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.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Duct Tape

Duct tape is often mentioned in these articles, with uses ranging from securing bandages to repairing tents and awnings, even as a temporary repair for ruptured radiator hose. People often refer to it as duck tape, thinking they're being funny. In reality, it actually was called duck tape before it was called duct tape. One reason may be that it was originally made from strips of canvas duck material. There is even a brand of duct tape named Duck Tape. For you Star Wars fans, it has been said that duct tape is like The Force:  it has a light side and dark side and it holds the world together.

                                                      Image result for duct tape images

During World War II, duck tape, strips of canvas duck with rubber adhesive, were used to seal ammunition cans and clever GIs soon found may other uses for it. It is generally believed the name 'duck tape' was coined by Army users.

The transition from "duck" to "duct" likely took place after World War II when a company started making a high-temperature version of duck tape specifically for use on heating ducts and dubbed it "duct tape". I have tried using duct tape on ducts and usually had trouble getting it to stick. It probably works well on new construction but old ducts are usually pretty dusty and while the tape sticks to the dust very well, the dusty tape doesn't stick well to the ducts. I find it kind of ironic that duct tape sticks to just about everything but ducts.

Most duct tape is gray or silvery in color but there are other colors available. Popular colors include black, white, red, and camouflage. I recently found some in my wife's favorite color, purple. I'm not sure what if anything we'll ever do with purple duct tape but I just had to get her some.

The hero on the TV show MacGuyver frequently used duct tape in his innovative inventions to help him in his role as a kind of secret agent and making duct tape a highly recognized household term, giving it a reputation for being able to fix most anything. My dad, a professional auto mechanic, was fond of saying "If it can't be fixed with a hammer, it can't be fixed." Duct tape enjoys a similar reputation.

Mythbusters has tested and verified a number of duct tape stories, including making a working cannon out of duct tape, sealing a leaking boat, and repairing a damaged airplane. Not too long ago an Alaskan bush pilot repaired extensive damage to his airplane out in the bush and was able to fly it back to civilization. He had another pilot drop some plastic sheets and 3 cases of duct tape. Check it out at Best Duct Tape Story Ever.

The uses for duct tape in camping and RVing are endless. Typical applications include using it repair awnings, canopies, and tents and as a bandage to secure a dressing on wounds or to secure splints on broken bones.  I've seen it used to temporarily patch holes in rubber boots and to bind up leaking radiator and heater hoses. You can tape up broken windows and secure siding that has come loose on your RV or tape up a cracked fender or side cover on your OHV until you can get somewhere to make permanent repairs.  Mythbusters even used it to repair a leaky boat!

Duct tape is also good to have in your C.E.R.T. or emergency preparedness kit. In addition to traditional first aid and repair tasks it can be used for marking structures to indicate the search status or even to restrain unruly patients or other personnel who are interfering with emergency operations.

Isn't that just ducky?

Washing Dishes In Camp

OK, so what's so special about washing dishes in camp? After all, we all have plenty of experience washing dishes at home. And even if we're used to having automatic dishwashers, there are still times when we've all had to resort to washing dishes by hand, so what's the big deal?  Of course, for many of us, the best way of cleaning dishes in camp is to simply toss the paper plates into the campfire.  But even when we use paper plates there are usually some other, non-disposable dishes ( or pots and pans) used in preparing the meal that have to be washed.

If you're camping in an RV there is usually a tendency to wash dishes the same way we do at home. RVs have a similar sink(though noticeably smaller) and (hopefully) plenty of hot water. But doing things the same way in your RV or camper wastes water, fills holding tanks more quickly, and sometimes introduces garbage into the gray water tanks that cause odors or even blockages when dumping. One way to avoid these problems is to use disposable (paper or styrene) dishes. Then doing dishes is mostly as easy as tossing them into the campfire or the trash can. But you usually can't cook in paper or styrene and when you do use real dishes, there are things you can to do mitigate potential problems. First, clean your pots and pans and your dishes as quickly as possible when you're done using them, before food has chance to dry and "bake" on. Dump some water in them before they cool completely.  Then use paper towels or crumpled newspaper to wipe off the dishes instead of pre-rinsing them. If you really must pre-rinse, don't run water from your faucet to do it. Use a dishpan or an empty gallon jug to collect water while you're waiting for the shower to get hot and save that for pre-rinsing dishes. Dumping some of the saved shower water into pots and pans while they're still hot and letting them sit while you eat can make them a LOT easier to clean. Then use a good quality concentrated dish soap. It will cut grease faster and better than the cheap stuff and the smaller bottle will take up less room. Organize your dishes before you start washing. Do the things that require the least cleaning first. For me that is usually cups and glasses, then silverware. Bowls and plates are next and pots and pans last. Pots and pans will be much easier to clean if you dump some of your saved pre-rinse water in them while they're still hot, as soon as you're done cooking in them. That instantly begins to loosen sticky, stubborn material and it will continue to soften as it sits while you eat. (Yes, that is worth repeating!) For your final rinse, fill a dishpan or the second sink and dip items in it rather than rinsing under running water. These techniques will reduce water usage, minimize filling of holding tanks, and nearly eliminate accumulation of food residue in your plumbing and holding tanks.  Some RVs are now equipped with dishwashers, usually a drawer style under the kitchen sink.    Pre-clean dishes by wiping as described above and follow the manufacturers recommendations for detergent and rinse products.

Doing dishes while tent camping can be a tedious task. First of all, unless you're in a campground that has a dish washing sink available for your use, you'll have to do everything in one or two dishpans right at your site. You'll need to plan ahead and have a pot of water heating while you're eating so you have hot water ready when its time to clean up. You can do dishes in cold water, but the results may not be as sanitary as you would like and it will take more soap and more elbow grease.   Washing dishes in cold water may leave a greasy or soapy residue on your cookware and dinnerware.  That is definitely NOT a good thing!  A fellow scoutmaster once quipped he didn't worry too much about he boys getting their dishes clean because it "solved the constipation  problem".   I suppose you could consider diarrhea as a solution to constipation, but not necessarily one you want to encourage.  I strongly suggest is is well worth the time and effort to heat up some water for doing dishes.  You might put an extra pan of water on the campfire or on an unused burner while you're preparing dinner.   If that doesn't work out for you, take minute or two to fill a pan and put it on the stove so it can be heating while you're eating.  From there, many of the suggestions given above for RVers will be helpful to tent campers as well. Wipe off the dishes, put things in a logical order so you can do the ones that need the least cleaning first, use a good quality soap and remember to start pre-soaking pots and pans as soon as you finish using them. Once you're done, you'll have to dispose of the dishwater. There should be a designated dump location or you can dump it down the drain if there is community sink. Lacking either of those options (when you're boondocking for instance), dump it somewhere away from camp sites, trails and roads and at least 200 feet from any lake, pond, spring, well, or stream. Dump the soapy water first, then use the rinse water to rinse out the soapy dishpan as you dump it. Always dry your dishes and put them away right away. Sometimes it may be tempting to leave dishes out to air dry instead of drying them and putting them away. I don't recommend it. Leaving them out leaves them exposed to insects and vermin that might carry dangerous germs. Chipmunks and squirrels are cute running around camp, but I wouldn't want them walking on  or licking my dishes! They are not very careful where they walk so you never know what they might be tracking. And when it comes to flies, well, we all know what they've been walking on and we definitely don't want THAT on our dishes! Not even tiny little fly footprints of it. Not only is it unappetizing, it may contain e.coli bacteria, which can make you very sick.  Some campgrounds have community sinks where you can do your dishes.  Be sure to clean the sinks with detergent or an antibacterial household cleaner before and after use.  Don't pre-rinse your dirty dishes at the shared faucets.  That makes a mess that everyone has to deal with.  Pre-clean them at your site as previously described.

Hot water usually does a better job of cleaning than cold water, but in some situations you may have to resort to washing your dishes in cold water. You might find yourself in an area with fire restrictions where you can't have a campfire to heat your water and if you don't have an approved stove you're out of luck. You might have to use a little more detergent when using cold water, but you should still be able to get your dishes clean. Any greasy or soapy residue left on your dishes, silverware, or pots and pans, could lead to stomach distress and what is commonly known as 'the runs' so make sure they are thoroughly cleaned and well rinsed before you dry them and put them away. A scoutmaster I once knew said he never worried about making sure the boys got their dishes clean because it "solved the constipation problem in camp". Not sure what planet he's been camping on but from what I've seen, the more common problems when camping are just the opposite of constipation!  By the way, be sure to buy a good quality, concentrated dish soap.  It will take up less space in your RV cupboard or camp bins and will work better than the cheap, watered down stuff. You want something with good grease cutting power.

In a survival situation where you don't have any detergent, you can use ashes from you fire to scour your dirty dishes, especially pots and pans.  Really stubborn deposits might require rubbing with a little fine sand.  BTW, ashes mixed with cooking grease will create a kind of soap itself, so you can get things pretty clean that way.  You can make real soap from ashes and cooking grease or animal fat but it is time consuming.  Basically you start by leeching lye out of wood ashes, then mix the lye with animal fat.

