Some of my fondest camping memories are of family misadventures,
in my younger days at numerous sites. I recall, with a wry grin, the early morning
packing up the station wagon. My father, sifting through the necessities, keeping
this, discarding that, while my brother and I sat in awe. "Dad certainly knows
what he's doing", we thought. Finally, after a long drive, the three "men" of
the family would settle in at a state campground in the Adirondack Mountains of
upstate New Your. We left the women at home because we would be "roughing it".
Little did we kids realize, just how rough it would get.
As soon as the car
rolled to a stop, the two of us would pile out and vanish, never to return before
ol' Dad had camp all set up. We'd come back then, only to ask how son dinner would
be ready. Dad had a real knack for making camp. If there was a low spot, where
water would collect, that's where the tent just had to go. IF it didn't blow down
by evening, we had to sleep in it, despite floods that would prompt federal disaster
aid. Camp meals were the special part of the adventure. Our staples consisted
of apple turnovers and Spam. After three days of which we became quite creative,
with apple turnovers and Spam sandwiches, apple turnover and Spam casserole, etc.
To this day, the mere mention of either brings fear to my heart.
days are long gone, and now I'm the one required to make camp. My work, as a professional
guide, has helped me to establish a routine for setting up camp, and I've often
benefited from the many little tricks of the trade. Hopefully, some of the suggestions
made here will spare a father's ego and quite possibly save a child or two, from
that dreadful casserole combination.
Before setting out on your expedition,
decide on which type of campsite best suits your needs. Commercial campgrounds
offer plenty in the way of creature comforts and activities, as well as access
to telephones, transportation and the public. Federal and State campgrounds may
not offer much in the way of utilities hookups, however you will have to deal
with people, and pay to have a site assigned to you. For the sake of convenience,
many will choose the camp at commercial campgrounds, be they State, Federal or
privately operated. Usually provided are utilities hookups, toilets, showers,
fireplaces, picnic tables, and well groomed tent sites.
However, most of these
conveniences can be compensated for, in a wilderness camp setting, with common
sense and a little know-how. Wilderness also provides solitude, which is refreshing
and relaxing, and ultimately on of the main goals of any camping trip.
wilderness camping involves carrying everything with you, either on your back
or in a canoe, it entails a good deal more planning than in camping out of your
vehicle, as in a campground setting. Pre-trip planning is essential for the success
of any wilderness excursion. Set up a checklist for equipment, create a menu and
double check all items. Food should be taken out of its containers and repackaged
in ziplock storage bags for ease of packing. Frozen foods should be refrozen in
block shape to make cooler packing orderly. Use block ice in coolers as it will
last much longer than cubes. Take only what is needed; excess baggage can ruin
what would otherwise be a successful camping experience. Try to do without luxury
items, you're supposed to rough it a bit.
Campsite selection is not something
to be taken lightly, as it can make or break your entire journey. Foresight rules,
with your main concern, the three "W's" - wind, water and wildlife. Begin looking
for a site about two hours before you plan a stopping. You didn't travel all those
miles into the backcountry just to settle wherever your hat may happen to fall.
Figure on an hour to an hour and a half for set up time once a location has been
agreed upon. Remember, you don't want to be setting up in the dark, so adjust
your schedule accordingly. There are several items to consider in selecting a
campsite. Foremost is a sheltered area, preferably among coniferous trees, certainly
not out in an open meadow. Check above for dead limbs or "widow-makers". This
is the name given to a dead tree that lodges among the living ones, just waiting
for a strong wind to topple it and make a widow of some poor woodsman's wife.
Camp clear of these, in a level area that isn't subject to water runoff, or in
close proximity to a swamp or bog. These wetlands are breeding areas for insects.
Be wary of camping near berry patches, as you may get between a hungry animal
and his meal. Check the location for animal signs such as holes, runs, scrapes
or droppings; and never settle near beehives, fire ant hills, snake dens or the
like. When canoe tripping, in bug season, try to select an island site, or one
on a point of land. These breezy locations will keep your camp relatively bug
Once you've decided on a site, visualize your camp before setting up.
Establish a latrine, a necessity if staying several days in one place, or if camping
with a group. Make sure it is downwind of camp, away from any water source by
at least 250 feet, and clear of any trails. Dig the pit a foot to a foot and a
half deep, and make every effort to restore it as close to the natural state as
possible, when breaking camp. Don't use the pit as a garbage dump, since animals
will dig up any buried food. The only philosophy for wilderness travel is, "If
you carry it in, carry it out". This applies to cigarette butts, which are not
biodegradable, as well as candy wrappers. The extra energy you receive from snack
foods should give you the additional strength to haul those hefty wrappings out
of the woods.
