Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, and survival
and how they work together to provide wholesome family fun and great learning opportunities.
Many posts are intended to familiarize novice campers and RVers with RV systems and basic camping and survival
skills. But even experienced RVers and campers will enjoy the anecdotes and may even benefit from a new
perspective. Comments, questions, and suggestions are encouraged.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Camping and OHV Skill Builders

There are many skills you may need for camping and OHV activities. Some of these skills you may be able to practice at home. Others will have to be exercised at appropriate hiking, water facilities, or OHV riding areas. Many of the skills you need for camping may be useful during a disaster. Make yourself a list of skills you want to master and choose at least one to practice on each outing.

Fire starting skills can be practiced many places. You don't have to build a campfire to practice although that is a good exercise. You can even use them in your fireplace at home. You especially should practice if you want to learn how to start a fire using flint and steel instead of matches or lighters. It takes a bit of practice before you get the knack of preparing tinder correctly and striking the sparks just right. I like to use 100% cotton balls for tinder. They work really well. Don't even try it with the synthetic "cosmetic puffs". They may look the same, but your sparks will just melt through instead of flaming like they will in cotton. It isn't very difficult, but it will take some practice before you can routinely get a fire going quickly. You don't want to waste time learning the technique when you are in an emergency or survival situation when your life or at least your comfort might depend on getting a fire going right away.  Some flint and steel fire starter kits come from the factory with a protective coating that needs to be scraped away before you can get a good spark, so that is another reason to practice beforehand so it will be ready to use instantly when you really need it.  Another good skill is being able to start a fire using only what nature provides. Most techniques involve friction to create enough heat to ignite an ember. Learn how to make and use a hand drill, a bow drill, and a fire plow.

Other camping skills you can practice at home include setting up your tent and camp cooking. Practice setting up your tent in your back yard so it is easy for you when you need it in camp -- or in a disaster situation. Know the best way to layout it out, stake it down, and raise it. Know the best way to take it down and put it away -- and how best to organize the components and any tools you need. You can practice camp cooking for holiday get-togethers or just family dinners. Try out different recipes. Try your hand at baking cakes and breads. Cooking on a camp stove or over a campfire is different than cooking on your home stove and it will take some practice before you are comfortable with it and able to get consistent results. You should get used to using your camp or RV stove or Dutch oven and try out some recipes where you still have alternatives if things turn out badly.

Dutch oven cooking is a good way to prepare meals in camp or at home during an emergency or power outage.  It is kind of like a pioneer crockpot, allowing you to slow-cook an entire meal in one pot.   Once set up it requires very little attention so you're free for other activities.  Charcoal is the favored fuel for Dutch ovens.  You usually put the oven on a bed of glowing coals then put several on the lid.  Use one briquette on the lid for each inch of diameter of the pot.  Be careful to brush away all the ash before opening the lid so you don't dump it into your food!  Use a lid lifter or a pair of pliers to remove the lid so you don't burn your fingers!

Hiking skills. You can break in a new pair of hiking boots around home and taking some walks around the block but you'll need access to some real trails to do any real practicing. You'll encounter obstacles and terrain on the trail you won't find walking on sidewalks or even on the nice little trails in your local park. Try to find out as much as you can about any trail you choose to practice on. Local rangers or other hikers may be able to direct you to trails that will give you the kind of practice you're seeking -- and steer you away from trails you might find a little TOO challenging. Like any other physical sport, you'll want to start with the basics and work your way up. Trying to do too much too soon is a really good way to sour you and your family on the whole idea -- or even put someone in the hospital! Most people find a good walking stick is nice to have when hiking. You can make your own from a "found" stick, a sturdy dowel, or buy a commercial one. Home-made ones often bring along memories that are fun to relive. I also have a telescoping aluminum walking stick that makes it easy to store and carry it when I don't actively need it.  Its light weight makes it less tiring to carry and use than a heavier wooden stick too.