Portable sinks can be useful in camp. But since they don't usually have a supply of hot water, you still have to heat your water on the campfire or camp stove. I have found portable sinks really handy for washing your hands and face or brushing your teeth, but not for doing dishes. Simple dishpans are a better size and shape for washing dishes. The cheap plastic ones from the dollar store will do the job, but heavier, better quality rubber versions will last longer and be less likely to crack in the middle of the job.

Doing dishes in camp doesn't have to be an onerous task. If you plan ahead, get organized, and use the right tools and techniques, it will go quickly and you'll enjoy clean dishes and avoid the 'runs' that sometimes result from poorly cleaned pots, pans, and dishes.

Portable hot water systems can provide convenient hot water for tent campers for dishes, showers, etc. They are a little pricey -- somewhere north of $100 but you may find them well worth the cost if your budget can handle it.  However, you can heat water for doing dishes in any pan or pot right on your camp stove or campfire.  A portable hot water system will also let you have hot showers, so it might be worth the investment.  Proper hygiene is essential for good health as well as comfort and presentability.

Wash up!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

RV Wiring Basics

In addition to vehicle wiring, there are usually two separate electrical systems inside the coach portion of an RV: a 12-volt system and a 120-volt system which are separate from vehicle wiring (even trailers have vehicle wiring for running lights, etc). The 12-volt coach system usually runs the lights, water pump, fans, and the electronic components of furnaces, water heaters, and refrigerators. The 120-volt system powers the refrigerator when connected to 120-volt power, runs the roof air conditioner, provides power to the convertor to create 12-volt power without drawing down the batteries, and often powers TVs, VCRs, DVDs, and (if so equipped) washers and dryers etc. Some RVs have water heaters with electrical heating elements. Optional 120 volt "heat strips" on roof air conditioners sometimes supplement propane furnaces. Winterized RVs may have heating pads or heat tape on holding tanks and exterior plumbing.  These heating elements are often designed with dual voltage capabilities so they can be run off either 12 DC or 120 volt AC electrical sources.  120-volt power is provided from a shore connection, on board generator, solar panels, or from batteries via an inverter.

12-volt wiring is usually fairly small gauge, mostly #12 or smaller. The red wire is usually the 'hot' wire and the black wire is the ground. Larger #10 wire may be used for special, high-amperage appliances, charging circuits, and main lines. 120-volt wiring usually follows standard configurations for residential and commercial wiring. The black wire is the 'hot' wire, the white wire is the neutral and the green wire is the ground. Yes, it is confusing that the black wire is ground for 12 volt and hot for 120-volt, but just remember that whenever you are working on your RV electrical systems. I like to carry a few feet of #12 and #10 automotive wire, some extra crimp terminals, a roll of electrical tape, and some spare fuses in case I have to make repairs in camp.

12-volt systems are fairly safe and simple to work on. There is no danger of getting electrocuted or even shocked by a 12-volt wire. The biggest problem you might see is shorting out a circuit which will blow the fuse, or, if there is no fuse, melt the wiring. You can get arcing when you ground a 12-volt hot wire and that might burn you or start a fire.  You should never wire circuits that are not fuse or circuit breaker protected. The whole point of a fuse or circuit breaker is to fail BEFORE the wiring gets hot enough to start melting insulation. A short in an unprotected circuit can cause a fire. Normally the red wire will be 12-volt positive and the black wire the negative ground. Try to adhere to this convention whenever you add 12-volt wiring to your rig and always make sure you use a wire of a least sufficient size for the expected load and protect it with a fuse or circuit breaker of the proper rating. Using a heavier wire (lower #) will never hurt, but using a lighter wire (higher gauge) risks overheating and possibly a fire.  Avoid working with live circuits. Connecting and disconnecting live wires can create sparks, which could blow a fuse, cause a fire, or burn your hands.  If there are volatile fumes present (propane or gasoline vapor) sparks could cause an explosion.

120-volt systems are capable of delivering a nasty, potentially lethal, shock.   If you aren't familiar or comfortable with working on residential wiring, have the work done by a qualified electrician or RV technician.  Always turn off the circuit breaker or unplug the power to the RV and shut down the generator when working on 120-volt systems. Professional electricians sometimes change outlets or switches without turning the power off, but the practice is not recommended, even for them. If you're going to be working with wires, switches, outlets, or other 120-volt connections, turn off the breakers and/or unplug the shore power cord and turn off the generator and any inverters before you do anything and don't turn them back on until you have completed your repairs. Normally the black wire in 120-volt applications is the hot wire, the white wire is the neutral, and the green or uninsulated copper wire is the ground. It is important to conform to these standards when working with 120-volt wiring. Electricity doesn't know or care what color wiring you're using, but it will matter to the next person who works on it -- which might be you!  It is critical that all 120-volt wiring is of sufficient size to handle the load on each circuit.  15 amp circuits need minimum 14 gauge wire; 20 amp circuits need 12 gauge wire; 30 amp circuits need 10 gauge wire.  There shouldn't ever be a problem using a heavier wire than necessary, but using a lighter gauge could prove disasterous.  Running higher amperage than the wire is rated for can result in heat, melting insulation and causing a fire.  Most RVs with 30 amp shore power will have mostly 15 amp breakers for the outlets plus a heavier breaker (and heavier wiring) to the roof AC.  At least one of my motorhomes used 12 gauge wiring on the 15 amp circuits (which is overkill) but you may find yours uses 14 gauge wire.

Most 120-volt wiring these days uses copper wire. You might encounter aluminum wire in some older units. Mixing different types of metals in the same circuit is not a good idea. Aluminum and copper are both fairly good electrical conductors, but they have slightly different electrical properties and respond differently to various loads. Connections between copper and aluminum can promote a electro-chemical reaction that accelerates corrosion. If you MUST join copper and aluminum wires, treat the joint a special grease made for the purpose.  Do NOT use dielectric grease, which has insulating properties and should only be used on non-conducting portions of connectors.

RVs have a limited number of outlets.  Each circuit is protected by a circuit breaker similar to the ones in your home.  If you overload a circuit, the breaker will trip.  Make sure you know where the breaker panel is so you can reset breakers as needed.  Since RVs have limited power available, either from the shore cable or a generator, adding outlets or circuits may or may not be possible without exceeding the available amperage.  Be sure to check the total amperage so you don't exceed the input power available.  My big diesel pusher actually had some empty slots in the breaker panel where I was able to add a dedicated circuit for an outside outlet to power the enclosed motorcycle trailer I towed behind it.  The 6000 watt generator also had some excess capacity.  Smaller rigs I've had have not had any empty slots and an analysis of the amperage indicated adding more circuits would exceed the shore power rating.  In that case you have to find a way to work with existing outlets.  If you have to splice into any existing wires, be sure to enclose the splice in an approved junction box.  DO NOT just twist wires together and wrap them with electrical tape like you do with 12-volt wiring.

The vehicle wiring on a motorhome or trailer should follow conventional wiring colors used on cars and trucks. Normally, the positive battery cable or terminal should be red and the negative side black. But it isn't always so be sure to check the polarity at the battery. If your battery cables are not properly color coded, wrap each one with the appropriate color electrical tape (red for positive(+), black for ground(-)) for future reference.  Interior 12 volt lighting then follows the same color scheme:  red for hot, black for ground.  Trailer connector wiring usually uses yellow for the left turn signal, green for the right turn signal, brown for the tail lights, and white for ground. On a 6 prong or bigger trailer connector, blue is usually used for the electric brakes and red for a battery-charging circuit. You may encounter additions or repairs someone has done previously using different colors so always test the wiring using a test light or voltmeter before making any modifications.  Compare the connections to the plug to the appropriate wiring diagrams for each style of trailer connector.  You sometimes find that a vehicle and trailer have both been mis-wired and are compatible with each other but not with other units with standard wiring.  If you find yours is mis-wired, it is always a good idea to bring it into compliance with accepted standards so your vehicle is compatible with other trailers and your trailer is compatible with other vehicles.

Trailer connector adapters are available to convert almost any trailer plug to fit almost any receptacle on the vehicle.  Small, light weight trailers without electric brakes often use a simple flat 4- connector plug or a round 4-connector plug.  Trailers with electric brake will have a round 6 or 7 connector plug to accommodate the brake wiring.  These plugs also have an extra terminal than can be wired to the tow vehicle battery/charging system so the two vehicle charges the trailer batteries in route.  Any time you have a charging circuit connected to the trailer the vehicle should use a battery isolator to keep the trailer from drawing down the vehicle battery in camp.  Battery isolators may be either electronic or solenoid types.  Electronic units use diodes to limit flow of current in one direction; solenoids use magnetically controlled switches to connect and disconnect isolated batteries depending on whether there is charging voltage available.

