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.
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query camp stores. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query camp stores. Sort by date Show all posts

Friday, August 23, 2013

Camp Stores

Camp stores usually refers to small stores within a campground or resort.  Camping stores (like Camping World, L.L. Bean, and REI) would usually designate larger facilities that specialize in camping equipment.  Camp stores typically cater to the immediate needs of their guests.   Their offerings may be limited to a few frequently forgotten sundries, basic groceries and some tent and RV supplies.  They are usually a relatively small portion of the campground office but may sometimes occupy their own separate space at larger campgrounds.

There is no standard for what you'll find at a camp store.  I've seen some where merchandise was limited to 3-4 short shelves of sundries (toiletries, first aid supplies, batteries, etc.) and others that exceed what you typically find at the convenience store in travel centers.   It just depends on local demand, available space, store budget, and the merchandising skills and attitude of the manager.

I was partly responsible for stocking our little camp store during my summer job at a resort and it can be more complicated than you might think.   Suppliers often have minimum order requirements that make it difficult or even impossible for small stores to carry some items.  What that means for guests is, things you might expect to be there aren't because the purchase price is too high or the minimum order size would leave tons of costly merchandise sitting around until it expires and has to be thrown out.   Sometimes we would just buy commonly requested items at a retail store in town and resell them with little if any markup just to have them available for our guest's needs.   In our case, our small store was more for the convenience of our guests than for profit.

I like to spend a few minutes checking out the camp store when I check in so I'll know where it is and have some idea of what is available.   It is sometimes nice to know if there are OTC pain killers and shaving supplies nearby.  It is also good to know if they have RV supplies or if I need to look elsewhere if something comes up.   If they don't have what you need one of the clerks can usually tell you where you can get it -- even it if means driving 25-30 miles or more to the nearest city.   Also check on the hours of operation.   Nothing quite so frustrating as arriving at the camp store at 8:30 pm with a major headache and finding they closed at 8:00!

Camp store prices are often, but not always, somewhat higher than you would pay in larger stores in the city.  This isn't because they are trying to rip you off.   Their delivery costs are often much higher due to their remote location and small volume.  You must also consider the convenience.   Sure, you may be able to buy milk for under $3.00/gallon at Walmart and they may charge close to $5.00 in a resort market.   But when that Walmart is 30 miles or more away, the extra couple of bucks makes it a bargain to be able to get it when you need it.   After all, if you go to the camp store, you probably need it NOW!  And driving into town would undoubtedly cost more than the extra couple of bucks, especially at today's escalating fuel prices!  Of course, supply and demand is always a factor in pricing.  If there are alternative places nearby where you can purchase goods, prices may be lower.  Always consider the convenience and the value of having what you need when you need it.  If you don't like the price and can wait until you get to town, by all means, wait.

Making use of camp stores can save you time and, when you consider fuel costs and driving time, save you money as well.  To minimize the cost of supplies, plan on stocking up on major items before you leave home or stopping in the nearest city for major purchases before you venture out into less populated areas.  You may often find limited stock in remote locations.   Sometimes they simply don't carry everything you want at all or, because their supplies are limited and deliveries infrequent, they may be sold out of popular items.  Basic grocery items like milk, bread, and butter and popular camping specialties like the makings of S'mores (graham crackers, Hershey bars and marshmallows) are among the things that sell out quickly.

If they don't have what you need or you don't like the prices, it is certainly OK to provide feedback to the clerk or the manager.   Just remember, the poor guy or gal at the register probably has little to do with the choice of merchandise or setting prices.  Yelling at him or her isn't going to get you what you want.  A polite word or note to the manager is more likely to get results, probably not in time to help you this trip, but it may assist future travelers  (including yourself).

Camp stores sometimes carry unique arts and crafts by local artists.   These may be unique, even one of a kind, items you won't find anywhere else.  If you come across something that interests you, you should probably buy it while you can.  Chances are you won't find it anyplace else and, given the limited supply of many hand-made items, the one you want might easily be sold out if you wait even a day or two.   Items might include camping related goodies as well as local arts and crafts.

Happy shopping!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Where to Get Camping Equipment

The simple answer is: wherever you can find it!  But you have to look.   Don't wait until you need something specific for an upcoming outing.  If you feel pressured to get something right away you're likely to settle for something less than you want or pay too much for it.   Always be on the lookout for good deals on equipment and supplies.  There are many places in addition to camping, outdoor, and sporting goods stores, some you might not ordinarily think of:  department stores, thrift stores, home centers, garage sales, flea markets, ebay, craigslist, local classified ads, and magazines. TV, radio, and email may bring you ads for sales.  You may find things you need or want at camp stores or may be able to purchase them from fellow campers who have duplicates or no longer need them. You may also find things you need in your own kitchen, garage, or attic!  I recently found a lot of brand new camping equipment on a year-end sale at 50% off at my local farm and ranch store.  Such closeouts are fairly common as retailers clear out seasonal merchandise to make way for a different season.

New or used is a question you want to answer before you go very far in your search for camping equipment.  If you have an unlimited budget, you can fill your shopping cart at L.L. Bean, REI, or Cabella's with wonderful new equipment and you're set to go.  However, most of us don't have that luxury and have to seek more cost-effective alternatives and almost everyone likes to get a bargain. Some highly desirable and venerable items are no longer available in stores so you may have to search the used market to find them.  Funny how once popular staples of camping can be discontinued, but I've see it happen more than once.  And just about everyone enjoys getting a good bargain.  Watching for and taking advantage of seasonal sporting goods sales can net good savings on new equipment, but used equipment at good prices is more readily available year round.  Keep in mind that new equipment is only new once -- before you use it the first time.  After that it is used anyway.   Some people have reservations about using personal items that others have used.   Sleeping bags are at the top of this list, with tents and kitchen items following close behind.  If you have any concerns about the cleanliness of any item, it can be taken care of.  Sleeping bags can be dry cleaned. Tents can be washed and sanitized.  Kitchen items can be cleaned and sterilized in your dishwasher.  Even Port-a-Pottis can usually be easily cleaned and sanitized.   The question of "new or used" will most likely be answered by how much you are able to spend and whether the item is still in production.  Very often the "used" camping items you will find in garage sales or classified ads will have been gently used if at all.   Perhaps the used car dealer euphemistic designation of "pre-owned" might be a better way of thinking of it.   Many of these pieces of equipment find their way into garage sales because of dis-use or even non-use.  People sometimes accumulate duplicates over time or receive them as gifts and never get around to using them.  Used camping gear can be an excellent investment.  It is not unusual to find brand new camping equipment for sale by private parties.  People sometimes buy stuff thinking they will use it or receive items as gifts and just leave them on the shelf.   Over time, many of us accumulate duplicates as we find good deals on things we like, creating additional candidates for garage sales.  Unless there is a significant factor of durability, wear, damage, or warranties, new usually has little real advantage over used.  After all, as I said before, something in only really new once -- the first time you use it.   Some vintage items aren't even still available in stores so the only way to get them is to buy used.  Sometimes stuff finds its way into garage sales, thrift stores, and classified ads because it is worn out, but most often things fall into dis-use long before their useful life is over.  Even so, you want to carefully inspect each purchase to be sure you know what you are getting.  Sometimes you can find used items that are no longer available new in retail stores.   I much prefer the old style metal containers for Coleman lanterns over their modern plastic "clamshell" counterparts and the only way to get them these days is to buy them used.  The metal containers are more square and fit better in cabinets and trunks.

Many department stores offer camping supplies.  Places like Walmart, K-Mart, Target, and Sears have large, well-stocked camping departments and are good choices.  Camping specialty stores and sporting goods stores like REI, Cabellas, and Big 5 of course have super selections.   However, you may find some camping supplies in your local grocery store and places like Rite Aid or even at truck stops.   I have had very good luck at farm and ranch stores.  I like to browse through the camping displays at any store whenever I have a chance.   You never know when you'll come across a new gadget or a "Manager's Special".   I once picked up a $125 Camp Chef stove for $25 on a year end close out by checking out the Clearance Table at Big 5.  I found a rather unique T-handle socket set at a truck stop when we stopped for gas on a routine family car trip.  Granted, a socket set is not directly a camping tool, but with several RVs and OHVs to maintain, it is closely related.   It has been very useful and I've never found one like it anyplace else.   A good rule to follow is, if you find something you like, get it while you can.   On a few occasions I have found items later at a better price, but not nearly as many times as I've passed up an item, then wished I had gotten it, usually because I can't find it anyplace else.

Ebay and craigslist are also good places to look for camping stuff.   Be sure to do your homework on checking prices before you bid on ebay or run out to buy that "bargain" tent on craigslist.  I've seen people over-bid for common items on ebay, things they could have purchased at their local Walmart for 2/3 their bid or less.  You may run across unique items for which you can't get any price comparisons.  In that case, set your maximum price based on your budget and how much the item is worth to you.  I got into bidding war over an Autolite 12-volt air compressor I wanted for my motorcycle trailer.  It was a very unique item, not one of the flimsy little toys that plug into a cigarette lighter, but one with a motor the size of an automobile starter.   I suspect the other bidders also recognized the uniqueness of the item and together we probably pushed the price higher than it should have gone, but I have never regretted having purchased it.  It serves the function for which I bought it and there is no doubt I would have kicked myself if I had let it get away since I've never seen another one.  On the other hand, I saw bidding for a Marine grade (water resistant) 12-volt socket soar past $17 when the very same item could be purchased at the local Walmart for under $8. Of course, if you don't have a local Walmart, snagging something on ebay may be your best course of action and it may be worth paying a little extra for the convenience of having it delivered to your door.  But it could have been purchased on line for less from walmart.com.  While you can get true bargains on ebay, keep in mind that in order to win an auction, you have to be willing to pay more for the item than anyone else in the world!  Getting a good price is often a matter of timing.  Bidding early or waiting until near the end of the auction are both strategies that have merit.  Bidding early makes you the first winner and if the minimum bid is near the actual or perceived value or you don't have a lot of competition, you might not get outbid.  Bidding at the end of an auction limits the possibility of being outbid.  There are even computer programs that can monitor your bids and bid for you just seconds before the auction ends so no one has time to outbid you.  I like the "Buy It Now" option that completely eliminates the possibility of being out bid.  Always check the shipping and handling.  A few unscrupulous sellers offer unbelievable (and unrealistic) low prices on items only to hit you hard on "shipping and handling" charges.

