt, one that we always lose.

Child in mud     Dog in mud

For the tidy, neat folks of the world, mud season is truly the stuff of nightmares.  Most of us hide out in our homes, counting down the days until the frost fully thaws and the sun and wind do their best to dry out the mud.  Unfortunately, mud season can last for weeks or even months when conditions are right, meaning that we have a long time to wait before doing anything even remotely fun outside.

Or ... maybe not.

That's right.  Today we are challenging all of you mud season phobics to get out of your house, our of your comfort zone, and enjoy all that mud season can offer.  How?  Embrace your inner child and plan a mud season hike.  Don't worry.  It's not as difficult as it sounds.  Here are some tips, tricks, and basic mud season hiking etiquette that will make you excited about mud season every year.

Wet/Muddy Trails are Fragile

That's right.  Some of the most severe and devastating damage to hiking trails happens in spring when the snow melt and thawing frost wreak havoc on maintained paths.  During this time, erosion is the enemy.  Thankfully, there are a few basic tips that will keep you from accelerating any damage Mother Nature has in store.

1.  Be prepared to get dirty.

It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when.  Hiking in the mud is messy business, but it's also a lot of fun.  Plan ahead with proper gear and supplies and you'll make the entire trip much less stressful.  Wear boots that go above the ankle or consider getting a pair of gaiters.  Bring along towels, dry changes of pants/socks/shoes, and even extra water to give your muddiest gear a rinse before climbing back into your car.  Toss a plastic tote or bag in the back of your car to hold all of the wet gear and save your vehicle's interior.

Walk down the middle of the path

2. Walk down the middle of the path

But there's a puddle?  Or that's where it's the muddiest?  We didn't say this was going to be a nice, neat hike so put on your favorite above-the-ankle water-proof boots and get marching.  Though it may be tempting to walk along the edges of paths where there is less water and mud, that's where most of the erosion happens and trampling those fragile areas only makes matters worse.  Stick to the middle.

3. Step on rocks, logs, or in the water whenever possible.

Okay, so the first two seem obvious.  Rocks and logs provide solid walkways that don't erode the same way the rest of the trail does.  The last, however, may seem counter-intuitive.  Why walk in water?  Especially if it's running water?  Though it may surprise you, running water often provides the most stable ground as the mucky, muddy sediment has already been washed away revealing the sturdy ground beneath it.

Hiking with trekking poles

4. Take baby steps and plan for extra time.

Mud is slippery, perhaps even more slippery than ice.  Because of this, you're going to want to take smaller steps and more time to traverse the same trails you cover in the drier summer months.  If you're really concerned, bring along trekking poles.  They can help keep you upright and can be used to test the depth of both water and mud along the path.  Just be sure to outfit them with rubber tips to help minimize damage to the trails.

boardwalk     Log-step path     Gravel path

5.  Choose your path wisely.

Avoid paths that traverse lowland/wetland areas as these will be far worse in terms of mud.  If you're not sure which trails will be best for an early spring hike, ask.  Some trails are designed to handle the worst every season has to offer and are hard-packed with gravel or may have boardwalks over the worst areas. 

6.  Don't be afraid to turn back.

If you find that the mud is getting deeper or that a stream is literally overflowing thanks to the spring run-off, don't be afraid to turn back.  Streams can easily turn into rivers in the spring and water temperatures are still dangerously low.  It's better not to risk it and head back the way you came.

For many, mud is simply a fact of life, one that you can either embrace or, well, there really isn't any other option.  It's going to happen whether you like it or not so why not have some fun with it?  Think of it this way.  After a nice muddy hike, you, at least, get to return home, shower off the muck, and change into a dry set of clothes.
He, on the other hand, has no escape.

Bear in mud

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How STOP Can Help You Survive

I think most of us can honestly say we've been lost at some point in our lives, and I don't mean in that philosophical - where am I going in my life - kind of way.  I mean lost.  As in I knew where I was a moment ago, but now all the trees look the same, I can't find the trail, and I can no longer hear my hiking group.

Don't be embarrassed.  It happens to people of all ages, backgrounds, and experience levels.  Sometimes it's a child that wanders away while chasing after a butterfly or maybe it's an adult who scouts ahead to find an easier path only to lose their way.  However and wherever and to whomever it happens, your first step is to STOP.

STOP, survival tips


This may seem rather obvious, but it often the easiest (and most dangerous) to miss.  Stop and sit down.  Take a deep breath.  Close your eyes and center your thoughts.  While in a survival situation (or maybe just lost in a shopping mall), panic is the enemy.  Unfortunately, it's extremely easy to panic.  Our thoughts tend to run wild, and usually toward the negative.  What if I'm never found?  What if they leave without me?  What if I get hurt?

Panic will drive you to keep moving.  Panic will push you beyond safe limits, taking risks you can't afford to take.  Panic will get you more lost, and yes, there is such a thing.

