Thursday, June 17, 2010

More Than a Tent

On a girls-only camping trip, my friend Renee Stewart and I challenged ourselves to make our camping experience as luxurious as possible. Both seasoned campers, we asked ourselves what, beyond the basics, would be needed to turn my four-person dome tent into something more spa-like. We sat down together and wrote out a list of what we thought would accomplish that.

The bed must be comfortable and able to double as seating. This is where having a slightly larger tent than you really need comes in handy. Over the years, I’ve experimented with different means of making myself comfortable to sleep. No matter where you camp, one thing that will always cause discomfort is ground chill. Even in Florida, a certain amount of cold will seep up from the ground into your bedroll. This can make for a very uncomfortable night’s sleep. Some people swear by air mattresses, but I find them difficult to sleep on for several reasons.

  1. They’re noisy. I’m an active sleeper and every time I change position in the night, they squeak and thump, waking me.
  2. They’re cold. While camping in Maine once, a bone-chilling cold seeped up through the ground, turning my air mattress into a veritable dry ice pack.
  3. They’re hard to share. If you’re bunking with someone who weighs more than you, you’re going to end up on a very hard hill filled with air. Your bed partner will likely find a soft comfy nest, but you will be launched out of the tent if they change position quickly.

Air mattresses are not the only choices out there that offer a more comfortable night’s sleep. There are thin pads that many hikers use to cushion their sleeping bags from the ground. Sleeping pads come in various thicknesses and firmnesses. Thinner ones can be rolled like a sleeping bag and thicker pads are usually folded in thirds. The thicker sleeping pads require much more room to store, but are surprisingly comfortable.

Coleman Trailhead II Folding CotMost seasoned tent campers eventually turn to a cot of some form. Why? Because they really are the most comfortable option out there. There are countless varieties of cots and camp beds. The most important consideration for any cot or camp bed is stability. Most of the convertible cots really aren’t worth the money. Like I said, I’m an active sleeper. I know this because I’ve gone tail over teakettle in the middle of the night on less than stable cots more than once. What I look for, stability wise, is a cot with leg supports at each end and in the middle.

HEAVY DUTY COLEMAN Ridgeline Folding Cot-3 YEARS WARRANTY-HIGH QUALITY PRODUCT-STORAGE SIDE BAG INCLUDED-A FREE $19.99 VALUE POCKET UMBRELLA INCLUDED WITH YOUR PURCHASE OF ONE COT...I prefer the basic rectangular shaped cot. Basic canvas folding cots are adequate, but I’ve found the Coleman Ridgeline Camp Bed to be downright homey as far as comfort is concerned. I like having a decent thick foam mattress on top of the standard cot. But really, I don’t stop there. In a quest for the spa-like camping experience, I added a zipped, cold weather, fiber-filled sleeping bag on top of the mattress then topped both with a twin-sized egg-crate mattress pad. To cover the whole thing, I brought a 250 thread count fitted sheet. While I was at it, I added the rest of that sheet set, a cotton thermal blanket, and a twin-sized comforter. Hey – it’s all about the most comfortable possible tent camping experience, right?

What made our tent so popular a hangout was the fact that we had two cots made up in similar fashion, one on each side of the tent. We topped them both with throw pillows and a cotton throw blanket for good measure. We covered the floor of the tent with thick Indian blankets and set up the tent on an indoor/outdoor rug. The plastic camp box doubled as a coffee table and the set of plastic storage drawers made a suitable night stand and place to set the battery powered lamp.

The space underneath the cots was perfect for storing personal items and extras. As far as the blankets and padding went, we simply used items that we each had on hand. Our experiment in extreme comfort didn’t cost us anything out of pocket.

Now I don’t recommend the indoor/outdoor carpeting if there is any hint of inclement weather. You’re still much better off setting up your tent on a tarp, tent pad, or floor saver as they’re sometimes called.

The type of tent to choose depends on many different variables. For example, two adults intending to camp with two or three small children might prefer a two-room family tent or a six-person dome tent. If you’re going to be camping anywhere near mangroves or marsh land, no-see-um mesh is a must-have. Some tents have screen rooms attached. The best thing to do is to shop around, compare tent features, and go with the tent with the most features that satisfy your needs for the best price to suit your budget.