Personal watercraft like JetSkis and SkiDoos or other water sports like water skiing and wakeboarding need to be exercised in appropriate waterways, away from swimmers, fishermen and other watercraft. The water needs to be deep enough so you don't run aground or hit submerged debris that could damage you or your craft or cause an accident. Might be a good idea to start out in water you can stand up in, just in case. Always wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved flotation device and have rescue spotters to keep an eye on you in case you get into trouble.  The first time I went water skiing I barely even got wet.  They pulled me up from sitting on the dock and I when I came back I coasted along the dock and sat down again.  On the other hand, my brother's first attempt was very different.  They tried to pull him up out of the water and for some reason no one knows, could never get him up on the skis.

Snowmobiles have a little more latitude. The best place to practice is in a snowmobile park with groomed trails, but if you happen to be lucky enough to live in a rural area and/or have access to open fields, you can begin your training there. Eventually you'll want to graduate to more technical trails where you can enjoy the thrills of whizzing through the trees and around obstacles, and as the old song says "Over the river and through the woods".  There are several classes of snowmobiles.  They range of heavy duty "work" machines to very fast performance models.  You will want to choose the one that is appropriate for your experience level and the type of riding you intend to do.  "Trail" rated machines are a pretty good place for beginners to start and you should pretty much stick to groomed trails.  When you get the hang of it you can graduate to a "powder" machine that is faster and more powerful and will accommodate off-trail riding.  So why not just start out with a powder machine?  Well, the added power and quicker response in the hands of a novice is likely to overshoot the trail and result in inuring the rider.

OHV riding skills need to be developed if you are going to get the most out of your OHV. Unless you live in a rural area and have a large piece of property, you will need to go to a designated OHV area to practice. Plan your practice sessions according to the skill(s) you want to work on. Some common techniques you may want to master include hill climbing, riding in sand, riding rocky trails, negotiating your way over logs and large rocks, tight corners, berms, ruts, and fast trails. You usually should not try to cover all techniques in a single ride. Plan individual rides to focus on one or two particular skills and take advantage of natural terrain in the area where you are to exercise your techniques. Limit the number of riders so you can observe their performance and provide individual attention as needed so they get the most out of the ride. As new riders master skills, put them to work helping less-advanced riders. Not only will it take some of the load off you, it will help them to grow even more. Skill builder rides should ideally be led by an experienced rider who knows the trails and can judge the skill level of his students. Chances are you'll know or meet some riders who will be willing to lead some skill builders if you aren't ready yourself. Skill builder rides need to be interesting and fun.  We had a favorite set of rolling hills near "C" Park in California City that were perfect for skill builders.  It was even fun for experienced riders.

Driving skills. I recall an anecdote about a radio DJ who, hearing 85% of all drivers considered themselves good drivers, wanted to know why he was always on the road with the other 15%!  Most of us probably think our driving skills are pretty good, but driving an RV -- motorhome or tow vehicle and trailer -- involves things you don't encounter wheeling around in the family sedan or SUV. RVs are bigger and heavier. They are slower to accelerate and require more room for turns and lane changes. They also have significantly different visibility issues, especially when it comes to rear-views for lane changes or backing into a camp site. If you have access to a motorhome driver education course, take advantage of it. They are usually conducted in large parking lots where you practice with your own RV. Often you will be guided using cones so the risk of damaging your RV or something else is minimized while you learn things like blind spots, turning radius, and clearances. If you are not completely comfortable driving your RV now, at least take some time to set up your own practice sessions in an empty parking lot. Fill empty milk jugs about half full with water and use them to layout your own obstacles. Practice making turns without knocking down the jugs representing the curb. Practice backing into a pretend camp site. Practice parallel parking your motorhome (and yes, it can be done!). If your RV is a trailer, make sure you practice backing it up. A handy trick is to move the bottom of the steering wheel in the direction you want the back of the trailer to go. You need to learn how sharply and quickly your trailer will turn, both going forward and backing up. Something novices often overlook is the way the overhang of an RV swings. I know of a driver who ripped the entire rear cap off a Class A motorhome he'd just purchased when he turned too sharply away from the curb and the rear end clipped a fire hydrant. Cutting a corner too close and running over a curb can have catastrophic results. RV steps, dump valves, and even propane tanks often hang low enough to be badly damaged if you turn too sharply and they hit the curb. I've seen RVs take out STOP signs and street signs when the driver turned too sharply at an intersection. Such problems are more common with trailers because the trailers sometimes "cheat" on you (don't follow the tow vehicle exactly, but turn sharper and cut the corner).  Know how steep a driveway you can negotiate without tearing off the exhaust system or the back bumper or smashing your dump valves. You might be surprised how much that long overhang dips just going in and out of normal driveways. A little time spent practicing can avoid a lot of embarrassment and expense.  No matter how good we think we are, most of us could use a little refresher and some practice now and then -- especially when driving a motorhome or truck and trailer that we don't drive every day!

