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.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Survival Tools and Kits

What are the best survival tools? Your best and most important tools are your brain, your attitude, your hands, and your knowledge but here are a list of physical items you should put in your survival kit and always carry with you when camping, hiking, horseback riding, or riding an OHV. If you're going to the trouble to make and carry a survival kit, it might was well have some things that in it that are truly useful and convenient to use. Just how often do you REALLY think a foot of fishing line and a couple of safety pins from the handle of one of those "Rambo" survival knives are going to be useful let alone adequate? Survival kits range from tiny little pocket-sized kits that fit in an Altoids tin to suit-case sized monsters that include just about everything you can think of, including the kitchen sink. For a survival kit to be realistic and useful, it must be something that is convenient to carry -- unless you intend it use it only for emergencies at home. It will do you zero good on the trail if it is still on the shelf in the garage or under the bed at home! Creating one that is right for you means constantly balancing and trading off completeness, convenience, cost, and portability. The best kit is one you will carry and that will have basic supplies and tools to expedite your survival. You might want a steamer trunk-size survival kit at home to deal with a disaster situation, but for camping, hiking, etc., you'll probably want something that fits in a pocket or fanny pack. Commercial home disaster kits are good to have on the shelf in case of a neighborhood emergency. Most have 2-3 days of food and water, which makes them way too heavy and bulky to carry when camping. For wilderness survival, you'll want to know how to find food and water in the wild and you'll want to stock your survival kit with essential tools for survival.

Basic survival tools:

    * Bic lighter
    * Flint and Steel
    * Multitool
    * Fixed blade knife
    * First aid kit
    * Signal whistle
    * Large plastic trash bag (orange preferred)

Some really good options to include:

    * Map and compass
    * GPS
    * LED flashlight
    * Twine or paracord
    * Duct tape
    * Survival blanket

Here is what I carry in my tool bag when dirt biking:

    * LED Flashlight
    * Chemical light stick
    * Multitool
    * Survival Blanket
    * Bic lighter
    * Flint and steel
    * Signal whistle
    * A little duck tape wrapped around one of my tools
    *Wooden strike anywhere matches in a waterproof match container

With careful planning and wise selections you can fit all the really critical survival tools in your pockets or in a small fanny pack or tuck into your OHV tool kit.  You want your survival kit to be something that is easy to carry and won't weigh you down.  Otherwise you'll be tempted to leave it behind and, according to Murphy's Law, you can bet the time you leave it behind will be the time you need it.

You should probably have at least 3 or 4 survival kits.  The smallest would be your personal camp kit you take with you hiking, horesback riding, dirt biking, etc.  Next would be an in camp kit, which would be larger and contain more first aid supplies and tools.  You should have a kit in every vehicle in case you encounter a disaster situation while on the road, going to or from you camp site or even to or from work or shopping.  You may want to have a personal survival kit at work depending on what emergency preparations your employer may or may not have.  You home kit should be a pretty complete kit, with plenty of first aid supplies, some emergency food and water, and tools you might need around the house or to support rescue efforts.

Remember, your brain is your most important survival tool.   If you "lose your head" in a survival situation you are probably going to die. STOP is a useful acronym for what to do in survival mode.  It stands for Stop, Think, Observe, and Plan.  Panic kills more people in most disasters than the original event.  If you remember STOP it can help you prepare to survive.  Stop moving; don't run around wasting energy; Think about your situation, what are your resources and your immediate needs? Observe your surroundings and your urgent needs.  Are you or any of your companions injured?  Are you in danger of injury?  Can you find a safe place to stay?  Plan you activities.  Use the Rule of Threes to guide and prioritze your initial actions.  Then take appropriate action.

A lot is said in survival guides about fire starting methods. Most wilderness survival sources stress variations of rubbing two sticks together. Knowing and practicing the skill is a good idea in case you get stranded unexpectedly without any preparations or supplies, but always keeping a few survival essentials with you will save you a lot of grief. As I often say, the only way I want to start a fire rubbing two sticks together is if one of them is a match!  For the most convenience, carry a Bic lighter. As a backup, carry a magnesium-flint and steel fire starter. If you're putting things in a survival kit, might as well have something that is safe and easy to use. A Bic lighter takes up about as much space as a dozen wooden matches but will give you hundreds of lights instead of twelve. Even when it runs out of fuel, you can still use it as a little flint and steel. If you're going to stock a survival kit, why not stock it with things that work and you can actually use? Knowing how to start a fire with flint and steel is a good skill to have. You might luck out and find stones that create sparks in a survival situation if you don't have your trusty survival kit with you. I pick up Bic style lighters at Dollar Tree, 3 in a package so it is economical to carry one in my fanny pack, a couple spares in my motorcycle trailer and in my motorhome, and a stash in my survival supplies. One advantage to a magnesium flint and steel fire starter is the magnesium will burn even when it is wet.

Multitool versus knife. If you only have room for one, I would opt for the multitool. Having a handy pair of pliers is useful for many survival tasks, ranging from removing cactus splines from your flesh to sewing tough hides for clothing or shelter. You might even need pliers to help stitch up your own wounds. Having a good fixed-blade knife is always a good idea if you have room for it. The folding blade on your multitool is a pretty good substitute for many tasks, but is not as safe nor as sturdy as a good hunting knife. Those big 'Rambo' style survival knives look cool, but in a real survival situation will be less useful than a good hunting knife.  Carving is a far more common survival task than hacking or chopping.

Home made survival knives. I came across a survival web site that describes how to make inexpensive survival knives from Sawzall blades. You can shape them to your design and add handles of your choice. Start with a "demolition" blade and you'll have a really sturdy knife that will cut just about anything. If you buy the blades in a bulk pack you can get them for under $1.00 each. You'll pay $2.00-$3.00 apiece if you buy them individually. Either way, they're a lot cheaper than store-bought survival knives, but it will take some grinding and filing to turn them into usable knives. How big a knife do you need? Most survival experts will advise you to carry about a 4" fixed blade knife. You will do a lot more cutting and carving than hacking in a survival situation.

First aid kit. Like the old American Express ad, "don't leave home without it". A minor wound can turn into a life-threatening situation if not properly treated. A little moleskin to prevent blisters or a few bandaids to cover minor wounds will deliver a lot of comfort, reduce additional injuries, and help you keep going. For the most complete kits, look for those designed for hunters. Then supplement them with OTC pain killers and other useful comfort supplies like antacids and anti-diarrheal tablets. And don't forget to bring along your prescription meds if you depend on them!

A large plastic trash bag can serve a multitude of uses in a survival situation. It can be used as a rain poncho, a sleeping bag, and to make a waterproof roof for your shelter. It can be used to collect moisture from plants or to build a solar still to reclaim waste water. The orange bags like those used by highway crews are the best choice since they can also be used as a signal for rescuers but an ordinary black contractor trash bag will suffice. Clear plastic sheeting or bags is nice for building solar stills or collecting moisture from plants so you can see what's going on inside.  Even  plastic grocery bags can be used to collect moisture from plants. 

Being able to make cordage from materials on hand is an excellent survival skill, but having ready made cordage in the form of twine or paracord, can save you a lot of time and effort. Do you have any idea how to obtain or make cordage in a wilderness survival scenario? Here are some ideas: tree bark, reeds, weeds, long grass, sinews. If you have vehicle you may be able to strip wiring or upholstery from it to use as cordage. Binders twine is inexpensive and sturdy and has many diverse uses in camp and in survival mode. Paracord is extremely strong. You will see it sold as "paracord bracelets" which makes it easy to carry where ever you go. Paracord can be wrapped around knife handles as a convenient place to carry it and give you a little extra grip.

Duct tape. If you've ever seen the TV show MacGuyver, you know how versatile duct tape is. A whole roll is pretty large and heavy to carry around with you. Cut a 2-3' length and wrap it around a pencil, your Bic lighter, or the handle of one of your tools. Duct tape is often called "duck tape". Turns out this is more than a punny mis-pronounciation of the name. It was the name originally used by the Army when they developed it to seal ammo boxes. In consisted of strips of canvas duck plus an adhesive.  Duct tape will stick to just about any clean, dry surface. Turns out duct tape will stick to just about anything but ducts. That is because by the time we get around to trying to repair ducts, they're very dusty. The tape sticks really well to the dust, but the dust doesn't stick to the duct. Duct tape has a myriad of uses in camp or in a survival situation, ranging from tent and clothing repairs to bandages. I've even seen reports of it even being used to make sun-slits as an emergency alternative to sunglasses by climbers on Mt Everest!  I roll a couple feet of duct tape around a screwdriver blade in my OHV fanny pack.

Training and practice are essential. Book or online learning, or even classroom instruction is better than nothing, but to really be confident in your own abilities and be able to put them to use in an emergency takes practice. Knowing how to start a fire with flint and steel is a good thing, but until you've actually tried it you won't know how hard and fast to strike the steel against the flint to create sparks or how to prepare satisfactory tinder or how close to get your sparks to the tinder to actually get it to work.  The flint often comes from the factory with a protective coating you must scrape way before you'll get useable sparks.  You also need to practice turning that little bit of smoldering tinder into flames and get it into your fire before it goes out. Be sure to plan ahead so you aren't fumbling around and watch your little ember go cold while you try figure out how to get it into your fire. Remember those monsters under your bed or in your closet when you were a kid? Well, they'll come back and bring their friends when you're alone in a strange place in the dark. Fire helps dispel unrealistic fears.

Tool up!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Survival Fires

Few will argue that fire building is one of the most essential survival skills. Fire will keep you warm and prevent hypothermia when it is cold. It will purify your drinking water and sterilize medical tools. It will cook your food and kill dangerous germs and parasites that might be lurking in wild game. It will entertain you and lift your spirits and make you more comfortable. It will help keep wild animals away. It will serve as a bright signal at night or a smokey column in the day to help alert rescuers to your location.

