Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, sailing, 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. The organization is pretty much by date of publication. Please use the SEARCH option below to find what you are looking for.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Orphan RVs

What the heck is an "orphan RV?" Well, it is an RV that has no living parents -- that is, whose manufacturer has gone out of business. And in today's economy that is happening with frightening regularity! What does that mean to you? Orphan RVs can often be purchased at substantial savings. Many buyers are reluctant to purchase an "orphan" RV because they fear they will have trouble getting parts or service and that drives the price down. Which can make "orphans" an exceptional value to savvy buyers. While some cosmetic components may become difficult to obtain, most functional parts of an RV are provided by the same standard manufacturers across many brands. The chassis of a motorhome is seldom custom-made by the manufacturer. Most buy the chassis from companies like Workhorse (GM), Ford, Dodge, Spartan, Sprinter )Mercedes Benz) and Gillig. Even custom-made chassis use standard engines and transmissions like Ford, Cheverolet, Cummins, Caterpillar, and Allison. The axles, brakes, etc of trailers are also pretty much standard components. So, if your orphan motorhome or trailer has a mechanical problem, it is likely you can still get parts and service for many years to come.

The same thing applies to especially to appliances. Water heaters, furnaces, air conditioners, stoves, refrigerators, etc are usually standard brand names for which parts and service are readily available.  The worst case is that you have an off-brand appliance you can't get parts for and have to replace it with a current model in a standard brand or find a good used unit from a salvaged RV.  Most current water heaters, furnaces, and refrigerators use an electronic control board.  If that fails, there is something called a "Dinosaur board" that is a universal replacement for almost any type of RV appliance and any brand.

About those cosmetic components.  Turns out many of the same exterior panels are used by many manufacturers so sidewall damage can often be readily repaired.   Damage to custom-made front-end and rear-end caps and related trim could be more difficult.  However, availability will probably be no worse than for many older brand name units and many of the fiberglass parts can be readily repaired by any competent auto body shop.  Chances are, if you're an accident that is bad enough to totally destroy a front or rear cap, there will be a lot of other damage and the unit may be totaled.  In some cases a entire new front or rear cap may be fabricated, but since it would probably involve building a custom jig, it will be quite expensive.

Resale values for orphans may be low. That works to your advantage when buying one. When it comes time to sell or trade, you probably won't have lost very much more value than you would from a non-orphaned unit over the same period of time -- unless your unit was orphaned after you bought it.  If you bought it at a reduced price to start with, a good share of the "orphan devaluation" will have already taken place.   If your RV becomes an orphan while you own it, don't despair!  It is still as functional as it was when you bought it.  You will probably want to drive it long enough to get your money out of it rather than dump it right away and take a big loss.  After all, there was a good reason you bought it in the first place and that reason is probably still valid.

What if my current RV becomes an orphan?  First of all, don't panic.   It's new status isn't going to have any direct or immediate impact on its usability or functionality.  If you panic and rush to get rid of it, you're very likely to lose more of your investment than is necessary.  Your best bet is to continue to use it and keep it in as good a condition as you can.  As a hedge against potential scarcity of parts you might want to start watching ebay and craiglist where you might be able to pick up some bargains from other, more panic-ed owners.  I have even found it useful to obtain parts for my older, non-orphaned RVs so I have them on hand if I need them.   That way I'm not forced to pay high prices for things if/when repairs do become urgent.  Over the years I've found a few items I felt it was worth "hoarding". Sometimes it has paid off, sometimes I've ended up never needing my "treasures", but either way, I've never regretted my "investments".  I once got a REALLY good deal on an complete electric step I've never used and probably never will, but I got it cheap and may yet find a use for it -- if not for myself, perhaps for one of my friends.   I had planned to use it on my motorcycle trailer but it is far too big for the low ground clearance of the trailer.  It may yet serve as an organ donor for parts if the step on my motorhome starts dying.   (Addendum:  I finally scrapped this monster when we moved, saving only the motor, which can be used on the electric steps on many different motorhomes). 

Any way you cut it, there is little reason to be afraid of buying an "orphan" RV. S avvy buyers (and sometimes savvy sellers) will know that orphans can be just as reliable and serviceable as any other RV.  I have personally owned orphan RVs and the orphan status has never been a problem, but I did get a good deal on them when I bought them and that added up to getting more RV for my money!  It can actually be kind of fun owning an unusual RV.   Sometimes they make a good subject for campfire conversation too.  It can be fun owning something no one has seen before.  Some extinct manufacturers are worthy of a little research to fuel your camp stories.

Adopt an orphan today.

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!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

First Aid Kits and Training

Accidents can happen anytime, anywhere.   This is no more apparent than when camping.  The very nature and location of camping activities presents situations outside our normal day-to-day lives where we may very well incur injuries that need more than some first aid spray and a Bandaid -- and professional medical help may be many miles and/or hours away.  Many outdoor activities carry a risk of serious injury.  Even if we are careful, wear proper safety equipment, keep our equipment in good condition, and are experienced and take proper precautions, "stuff" happens.  Because many if not most camping activities occur in remote locations, having good first aid skills is essential to deal effectively with injuries since emergency medical services will probably some distance away.   Proper first aid can prevent additional trauma and sometimes can, literally, be life saving.  You can never have too much first aid training and practice.   Keep your skills and certifications up to date by participating in regular training exercises and classes.  Recommended procedures are updated quite regularly.  Sometimes knowing what NOT to do is as important as knowing what TO do.  First aid supplies and training will also come in handy in any kind of disaster situation -- at home, at work, or on the road.  Being adequately prepared for camping and exercising your training will help you be ready for emergencies at home.

Proper preparation involves two main ingredients:  good first aid skills and proper resources, such as a good first aid kit and appropriate supplies.  You will need both of these in order to deal with medical emergencies on the trail or in camp or during an emergency at home.  But even with both of these, the most important thing of all is to keep a cool head.   If you panic, your ability to help yourself and others will be substantially diminished.  Maintaining your cool when a loved one is severely injured is not easy.  Even the sight of a stranger's wounds may cause you to cringe or even become physically ill.   Proper training and preparation will make it easier for you to get past the gore and screaming and focus on what to do.   It isn't going to help your victim if you scream 'Oh My God!' and turn away or throw up.  No matter how bad it looks to you, do your best to stay calm and do whatever is within your power and training to assist.

