“Why didn’t I think of that?” At some future date I’ll no doubt find myself saying that again. In spite of the countless camping trips I’ve been on, other experienced campers at times demonstrate new ideas.
Many of these tips will be of little value if you do most of your camping at a commercial campground and use your vehicle as a warehouse. We are talking about those trips where you are out in the “wild” and only have access to what you brought with you. Backpacking into the “wild” requires some special planning and special equipment. While we are not addressing that form of camping, much can be learned from backpackers, for they know how to travel light, yet have everything they need. Whether you drive a 4×4 in or take a float trip, you will find these tips to suit those situations.
It’s terribly frustrating to find yourself out in the boondocks only to discover that you left something important at home. I keep a checklist on a computer file. When I’m ready to go again I print a copy out and use it to prepare for the trip.
Break your checklist down into categories.
- Living: which includes your tent, sleeping bags, mattress.
- Cooking: grill, stove, utensils, cups, plates etc.
- Boat: two paddles and spare, anchor, paint rope, bungee cords etc.
- Food: break this down to each meal.
Ideally, you should have a complete set of these that you use just for camping.
Bags and Storage
The first order of business is the manner in which you pack. The objective here is to see that all is waterproof, tent, sleeping bags, spare clothing and food items. All should be placed in some form of waterproof container.
You can buy some excellent waterproof bags designed for rough and tumble use in the outdoors. As an alternate use heavy-duty garbage bags. However, garbage bags puncture easily. Go to a surplus store and buy some military laundry bags for about $2.00 each. These are made of a canvas material with a rubber interior lining. You can place your tent, sleeping bags, mattress and clothing in a few of these. This arrangement is not suitable for hard items such as lanterns, or utensils that will puncture the plastic.
Tools and Tent
Food, knives and forks, first aid kit and other hard items should be packed in a semi-rigid containers. We use clear plastic storage containers. They are about 16 inches wide, 24 inches long and 8 inches deep. The tops snap on giving you a water resistant container. As an extra measure, secure the tops with bungee cords. Having the clear container makes it easy to see the contends.
A measure for evaluating how good you and your equipment are is to note how long it takes you to pitch and strike your camp. From the time you start, two people should have camp all set up within 15 minutes and about 25 minutes to strike camp and be on your way. The tent should go up in 5 minutes or less and come down and be packed away in the same time.
Demanding days in the outdoors, demands a good nights sleep. A sleepless night or stiff back can take much pleasure from the next day’s enjoyment.
One critical item in assuring a good nights rest is a mattress. The old huff and puff, blow’um up sleeping mattresses are out. You can buy a self-inflating mattress. They are very durable, puncture resistant, light and compact.
At times, especially when floating rivers, you may end up with a campsite that is all rocks or pebbles. Having a tent that need not be pegged down is required. Next, how can you possibly sleep on those rocks? Having the self-inflating mattress will help. Cut some tall grass or other flora and place it beneath your tent floor.
Advice: Do not unroll your sleeping bag till you are ready to crawl into it. This way, you can be assured that you will be the only one sleeping in it. The second your tent is set up zip up the insect netting. In any event place some your gear inside the tent to avoid having the wind blow it away.
If you feel the need to cut wood, take a small saw and leave the ax at home. Axes are heavy and not effective in cutting dead wood. A camping saw works much better. Take a surplus military trenching shovel. They fold to a compact size and can be used in a shovel or hoe fashion.
Saving space is on par with keeping weight down. Start by eliminating any glass. Glass is heavy and can be dangerous in the outdoors. If any food items that you are going to take along come in glass containers, transfer them to plastic containers. Place coffee grounds in a plastic bottle or zip lock bag and store inside your coffeepot. You should have room for the salt and pepper shakers in the coffeepot. Buy a set of these from a camping supply store, the ones with the snap down lids to keep moisture out.
Do what you can to prepare food at home. This will save weight, space and time in the field. Fresh vegetables can be cleaned peeled and sliced or chopped to the form that you are going to use them. Place these in plastic containers. Pint size, square plastic containers are a good choice. They stack nicely and save space inside the cooler.
Most campers enjoy having fried potatoes either for breakfast, dinner or both. Prepare these at home. They reheat nicely in the field, plus you save fuel and the time it would take to clean and cook and you left the garbage at home. Freeze bacon, sausage or other meats in portions. Even the thickest of steaks will thaw in no time flat during the hot summer. Meanwhile, everything else will stay cooler longer, while stored in a cooler.
If floating a river, wrap your cooler or at least cover the top with some highly reflective material, such as aluminum wrap. Doing so can add days to keeping food cold. A survival blanket works well for this job.
If you intend to grill food, take a supply of charcoal with you. Grilling over river wood will ruin the best of steaks. In any event, be careful as to what type of wood you burn for grilling. You should only use woods such as hickory, oak, and maple or fruit woods. Other woods, especially pines should be avoided. Be sure that any wood you cook over is free of any vines. Poison ivy and oak is common. Cooking over wood that had some dead poison ivy vines clinging to it can be a disaster.
Cooking Fire vs Campfire
Campfires are for sitting around at day’s end, telling jokes, fish stories and singing. They aren’t worth a hoot for cooking. Cooking fires are much smaller and should be arranged differently. Of course you didn’t bring eight bricks along and you can achieve the same end with flat stones. If you did have the bricks and I express it this way just so you can have the correct idea. Make two rows, 6 inches apart two high. In the middle start a fire with small twigs. You can place two pots atop (straddle) the bricks. Heat is controlled by feeding twigs, not logs into either end. Simple but truly effective. Now you won’t have the problem of being scorched when you need to handle pots or to stir food.
Reusable vs throwaway plates and cups is a trade off. In one case you save space and the other you save weight. It largely depends upon how long you are going to be out. Two days and one night, you will be ahead with disposables, after that, flip a coin.
Floating as opposed to driving in requires additional consideration. While floating you must make sure that everything is secured in the event you get dumped. Bungee cords are the obvious and most convenient solution. You can buy them in varying lengths. Take a few extra ones with you, they can be handy to have along.
Include a good size tarp and small diameter rope. Should it rain you can rig the tarp to trees to construct a covered cooking/eating area.
At both ends of your watercraft, should be secured and coiled about 25 foot of nylon rope. You can use this to guide your craft down through water that you deem too rough to paddle. Keep in mind that when you started, the water may be at a perfect level. Overnight rain up stream can change that in just a few hours.
While enroute. Knives, hooks and tackle boxes should be secured. Bare knife blades, hooks and lures have no place in any moving boat.
If you strike upon a commonly used campsite, improve it before you leave. By that we mean, leave it as close to a natural state as possible. One of the worst things you can do is to throw cans into the fireplace and leave them behind. What an ugly sight in the outdoors. With the profoundest intention of insulting some of you; Some of you are litterbugs. Most of your fellow sportsmen are ashamed of you. Don’t be a litterbug. You hauled it in, you haul it out. And please don’t bury it, as animals will more than likely dig it up.