Loose connections are one of the most common electrical problems in an RV. Connections to appliances and the fuse panel may use screw connectors or spade terminals. If they use screw connectors, make sure the screws are tight, but take care not to strip them by over tightening. Spade terminals may get loose over time, especially if they are removed and reinstalled a number of times. Sometimes you can crimp the female terminal gently with pliers to restore a tight fit. If that doesn't work, you may have to replace the terminal. It is a pretty simple task. Sometimes you can pull them off the wire. If they are too tight you may have to cut the wire and strip about 1/4" of insulation to install a new terminal. New terminals are best installed using special crimping tools. You might try to crimp them with ordinary pliers in an emergency but that usually flattens out the connection and doesn't grip properly. Heavy duty crimping pliers have a nub that presses into the terminal to ensure a good connection by tightly pinching the wire inside the sleeve of the terminal. They also have a channel that holds the sleeve of the terminal so it doesn't just flatten out when crimped.  When adding or replacing fixtures you may need to extend the wiring. To ensure a good connection either use proper connections, such as butt connectors or wire nuts or twist the wires together and solder them, then wrap the joint with electrical tape or use heat-shrink insulation. For some light duty applications, like speaker wires and some low amperage 12-volt connections you might get away with just twisting the wires together and wrapping the joint with electrical tape but using a connector or soldering the joint is always a better permanent solution. Twisted joints that are not soldered may come loose if there is any tension on the wires and sometimes can come loose from vibration alone while traveling.  A loose speaker wire is annoying.  A loose hot wire can blow a fuse or even cause  a fire.

Ground connections are just as important as the hot wires. Without a good ground, the circuit is not complete. Bad grounds are a very common problem on RVs, in both the coach and chassis wiring. If your clearance lights, park lights, turn signals or brake lights are dim, intermittent, or otherwise don't work properly, the problem is often a bad ground. When diagnosing electrical problems always check the ground connections as well as the hot wires. Ground connections seem to be particularly susceptible to corrosion. Sometimes merely tightening a loose screw will solve the problem but often you may have to remove it and clean the surface and the connector and reinstall it to get a good ground. Protecting connections with some kind of corrosion block or battery terminal protectorant can reduce corrosion.  I've seen a bad ground cause the turn signals to blink all four park lights and all the clearance lights.  Lacking a good ground at one fixture, the circuit was completed through the ground on other fixtures, after passing through and activating the bulbs in those fixtures.  If you experience strange or unexplained electrical problems, check the ground connections.  When you have problems with lights, be sure to check the bulbs.  Sometimes a burned filament will short out inside a bulb and cause strange symptoms.   Corrosion on bulb bases and sockets, especially in exterior lights, is fairly common problem and can usually be solved by cleaning the socket and the bulb or cleaning the socket and replacing the bulb.  Sometimes corrosion causes the spring-loaded base in he socket to stick.  You can sometimes free it up by pressing on the base with a non-conducting tool such as a wooden dowel or a plastic shaft.  If that doesn't work, you may have to replace the socket.   Bad grounds can usually be fixed by removing the connection and cleaning both the terminal and the metal surface to which it is attached with a wire brush.  Both surfaces should be shiny before you put it back together.  Spraying the restored connection with battery terminal protector will help prevent (but not completely eliminate) a re-occurrence.  Even starting problems can often be traced to a bad grounding strap between the engine and the frame.

Motor vehicles, like motorhomes and tow vehicles usually have a big ground strap between the engine and the frame.  It is usually an uninsulated braided metal strap.  The connections often get corroded or may come loose over time, causing many electrical problems in the vehicle. For example, a bad ground often causes symptoms similar to a faulty starter.  Simply removing the mounting bolts and cleaning the terminals and the mating surfaces with a wire brush until they are both shiny, then reinstalling the bolt tightly will usually solve these problems.  The terminal on the engine side may be greasy and would then benefit from cleaning with solvent as well.  The frame end is usually only corroded but if it is greasy, it should also be cleaned with solvent.  If the strap has deteriorated, it may have to be replaced.  The ground strap is often on the left (driver's side) of the engine.  Some folks add a second strap on the passenger side for extra reliability; it shouldn't be necessary, but it won't hurt anything.  Sometimes the factory grounding straps are pretty light weight, only about 3/8" wide and pretty thin.  I prefer to use one the size used as a ground strap on automotive batteries, about 1" wide and 1/8" thick.  They are less likely to be weakened by rust, corrosion, or vibration.

Problems with grounding of 12-volt circuits on RVs are very common.   If a light or appliance doesn't work or has intermittent problems, it is likely a problem with the ground connection.  Many fixtures on an RV are mounted on wood paneling (interior) or fiberglass (exterior) and neither conducts electricity like the metal boy on most cars and trucks does.   Grounding for exterior lights is often done through a ground wire connected to the fixture and the other end connected somewhere to the vehicle metal frame.  The connection to either the fixture or the frame may get loose or corroded over time and will cease to function.  Repair normally consists of unfastening the connection and cleaning away any rust, dirt, or corrosion, then reconnecting the terminal.  Sometimes you will  need to replace a bad screw to get a good connection and you should always polish the terminal and any surface (such as the frame) that it comes in contact with.  You might want to spray some battery protectant on the new connection to help reduce future problems with corrosion.  Often the terminals are made of aluminum or brass and the frame is steel so it creates a bi-metal reaction, also known as a galvanic corrosion when exposed to an electrolyte and an electric current.  Coating the connection can help protect it from electrolytes. 

Occasionally broken bulbs can cause strange problems with lighting.   When a bulb burns out, the filament breaks so no electricity can flow through the bulb.  Sometimes the broken filament may come in contact with the base of the bulb, creating an unexpected ground within the bulb.  I've seen situations where such a broken turn signal bulb caused the taillights and all the clearance lights to blink when the turn signal was activated. 

What often appears to be a bad bulb, may turn out to be a corroded base rather than a burned out filament.   Or it may just be a loose bulb.  A loose bulb might be fixed by carefully twisting it back into place.  If the socket appears to be too large you might be able to gently squeeze it tighter with a pair of pliers.  If that doesn't work, it is best to replace the socket.  If the base of the bulb is corroded, it won't have make good ground contact with the socket or a good hot connection with the "button" at the bottom of the bulb.  Try cleaning the bulb and the parts of the socket.  Be careful not to short between the sleeve of the socket and the "hot" button in the middle.  Sometimes simply replacing a corroded bulb will solve the problem, but if the socket itself is corroded, it should be cleaned for best and longest lasting results.

Wire up!

Hauling Your Camping Gear

Many times, hauling your camping gear simply means loading it into the trunk of your car, the back of your SUV or pickup, or on the roof rack and hitting the road.  But what do you do when your stuff no longer fits in the trunk or other available space?  Whether it is because your family is growing, you've invited more people to join you, or because you've just accumulated more or larger camping gear, the time will come when you run out of room.  In the old days when cars had running boards, extra cargo could be tied down on them. But since running boards disappeared back in the 1930s options for carrying excess cargo have been limited. If you have a trailer hitch, you may be able to get a rack or an enclosed "trunk" that fits in the hitch like a wheel-less trailer.  Another low-cost and low-impact option is to purchase a car-top carrier. This may take the form of a bag that attaches to an existing roof rack on an SUV or a unit that mounts on the drip rails of a standard sedan. In either case you'll likely have a zippered vinyl container that is suitable for carrying tents and sleeping bags and some other gear. Both to reduce the stress on your back getting gear up and down and to minimize the load on the roof, try to limit the weight of items you put up there. Too much weight can affect handling and piling things high will create drag that affects fuel economy, even if it isn't heavy enough to cave in the roof.  I prefer to load soft, fairly light items, like sleeping bags and put the hard, heavy stuff (like camp stoves) in a lower, more secure cargo area.   Some modern cars don't have drip rails so there isn't a good place to attach a roof carrier without drilling holes in the roof, which, of course, isn't a good idea. Some may sit on suction cups, secured with straps into the top of the door openings. Keep in mind any strap that interferes with the weather stripping will cause wind noise and will very likely leak when it rains.  Many times the weather stripping will be permanently damaged so the door whistles and leaks even after the strap has been removed.   Try to make sure all the straps lie flat to minimize the impact on weather stripping.   If you plan to use a roof top carrier often it might be worth adding a roof rack if you don't already have one.  You usually don't see them on sedans, but there is no reason they couldn't be added.  If you're a pretty ambitious do-it-yourselfer you might pick up a roof rack from an old station wagon at your local junk yard and install it yourself.  It will require removing the headliner and than can be a pain and you might want to look for ways to reinforce the roof where you mount the rack to prevent damage.  Luggage racks can sometimes be added to the deck lid but that makes opening the trunk difficult.  If a roof top carrier doesn't appeal to you or won't work on your vehicle, you might consider getting a small trailer.  Most cars, even sub-compacts, can have a trailer hitch added.  Just be sure you don't exceed the Combined Vehicle Weight Rating when loading your trailer.

Utility trailers are a convenient option for transporting camping gear. If you don't already have a trailer hitch on your vehicle, you'll have to add one, together with appropriate connections for stop, turn, and tail lights. Light utility trailers usually don't have electric brake systems. If you choose a larger trailer with electric brakes, you'll need a brake controller on your vehicle. Some small trailers come equipped with a "surge brake". This is self-contained. The hitch on the trailer is designed to flex and activate a hydraulic braking system on the trailer when the tow vehicle slows down. Light weight trailers often don't have any brakes.  While simple flat-bed trailers like those used to haul riding lawnmowers will do the job, you'll probably be happier with a box style trailer with enclosed sides. It will look kind of like a pick up bed. You can cover it with a tarp to keep the sun and rain off your gear and keep things from blowing out. Fully enclosed box trailers provide extra protection for your gear against weather and extra security, but they are usually a little more expensive and a little heavier to tow. Fully enclosed trailers, or a well-tarped utility trailer, can provide extra protection against unusually bad weather in camp. For that reason I would probably buy a trailer that is at least long enough to lay down in, unless I really needed something very small and very light to tow behind a small car or a motorcycle.  With a little creativity you can make a pipe frame to support a tarp over your utility trailer to create a protected patio space in camp.  An enclosed utility trailer just might become your first step toward an RV and can provide emergency shelter if the weather turns bad.  I like to have an enclosed trailer when I have work on my dirt bikes in bad weather.  It also provides a secure place for tools, spare parts, and riding gear.  A couple of people could sleep on the floor out of of the weather in an emergency.