You can buy a good first aid kit at just about any camping, sporting goods, pharmacy, or department store.  There are many brands, styles, and sizes to choose from.  The kit you need depends on the kinds of activities you and your associates will be involved in, the number of people involved, and the kind of injuries you might expect.   Small, simple first aid kits that fit in your pocket and basic skills are adequate for minor personal injuries -- small cuts and scrapes, minor burns, blisters.  These are usually adequate for simple outings like picnicking, camping, and hiking. You can sometimes even pick these up at "dollar stores" so everyone should have one in his pocket or pack. instantly available for their own needs or those of their companions.  If you're involved in more vigorous activities (horse back riding, OHVs, rock climbing, water skiing, jet skis, snowmobiles, etc.) that might lead to more serious injuries such as broken bones or arterial bleeding, you need a more sophisticated first aid kit and more advanced training.   If you want advanced first aid kits, look for kits designed for hunters.  Even then you will need to supplement commercial first aid kits to meet your particular needs.  None of them will come with your prescription medications and only the largest and most elaborate and expensive will include the splints, large dressings, and large bandages you may need for "extreme" activities.   Government surplus stores are a good place to pick up some of these items.  Surplus military supplies are usually heavy duty and can be had at bargain prices if you shop around.  You can also improvise.  You can make your own bandages from bed sheets or other cotton cloth.  Bandannas make good slings and bandages.  Sanitary napkins and even tampons can be used for dressings.  They are readily available, inexpensive, and are often more absorbent than ordinary gauze dressings.   Splints can be made from sticks or scraps of wood or rolled newspapers or magazines. A convenient type of commercial splint is a wire splint.  These are made from expanded metal.  They come in a roll and can be easily cut to size.  They can be formed to fit most limbs comfortably and once unrolled and formed, create a rigid splint.  They are comfortable and light weight. The initial roll form makes them easy to carry in fanny packs and first aid kits.  The only downside is they are a bit pricey and you may have to special order them.  In a pinch, you can use rolled up newspapers or magazines to immobilize fractures.  I have actually done that several times and gotten praise from the triage nurses when my patient arrived at the ER.   I supplement my commercial first aid kits with extra OTC pain relievers. I can usually find a variety of generic pain relievers at the local dollar store, making it inexpensive to have just about every type of OTC pain reliever on hand to accommodate the preferences and needs of everyone in your group.  Whether your patient is allergic to certain products or simply has a preference for what works best for him/her, having the right one on hand is always helpful.   Even if it is only the "placeo effect", having the pain reliever you're used to using seems to work better for most people.   I've found that anti-diarrheal medications are handy for outdoor activities too and you won't find them in most commercial first aid kits.  Camping frequently means eating unfamiliar foods and all too often involves other sources of digestive problems.  Antacids are also good to have on hand.   I have also found it useful to have several different types of antiseptic since some people may be allergic to certain formulas. The latest guidelines proscribe using alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to cleanse open wounds. In addition to being painful, these powerful antiseptics can kill healthy tissue along with the germs. Flush wounds with clean, preferably sterile, water. Don't have any water handy?  Surprisingly, urine is sterile, unless the donor has a urinary infection.  A student in a first aid class once asked a nurse about using soda pop to cleanse wounds and she quickly advised him that urine would be a better alternative.  The sugar in soda pop is an ideal medium for bacterial growth and would promote infection.  Apply a modest amount of antiseptic to prevent further infection or use an antiseptic bandage. For small wounds I like Bandaids treated with silver. Silver has natural antibiotic properties and few people have adverse reactions to it.  Speaking of silver, liquid colloidal silver was once a very popular antiseptic and is very effective.  You may have to search online to find a source for it.  It seems to me it also speeds healing.

First aid kits are often sized by the number of people and number of days they are designed to support.  Match your first aid kit to your situation, based on how many people you will be responsible for and for how long you think you will need coverage.  The math is pretty easy if you have, say, a family of 4 and you want to cover your weekend (2 or 3 day) outings.   Estimates can be more difficult if you are planning for a local emergency where you may not know how many victims you might be treating or for how long before normal emergency medical services are restored.  For camping and on the trail, you will necessarily need to limit how much stuff you carry, but for long term emergencies at home it is good to build up as large a stock of supplies as you have budget for and room to store.

You can obtain first aid training through local Red Cross approved courses.  These are often offered by scouting organizations, schools, adult education programs, fire departments, civic groups, churches, hospitals, and local government agencies. Once you have mastered basic first aid skills, you may want to seek advanced training.  Many advanced first aid courses are available.   I had a unique opportunity to go beyond ordinary advanced first aid.  My wife was working for a medical school and I was able to attend a course in Advanced Wilderness Life Support to enhance my preparations for handling off-road emergencies.  We both also obtained the training to become certified as Red Cross Professional Rescuers.  I frequently tout the benefits of getting C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team) training and strongly recommend it to everyone.  The medical triage and first aid modules provide excellent training for all kinds of emergency medical operations and coupled with CPR and first aid certification should prepare you for most of the situations you will encounter during outdoor recreational activities.

You will probably need to customize your first aid kit to fit the specific needs and preferences for you and your family.  Most comprehensive kits come with at least one generic pain reliever like aspirin or acetaminophen.  Check to see what you have in yours and supplement per your own preferences.  I try to keep a supply of several generics in my RV medicine cabinet, including aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen.  Antiseptics are another item that is often subject to strong personal preferences.  Some people are terribly allergic to some antiseptics, so make sure you have products in your first aid kit compatible with all members of your group.  If anyone is allergic to bee stings, have your doctor give you a prescription for an epi-pen and teach you how to use it.  If anyone in your group takes prescription medications, keep an up to date stock in your first aid kit.  Make sure all medications are clearly labeled with the type of medication and the expiration date.  If you don't have an expiration date, record the purchase date so you at least have some idea how old things are so you can replace them before they become ineffective or even dangerous.  Some medications, such as aspirin will give off a recognizable odor when they start to go bad. If you detect a vinegar smell when you open your aspirin bottle, it is time to toss it out and replace it.  Still, if you open your aspirin in an emergency and the only bottle you have smells like vinegar, I would consider them better than nothing and use them anyway.  In fact, an Army study concluded most medications are good for at least 15 years after their expiration date, so don't be too quick to toss out things you might need in a future emergency unless there are obvious signs of deterioration or contamination.

Many people confuse bandages and dressings.   What is often called a bandage is really a combination of a dressing and a bandage.  A dressing is used to "dress" or cover the wound. A bandage is used to hold the dressing in place.   A Bandaid is essentially a combination dressing and bandage.  Thus, the pad on a Bandaid is a dressing; the plastic or fabric adhesive strip it is attached to is the bandage.  For large wounds, gauze pads are frequently used as dressings and held in place by cloth or tape bandages.  A dressing protects the wound from dirt and infection and also absorbs blood.   Sanitary napkins make excellent emergency dressings.