Turn every camping trip into a learning experience for yourself and your family. Watch for "teaching moments" when you can take advantage of natural events to increase or share your knowledge of science, nature, and life lessons. Parents often have a tendency to try to do everything for their kids, to give them advantages they didn't have. Unfortunately, in so doing they often take away advantages they DID have -- like learning responsibility, self reliance, and the value of consequences. We don't want our kids to get hurt so we try to protect them from unpleasant consequences, but they really DO need to learn that there are consequences and that they are accountable for their own choices and actions. We may be able to protect them from bullies at school or insulate them from ill mannered playmates who might hurt their feelings (although by doing so we may deprive them if important life lessons), but we can't avoid consequences of gravity when they fall off their bikes. By the way, "protecting" them from many consequences deprives them of some of the most valuable lessons they'll ever learn. I heard a respected child educator promote allowing kids to experience natural consequences whenever possible. When natural consequences are not acceptable (like what will happen if they run out in the street and get hit by a car!), substitute "logical" consequences so they learn to stay away from unsafe and unacceptable behavior. My own kids suffered some sorry consequences of not maintaining and checking their dirt bikes and gear properly for every outing.

Practice makes perfect!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Lighting Options for Tent Camping

Unless you pack along a portable generator or stay in a campground with electricity, your lighting options for tent camping will be limited to gas or battery powered units -- or candles and torches. There are small, lightweight generators available today that could be used to power lights and small appliances for tent camping. Great strides have been made in the last few years in making portable generators smaller, quieter, more fuel efficient, and less expensive making them more appealing to tent campers. Some SUVs even come with built-in inverters and 120-volt outlets or you may be able to add one to your vehicle.  Low power inverters that plug into the cigarette lighter outlet are available at modest cost and are easy to use.  Just don't try to run high powered electric appliances using them. 

Gas powered lanterns. One of the traditional staples of camp lighting for many years has been the Coleman gas lantern. Powered by white gas or propane, these lanterns give off a bright white light similar to an electric light bulb. They are relatively inexpensive -- usually under $50 and both white gas, in the form of Coleman fuel, and propane are readily available at most sporting goods stores. For a little extra $ you can get a dual-fuel lantern that will run on either white gas or ordinary unleaded gasoline. Dual fuel lanterns are a good choice for use in disaster situations where their flexibility may be a crucial factor. These lanterns gain their bright white light from glowing "mantles". These start out as little silk mesh socks but are burned to ash once installed so they tend to be a little fragile. Always make sure you have plenty of spares for camping and emergencies. Gas lanterns put out quite a bit of heat and the globes get VERY hot so you need to be careful using them in a tent. They also consume oxygen and emit toxic fumes so you need adequate ventilation to prevent suffocation.

Kerosene lanterns have fallen out of the popular use they once enjoyed. They cast a kind of orangish-yellowish light that isn't nearly as bright as a Coleman lantern and some people find the odor of the burning kerosene unpleasant. If you like the ambiance of a kerosene lantern but want to avoid the odor, try using scented lamp oil or "liquid paraffin".  Citronella scented fuel will even help keep bugs away. Kerosene lanterns use a simple cotton wick so they aren't as fragile as the white gas and propane lanterns and allows considerable flexibility in controlling the level of light. Kerosene lanterns are less complicated and less expensive than propane or white gas lanterns. You can usually find them for under $10 at stores like Walmart. That is a real bargain compared to around $90 for Coleman Dual-Fuel (white gas and unleaded gas)lantern. A quart of kerosene is about $6.00 where sporting goods are sold but you can use lamp oil or liquid paraffin if you don't like the odor. You may be able to buy kerosene cheaper in larger quantities at farm and ranch or fuel stores.