Local classified ads and garage sales can often be the source of excellent bargains.   Here again, perform due diligence to know the quality and price of the products you are interested in buying.  You will often find gently used or even brand new products at a fraction of their original prices.  People sometimes buy or receive as gifts items they seldom if ever use.  Unfortunate as the circumstances may be for the seller, estate, moving, and divorce sales can produce good opportunities for the savvy shopper.  Loss of employment in today's lousy economy has forced a lot of people to liquidate recreational items.  Don't be afraid to negotiate for a lower price or seek a discount for purchasing multiple items.   Getting to a garage sale early in the day ensures the best selection, but shopping late in the afternoon can get you the best price on anything that is left.   Since garage sales are random events and the availability of any particular item even more random, your best bet is just to browse every garage sale you see.   You may find that tent or camp stove you're looking for stuck under one of the tables or behind boxes or furniture.  Or you may come across interesting and helpful items you hadn't even considered.  I lucked out one day when I stumbled on a set of 4 manual RV leveling jacks for a fraction of their retail price. They were mechanical jacks designed to work on a travel trailer but with a little creative engineering I was able to make them work on my 28' Class A Motorhome.  They were not nearly as convenient as automatic levelers, but a lot easier to use and more stable than leveling blocks.

You cannot predict what you will find at garage sales but you can often find great bargains on camping equipment there.  I've found good deals on both tent camping items and RV accessories at garage sales.  Be sure to check out the condition and functionality.   Even items that need repairs can be a great find, as long as you know what it will take to restore them -- and have the ability or funds to do so.  Gas stoves and lanterns often need the pumps rebuilt or the generators replaced and both are easy and inexpensive tasks.  Leaking fuel tanks, on the other hand, tell me to keep looking.  Sometimes you might pick up an item you can use for parts but make sure it is compatible with what you are fixing.

Thrift stores can be an excellent source of bargain camping equipment, especially kitchen items. Tents, sleeping gas, camp stoves, lanterns, and ice chests may be harder to find but when you find them you will likely save a lot of money over new prices.   Thrift stores usually have a large supply of kitchen items at all times so you can fill out your cooking and serving needs or replace lost or damaged items very quickly and economically.  You may have to keep checking back for other camping equipment.   I suggest getting cast iron cookware unless you need it for hiking or back packing.  Cast iron is durable and can be used directly in your campfire.  If you plan to cook on a campfire, avoid light weight aluminum cookware.  I've seen aluminum pans melted into shimmering puddles in a campfire.  A little breeze acts like a blacksmith's bellows and can create pretty high temperatures, high enough to melt pans and completely consume aluminum cans.   An advantage of building your camp kitchen using thrift store items is you won't be out a lot of money if something does happen and they get damaged or lost and you can easily and cheaply replace them as needed.

"Dollar" stores are an inexpensive way to augment your galley and other provisions.  Pots, pans, glasses, cups, plates, dishes, kitchen utensils, spices, and cleaning and hygiene supplies can be found at most dollar stores.  I've found a lot of good first aid supplies and OTC medication there too.  I like to check out their hardware section and have found some useful hand tools from time to time. I can usually count on finding bungee cords, a package of 2 each of 3 different handy sizes.   They aren't big enough for securing loads in my pickup truck but they are perfect for packs, keeping lids on camping totes, controlling sleeping pads and sleeping bags, etc.   I stocked my camp kitchen with large, sturdy, stainless steel spoons, forks, spatulas, and ladles from Dollar Tree.  You can often find inexpensive flashlights and batteries at dollar stores.  Flashlights may not be as convenient as Coleman lanterns for general campsite lighting, but getting them at the dollar store will be a lot cheaper.   Even efficient LED lights are starting to show up there now.   LED lights last hundreds of thousands of hours and batteries last a LOT longer (about 10-12 times longer) than when using ordinary flashlight bulbs.  Dollar store flashlights are perfect for kids, who have a tendency to break or misplace them fairly regularly. I tried to avoid letting my kids use my $30 Maglites and when they did get their hands on them the results were disappointing and expensive. My son once "borrowed" my brand new, blue anodized Maglite to explore a local cave. It came back in one piece but it looked like it had been through a war!  Dollar stores have "D" and "C" cell plastic flashlights and "AAA" powered aluminum LED models that are perfect for pocket, purse, fanny pack, or little hands.  Cheap flashlights make good loaners too, since you don't have to worry too much about getting them back.  Recently they've had solar walkway lights,that are good for marking your tent pegs so you don't trip over them in the dark or to mark your RV steps and sometimes you can remove the stakes and add some kind of hanger or stick the stake into a can filled with sand, beans, glass beads, or rice to use them as small, general purpose hanging or table lights.

Military surplus stores can be an excellent source of camping gear.   Tents, sleeping bags, tarps, first aid kits, mess kits, canteens, and troop cook kits are just the start of what you may find there. You can always find creative ways to use surplus parachutes and paracord.  Boots, coats, and other combat uniform items make great hiking and camping wear.  One word of caution: the popularity of surplus military items has created a market that invites imitations.  Be skeptical if the Army coat or skillet has a label that says "Made in China" -- unless it is a Chinese army coat.  Hand tools designed for military use can be handy for camping.   Folding shovels and axes are among the favorites. Bayonets are popular as hunting or survival knives, but most survival experts recommend a smaller fixed blade knife, with a 3-5" blade.  It is more convenient to carry and works better for more survival tasks, which tend to be more carving than hacking.  Unfortunately, the popularity of military surplus items for camping has inflated the price over what it once was when I was younger and there was a lot of "war surplus" items to be had, but you will still often find sturdy merchandise that is well suited to camping at reasonable prices.  Military first aid kits are compact and usually pretty complete.  Sometimes you find things there you won't find anyplace else.  You probably won't have much use for troop sized cooking and first aid kits unless you have an  unusually large family or intend to regularly support some other large group.  Some of the military field medical kits contain far more supplies than most people would know how or be qualified to use, so make sure you buy what is appropriate for your needs and your skills and training. Most of us would have little use for a field surgical kit but it might make a good addition to your emergency supplies if you have, know someone, or are able to get some appropriate training. 

Home centers and hardware stores can also be a source of camping supplies.  Tools are among the more obvious options at these locations.  I like to carry a "roofers hammer", which is a combination hatchet and hammer.  Some home centers and hardware stores have extensive camping sections.  I even got a great close-out price on a tent at a home center.  I've also found it more economical and more convenient to purchase my awning mats from home centers.  They sell indoor-outdoor carpet in bulk in a variety of colors, including an artificial grass style, that works well for awning mats.  You can buy just the length you need to correspond to the length of your awning and I've usually found it to be less expensive than pre-made awning mats from RV supply stores.  However, some of the awning mats are made of materials that lend themselves better to their intended use.   For example, some will let rain pass through whereas indoor-outdoor carpet might retain water and other spills.   By buying just the length you need to match your awning you avoid paying extra for two mats when one isn't long enough for your awning.  I add grommets to each corner and about every 3' along the long sides, plus one on each side of where the RV step will be.  I use 12" nails with flat fender washers on them to secure the mat to the ground.   If you have a welder, tack-weld the washers to the nails so they don't get lost.  If you don't have a welder cut some discs from heavy plastic like motor oil bottles and push the nails through them so they retain the washers against the heads of the nails so they don't get lost in storage between uses.  When parking on asphalt, I use a 22 caliber nail gun to literally shoot my mat to the pavement where tent stakes won't work.  One of our favorite camp sites was on a once paved cul de sac in an abandoned housing development in the Mojave Desert near California City.  There was enough pavement remaining beneath the sand that had blown in to completely cover the old roads that it was impossible to drive ordinary tent pegs.

Most department stores have camping sections and often the prices are lower than you'd pay at specialty camping, sporting goods, or RV stores. Walmart, K-mart, Sears, and Target always seem to have pretty complete camping selections during camping season.  Pre- and post- season sales can deliver excellent bargains, but selection may be limited.  If a Coleman lantern isn't in your current budget, kerosene lanterns are a lot less costly.   The light isn't as white and bright as a gas lantern and it gives off a distinctive kerosene odor similar to a jet engine, but they were the staple of lighting not only in camping but in homes and businesses for many, many years before electric lighting came along.  If you find the kerosene odor objectionable you can burn scented lamp oil or unscented liquid paraffin.  Using citronella oil will also help repel insects.

Camp stores.  Whenever you stay at a commercial campground, check out the camp store.  They often stock unique camper related items you won't find anywhere else.  Prices may be higher for regular RV and camping supplies, but it is usually worth the convenience if you happen to need something right now.  If nothing else, you might get some ideas of things you'd like to add to your gear and can shop around for better prices when you get home.  Be sure to hang on to a business card or receipt from the camp store so you can contact them if you can't find an alternate source.  They might be willing to ship it to you.   Just to be sure, grab anything that is manufactured or produced locally when you see it.  You probably won't find it anywhere else.  It just might be worth paying more for something when you see it rather than miss out on it entirely.  I have NEVER bought something on the spur of the moment and then regretted buying it but many times I've regretted NOT buying something when I had the chance.

