Metaphorically speaking, Memorial Day Weekend is the front door to summer, a big three-day window for outdoor enthusiasts and campers of all levels of experience to get outdoors. Blessed with Mt. Tam as our back door, and the Sierras as our giant-sized back yard, San Francisco Bay Area residents are getting their gear in gear to make the most of the holiday. Here are some tips from locally-based experts.
Plan ahead and do it
Whether you’re headed for Sonoma or the Sierras, to fish from the shores of a clear blue lake or to see shady groves of ancient coastal redwoods, the most important thing you can do is to plan ahead and take steps to anticipate the unforeseen. That’s a point made, and repeated, by the experts. Secondly, just do it. All the experts say, “Get outside. Do something active,” as the benefits are enormous.
You can borrow gear. The cost of kitting out from scratch can run a pretty penny. Alite makes great gear and they’ll let you borrow the essentials for free from their “Ranger Station” lending library. Just return it in the same clean condition you got it. Check it out.
Ask REI. What tent to buy? How about shoes? Jacket, lantern, cooking stove, sleeping bags? How to store food in bear territory? Consider Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI). It’s not just a retailer, it’s a co-op, which means your $20 lifetime membership gives you rebates on products, classes, adventure trips, classes, and repairs. The “Learn” tab at REI.com has 350 articles and videos with thousands of pieces of advice gathered from among the five million members about enjoying the outdoors, respecting the environment, and the know-how you’ll need to do both.
Go back to school. REI has an “Outdoor School” to share this advice with amateur campers, pros, and to would-be campers, so everyone can learn a new activity or hone their existing ones. “How to choose the best tent for your needs” or “Handling unexpected wildlife encounters” or “Things to consider when camping with kids” are the kind of practical classes being taught. It’s useful and fun.
Take a free taster class. Throughout the month of June, at 128 store locations in 32 states, REI is running free “Camping Basics” class designed to prepare friends and family for a great first-time camping experience. It’s full of information on trip planning, where to go, how and what to pack, gear essentials, and suggestions for fun outdoor activities to make your trip a blast for everyone.
Plan ahead. Sarah Fiske, REI Administrator at SoMa’s Brannan Street location has a top suggestion for those new to camping. She says, “Gather your information before you go. It’s the single most important thing a novice camper can do.” While the Bay Areas has recently seen near-record breaking high temperatures, “Remember, it’s still early in the season,” she cautioned. “Check with parks, sites, and rangers regarding trail conditions just before you go, especially at higher elevations.” You can even start with rental equipment and a guided overnight.
Try something new. “Take it to the next level. Go beyond your usual sites, learn a new skill,” says Sarah regarding experienced campers. Brad Bostrum, Outdoor Programs & Outreach Market Manager at REI, says, “We’ll help you learn cycling, rock climbing, kayaking so you can build outdoor skills and pursuits with confidence whether its your first or your fiftieth outing.”
Use resources. The Sierra Club, some 30,000 strong in four Bay Area counties, runs Inner City Outings (ICO) to provide backpacking, hiking, car-camping, and river rafting support to those who would not otherwise have the opportunity for such outdoor experiences. ICO operates in 50 locations nationwide.
Make new friends. With eight groups based on location and many more based on type of outdoor activity, age group, or personal profile, Sierra Club Chapter Director Michelle Meyers highlights the strength and camaraderie of the 300 annual volunteer-led outings.
Make reservations. Robert Howell of the Bay Area Backpack Section of the Sierra Club reminds that Memorial Day is “numero uno” in popularity for all kinds of camping, so this is doubly important piece of the planning.
Will Lowry at the San Francisco Bay Chapter says, “The Sierra Club does see a connect between the enjoyment of outdoor nature and an inspiration to respect and protect the planet.” Happy trails!