Responding quickly, confidently, calmly, and appropriately to a medical emergency saves lives and helps set the stage for the victim's comfort and recovery.  Stay calm and methodically apply your training and skills as required by the situation. If YOU scream, turn away, or throw up, it isn't going to help anyone.  On the other hand, if you remain calm and move with confidence, your patient(s) will respond better and you'll be able to accomplish a lot more.  One of the most useful techniques I learned in C.E.R.T. training is a "60 second assessment".  This is particularly useful when the number of victims exceeds the number of rescuers, which is often the case in an emergency situation.  You methodically examine each victim from head to toe, especially looking for signs of serious (life threatening) injuries, but taking inventory of all injuries for subsequent triage and treatment.  You use touch, sight, and hearing to locate injuries.  You may feel unusual bumps or depressions in body parts. You may detect soft spots that shouldn't be soft (like the skull) or places that are hard that shouldn't be hard (like the abdomen).  Inappropriate soft spots are likely signs of crushed bones or tissue.  Rigidity in the abdomen may indicate internal bleeding.  If your victim is conscious, ask them questions:  where are they injured?  where does it hurt?  how bad is the pain?  how were they injured? In addition to the facts they give you, you can discern something about their mental state from their answers.  Though it isn't a pleasant idea, pain is actually your friend when doing an assessment, though your patient may not agree.  We don't want to intentionally inflict pain on an injured person, but if they cry out when you gently touch them, you have found an injury and that is important information.  Wear latex gloves if possible to prevent both infecting your victim and contaminating your own hands.  Begin by running your hands lightly over their head.  Start with the scalp and work your way down.  Check your hands frequently for blood, especially after checking the back of the head or other places you can't easily see.  Gently check cheek, nose, and jaw bones and eye sockets for signs of bruising or broken bones.  Look for bleeding or other fluid in the eyes and ears. Bleeding from eyes and ears is not good, but clear liquid is even worse since it is probably cerebral fluid from the brain indicating a serious head injury.  Check the back of the neck.  If you find any protruding bones whether they have broken the skin or not, there is likely a cervical spine injury. Do not move the victim unless they are in immediate danger of further injury.  Try to immobilize the neck to reduce the risk of further injury.  Next run your hands down their arms and hands.  Once again you are looking for distortions, pain, or blood.  If you find no injuries, try gently lifting their arms to check for shoulder injuries.  You should not attempt to relocate a dislocated shoulder if you have reasonable access to emergency medical services (within an hour or two).   If the victim complains of numbness or tingling in the affected limb, or if a check for capillary refill indicates restricted circulation, it may be advisable to attempt to relocate the shoulder right away -- if you have been trained in the technique!   Next, check the back and ribs.   Any unusual protrusions may indicate broken or dislocated bones or the presence of a foreign object. If there are no indications of protruding bones, press firmly on the rib cage with your palms to check for broken ribs.  If the ribs are cracked, broken or bruised, your victim will cry out.  If they are broken, you might feel or hear the ends grinding together.   About all you can do for injured ribs is wrap the victim's chest tightly to restrict unnecessary movement and prevent additional injuries.  Some practitioners now advise against tightly wrapping ribs because it can inhibit breathing so use discretion.   Some containment can improve comfort but don't make it so tight it restricts breathing.  Press on the abdomen to check for rigidity or pain.  Rigidity may indicate fluid build up from internal injuries.  Run your hands down both sides of both legs, ankles, and feet. You will need to begin your examination uncomfortably close to the victim's crotch.  A damaged femoral artery can be life threatening (the person can bleed to death in about 3 minutes) and the artery runs the full length of the inside of the thigh.  You don't want to have them die because you -- or they -- were too shy for a thorough assessment.

Treating serious injuries.  In an emergency situation you will have to do some triage.  That means you need to identify and treat the most serious injuries first.  That doesn't mean taking care of the first victim you come to, the person who screams the loudest or who is the bloodiest first.  Check the ABCs -- airway, breathing, and circulation.  A person whose airway is blocked won't live long -- about 3 minutes before brain damage beings to occur.  Nor will they survive long if their heart has stopped or they have severed or blocked arteries.  Arterial bleeding can be differentiated from other bleeding by the way it spurts with each heartbeat.   "Ordinary" bleeding will just ooze or flow. Some "ordinary" injuries, like scalp injuries, will bleed profusely but such bleeding is not life normally threatening unless left untreated for long periods of time and can usually be controlled by direct pressure.   Place a dressing (preferably sterile if possible) over the wound and apply direct pressure to slow the bleeding.  You may be able to have the victim hold the dressing in place if they are conscious or you may be able to assign other "walking wounded" victims to assist you so you can examine other victims.  If you encounter spurting blood, you MUST control the bleeding quickly or the victim WILL bleed to death.   Typical locations for severed arteries include the neck, thigh, chest, and arms.   You may be able to control even arterial bleeding with direct pressure, depending on the location and extent of the injury.   In some cases a tourniquet many be required.  The general advice is to avoid using a tourniquet unless there is no alternative.  Tourniquets can cause loss of limbs below the tourniquet, but it is better to lose a limb than a life.   At one time there were recommendations to release the tourniquet periodically to allow blood to flow into the closed off limb in an attempt to preserve it.  Today the recommendation is that once you have applied a tourniquet, leave it in place until it can be removed by medical professionals.   Loosening it can allow contaminated blood from below the tourniquet to return to the heart causing further complications, even death.  Better to lose a limb than a life.  Another serious injury that needs special attention is a compound fracture.  First of all, what is a compound fracture?  Simply put, it is a broken bone that protrudes through the skin.  A broken bone that does not poke through the skin is a simple fracture.   If you will have access to professional medical services in a reasonable amount of time (a few hours at most) simply rinse any dirt and debris off the exposed bone using clean water, cover it with a dressing and try to keep it moist and immobilize the break to prevent further injury.  Do NOT try to put it back in place.  In an extreme, long term emergency where medical attention may not be available for days or more, you may need to attempt to retract the bone for the patient's comfort and to minimize further injury and infection.  Here is where some extra training is a necessity.  DO NOT try to set any broken bone or reduce a dislocation if you haven't been trained to do so!  For both compound and non-compound fractures, splint the break by attaching something rigid parallel to the bone and secure it above and below the fracture.  Secure the splint in at least two locations on each side of the break and immobilize the joints above and below the break to prevent movement that could produce more injuries.  In normal circumstances, do not try to re-align the broken bone, just secure the damaged limb in place with as little movement as possible.   In a long term disaster situation where trained medical help will not be available in a reasonable amount of time, you may need to be able to set broken bones.  So get trained if you can.   Wood splints are commonly used on broken limbs, but lacking wood you can use a rolled up newspaper or magazine, cardboard, even a rolled up towel -- anything that will help immobilize the break.  A broken leg can usually be securely fastened to a healthy leg if no other splints are available.  Secure the splint both above and below the break, making sure you don't tie it so tightly as to shut off circulation.   Keeping it from moving will greatly reduce pain, improve the patient's comfort, and prevent further injuries.  Broken fingers and toes can be taped or tied to adjacent digits to stabilize them.  About all you can do for broken ribs is wrap the torso to limit movement.   Broken hands, feet, wrists, and ankles should be immobilized using a splint.

Shock is another serious condition that occurs with many injuries and it can be life threatening if not treated.  Shock occurs with any trauma and can occur without physical injury.  Shock usually does accompany serious physical injuries.  And remember, your victim might not have any external wounds and yet have serious, even life threatening internal injuries.   I know of a dirt bike rider who crashed really hard, got up and dusted himself off, and insisted he was OK.  He refused any assistance and rode back to camp.  A few hours later he was dead from a ruptured spleen.  Careful monitoring of his condition may have detected his internal injuries in time to get treatment.  Abdominal pain and swelling, headache, dizziness, and large areas of purple skin are all signs of internal injuries.  If you or your victim experience any of these, especially if they get worse was time goes on, seek immediate medical help.  Signs of shock include low blood pressure, fast weak pulse, profuse sweating, nausea, dizziness, fainting, clammy skin, shallow rapid breathing, and blue fingernails or skin.   If a victim has any of these signs, especially more than one, they are going into shock.   If possible, lay the victim down, elevate their feet, and cover them with a blanket or coat to keep them warm.   I once passed out in a dental chair and the first thing the idiot dentist did was to set me up!   The boys in my scout troop know enough to lower the head to treat shock!  The first thing the paramedics did when they arrived was lower my head.   Reassure your victim and immediately begin treatment for any life-threatening injures.  One way to assess blood pressure any where is what is called "capillary refill". Squeeze a fingertip or press on a fingernail for a second or two, then release and see how quickly the color under then nail returns to normal.   If it takes longer for your victim to return to normal than it does for you, they are probably in or going into shock or have some injury that is affecting circulation, such as a severed or pinched blood vessel.