One final thing, don’t forget to apply the seam sealer and the water repellant spray. After all, wet bedding is most definitely not comfortable.






Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Must-Haves For The Tenderfoot

Yeah, get used to the term “Tenderfoot.” Whenever my family and I go camping, particularly during the summer months, we always find the opportunity to participate in the time-honored camping activity of watching with undisguised amusement while the novice camper sets up camp. If you’ve never camped before, expect to be watched by the seasoned veterans while you struggle with your tent. We’re not laughing at you – not really. We don’t mean anything unkind by it. It’s just that we’ve all been there, and we’re remembering with fondness how we felt just starting out, and we’re envying you all the adventures you have in front of you yet to be enjoyed.

The key to a rewarding outdoor experience is preparation. The more work you’ve done before leaving home, the easier your adventure will be. Assuming that you’re not planning on back country primitive camping – that’s a little advanced for the novice camper – there is some basic equipment that you’ll need to have to make your experience as pleasant as possible.

1. Tent – it seems simple enough and straightforward enough, but you need a tent large enough to accommodate every member of your party – at least those who’ll be sleeping with you. I personally like my tents larger than the packaging says I need. For example, I prefer a four-person tent for two people, or even when I camp alone. I frequently took a dog or two with me for company on the trails and a larger tent held a dog crate or two with little trouble. Also, if the weather turns on you, or the bugs plague you too much, you will want someplace to retreat to.
2. Sleeping Bag – Depending on the weather for your first venture, there are many different types of bags to consider. Even in the summer, the temperatures in some locations drop well below comfort levels. I found early on that I was most comfortable with a lighter weight fiber-filled bag, a fleece bag, and a standard bedsheet. I could layer them and add or subtract layers as needed.
3. Cookware – One of the best things about camping out is eating in the great outdoors. To have this experience, you’ll need some kind of cookware. The typical cookware set is enamelware, consisting of a percolator coffee pot, a frying pan, a stock pot and a sauce pan. Don’t forget a sharp Chef’s knife, spatula, large fork, large spoon, and tongs. Sometimes, you can find the enamelware cookware in a set complete with the next item on the list…
4. Mess Kit – Again, for starting out, nothing beats the basic enamelware mess kit. The typical kit comes with four plates that can double as shallow bowls, four coffee cups, some do come with bowls, and also include utensils. Whether you find them as a complete kit with the cookware or not, you will need something to eat off of. I can confess that the first time I went camping without my father, I forgot to take a mess kit or utensils. Fortunately, the camp store had paper plates and plastic utensils for sale.
5. Propane Stove and Extra Propane – It only goes to reason that you’ll need something to cook that bacon on. It’s possible to cook over your campfire. In fact, I was more accustomed to cooking that way and didn’t bother with a camp stove for years. It wasn’t until I camped with a friend, a tenderfoot, who marveled at my ability to prepare breakfast over the campfire that it ever occurred to me that not everyone was comfortable with that kind of cooking. So if you’re not very experienced with preparing meals over a campfire, then I suggest you spring for the stove. There are many different kinds to choose from. The one I chose for myself was a backpacker’s stove. The difference between a backpacker’s stove and a standard camp stove is the backpacker’s stove is much more streamlined, lighter in weight, and much shallower. If you’re planning on any back country or primitive camping, you may want to consider a backpacker’s stove as an alternative to a standard camp stove.
6. Propane Lantern and Extra Mantles – It gets dark out there. Once night falls, the hiss of a propane lantern is a welcome sound. Mantles are the treated mesh bags that actually provide the light.
Travel Chair with Footrest - Blue7. Comfortable Folding Camp Chairs – This is another item I didn’t think about on my very first camping trip without my father and his endless supply of gear. There is only so long you can sit on the ground before the cold seeps through your bones. Straight chairs with straight backs can be uncomfortable after an extended time. I’ve found for myself that the semi-recumbent sling seats with a footrest are the most comfortable for a long-term camping trip. I will admit that the footrest tends to get in the way of warming yourself by the campfire, though. My cousin Tom brings a folding recliner whenever he goes camping. Those are great too, but they can be a little pricey.
8. Flashlight – It seems self-evident, but that’s something else I forgot on my first trip. Don’t forget extra batteries.
9. Cooler – You’ve got to have something to carry food in.
10. Towels, Soap, Personal Toiletries, Bug Spray, Sunscreen, Dish Soap, Plastic Trash Bags
11. Rope, Duct Tape, Fire Starter Logs, Waterproof Matches, Bucket, First Aid Kit – The rope for a clothesline, or any emergency use, duct tape for sealing leaks and quick waterproof fixes, firestarter logs to help get the campfire going, waterproof matches for the same reason, bucket for hauling water in case the fire gets out of hand, and for cleaning up, and the First Aid Kid for emergencies.