Gas stations and travel centers often stock a few camping and RV supplies especially in areas where camping is prevalent.  This can be convenient if you need something while on the road.  You probably won't find the lowest prices here but you sometimes find unique items you won't find any place else or be able to pick up a necessary item without having to make special trip to town for it.

Garage sales and flea markets can be an excellent way to get real bargains on pre-owned camping equipment.  Sometimes you may even find brand new items.  Flea market vendors often purchase liquidated merchandise and offer it at a fraction of its original suggested retail price.  Individual owners may have brand new equipment they received as gifts or simply never got around to using. Even used items will often be in excellent condition.   Often the reason they are being sold is they have gotten little use.   Check used items to be sure they are complete and look for damage that you might not be able to repair.  You will want to set your own guidelines for what you'll pay for used gear.   My usual target is 50% of retail. I might pay more for a particularly rare item or one in exceptionally good condition -- like new-in-the-box.  It mostly depends on now badly I want it and how much disposable cash I have available at the time.

Your own garage/basement/attic.   You may find useful items you already have in your own garage, basement, or attic.  Tools and kitchen implements and small appliances you set aside when you upgraded or replaced them may find new life in your camp gear.  Or you may have duplicates that have accumulated from gifts over the years.  Old clothing, towels, and linens might serve well in camp.   Some tools, like axes and hammers, may have multiple uses around the house and in camp. Why spend money if you already have items you can use?  Allocating duplicate or "retired" items specifically for camping makes spontaneous trips easier.  The old 2-slice toaster you replaced when your family outgrew it may be just the right size for your camper.  Converting items for camping might give you a good excuse for upgrading your kitchen stock at home.   If you have duplicates, or your budget will allow you to acquire extra tools specifically for camping, it will make hitting the road easier and reduce the chances of leaving something important at home. You can save money by using some of your home tools for camping, but you'll have to remember to pack them when you go and to unpack them when you get back.  I may go overboard in this area -- I have separate tools in my motorhome, my garage, and my motorcycle trailer, plus a "race kit" I can toss in the truck when we're going somewhere with the dirt bikes without taking the enclosed motorcycle trailer.  I've never been sorry I brought along any tool.

Rummage sales and church auctions.   Like garage sales, these events can often produce amazing bargains.   It may take some searching through tables of uninteresting junk or piles of musty smelling clothing to find something you want or need, but it is often worth the time and effort.   Since items for these events are usually donated, the seller has no cost-of-goods to recover.   Like garage sales, you'll find the best selection early in the day and can negotiate the best prices near the end of the event.  An old Army field jacket makes a great camping/hiking coat, and it is even more versatile if you can find the fleece liner that adapts them for colder weather.  I've seen them in rummage sales and thrift stores for a few dollars each, often in remarkably good condition.

Make your own.  You can make some of your own camping equipment.  Not only can this be fun, it can save you money.  Don't have a camp stove?  Make one from an old 1-gallon tin can.  Hot coals from charcoal briquettes or wood fires will burn through the thin tin over time, but it will be sufficient for preparing several meals, which may be adequate for a short camping trip or to get you through a few days during an emergency.   Check on the Internet for how to make your own "alcohol stoves" too. These usually consist of a roll of toilet paper placed in a 1 qt paint can and saturated with denatured alcohol.  You can make a very efficient "rocket stove" from a #10 can an 4 soup cans.  Rocket stoves can prepare a meal for 4 using just a handful of twigs as fuel.  Simple tents can be formed using inexpensive tarps. They probably won't provide the 360 degree protection you get from a commercially made tent with screened windows, a zippered door, and a sewn-in floor but they'll keep most of the rain off.  You can make up your own "cowboy bedroll" instead of buying expensive sleeping bags.  The ideal and authentic cowboy bedroll is made from sturdy waterproof canvas, but again, an inexpensive tarp will be OK to get you started or in an emergency.  You need enough of this outer material so it is a little longer than as you are tall and wide enough to fold over and under your body.  You lay it out, then lay out blankets, quilts, or comforters, and fold it over in thirds.  When it is done you should have at least 2 layers of the outer material on the bottom and two or three on the top to protect you from cold, wind, and rain.  Having the finished product a little longer than your height by 2 or 3 feet allows you to fold it over to protect your head once you're snuggled inside.   For detailed instructions search "how to make a cowboy bedroll" on the Internet.   If you expect to use it frequently or for a long time, investing in good quality canvas duck for the shell is a good idea.  If you just want to try it out once or twice and inexpensive poly tarp will do.  Simple hotdog and marshmallow cookers can be made from wire coat hangers. I like to bend a handle into one end. Then I slide them into a piece of 3/4" or 1" PVC pipe before I put them in my outside RV cabinets.   It keeps the mess off everything else, keeps them from getting tangled, and even helps keep them cleaner than they would be loose in the bottom of the cabinet.  Burn the paint off the end before you cook your first hot dog or marshmallow so you don't cook the paint into your treat.  After that you'll probably want to burn the rust off the end before mounting your treat.

Get it when you can.  When you see something you'd like to add to your camping gear, get it if you can.  Many times I've thought I'd wait and pick it up later only to find that it was no longer available. I snagged some half price bargains a few weeks ago and when I came back the following week they were already sold out so I was glad I bought them when I could.  There have been many times I've thought "Gee I wish I'd bought xxxxx" but I don't think I have ever looked at any of my camping gear or tools and said "Gee I wish I hadn't bought that!"   Even though I have sometimes accumulated duplicates that later had to be sorted out and passed along to other family members or garage saled, I have never regretted getting any of it, but have often regretted passing up an opportunity.  My wife keeps telling me we need to thin out our camping gear but the last time we did that the kids came asking to borrow stuff shortly thereafter -- even though they had been strong proponents of putting in a garage sale in the first place.  Likewise, it wasn't very long before we found ourselves lamenting having disposed of some of the items.  Being a pack-rat isn't productive, but it often pays to be judicious in choosing what to get rid of.  Sometimes, when you're traveling, you'll come across things you don't usually find near home.   Try to give yourself a little room in your budget and your vehicle, to take advantage of such discoveries.   I discovered a locally owned discount auto parts store in the distant city where my parents lived and often augmented my home and RV tool boxes with great bargains I never saw at home almost every time we visited.   But don't assume you can get the same deals on stuff at big box stores when you get home.  I bought some battery powered LED above ground pool lights with remote controls on sale at a Walmart in Colorado to use as tent lights.  I like them so much I wanted more, but I had trouble finding them at any local Walmart and on the Internet when I got home and when I did find a few they were 4 times as costly!  Remember, "Manager Specials" may or may not be the same across different locations of the same retailer.

Shop smart!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Camping Stores

 In a previous post we addressed "Camp Stores".  They are the little stores in a campground that usually offer some staples and camping supplies as opposed to camping stores, that focus on selling camping supplies and equipment.

Camping stores might be appropriately applied to any store that regularly sells camping supplies and equipment.  We usually think of places like Camping World, L.L. Bean, and REI. 
as camping stores.  Department stores such as Walmart, Kmart, Target, and Sears usually have large camping sections which qualifies them as camping stores. Sporting goods stores like Big 5, Dicks, and Sportsmans Warehouse are, of course, also good place to find camping supplies and equipment.  Many RV retailers have in house stores that sell mostly RV oriented supplies and accessories, but because camping and RVing are so closely aligned, you often find a variety of general camping supplies there too.  You may also find camping supplies at your local grocery store and large pharmacy chains like Rite Aid and Walgreens.  Some auto parts stores stock a limited amount of RV supplies too.

When I'm in the market for camping supplies and equipment, whether for tent camping or RVing, the first place I usually look is ebay.com.  That is, if I can afford to wait a few days for the items to be delivered.  For more immediate needs, I'll head to a local store like Big 5 or Walmart.  I've kept track of my ebay purchases over several years and have found that by judicious choice of purchase I've saved an average of over 50% over retail.  But whenever you use an Internet auction site, be sure you know what things will cost through regular local or online retail outlets so  you don't over bid.  Remember, to some extent, to win an auction on ebay you must be willing to pay more than anyone else in the world!  Don't let yourself get drawn into a bidding war over something you can get elsewhere.  I've seen bids for items on ebay climb way above the regular retail price at the local Walmart.  For example, I saw someone pay over $17 plus shipping for an outdoor 12-volt RV receptacle that sells every day at Walmart for under $10!

Thrift stores are not normally thought of as camping stores, but they can often be an excellent source of inexpensive equipment for camping.  People often donate camping equipment they no longer use to the charitable organizations that run thrift stores.  Often the equipment has only been slightly used because it seems we never get to go camping enough.  Sometimes it is even brand new! People tend to accumulate duplicate items over time or receive them as gifts.  You won't always find equipment like tents, lanterns, stoves, or sleeping bags, but when  you do you will probably be able to get them for a fraction of their original retail cost and very often they will be gently used and still in good condition.  Some thrift stores even recondition items for sale.  You can almost always count on finding plenty of kitchen items -- pots, pans, utensils, dinnerware etc.  They usually have a large selection of clothing from which you can build up your camp wardrobe.  Good winter jackets, like ski parkas, can be VERY expensive when new but you can often find excellent used ones at thrift stores that are more than suitable for camping at a tiny fraction of their original cost.  Thrift stores are also a good place to find good used jeans and other comfortable pants for camping.  You may even find some good hiking or snow boots!  (I like to keep a pair of snow boots in my RV.  I call them my "desert bedroom slippers".  They are really comfortable and keep my feet warm and comfortable around the campfire after a day of having my feet confined in stiff motorcycle riding boots.  Other good sources for used items include garage sales and local classified ads.  Be sure to check our your local version of craigslist.

