jeep wrangler with an overlanding trailer camping in the mountains

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When we bought our InTech Flyer Chase trailer, we planned our first trip in it for Christmas Eve. 

We wanted to camp in a close enough place to home that we could pack up and come back if we screwed up really bad, but out enough to get some time in nature away from crowds.

Our first dispersed camping trip was spent at a dispersed camping area on Proctor Road near Madera Canyon. We chose a spot by a deep wash with a nice rock fire pit and a view of the lights of nearby Green Valley, Arizona.

green valley arizona lights from madera canyon
Lights of Green Valley, AZ from our camp spot in Madera Canyon

Sometimes even the best planning doesn’t prevent mistakes. And we made plenty of them on our first trip! Keep reading below for a breakdown of the five things we learned on our first dispersed camping trip.

1. Always stake the privacy tent down

We pack our waste out in recycled bags via our Luggable Loo and use a Stansport privacy tent when changing or answering the call of nature. 

The first time I set up the tent, I didn’t stake it down because we didn’t have a hammer on hand and the ground in the desert is very hard. I instead situated the tent in the middle of a spiky Mesquite tree thinking the tree would hang on to the tent. 

Wrong! Conditions change fast in the desert, and the winds shifted overnight. I woke up to a tipped over tent and an unpleasant mess. I don’t know about you, but cleaning up kitty litter and toilet paper isn’t how I want to start my morning! (Not ever, but also definitely not before I’ve had my coffee.) 

stansport privacy tent for overlanding
The privacy tent looked a little less picturesque than this after I failed to stake it down and it tipped overnight

Next time I’ll make sure there’s a hammer or mallet in my toolkit for staking down the privacy tent. I might even put a heavy rock in the bottom of the Luggable Loo before loading it with a bag to be extra sure it won’t tip over.

2. Bring more firewood than you think you’ll need

Since it was Christmas Eve (and in the middle of a pandemic), we didn’t want to be in the stores any longer than we had to. We asked the cashier at the grocery store for two bags of firewood, not really knowing how much was in the bags or how fast it would burn.

Except for one big, sappy piece in one of the bags, the wood was very dry, and we ended up burning through both bags by about 9:30 p.m. the first night. I had to retreat to the trailer early to keep warm, and next time we’ll bring more than two small bags of firewood or pack our propane firepit for backup warmth.

overland camping bring more firewood
Our fire was great until we ran out of wood!

3. Stock that toolkit

Our trailer has a heat strip in the air conditioning unit, but without an electrical plug-in or a generator, we’re not able to use it while dry camping. So we’ve been testing out a Chinese diesel heater as a low-power heat source for cooler desert nights. 

We thought the diesel heater would be a great way to heat the tent and the trailer. And it was until the ducting we were using to send heat up into the tent kept falling apart, and we had no duct tape to put it back together.

Getting up several times in the cold, dark night to put the ducting back into the PVC pipe fitting we were using to send heat up into the tent was a little less than desirable. And next time, we’ll stock our toolkit and have a roll of duct tape ready.

overlanding camping mistakes
Pulling up to our campsite like: we ’bout to make some big mistakes!

4. Don’t leave food out

Logically, I knew this one. But experience is the best teacher, and on our first dispersed camping trip, my mind was in many places. Tired and cold at the end of my night, I accidentally left s’mores supplies in a camping chair.

I woke up in the middle of the night to a flurry of noises in our camp spot. When I got out of the trailer in the dark to investigate, I groggily noticed an empty graham cracker sleeve on the ground. 

As I woke up a little, I also saw the bag of marshmallows was gone. Oh, and while our visitors were at it, they grabbed a sack of hotdog buns out of a canvas bag for kicks.

So what would run off with a bag of marshmallows, eat an entire sleeve of graham crackers, and steal a whole sack of hotdog buns? My guess would be a troop of coatimundi — a long-tailed relative of the raccoon that lives here in southern Arizona.

coatimundi madera canyon arizona
We spotted this coatimundi on one of our many trips to Madera Canyon. We’re pretty sure we were visited by some on our first camping trip!

Thanks to my dumb mistake, some wild animals got into food they aren’t supposed to eat. And probably left trash somewhere in the desert. Don’t be like me — leave no trace, and don’t leave food out for animals to find.

5. The more tables, the better

We’ve been trying to find a balance between saving money and having enough gear, so we started with a small folding Ozark Trail camping table and two Coleman chairs with drink holders. We thought we’d put the camp stove on the folding table and be good to go. 

Wrong again! We learned we need a bigger, longer table for preparing food and having a place to put our water jug for hand washing. On this first trip, we made do with a piece of wood and a tripod on the front of our Jeep, but next time we’ll bring more tables.

overlanding camping table setup
Makeshift table setup on the front of our Jeep

All in all, our first camping trip was a fun time that went by mostly smoothly. We knew we were amateurs going into it; we just weren’t sure what level of amateur we were. I hope this post about our first dispersed camping trip mistakes keeps you from tripping up where we did!

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