Trailers can provide other functions besides simply hauling your gear to the campsite. I've seen small trailers with removable tops that are equipped with folding legs to serve as tables in camp. If your trailer is approximately the size of any pick up bed you might put a truck tent in the trailer to get you up off the ground. You might build a "chuck box" to fit in the back of your utility trailer (or your trunk or the back of your SUV or pickup) similar to the ones used in chuck wagons on cattle drives in the Old West, giving you a ready-made kitchen when you get to camp. It should have cupboards and bins to hold pots and pants, dishes, utensils, and provisions. Every door and drawer should have a positive latch so doesn't come open in transit. With a little clever engineering you could add a sink with running water, adding further convenience to your camping experience. A shepherd's crook style lantern holder might be fitted to keep your camp lighting stable and up out of the way. If you use a propane lantern, you could power it from a large propane tank on or in the trailer so you don't have to bother with changing those little 1 pound cylinders every few hours. A trailer might serve as part of the support system for your tent, adding strength and stability over standard and sometimes flimsy tent poles.  An enclosed trailer could be fitted with an RV awning or just a tarp and appropriate supports for convenient shade and protection from light rain.  I've seen simple PVC pipe frames used on flat-bed utility trailers to turn the trailer into a portable pavilion, providing much needed shade during desert camping.

You can use a trailer as a box to put your stuff in or customize it to create specialized compartments to secure items so you can find them easily and they don't get damaged in transit. Just adding hooks or eyes where you can attach bungee cords to strap things down can make a lot of difference in organization and in preventing stuff from shifting during your travels. A customized trailer might even include a chuck box (like they used in old-time chuck wagons) as the foundation for your camp kitchen.  Here is one source for building your own:  Chuck Box Plans  A chuck box can also be useful in a pickup bed, SUV, station wagon, or even the trunk of your car -- if you design it properly to fit the available space.

It is likely you'll begin to find new uses for your trailer each time you take it out. A trailer can help support a canopy or awning to get you some shade and you might even use the bed of the trailer as a sitting or play area to keep you and the kids up out of the dirt. But be warned: as you start finding more innovative ways to use your trailer, you'll probably start gravitating toward upgrading to a trailer with even more amenities, like a quality tent trailer or pop-up trailer or perhaps even a camping trailer or a toy hauler.

Sometimes, if you have a hitch receiver on your vehicle, you can use a cargo rack or cargo box that attaches to the hitch receiver. This may be a viable solution of you only need a small amount of additional carrying capacity and don't want to tow a trailer. Dragging around a trailer often impacts maneuverability and, in some states like California, subjects you to lower speed limits.  Which is one of my pet peeves.  Traffic shear, the difference between speeds in adjacent lanes of traffic, is well known as a dangerous condition that contributes to accidents.  I find it appalling and irresponsible that governments choose to mandate traffic shear by setting different speeds for different vehicles on the same highway.  At one time a lower speed for over the road trucks and trailers might have made sense, but with modern suspension and braking systems, those restrictions are outdated.  While there as time when the brakes on trucks weren't adequate, a typical modern 18-wheeler has a maximum gross weight of around 80,000 lbs and is equipped with brakes designed to handle 100,000 lbs.

Before you figure out how you're going to haul your gear, you need to figure out what you need and how you're going to organize it. What you have and how you put it all together will help you determine how much room you need to carry it. Or, conversely, how much room you have may dictate how much stuff you can bring along. What you need will be determined by where you're going, for how long, and how many people will be in your group. You will probably need tents and sleeping bags for everyone plus kitchen supplies (pots, pans, dishes, utensils, and cleaning supplies). Unless you can rely on campfire cooking you'll need a camp stove. Everything should be neatly packaged it either its own stuff sacks (like tents and sleeping bags) or in plastic bins (kitchen stuff, toiletries, clothing, extra bedding). You often have a kind of "chicken and the egg" problem in choosing bins or tubs for storage. The size of the bin must be at least big enough to accommodate the largest item you need to put in it, but the size of your bins might also be limited by where you can put it in/on your vehicle. So, the space you need depends on the amount of stuff you bring and the size of the bins, but how much stuff you bring and the size of your bins may be limited by the space you have. When space is of concern, and it usually is, take advantage of tools and equipment with multiple functions to reduce how much stuff you have to bring. Sometimes you need to take advantage of every bit of available space. You can do things like put small items like spice containers in pots and pans and pad them with dish towels, dish rags, and pot holders. Mess kits designed for camping usually have pots and pans that nest inside each other, greatly reducing the amount of space needed.  Many times you'll find it more convenient to use moderate sized bags or bins that are easier to load and fit in smaller spaces instead of trying to pile everything into one container. 

As in most camping situations, efficiency and convenience are key bywords.   Careful selection and organization of equipment and supplies together with a convenient way to transport them will ensure a pleasant and enjoyable outing.  You'll want a system that make is easy to load, locate, use, and load your equipment and supplies.

Haul away!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Basic RV Camping

Motorhome, travel trailer, camper, or simple tent trailer. It doesn't matter what kind of rig you have, the most basic steps will be the same.

Trip preparation is one of the keys to a successful trip. Make sure you have prepared your rig properly. Cool the refrigerator or ice box a day or so ahead of time. Make sure your fresh water supply is clean and full. Make sure your holding tanks or porta-potti is empty. Load your provisions, clothing, and things you need for your recreational activities. Fill up your propane and motor fuel. If you're planning to have a campfire, load your firewood.  One of the best ways to make sure you don't forget something is to use pre-trip checklist.  See my previous post Pre-trip Procedures for more details.  Remember, failing to plan equals planning to fail!

When you arrive in camp, locate your camp site and park your rig within the designated area if you're in a developed campground or pick your spot when boondocking. Try to get it as level as you can to minimize the task of leveling and stabilizing your unit. Take care to say off the landscaping. For a motorhome, about all that's left once you've parked is to level and stabilize your rig and connect hook ups (if any). For a travel trailer, you may need to disconnect it from the tow vehicle to level and stabilize it. For a tent trailer, you'll want to disconnect it, level and stabilize it, then expand it so you have full access to all the extended living areas. The beds in most tent trailers usually pop out from the main living space.  Take advantage of any available hookups when using any RV but don't take over public facilities for your private use. Sometimes there may be a public water faucet close to your space, but if it is not part of the facilities that belong specifically to the space you're paying for, you should make no permanent connections. You can probably use it to fill water jugs and, during low usage, fill your RV fresh water tank. Turn on your hot water heater. If you didn't have your refrigerator on while traveling, turn it on now. On cold days, start your furnace. On hot days, you might want to fire up the generator and turn on the A/C.

Extend your awnings, if you have them, and roll out your patio mat or welcome mat. You should always use some kind of mat in front of your RV steps to reduce tracking dirt, sand, and mud into your rig.  One approximately the size of your awning gives you a nice patio area, but a small welcome mat may be sufficient to help keep your rig clean.

Prepare your campfire.   Even if you won't need it for a few hours, it is a good idea to get things ready so when the sun goes down and the chill comes out, all you have to do is light it.  Its a lot easier to set it up before it gets dark and if the temperature drops it will be nice to be able to just drop a match into the tinder and have your fire up and going.  Be sure to put it out before you go to bed.

Set your thermostat to a comfortable temperature, then snuggle into your comfy bed for a good night's rest.

You should then be ready to enjoy your stay. If you're in a motorhome or travel trailer, your beds are probably already made up, but in a fold-out tent trailer, you may have to roll out your sleeping bags or make your beds. Unrolling your sleeping bags well in advance of using them allows the loft to fluff up.

From here you should be ready to enjoy your planned activities.

Basic Tent Camping

You don't need a lot to begin basic camping in a tent. In fact, you don't even need a real tent! You can make do with a tarp or an inexpensive tube tent. Or you can just sleep in your car. You can forgo the tent if you opt for a "cowboy bedroll". You will need some bedding. A sleeping bag is best, but some warm blankets and a light tarp may be sufficient in moderate weather. You'll need a way to cook your meals. You might get by with just a frying pan and a pot that you can use over a campfire. A camp stove gives you more control and more options. During fire restrictions in many areas you won't be allowed to have an open fire. You'll need some matches or a lighter to start your fire or light your stove. You'll also find it more convenient after dark if you have a lantern or at least a flashlight so you can see what you're doing.

Choose a destination. For your first night or two you might want to set up your tent in your own backyard until you are familiar with setting it up and comfortable sleeping in it. Then venture a little further from home. Get a spot in a local campground where you'll have access to water and toilets and probably have a picnic table and an approved fire pit where you can build a campfire. Eventually you may be comfortable going out to more remote and primitive campsites where you can get the full primitive camping experience.

