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Road trips always conjure up images of complete freedom. Just you and a buddy or two heading out for a few days of fishing and camping. No bosses; no deadlines; no meetings. Yes! At night, after a meal of fresh-caught trout, you kick back with a Keystone Light or two and spin tales around the dying embers of a campfire. This is a time to rekindle friendships and re-connect with the outdoors.

And though you want the trip to be carefree and unfettered, you still need to pack right. For instance, when pitching a tent, you don’t want to be that guy, the one who forgot the rain fly, tent pegs, or the tarp. Here’s how to do it right.

Unlike a trip that involves flying, you’re free to bring along a lot more gear. Still, it pays to choose wisely and organize. To be the ultimate trout bum (or bass or walleye bum), and get in the most fishing, first figure out where you want to fish. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. A long first day to reach a pristine fishing spot is okay, but you don’t want to do more driving than fishing. You also need to know where you can camp (and whether you need a permit or a reservation in advance).

packing for a road trip
Gearing up for a road trip is all part of the fun. iStock

When it comes to packing gear, it pays to keep it simple. You don’t need every fly or lure you own. Pick a representative sample for the waters you’ll be fishing. Call a local fly or tackle shop near the river (or lake) and ask what the fish are taking. If you don’t have the right fly or lure, stop by the shop and get what you need. Pack an extra rod or two along with an extra reel. Stuff breaks. Don’t forget insect repellent and sun protection. Seasoned fishing bums will always bring along a pair of comfy slip-on mocs or boots to wear after they shuck off the waders. It sets the mood for the evening to come.

After a long day on the water, you’ll want a couple of ice-cold beers to whet the appetite before you sit down to hearty meal.  Best way to handle this is to plan out dinner before you leave. For a three-day trip (perfect for a holiday weekend), figure a medley of grilled chicken and Italian sausage the first night, hamburgers and hot dogs on the second night, and a big ribeye steak for the last night. Fried trout (or walleye) can be part of the menu, but you want to bring along food in case the fish won‘t bite. Hey, it happens.

Packing a cooler is an art. Since you’ll be driving, you can afford to bring along a big cooler or two. Fill one with ice and a rack of Keystone Light; the other will hold your food. Here’s a pro camping tip: fill a couple of empty gallon milk jugs with water and place in the freezer. When stowed in the cooler, they will act as block ice for perishable items, such as eggs, butter, and milk. They’ll also supply water as they melt. Here’s the second pro tip:  the more you open the cooler lid, the faster everything warms up. So, only open at meal times and know exactly what you want to extract.

To keep your truck and camp organized, buy some plastic storage bins with locking lids. Mark one KITCHEN. Into it goes paper cups and plastic plates, plastic eating utensils, and cooking utensils such as a chef’s knife, spatula and large fork. It can also hold a seasoned cast iron skillet, coffee maker and grinder, paper towels, and the usual condiments: pepper, salt, ketchup, mustard, etc.

Another bin should be marked CAMP. Into this you put your tent, sleeping bag, tarp, and rain fly. Other key items such as an axe, saw, and rope (to hang the tarp), can go in here as well.

The third bin should be labeled DRY FOOD. Into this goes bread, crackers, hard cheese, salty snacks, and canned goods. The fourth bin should be labeled MISC. Into this you’ll put wooden kitchen matches, flashlights (yes, more than one), spare batteries, and portable propane canisters for your camp stove. You may also want to bring along a gas lantern, the hissing of which has been a hallmark of fishing camps for generations. But the more modern approach would be rechargeable camp lights.  And because your truck is a portable closet you can also bring along a portable power station that can power those lights and charge your phones and Bluetooth accessories.

cooking over a campfire
Enjoying time around the fire. Julie Rotter/Uplash

You get the general idea. By figuring this all out in advance, you won’t be running around the night before you leave wondering where your sleeping bag is.

If you spend the time before you leave packing the items you’ll need for the trip, you and your buddies will have a lot more fun. And that fun includes sitting by the fire, watching the stars come out at night, enjoying a Keystone Light, and telling all those great stories one more time. Now, that’s living.

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