When we think of survival fires, we are usually thinking about wilderness survival. But you may need to build a survival fire in your own back yard during an extended emergency situation. You may need it mostly for cooking but might also need it for warmth or drying clothing or bedding. You probably won't be building a signal fire in your back yard.

Given the importance of fire, wouldn't it be a good idea to be able to quickly build a fire in a survival situation? You may see many survival "experts" tout old traditional, even stone-age, methods of making a fire as essential skills (mostly variations of rubbing two sticks together). While these are probably good to have as last ditch back up emergency skills in case you get stranded unexpectedly without any survival supplies, you can take simple steps to ensure you will be able to quickly make a fire in an emergency. The only way I want to start fire by rubbing two sticks together is if one of them is a match! Forget about "waterproofing" matches. Each match is only good for one use and when they're gone, you're back to rubbing two sticks together. Any time you're headed out into the wilds where survival might come up, carry a Bic lighter. A lighter is about the same weight and takes up about the same space as a dozen wooden matches -- and will light hundreds of times. When it runs out of fuel it may still be useful as a spark generator.  Along that line, a really handy and light weight fire starter is a flint and steel.  You can tuck them in your pack or pocket and always have a ready source of ignition at your fingertips.  Some include magnesium sticks you can shave so you can even light a fire in wet conditions.

Here is a link to a good tutorial on 9 Ways To Start A Fire Without Matches. Note that a primary theme is practice, Practice, PRACTICE!  All the book-learning in the world isn't going to do you much good if you can't make it work, especially if you're cold and wet and REALLY need a fire NOW! To be safe, know which methods are easiest and which ones work in wet weather -- and which ones YOU can actually do!

One of the most unusual ways I've seen someone start a survival fire was using a clear plastic bag filled with his own urine as a lens to focus sunlight. The technique would probably also work with clear water, but it got the job done, without wasting any precious water. One more example of making use of whatever resources you have in a survival situation.

Flick your Bic! A Bic style lighter should be one of your primary survival tools. Even when the fuel runs out, it is still an effective flint and steel that can create a spark large enough to ignite well-prepared tinder -- until the flint wears out. It is small, light weight, and very durable. It is highly resistant to water and somewhat resistant to wind. Lighters will withstand surprisingly hard impacts. I wouldn't recommend deliberately testing them with a rock or a hammer, but they will probably stand up well to most of the abuse they'll receive in pocket or pack. I have often touted flint and steel as a basic survival tool, but I would strongly urge you to carry a lighter as your primary fire-making tool -- and flint and steel as a backup. A lighter will only last so long before the fuel runs out or the flint is used up.

Of course you can use matches to start your fire -- if you have them. Strike anywhere wooden matches are my preferred matches for camping and survival. The Strike on box version isn't as versatile but may be a little safer if there are small children around so they may be good in your home survival kit. Paper or "safety" matches aren't as durable as wooden matches and can only be struck on the special strip on the cover. However, in an emergency situation, you might be able to double your supply of matches by splitting paper matches. I've tried it, and it isn't easy. I've seen Les Stroud do it on an episode of Survivorman. As he said, it is always good to conserve your resources in a survival situation.

As a backup fire starter, carry a magnesium flint and steel fire starter. You can start a fire with one of these even when it is wet. Shave some of the magnesium to make small pile and strike a spark into the pile with the flint and steel. Magnesium is the same stuff used in old-fashioned flash bulbs and will burn bright and hot, even when it is wet. A typical flint and steel fire starter will give you thousands of lights. Practice using your flint and steel to routinely start your campfire so you will be comfortable with the technique and able to accomplish the task quickly in a survival situation. The mass and durability of a flint and steel fire starter will ensure you enough to start lots of fires. The tiny little flint and abrasive wheel on lighters can wear out rather quickly, especially when the fuel runs out and you have to keep striking them over and over to use the sparks to ignite your fire. Having properly prepared tinder is essential for successfully starting a fire with flint and steel. My preferred tinder is cotton balls. Synthetic "cosmetic puffs" may look the same, but the sparks melt through the fibers instead of igniting them the way they do with 100% cotton.

Rubbing two sticks together is a last resort, one you may be stuck with if you have gone out unprepared or found yourself unexpectedly in survival mode, like Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway. The only way I want to start fire rubbing two sticks together is if one of them is a match! However, you could unexpectedly find yourself in a situation where that is your only choice. Anything you can do to give you a mechanical advantage will be helpful. A bow drill can save you a lot of blisters. You'll need a flexible bow (usually a green stick); a hardwood base place, a softwood drill, and a bowstring. The bowstring must be looped around the drill so it spins the drill as you "saw" the bow back and forth. Lacking the materials (or knowledge) to make a bow drill, a fire plow, is a simple alternative. It works like this: start with a shallow grove in your base material and push the tip of your "plow" along the groove rapidly and repeatedly until it gets hot enough to begin to smoke and create an ember you can add to tinder to get your fire going. You can create enough friction to get a fire started by twirling a stick with your hands into a notch in your base plate, but it is very likely you'll blister your hands before you get fire. To minimize blistering, use a "drill" that is about 2' long. Start with your hands at the top and spin the "drill" between them by rubbing your hands back and forth as you press down on the drill. Your hands should move slowly down the drill as you spin it. You might prepare your hands for the proper movement with an exercise like the hand movements for the "itsy bitsy spider" children's game. The downward movement keeps pressure between the drill and the base plate to generate friction and reduces the chances of blisters. Wear gloves if you have them.  Stop now and then and slap your hands together to minimize getting blisters. Your goal is NOT to prove how macho you are or how much pain you can endure. It is to get a fire going with as little pain and waste of energy as possible. For just about any variation of rubbing two sticks together, the base should be hardwood and the drill or plow should be softwood. And always prepare fine, dry, easily ignitable tinder. Quite frankly, before I would try rubbing two sticks together I would scout around for some rocks that might make a spark when banged together or struck with steel. Hopefully you at least have your multi-tool or pocket knife with you.

The sun can be an excellent source of energy to light fires. You just need a way of focusing the sunlight into a concentrated point to get enough heat to ignite your tinder. The classic tool for this is a magnifying glass. But since just about no one except Sherlock Holmes carries a magnifying glass around with them all the time, you may have to find an alternative. Prescription eye glasses are sometimes strong enough to focus sunlight.  Sometimes a flashlight lens will work, but many of them are flat and don't concentrate the sunlight as needed. A clear plastic bottle or bag filled with water can also work. You can also polish the bottom of an aluminum soda or beer can to make a parabolic reflector. The most publicized version of this used chocolate as the polishing agent, but you might do it with toothpaste or something else that contains a fine grain polishing agent. BTW, don't eat the chocolate after using it to polish the can.  Really clear ice might act as a lens, but most ice contains contaminates that scatter the light instead of focusing it.

A "Dakota fire pit" is a good way to build an efficient cooking fire. Essentially it consists of a main fire pit about 1' across and 8-10" deep with a small tunnel from the bottom extending out a foot or so on the upwind side to provide draft. The pit concentrates the heat and the tunnel draws air from the bottom of the pit to fan the flames to create a very hot fire for cooking. Because it is mostly beneath ground level, a Dakota fire pit is not very good for warming people around it. However, if there is any need for concealment, as can happen in military situations, being below ground is a good thing since it reduces visibility that might reveal your position. Here is a really good article on survival fires and especially the Dakota Fire pit.  If you use a Dakota Fire Pit for cooking and personal warmth you may need to have a separate signal fire ready to light when rescuers approach.

Signal fires may be one exception to building a larger fire than you need to keep you warm. A larger fire will be easier for rescuers to see at night and will last longer should you fall asleep and can't keep feeding it. However, large fires consume a lot of fuel and it will take a lot of your energy to keep feeding it.  It is a good idea to build up a large wood pile nearby when you need to feed a signal fire.  During daytime you will need green boughs or leaves to create extra smoke to make it easier for searchers to find you.

Another exception to the small fire rule is when it is raining or snowing. In cases of heavy rain or snow, a large fire has a better chance of lasting out the storm. Using a large punky log that will burn slowly or piling on a bunch of dried cattle dung are also ways to keep it smoldering, even in a downpour. You may need a large fire to sustain you through the night too or as a signal fire. For signaling, a large column of smoke is going to be more visible than a fire during the day, so have some green or damp branches or boughs or grass or big chuck of punky wood on hand to increase the smoke when needed.  Dried cow manure or "buffalo chips" is also works well to keep a smoldering fire.  Survivalists sometimes use this trick to transport fire from one site to another, by making a "fire bundle", wrapping the smoldering manure in green leaves or wet leather.

Urban survival, that is, being in a survival situation at home, may require fires for outdoor cooking or for emergency heat. Certainly having a wood-burning fireplace or wood stove will give you useful options for keeping your family and your home warm in cold weather if utilities are out. If you don't have a supply of firewood you may have to resort to burning books or furniture. Sacrificing that Chippenddale table would be a shame, but it sure beats freezing to death! I enjoyed the scene in the movie, "The Day After Tomorrow" when the kids discovered there was a whole shelf of tax law books they could burn in the library fireplace to keep from freezing to death.  If you are in freezing weather, keeping the interior of your home above 32°F is critical to avoid pipes from freezing. If utilities are out, you may need to cook outdoors. An easy and often readily available solution is your portable back yard BBQ. Built in BBQs or others connected to natural gas won't be working if the gas is shut off. Do you have a place in your backyard where you can build a campfire? If not, you might want to look into to making one so you have a place to build a cooking fire during any long term outages. If you're at home you will probably have access to matches and/or lighters if you're at all prepared -- at least for a while. If you don't have a significant cache you may run out before utilities are restored and may have to resort to flint and steel or rubbing two sticks together.

For long term survival, like you might experience in disaster situation, a "rocket stove" might be helpful. They can be made from many readily available materials. Search for "rocket stove plans" using your favorite Internet search engine. Here are videos for making rocket stoves from several different kinds of materials.  A really easy and inexpensive version can be made from a #10 can and 4 soup cans. You can cook an entire meal on just a handful of twigs.