See my previous post Pre-trip Procedures for details on getting ready.  Preparation is the key to a fun and successful outing.  As the old saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail.

You will most likely need an ice chest to keep perishable foods cold. To start with you can get by with an inexpensive Styrofoam chest but if you intend to go camping often you'll want a sturdier plastic or metal ice chest. Some of the better ice chests are rated to keep ice frozen for 5 days in 90° F temperatures. A simple foam chest won't match that performance but should be adequate for at least an overnighter and maybe even for a weekend. If you only bring MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) or dehydrated backpacking food or canned foods you won't really need an ice chest, but you WILL need it if you bring persishable items like meats and dairy items and you might want it to keep some drinks cool in hot weather. If you're camping in bear country, a foam cooler offers NO protection from hungry bears. Even metal coolers are vulnerable.  It is best to keep your cooler in your vehicle whenever possible.  If you're planning to have a campfire, load your firewood or plan to buy some at the camp store.  There are very few places where campers can collect firewood on site these days. Don't forget routine cleaning supplies, like soap, tooth paste, and dish soap.  If you take an prescription medications, make sure you bring an ample supply with you.  Some OTC pain relievers may also come in handy since you're likely to be involved in unfamiliar physical activities that may cause unusual aches and pains.  Even just sleeping on the ground can introduce pains you've never met before.  The firmest mattress is a lot softer and forgiving than even the most comfortable sleeping pads.

Once you've arrived at your destination, survey your campsite and select a location to set up your tent. It should be level and relatively free of debris. Determine the direction of prevailing winds if you can then try to set it up so it is upwind of your fire pit -- and any toilets or latrines. Also try to face  the door out of prevailing winds.  Erect your tent according to manufacturer's instructions. And listen, guys. Reading the instructions doesn't make you any less macho, it just shows that you are smart -- and you will usually save a lot of time, frustration, and embarrassment. If you're worried someone seeing you actually reading instructions might diminish your macho image, read them before hand and commit them to memory. But, believe me, being caught reading instructions will be a lot less embarrassing than the fiasco you may encounter trying to set up camp in ignorance! It is always a good idea to put a ground cloth down to set your tent on.  Once your tent is set up, roll out your sleeping pads and sleeping bags. Not only will they then be ready when you're ready to hit the sack, they will have a chance to overcome having been tightly rolled. Mats will lie flatter and sleeping bags will regain some of the "loft" squeezed out them while rolled, which is critical to staying warm.

After setting up your tent, organize your camp kitchen. Take advantage of available picnic tables if there are any. Place your kitchen fairly close to your campfire, especially if you're going to be cooking on your campfire. Have your water supply handy. Stack your firewood a safe but convenient distance from your fire pit. Prepare your campfire before it gets dark so all you have to do when its campfire time is to light your fire.

Pre-plan some campfire activities.   Some typical things people enjoy are singing and story telling.  Simple games like Charades are also fun.  Avoid complicated games that require a lot of setup or intricate equipment.  Playing cards or board games works best if the participants are seated around a table, not around a campfire.  And make sure you have adequate lighting for table games.  Avoid card games or other activities involving small, light weight objects if there is any breeze to contend with, unless you want to spend most of your time chasing the wind-blown items.

Most important of all: Enjoy your outing!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Camping is for ALL Ages

Are you ever too young or too old for camping? The simple answer is "NO". Of course there could be age-related health considerations that may alter your camping plans, but age alone should not be a deterrent. Our kids started camping with us as newborns and now that my wife and I are both semi-retired we're still active campers, in our RV, truck camper, and in tents. My grandmother traveled extensively in an RV with my Mom and Dad for many years when she was in her 70s and 80s. I have an associate in the Utah Trail Machine Association who is in his late 70s and is still organizing and leading 2 week-long off-road rides a year in Mexico. My grandmother enjoyed riding on the back of my enduro bike when she was 75. I plan to still be riding when I reach 75 in the not-too-distant future.   After that I may shoot for a good trail ride for my 100th birthday!   I recently logged more than 50 miles on the trail on my 70th birthday. I believe firmly in the saying "You don't stop riding because you get old. You get old because you stop riding." That would apply to all forms of camping too. My grandfather always said 'A man will rust out quicker than he'll wear out" and I firmly believe that is true. I, for one, would rather wear out than rust out.  I've seen it happen over and over.  Those who retire from life when they retire from their full time jobs end up pushing up daisies much quicker than those who remain active.  While it may be argued that some people are able to remain active because they are good health, it can also be argued that staying active helps keep them in good health.

The age of people in your group may require you to make some special accommodations, but age doesn't rule out camping or RVing. If you have young babies or elderly you may have to adjust your schedule sometimes to meet their peculiar needs. You might need to adjust the temperature in your RV. You may need to bring along special foods. However, most of the changes you have to make will be no different than the adjustments you normally make at home. As I recall (it has been some time now, all our kids are adults with families of their own), I think my wife sometimes retired early when we had babies on board. I also recall her riding her dirt bike (carefully) around camp with a baby on her chest in "gerry carrier" sling and followed by several youngsters (ours and offspring of others in camp) on 50cc motorcycles. I'm sure there are those who would be aghast at carrying a baby on a dirt bike, but she was and is a very capable and experienced rider and took no unusual risks. The little ones were at least as safe as they would have been had she been wearing them in a similar manner grocery shopping, perhaps safer given how reckless some shoppers are with their shopping carts! The closeness and bonding of having all of our children involved in all of our activities right from their beginnings is priceless and has helped create connections between siblings that endure to this day. We have a blended family. I had two sons from a previous marriage when my wife and were married. Our youngest son eagerly volunteered to make a 2800 mile round trip from California to Texas when his older half-brother needed help.  None of our 6 kids have ever made any distinction between full and half siblings.  Our camping and dirt bike activities were a big part of building cohesive and enduring family relationships.  I recently also learned that dirt biking was a key factor in some of our kids avoiding recreational drugs.  The high from riding was so much better than any chemically induced state of mind.

I recently read that famous Supercross champion James "Bubba" Stewart's first dirt bike experience took place on his dad's lap when he was less than 48 hours old!  No wonder he went on to be a champion!

Let everyone participate in routine camp chores at whatever level they can. Obviously babies are excluded from manual labor, but toddlers can share in a multitude of camp chores. While babies may not be able to perform independent tasks having them together with the family during routine chores helps build relationships and keeps them from being or feeling excluded. And they begin learning by observation. My elderly grandmother was always included in preparing meals, something she had done all her life, was very good at, and loved to do. Excluding her would have been cruel and unusual punishment as well as a big loss for the rest of us. Everyone needs to feel useful. Don't just hand out trivial "make work" tasks. Give each person something meaningful to do that is tailored to their capabilities. There are always lots of things that need to be done while camping. Sharing chores can make life easier for everyone and will help each individual feel productive and part of what is going on. If a toddler only brings one small stick of wood to the campfire or picks up one piece of trash, it is actually is helpful and they will feel like they've done something useful. Older campers with physical limitations are wonderful sources of campfire stories and make excellent consultants for tasks around camp.  Just because physical limitations may prevent them from actually performing tasks doesn't mean they can't be an extremely valuable source of information and direction.

Camping is ageless!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Bandannas

Bandannas are very useful for a variety of outdoor activities. They are inexpensive, light weight, and versatile. Bandanas can be useful for camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, horseback riding and riding OHVs, bicycles, and jet skis. You can get them in almost any color to match or complement your wardrobe or riding gear. There are special printed versions, show below, with first aid and survival instructions on them. Here is a web page dedicated to Uses for Bandanas.  Be sure to scroll down far enough to see the list of more than 50 uses for bandanas.  Most common uses include tying them around your neck to protect your neck from sunburn and, when saturated with water, to aid in cooling your body and tying them around your head as a "do rag" to control your hair and keep sweat from dripping into your eyes.

                                                     Product Details

A typical bandana is about 18" square. In use it is usually folded diagonally to make a triangle. The triangle can be tied around your head as a head scarf or around your face bandit style to protect your nose and mouth from cold, snow, or dust. You can tie the ends of the triangle together behind a victim's neck to make a sling. You can wrap the bandana around body parts to hold a dressing in place over a wound. You can roll the bandanna into a loose roll about 1 1/2" in diameter, wet it, and tie it around your neck in hot weather to protect your neck from sunburn and to cool you. One of the reasons this works is it helps cool the blood as it passes close to the skin in the neck. Most traditional bandannas have a kind of paisley pattern against the main background color but you can also find them in various camouflage colors and solid colors or with logos and other designs.  Another use for a rolled bandana is as a bandage to hold a dressing in place.  Remember, a dressing is the pad that covers a wound, a bandage is what holds it in place.  Band-aids are dressing and bandage all in one.

                                                       

Bandannas are not expensive.   They are typically around $1.00 each.  I've sometimes found them on sale 2 for $1.00.  This is one of the items I like to stock up on when I get the chance.  Even if you have enough for your own use, having some extras to loan to friends is kind of nice.  I like to have a choice of colors so I can coordinate my bandanna with my riding gear or whatever casual clothes I happen to be wearing.  In proper use they can get dirty quite quickly, so having several to use during any given outing is a good idea.   They are light weight and don't take up a lot of room so they have little impact on space in your camping bins or your RV.

