Are you planning to camp during the total solar eclipse on August 21? That's great! You are in for a memorable experience. On that Monday, you’ll get to see the moon fully cover the sun, darkening the sky and making stars visible during the day. Campers headed away from city centers will have some of the best views, with less pollution clouding the rare celestial phenomenon.
But camping can be tricky. If you’re not prepared, you could be struggling to set up a tent, find your campsite or making a dash for more provisions when you should be laying on a blanket, watching a once-in-a-lifetime show.
Where to camp
Do you already have a reserved camp spot in the path of totality? Congratulations! You scored a coveted home for the eclipse. If you haven’t made a reservation yet, you likely won’t be able to get a reservable spot within the path of totality, although some parks have waitlists in case people cancel.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t find a spot. Many camp sites are first-come, first-serve. If you want one, don’t wait until Sunday night to try for a spot. Go a few days early so you’ll have the best chance of beating the crowds.
You can also camp on some public lands in “dispersed sites,” meaning cleared areas that aren’t part of a designated campground. Check the rules before you head out, so you know if it’s legal to pitch a tent there. The blog Cairn has a good list of last-minute spots along the path of totality.
And if you’re not in the path of totality, which runs along a sweeping curve from Oregon to South Carolina, not all is lost. You’ll still get to see a partial eclipse in every part of the country.
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What to bring
If you’re a seasoned camper, you’ve already got your setup ready to go. If you haven’t camped since cub scouts, you’ll need to stock up on a few things.
If you’re dusting off a tent you’ve never used or haven’t used in decades, make sure to test it out before you go. You don’t want to drive three hours from home just to find out you’re missing a tent pole.
If you don’t have a tent, you can rent one from REI or another outdoor retailer. You can rent sleeping bags and pads, too.
The solar eclipse is happening in August, so you could be in for a sweaty viewing experience. You’ll want to stock up on as much water as you can. You need at least a gallon a day per person just for drinking, and more for washing if you don’t have access to running water nearby.
Or buy a five-gallon water tank instead, and flip it over onto a stand with a dispenser valve. It’s like having your own faucet.
Bacon sounds good while camping, right? Yes, but you’ll want to limit your perishables. Pack a cooler with lots of ice and a few cold-storage items, but also make sure you have plenty of shelf-stable granola bars, chips, jerky, and other food you can munch on in case the heat spoils your raw meat stash.
The last thing you want is to be out in the wilderness without protection from the August sun. Bring a hat, a lightweight long-sleeve shirt, and some sort of shade structure. Sport umbrellas work, as do pop-up sun shelters. And don’t forget the sunscreen.
The shade goes for your eyes, too. Bring glasses made especially for sun viewing, which block out harmful rays.
Handi wipes and bug spray
Just trust us. If you won’t have access to bathrooms with water – or if said bathrooms run out of soap – handi wipes or baby wipes will be your lifesaver. And bug spray will protect you from an itchy nightmare, or having to pawn some prized possession for your neighbor’s stash of OFF! Deep Woods.
You may be camping where there is limited or no cell service. Bring a map and plan your route before you head out.
A reliable vehicle
Many roads that lead to camp sites are gravel or dirt, and some cars could run into issues. If you have a Jetta, you might want to borrow or rent a burlier vehicle that has four-wheel drive and high clearance.
What not to do
Forest service officials are concerned about eclipse camping, and for good reason. The country’s natural areas will be filled with people, many of whom are unfamiliar with camping protocol. Add to that dry August heat, and you have a recipe for potential disaster.
Don’t: Start a campfire where you shouldn't. Camp fires can spark wildfire, and that’s not conducive to anyone’s eclipse viewing experience. Make sure your fire is in a fire pit, away from anything flammable. In addition, dry conditions may trigger fire bans. Check with your campground or public land for any restrictions before you go.
If you light a fire, make sure you put it out before going to bed or heading out on a hike. The U.S. Forest Service recommends "drowning" your fire with water, and touching it once it's out to make sure it's not still hot.
Don’t: Throw a party. Your camping neighbors are ready to watch the eclipse in nature, and blaring Bluetooth speakers won’t help them relax.
Don’t: Leave trash anywhere. Leave the forest like you found it, so the next time an eclipse rolls around the outdoors will be just as pristine for the next generation of campers.
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