My advice to you is to look for camping and RV supplies and accessories where ever  you go.  Even hardware stores and home centers sometimes have items you may find useful, even if they aren't specifically designed for camping.  I once picked up a 7' umbrella tent for $10 at a side walk sale at a home improvement store!   Our local home center recently had a special price promotion on telescoping walking sticks.   I've even found unique items at truck stops and travel centers during road trips.  While you might need to be careful about making unplanned expenditures while traveling, you will often discover that you will never have another opportunity to purchase certain unique items.  In general my suggestion is when in doubt, buy it!  I can't think of a single time I've regretted making such a purchase but there have been many times I've lost out by not buying something when I could.

A couple of tips for keeping cost down:  1) check to see if you already have some excess or duplicate items you can re-purpose for camping before you spend good money on new ones and 2) keep your eyes open for sales -- watch for clearance and manger special signs whenever you go shopping.  Look over the stuff in your kitchen, attic, basement, and garage to see what you might have stored that you can now use.  One other thought:  stock up on bargains when  you have a chance.  That applies mostly to durable goods and supplies.  Buying large quantities of perishable items only makes sense when you have an immediate need and will use them up before they go bad, such as for a large family or group outing -- or if you have a way to preserve them for future use, such as freezing them.  I had to pay $1.50 for two of the little spring type sleeping bag cord locks when I needed them NOW for a trip.  A few days later I bought about 50 of them in one bag on ebay for about what I spent at my local sporting goods store for two!  Next time I need them I'll be all set.

Some items you might find it useful to watch for and stock up on might include spare parts for stoves and lanterns (generators, mantles, pump repair kits etc), tent pegs, personal grooming items (such a camping mirrors, biodegradable soap, pocket first aid kits, etc), LED flashlights and batteries, fire starters, parts for back packs (those darned little clevis pins have a habit of getting lost on the trail!), sunglasses, and bandages and other durable medical supplies.  RVers or tent campers with a porta-potti will want to stock up on toilet/holding tank chemicals.  If you use a gasoline camp stove or lantern, a couple extra cans of camping fuel would be handy.  If your have propane stove or lantern, you can save money by buying multi-packs of propane canisters when they're on sale.

Shop 'til you drop!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Camp Cookware

To keep the cost down when you're first getting started, you can usually just bring along some of your home cookware.  The biggest downside is that it may get blackened, lost, damage the handles, or even melted using it on a campfire.  As long as you take care to avoid melting down your aluminum pots in the campfire and are prepared for the extra cleaning, using your home cookware is an acceptable and economical solution, at least to begin with.

A more convenient option is to put together a set of cookware specifically for camping.  If you camp in an RV, it can be stored in the cabinets, ready for immediate use.  If you're a tent camper, store it in one or more plastic totes, chuck box, or portable camp kitchen you can bring along.   Either way will make your outings more convenient and avoid damaging your home cookware.  Having a set of cookware set aside especially for camping means you don't have to worry about getting your kitchenware blackened and you'll already have it ready to go for each outing.   To keep the cost down, pick up some used pots, pans, and utensils at a garage sale, online auction or classified site, or thrift store -- or just recycle some old stuff you have at home.  Thrift stores usually have an abundance of cookware.   For the most durable albeit heavier to transport option, look for cast iron cookware.  It is practically indestructible and will easily withstand use directly in the campfire.  It also distributes heat evenly for better cooking.  For greater convenience and less weight to pack around look for cook sets designed specifically for camping.   The major components will stack to fit inside each other to they take up less space in your RV or camp box.   New camp sets can be found starting at $12.00 - $30.00 a set so they're not terribly expensive.  These are often made of light weight aluminum so you're better off using them in an RV or on a camp stove instead of in the campfire.  Some, more expensive sets (think $100-$150), are stainless steel and will stand up to more intensive use and last longer.  These camp cook sets are light weight and designed to take up as little room as possible, a real advantage when space is limited.  Having sufficient space in our RV, we like to carry some cast iron cookware along with our camp cook set so we can sometimes take advantage of cooking directly on the campfire.   Some camp cook sets even include several (usually 4) place settings so you have cook ware and dinner ware all in one package.  And it is designed to all fit together in one pot for easy transport and storage.

Dutch ovens and other cast iron cook ware are good choices for functionality and durability.   You won't want to haul them around when you're hiking or backpacking unless you want to turn your hike into a high stress upper body workout, but they are excellent options for RVs and base camps.   I like to think of dutch ovens as pioneer crock pots.  You can simmer a meal for hours and have a full meal in one pan.  Line them with aluminum foil to make clean up faster and easier.   Cast iron skillets and griddles are ideal for cooking directly on the campfire.  Remember you need to season cast iron before using it or after any aggressive cleaning or washing with detergents.   Avoid cleaning cast iron with soap and detergents.  Just rinse them out with hot water and wipe them clean.  One of the best cleaners for cast iron is a wad of old newspaper.   A final wipe with paper towels will ensure you can be confident it is clean.  Cast iron griddles and grills are great for pancakes, bacon and eggs, hamburgers and steaks.

Cooking utensils.  You'll need many of the same cooking utensils at camp that you use at home.   For camp you may want larger or sturdier versions, especially if you plan to cook over an open campfire. Wooden spoons and stainless steel utensils are durable.   Extra long handles are usually helpful. Plastic and other synthetic options are acceptable, but are less durable than steel.   I also like speckleware or graniteware spoons and ladles. T hey have a kind of nostalgic appearance I find matches the camping ambiance well.  They're also pretty easy to clean and they aren't likely to get mixed up with any home items you might have brought along.  You may even find they make interesting conversation pieces, especially if they have any family history.  Even if the ones you have weren't passed down, they may be LIKE ones your grandparents used to use and that can provide both pleasant memories for you and interesting anecdotes for your companions.  Restaurant size and quality utensils are a good choice, but an be kind of pricey if you get them at a restaurant supply store.   They are usually extra large (which comes in really handy when cooking over a campfire) and durable.   They don't have to be expensive. I've seen some pretty nice looking stainless steel pieces a my local dollar store.   I keep a set in my RV and a second set in my tent camping totes.  My wife liked some of my camping utensils so well that she snagged them for the kitchen and I had to look for replacements.

What do you really need?   Ultimately what you need is determined by what you plan to cook, what you'll be cooking on, and what you like to cook with. If all you ever intend to cook are hot dogs, you can get by with a couple of wire coat hangers.   I like to keep a variety of pots and pans in my motorhome or camper and in my tent camping totes.  Your basic cook set should include at least one frying pan and one pot.  For greater convenience you'll probably want a couple of different sized frying pans and at least a couple of different sized pots.   Those with metal or other heat resistance handles will withstand fire, but the handles will get hot so plan on using heavy gloves, pot holders or a wooden or metal pot lifter to move them about.  A coffee pot is handy, even if you don't drink coffee.   It is a good way to heat water for other hot beverages and for cleaning and medical use. You'll need some mixing and serving utensils.   I like to bring along a couple of big spoons, at least one large meat fork, a couple of spatulas, and at least one ladle.  You'll also need basic cutlery -- a paring knife and a medium sized butcher knife are probably sufficient for most needs but if you have room for a more complete set it may make some chores easier (like a bread knife for slicing bread).   If you go for a complete set of cutlery, plan to store it in a wooden block to keep things organized and protect the sharp edges -- and protect your fingers from the sharp edges!  You want them to stay sharp yet not be where you're going to get cut on them.  Having them loose in a drawer or tub contributes to both dulling the edges and accidental injuries.  In your RV you may want to secure the storage block to a counter top or inside a cabinet for additional safety.  I use small bungee cords or velcro to anchor the block in my RV.  You can glue the block inside your tent camping tub.   Clever idea I recently saw in the "Quick Tips" section of motorhome magazine (submitted by a subscriber) was to make a vertical storage block about 1" thick that attached to the inside wall of the pantry.  It kept all the knives safe and handy and when the door was closed, they were secured safely for travel and used hardly any space.

If you like to cook and plan any special meals you will probably want to include other favorite kitchen tools.   You will want to be somewhat choosy so you don't weigh down your camp kit or your RV or camp totes with unnecessary items, but feel free to include whatever makes your food preparation easier or more fun.  What is an unnecessary toy to one person may be essential to you. You can get by peeling vegetables with a paring knife but you may find it is faster and easier with a peeler.  You can chop nuts and veggies with a knife, but a chopper is faster and easier -- and more fun to use.  Whether you bring along the specialty tools depends on how much room you have, how often you use them, and how much you enjoy using them.  You might need an angel food cake pan for special occasions, but it probably isn't necessary for your basic cook kit.  A small square cake pan takes up little room and can be used for a variety of purposes.

Military surplus stores are often a good place to purchase camp cookware.  Your choices may range from individual mess kits to super-sized army mess hall pots and pans.  For individual and family camping you probably won't have a need for a huge stock pot, but if you're planning a family reunion or any other large get-together one or more might come in handy.  You will usually find an assortment of cast iron cookware at military surplus stores.   Military cookware is designed to be rugged and portable, both desirable characteristics for camp use.  Of course you can buy camp cookware at camping and outdoor stores and department stores like Walmart, K-mart, and Target. And, as mentioned above, thrift stores are often a good place to find cookware you can adapt to camping without spending a lot of money.