Bandannas were adopted as gang colors by some urban gangs. They wore them around their heads, tied around am arm or leg, or just hanging out of a pocket. Wearing the wrong color in a neighborhood controlled by a rival gang could invite serious consequences. Colors are usually not an issue in camping situations, but you might not want to wear red or blue, the colors of the "Bloods" and "Crips" gangs into a major city!  Wearing an opposing gang's colors when in the territory of a rival gang can trigger a violent and sometimes deadly reaction.

Some other uses of bandannas in a survival situation include water purification. Hold a clean bandanna over a steaming pot of water until it is saturated, then wring it out to get safe drinking water. Brightly colored bandannas can be used as a signal device to help rescuers locate lost parties.

Use a wet bandanna tied around your neck during hot weather to help keep you cool and to protect your neck from sunburn. If you get lost or stranded in hot weather you might tie it to trees or bushes to give you a tiny little bit of shade. A clean bandanna can be used directly as a dressing on a wound or used as a bandage to secure a dressing or a splint.
   
Of course a bandanna can be used as a handkerchief to tame a runny nose or limit the spray from coughs an sneezes.   But you won't want to use it to dress a wound or filter your water after using it thusly without giving it a thorough washing first.  Another good reason to have more than one.

You might want to carry several bandannas of different colors.   They are inexpensive, light weight, take up little room, and are very versatile.  One source I read carries an orange one to use as an emergency signal and a blue one he uses only for filtering water.  Using this kind of logical color coding makes sense.  You might dedicate other colors for other uses so you don't end up filtering your water through one that has been used as a handkerchief or a sweat rag!

Tie one on!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Its Almost Winter Again!

My, how time flies! So we must be having fun ("Time flies when you having fun"). Or as Kermit says "Time's fun when you're having flies." Seems it was just the other day we were doing spring cleaning and getting ready for another camping season. Now, it is mid September and as I look at the weather forecast, predicted overnight temperatures on the mountain where I am currently staying are rapidly approaching the freezing point. We've even had a few snow flurries and the possibility of more snow in a day or so. That means winterizing RVs or putting them in a heated garage to prevent freeze damage. If you get a night or two of barely freezing temperatures with warmer days in between, full winterization may not be as critical as it is where you have sub-freezing temperatures (say 24° F) for days on end. Then you MUST winterize your vehicle to prevent freeze damage. Anything with water in it is subject to freeze damage. That includes holding tanks, water lines, hoses, faucets, hot water heaters, water jugs, and even porta-potties. And make sure you remove any provisions that might freeze, like cans or bottles of soda, or you'll have a real mess next spring. I try to make sure my RVs are winterized long before I get two or more nights at 24° F or below, as those temperatures are sure to start causing damage.

There are other posts on this blog and many excellent articles on other web sites that give detailed instructions on winterizing your RV so I won't repeat them here. The point I want to make is it is time to start planning to winterize your rigs. Remove provisions that could be damaged by freezing and properly protect all the water systems with appropriate antifreeze or by draining. That means making sure engine coolant in motorhomes, generators, tow vehicles, and OHVs are properly protected with the right kind of antifreeze too. Buy the RV antifreeze you need now before its all gone as "everyone" finally gets around to winterizing their boats and RVs.

What about "winterizing" yourself? You probably need to drag out your warm winter clothes and snow boots and make sure they are in good condition to be used. Hopefully you cleaned them and stored them properly, but they may still need to be aired out and you need to inspect them for insect or vermin infestations and damage. If you live someplace with a true four-season environment you'll want to find or obtain thermal underwear and maybe some insulated socks. Don't forget earmuffs or beanies to keep your ears from freezing. A balaclava (face mask) is good to have to keep your face warm if you expect to be out in really cold weather or riding an OHV, snowmobile, or horse in cold weather. Warm, water-resistant or water-proof gloves or mittens are essential for keeping your hands warm. Some chemical heat pads like "Hot Hands" can help keep your fingers and toes and other body parts warm. Mittens will keep your fingers warmer than gloves, but you sacrifice some dexterity. One of my winter favorites is a "ushanka" -- a Russian ear hat, those furry hats with flaps that cover your ears, neck, and part of your cheeks. I find them very good for winter and even for extra cool desert nights.

What about winter activities? Weather will likely have a significant impact on the kinds of activities you choose for winter. Depending on where you live and you might switch over to winter sports, like skiing, snowboarding, or snowmobiling. Or you might just put your outdoor energy toward getting ready for next year. Now is a good time to perform routine inspections and maintenance on your vehicles and your gear. Even if the weather is bad outside you can work on your camping gear and OHVs inside. If your garage isn't heated you might use your catalytic tent heater to take the chill off. Just be sure you have adequate ventilation. Go through your RV or camping gear. Make sure everything you used last year got back where it belongs and is clean and in good shape for next season. Check your supplies and replace used up, damaged, outdated or missing items. Check your sources for camping gear to see what may be available at year end or end of season closeout prices to enhance next year's outings. Close outs and clearances are a good time to stock up for next year. You may be able to snag a good deal on some new gadget or piece of equipment you've been wanting or just stock up on expendables. Be sure to check online resources like ebay and craigslist. You might even find some stuff on Freecycle.com, a web site where people list things they want to get rid of. You never know. Someone may need to make room in their garage and have just the tent you're looking for and all you have to do is go pick it up! Freecycle is an interesting way to recycle useful items. You may find YOU have stuff you don't need anymore. Listing it on Freecycle.com may make it available to someone who can really use it and you don't have to hassle with setting prices or haggling with prospective buyers. It sure beats throwing it in the trash!

Ready. Set. Snow!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Glamping

Glamping is a made-up word for "glamour camping". It might have appealed to my friend whose idea of roughing it was having to ring twice for room service. Glamour camping can take place just about anywhere but commercially is most often offered by upscale hotels, even in Manhattan. It combines the fun of sleeping in a tent, perhaps on a penthouse patio, with the comfort and convenience and service of a first rate hotel. The closest I've come to glamping is staying in my 40' Class A motorhome. And while many luxury RVs might seem like glamping to some people, it is really far more than that.

Glamping has become a novelty market in places like fancy hotels in New York City where you can "glamp out" on a terrace. You still have full access to room service, indoor plumbing and electronic entertainment and communications, but your "bedroom" is an elegantly appointed tent on the veranda. Of course if the weather turns bad or just find you're not enjoying it, you can always go back inside.

Glamping is probably not something most families would or could do without outside assistance. You are more likely to make reservations to "glamp" at a luxury hotel, but you might go glamping anywhere, provided you have the support resources to set it up. Perhaps if you already have a well-trained and dedicated domestic staff you could have them orchestrate your glamping trip. One image of "glamping" that comes to mind is the tent of the English Lady in the movie "Hildago" and the elegant setting for offering Hildaldo tea. You might begin to approximate your own glamping experience by upgrading standard camping equipment to greater luxury. The large (queen or king sized) air mattresses with electric pumps might provide you with a far more comfortable bed than a standard sleeping pad or camp cot. A large, mulit-room tent with a private bedroom where you can indulge yourself with silk pajamas might add to the ambiance. To get the most out of a full-on glamping adventure you'll need room service, or something like it, to deliver your meals and snacks and other refreshments in a timely manner. Perhaps some fairly mature kids could give their parents a bit of a glamping weekend by performing those services for them.

Home made glamping is made easier if you have a luxury RV. You don't need any special tents or special bedding, just use the comfortable queen or king size bed in the private master bedroom of your RV. Meals and snacks are more quickly and easily prepared in the fully functional galley of most RVs than in a primitive camp. Some purists might consider any form of RV camping as glamping, but they would be overstating it. Perhaps you could consider RV camping to be glamping if all the driving, setup, cooking, cleaning, etc. are handled by a chauffer, butler, cook, and maid but I have yet to see such an arrangement. For one thing, why bother going out at all if you're going to keep the same level of pampering you get at home? Part of the whole idea of camping (or even glamping) is to get out of your normal routine. That being said, a glamping experience in a fancy hotel would be an escape from most people's "ordinary" lives and quite a treat for most people.

You might give yourself a taste of glamping by treating yourself to a nice steak dinner and a decadent desert instead of the standard burger or bowl of chili before retiring to the comfort of your cozy motorhome. If you're a tent camper, be sure to upgrade to a queen or king size air bed instead of sleeping on the ground. For a safe "candlelight" experience try some battery operated LED tea lights. They give off about the same flickering light as a single candle without the risk of setting your bedroom on fire.

Glamp out!

Living Large

Most of us have a tendency to think bigger is better. Doesn't matter whether its a tent or an RV a car or a permanent residence. Bigger usually means more luxury and more comforts and more prestige. People tend to start out camping small, with a pup tent or a tent trailer, but after a few years, their "needs" and wants begin to grow. When you are camping alone you can get by sleeping in a pup tent, but, as your family grows, a larger family tent will usually be more be comfortable and can be used for more than just sleeping. A tent trailer offers a lot of amenities, but a big motorhome or travel trailer delivers even more luxury, comforts, and convenience. A little tent trailer gets you up off the ground but a motorhome or travel trailer can deliver near residential services and conveniences anywhere you go.   If you've ever had to weather out a storm in a tent you'll appreciate having some kind of RV with solid roof and a nice, forced air furnace to warm you up!