There are legal considerations you need to be aware of to avoid expensive liability, especially when treating strangers.   In most states there are "Good Samaritan laws" that provide some measure of legal protection but they do not protect you against gross negligence or inappropriate actions.  You will not be protected if you attempt treatment that is beyond your skills and training.  Before beginning treatment on any victim, ask their permission.  If they are unconscious or otherwise mentally impaired you may be covered by the concept of "implied consent".   A good way to approach a stranger at an accident scene it to say something like "I am medically trained.   Is it OK if I treat your injuries?"   Stating you are "medically trained" helps give them confidence in allowing you to treat them.   What does it mean to be "medically trained"?   Obviously if you are a doctor or nurse you are medically trained.   For purposes of assisting victims in a disaster or other emergency situation, having first aid certification could be considered being "medically trained".   If you are first aid certified, chances are you are better prepared to give assistance than most of the other by standers.   As long as you provide treatment within the scope of your training you should be safe from prosecution.  The answer to the question "Should I try to help?" should usually be an unequivocal "YES!".   You can always turn treatment over to more qualified medical personnel as they arrive, but doing nothing in those first few critical minutes could have serious negative affects.

There are important psychological aspects to giving first aid.  Whenever you treat a victim, you need to present a confident appearance.  Your attitude is going to have a significant affect on how your victim responds to your treatment.   Strive to control your reactions to their injuries.   It isn't going to do them any good if you scream or turn away or cover your face or cry or throw up!   If your victim is conscious, tell them you are "medically trained" and ask permission to treat them.  Telling them you are medically trained does not imply that you are a doctor, but gives them confidence in your ability to assist them.   Keep them informed about what you are doing.  Some parts of a good 60 second assessment may require rather intimate contact with your victim.   Make sure they know your actions are purely to assess and treat their injuries and avoid any prolonged contact that could be misinterpreted.  However, do make sure your assessment is thorough.  Better you and your victim experience a little embarrassment than you miss a severe chest injury or a severed femoral artery (a life threatening injury).  Make sure any bystanders are also aware of your training, your intentions, and your actions.  A paramedic at an automobile accident got sucker-punched by a female victim's boyfriend when he attempted (appropriately) to remove the victim's bra to administer CPR -- largely because the paramedic failed to explain what he was doing.  By the way, bras should always be removed to perform CPR.  They interfere with proper pressure and movement, and, in the case of under-wire styles, can cause further injuries.   I've heard of bra wires puncturing the victim's lung during attempted CPR with the bra in place.   CPR is a vigorous and demanding activity.   Even properly done it can break ribs.  Once you start CPR, you don't stop until you are relieved by another competent rescuer, told do so by emergency medical services personnel, or you become too tired to continue. And that's not just "I'm tired of doing this" kind of tired, it's "I really am too completely worn out to give even one more push"!  At that point it isn't likely to be a deliberate decision, but rather involuntary collapse.  And, by the way, don't perform CPR on a victim wearing a "DNR" (Do Not Resuscitate) medical ID.

First aid training may come in very handy in any kind of local disaster as well as out in the woods.  Local emergency services will be stretched beyond limits in a wide-scale event such as an earthquake, hurricane, or tornado.  Remember:  YOU are the only first responder you can really count on!  You may be on your own for days or even weeks and have to rely on the skills and equipment you have on hand.  Get the training and equipment now, before you need it!  Run through potential scenarios in your head and plan your response today.   Practice with your local C.E.R.T. or other emergency response team.  Coordinate with and educate your family and your neighbors and co-workers.

Advanced and specialized supplies and equipment.  A fairly inexpensive item that can come in useful for many extreme sports injuries is a back board.  It may be needed to transport your victim if there are any spinal injuries. Spinal injuries can occur in many sporting event accidents.  Crashing on OHV, falling off a horse, skiing accidents, and diving accidents are among the most obvious ways spinal injuries can occur.  If you even suspect spinal injuries, as a precaution you should stabilize the victims neck (medics all this "C-spine" for cervical (neck) spine). This is usually done with a cervical collar.  In an emergency  you might  use towels or sheets to limit movement.  A backboard can be made from a piece of plywood.  It should be about 2 feet wide and 6-7 feet long.  Cut hand-holds about every 18" or so along both sides so several people can get hold of it to securely move victims. Rounding the corners will make it easier to maneuver in tight spaces and through doorways.  If you need a backboard and don't have one you may be able to improvise using a door or table.  Other useful items, though usually somewhat expensive, are hemostatic dressings.  These dressings are treated with chemicals that stop blood flow.  Be aware that some people who are allergic to shell fish may have an severe allergic reaction to the chemicals in hemostatic dressings.  In an emergency or for minor wounds, you can use cayenne pepper to stop bleeding.   You might hang on to leg, neck, and back braces if anyone in your family has used them or look to pick some up at garage sales or thrift stores.   A cervical collar is a good addition to any first aid kit for extreme sports and for disaster preparedness.  Same with crutches.  You probably won't want to pack them along on camping trips, but they might be a useful addition to your home first aid supplies for extended emergencies.   It wouldn't hurt to tuck a pair away in an RV closet if you have the room.  These days portable defibralization devices (AEDs) are becoming fairly common in airports, schools, and even restaurants and some other businesses.  They are still too expensive for most home first aid kits, but if you have the budget, they would be definitely be good to have.  They are simple to use and may save a life. Make sure get trained how to use them.  It isn't difficult and most of it is automatic, but you still need the training.   Until you can acquire your own, keep an eye out for where you might find one.  These days you might find them in airports, restaurants, theaters, malls, schools, and other public places.  I recently saw an advanced first aid kit designed for emergency preparedness that includes lidocaine, hemostatic powder (stops bleeding), sutures, and a tourniquet.   I am not certain of the legal requirements for using lidocaine or suturing wounds, but in an extended emergency situation where normal medical services may be interrupted or weeks or months, having advanced supplies like these might be advantageous.  You probably wouldn't need them for incidents arising during normal recreational activities.  Along those lines, antibiotics may be something to have on hand.  Since stockpiling prescription medications is severely limited by current laws, you might look into veterinary or aquatic versions.   Some aquatic antibiotics are identical to the human prescriptions, right down to the color and numbering on the capsules.  And you don't have to have a prescription to buy them.  In dire emergency, even feeding a victim of infection moldy bread may be beneficial.  Bread mold is the source of penicillin.

Wilderness medicine.  In the unlikely event you get lost or stranded without any medical supplies, it can be useful to know what natural resources may be helpful.  Since natural resources will vary from location to location, be sure to research what lives and grows in the areas you will be visiting.  As an example of natural remedies, consider that willow bark was used by Native Americans and other primitive peoples going back as far as 400 BC much like we use aspirin, to treat pain and inflammation.  It actually contains an ingredient (salicin) similar to the active ingredient in aspirin (acetyl salicylic acid).  In fact, acetyl salicylic acid, is actually a synthesized version of salicin. You can chew the inner bark or seep it in hot water and drink the tea. Aspen and poplar also have similar properties.  I found that chewing about 6-8" of bark stripped from a green branch about 3/16" gave me about the same relief as a couple of aspirins.   Another way to use willow bark it so make it into a mild tea.   Do not use or administer anything containing salicin to anyone who is allergic to aspirin. Diarrhea and some other stomach problems can be treated using charcoal (readily availble in the wood ash from most campfires).  Just grind up a tablespoonful, mix it in a cup of water, and drink it.   It tastes TERRIBLE, but it can relieve a lot of the stomach distress. Another use for charcoal is to apply it around your eyes to help prevent snow blindness.   If you lack dressings and bandages, you may be able to make your own from local plant materials.  Covering an open wound with a large clean leaf and securing it with vines or long grass, for example.   Check out the resources in the areas you frequent so you can take advantage of them if you find yourself in a survival situation.  Not all resources are available in all areas.   Having extensive knowledge of  the marvelous pharmacological benefits of tropical jungle plants won't do you much good in a pine or hardwood forest or in the desert.