In setting up your shelter, first clear the area of any sticks,
stones or other debris that would make for any uncomfortable night's sleep. Sleep
is vital, for if you play hard, you must sleep well. Check for the best spot by
lying down on your ground pad, and try out the different positions. Next, spread
out your ground cloth, to guard against water runoff, an "olive in a martini you
ain't". I find two old shower curtains to be ideal for a four-person tent. They
help protect against moisture and also keep the tent clean. The ground cloth should
be about two inches smaller than the tent floor, for any overhang will collect
rather than protect against water. This done, you should get out your compass
and set your shelter so the opening faces east. This is the logical direction
since most storms come from the west. It also assures early light to warm the
morning chill out of the tent. Choose a tent that is roomy for the number of people
to use it, but not too large. Look for shock cored poles, which make for easy
and understandable set-up. The importance of set-up time is quickly understood
when setting up in a downpour, or because of an injury.
area should also be down wind of the sleeping area. There's nothing worse than
sparks from a wind-fanned fire, blowing all over your tent and sleeping gear.
The slightest hole burned in a tent, will feel like an open skylight during a
heavy rain. Build your fire away from overhanging branches, steep slopes, rotten
stumps or logs, dry grass and leaves. Scrape away litter, duff and any burnable
material in a ten-foot wide area, then form a fire ring with rocks, or dig a pit.
Using a pit fire allows you to return the environment as close as possible to
its natural state. With pit fires be very careful of underground fires. This occurs
when the forest duff, often a foot or so thick, ignites and smolders underground.
This sort of fire can travel over fifty feet away from the source, before breaking
through the surface and burning above ground. If a fire ring is already established
at your site, make every effort to use it. It takes years for the forest to cover
the scars left by even the smallest fires. Wilderness is defined as "a place where
man travels and leaves no trace, save his footsteps". Always keep this in mind
when building a fire. Never use rocks that hold moisture, from a river bank or
lake shore, for a fire ring. Once heated, the expanding moisture will cause them
to explode, this is very dangerous. Fires deplete a resource, wood, that can be
a necessity in an emergency situation. Fires are also difficult for cooking often
being quite messy, time consuming, and unreliable. Wet wood fires offer no constant
temperature or simmering potential, and can be terribly frustrating.
a fire, start with dry twigs and small sticks, pencil to finger size in diameter.
Use tinder, leaves, pine needles, or bark to ignite the kindling. Add larger sticks
as the fire builds up. Put the largest pieces of wood on last, being careful not
to make a sudden shower of sparks. To keep a good fire going, place large pieces
of wood outside and gradually push them into the flames. It's wise to carry a
candle as a fire starter to conserve on matches. Fires have a place in camping,
and it is basically for aesthetics. Fire also provides warmth, and in an emergency
this is vital. Not only is physical warmth attained, but psychological warmth,
as well. If lost, fire is security, peace of mind and safety, for we all know
animals fear it. Fires are helpful for signaling - three in a row or three puffs
of smoke are internationally recognized distress signals. Fire is also a weather
indicator. When smoke rolls low off a fire, it means a low pressure front is moving
in, to which a storm is usually associated. Strive to keep your fire small, to
conserve on wood and limit the damage to the forest floor. This philosophy is
best summed up by an old Indian saying. It professes "White man build big fire
and stay way back; Indian build small fire and stay up close."
The new breed
of small gas camp stoves are the solution to fireless camping. Operating on a
wide variety of fuels, such as white gas, butane or propane, these lightweight
marvels offer clean, constant and instant heat. As well as being an environmentally
sound practice, the use of these stoves allows delicate temperature control. They
are a necessity if cooking for a large group because of their efficiency. Clean
up is minimal and cooking is immediate, no waiting for coals to develop. Stoves
also allow for cooking inside a tent, if necessary. The importance of this is
realized after rainbound in your shelter for three days, with no let up in sight.
Be sure to ventilate well if cooking inside, and always fuel stoves outside, well
away from any equipment.
In establishing your cooking/eating area, look for
four trees on which to hang a tarp over the area. Lightweight nylon tarps can
add greatly to your camping enjoyment. Look for one with loop straps rather than
grommets, about 10' x10' in size. You'll also want to find a place to hang a lantern.
This is one item you shouldn't be without. It provides constant and immediate
light, and allows for early morning or late night meals. This is very helpful
for anglers who want to put in the maximum amount of time on the water. This is
especially true for fly fisherman, who just can't bear to part with an active
evening hatch. The next thing to do is to locate two good food hanging trees.
The trees should be about twenty feet apart, with sturdy limbs at least fifteen
to twenty feet off the ground. With about one hundred feet of nylon braid, one
quarter inch rope, tie a rock to each end and throw them over a limb on each tree.
With each end looped over a limb, secure one to the tree. Tie your food sack
to the center of the rope, between the two trees. Pull down on the other end until
the sack is suspended between the trees at least 15 feet off the ground. It is
wise to hang some pots and pans on the outside of the food sack. This will warn
you of any unwanted dinner guests, as well as create enough noise to scare them
off. With this accomplished, and a good supply of firewood gathered, and stacked
away from the fire, it's now time to sit back and enjoy your surroundings. Camp
need not be too fancy or elaborate, however it should be well organized, functional,
and above all, kept neat and clean. This will insure against any unwanted visitors,
and generally make your stay more comfortable, pleasant and enjoyable. Common
sense and proper pre-trip planning are the essential elements, and soon you'll
develop a routine of your own. Back To Fishing