There are so many other items that you will want to add to your list but the above items are all you really need to have a satisfactory camping experience.

The best way to make sure that you’re not as entertaining to the rest of us as most novice campers on their first outing is to break out your gear before you go. Learn how to assemble your tent and pack it up again. Practice rolling up your sleeping bag so it fits back in that nice little bag it came in. A little advance planning, and you’ll look like you’ve been doing this for years.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Birth of a Camping Diva

About ten years ago my friend Renee Stewart and I went on a girls-only camping trip. We took my tent, sleeping bags and other gear. Being enterprising ladies who were old enough to appreciate our comfort, we set ourselves to outfitting our tent for maximum luxury. We accomplished this so successfully, that our tent became THE place for the group to gather despite the fact that others had brought a pop-up camper, complete with air conditioning and a blender. It made me wonder how comfortable I could make the outdoor experience for myself and my family.

I come from a long line of outdoorsmen. My grandparents often camped and hiked even into their golden years. My father and oldest brother were both Eagle Scouts and my father was a Scoutmaster for a number of years. I remember eagerly becoming a Brownie, with the understanding that it was the girls’ equivalent to Scouting as I understood it, having memorized the Boy Scout Handbook by the time I was eight years old. I was bitterly disappointed to find Brownies to be little more than sitting around gluing macaroni to cardboard and calling it a mosaic.

Where was the First Aid? Where was the fire building? Where was the marking and following a trail? By golly, I wanted to put my rescuing a swimmer in distress skills to the test! It didn’t take me long to figure out that if I stayed in the Brownie Troop I was in, the best I could hope for was to learn how to sell baked goods and make cheesy crafts. So, I decided to turn in my beanie and spend my time with my father and brothers, learning how to survive and thrive in the wild. My dad was happy to oblige.

Under his tutelage, I learned how to build a fire, how to read a compass, how to read a map, how to follow a game trail, the proper technique for fly casting (Snap it like a buggy whip, Co!), and countless other useful wilderness skills. I studied the stars and learned how to find my way with them, learning which constellations appeared in the night sky in any given month. Two of my favorite vacation activities to this day are hiking and camping.

When my husband and I married, he asked me how I wanted to spend our honeymoon. “That’s easy,” I said. “I want to go camping!” And so we did. In deference to the fact that by the time we were able to take the time off to go on a honeymoon five months after our wedding, I was four months pregnant with our first child, he made a few phone calls to military bases and found an A-liner camper for rent. It was my first experience with a camper of any kind. I had always preferred primitive or tent camping, considering it a challenge to make myself comfortable without the comforts of home.

That little A-liner leaked like a sieve whenever it rained. It had air conditioning and a little propane stove and tiny sink. I learned a valuable lesson from that cramped little camper. I learned that there was challenge enough to be found making a camper cozy. A year later, when we purchased our own ancient used pop-up camper, I set myself to exactly that challenge.

Each time you venture out into the wilderness, whether camping, hiking, canoeing, or bird watching, you will always think of something you could have or should have done to make the experience more enjoyable. As many times as I have ventured out, I still come back with a list of things to take or do that will improve the next adventure.

That’s what this Blog is about – helping YOU improve your next adventure by sharing what I’ve done to improve my own.