Emergency/survival cookware.   If you get stranded in camp you'll have your camp cookware in an emergency situation, but if you have problems out on the trail, you'll have to improvise.  Obviously, primitive people survived without modern cookware, so how did they do it?  Many types of food can be cooked on a stick over a campfire.   But what if you need some hot water and don't have a pot to heat it in?  If you have an OHV, you might be able to scavenge a headlight can to use for a cooking pot.  Lacking any kind of suitable metal object, form a rough bowl out of clay or mud.   Fill it with water, and drop hot rocks into it until the water reaches the desired temperature.  Some foods can be cooked on hot rocks.  Place smooth, flat, non-porous rocks into the coals of your campfire.  Why non-porous?  Porous rocks absorb water and could explode when heated!   When they're hot enough that water sizzles when dropped on them, brush off the coals and place your food on the rocks to cook.  This works pretty well for things like eggs and breads or even meat and fish.  Some foods can be wrapped in large leaves for direct campfire cooking. Y ou can carve your own eating utensils from wooden sticks to make knives, forks, and spoons.  This may take some practice, so don't expect your first attempt to yield restaurant quality items.  Even crude utensils will beat using your fingers.   But in a survival situation, etiquette is not your priority -- "fingers were made before forks" is more than just a clever excuse for eating with your fingers.  In an emergency situation, it becomes a rule of survival.  A sharpened stick may suffice for many foods.  So, why would you even want to carve eating utensils?  For one thing, it gives you something productive to do, helping to take your mind off your troubles and improve your attitude.  Adding some level of productivity and normalcy can also make life easier and more comfortable, helping to avoid panic.  In many survival situations, water is scarce so you may not have many options for cleaning your hands before or after eating.   Having functional utensils avoids contaminating your food and helps keep your hands cleaner.  Hey, even a sharp stick or a pair of sticks used like chopsticks is better than nothing.  If you do find yourself in a survival situation, take stock of your resources and use them to best advantage.  Survey your surroundings and look for natural resources or discarded materials that you may be able to use. Things that you would normally consider trash might become treasures.   An old tin can might be used for a cook pot . Plastic trash bags could become water bags or rain ponchos or part of the roof of your shelter.   Be creative!

Happy cooking!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Camp Kitchens

When we're camping we usually like to do a lot of our cooking outdoors, even when we camp in an RV and have brought an indoor kitchen with us.   Some RVs now come with an optional outdoor kitchen.  A lot of folks cook over the campfire, set up a BBQ, or use a camp stove outside instead of taking advantage of the home-like galleys in their RVs that compare favorably to their home kitchens. Cooking outside is especially advantageous in hot weather when it is good to minimize heating up the inside of your RV.  It is also nice to take things with strong odors outside so they don't pollute the interior.  The residual odors of yesterday's fish can be downright stomach turning after a day or two in a hot RV.   I picked up a big Camp Chef stove I like to use outdoors. It has much larger burners than a typical Coleman camp stove and grill/griddle options that provide a near professional method for cooking hot cakes or hamburgers.   t also has an optional "BBQ Box" that turns it into an ideal cooker for burgers etc along with the pair of grill/griddles that are great for pancakes and steaks.. Cooking outside helps keep the RV cooler and avoids the accumulation of odors in the furnishings. There is an increasing trend toward "outdoor" kitchens in new RVs.  Although manufacturers are claiming these are a new innovation, in reality they are an adaptation and re-creation of the kind of kitchen used by the teardrop trailers of yore.  Some RVs now offer optional outdoor kitchens ranging from a BBQ or a sink and fridge that slide out from a curb-side storage compartment to full-wall units that include microwave ovens, refrigerators, sinks, counters, cabinets and even TVs.   Some implementations are built in to the RV wall and you gain access by opening large doors that then serve as wind breaks.  Some are on the curb side and others are on the rear (even more reminiscent of teardrop trailers). Some slide out perpendicular to the RV wall.  A common feature is a swing-out or slide out BBQ tucked into a "basement" compartment.  With many of these variations, you have everything you need to prepare and serve a meal and clean up in one convenient outdoor location, without having to constantly run in and out of your RV or overheat the interior.

RV galleys usually provide most of the conveniences of your home kitchen, albeit often on a reduced scale.   You will want to organize your RV kitchen -- indoor or outdoor --- to make it as easy and convenient to use as possible.   Keep frequently used items like utensils and spices within easy reach. Stock your RV kitchen with the items you find most useful and enjoy using.  Not everyone needs the same pots and pans and your needs may vary from outing to outing.  Basic items like a frying pan and various sizes of pots are pretty much standard equipment for any camp kitchen.   If you plan to do any baking, make sure you have the appropriate baking pans on board.  A small, hand-held electric mixer will usually suffice for most camp recipes and takes up little room.  If you're tent camping, a hand-cranked mixer will do the trick.  For RVs equipped with a built-in food processor base, acquiring the various attachments can add a lot of convenience.  The basic unit usually includes a blender.  Other typical options include a mixer, a can opener, an ice crusher, a juicer, and a knife sharpener.   When using your RV kitchen be sure to provide plenty of ventilation.   There should be a vent above the range but opening some windows and one or more roof vents for improved air flow will prevent a build-up of both stove exhausts and cooking fumes and odors.  The limited space in the galleys of most RVs will restrict the number of people who can reasonably help in preparing meals, another reason outside cooking is popular.

Outdoor kitchens are by no means limited to fancy RVs.  Pretty much by definition, if you are tent camping, your "kitchen" will be outdoors.  Traditionally a tent camper's "kitchen" consists of a camp stove and an ice chest.   A plastic dishpan or portable sink probably rounds out the features.  That all works pretty well if you are in a developed campground with picnic tables where you can set up your "kitchen".  But what if you are boondocking and there are no picnic tables?  Well, of course you can bring your own folding table and you probably will want to for dining convenience.   There are also a number of folding "camp kitchen" units available to help organize your outdoor kitchen.  They are usually made of aluminum and collapse into a compact package 6" square or less. When opened up they provide a stand for your cooler, camp stove, cooking utensils, and sometimes even a little bit of counter space and maybe room for a dishpan or sink and a vertical pole for a lantern stand.  Units like these are too large and too heavy for back packing, but for base camps and car camping, they provide a lot of convenience.   They also make a good alternative for RVs that don't have outdoor kitchen facilities so you don't have to further heat up the inside of your RV cooking inside on hot days.  The run the gambit from simple stands for your camp stove to more complete units like this deluxe Camp Kitchen at Cabelas.

You might build your own chuck box, patterned after old time chuck wagons.  You can design it to fit in whatever available space you may have -- in your trailer, pickup bed, the back of an SUV or station wagon, or even to fit in the trunk of your car.  Here is a sample build it yourself chuck box  you might want to check out for some ideas.  For more information, see my post on Chuck Boxes.  Remember you'll have to load it into your vehicle and carry it to your camp site so don't make it too big!   If you include a sink, use a separate water jug to keep down the weight of the box.   Of course, if your chuck box is built in to your trailer, you don't have to worry as much about weight and can focus on convenience -- both for setting it up and using it.

Of course, you can always resort to more primitive methods, and that can be kind of fun.  Re-discovering the techniques used by our ancestors can be interesting and educational.  How did the American pioneers prepare their meals during long wagon-train trips across the plains?  How did trappers and "mountain men" live for months and even years between trips to town?   How do they make do during a "walkabout" in the Australian outback?  How did the Aztecs, Incas, and American Indians handle routine household tasks without the modern conveniences we enjoy today?  A little research on the Internet can answer many of these questions and give you some ideas for some interesting adventures.  Learn how to cook meat and even bread on a stick over an open campfire.  Try some "ash cakes".  Swap your traditional Cheerios, cornflakes, or Fruit Loops for some old-fashioned corn meal mush.  What facilities made up the "camp kitchen" of a wagon train or a cattle drive?  Count on finding a lot of cast-iron cookware and perhaps a tripod among their preparations. Also count on finding easy, basic meals that can be quickly prepared with simple ingredients and limited resources.  Like the cattle drive cook in the movie "Cityslickers" said about his grub: "It's hot, brown, and plenty of it!"   Rustic camp furniture may not be as light weight and comfortable as today's camp chairs, but they were functional and, you might need to know about them if you find yourself in a survival situation.  Need something to sit on?  You can make a temporary camp stool from a couple of pieces of flat wood.  Take one just a little shorter than from your knee to the ground. Stand it on end and balance another one, about a foot to a foot and a half long centered on top of it. With a little practice you can sit on this "one legged stool" quite comfortably.  And even though you can't recline like you do in your favorite camp chair, it sure beats sitting the dirt or mud and is easier on your back and knees than squatting by your campfire to do your cooking or socializing.

Regardless of the type of camp kitchen you use, you want to make it convenient.  Keep extra fuel handy, but safe from heat.  Keep your pots and pans and utensils close to where you'll use them and well organized.  Keep spices and flavorings within easy reach.  Keep your fire supression materials where you can grab them quickly if needed.   Keep your food preparation area clean and try to clean and put away items as you use them instead of piling them up to wash after dinner. Doing them as you go will make it a lot easier to find items if you need to reuse them and will significantly reduce clean-up time after dinner.   Cleaning as you go also avoids stuff "baking on" to implements.  For a simple example, consider fried eggs. If you wash your plate while the residue is still wet, it is easy to clean.   If you wait until it has dried, it will take a LOT of scrubbing and/or soaking to remove it.   Residue in pots and pans can be even worse.  Simply filling a pot with water after the food has been removed but while it is still hot will go a long way toward making it easier to clean when the time comes.

Portable camp kitchens can make meal preparation and doing dishes a lot easier in camp.  These are collapsible aluminum frameworks that hold your camp stove and usually have a place to hang cooking utensils. The larger and fanciers ones will also have a shelf for a cooler and perhaps even a plastic sink and some counter space. Some have little wire-rack shelves to hold spices and/or cleaning supplies.  A camp kitchen frees your picnic table for eating and avoids getting it scorched by hot stoves or greasy from cooking spills.  Click here for an example of a basic Coleman Camp Kitchen.  There are links on the page so some of alternate versions too.  While portable camp kitchens are mainly designed for tent campers, RVers could use them as outdoor kitchens too.