NEVER use open fires or even hibatchis, propane BBQs or camp stoves indoors. Is isn't safe! There are special indoor propane heaters, like the "Buddy Heater", that you can use indoors safely, but units not rated for indoor use can be lethal. Even if a stove doesn't put out toxic fumes, which most do, it will consume oxygen and, without proper ventilation, you will suffocate. This has happened even to experienced campers who knew better but forgot when they set up a tent heater in a closed camper.

Survival fires serve many purposes. Obvious uses are to keep you warm, purify water, and cook your food. Keeping wild animals away is also a widely recognized function of fire. Signalling is also a frequent and effective use of fire in a survival situation. Less obvious, but more important than most people realize, is the psychological effect of fire on people in a survival situation. Remember, your attitude is the single most significant factor in your survival. Fire can help you maintain a positive attitude. Fire improves your comfort, safety, and state of mind. Firelight helps us control the irrational fears that can set in when we're alone in the dark. Remember the monsters in the closet or under the bed when you were a kid? Figure they're about 10 times scarier (even to grownups) in a survival situation. Every sound, every shadow, appears to be a threat.

Survival fire safety. Just because you're in survival mode doesn't mean you can ignore fire safety rules. In fact, it will behoove you to be especially careful with your survival fire. The last thing you need is to turn your survival environment into a raging inferno. It will no doubt attract lots of attention, but you are likely to perish long before any potential rescuers can get close enough to even know you're there. Always follow standard fire safety rules. Make sure you clear the ground of combustible materials for at least 5' around your fire as well as beneath it. Make sure there are no overhanging branches that could catch fire. Don't build a fire bigger than is necessary. A small fire is usually adequate for cooking. A medium sized fire may be needed for warmth, depending on weather conditions and the number of people you need to keep warm. Large fires might be needed for signally, but making even signal fires too big only wastes fuel -- and your energy collecting it. Be careful where you build your fire. Even Suvivorman Les Stroud managed to set his shelter on fire in one episode. Building fires in caves may seem practical, but the heat can cause the overhead rocks to expand and possible crack and fall on you, especially if you're in a small cave with a low ceiling. Better to build the fire outside and let it warm you and the cave slowly and indirectly.  Sometimes building a fire in a cave might be the sensible thing to do. Getting your fire out of the rain may be essential to keeping it going. Having a fire in a cave can provide a warm environment for you and your companions. Don't build a big fire that touches the walls or ceiling as that may increase the risk of cracking the rock around you.   Heat up some softball sized rocks to put in your bedding to help keep you warm at night.  They are especially comforting as foot warmers, but putting one in each arm pit and between your thighs might warm the rest of your body more quickly.  Just don't get them TOO hot!  You want to place them close to major arteries (like the femoral artery in your thighs) where they can warm the blood so it warms other parts of the body.  Holding warm stones in your hands for a while can help thaw frozen fingers and restore mobility you might need for survival tasks.

Light up!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

NOAA Weather Radios

NOAA Weather Radios have been mentioned in several posts. So just what is NOAA and why should I bother listening to NOAA Weather Radio? NOAA stands for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which includes the National Weather Service. NOAA weather radios will only be useful to residents or travelers in the United States and its territories. The broadcast service is NOAA Weather Radio or NWR. NWR also broadcasts warning and post-event information for all types of hazards – including natural disasers (such as earthquakes or avalanches), environmental problems (such as chemical releases or oil spills), and public safety (such as AMBER alerts or 911 Telephone outages). NWR includes 1000 transmitters, covering all 50 states, adjacent coastal waters, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the U.S. Pacific Territories.

NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts can only be received by radios specially equipped to receive the NOAA frequencies. Specialized radios that receive ONLY NOAA weather broadcasts are available, starting at about $20. Enter "NOAA Weather Radio" into your favorite search engine and you'll be rewarded with hundreds of possibilities. Some CB, HAM,, survival radios, and even some car radios include access to NOAA channels.

NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.   The forecast repeats every few minutes.  That means you don't have to sit there waiting for a local radio station to get around to doing the weather. You can tune in immediately and get current forecasts and alerts. The best NOAA radios will respond to alerts and turn themselves on (from stand by mode) so you don't miss an important change in weather conditions. An even more sophisticated service called Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) allows users to program their radios to specific geographical areas instead of entire regions. Some of the newer radios have LED displays that indicate the type of alert so you can tell at a glance if it is something you need to pay immediate attention to.

NOAA Weather Radio channels may be built into some dash-mounted car radios and CB radios. Many HAM radios can be tuned to NOAA Weather Radio frequencies if you know what they are (162.400, 162.425, 162.450, 162.475, 162.500, 162.525, 162.550). Stand alone units range from small, hand-held models, to more sophisticated and expensive "base station" designs intended for desk or office use. Base stations might be suitable for RV applications where you'll have 120 volt power available to operate them and will give you more power and greater range. Hand-held models can be easily moved from vehicle to vehicle, used in camp, or even carried on the trail. I have an older Radio Shack battery powered radio that is a cube of about 2 1/2" and has a built-in telescoping antenna. It works really well in camp, but is not designed to withstand the rigors of being carried in pocket or pack. Portable hand-held models are designed to be carried in a pocket or pack and would be very useful on the trail.

Types of broadcasts. There are several different types of informational broadcasts transmitted on NOAA Weather Radio. The major categories include alerts, routine forecast products (hourly observations, hazardous weather outlook, zone forecast product, regional weather synopsis, and the daily climate summary), Specialty Forecast Products (Short term or "NOW" forecast, special weather statements, tabular state forecast, record information announcement, surf zone forecast, river forecast, lake forecast, coastal waters forecast, off shore waters forecast, and tropical weather summary). The NOAA Weather Radio also participates in the Emergency Alert System and runs a test every Wednesday between 10:00 AM and noon. For detailed descriptions of each product see the definition of NOAA Weather Radio on Wikipedia.

The benefits of having  NOAA Weather Radio in camp on on the trail are pretty obvious.  You always have immediate access to up to date weather conditions and forecast.  Knowing what is coming can make the difference between an disaster and simply weathering out the storm.

Listen up!


Monitoring The Weather

Weather is very likely to be of more concern to you when camping than it is at home. At home we usually just adjust the thermostat and wait out bad weather. You may have to adjust your wardrobe if you're going outside depending on the weather forecast, but mostly we move from one climate controlled indoor space to another, usually via climate controlled vehicles, so weather isn't so critical.  Whether you're camping in a tent or a luxury RV, weather will affect your comfort, your travel plans, and your activities. A comfortable RV will usually provide adequate protection from the elements as long as you don't run out of resources, like fuel or battery power. Tent campers are far more affected by weather and usually can do little about it but endure it or pack it up and go home. However, if you are properly prepared, you can be comfortable in your RV or your tent in just about any kind of weather. In order to be prepared, you need to know what to expect. Maintaining a comfortable temperature in a tent will be more difficult than in an RV, but if you are properly prepared, you can at least make it bearable.  You might be able to retire to you vehicle to keep warm in particularly nasty weather.  Or at least you can dress to stay warm.  But first you have to know what kind of weather to expect, then how to deal with it.

Check the forecast before you leave home. The first step is to check your local forecast before you even leave home. Your local newspaper, radio and TV stations, and weather sites on the Internet are good places to get some idea of what to expect. My favorite Internet weather source is Weatherbug. It can be accessed on at Weatherbug.com. It is also available as a downloadable gadget that constantly monitors the local weather forecast. It constantly displays the current temperature on the status bar of your PC and sounds a chirping sound when an alert is posted for your selected area. It includes a forecast up to 7 days.  Be aware that the Weatherbug gadget was once considered to be adware but the latest buzz on the 'net says it isn't far enough across the line to warrant concern.  Once you know the weather forecast for where you're going you can decide whether to proceed with your trip or not and, if you decided to go anyway, what kind of preparations you need. What you bring along will vary greatly depending on the forecast. "Heat wave" will dictate light weight clothing coupled with cooling techniques, cold beverages, and frozen treats. On the other hand, a prediction of cold and/or wet weather requires warm clothing, rain gear, extra blankets,  auxiliary heat, and warm treats.

Weather watches versus warnings etc. There seems to be some confusion about the terms "watch" and "warning". Many people use the terms interchangeably -- and incorrectly.  Each has a specific and somewhat different meaning.  A "watch" means conditions are right for a chance of the indicated condition. A "warning" means the condition is happening or is likely to happen. A third alert, "advisory" is sort of between a watch and a warning, indicating the specified weather has a "pretty good chance" of occurring. A watch means keep your eye out for the condition; an advisory means REALLY keep your eye out and start making preparations; a warning means its probably happening and you should be taking immediate steps to protect lives and property. For example, when you hear a tornado warning for you area, seek safe shelter IMMEDIATELY! If it is just a watch, start making preparations so you'll be ready when the warning is issued. Make sure you know where you and your family are going to go and that you have necessary supplies prepared (food, water, clothing, flashlights, tools, etc). For example, a tornado watch means conditions are right for tornadoes to form and a tornado warning means tornadoes have been sighted in the area. In short, a watch condition means start making preparations; a warning means take cover NOW!  When I hear an advisory I figure it is time to get ready to take cover and to closely monitor ongoing reports.  Your tent or even your RV isn't going to provide sufficient protection against tornadoes.  If you are in areas where tornadoes occur, check to see if there is a shelter nearby or look for someplace relatively save, like under an underpass.  Basements or cellars usually offer the best protection within buildings but if you are in a building that doesn't have them, go into closet or bathroom without windows.  A bathroom has the advantage of some additional structural integrity due the plumbing in the walls.  Bathrooms are usually fairly small and have small windows, which also makes them less susceptible to wind and changes in air pressure that accompany tornadoes.  However, tornadoes bring a sudden drop in air pressure which can cause buildings filled with air at normal pressure to explode.

