Tips and Advice for the Outdoors



Which Camping Style Do You Prefer?

Happy Camper

At one time, the only camping options were tent or open air. A hundred years ago, you would have been fortunate to have a canvas tent. Camping, as a vacation option, really took off about 50 years ago after the post-WWII economy boomed and the highway system developed. Thousands of trucks were fitted with a camper shell, but sleeping accommodations were still cramped.

Today, there are a half-dozen options for building a home away from home.

Tents are still enormously popular and they have evolved to a high art. Internal frame tents are easy to assemble (you have to do little more than just pop them open). They’re made from tough nylon and many are in the form of domes, making them ultra strong. External frame tents are still popular and they have the advantages of being larger, rectangular (so space is optimized) and super sturdy against wind.

But tents are no longer the only viable option.

Some SUV models are so large now that sleeping two adults in the rear with the seats laid flat is a definite possibility. They provide excellent protection against infiltration from wildlife and with an air mattress, are as comfortable as a tent. Some styles are even as easy to wash out with a hose as a tent. Fold down or easy-remove seats with plastic flooring make for easy clean up.

RVs have been around for 20 years, growing out of the ‘truck with camper shell’ idea. RVs now have running water, propane, electricity, movable awnings, air conditioning and space, space, space. Some are so large they may well be used as a semi-permanent home.

They can cost as much, too, with the largest models selling for $200,000 or more. But they have every luxury you could wish for and they are powerful enough to easily tow an SUV for trips away from the campsite.

Motels have been around forever, but these days you’re much more likely to enjoy a low-cost, clean and pleasant room from a major chain. In the past, many motels were… shall we say, an adventure all their own. But big business has made a cheap motel room cheap only in the dollars and cents sense.

Of course, in many areas – and at many times of the year – it’s still possible to truly duplicate the outdoor experience of a hundred years ago. You can lay your blanket or sleeping bag out on the ground under the stars and imagine what it must have been like.

Fortunately, the sleeping bag you are likely to employ is considerably better than one from that era. Modern materials provide both the exterior and the interior with top flight endurance and comfort. Primaloft insulation, 900 fill down and tough nylon shells make sleeping bags warm, cozy and waterproof.

The geometry has been much improved, too. Mummy bags with room for a pillow or protection for your head, as well as widened waist and foot areas are much more ergonomic. They are shaped as the human body is, making them retain heat better, while allowing easy turning but preventing shifting.

If you really want to get the feeling of what life was like a hundred years ago, you can always go with just a blanket. But you’ll find that the experience that looks so romantic in the movies has a lot more realism than most people would want.

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What To Pack?

Happy Camper

Campers are always faced with a dilemma. Either you bring the entire house or you invariably find that the one thing you need was left at home. There’s no perfect way out of this, but a little thought will help improve your odds. Bring what you really need, without overflowing your vehicle or breaking your back.

If you’re planning on tent camping, you’ll need the tent, of course. But that can mean poles, stakes, ropes and other items as well, along with any tools you need to assemble it. Reduce your headaches by investigating a self-assembling tent. That type has all the major components needed to keep the tent sturdy and upright as part of one integrated unit.

You’ll find it easy to assemble (the name is only a slight exaggeration) and much easier to pack, unpack and haul to the campsite. Look for one made from waterproof material and that has sturdy seams.

Something to sleep on is essential. Sleeping on the ground may look adventurous in old Western films, but it’s hard on the back. That will reduce your enjoyment of camping and make hiking the next day difficult. There are a hundred different kind of inflatables, sleeping bags and other options. If you bring an inflatable or air mattress, make sure it’s self-inflating. Make sure your sleeping bag is waterproof and made with good insulating material with a durable shell.

Unless you want to subsist solely on pre-packaged, ready-to-eat food, you’ll want to bring something to cook with. Keep items to a minimum – a multi-purpose pan, a lightweight camping stove, a few utensils. You don’t want to spend all your time packing, unpacking, cleaning and so forth. If you bring disposable utensils, make sure they’re sturdy enough to handle the type of food you prepare and eat.

A first aid kit is a must. A splint can be improvised from available material, but you’ll need bandages (both wrap around and stick on band-aids). A disinfectant and/or anti-bacterial cream or spray is essential. A minor cut or scrape can become deadly out in the wilderness, but is trivial if treated properly. Aspirin is a great all-around drug, but ibuprofen or acetominophen are good substitutes for those with sensitive stomachs.

Bug bite spray or cream can prevent a minor irritant from becoming a major annoyance or worse. Some moleskin is a good idea for treating blisters, too. Scissors or a multi-purpose, Swiss Army-style knife can be really handy. Resist the temptation to bring a hundred different tools, though. Some cleansing towelettes can be great for hygiene and first aid.

Many campsites have a water supply, but the quality varies. Be prepared. Bring water bottles for drinking, cooking and emergency cleaning (wound treatment). You won’t be able to haul enough to shower every day, but you might be able to bring enough to wash your hair once every few days. Water weighs about 8 lbs (3.6kg) per gallon (~4 liters), so plan ahead. You don’t want to haul several hundred pounds of water anywhere.

A rechargeable flashlight (of the sort that can be plugged into the cigarette lighter or cell phone recharger in the car) can be a lifesaver. Even in non-emergency situations, it’s about the most helpful thing you can have at night when you’re a few feet from the campsite.

Think ‘essential’, minimize luxuries. If you want all the comforts of home, bring a big RV or just stay home.

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