Good Samaritan laws protect providers of first aid in most states.  That means that if you are acting in the best interests of your victim(s) within the scope of your knowledge and training you are generally protected from criminal charges and civil suits.  However, if you go beyond your training and certifications and something goes wrong, you could be liable.   Good Samaritan laws are designed to protect first responders and encourage ordinary people to help -- within the scope of their skill, knowledge, and training.

Look out for yourself!  When it comes to helping people, you need to consider yourself your number one priority.  This isn't a totally selfish concept. Y ou can't help others if you become a victim.  Assess the situation before you jump in to help someone.  Can you help them without endangering your own health and safety?   Every year many would-be rescuers become additional victims when they generously attempt to help someone when it isn't safe to do so.  If you are dealing with injuries where there are bodily fluids like blood present, wear rubber gloves. A concept taught to emergency services personnel is: If its wet and it isn't yours, don't touch it!

As the Boy Scouts say, "Be prepared!"

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Roughing It Easy

Today's society has an obsession with convenience and instant gratification.  We are surrounded by "labor saving" devices and we have a tendency to carry our obsession over into our camping experiences.  I have a friend whose idea of "roughing it" was having to ring twice for room service. Let's face it: we like our creature comforts!  No doubt one of them is not having too many uninvited creatures in our living abode!  That is, certainly, one of the driving forces behind Recreational Vehicles (pun intended), but even when tent camping, we like to make things as comfortable and easy (and free from unwanted intruders) as possible.  We seek equipment that is lighter, roomier, more comfortable, more durable and easier to carry and use -- and to clean.  My favorite tent is a pop-up tent.  To set it up you just remove the retraining strap and throw the folded tent up into the air.  Its fiberglass poles make it spring loaded.  Poof!   It pops open, ready to stake down and use.   Instead of sweeping it out I usually just pick it up each morning and shake out any debris that has been tracked in.   Camp chairs have evolved from heavy wood and canvas creatures of yesteryear to lightweight aluminum and fiberglass mesh creations that weigh a fraction what their predecessors did and fold up into more compact form.   The more recent "bag" or "quad" chairs collapse into a 4" square package for transport that is easy to carry and takes up very little room.  We use sleeping pads and air mattresses and even folding cots to increase our night time comfort.  Camp stoves give us near residential control over cooking instead of having to cook over fickle open fires.  We bring along folding tables and chairs and awnings and umbrellas to increase our camping comfort and keep at bay the very nature we came camping to enjoy.   Gas and battery powered lanterns give us near residential illumination options in even the most remote locations.  Portable water heaters give us hot showers even when tent camping.  Battery powered radios and TVs bring home-like entertainment even out in the sticks.

Luxury motorhomes are the epitome of roughing it easy.  Some are literally equipped with ALL the comforts of home, including forced air furnaces, air conditioning, range and oven, washers and dryers, dishwashers, multiple bathrooms with hot water, and even sophisticated home theater entertainment systems.  I've even seen some with hot tubs!  Most modern motorhomes and travel trailers include a microwave oven. Some are equipped with a "power center" built into the counter top to power a variety of food processing implements.   Many up-scale RVs include elaborate and powerful home theater systems that rival or surpass their residential counterparts.   Queen and king size beds with memory foam pillow top mattresses often match or even exceed their equivalents at home in terms of slumber inducing comfort.   Even the famous "Sleep Number" beds are available now in sizes to fit your RV.  Side by side refrigerators and ice makers adorn high end coaches.   Some even have gas or electric fireplaces!  We liked that idea so well we purchased a small portable electric fireplace to use in our classic Class A motorhome.   It adds a nice, cabin-like ambiance together with 1500 watts of auxiliary heat on cool nights.  Automatic electric steps and electrically operated awnings take some of the physical labor out of using your RV -- hopefully leaving you more time and energy for fun activities!  Hydraulic and even computerized automatic levelers level and stabilize our homes on wheels at the touch of a button.  Unfortunately, the only exercise many campers get is bending their elbows to consume their favorite beverage and the only weight lifting they do is hoisting a brewski from the cooler or a remote to tune the TV.   That is one reason I find adding OHVs to our camping trips healthy as well as fun and exciting.  You might be surprised how many calories you can burn riding a motorized off highway vehicle!    Even though the motor does most of the work, Supercross has been defined as THE most physically demanding sport in the world and since it is a formalized form of dirt biking, dirt biking is also quite demanding.   I usually have to  (happily) take my belt up a notch or two after a weekend of dirt biking.

Just because you enjoy the air conditioned comfort of your home-theater equipped luxury motorhome when you're "camping" doesn't mean your not a "camper".  You don't have to work up a sweat and smash your thumbs setting up a tent to enjoy the benefits of camping.  The sights, sounds, and smells of the campground are the same whether you're sitting under your beach umbrella or lounging under the awning of an elegant 40' Class A motorhome.  There is nothing wrong with seeking the most convenience and comfort you can afford.  Whether your temporary abode is a second hand tent or the most magnificent mansion on wheels you can still share the love of the great outdoors and revel in the camaraderie of the campfire and it is great to "get away from it all" for a few days or so.  And no matter what our individual means of transportation or our choice of accommodations, we all strive to make our outings more convenient and more fun.

What will make your camping life easier?  Your needs will vary according to your camping style, climate, activities, destinations, family size, and personal preferences to say nothing of your budget. Almost every camper will benefit from light weight, comfortable camp chairs.  Good lanterns and flashlights will improve and make safer evening and nighttime activities.   If you don't like cooking over an open campfire, check out the many alternatives -- camp stoves, portable BBQs, solar ovens. Each time you visit a sporting goods or RV supply store, look over the new gizmos and a gadgets, especially devices which help you better organize your gear and campsite.   As time goes by, manufacturers make improvements to traditional products that may make them lighter, more compact, more convenient, more powerful, or more durable so compare new products with those you're already using.  And don't let anyone talk you into things you don't really find appealing or out of of things you really like.  Hey, if having and using nice, professional grade, stainless steel cooking and serving spoons gives you pleasure, go ahead and upgrade to restaurant quality from the cheap plastic ones you may have started out with.  They may be heavier to haul around, but the extra weight and durability might be more than worth it.  My wife criticizes my fascination with and seeming addiction to hand tools, but quite honestly, they give me pleasure and I usually find them to be very useful. Some simple, inexpensive camping gizmos we've found useful include clamps to secure the table cloth to the picnic table so it doesn't blow up over things (or blow things over) and wall-mount toothpick and match holders that put them right at your fingertips when you need them.  Bathroom organizers hold and protect toothbrushes, toothpaste, and paper cups.

Some motorhomes and travel trailers are equipped with central vacuum systems.   If yours doesn't have one and you have a spare cabinet (like under the bed or dinette) you may be able to add one.  Or just get a compact canister vacuum. It will be a lot less expensive and nearly as convenient.

Tent campers are not immune from seeking more comfort.   Larger tents with front porches or built in screen rooms expand livability.   Portable canopies provide extra outdoor comfort with shelter from sun and rain.   More comfortable sleeping pads or mattresses or cots make for better slumber.  Improved gas or battery powered lanterns can give almost the same illumination as 120-volt lights do at home.   Portable hot water systems can deliver wonderful hot showers on demand.   Portable chairs and tables reduce reliance on picnic tables and let you avoid sitting in the dirt!