Monitor weather forecasts in camp by listening to a local radio station or using a NOAA weather radio. The NOAA weather radio provides continuous local weather reports in most areas of the United States. If you have satellite or wifi Internet access or a Smart phone you can check weather on your favorite web sites too.  One of the things I like about the Weatherbug app on my computer is that it "chirps" whenever there is any kind of severe weather indicated for my area.

Keep an eye on the sky. Regardless of the forecast, keep an eye on the sky. Invest a little time online or in the library learning a little about clouds and what they mean. Cloud forms and movement are pretty good indicator of pending weather.  You can also get printed scales that let you estimate wind speed by observing the movement of leaves, branches, flags, etc. Check it out at Estimating Wind Speed. For example, if the flag is fully extended and makes a popping sound, the wind is about 30 mph. If you're camped where you can hear crickets, you can estimate the temperature by counting cricket chirps. For the temperature in Fahrenheit, count the chirps in 14 seconds and add 40. For example, 30 chirps in 14 seconds plus 40 = 70°F. For Celsius, count the chirps in 25 seconds, divide by 3, and add 4. Example: 48 chirps in 25 seconds divided by 3 = 16 plus 4 = 20°C. Know what direction weather usually comes from and note any changes in clouds in that direction. Large, dark, roiling clouds will usually bring rain or snow and sometimes thunderstorms fairly soon. High cirrus clouds (high wispy clouds) in and of themselves seldom produce any precipitation but are usually the leading edge of an approaching weather system that may bring rain or snow within a few hours. A low, even overcast may dampen your spirits but usually doesn't dampen anything else very much. Fog will inhibit visibility and condensation may dampen awnings, tents, table clothes, camp chairs, and OHV seats.

Talk to the locals.   People who live or work in a particular area get used to the weather patterns and can often be a good source for predicting what is going to happen in the near future.  Since camping destinations are often on or near mountains, be aware that mountains often create their own local weather that won't show up on regional forecasts.

Develop some weather prediction skills of your own.   Predict-the-Weather-Without-a-Forecast is a web site with some simple lessons for predicting the weather using only what you see or feel around you by observing clouds, wind, and/or animal behavior.

"Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning, red sky at night, sailor's delight" is an old weather proverb that may actually have some scientific basis. Sunlight reflecting off clouds may indicate rain or shine depending on where the clouds are and from which direction weather usually comes. In the northern latitudes, weather usually moves from west to east, thus the "red sky" predictions. This same phenomenon is captured in the Holy Bible: "When ye see a cloud rise out of the west, straightway ye say: There cometh a shower: and so it is" (Luke 12:54) and "When it is evening ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, it will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowering" (Matt. 16:2–3). Moist air will create a yellow or gray sky sunset and dry air will yield a crimson sky (Red at night, sailor delight, assuming weather is coming from the west.

Leaves sometimes are a pretty good indicator of pending rain. Two trees are particularly known for this: Silver Maples and Gensus Oaks. The change in barometric pressure due to an approaching storm will cause the leaves to turn over so their light undersides are exposed. This has to do with variations in the veins on the front and back of the leaves and how they respond to changes in pressure. Essentially they are natural barometers. Low pressure usually means rain; high pressure usually means clear skies.

Clear nights, cold days is another folk proverb that appears to have some validity. Clear nights also tend be colder than cloudy ones since the lack of clouds allows heat from the ground to escape more easily.

If a circle forms 'round the moon, it will rain very soon. The presence of high-level cirrus clouds often means rain is on the way and such clouds can cause a "circle 'round the moon" you can see the night before.

I remember being told as a kid that if the snow was crunchy, it was below 10°F. Not sure of the scientific accuracy of that bit of folk lore (although it does seem to be supported by anecdotal evidence and personal experience). From a scientific point of view, snow does crunch more at colder temperatures than at warmer ones. The crunching is caused by ice crystals rubbing together as you compress the snow. The colder the temperature, the louder the crunch. At warmer temperatures, friction between the crystals is reduced and they slide silently past each other. I typically observe "soft" crunching at about 20°F and very sharp crunching when it gets down around 10°F or below here in Utah and where I grew up in Idaho. I have also observed that when temperatures drop close to 0°F or below, my nose immediately reacts to cold air when I go outside, feeling sticky just inside my nostrils, probably from the mucus thickening or freezing. Speaking of snow, folk myths say it can't snow if it gets too cold. That isn't strictly true. It can still snow at very low temperatures, as long as there is enough moisture in the air. Sustained low temperatures may literally freeze all the moisture out of the air and then it can't snow for a while. A new weather front with lots of moisture could move into a cold area and you could get snow even at very low temperatures. On the other hand, clearly it can be too warm to snow. For snow to form the atmospheric temperature must be at freezing or below. For snow to stick, the ground temperature must be at or below freezing. Snow can form high up in the clouds and then melt as it falls through warmer air near the ground. If the snow is falling thick enough and fast enough, some of it may be visible near the ground before it melts. Generally, snow will not form if the ground temperature is 41°F or warmer. By the way, even though snow is made of ice crystals, it is a pretty good insulator. A foot of snow is about equal to the R-13 fiberglass insulation in the walls of the typical home. That's why igloos and snow caves can keep you warm.

Speaking of snow, did you know that a blizzard is more than just a common term for a nasty snow storm? According to the US Weather Service, there is a specific definition for a blizzard. To qualify as a blizzard according to meteorological definitions, you have to have falling or blowing snow that reduces visibility to 1/4 mile or less plus sustained winds of 30-35 mph for at least 3 hours. Doesn't matter much to a driver or a camper whether the raging snow outside is officially a "blizzard", but it is an interesting bit of trivia. Of course you can experience blizzard-like conditions that may not last long enough to meet the formal definition but certainly do last long enough to be real nuisance or even a hazard in camp or on the road.  You won't really care if it is officially a blizzard if blowing snow prevents you from finding your exit.

A "whiteout" is a condition where falling or blowing snow reduces visibility to virtually zero. During a whiteout it is just about impossible to tell the difference between the snow-covered ground and the snow-filled air. There is no discernible horizon. If you encounter a whiteout, it is best to stop and wait it out. Continued travel is very dangerous. If you're on the highway, you could easily drive off the road. If you are already traveling off-highway, you may get totally lost.  Anytime you are moving you are at risk of running into unseen obstacles or other travelers. If you MUST move, do so cautiously.

Wind can be a weather problem all by itself. You don't have to have tornado or hurricane conditions for wind to create a hazard. Strong gusting winds can wreak havoc with your campsite. They can damage awnings, tents, and canopies. They may blow camp chairs or other light objects away or into your fire pit. Winds can pick up debris that can cause injuries or damage. Wind can sometimes create dust storms that reduce visibility and cause breathing problems for many people. Wind can wreak havoc with campfires and scatter embers that can start unwanted conflagrations. What can you do about wind? First of all, make sure your campsite is as secure and wind-resistant as possible. Put away canopies, umbrellas, folding chairs etc. Make sure you tent is securely anchored. Head your RV into the prevailing wind. Put out your campfire. Then stay inside your tent or RV until the wind subsides. By the way, always put up your camp chairs or at least fold them up and lay them flat when you retire from the campfire each night.  I've seen way too many light weight aluminum chairs blown into firepits where hidden coals have destroyed them by morning.  Wind can be problematic on the trail too.  Hikers, horseback riders, and OHV riders may encounter difficult and/or dangerous conditions brought on by wind.  I've seen dirt bikers literally get blown over when they topped a hill one windy day in the Mojave Desert.  They hit the top of the hill and went over like Arty on the tricycle on the old Saturday Night Live stunt.  Wind may kick up dust and debris that affects visibility and could injure your eyes.  Head winds may affect vehicle mileage, significantly shortening your normal travel range.

Thunderstorms often bring severe weather conditions that require special attention. Even fairly distant thunderstorms can cause flash floods miles away, so avoid low-lying areas and especially sand washes when there are storms anywhere in the area. Lightning is another hazard of thunderstorms. Stay out from under tall objects like lone trees, light poles, power poles, and radio towers. You can estimate how close lightning is to you by counting the number of seconds between the flash and when you hear the thunder. Divide the number by 3 to get the distance in kilometers or by 5 for the distance in miles. If you don't have a watch to count the seconds, you can estimate the time by counting 'one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand, etc).  When I worked outdoors we were instructed to leave the job site and seek immediate shelter if lightning were within one mile.

Weather instruments, such as a barometer, can help you get a feel for what is coming. A rising barometer usually means fair weather ahead. A falling barometer may indicate an approaching storm. Falling temperatures and increased wind often precede a storm too. Typical clusters of weather instruments for your home or RV will include a barometer, thermometer, and a humidity meter. I like to have an indoor/outdoor thermometer in my RV so I can keep an eye on both temperatures easily. One I saw recently accommodates up to 3 remote transmitters so a single instrument could monitor inside and outside temperature and the temperature in your refrigerator and freezer.  There are more sophisticated electronic weather stations you can buy that give you a plethora of weather information, some if it useful, some of it pretty arcane. Another useful device is one to measure wind chill. Wind chill is the perceived temperature felt on exposed skin due to wind. Wind chill isn't measured when the temperature is above 50°F and is never higher than the static temperature. It is usually colder than the actual air temperature. You feel colder because the wind removes heat from your body more quickly than still air does. If the air is 40°F and there is a 10 mph wind, it will feel like its 34°F. At higher temperatures (above 50°F), the heat index is used to measure the increase in perceived temperature due to a combination of heat and humidity. High humidity makes you feel hotter because your perspiration doesn't evaporate as quickly to keep you cool. If the air is 90°F and the humidity is high, it will feel more like 105°F.

Use local resources when you can. Your campground host, rangers, law enforcement officers, and other campers familiar with the area can be a valuable source of weather information. They may be familiar with typical weather patterns and can tell you what to expect. Very often, their predictions are far more accurate than formal weather reports. They can also alert you to potential flash flooding along streams or dry washes.