I do not recommend using either gas or kerosene lanterns inside a tent if you can avoid it. The globes get VERY hot and can easily start a fire or melt tent fabric. They also consume oxygen and give off toxic fumes which can make them unsafe to use in any confined space. If you must use one in your RV or tent, keep it away from flammable fabrics and make sure you have adequate ventilation. For safer and more effective tent lighting, use battery powered lanterns or flashlights or glow sticks. The heat given off by a gas or kerosene lantern can be an advantage if you need to warm up an area like a tent or inside a vehicle. Just be sure you have adequate ventilation!

Candles are another nostalgic source of light but avoid using an open flame inside a tent! If a candle gets knocked over inside a tent, chances are the fire could rage out of control before you can escape.  Tent fabrics are usually fire resistant but not fire proof.  Citronella candles are helpful around the campsite to keep insects away. They are a good bet for picnic tables and in the "patio" area under the awning next to your RV -- just don't hang them close to the awning fabric. If you decide to use candles in your tent, lantern-like candle-holders will be a little safer than a loose candle.

Tiki torches, designed primarily for back yard or patio use, could also be used in camp.  Fuel them with a citronella fuel and they'll also serve to repel insects.  Smaller, wax based torches (kind of like big candles) can be used for a portable light source, but take care not to set the landscape or your fellow campers on fire!  Flashlights are a lot safer and a lot easier to use.

A milk jug filled with water with a headlamp type flashlight wrapped around it with the light facing in makes an interesting tent light, as long as you don't knock it over and spill water all over your tent! The jug and water make an excellent defuser to create a nicely distributed glow.  If you want you could add food coloring to the water to create mood lighting.

I came across some battery powered, remote controlled, LED lights designed for use in above ground swimming pools.   They have magnetic bases to attach to steel wall pools and metal plates that go on the outside of vinyl pools so the magnets can be used to attach them.  This option will work just as well on a tent.  The use of LEDs means the batteries will last longer than with incandescent bulbs and the remote control makes it nice to not have to crawl out of your warm sleeping bag to adjust the lighting.

Glow sticks are useful where bright light is not required or where you must avoid any possible source of ignition. They can provide sufficient light for dressing and undressing, for walking around camp, and for comfort and general conversation. They are usually not bright enough for reading or other detailed work. Glow sticks can not be turned off once they've been activated. They usually last 4-8 hours. They have a limited shelf life so storing them for long periods of time isn't feasible. However, I have noticed that old glow sticks seem to still be viable if the packaging is still puffy. If the packaging is flat, they're probably useless. I have a few glow sticks that expired in 1997 and some of them still work.  I have noticed that the ones with deflated foil packages are always dead but the ones that are still puffy usually work.  Foil wrapped glow sticks have a predicted shelf life of 2-4 years. They should be stored in a cool, dry place. Dampness can penetrate the plastic tube and will cause chemical deterioration. These are a good option to include in your emergency supplies. They are light weight, take up little space, and are safe to use even around fuel spills. They do not provide bright, reading-light levels of illumination, but are adequate for general lighting for safety and comfort and are certainly sufficient for routine tasks like getting dressed in a tent or finding your way to the bathroom. A light stick provides a surprising amount of comfort to trapped victims in a natural disaster.  I made tubes to protect them in my fanny pack for dirt biking by cutting and capping PVC pipe to the right length.  Storing them in these nearly air-tight container also seems to extend their shelf life.

Mountain Dew, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide glow lights have been touted on many web sites including Youtube. The claim is that by adding hydrogen peroxide and baking soda to Mountain Dew you can make your own glow sticks. According to snopes.com, this is a hoax. Attempts by many people have failed. The Youtube "successes", though impressive, are said to be faked.  Don't waste your time or ingredients trying this one.

Tiki torches lend nice ambiance and provide a nice flickering light for many outdoor activities. You can use citronella scented fuel to help keep insects at bay. They are great for extending a campfire ambiance over a larger area for night time activities in camp and in the back yard at home. Take care how you store your torches for transport. Keep them upright if you can. If you have to lay them down in a compartment, make sure you drain all the oil first or you'll have a dangerous mess the next time you open the cabinet.  Store them in a well ventilated area.  As the residual fuel in the wick evaporates it can create volatile fumes.