Funny isn't it?  We go camping to get away from it all and then try to take it all with us!  And that's OK!

Rough it easy!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Expanding Your Storage Options

Somehow we always seem to have more stuff to carry around than we have room for.   Eventually we run out of storage space even in huge RVs with expansive "basement" storage compartments.  The first thing to do when that happens is to re-evaluate what we're carrying around. Over time we tend to accumulate stuff that is seldom used and is best left at home except on trips where you KNOW you're going to use it.   The exceptions to that rule are tools and emergency supplies.  With any luck, we won't need our tools or emergency supplies on most outings so they may fall into the seldom used category, but it is still a good idea to make room for them.   More likely candidates for reduction include souvenirs from previous trips and seasonal clothing and equipment that only needs to be loaded up for appropriate outings.  Some souvenirs from previous outings might be unintentional, like heavy mud deposits in the wheel  wells or the frame.

Storage is a concern when tent camping too.  You need to make efficient use of available space in your tent, your camp site, and your vehicle.  You also need to consider how you'll store your equipment at home between outings.   If you need to carry more equipment than fits in the trunk of your car or the back of your truck or SUV, you may need to consider getting a small utility trailer. Roof pods and storage racks or trunks that fit into the hitch are also viable options for both tent camping and RVs.

Your first priority should always be to make do with the space you have.   Many times simply organizing things better will improve storage capacity.  You may have to make trade offs to choose which things are most important and make the best use of the limited space you have.  Try hard to adjust what you bring along to fit within the space and weight limits you have.  What if, after I've eliminated unnecessary items, I still need more storage?  Two external storage options come immediately to mind.   Outside storage isn't the most convenient to use but is the easiest to add.  One is the external trunk, a box that attaches to your trailer hitch to provide extra storage space.   Or just a hitch mounted storage rack.  These can be used on motorhomes, SUVs, pickup trucks, cars -- anything with a tow hitch.  You might be able to add a hitch to the back of your trailer to mount an external trunk or storage rack. A second option is a roof pod.  Roof pods can add significant storage space to just about any RV or other vehicle IF the roof is strong enough to support the load and tolerate being walked on.   Some RVs have areas that have been specifically reinforced to accommodate storage pods.  If you don't know if yours is so equipped, carefully walk the roof and see how much it flexes when you walk on it.  If it flexes a lot, it probably won't support a storage pod. Mounting a pod requires locating rafters to secure it to.  If you not sure of where the rafters are, you should seek professional installation to make sure your pod doesn't come off and to avoid permanent damage to the roof.   Roof pods are best used for light weight items.  Heavy items are difficult to carry up the ladder and put more stress on the roof.  You also want to limit the amount of weight you carry that high as it will raise the center of gravity and make your unit more unstable in cross winds and in the blow by from passing trucks.  Soft-side roof carriers can be added to most passenger cars and SUVs and are good for transporting tents, sleeping bags, duffle bags, and suitcases.   I prefer to place hard items like stoves and lanterns in the car trunk or the cargo space of an pickup or SUV.

If you are tent camping or your RV is a motorhome and you live and travel in a state that permits multiple trailers, you may be able to solve storage problems by towing a small utility trailer.  This is an especially good solution for temporary needs, such as hauling extra equipment and supplies for a large gathering or special gear for a specific activity.  If you need more storage for all your outings, towing a trailer may be an added inconvenience and ultimately you may be better off seeking other solutions, such as storage pods or even getting a larger RV, perhaps one designed with the extra storage you need for a particular activity.

Extra interior storage. Most RVs have already made pretty good use of every available nook and cranny but sometimes you may find some hidden storage or may be able to make better use of available storage.  Sometimes adding shelves to large cabinets can give you more usable space.   I once discovered some dead space in a Class A motorhome near the bed, under what served as a night stand.  By removing the top I gained access to a compartment big enough to mount a "pancake" air compressor without sacrificing any other usable compartments.  An alternative use of the space might have been to put a door on the compartment so the space inside could be used as an additional cabinet.  I saw an idea for storing cutting boards in the galley that was pretty clever. The owner simply cut vertical slots in the front of the cabinets between the doors to allow him to slide the cutting boards into unused space between cabinets. If you want to try this, make sure there are no obstructions (like plumbing or wiring or structural elements) in the way of where the boards will go before you start cutting. In addition to cutting the slots you will need to provide supports for the cutting boards inside the cabinets.   Another neat idea I'm planning to implement is making kitchen knife holders that attach to the inside wall of a cabinet to hold the knives securely out of the way.  If you use this idea. store the knives with the sharp edge up so they aren't dulled by travel vibration.  Or use a magnetic knife holder to keep them safe and easily accessible.

Wire racks and shelves are an easy way to add space for books, magazines, maps, manuals, spices, cleaning supplies, and sundries.   They can be mounted just about anywhere there is adequate wall space or, sometimes they can be used to good advantage inside cabinets to improve storage options and efficiency.

Space bags can compress bedding and clothing so it doesn't take up so much room in drawers and cabinet.  While they don't actually add space, they make better use of available space.   You might even use them in closets to capture bulky clothing you don't use frequently.

Organizers.   There are a number of organizers for automotive and home closet use that can be adapted for your RV.  Check out the trunk organizers for cars and behind-the-seat organizers for pickup trucks.  You may find a place to use them in your RV.   The cloth shoe caddies that hang on the back of a door can be adapted to hold many things besides shoes and can be used effectively on closet and bathroom doors.  Spice carousels can enhance storage and convenience in your kitchen cabinets and might be adapted to organize medicine bottles in the bathroom.   Be creative!

Plastic tubs can be used to corral loose items that otherwise tend to bounce around and often take up more space than necessary.   I like to use translucent tubs so I can kind of see what is inside. Plastic baskets can likewise be used on shelves or in cabinets to organize items and make it easier to get to things that aren't right up front.   Baskets and tubs also keep things from sliding around during vehicle maneuvers.

Be creative.   Look for unused spaces that can be adapted.  I make use of the gaps between the 1" steel frame of my motorcycle trailer and the roof to store folding aluminum chairs, my "Desert Rat" outing sign posts, and my collapsible flag pole. They remain secure, out of the way, and convenient to use when I need them, without sacrificing other valuable space.

A word of caution: Do NOT try to store things inside the furnace or refrigerator access panels nor against power converters or inverters or water  pumps. The clear space around them is there for a reason!   These devices have clearance and heat dissipation requirements that, if compromised, will lead to problems, such as over-heating that can damage the equipment and even set your RV on fire.  Avoid storing heavy items in overhead cabinets where they could become unguided missles during unusually violent maneuvers.

A recent article in Highways (The Good Sam Club Magazine) had an "outside the box" solution for a couple who was looking for ways to bring along a motorcycle and a scooter on their planned full-time trip.   They were debating whether to get a bigger tow vehicle or add an extra trailer. Bob Livingston aptly suggested getting a toy hauler but it was his second suggestion that was "outside the box": simply rent a one-way truck (or trailer) to transport the machines between destinations since they were planning to spend 3-4 months in each location. If you need extra capacity for a single event, do consider an extra vehicle for that one event. If you find yourself frequently renting extra equipment, consider buying.  Owning your own stuff makes sense if you use it regularly.  It may save you money and will definitely be more convenient but if you only need it  now and then renting (or borrowing) is the better option.

Stow it!