But is bigger ALWAYS better? Not necessarily. A bigger tent is going to be heavier to carry around and will take up more room in your car, your trailer, and your shed or garage. It will take longer to set up and to strike. It will be harder to heat in cold weather. It will probably cost more. One must weigh these disadvantages against the perceived comfort and prestige of using a larger tent. Larger RVs usually have more amenities, but may be limited on where they can go. Some places have restrictions on length, height, and weight. Bigger motorhomes don't always mean room for more people. Many large, luxury, Class As are designed for just two people while smaller Class C's often have sleeping accommodations for 6-8 people. Going from a Class C to a bigger Class A might actually reduce the number of people who could "live" comfortably in a rig.  And you can usually be VERY comfortable in a moderate sized RV.  If it doesn't come with all the luxuries you want, they can usually be added.  Big things like washers and dyers aren't very feasible, but many of the other conveniences found on high end rigs can be added to more modest units to improve comfort, convenience, and livability.  The one thing that usually can't be added, is more room.

Why would you want a larger tent or RV? Sometimes, as families grow, they really need more space. We started out with a Class B van conversion and it worked well for our little family of 4. We even added an extra bunk across the front seats when our third child came along. But as our family continued to grow we physically outgrew the little van. If we were going to continue camping in an RV we clearly needed a bigger one. The same thing can happen with tents, but you may have more options with tents. One alternative to upsizing is to just buy a second tent. That works pretty well when you have older kids who can and want to be in their own tent, but it may not work as well for families with younger children. A second reason for going bigger is probably more of a want than a need. That is the desire for more "elbow room" in your facility. You might get by for a while longer with the smaller equipment, but we all love our creature comforts, and even if you're not particularly claustrophobic, things can get cramped in camp when you put too many people into too small a space. Sometimes the additional space is a practical concern, like having enough room to safely cook meals in an RV or having enough room to get dressed in a tent. Larger tents are often perceived as more luxurious so we think we want them. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but we should always weight the actual values, not just perceived benefits, versus cost and other factors that impact usage.

If you are tempted to upsize your RV or tent, make sure you know what you are getting and that it will deliver the benefits you seek and you are aware of the additional requirements or restrictions it may bring. Jumping to a large Class A when you need more beds for a growing family may be a big disappointment. You may find transporting, setting up, and taking down a huge, heavy family tent is more trouble than it's worth. On the other hand, if a larger facility meets your needs and satisfies your wants -- and you can live with the conditions that come with it -- by all means, go for it! I must admit I look with a certain amount of envy at some of the newer "front porch" and "lodge" tents, but since my primary camping is via RV and I don't have a large family at home any more, those large tents would just be extra weight to carry around and extra room to heat. If I were going to be staying in one camp site for an extended time I might have time to enjoy a bigger tent, but most likely it would just be more space to heat and keep clean!

Prestige -- or at least the perception of prestige -- is sometimes a factor in upgrading. Sometimes a larger RV or even a larger tent make people feel better about themselves. In most cases I wouldn't think prestige or ego should be a sufficient reason to get bigger facilities. It could be a lot of expense without delivering any real benefits. But, if you will really enjoy using a larger tent or having a bigger RV, if it makes it more fun for you, then go for it. Only you can decide if the cost of going larger is worth the financial outlay and any additional effort or limitations your larger equipment will impose on you.

Before  you go out and spend big bucks for a bigger tent or RV, invest some time researching  your options.  Check out bigger RVs at trade shows, at dealer lots, and among your fellow campers.   Make a list of potential upgrades so you can compare features and prices.  The same thing applies to upsizing your tent:  check out the options.  Make sure you know what you want before you blow big bucks on something that may or may not satisfy you for very long.  If you can, always try before you buy.  It may seem like a waste of money to rent equipment, but if lets you zero in on getting the right stuff without blowing your budget on purchasing errors, it will save you money in the long run.

Many of us have become accustomed to saving money by buying the "giant economy size" offerings and case lots at supermarkets and warehouse stores like Costco and Sam's Club. That may make sense when you have appropriate storage for them at home, but when camping, in an RV or a tent, bigger is definitely not always better. You need to balance the quantity of many products against their use, storage, and transportation. A 50# bag of flour may be a good choice for your kitchen or pantry at home, but it is usually a lot more than you'll need for any ordinary family camping trip. Buy or bring along sizes that match your expected consumption. You may still be able take advantage of the price savings on bulk purchases if you simply re-package just what you need for each outing and leave the excess home.

Ultimately the best solution is "right sizing":  choose the RV or tent that is right for your current needs.  The same thing can be said for most of your camping equipment.  Having a stove that is sufficient for your needs beats the heck out of trying to work with one that is too small and is inadequate for preparing meals for your family.  But having one that is too big is just going to take up extra room, add weight, and cost you more money.  The right size tent will fit your family without taking up too much room, being too difficult to set up and take down, too hard to keep warm, or adding too much weight.

Live large -- judiciously!

Hobbies on the Road

For some RVing or OHVing is a hobby all by itself. For others, especially those who may be full-timers or spend significant time in their RV each year, they have other hobbies they may want to bring along. For some an RV is the means to get where they're going to exercise their hobby. RVs make good base camps for hiking, fishing, hunting, birdwatching, sight seeing, OHV riding, horseback riding, and rock collecting.

What hobbies can you bring along? You are really only limited by your imagination and how much specialized equipment your hobby requires -- and how much room you have to haul it. Some typical things people bring along include various kinds of sewing or needlework, jewelry making, music (especially portable instruments like guitars and banjos), and wood carving. If your hobby is furniture making you may need an equipment trailer to serve as your shop and haul the lathes and other power equipment you use.  I have seen a few RV parks that cater to woodworkers and, over time, customers have built up a pretty complete workshop. Things like stamp and coin collecting take up little room in an RV. I would be a little concerned about security for high-dollar hobbies like these. In the first place, I would minimize the exposure by not openly advertising my collection (security by obscurity). Next I would invest in a quality floor safe to house my valuables, install an alarm system, and be sure to lock up whenever I have to leave my RV.

Some resorts and other destinations cater to specific hobbies.  The annual winter encampment at Quartzite, Arizona, is a jewelry and rock hound heaven.  I have read of resorts that have wood shops with equipment donated by customers or acquired through fund raising by selling products created there by clients during their stay.  Some resorts support various sports and games, like golf, shuffleboard, and pickleball by providing facilities and even sponsoring tournaments.  We had a small archery range at the resort where I worked as assistant manager a couple of summers ago.  Some locations may serve as a base camp for OHV trails.

Crafts of various kinds are popular pastimes for campers.   Because many crafts, like jewelry making, require little in the way of bulky materials or tools, they lend themselves well to to semi-nomadic lifestyle of campers.

Music is a common hobby among RVers.   You will mostly find campfire compatible instruments like guitars, banjos, harmonicas, and tambourines but I've seen at least one couple that also brought along a bass fiddle to entertain their fellow campers.  Folk music and bluegrass music seem to most popular, with country music close behind, followed by pop music.  There are even special "break-away" guitars that fold up to be more compact for RV travel.  Or get a Martin "Backpacker" guitar.  The Backpacker is very compact but it doesn't have a lot of volume.  It is a nice option to entertain yourself in your tent, but probably not loud enough for a sing-a-long around the campfire.   Brass instruments and electric guitars aren't very common in campgrounds.

For some collectors, RV trips are hunting expeditions. Since you are often traveling outside your normal stomping grounds you have a chance to seek out bargains in places off the beaten path. That works pretty well for small collectibles like stamps, coins, dolls, books, records, etc., but you'll need to pull a big trailer if you're hunting for furniture or other large antiques. Or come back for them or pay to have them shipped. Sometimes it is cheaper and a lot more convenient to bring a rental truck back than to pull a big trailer all over creation and half of Georgia! Some people may be tempted to use their RV roof as a cargo area. This is generally not a good idea, especially for large or heavy items. The risk of injury to people or damage to the items while loading or unloading is too great. Carrying heavy items on the roof may damage the roof and could affect handling. Having items exposed to the elements and sticking up where they might get caught on limbs or other low hanging obstacles is also a recipe for trouble.  It is amazing what people collect these days.  Old school lunch boxes, cereal boxes, dolls, toys, clocks, bottle-caps;  you name it!  If you have an interest in and knowledge of such items you may be able to find good deals on salable items as you travel.  Some people put their finds on ebay immediately and sell them while they're still on the road, sometimes paying for their trip and even turning a profit.  You may even be able to write off some of your travels on your taxes if your trip is a legitimate expedition to search for merchandise or buyers.

Camping itself is a hobby for some people. Collecting and trying out new camping gadgets is always fun to do. Scouring local stores or even garage sales for unusual camping items or bargains can be very exciting and rewarding. Talking with rangers, camp hosts, and fellow campers enhances your knowledge of the area and adds to your camping skills.  There are lots of opportunities for creative camp cooking.