If you are a tent camper, keep your kitchen stuff organized in plastic tubs so it will be easy to use when you need. it.  We got so used to having everything "including the kitchen sink" in our RV that I found myself quite unprepared when I took my boys on a dirt bike outing using just our enclosed motorcycle trailer.  The next time out, I had stocked a couple of plastic bins with basic camp cooking gear.  Not only did they make the occasional trailer-only outing easier, I used them on a number of tent trips with the Boy Scouts.  I included things like plastic utensils, plastic plates, bowls, and cups, cooking and serving spoons, dish soap, dish clothes, dish towels, paper towels, napkins, can opener, kitchen knives, some basic pots and pans, and some common spices like salt and pepper.  For added luxury I tossed in some envelopes of hot chocolate and spiced cider.  If you expect any kind of bad weather during your outing, or if you just want to be prepared in case bad weather comes, set up your camp kitchen to protect you and your food if things do "go south".  If you need to cook in the rain, you'll need a tarp high enough to allow smoke and fumes from your fire or stove to safely escape without harming the tarp and not be trapped where they will choke you and burn your eyes.  A wind break might be in order too.  DO NOT plan to cook in your tent!  Cooking in your tent may cause a fire, could suffocate you and other occupants, and could infuse the fabric with odors that will make it nearly uninhabitable as they age.   I suggest using separate tarps for your kitchen because they will get coated with cooking residue making them unsuitable for other uses.

Camp cookware.   There are many options for camp cookware.   If your budget is limited you can get by with bringing along some of your regular kitchen pots and pans. J ust be careful about putting lightweight aluminum pans in the fire or overheating them on the stove.   I've seen aluminum cookware melted down into puddles in campfires.  If you are in an RV or are primarily car camping where weight is not a major consideration, cast iron cookware is a traditional camp standard.   It is durable and generally provides even heat.  You aren't likely to damage it in even the hottest campfire. Cooking with cast iron takes some practice and remember you need to "season" it before you first use it or after it has been scrubbed.  To season cast iron cookware, coat the cooking surface with oil (shortening, butter, lard, bacon grease) and heat it until the oil burns away.  This will leave a "patina" on the surface that is necessary for proper cooking.  There are many camp "mess kits" on the market. They are usually made of aluminum so be careful not to melt them.  Good camp cook sets are made to "telescope" or "nest" inside each other to conserve space.  Often the lid for the big pot doubles as a fry pan. Many camp cook sets include plastic plates, cups, and flatware, kind of an all in one meal time solution.   These are a good choice when space and weight is a major factor.  A good, old-fashioned coffee pot is a good way to heat water for beverages and other uses. I use an the old "speckle-ware" pot. Be sure you have heavy leather gloves or a good hot pad to handle it, 'cause the handle WILL get very hot! Thrift stores and garage sales are good places to look for inexpensive items to build or supplement your camp cookware so you don't have to risk losing or damaging your pots and pans from home and so  you can keep your RV or camp kit fully stocked and ready to use.

Survival cookware. If you get lost or your OHV breaks down far from camp you may find yourself in survival mode and without any normal cookware.  This is definitely an opportunity to get creative. You can cook meats and breads (assuming you have a way to obtain the ingredients) on a stick or on a flat rock.  You may be able to heat water in a clay pot -- form clay or mud into a bowl shape, fill it with water, and drop in hot rocks from your fire until the water reaches the temperature you desire. If you have access to large leaves you may be able to use them to wrap meat or fish, and vegetables together to make a tasty stew. The best place to cook one of these packages is in the coals. If you try to cook it over open flames, you will probably dry out and burn the leaves and set the whole thing on fire long before the food inside gets cooked. See what resources you have available. In a survival situation you might remove the headlight "bucket" from your OHV and use it for a cooking pot.   In survival mode you may have to forage for food.   Learn what plants and animals inhabit the areas where you'll be going before you get there and be on the watch during normal activities for edible plants and animal signs so you'll be prepared if you find yourself in survival mode.  Learn how to make simple traps (like rock deadfalls) from natural materials.

Outdoor cooking in bad weather presents some special challenges.  Tempting as it might be, cooking in your tent or under your RV awning or dining fly is NOT a good idea. Y ou may have to hold an umbrella in one hand and cook with the other during rain -- or get a fellow camper to hold the umbrella for you.  Sometimes in developed campgrounds there will be a canopy or pavilion you can use for protection.   Rain or wind may make it difficult to keep your fire going at the right level long enough to prepare your meal.  I've seen the time when it was so windy my gas BBQ would barely warm meat instead of cooking it!  I added wind breaks before my next outing.  If you rely on your campfire for cooking, plan ahead and try to schedule your cooking between squalls and keep plenty of dry firewood handy to keep your fire going.  Wind can make things very difficult.  Even gas-fired BBQs and camp stoves will need wind guards to remain effective and efficient.  If you don't have wind guards to fit your stove, you may have to improvise using tarps and camp chairs to block the wind.  Or have several people stand close together on the windward side to provide some shelter.  I have seen creative campers stretch multiple tarps high over an entire campsite to protect a large group of people from the rain. There was room for a central campfire, cooking on camp stoves, and eating on picnic tables.  They kept the cooking near one edge and had the tarp high enough that it didn't present a fire or smoke problem.  With the tarp high enough in the middle and an adequate vent opening they were even able to safely maintain a modest fire without smoking everyone out. Fortunately there was enough breeze to carry the smoke away.   Often it rises up and gets caught under any roof and curls back down to annoy campers.   If you MUST cook under any kind of awning or tarp, make sure it is high enough over the fire or stove so it isn't scorched or melted by the heat and leave some kind of opening near the highest point to serve as a chimney for the smoke.  Put your stove or BBQ near the edge of the awning, with the wind at your back (while facing out from under the awning) while you're cooking so smoke, fumes, and odors won't accumulate under the awning.   Your shelter won't last long if it catches fire and then you'll be much worse off than when you started.

Have fun cooking out!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Some Shopping Tips For Campers

I make it a habit to check out the camping stuff just about everywhere I go.  Places like REI, Cabela's, Camping World, and Big 5, that specialize in camping equipment and sporting goods are always good choices.  Walmart, K-mart, Sears, and Target, which we visit often for other things, are also good places to at least window shop.  Colemans Surplus is also a good online resource (not associated with Coleman's camping equipment).  But I also look over the stuff in truck stops and even local grocery stores. The little stores in campgrounds are always fun to check out.  You'll often find creations of local craftsmen there you won't see anywhere else.   Being bargain oriented (or perhaps just cheap!), I like to look for Manager's Specials and Clearances.  I find that is a good way to check out new gadgets and stock up on disposable supplies.  It is nice to be able to try out new gadgets without having to shell our big bucks for something you don't even know if you'll like.

Camping purchases may be planned or spontaneous.   Spontaneous buys will happen when you come across a good deal in your travels.   Planned purchases reflect the additions or improvements you want to make in your camping lifestyle based on what you've seen others using or new products you've seen advertised.  When you have determined you want a specific new gadget it is often useful to shop around to get the best price.  Check the Internet. I've found a lot of stuff I needed (or wanted) on eBay.  Make a list of the things you need and compare prices and availability, then make your best deal.  Don't forget to consider shipping costs when buying on the Internet.  As retailers have become more competitive with Internet stores, the lack of shipping costs plus the convenience of having it NOW instead of waiting for it to be shipped often tips things in their favor.  Spontaneous purchases happen when you're browsing through the camping department and come across something you like. More often than not I've regretted not buying something when I spotted it.  All too often it is no longer available or more expensive when I finally get around to adding it to my list.   Spontaneous purchases are particularly justified when you are out of town and somewhere it would be difficult to return to at a later time -- or when the item is on sale.  I've found some of my camping tools in truck stops during our travels -- and have never seen the identical items anywhere else.  I don't think I've EVER bought something and then wished I hadn't.  There have been a few times I've found better pricing on some items at a later date, but I'd rather over pay now rather than miss out on something good, which is what usually happens if I wait. Just this summer I kept passing over a Coleman Dual Fuel lantern at half price.  This time I lucked out and there was one left when I finally decided to buy it. If I'd waited just one more day -- or maybe even on more hour -- it could have been gone!

There are some unusual places you may find camping stuff.  Garage sales and thrift stores can yield unbelievable bargains on camping equipment or things you can adapt for camping.  Sometimes items have never even been used, just stuff people accumulated and never used or no longer need. Sometimes you'll see tools or supplies at home centers and hardware stores that are applicable to your camping lifestyle.   If you like bargains (and most of us do!), check out liquidation centers and keep your eyes open when you visit your local dollar stores.  I created a solvent-resistant, cushioned work surface on the workbench in my motorcycle trailer using foam animal puzzles from the 99 Cent store. It looks kind of funky, but it keeps things from sliding around, protects the counter top, and is surprisingly resistant to grease, oil, and solvent making it easy to clean.   I took a lot of initial teasing from my macho dirt biking buddies about my kiddie puzzles -- until they saw how well it worked!   By then the 99 Cent Store was all sold out and they had to do find another solution or do without. "Swim noodles" from the dollar store can be cut to make colorful windshield wiper shields for motorhomes and tow vehicles or used to wrap exposed tent or canopy poles to protect them from people walking into them and cushion the impact when they do.   A dollar swim noodle is a cheap investment to reduce the chances of bending an aluminum pole.  More than once I've found handy kitchen gadgets for my motorhome and camper on the kitchen utensils wall at my local Dollar Tree. They may not be restaurant strength or quality, but they're cheap and easy to replace if something happens to them.  They are usually more than adequate for the light use they get camping.  You never know what you might come across that will be helpful -- at least not until you spend a little time reviewing the options.