Since upsizing is the most common practice, it is almost self-evident, but it is worth mentioning a few of the things to keep in mind when it comes time to move up.   Upsizing in this article applies mostly to RVs, but tent campers will often want to upsize to larger tents  and other equipment too. Many of the concepts given below for upsizing considerations for RVs can also be applied to getting a bigger tent.  The justification, timing, and even the idea of alternatives, are all applicable to tent camping as well as RVing.  Upsizing might be applied to upgrading your equipment even it it doesn't mean getting larger versions.

Many of the reasons for upsizing have more to do with wants than needs.   Sometimes you really do need a bigger rig as your family grows, but very often we just want more luxury and convenience.  We often see features on  rigs belonging to fellow campers that we find desirable and it is surprising how quickly we begin to perceive our wants has needs.   Many of our upgrades were driven at least as much by desirable additional features as they were by the need for a larger RV as the family grew from 2 to 6 kids.   Today's RVs even have slide outs that expand the living space once you are in camp and eliminate the "tunnel" feeling of older rigs.   I've seen some big motorhomes with slide outs on both sides where the main living area rivals my living room at home.   Let's face it, unless you are using your RV for business parties it is hard to justify slide outs as a need, but a lot of us sure want them, and they are very nice to have.  The open space certainly does make many activities more convenient and comfortable even though they usually don't expand bed space.   Some other, often coveted amenities include ice makers, electric steps, built-in food processors, automatic levelers, and home theaters.   It is really kind of strange.  We go camping to "get away from it all" and then strive to take it all with us.  But, I guess, we can even overdose on the wonders of the great outdoors and it is nice to have a refuge where we can return to the familiar womb of electronic entertainment and modern conveniences to sooth our psyche and give us an alternate means of escape.  It sure is nice to have a climate controlled RV to return to after an afternoon of outdoor activities, whether its a place to warm up after snowmobiling or a place to cool down after some desert trail riding or just too much sun at the pool or on the lake.

When to upsize is something you have to determine based on your own situation.   Certainly if your family has grown and you no longer have enough beds for everyone is one measurement.  That prompted one of our first upgrades from a handy little Class B van conversion to a larger Class C bunkhouse style motorhome.  When we first upgraded to Class A motorhomes, we considered the front salons an unnecessary  luxury and a frivolous waste of space, but after a few long trips with 6 kids, we decided that extra space was a necessity.  Today slide outs would probably be high on the list.  If you find your RV too cramped for activities such as preparing and serving meals you may want to consider moving up.   If you REALLY have strong feelings about some of the additional luxuries and conveniences, you will want to include those in your plans for your next RV.  Regardless of the fundamental reason(s) for upgrading, there are some basic steps you will want to take to make sure your solution is a satisfactory one.  First, make a list of all the features you desire and prioritize the list.   Some items will be on the "must have" list, some may be "nice to have", and some may be completely optional.  Check the prices on the options you want to make sure they are within your budget and to help you prioritize what you "need" most.  You may decide some upgrades just aren't worth the cost.   Second, check out rigs with the features you want.  You may be able to find pictures and reviews on the Internet and in RV magazines.  Visit RV shows and RV dealers so you can walk through some units and get an idea of what feels right and what doesn't.   Collect prices as you go so you can evaluate potential deals and get the best value.   If you find your perfect rig, try to contain your excitement to allow yourself to negotiate the best possible deal.  Jumping up and down and chanting "I want this one!" is not going to give you much bargaining power with the seller.  If you are considering previously owned rigs, be sure to either check them out or have them checked out carefully.  It is way too easy to get excited about desired features, a nice paint job, and a "special price" when you find that "perfect" RV and overlook basic problems that could be inconvenient and expensive to repair.   If the price is too good to be true, there is probably a good reason.  Ask questions of the seller.  Why is the unit being sold?   How did he/she arrive at the asking price?   How often and where did they use the RV?   Do they have service records?  Where has the unit been stored?  What, if any, upgrades does it have?  Has it ever been in a serious accident or had any structural damage or mechanical problems?  If so, how were they resolved?

Upsizing alternatives. There all some alternatives to getting a bigger motorhome or trailer, depending on your current situation and your needs.   If you have a motorhome and need more sleeping room, you might be able to purchase a small travel trailer or utility trailer to pull behind your motorhome to expand your living and/or cargo space, depending on your needs.  This may a be a lot less expensive than buying a bigger motorhome and you can even rent the extra unit when you need it instead of having to buy one.   Having a second RV will expand virtually all of the facilities, including beds, cooking area, bathrooms, fresh water supply and holding tank capacity.   Carefully consider what additional facilities you really need.   Make sure the Combined Vehicle Weight Rating and hitch rating of your motorhome is adequate to pull a trailer.  If you have a trailer and need more space, a second trailer will only be an option if you live and travel only in states where you can tow multiple trailers or have a second vehicle and driver to tow the second trailer.   Also make sure you will be comfortable towing two trailers.   Small, older travel trailers can often be purchased at very low prices. If all you need is more cargo space, a small utility trailer or a roof pod may take care of your needs for at least a while.  Another way of expanding living space in camp on an existing RV is with an "add-a-room", which essentially is a tent or awning enclosure that attaches to your RV. Sometimes, you can redesign some of your interior space to better fit your particular needs.  This usually takes the form of swapping out furniture in the main living space to either increase sleeping capacity or create more floor space and make it easier to move around.   More extensive modifications might redesign the gallery to make it more efficient to use and/or create additional storage or counter space.  Bathrooms are often tight and difficult to improve.  Many RVs have only a shower, but if you need a tub to bathe toddlers, you might be able to replace the shower pan with a suitably sized RV tub -- or just bring along a baby bath tub.  If your primary need is increased sleeping capacity you may be able to install fold down bunk beds over existing sleeping and seating areas.  I've seen several Class B's with cots that fit on pipe rails across the front seats.   This idea can be adapted to many other types of RVs and even vans and passenger cars. More convenient, permanent (and expensive) options are beds that drop down from the ceiling.   Some are even electrically operated.   These are not cheap mods, but they may be a lot cheaper than buying a bigger RV!  They will probably require professional installation to be sure they are properly anchored and do not compromise the structural integrity of the RV.

Downsizing to upsize.  OK, how's that for a paradox?  Here is what I mean. Instead of getting a bigger rig, try getting rid of some of the stuff you're carrying around all the time.  Make more room by eliminating un-used or seldom used items and by making better use of the space you have. Perhaps you can move some items to an outside compartment or roof pod to make more space available inside.   You might be surprised how much you can improve usability with some creative organization.  Take inventory of your equipment.  There may be newer, more compact versions of some of your gear and equipment that will help you lighten the load and make more room.   More efficient use of existing space can make a surprisingly large difference in the livability and convenience of your RV.  Because space is so limited to start with even small changes can achieve a significant percentage difference.

Parking/storage.  When choosing a larger RV, be sure to consider your parking and storage requirements.  You don't want to learn your new RV is too tall to fit in your RV garage by ripping the A/C off the roof when you drive in!   Is it too long for the available parking space?  Will it fit through access gates?  If you have a steep driveway, will the overhang drag?  You don't want to smash your dump valves or tail pipes or rip off the back bumper.  Any problems with parking or storage should be eliminated or mitigated BEFORE you buy a bigger unit.

Move on up!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Rightsizing is a kind of new buzzword being tossed around in corporate circles and by the RV industry.  It is often a polite way to disguise downsizing, which is often the case in the business world.  While RV manufacturers wrestle with demands for ever more amenities, higher performance, and better fuel economy, they try to create new packages under the title rightsizing.  By utilizing lighter materials and improved drive trains they have, to some extent, succeeded, but you still won't find humongous luxury motorhomes getting compact car fuel economy, though some smaller diesels are pushing 20 mpg these days, rivaling the impressive fuel economy of the 1960's Corvair powered Ultravans.