One of my favorite weather anecdotes is the "weather string".   Hang a string outside your window.  If you can see it, is probably clear and the sun is probably shining.  If you can't see it, it may be dark or foggy or snowy outside.  If it moving, the wind is blowing.  If it is wet, it is raining.  If it is frozen, it is cold.  While this is intended mainly as a joke, a weather string can help you judge wind strength and direction, just as pilots judge wind wind strength and direction from wind socks.  The little toy windsocks folks hand on their RV awnings can actually give you a fairly good idea of wind speed and direction once you get used to reading them.

Be weather wise!

"I Used To Know That"

Saying "I used to know that" seems less embarrassing than admitting I forgot something. Forgetfulness isn't a condition limited to those suffering from Alzheimer's or senior dementia. From time to time everyone loses track of something they once knew.Mostly it is trivial and slightly annoying; sometimes it is embarrassing; occasionally it may be downright disruptive. We've all forgotten where we left our keys or glasses -- probably more than once. But what can we do about it?  Not sure about the  keys or glasses  unless we just get better at always putting them where they belong.  But some of our camping skills can benefit from deliberate review  and frequent practice and it is imperative to keep first aid training up to date.

Reviewing our training and the things we've read is one way to fight forgetfulness. One of the reasons that first aid and CPR certifications need to be renewed every couple of years is to force people to review. Another reason is that procedures evolve over time and you always want to be operating with the latest and best information available. I have a collection of RV magazines going back several years and I've read every one of them cover to cover several times. Even now though, I still have that feeling that "I used to know that" when I re-read some of the articles. Bits and pieces of what I've learned before have gotten lost. Even though you may review certain things until they become second nature, chances are the knowledge will start slipping away if you don't continue to use or review them regularly.  I even re-read my own blog articles frequently.  Another reason for re-reading articles is that our life experiences have usually evolved between readings and we may interpret things differently. Things that might have gone unnoticed before may stand out as important upon a second -- or third -- or n-th re-reading.  In many ways, you are a different person each time you re-read something.  You will have had additional experiences and been exposed to additional information that may allow you to recognize and appreciate things you glossed over before.

Age and the passage of time isn't the only reason we forget things. Often there is just too much going on in our busy day-to-day lives to remember everything. And things we don't use very often are the easiest for our brains to tuck away somewhere it is difficult to retrieve. Most of us don't get nearly as many opportunities for camping or other recreational activities as we would like to have so all the other stuff going on tends to crowd out our camping knowledge and we have to dig it out again for each trip. Survival training gets even less regular use. That said, those of us who have logged a few more miles and a few more years should recognize that age does demand its toll. We may have to work extra hard to keep our minds fresh.

Lacking the time or sometimes other resources necessary for frequent camping trips, we should train ourselves to do mental exercises to help us remember important skills and information. Spend some time walking around your RV or inspecting your camping equipment between trips. It will help you remember things needed fixing or things you wanted to add or change. It also helps your brain keep the information readily accessible instead of pushing it deeper and deeper until it is essentially forgotten. It is also a good way to refresh good practices you've developed on previous trips. Imagine yourself setting up camp and using your equipment. Studies have shown that mentally doing physical tasks (imagine doing them), even things like playing basketball, can improve performance even without physical practice. 

Sometimes we get accused of being obsessive if we make lists, but making lists can be a good way to remember things. On each trip I make a written list of things I need to do when I get home including equipment repairs and maintenance, updating provisions, any special cleaning, and things I'd like to add to my equipment. I use written checklists to assist me in preparing my RV, camping equipment, OHVs, and riding gear for each trip. At home I make shopping lists for each project and sometimes create lists of each step in completing a project. It has been said that the palest ink is better than the best memory. Sometimes the very act of writing something down makes it easier to remember, but by writing it down we don't HAVE to remember. I recall the comment by Henry Jones Sr. in the Indiana Jones movie The Last Crusade when he said "I wrote it in my diary so I wouldn't have to remember."

Checklists aren't just for the feeble minded.   Some prominent professions where checklists are critical and are followed exactly include surgeons, air line pilots, and astronauts.

Written lists are good for shopping and mundane tasks we need to remember, but critical first aid knowledge and skills need to be constantly refreshed. You don't want to find your self in an emergency situation and be searching your cluttered memory or your notebooks to be able to use your knowledge of medical ABCs to save a life. That would be a particularly bad time to suffer a bout of "I Used To Know That".

You may see ads for memory enhancing drugs or supplements.  Be wary of such claims.  While there may be benefits to certain treatments, most will probably not live up to your expectations.  Like so many things which seem too good to true -- and indeed are not true -- getting a good memory in pill form is one.  Exercising your mind and reinforcing what you've learned by repetition are safe and proven ways to improve memory.

Don't forget!

Planning for the Unplanned

How can you plan for the unplanned? Isn't that a paradox? Yes and no. Obviously, if you know what's coming and plan for it, it isn't unplanned. So exactly how do you plan for the unplanned and why should you?

Planning for the unplanned means taking appropriate steps so you'll be able to deal with emergencies or other unexpected situations or take advantage of opportunities for spontaneous outings. To plan for the unplanned you have to have some idea of what unplanned events your might encounter. Emergencies at home might include natural disasters, like earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and winter storms. Emergencies while camping might involve some of the same situations but are more likely to consist of getting lost, having mechanical problems with your equipment, or perhaps injuries in camp or on the trail. I know some guys who would consider it an emergency if they run out of beer or chips and dip.  Having everything ready to go will let you take off for a weekend when you need a break.

Basic emergency preparations are comprised of training, equipment, and provisions. I list training first because I think it is the most important. For one thing, good training will help you know what equipment and provisions you will need and how to store them and what to do with them. For another, knowing what to do will allow you to take control and make the best use of whatever resources you do have. Without training, even the most sophisticated equipment will be of little use. As an extreme example, a CAT scan device is a very useful medical tool, but most of us would have no idea how to use it let alone interpret the results. Today you see AED devices in many public places, but few people know how to use them. I certainly didn't until I became certified as a Red Cross Professional Rescuer. First aid and CPR training should be at the top of everyone's list. You are very likely to have several chances to practice minor first aid while camping and participating in related activities. It isn't that these activities are inherently dangerous, it is more that we are unaccustomed to doing them on a regular basis and are, therefore, more likely to have an accident. Your chance of needing CPR skills is probably greater if you are involved in aquatic endeavors, but it is always a good skill to have and may be needed if you come upon an auto accident on the highway or an OHV or equestrian accident out on the trails.

The next major training I suggest is Community Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T.) training. By now you may be getting tired of me promoting C.E.R.T. but I don't think I could ever say too much about its value. Public emergency services are going to be overwhelmed in just about any large scale disaster and your very life or the lives or your family and/or your neighbors may depend on knowing what do to until emergency services are restored -- which could take several weeks in many cases. C.E.R.T teaches you how to size up a situation and gives you guidelines for light search and rescue, medical triage, even what to do if hazardous materials are involved.

Wilderness survival skills are another set of useful tools for emergency situations. They are especially pertinent to emergencies on the trail but can also be useful in camp and even at home during a disaster. Knowing how to start a fire without matches is an essential survival skill. A flint and steel or anything that will create sparks can be used. The old "rubbing two sticks together" and variations like a bow drill or a fire plow works, but is a LOT of work and you may be inclined to give up long before you succeed. Flint and steel has several advantages over matches. For one, it can be used over and over again. For another, it is unaffected by water, as long as you have dry tinder (or magnesium shavings). Other basic survival skills you may need include building a shelter and purifying water. Identifying edible or medicinal plants would also be helpful in longer situations.

Having the right equipment follows getting good training. In addition to a first aid kit you might need a back board for transporting victims of a disaster. Pocket first aid kits are good for everyone in your gropu to carry to deal with simple injuries but you should have a bigger, more comprehensive kit at your base camp to handle more serious situations.  Beyond immediate first aid needs, you may need to have equipment to help sustain you and your family for an extended period of time if utilities and public services are out of commission. Think about the basic things you need to survive: shelter, food, and water. Your camping equipment, RV and/or tents, may provide emergency shelter if you home becomes uninhabitable. Tent heaters and camp stoves and help keep you warm, cook your food, and sterilize medical supplies. Camp lanterns can provide light when the power is off.

Emergency provisions that you need will depend upon the number of people you need to take care of, together with any special dietary needs or allergies, and personal preferences. I once heard a survivalist say a single jar of peanut butter would last him more than a year. Why? Because he hated peanut butter and wouldn't eat it! If you are going to store food for emergencies, store food you will eat and know how to prepare what you store. Having 2,000 pounds of wheat won't do you much good if you don't know how to turn it into palatable meals. Water supplies may be cut off during a crisis so you need to consider how to store water. Lacking any formal storage containers, you can dip water from the toilet tank (not the bowl!) and drain water from your hot water heater. Knowing how to purify water and having the necessary equipment to do so will allow you to make use of water from lakes and streams.  You can also use untreated water to flush your toilets.  Just dump a bucket of water into the toilet tank for each flush.  You should also stock medical supplies. Pharmacies not be functioning during an emergency so you should keep at least a month's supply of prescription medications on hand if possible. Current laws may make it difficult or even impossible to stockpile many prescription medications.  Having a variety of Over The Counter pain killers, stomach remedies, antiseptics, dressings and bandages is often the key to relieving suffering.

Carrying tools and spare parts is also a good way to plan for the unplanned. Having the means to make repairs in camp or on the trail can mean the difference between a minor inconvenience and a lost weekend. Once again though, the best tool kit in the world will be of little use if you don't know how to use it. So, if you aren't comfortable with your mechanical skills, get some training.

Maintaining a good supply of medicines and first aid supplies protects you from a lot of suffering and discomfort. Most of us don't plan to get sick or hurt but minor illnesses and injuries can crop up anytime, even on otherwise ordinary and successful trips. Having the right OTC medications on hand for headaches and routine digestive problems is always a good idea. Some cold and flu medication may allow you to continue to enjoy your outing with less discomfort than just waiting it out. Bandaids, dressings, bandages, and antiseptics should be stocked to deal with minor injuries. Keep your first aid certification up to date. It helps you maintain your knowledge and skills so they'll be functional when you need them.