For some people shopping and bargain hunting is a hobby. The proliferation of "Factory Outlet" shopping centers near freeway off ramps attests to the popularity of bargain hunting. Many advertise having RV parking.  Many times you will find special deals on clothing, household goods, tools, and camping gear. There was an auto parts store near my parents' house that I liked to check out whenever we went for a visit. I usually found some new hand tools at better prices than I ever saw at home. Don't know what their secret was. It was a small town so I'm pretty sure they weren't fencing stolen goods! Which brings up another consideration: if something seems too good to be true, it usually is! If someone offers you something like a Rolex watch for $50 you can be sure it is either a fake, it is broken, or it is stolen! Caveat emptor!  But there are rare exceptions.  Like a man who saw a late model Cadillac advertised in newspaper classifieds for just $50. Since the asking price was way below even the salvage value that a junk yard would pay he was very skeptical but finally decided to check it out anyway.  He found the vehicle was in like-new condition, with no hidden history, accident damage, liens, or being a murder site or anything nasty like that.  It was clearly worth thousands of dollars.  Because so many people were skeptical or believed the price to be a misprint, he was the only one that showed up to actually look at the car.  Turns out the car had belonged to the woman's late husband, who, in his will, had directed that it be sold and the proceeds given to his mistress!  The savvy and understandably unhappy wife cleverly found a way to comply with his request without giving much of anything to the mistress.

Some people have hobbies they like to take with them when camping.   As you might  expect, some hobbies lend themselves to being incorporated into camping activities more than others, although you might be surprised at some of the options.   For example, woodworking usually requires a lot of special tools and a considerable amount of specialized equipment and plenty of room to work.  While those requirements are rather difficult to include in your personal RV, I have read of campgrounds that cater to woodworkers and have a fairly well equipped shop available for their use with machines donated by or purchased by regular users.  However most people who take their hobbies on the road with them choose activities that are pretty much self contained and for which all the necessary supplies and equipment can be conveniently pack in the RV.  Musicians take their portable instruments.  Most kinds of needle work can be fairly easily adapted for camping.  Scrapbooking is popular among some people.  Stamp collecting and coin collecting can be accommodated, but because these sometimes involve high value items  you may need extra security, such as a safe.

If you are going to take your hobby on the road with you, think about what special features, supplies, and equipment you may need. If you need computer access for research, inventory, or bookkeeping, do you have an appropriate place in your RV to set up a work station? If you need a place to examine items, do you have appropriate work space and adequate lighting? If you need any special tools do you have them and have an appropriate and convenient place to put them in your RV? If you find you are deficient in any way, it might be a good idea to wait until you have things ready before you hit the road.

Sometimes an RV can be a hobby of its own. Certain traditional brands, like Airstream and Shasta, even have large owner clubs who foster sharing information and activities. But even an "ordinary" RV can be a hobby to some owners -- customizing it, using it, improving it, showing it off.

Hobbies are fun!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Tarps

Tarps are a handy resource in camp. They can be used for extra shade, extra rain protection, to cover equipment, and as ground cloths under or inside your tent or even to make a tent. Tarps come in many different strengths. The lightest and least expensive tarps are polytarps and they come in different colors.  The blue tarps are usually the lightest and least expensive. They will normally be sufficient for most camping temporary tasks. For a stronger tarp (good for under your tent or longer term use), choose a green "farm tarp" or one of the heavier silver tarps. For really heavy duty applications, go for a heavy canvas tarp. How heavy a tarp you need depends on how you're going to use it and how far you have to carry it! Heavy canvas tarps will be the most durable and provide the most protection, but they are very heavy to carry around if you're hiking or have any distance to tote your equipment from your vehicle to your camp site.   They also tend to be stiff and somewhat harder to work with, especially when its cold.  Light weight "poly" tarps are usually sufficient without the added weight and they take up far less room. And they are inexpensive and are usually waterproof. But there are even heavier alternatives out there. My parents have roll up tarp "walls" on their carport in Oregon. They are made of the heaviest canvas I've ever seen, at least 3/16" thick and the weave is as coarse as a wood rasp! They've been in use for over 50 years  of Oregon rain and are still going strong. They are permanently mounted to the carport but can be rolled up when necessary. Of course, they are WAY too heavy to consider for camping. Plastic painter's sheets are just the opposite -- very light, very thin plastic film. It is inexpensive, waterproof, and easy to carry. But it isn't very sturdy and is easily punctured or torn. You might use one or more temporarily to keep the rain off, but they won't provide much shade and probably won't stand up to wind and weather very well.  Using one as a ground cloth is pretty much an exercise in futility.  They are so fragile that small twigs and pebbles will easily make holes in them and render them useless.

Tarps come in a variety of sizes so you can usually find one close to the size you need. Harbor Freight has a wide selection of tarps in various strengths and sizes.  Watch for their ads and flyers and you can often find them on sale to save even more money.

Actual measurements of tarps are usually slightly smaller than the advertised size. For example, an 8x10 tarp will probably actually measure 7'6" by 9'6". Be sure to take that into consideration when you buy a tarp. The actual finished size is usually marked somewhere on the package. If you want a ground cloth for an 8x10 tent, you may have to buy the next size bigger tarp and fold the excess under. On the other hand, using a standard "8x10" tarp fits nicely inside an 8x10 tent and even might be just right for use under an 8x10 tent. It would likely be about 2-3" smaller than the tent on each side so it wouldn't stick out and collect run-off. But -- it could also leave 3" of tent floor exposed to the damp ground and/or debris.  Since you usually won't be walking that close to the walls, the 3" probably won't be a problem.  The trimmed size is usually very good for an inside layer to protect the floor.

For best results as a ground cloth, use a heavy duty tarp underneath your tent to protect the floor against debris and ground moisture. Use a second tarp inside your tent for added waterproofing to your sleeping bags don't absorb moisture. The inside ground cloth doesn't need to be as heavy as the one underneath the tent but it should be waterproof, like a plastic tarp. Using closed cell foam sleeping pads beneath your sleeping bags will give you even better protection and comfort. Even if you are using sleeping pads to protect your sleeping bags, having an inside ground cloth covering the entire tent floor will help keep the floor clean and be more comfortable when you are moving around in stocking feet and will help protect the floor from damage. For exceptional comfort, add foam tile to cover your tent floor inside. It will be like having a wall-to-wall sleeping pad. The foam tiles are light weight, easy to assemble, and easy to clean.  With both foam tiles and a sleeping pad, you'll be sleeping on cloud 9!

With use tarps will eventually loose some of the their water repellant capability. Repeated folding, crushing, or whipping in the wind breaks down the structure and wears away the coating. When your tarp begins to get soft and fuzzy and the color begins to fade it is probably time to replace it. Not only will it have lost some of its ability to keep you dry, it will have been weakened and may rip in the next strong breeze.  Most polytarps will be kind of shiny when they are new.

Tarps can be hung between trees or vehicles or on poles to form a makeshift canopy to provide shade or protection against light rain. Tarps can be added as an extra "rain fly" over tents for extra protection against rain and sun. Tarps can be used to cover your firewood and your camping equipment and OHVs to protect them from weather.  I've even seen multiple tarps used to cover an entire camp site.  The center was very high, both for rain run off and to allow building a campfire.  It rained almost that entire weekend, but the large, extended family stayed dry and enjoyed their outing.

You can make your own tent using tarps. A simple shelter can be made by hanging a single tarp over a rope or other cordage or a rafter stretched between two uprights. For more weather protection, use multiple tarps to also enclose the open ends.

Tarps are often used to cover equipment in the bed of a truck or utility trailer during transport. They need to be securely anchored to withstand the wind forces that occur at highway speeds. For the best protection against rain, drape the tarp over the sides of the bed and secure it underneath.  If you leave it inside the bed water can run down and soak your cargo.  In camp they can protect equipment from sun and from rain and snow. They provide some level of security too -- sometimes just keeping your stuff out of sight avoids it being "acquired" by opportunistic thieves. "Security by obscurity."

Small holes or tears can usually be repaired using duct tape or vinyl tape. Make sure the surface is clean and dry before applying the tape.  For added security, put tape over the damaged area on both sides of the tarp. Because of the oily waterproofing used on canvas tarps, regular tape may not always stick well. If any tarp is exposed to wind and weather, the tape may come off. For best results stitch a waterproof patch in place and seal it with tent seam sealer -- or just replace the tarp.  If there are too many holes and repairs, it becomes something like a description I once heard of how to make a net:  take a bunch of holes and sew them together.  You'll want to replace our tarp long before it reaches that stage.

Tarps and tent fabrics degree of water proofing are measured by something called hydrostatic pressure. It represents the pressure necessary to force water through the fabric. Heavy rain and wind-driven rain will create a higher hydrostatic pressure than light rain so you need a stronger fabric to keep out extreme weather. A rating of 1000 mm hydrostatic pressure is regarded as shower resistant. 1500 mm rating is sufficient for a summer tent. 2000 mm is the minimum for an all season tent. Higher ratings of around 3000 mm are used for expedition tents and 5000 mm for really good quality ground cloths.

Small tarps can be used as emergency ponchos.  The only downside is that you need to cut a hole in the middle to put your head through, perhaps limiting its value for other uses.  For short term use you may be able to just drape it over your head and shoulders like a cape.

In an emergency you might cut open a large plastic trash bag and use it as a small tarp, but for best results keep a variety of tarps on hand to accommodate different needs.  Large plastic garbage bags make pretty good ponchos too, and they're a lot cheaper than tarps.

Tarp it!