Firelight maintains the ambiance of camping. A large bonfire might be appropriate for a large group, but normally you don't want to don't make any fire bigger than it needs to be for the number of people it needs to warm and illuminate. Sometimes several small fires will do a better job of lighting an area and keeping people warm than one big one.  One big fire keeps one side of you warm while the other side freezes.  Standing or sitting between fires can provide all around warmth.

Battery powered lanterns and flashlights are safe and effective for use in tents and confined spaces. These days you can get LED lights that use about 1/12 the power of traditional flashlights. The "bulbs" last for tens of thousands of hours and batteries will last 10-12 times as long with LEDs than with ordinary flashlight bulbs. You can even get lanterns with built-in solar chargers to replenish the batteries during the day and those with remote controls so you can turn them on and off from the comfort of your sleeping bag. A handy variation is a combination light, one that provides both a flood light for general illumination and a focused flashlight for focused use. Depending on the size of the light, it may be powered from anything from AAA to the big square 6-volt batteries. By the way, if you take a square 6-volt dry cell battery apart is is made up of a bunch of AA size batteries.  Something that might come in handy if you run of of AAs during a trip.   If you choose battery powered lanterns, bring plenty of extra batteries on every camping trip -- or switch to rechargeable batteries and bring a generator and charger, a charger to run off your vehicle's cigarette lighter, or a solar charger. Most rechargeable lanterns come with both 12-volt DC chargers and 120-volt AC chargers. I recently picked up a pair of LED lanterns that look like old fashioned kerosene lanterns but are lit by 17 bright white LEDs and powered by 3 "D" cell batteries. The LED bulbs are advertised to last 100,000 hours and with the low power draw of LEDs, the batteries will last several nights before needing to be replaced. I once left one on in my barn over night and it was still going strong for weeks after that.  And they don't get hot so they are ideal for use to light tents.  A remote control is a nice feature, allowing you to hang the light high in the tent for best illumination but then being able to turn it on and off from the warmth of your sleeping bag.  My favorite tent light is small enough and light enough to be used backpacking.  It is about the size of two or three ball point pens bound together and is powered by 4 AAA batteries. It has two modes:  a spot light in one end and an area light along one side. 

Solar lights. I've seen solar yard lights at Dollar Tree on several occasions. We bought some Halloween styled models to light our walkway for Trick-or-Treaters. You might remove the stake from walkway lights and add a bail to hang them by. Or sometimes you will even find solar lights that already have a lantern style bail that is perfect for use in tents and on picnic tables. These inexpensive solar lights would work well in tents. They're safe and energy efficient. Just remember to hang them out in the sun during the day to get charged. Solar walkway lights can be used to illuminate tent stakes and guy ropes and other obstacles so you don't trip over them at night.  I've used them on either side of my RV step on occasion to make it easier to find at night.

Natural lighting is a pleasant option when the moon is full or nearly so. If you haven't damaged your night vision with artificial light, moonlight is often enough to safely move about camp. You will be surprised how bright moonlight can be! Remember, moonlight is reflected sunlight. A measurement called "albedo" is used for reflectivity. 0 means none, 1 means 100%. The reflectivity of the moon is 0.12 so it reflects a little more than 10% of the sunlight that strikes it. Given how bright direct sunlight is, 10% is pretty bright -- enough to hurt your eyes, especially if you attempt to view the moon via a telescope or binoculars. Relying on natural light is especially helpful if you are engaged in star gazing or using a telescope to view the planets. Even a relatively small telescope will let you see the rings of Saturn, the red hue of Mars, and the Giant Red Spot on Jupiter. You can also get a pretty detailed view of the craters on the moon, but you may need filters for that. The moon is extremely bright when viewed through a telescope or even binoculars. If you need light to illuminate star maps when star gazing, use a flashlight with a red filter. It will give you enough light to read the star maps without destroying your night vision and spoiling your view through the telescope. You may want to remove the rain fly from your tent on clear nights so you can enjoy the view of the moon and stars if your tent itself has see-through netting on top as many double-wall tents do.

Lighten up!