Having your RV and/or camping gear always clean, up to date, and ready to go will allow you to take a quick weekend trip when you need a break or accept an invitation from friends or family to join them on short notice.   During the normal camping season when you don't have to worry about freeze protection you can keep your fresh water tanks filled so all you have to do is pack some perishable provisions and hit the road.  Keep all your camping and recreational equipment in good repair, readily accessible, and ready to use.

Plan for the unplanned!








Monday, December 17, 2012

A "Typical" Camping Trip

Is there really such a thing as a typical camping trip? Not really. Many times, each and every trip is a unique experience. For the sake of argument, lets take an example of what a ficticious pretty routine family camping trip might be like.

A More or Less Typical Camping Trip might be a family trip to a local campground or state park. Popular places may require advance reservations. Plan your departure so you arrive in camp before dark. It is much easier to find your space and set up camp if you can see where you're going, especially if its your first time going there! You can spend your weekend in your tent or or RV. Both offer pleasant, albeit different, camping experiences.

Set up your camp as soon as you arrive in your spot. Park and level your RV and make any connections to camp hookups that might be available. If you're tent camping, clear a spot and set up your tent. If you have a canopy or dining fly, set it up.  If you have an RV with an awning, open the awning and lay out your awning mat. Get out your camp chairs and arrange them under your awning or canopy or around your fire pit. Set up any other equipment, such as dining flys, umbrellas, and camp kitchens. Prepare your fire pit so it will be ready to light when the time comes.

Your first time out with your family, you make get some resistance from the kids. Little Johnny may complain about being deprived of his favorite video games and your teenage daughter is likely to be pining for her boyfriend and her cell phone. They may even make a valiant attempt to convince you that taking them camping constitutes child abuse! But don't give in. Eventually they will come to enjoy your camping trips, especially if they include OHV or other fun and exciting adventures! At least that's how it worked for us. Dirt biking proved to be an excellent family activity, one that met the needs of 4 boys and 2 girls with a fourteen year age spread. Whatever you choose for activities, try to make them interesting and rewarding for the kids. Camping can give you chances for one-on-one time with your kids that is often very hard to arrange at home. Before you know it you'll all look forward to your camping trips as treasured family time.  Try to find out what they would like to do.  You may be perfectly happy playing Jermiah Johnson for the weekend, but they might prefer swimming, hiking, or OHV activities.

Plan your menus ahead of time and purchase appropriate provisions for all meals. Keep meals simple. Cold cereal is always an easy breakfast. Switch to hot cereal during cool months (use instant hot cereals if you have a microwave and power to run it or just boil a pot of water on the camp fire). We sometimes get lazy and bring donuts or breakfast pastries for the first breakfast in camp. Sandwiches or hotdogs make good lunches. Add some chips and deli salad, some BBQ beans, and a soft drink and you've got a pretty satisfying afternoon repast. Plan on making dinner a little more of an event. Hamburgers grilled on the campfire is always something of an adventure and gives them a special camp flavor. If its within your budget, fire up some steaks and bake some spuds in the coals. However, I probably wouldn't plan on grilling burgers or making ash cakes if my fire consisted of dry cow patties or buffalo chips although American pioneers and Native Americans cooked many a meal on buffalo chips! Oak, hickory, pine, or cedar make a far more appetizing cooking fire. By the way, cow patties or buffalo chips are mostly just undigested grass so they're not as gross as you might think.

Plan some simple afternoon activities your family enjoys. A little flag football, soccer, softball or just tossing a frisbee around can be done pretty much anywhere you have a little open space. Easy nature hikes can be fun, relaxing, and educational. Bike rides are good exercise and you can cover more ground than walking.  In remote areas where shooting is approved, a little skeet shooting can be fun.  Just make sure you have a safe backstop and keep other campers out of your "shooting range".

Have a campfire. Campfires are the very heart of camping. You can sit around and swap stories, get out your guitar and have a sing-a-long, or just sit and enjoy watching the dancing of the flames.

Star gazing is often much better in camping locations than at home, especially if you live in the city or the suburbs where light pollution hides much of the night sky. Desert or beach camping gives you the best view of the sky.  Mountain and forest sites often have obstacles that limit your view. Just looking at the stars can be fascinating, but I find it even more fun to be able to locate and identify specific constellations. Sometimes, with a little practice, you can even locate planets. A small telescope may give you a better view of planets. Even binoculars can bring the moon in closer. Be careful using any kind of optics to look at the moon. Remember, what you are seeing is reflected sunlight and through just about any kind of magnifying optics it is bright enough to hurt your eyes. You may need a filter to cut it down enough to be able to see things clearly and comfortably. Star gazing is especially good during desert or beach outings. Too often trees get in the way when you're camped in the forest.

Enjoy a good night's sleep. Most campers will be fairly tired by the end of the day, having engaged in more physical activity than many people normally get. Being away from the stress of modern living can make you more relaxed that you are at home but you will be in a strange environment so you may need to be prepared to make some adjustments and get used to unfamiliar sounds and smells.

Repeat for as many days as you are able to devote to the trip. Keep things fresh by varying your activities and your menus.

Plan for appropriate indoor activities in bad weather. We always bring an assortment of favorite movies on our RV trips. I like to include subjects that may be relevant to the outing so we don't depart TOO far from the planned experience. Since we are dirt bikers and most of our outings are dirt bike outings, it isn't too surprising that the base set of DVDs in our motorhome are dirt bike related.

When it comes time to go home give yourself enough time to break camp and drive home without breaking a sweat. Disconnect your RV and retract any leveling devices. Gather up your equipment and properly stow it for the trip home. Police your site to make sure you have gathered up your stuff AND all your trash. Schedule your departure so you can reach home comfortably at a reasonable hour and, if possible, avoid heavy traffic that could spoil your relaxation.  Then go through your post-trip checklist and get everything put away safely  to await your next trip.

Camp out!

Finish The Job

Given the myriad tasks associated with various aspects of camping it is all too easy to get distracted and jump from task to task without getting anything completely done. Doing so wastes time and often introduces opportunities for parts to get lost or misplaced or for additional damage to occur to equipment under repair. If we aren't careful, we end up with dozens of partly done tasks and nothing completed!

Cleaning up a campsite at the end of an outing is all too often ignored.  People who are ordinarily quite tidy sometimes become careless when camping.  Don't be one of them.  First of all, control your trash through out your stay so your campsite is always neat and clean.  It will be a lot more enjoyable and cleaning up when you leave won't be a big job.  So finishing the job at the end of an outing means cleaning up after yourself as well as packing up and going home.  I was once very amused by a clever forest ranger who collected a large box of identifiable trash left behind by particular family.  He sent them a letter advising them the had left something behind and it would be arriving C.O.D.  Thinking it might have been something valuable, the family paid the C.O.D. charges and accepted the package.  I would loved to have seen their faces when they found the box filled with the trash they left behind instead of the valuables they expected to find!

Organize your time and resources to make best use of both. Start by making a list of all the tasks you need to get done. Then group similar or related tasks together so you can combine the use of tools and materials when possible. I like to start with tasks that I'm sure I have the time, the materials, and the knowledge to complete without interruption. If you jump into something you don't understand, you may very well discover you don't have the tools or the materials or the time to complete the task. That means setting it aside while you you obtain the necessary items and that is often when things get lost or damaged. Given a list of things you can do, start with the easiest task first. It is usually easier to "get going" if the task isn't too daunting. Successfully completing a task helps boost your confidence and give you momentum for the remaining tasks. Once you have completed the easiest task from your original list, pick the easiest task from the remaining list. Starting on a very difficult task can be discouraging and, if you run into problems, may suck up ALL the time you have and you may end up not getting ANYTHING done.

Complete each task before starting a new one. That means cleaning up any mess you've made and putting away the tools you used. If you know for sure you're going to use specific tools on the next task, its OK to move them to the next work area, but don't leave them lying around at the end of a task. Tools left out tend to get lost. I'd rather spend a few minutes putting things away where they belong so I can find them when I need them next rather than come looking for them during the next task. It is way too easy to ignore little things, like sweeping up sawdust and disposing of trash. Don't allow yourself to fall into that trap. Those little things accumulate and before you know it, you have a whole new list of tasks. I believe most of us have enough things to do that we don't need to make unnecessary work for ourselves.

When you have a list of things to do, stick to the list and finish each task in turn.  It is all to common to start on a task and get distracted and go do something else.  This is a bad habit to get into.  It quickly escalates.  You go off to do the thing that distracted you and get distracted again.  When you allow yourself to fall into this trap, you can use up all the time you have to get things done and find that you haven't gotten anything done!  You need to start with a reasonable list and stick to the list.  If you allow yourself to get distracted, even once, you have set a pattern that will likely repeat itself ad infinitum.  If you discover additional tasks that need to be done, add them to the list rather than running after them and losing your momentum on completing the tasks on your original list.

One of the greatest risks of not completing a task once you've started it is that it may never get done. Having done "most of it" you may mentally cross it off your list or you may simply forget what remained to be completed. If it is interrupted due to lack of tools or parts, it may be some time before your get what you need to finish the job. By then you may have a whole new list of things to do.  All too often, parts or tools you need will disappear by the time you get around to completing the job, adding a lot of unnecessary frustrating and additional delay and expense.

There's nothing worse than getting to the end of the day and looking back on having accomplished nothing. On the other hand, it is very satisfying to be able to cross off the list of things you got done.

Get 'er done!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Campfires In/On Snow

Why would anyone want to build a campfire in the snow? To get warm of course. But why not just go inside where it is warm instead of sitting out there in the snow? Some people enjoy snow camping and other winter sports. Alternatively, you might get an unexpected snow storm during a camping trip or you might find your self in a disaster situation in the winter. In any case, if you're out in the snow, a nice warm fire on a snowy day will no doubt be a welcome sight. In a winter disaster, it might even be life saving. But there are some special circumstances you need to consider when building a fire in or on snow.