So stop, take a breath (or ten), and remind yourself that you can't change your situation, but you can take control of it.


Your most important asset is your brain, so use it.  Think about how you got there.  Are there any landmarks that you passed?  Think about the others in your group.  Where are they headed?  Think about your safety plan (every outdoor adventure should have one).  When are people expecting you back?  What will they do if you don't return?

Knowing how others are going to react to you being lost will help guide your actions from this point forward.  You want to make it easy for them to find you, so consider how you can best do that.  Think about every action you take, every footstep, every turn, everything.

Focusing on thinking through every action will help to slow you down and make it less likely that panic will take control.


While still sitting, look around you.  What do you see?  Anything familiar?  What do you hear?  The sounds of a river, voices, cars?  What can you smell?  Smoke?  Pay attention to the world around you because there may be obvious clues as to how to get back to civilization.

Look at what you have with you.  Empty your pack, your pockets, spread out all of your survival gear.  Knowing what equipment you have and what you lack will help determine how you proceed from here.  If you have a cell phone, can you make a call for help?  Check your GPS unit.  Does it have an emergency beacon?

Also consider yourself.  What are you capable of?  What are your skills?  If you're not a strong swimmer, avoid water.  If you aren't a strong climber (or don't have the proper equipment), avoid steep areas.  Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is important in any survival situation.


Even with a safety plan in the hands of someone back home, someone who will send help eventually, it may take time.  While you're waiting, you'll need a plan.  Prioritize your immediate needs.  Do you need any medical attention?  Deal with that first. 

Next, find shelter and focus on fire (if possible).  Even in the summer, the nighttime temperatures can plummet and having a shelter and source of heat will be important.  If you're in an area with large predators, avoid constructing a shelter on a game trail, where they are more likely to travel.  Focus on using the materials around you (downed branches and trees, for instance).

Now that you have a relatively safe and warm place to rest, you can focus on signalling for help.  Save one-time use items (like flares) for situations when they are more likely to be seen (if you see a helicopter or distant boat, for instance).  You want to stand out from the wilderness around you - bright colors, straight lines and right angles, loud sounds, flashing lights.  Place them in areas where they can be seen from a distance or seen from above.

And finally, source sustenance.  If you have some with you, ration it.  You don't know how long it will have to last.  If not, create a plan to find some.  Water is more important than food, though both will be necessary if you're there for any length of time.  While looking for them, be sure not to wander too far from your base.  Use methods to find your way back (leaving markings like piled stones, snapped branches, bits of fabric, etc).  Remember, think carefully about every step you take.

From all of us at Stillwater Outdoors, be safe, have fun, and remember to STOP the next time you get lost.
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Community Update: Upcoming Events

Fall is in full-swing and the first frosty morning has come and gone.  As our thoughts turn to the holidays, it's easy to forget that there are still many outdoor events on the way.  Stillwater Outdoors wants to invite you to participate and join in the fun.

Running a Race

Race to Feed Our Veterans - Meals on Wheels

A 5K event for those who love to run (or walk) and want to help support the local community.  Last year, 362 participants brought 375 lbs of food and 58 boxes of instant breakfast.  Sponsored by Meals on Wheels, this event starts at the Heritage Funeral Home and starts at 10 AM on Sunday, November 11.  Registration is $25 and is still possible (though it's too late to get a t-shirt for the event) through their website:

Race to Feed Our Veterans

Cheney Turkey Trot -  Cheney High School Cross Country Team

The 11th Annual Cheney Turkey Trot is open for registration ($5) until November 18th.  It is a walk/run event (2 mile walk & 3 mile run) taking place on Thanksgiving day, November 22, at 9 AM.  They ask that participants bring canned food or a donation for the Cheney Food Bank.  For more information or to register, check out their website:

Cheney Turkey Trot

Daniel T. McGinnity Memorial Turkey Trot - Midway Elementary Community

For those who can't make it out to Cheney on Thanksgiving morning, there is also the Daniel T. McGinnity Memorial Turkey Trot, which takes place at the Midway Elementary School in Colbert.  It's a 5K run (or walk) with all proceeds going to the Second Harvest Food Bank and the Midway PTO.  The race starts at 9 AM on Thanksgiving morning, with registration open until the day of the event.  They ask that participants bring canned food for Second Harvest.  For more information or to register, check out their website:

Daniel T. McGinnity Memorial Turkey Trot

Yellowstone National Park

Fee Free Day! - National Parks

We'd like to offer a friendly reminder that November 11 (Veterans Day) is a fee-free day at all of the National Parks.  If you've never visited a National Park, why not participate and get a chance to experience the splendor that our country has to offer?  Whether you're going for a day hike, want to join a forest ranger-led event, or simply want to enjoy the scenery, our country's national parks have plenty to offer.  Be sure to check out their website to learn more about our national parks or to find a park near you.

National Park Website

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