Rightsizing is perhaps an even more important concept for consumers.  Buying more or less RV than you need -- or want -- is not a good value nor a good investment.  The key is matching your unit to your needs -- and your budget. You might save a lot of money buying a 19' class C mini motorhome but it won't be of much real value if your family doesn't fit in it comfortably.  A big luxury RV might seem desirable until you discover it doesn't fit where you have to park it, it costs a fortune for insurance and fuel, and it is too big to go some of the places you want to go.

Rightsizing might mean adding a utility trailer or a small travel trailer instead of buying a bigger motorhome.  Take a look at why you need a bigger unit. If it is only to haul more "stuff", either lighten your load or get a utility trailer.   If you need more beds, perhaps an inexpensive travel trailer will fill the bill without giving up the comforts and familiarity of your current motorhome.  We found that our Smuggler toyhauler made a good extra bedroom for some of our boys on our dirt bike outings.  Small travel trailers (or even tent trailers) are pretty inexpensive and could provide significant additional living space in camp without a large investment.   A properly equipped travel trailer would also expand your other conveniences giving  you more cooking space, a second bathroom, more fresh water, and additional holding tank capacity.  Just make sure your motorhome has sufficient Combined Vehicle Weight Rating to handle the trailer.

Rightsizing for tent campers might mean changing the size of their tents, adding tents, or changing the number and content of the tubs of supplies they bring along.   It may also be applied individually to each outing.   Having the right size tent for the number of people on any given trip is going to make it more convenient and more comfortable.   You don't need that big family tent for a couples outing.

Sometimes rightsizing may mean downsizing.  As the kids leave home, you may not need a big bunkhouse RV or huge family tent anymore.  When you retire your budget and your travel plans may change. Your interests and activities may be different.  Match your equipment to your current needs, wants, and budget.

Very often rightsizing means upsizing.   As you mature and your wants and/or needs or family grows, you may need a bigger RV or a bigger tent, or an extra tent or extra beds in a travel trailer to pull behind your motorhome. 

Make it right!


Downsizing is going from a large RV to a smaller one.  Or from a large tent to a smaller one. Downsizing  isn't as common as upsizing.  Sometimes it makes sense but the typical path of RV and tent ownership over time is usually to larger equipment with more space, luxuries, and conveniences so the downward move is somewhat unnatural.  However, there may come a time when upsizing is no longer appropriate and you may need to downsize.  Now that all our kids are grown and gone they are encouraging us to downsize.   I could see the practical side of it but for a long time I wasn't sure I was ready to give up the luxuries and conveniences of our 40' diesel pusher just yet.  We tried a 23' Class C for a while after the kids had all left home, but we soon found it didn't fit our acquired needs.  The 25 gallon fresh water tank was not enough for a long weekend in the desert for even the 2 of us, let alone when some of the kids tagged along.  Downsizing your tent may make sense if you no longer need to lug around that big family tent once all the kids have grown up and left home and a smaller tent will be easier to set up and easier to keep warm in cold weather.

Why would you ever want to downsize? As your family grows up and moves out you may not need as large a facility.  Changes in employment, including retirement, may reduce your disposable income.  Or you may simply change the kinds of activities you participate in and the destinations you choose to frequent.   Smaller units are usually more fuel efficient and can negotiate some roads and fit in some campgrounds where big motorhomes are prohibited or impractical.  A smaller, more fuel efficient unit, might be better suited to retirement than a big fuel guzzler.   Smaller units are also easier to drive and can go places the big ones can't.   As you mature you might simply get tired of driving a behemoth RV or setting up a big heavy tent.

Our first attempt at downsizing wasn't very successful.  The kids were mostly grown and gone and we figured that with just the two of us we could get by very comfortably with a 23' Class C instead of the 35' Class A we had when the kids were growing up.  Several factors made it a less than perfect decision.  We soon discovered that the limited water and holding tank capacities were inadequate for extended weekends in the desert, even for just two people.  Our Class A had about 100 gallons of fresh water. The Class C had only 25.   The second problem was that we underestimated how many of the kids would still be going with us on typical outings.   A big part of why it didn't work out was we hadn't evaluated our needs and our expectations correctly.  Had we done so we might been able to better adapt our behavior to the more limited resources and been able to manage the transition better.  As it was, our solution was to move back up into a Class A motorhome with increased capacities and, frankly, we've never regretted it.  In fact, we upsized again one more time after that.

A second downsizing occurred a few years later. This time we didn't replace our big Class A motorhome, we added a truck camper we could use for limited activities and have access to smaller campgrounds and be able to negotiate narrow mountain roads that were too tight for the motorhome. Buying the camper was also cheaper than replacing all tires on our big motorhome to meet short term camping 'needs'.   This turned out to be more successful, mostly because we had adjusted our expectations and weren't trying to use the camper as full replacement for the luxury motorhome.  By adjusting our activities to those appropriate to the truck camper we were able to enjoy outings not suitable for the big motorhome and we avoided the disappointment and limitations that plagued our first attempt at downsizing.

We recently faced another (involuntary) downsizing when our 40-foot Class A was damaged in an accident.   It was a rare model that could not be replaced.   We looked at hundreds of online ads, visited at lest a half dozen dealers, and examined more than a half dozen private party sales.   Over time we developed a list of "must have" features that helped us narrow our search.   We found that at least some of the luxury features on our big motorhome, while sometimes nice to have, weren't critical to our desired camping lifestyle.   We settled on a much smaller, 27' Class A that still provided many of the creature comforts we had come to enjoy in our bigger unit.   Downsizing required carefully choosing the items, gadgets, and supplies we could fit into the smaller unit.  While a general rule for the big motorhome was "If you think you might need it, bring it along" the rule for the smaller unit is pretty much "If you aren't sure you'll need it, leave it home."  For example, I had a 12 volt chain saw I'd carried in the big motorhome for years and seldom used but there isn't room for it in the "new" motorhome.

If you attempt downsizing, you should plan to make adjustments.   Manage your expectations and realize you will be giving up some of the luxuries and conveniences you've become accustomed to.  Alter your activities to take advantage of the smaller size.  You may have access to smaller campgrounds and other remote locations you didn't have with your big unit, but you may also have to limit duration and modify your activities to match the capabilities of your smaller unit.  That may mean more frequent trips to the dump station and/or bringing along extra water.   And don't forget doing what you can to make your smaller unit as comfortable as possible.  Explore what features the big motorhome or trailer had that you really liked.  Can you add similar features to your replacement? Can you adjust your activities and/or the gear and equipment you carry to fit the smaller unit?   Can you adjust your expectations and accept that not all your "wants" are needs?  If, after considering all your options, you don't think you'll be happy with the smaller unit, forget it!  Any changes you make are intended to improve your enjoyment, so don't do something that isn't going to make you happy.

Trial runs are a good idea if you can make it happen.  Most RVs represent a significant investment so you don't want to be jumping from one to another without good reason and careful planning.  If you think you want to downsize, consider renting or borrowing a unit similar to the one you're considering and take a few short trips in it.  That way you'll know if you will be comfortable BEFORE you get rid of your old tried-and-true behemoth . It will probably be an expensive proposition if you downsize and then have to upsize again.   It was for us.

Bigger is not always better.