First, if you build you fire on top of packed snow, the heat will melt the snow beneath and around the fire.   If the snow isn't very deep that won't be too much of a problem.  But, if you are on deep snow pack, your fire will sink into the snow and drown in melting snow. Dig down to the earth below, or, if the snow pack is too deep for that, build a platform of rocks or green logs on top of the snow and use that as a foundation for your fire. Use large, green logs to reduce the chance of them becoming additional fuel for the fire. Wet logs pulled from a stream or lake would be even less likely to ignite. An even better solution is a metal pan of some sort, like an old car hood or a large water trough or wash tub, if you can scare one up. The heat from the fire will probably at least partially melt the snow for several feet around the fire, even if it is on a metal pad, turning into a slush pit. You may need to add some rocks, branches, or chunks of firewood to serve as stepping stones to keep your feet out of the the slush.

Your second major concern is building a fire under trees. It is always nice to have as much overhead protection from the elements as we can get when we're camping- shade in summer, protection from rain and snow in other seasons. But building a fire under snow-covered trees is an invitation to failure and nasty surprises. As heat rises from the fire it will melt and loosen snow accumulated in the branches. The snow then falls on you and/or your fire, neither of which contributes to your comfort or the success of your fire.

Portable fire pits, like my favorite "R2D2" (which is an old washing machine tub), can be used, but unless they are set up on rocks or logs they too will melt into the snow like an open fire, but maybe not as fast. Using a portable metal fire pit will reduce the chance of your fire igniting a log platform. I have a leg I can use on my "R2D2" to raise it about 4-6" off the ground. I haven't tried using it on snowpack, but I expect the heat from the fire will still melt snow beneath the unit since it makes a very good "toe toaster" to get your feet warm, which is one reason I built the leg in the first place. I have used it with snow all around it and it quickly melted all the snow with about a foot or so of the tub. My "R2D2" is an old washing machine tub with a center pipe for the agitator. The center pipe gets in the way of adding large pieces of wood, but it provides a sleeve where I can insert a cut down RV table leg which then fits into a commercially available RV table tripod to lift it a few inches off the ground. A piece of pipe fastened to an 18" BBQ grill inserted in the top turns the whole thing into a convenient cooking appliance.

If your firewood is exposed to the snow, make sure you brush off as much snow as you can before adding it to your fire. Large clumps of snow falling from armloads of new but snowy firewood might put your fire out or at least dampen it. Keep your firewood protected if you can. Store it in or under a vehicle or cover it with a tarp.

On particularly cold days you might want to build more than one fire so you can warm both sides of your body at the same time. Building a really big fire still only warms one side of your body while it wastes fuel and probably creates unnecessary slush and air pollution. A couple of smaller fires, or a ring of smaller fires, might work better at keeping you and your companions warm. Keep an eye on the area between fires as the combined heat will take its toll on the snow and you may soon be sitting or standing in cold puddles.  Overnight those cold puddles will freeze and you could have a serious slip/fall hazard.

Heat from campfires may melt surrounding snow and frozen ground, making it slushy or muddy near the fire. About all you can do about this is put down something to walk on, find a better place for your fire -- or give up on your fire.  An ideal place to build a fire is on exposed rock, but you can't always find rocky outcroppings.   If you put down something to walk on, try to find something that isn't easily combustible. Do not use straw, hay, dry grass, or pine boughs or anything else that could be easily ignited by sparks or embers from the fire. If the snow around your fire is deep enough, you could get enough run off from melting snow to drown your fire.

If it is actively snowing, you will probably want to build a bigger fire than you normally would. Falling snow may have a dampening affect on your fire and you'll need a bigger fire to compensate. Of course, if it is actively snowing, you'll probably want to find shelter from the storm instead of standing out in it around an open campfire. In this case, you may want to build a large fire in front of a cave, lean to, or other open shelter with a reflector behind it so you can benefit from the heat yet stay out of the falling snow.  Be careful about building a fire in a cave.  Depending on wind direction and speed you may get a lot of smoke inside the cave or the fire may use up your oxygen.  The heat from the fire may cause the rocks that make up the cave to crack as they warm up and conflict with the cold around them.  This could cause pieces to break off and fall on you or could even cause a cave-in!  If you hear cracking sounds in the rock, bank your fire and get out of the cave before it starts to fall on you.  A safer way to heat a cave is to build a fire outside with a reflecting wall behind it so you get some warmth inside for your comfort without stressing the structure itself.  You might also heat some soccer ball sized stones in the fire and roll them into your shelter to serve as radiators to warm the interior.  Just make sure they aren't against anything combustible.  Smaller, softball sized stones make good foot warmers in you sleeping bag to.

Heat from your fire may turn snow on your clothing into water. A lot of winter clothing that is very warm in the snow isn't necessarily waterproof, so melting snow may quickly cause your once warm winter clothes to get soaked and you'll soon be freezing. You may need to use the fire to dry out your clothes after it has melted the snow and gotten them wet. It is a good idea to bring along alternate clothing so you have something dry to change into if you get wet.  Try to brush snow off your clothes before it has time to melt or find some shelter to keep snow off your clothes.  Brush off as much snow as you can before you approach your fire or go into a warm place.

Stay warm!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Snow Loads

This time of the year (December) seems like a good time to talk about snow loads. Snow loads you need to be concerned about would be the weight of snow on the roof of your RV, on your tent, (if you go winter camping or store your RV outside) or on a storage area for your RV or camping equipment.  Of course, if you live or winter in the sunbelt, you don't have to worry about snow.

Water weights about 8 lbs per gallon and there is about 7.5 gallons of water in a cubic foot, making water around 62 lbs per cubic foot. Snow is frozen water. The weight of snow varies a lot, depending on whether it is light and fluffy, wet, or packed. Light, fluffy snow may be around 7 lbs per cubic foot. More average snow is around 15 lbs per cubic foot but drifted and compacted snow can easily hit 20 lbs. That means a foot of light fluffy snow on the roof of your RV will weigh about 7 lbs on each square foot of roof. Wet or packed snow could weight 20 lbs per foot. What does that mean? Assume you have modest, 25' RV. With a width of about 8', that's 200 square feet. Just fluffy snow a foot deep over the whole area would weigh 1400 pounds!! Drifted and compacted snow could put 2 tons (4000 lbs) of weight on your roof! Not only might that begin to stress the structural integrity of the roof itself, it could put pressure on other components from load bearing walls to suspension and tires. Imagine driving with 2 tons of extra weight up that high! That would significantly raise the center of gravity, screw up handling, and increase the risk of roll over. I estimated the weight of snow on the roof of my 11 1/2' slide-in camper at more than 1200# before I could shovel it off, resulting in some saved in roof panels. I've heard of snow build up in mountain areas sufficient to pop the tires on travel trailers left out.

If your RV is stored in a shed, carport, or garage, the RV should be safe but the snow load on the structure may be of some concern. If the weight exceeds the roof capacity, the whole thing could come crashing down on your RV. So even if your RV is normally protected against the elements, you will want to monitor the accumulation of snow on the roof of your storage facility and may need to take steps to remove the snow periodically. Steep roofs, like those on alpine structures, allow snow to slip off, but lesser slopes can allow significant snow accumulation and you may have to manually remove it to prevent damage.  Walmart ran into some problems when they built stores in the snow belt along the East Coast based on the same flat roof design they used in Arizona and California where they didn't have to worry about snow.

Clearing snow from your RV roof can be kind of tricky. The best way to do it is from a sturdy ladder alongside your RV. Climbing up on the roof subjects you to many hazards. The obstacles (vents, lights, antennas, racks, etc.) may be hidden in the snow. You may damage them inadvertently trying to shovel or sweep the snow off the roof. Or you might trip over them and fall. That snowy RV roof is also very slippery. It is a long way to the ground and even if you land in soft snow, its going to hurt! For added stability, have someone steady the ladder. If you don't have someone to steady the ladder, never put an A-frame ladder so the steps are perpendicular to the side of your RV. Your efforts to push the snow off the roof may push the ladder over. Place it so the steps are parallel to the side of the unit or lean it against the RV for maximum stability. You still need to exercise caution because you could push yourself off the ladder, but at least the ladder will be less likely to tip and dump you on the ground. Another tip: don't wait for the snow to get too deep before clearing it off. You can sweep 3-4" of snow off the roof with a broom unless it is excessively wet or has partially melted and frozen to the surface. Deeper amounts become harder to remove, requiring more effort and increasing the risk of a nasty fall or damaging components buried in the snow. Removing it quickly also reduces the chances of it freezing to the roof surface. Clear snow after each storm. Letting it sit will give a chance to get solid and to stick to the roof. Plus, the accumulation from the next storm will add a lot of weight. Even it it doesn't do any major structural damage, it may begin to cave in the roof between the rafters and loosen seams. If you live where you get 1 foot or more of snow at at time and your RV is left outside, consider laying plywood or OSB panels on the roof. It will more evenly distribute the load and give you something to scrape the snow off of instead of running the risk of damaging your roof itself. Rubber and fiberglass roofs may crack when you walk on them it it gets cold enough. Metal roofs won't crack but you may loosen the seams.  Try not to walk on the unsupported spaces between the seams of a metal roof.  Doing so can cave in the roof and separate the seams.

Snow can sometimes get deep enough on other vehicle roofs to cave them in. The smaller area, somewhat curved shape, and closely spaced supports beneath the roof of most cars and trucks makes them less susceptible than RV roofs, but it can still happen. And, of course, if you don't clear the snow you have to contend with the added weight and shift of center of gravity, neither of which improve handling on slick roads. For example, a foot of snow on a 4'x4' pickup roof could weigh from 100 to 300 pounds. Besides that, deep accumulations on the roof can dislodge and impair visibility while driving, so brush the snow off your vehicle roof before hitting the road.  Snow blowing off your vehicle could be considered an unsafe load and you could be held liable for damages if it causes an accident.