You will sometimes find useful items in your own garage, basement, closet, or attic -- things you might have set aside from your normal lifestyle that can be resurrected to add comfort or convenience to your camping experience.  Sometimes you can cut down a broken shovel handle to adapt it for camping use instead of throwing it away.  That old 2-slice toaster that your family outgrew might be just the right size for your camper. "Retired" towels, linens, and blankets often find new life for camping.   Blankets that were too ragged around the edges for home use can still provide plenty of warmth in camp and you don't have to worry too much about embers from the campfire burning holes in them.  Those old manual can openers we've shunned for years at home in favor of automatic electric models are perfect for camping and emergency preparedness kits.  One nice thing about recycling old stuff is you're not out much, if anything, when something happens to it, if it gets damaged or left behind.

Campground stores can be a mecca for campers.  They often stock items frequently needed or requested by campers so things have, to some extent, been pre-selected just for you.  Smaller campgrounds have limited supplies but don't be afraid to ask someone for what you need.  They may have back stock or may be able to pick up what you need on their next supply run.  In some cases you may find prices quite a bit higher than you'd pay in big-box outlets, but you are paying for convenience.   I've often seen milk go for around $5.00 a gallon in a resort town when it sells at Walmart for $2.99 or less -- but Walmart is 35 miles away and not even a motorcycle can make that trip for $2.00, not to mention the wasted driving time.  So don't begrudge camp stores if their prices are a little higher than downtown. Just be grateful when they have what you need!

The Internet can be a great source of camping equipment and supplies.   I like to check ebay and craigslist quite regularly.  Coleman's Surplus is a good source of surplus military stuff.   Local classified ads can also be a good place to look both online and in the paper.

Shopping for provisions.   When shopping for provisions, look for appropriate sized items to fit in your RV cabinets or camp kit.  Getting a 50 lb bag of flour may get you the lowest price per pound, but where the heck are you going to put it?   You might store that 50 lb bag at home and transfer just what you need to your RV or camp kit as needed.  Try to update your provisions at the same time you do your normal shopping so you don't have to make a special trip.  Be sure to check your needs before you go shopping so you can get everything in one trip.  You may be able to spread out the cost of stocking your RV or camp kit.  Make a list of everything you need.  Then look for coupons to save money.  And pick up  few items on your list each time you do your regular shopping.

The main thing to remember is to always be alert for camping items where ever you go.  Be prudent in your shopping but be prepared to take advantage of on-the-spot deals -- unique items or special prices.  By checking out many different places you will be better prepared to recognize a good deal when you find one.

Good shopping!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Base Camps

Base camps are a semi-permanent base from which to launch your outdoor recreational activities. They should be conveniently located, with good vehicle access. They should provide convenient access to trails, streams, lakes, etc., depending on the type of activities you'll be participating in.  If you're in a group, they need to be large enough to accommodate all participants. When you are desert camping you want your camp to be visible and easy to find when you're returning from activities, such as hiking or riding OHVs. We use flags attached to our RVs to help identify our camp, both for new arrivals and for returning riders. Collections of RVs can all look very much alike from a distance and you don't want to have to ride from cluster to cluster to find yours. One member of our group flies his Shamrocks off-road motorcycle club flag. I created a simple "DESERT RAT" flag to identify our group of unofficial, family-oriented, recreational riders that I mount on a flag pole that attaches to the tongue of my enclosed motorcycle trailer. At night I add flashing strobe lights on the top of my motorcycle trailer so late arriving members of the group can find us more easily in the dark.

You probably won't be setting up a base camp for a single overnight stay, but they are very helpful for weekends or other extended outings.  They are perfect for OHV or horseback riding and are useful for other roaming activities like hiking, hunting, and fishing.  You can set up a base camp from which to explore many trails or other points of interest.  When you return from a long day you'll have a comfortable spot waiting for you where you can rest and relax and refuel both your ride and your body.  Base camp makes a welcome respite from bad weather.

RVs make great base camps for all kinds of outdoor activities but if you don't have an RV, you can build your base camp around your regular vehicle and your tent. If you're on your own you don't need to worry too much about the size or layout of your own dispersed camping site as long as it meets your personal needs. You can choose the spot you like and set it up any way you desire. You will want it to be functional, well-organized, and easy to find when you return from activities. You want it to be fairly compact.  Your layout and location will be pretty much dictated when you stay in developed campgrounds. But if you are in a group, you need to plan ahead a little bit and organize yourselves to best advantage. It doesn't matter whether you're in a designated group site in a commercial campground or staking out your territory in a remote area when boondocking, there are some fundamental guidelines that will make thing work better. When we set up a base camp for our Desert Rat dirt bike outings in the desert we usually use the old wagon train model and "circle the wagons" around a central fire pit. That keeps everyone fairly close together and we can share one fire, which makes for really great camaraderie and conservation of fire wood at the end of the day. I have a home-made Desert Rat flag and flagpole that fits into a pipe mount on the tongue of my motorcycle trailer, which helps guide other members of our group to the camp. We also put out "Desert Rat" signs along the highway and access road. They are usually just cardboard. I splurged and had some nice painted aluminum signs made up a few years ago with big red reflective arrows but the first time I used them about half of them got stolen. They're too expensive to be disposable so now I only use them close to camp and rely on cheap paper and cardboard signs where I can't keep an eye on them. For cheap and easy signs, I just print them out on my computer printer and slip them into the clear pocket of the cover cut from an old 3 ring binder. You can usually get cheap binders at thrift stores. Look for the ones with clear plastic on the covers. Since they aren't totally sealed they still let rain soak the signs, but most of the time they hold up pretty well.  Installing them with the opening down will help protect them a little bit from moisture (rain or dew).  Make sure you secure the paper inside so it doesn't fall out.  Usually the tacks that fasten the sign to the post take care of that anyway.

Location, location, location is the slogan of real estate agents and developers everywhere. It is also applicable to choosing the site for your base camp. You want a spot that is easily accessible, has enough room for you and any companions, and is easy to locate when returning from activities away from camp. We use flags and road signs to guide people to our camp in the desert during the day and flashing strobe lights at night. You will want your base camp in remote areas to be near enough to roads for easy access but far enough away that you aren't bothered by passing traffic, which can create a lot of noise and kick up a lot of dust and may create safety hazards. When using group sites in developed campgrounds, you will have to pay strict attention to the rules or face ejection or possible fines. Take care to know and follow the rules for primitive camping on BLM and forest service lands too. Just because you're out in the middle of nowhere doesn't mean there aren't any rules.

Group camp sites are available in some developed campgrounds. They will usually have  large, centrally located gathering area with a permanent fire pit and sometimes even rustic seating.  Some even have a "bowery", pavilion, or canopy for protection from sun and and precipitation for group activities.  These special facilities usually require a reservation and may have a fee associated with their use.  Lacking a group site, you may have to reserve multiple individual sites.  It will make activities more efficient and convenient if you can get the individual sites close together.  Camp ground managers will usually try to help you get sites that will work well for your group, but prior reservations might prevent them from being able to give you exclusive use to a bunch of adjacent sites.

When group camping in remote, open camping areas, you'll need to pre-select a spot that is adequate for your group.  Pick a spot that is easy to find and to get to, yet off the main roads and not blocking any roads or trails.   One site we often  used in the desert near California City was on a cul-e-sac -- perfect for easy access without blocking any thoroughfares.  Scout out your site well in advance of your outing so you can be sure of access for all vehicles and sufficient space for your group.   In many open camping areas there are sites that have been used before and may already have a rustic, rock fire ring.  Organize your individual camps around that central fire ring.  If you find yourself in an area without an existing fire ring, try to form your camp around an open area where you can build a fire ring and your campfire won't be at risk of spreading and be sure to properly prepare your fire ring.

Spacing. When joining a group always leave room between your rig or tent and others. You and your neighbors will all need room to unload and maneuver your OHVs or other gear and may want a little privacy. But don't leave TOO much space, which may use up real estate others may need. If you prefer not to camp too close to a specific someone in the group, make sure you leave enough room between your rig and theirs for another rig to fit in -- or camp away from the group. How much space you need to leave depends on the type and quantity of equipment and machinery or livestock each camper has.

Organization. Whether you are camping in an RV or a tent, organize your personal space as well as community space in a logical manner. If you have friends in the group that you usually socialize with, you'll want to be near them. Keep your OHVs and related support stuff (tools, spare parts, fuel cans, riding gear, etc) more or less together near your tent or RV and away from the community fire pit, trails, roads, and other campers. If you are camping in a tent, you'll want to set up your camp upon arrival, creating your kitchen and eating area and setting up your tent and preparing your sleeping bags long before you need to use them. I like to park my OHVs inside the "wagon train" circle and chained or cabled and locked for added security. I've never experienced any theft problems in an OHV camp, but it is better to be safe than sorry. OHVs are tempting targets for young people looking for joyrides and are sometimes the targets of vandalism by anti-off-road interests. I did have a dirt bike I left parked in a designated area while we were doing trail maintenance with the forest service vandalized by such people. Later the rangers caught the same vandals tearing down motorcycle trail signs in the same area and they faced stiff fines. The culprits were dumb enough to drive right into a group of 11 rangers and about 200 motorcyclists with the stolen signs still in the back of their pickup truck!  Duh!  The bikers showed amazing restraint in not pummeling the offenders and the rangers gleefully issued them a fist full of tickets.