Snow can accumulate on tents when you're winter camping, quickly exceeding the load rating of the poles and the fabric. Once again, your best bet is to remove the snow as quickly as possible to avoid damage. It would definitely not be nice to have your tent collapse on you and bury you in a foot or more of snow! In addition to the threat of being crushed or at least bruised by the collapsing snow load, damaged tent poles could become spears that inflict serious injury. Sometimes you can simply slap the tent from the inside from time to time to knock the snow off before it gets too thick. If you allow a couple of inches of snow to accumulate, there is a strong possibility that warmth from inside the tent will melt the snow next to the fabric and then cold outside temperatures and dropping temperatures inside will cause it to freeze, binding the snow tightly to your tent and making it very difficult to remove. Brush off as much snow as you can with a brush, broom, or pine bough, then bang the inside of the tent to loosen any ice. It may be very difficult to monitor snow accumulation at night, especially if you're lucky enough to be able to sleep during the storm. Any shelter you can make use of to reduce the snow accumulation will help. Be very cautious about setting up your tent under trees. Snow will accumulate in the branches and may be dislodged and fall on your tent -- or you! -- with disastrous results. Snow may be knocked loose by wind, by its own weight, or loosened by heat rising from a stove or campfire, or maybe even from your own body heat escaping from your tent.  Double wall tents will generally fare better in snowy conditions but you'll still need to keep the rain fly cleared of snow.  Using a tarp over any tent and then frequently shaking the snow off of it is a fairly easy way to avoid snow accumulation.

Snow drifts are created by the wind shifting snow around. Snow is picked up by strong winds and deposited wherever there is a windbreak that slows the wind. Drifted snow can be very beautiful, almost like it had been sculpted by an artist, but drifts can also present significant vehicle hazards. I've seen 4WD vehicles stuck in the snow because it was deep enough that the vehicle undercarriage "floated" on the snow and couldn't get any traction. Hitting a deep drift at any significant speed can be about like running into a brick wall. Snow drifts do have one good quality: they make a good source for cutting snow blocks to build an igloo or a good place to dig a snow cave for shelter.

If you're going to be staying in the snow for more than a day or so, it might be better to build an igloo than to stay in your tent. A foot of snow provides as much insulation against the outside temperatures as the R-13 fiberglass insulation in the walls of your home. Building an igloo is not easy and it may take several tries before you can get the right shaped dome to be self sustaining. Even Les Stroud (Survivorman) had trouble.  You need pretty well packed snow for your building blocks. If the snow is loose or not deep enough to cut building blocks, you may be able to build an igloo by rolling basket-ball sized snow balls and stacking them in the shape of a dome. Pack snow between the balls to create a solid dome large enough for you and your companions. Then cut some sticks about 2' long and push them into the dome about 8-12" apart. Then dig into the dome and hollow it out until you reach the ends of the sticks. Make your opening on the downwind side of your igloo. Hang a heavy blanket over the "door" or roll a snowball big enough to close it off. You will want to leave some ventilation so you don't suffocate but you don't want any strong breezes getting in. If you use any kind of combustion inside for heat or light you should make a small opening toward the top of the dome to allow smoke and fumes to escape. The opening should be a little on the downwind side of the roof so wind doesn't drive snow and cold air into it and the wind passing over it will help draw bad air out. You'll also need at least one low vent (usually the entrance) to allow fresh air to enter.

Like most situations in life, surviving a snow storm can be done -- if you are properly prepared and take appropriate measures to protect yourself and your family and equipment.

Let it snow!

RV Winter Maintenance

It would be nice if we could just park our RVs and OHVs and forget about them during winter storage. Some people do, but they usually pay the price, especially if they live in a cold climate. There are several things you need to do and to monitor to ensure your RV is safe and remains in good condition.

Proper preparation for winter storage (winterizing) is the first step. We've gone over that in this blog a couple of times already. The main concern is making sure your plumbing doesn't freeze. Protect tires with tire covers and by parking on wooden "pads" to keep off cold concrete and out of freezing mud.

Some RV insurance plans, like Good Sam, offer a discount while your RV is in storage.   If you have such a plan, be sure to call  your insurance company and let them know as soon as you park your RV for the winter so you get maximum savings.

If your RV is a motorhome, you should run the engine about an hour every month. If possible, take it for a drive. Driving it helps to circulate lubricants and flex tires to maintain pliability and bring chemicals to the surface to prevent side wall cracking in addition to lubricating the moving parts. It also gives you a chance to watch for oil and coolant leaks and listen for any other developing problems. If your insurance allows you a storage option, driving it may not be feasible since your insurance would not be in effect, but starting and running the engine will help maintain the charge on your batteries and circulate fluids. Most motorhomes have automatic transmissions. Shifting through all the gears a few times if you can't drive it will help circulate transmission fluid and keep seals from drying out.

Towing your trailer a few miles each month (weather permitting) will exercise the tires and distribute wheel bearing grease. Listen for any unusual noises and put your hand on the hubs after driving to see if the wheel bearings are overheating. Some warmth is normal but if any one hub is noticeably hotter than the others it may be dry or damaged and should be removed, inspected and serviced. Damaged bearings need to be replaced. Check for proper brake operation each time you drive. It is also a good idea to check all of the trailer running lights (park lights, brakes, turn signals, and clearance lights) while it is hooked up since insects or rodents sometimes chew on wires and can cause them to short out or humidity and temperature changes may induce corrosion.

Inspect the exterior, especially if it is parked outside where falling or blowing debris might damage it. Sometimes just changes in temperature can crack glass. If possible rinse off accumulated dust every couple of weeks or so to protect the clear coat present on many paint jobs. Dust will trap UV rays within the clear coat and accelerate deterioration. If you get snow, be sure to monitor accumulation and sweep it off the roof before it builds up deep enough to damage the roof or any of the components up there (storage pods, ACs, vents, antennas, etc.).

Check the interior of your RV periodically, about once a month should be sufficient under normal circumstances, more frequently if you experience extreme weather. Look for any signs of water, insect, or rodent damage. Also double check provisions to make sure you didn't leave something on board that was damaged by freezing temperatures or has been attacked by vermin.  See if you need to replace the dehumidifier.  If it is full of water, toss it out and open a new one.

Vandalism is sometimes a problem in RVs in storage. I've seen units stored at the owner's home vandalized, even with the owner at home. Storage yards do what they can to ensure the safety of your vehicles, but sometimes people with malicious intent will circumvent security measures and wreak havoc on unattended vehicles. While your options for physically protecting your vehicle from vandalism may be limited, regular inspection will at least let you detect problems as early as possible. Timely reporting may assist law enforcement in apprehending the culprits and comply with insurance requirements and timely repairs will prevent further damage from bad weather if the integrity of the outer shell has been compromised.

Check your batteries. Always wear rubber gloves and eye protection when handling lead acid batteries. If you haven't removed the batteries for storage in a warmer place, check both the charge status and the electrolyte level. Check the charge status with a volt meter or by testing the specific gravity of the fluid. A fully charged battery should register about 12.6 volts (half that on each 6 volt golf cart battery) or 1.265 specific gravity using a hydrometer. Some battery hydrometers use colored balls to indicate charge state instead of a graduated scale. If you find the electrolyte is low, add only distilled water. If the temperature is below freezing you'll need to mix the added water to prevent it from freezing. After you put the caps on, rock the battery or, better yet, take the unit for a hour's ride to charge the batteries and mix the water into the electrolyte. If you can't take it out, put a charger on the batteries for an hour to help mix the contents. If the voltage or specific gravity is low, charge the batteries back to full charge to avoid having them freeze. Fully charged batteries are freeze-protected down to -75°F. Fully discharged batteries will freeze at just -10°F. If you have your batteries on an automatic battery tender, they should maintain their charge all winter, as long as the electrolyte doesn't boil off and expose the tops of the plates inside the battery. The most common reason for boiling off electrolyte is excessive charging voltage. Deep cycle batteries should be charged at about 14.8 volts. See the charts at PowerStream Sealed Lead Acid Battery Charging Basics for complete charts and detailed testing instructions.

Don't forget the windshield washer fluid in your motorhome and other vehicles. Summer formulas will freeze. Most winter fluids are good to at least -20°F, which is usually adequate unless you live in northern Alaska!

We sometimes spend a night in our RV at home during the off season or use it as a guest house for visitors. This is a good way to make sure it remains inhabitable and to test the furnace and lighting. Since we live where we get freezing temperatures in the winter, we do not use any of the plumbing during winter months, but if your RV is equipped for winter use you could do so. Any use, even of winter-capable units, would require re-winterization after use to prevent freezing of water lines and dump valves in storage --- unless you live where you don't have to worry about freezing.

Winter is also a good time to do interior projects in your RV. Do you want to update or add lighting fixtures? Repair upholstery? Add any new gadgets? Any new entertainment equipment you want to install? Any appliances that need service or repair? Any cabinets or drawers that need to be fixed or just reorganized? Don't we all suffer from the shortage of "round tuits"?  You know, all those things you can't do because you can't get around to it.  Winter is a good time to take care of those things you never got around to during the camping season. The "off season" is a good time to empty out, clean, and reorganize every closet, cabinet, drawer and tool box. If nothing else, it is helps us remember what we have on board and where it is.  You can also detect and repair or replace worn, damaged, or outdated items.

OHVs should be properly prepared for winter storage too. Drain the fuel tank and run out all the fuel in the carburetor or add fuel stabilizer before parking your machine. Change the oil so it isn't sitting all winter with contaminates that can damage metal parts. Put a light coating of oil on exposed metal parts. If it has batteries, they should be removed and stored in a warm place. Leaving them on a maintenance charger might keep them charged enough to prevent freezing. Just leaving them sit in freezing temperatures all winter is an invitation to failure. Park your OHVs in a garage or shed if possible. If not, cover them with a tarp to prevent damage from the elements. Tires should be fully inflated and wooden "pads" put under them.

Store it right!