Community interests. Sharing a common fire pit means sharing your fire wood and sharing room around the fire. We usually make a common wood pile convenient to the fire where everyone contributes what they brought along and anyone at the fire uses what they need throughout the outing. Sharing room around the fire means not hogging the best spots and making room for anyone else who joins the party. You may have to shuffle positions if the wind changes direction. You'll also want to monitor the wind direction so the smoke doesn't blow into someone's RV or tent. Spontaneous pot luck dinners are always fun. You can drum one up just about any evening and turn it into a party. Each Thanksgiving the Desert Rats had the Granddaddy of all pot lucks for our "Turkey In The Dirt" outing. Admittedly, it wasn't spontaneous but well-planned. We dug a pit and baked turkeys in the pit all day and had previously coordinated other dishes to round out a bountiful feast. One year we had 142 RSVPs and 175 people show up! The sing-a-long has been a campfire staple for decades. Acoustic guitars, banjos, tambourines, and harmonicas fit the campfire ambiance and traditional campfire song choices well. If you don't already know many of the folk music classics that are popular for sing-a-longs, take time to learn some. Some other community considerations include respecting each other's privacy, ensuring the community campfire doesn't create problems for anyone, and making sure group activities don't overwhelm non-participants. One of the best ways to do that is make sure everyone is invited to share in group activities. We found that sometimes it worked well to have two campfires: one for the "grownups" and one for the teenagers. The teen fire was within sight of the main campfire so there was adequate supervision but they were able to have their own music and conversations.  I was amused how often the songs around the teen fire were the same ones we enjoyed around the more traditional "old folks" fire.  If you are planning a large group gathering, consider how you will deal with inclement weather.  At one Turkey In the Dirt we managed by setting up our serving lines inside the enclosed motorcycle trailers generously shared by a couple of participants.  Then everyone returned to their own rigs or tents to eat.  Another time one of the guys brought a couple of really big EZ-ups that he used for activities for the motorcycle club he belonged to and we were able to get everyone out of the rain for our pot luck dinner and subsequent activities.  On occasion we have parked two RVs side by side and stretched large tarps between them to create a protected area.  Having some overhead covering is helpful when you need to escape from the hot sun and pretty essential when its raining, unless you like sitting in wet clothes and eating soggy food!

Setting up a base camp isn't as important for day rides, but for longer excursions (including weekend outings) it is essential and it adds to the convenience and comfort of everyone at any outing. You probably won't want to invest the time and effort it takes to set up a complete base camp for simple day rides.  However, wherever you park your RV or other vehicle becomes your default base camp for short outings. A good base camp can also serve as an emergency center if anyone it the group has problems with their equipment or gets sick or injured. I carry a large first aid kit in my motorhome and let my fellow campers know I am certified in first aid, CPR, and as a Red Cross Professional Rescuer and hold a certificate in Advanced Wilderness Life Support. I have helped splint a couple of broken bones for transport to the nearest hospital Emergency Room and have extracted dozens of cactus spines from riders who experienced the prickly plants too intimately. Superficial burns, bug bites, and road rash are common injuries requiring minor first aid treatment. I long ago stopped counting treatments for minor scrapes, cuts, burns, and blisters. They are just a routine part of just about any outing.  Regardless of the kind of outdoor activities you choose, it would always be a good idea to have basic first aid skills and equipment with you when camping. Even simple injuries such as blisters or splinters can seriously dampen your fun and need immediate attention to prevent infection and minimize discomfort and can occur anytime, during just about any activity.

Sanitation. If you're camping in an RV you have your own personal sanitation facilities, but when you are boondocking, your resources (fresh water and holding tank capacity) are limited.  If you are in a campground with sanitation facilities, take advantage of them. I know the pit toilets in some places can be pretty foul, but better to endure a few minutes there now and then than overfill your RV holding tanks and endure the odors for the rest of the trip -- and possibly weeks thereafter!  I've seen sewage overflows that required all the carpet and padding to be removed and replaced before the odors went away.  If there are no facilities and you are tent camping, move well away from camp and dig a small hole to take care of your needs, then cover it up when you're done. The ladies in your family will probably appreciate having a "port-a-potty" instead of having to use the great outdoors but port-a-potty capacities are very limited. If it fills up you will need to carry the holding tank away from camp to a suitable location, dig a hole, and bury the contents if there is no dump station or pit toilet where you can empty it. Disposing of wastes in this way is frowned upon and in most places is down right illegal. The best place to empty a port-a-potti is a dump station.  If you're in an RV, make sure your dump valves are closed and the cap is tightly installed on the dump fitting. You don't want wastes from your RV polluting your camp site or your neighbors'. In some remote desert locations I've seen people connect a garden hose to a special cap on the dump port to carry gray water away. In many places this practice is strictly prohibited, but it may not be harmful to the environment in places like the open desert if it is done correctly and the waste water is carefully directed away from all campers and where it will not be in any road or trail or drain into any waterway. Local plants may thrive on the extra water.

Lighting. Be careful about lighting up a base camp. You don't want to spoil yours or anyone else's night time experience with too much light. Coleman lanterns and the exterior lights on RVs can provide more than adequate light for most activities. Don't use more than is necessary. You'll just be wasting fuel or batteries and perhaps annoying your fellow campers. I have a pair of small strobe lights I put on the top of my trailer to help guide late arrivals in at night. They're bright enough to be seen from the access road but the height and the intermittent flashing doesn't seriously impact campground ambiance. I've seen high-powered LED strobes designed for the top of flagpoles to serve the same purpose, but they're a little pricey. Mine just plugs into a cigarette lighter type 12-volt receptacle. They were designed to mount on the roof of a vehicle using a big suction cup. I modified the original red, amber, and blue covers using theatrical "gels" to create custom colors unique to our group but to be honest, the colors don't really show up as very distinctive from any distance - but the flashing strobes do! They are are real godsend for late arrivals coming in after dark.  These days you can get powerful LED strobes designed for law enforcement and construction vehicles that would be VERY bright.  That would be great for late arrivals, but might impose on your fellow campers.  Might be all right if they are aimed toward the road and away from camp.

Entertainment. The evening campfire is natural place for sharing stories and talents. Bring along your acoustic guitar, banjo, harmonica, tambourine, etc. I've never seem anyone bring brass instruments, but the traditional folk instruments previously mentioned are perennial favorites. Most people enjoy folk music and singalongs. Be prepared to take requests -- and hope you're not asked to play Long Ago and Far Away!  If you do get such a request it is time to turn over the spotlight to someone else.  Very loud music may have its place at Raves, but it is usually inappropriate and unwanted around the campfire, so leave the electric guitars, amplified keyboards, and brass instruments at home. We sometimes even put a folded towel in the back of the banjo to muffle its bright sound a bit.  Sometimes turning the campfire into a big bonfire can be an exciting group activity, but mostly it just wastes wood.  An appropriately sized fire around which people can gather is more intimate and usually more enjoyable.  The fire needs to be just big enough to accommodate all the people in the group who want to sit around the fire. 

Shared treats. Folks in my Desert Rat group each developed their own specialties they would prepare and pass around the campfire or sometimes take them from family to family. Examples include some rather fancy hors d'Ĺ“uvres like stuffed jalapenos, cool drinks, and a warm chili and cream cheese dip with corn chips that was especially welcome on chilly nights. Snow cones were always a hit on hot desert afternoons. And don't forget the S'mores! They are a long-standing campfire tradition. Just plan on having gooey marshmallow and melted chocolate everywhere! I've recently found campfire marshmallows the size of racquet balls! Just imagine the amount of gooey stuff those will produce! If you're not careful you could end up like Brer Rabbit and the tar-baby!

Wind breaks (not to be confused with breaking wind). Sooner or later you're going to encounter a windy day in camp. Sometimes, in wooded locations, the trees provide some respite from the wind. We've camped at desert sites among huge boulders that served as partial wind breaks. Consider the possible need for protection from the wind when you choose and layout your campsite to take advantage of trees and rocks if you can. Lacking any natural sources, you may be able to park your RVs to provide some protection for your campfire and other activities. A couple of large EZ-ups can protect quite a few people from sun, wind, and rain. Using RVs as wind breaks has its limitations. First of all, you'll still get wind beneath the vehicles. Secondly, the gaps between and under them may serve as a venturi where the wind velocity is actually amplified. You may be somewhat protected while sitting or standing directly in the shelter of the RV, but the wind coming through the gap may wreak havoc with your campfire and may generate a rather loud and irritating noise. The venturi affect may actually make the wind worse. And remember to park your RV with the front facing the prevailing winds if you can to minimize rocking while you're inside.  Doing so, of course, reduces the effectiveness of the RV as a wind break, but as mentioned before, the gaps between and under RVs may create even more of a problem than if the wind were unrestricted. It may become a tradeoff between stabilizing your RV versus sheltering your central campfire.  You can buy or make wind guards for your camp stoves and BBQs to minimize the effects of wind on cooking.  I've seen times in the desert where the constant wind make it almost impossible to cook on our little portable BBQ and we had to finish the burgers in  fry pan on the stove in the RV.

Sharing is a strong advantage of group base camps. You can share firewood, companionship, expertise, assistance, food, water, fuel, spare parts, labor, knowledge, and entertainment. "There's strength in numbers" is a popular old saying. Camping in a group may deter potential vandalism and even keep wild animals away. Being able to share experience and expertise enhances just about any outing and sometimes can, quite literally, be life-saving. Whether you're learning from someone with more training or sharing your own skills with less practiced campers, it is a rewarding experience.

Variations. As the kids in our Desert Rat group reached their teen years, they often wanted their own campfire, away from the adults and their "old-fogey" music and stories. We often allowed them to set up their own fire, some distance from the main fire, but where anxious parents could still more or less keep an eye on the activities. I was very amused to often find them singing the same songs we traditionally sang around the "old folk's" fire. Some folk music really does have a universal appeal.

Combined RV/tent base camps. While most people will gravitate towards groups that share their camping styles, other shared interests may bring RV and tent campers together in one base camp. Our dirt biking group included people in big motorhomes, small trailers, truck campers, tents, and some just sleeping in their cars. There should not be any problem accommodating the unique needs of all groups, and, in fact, the synergy can be quite helpful, especially when tent campers can set up on the leeward side of an RV to be protected from the effects of wind and rain. And everyone can benefit from shared firewood and camp labor, experience, and companionship.  A spontaneous pot luck dinner is almost always a hit too.

Base camp rocks!