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, April 25, 2012

Camp Showers

In this post we're not talking about unexpected drizzle that dampens your picnic.  We're talking about comfortable methods of personal hygiene while camping.

For many years, camp showers were a luxury available only to owners of self-contained RVs or people staying in developed campgrounds with full service restrooms.   Some forest service campgrounds provided rudimentary facilities, but they were often shunned by potential users due to cleanliness, privacy concerns, cold water, and fear of disease.  These days there are many alternatives for tent campers and owners of RVs with limited facilities so they're not dependent on campground facilities.

Campground showers for many years had very bad reputation.  They were often fairly primitive, poorly maintained, and sometimes lacked privacy.  This was especially true in remote facilities.  Most modern RV parks offer clean, comfortable, private, and secure showers.  You won't always find showers at forest service and other primitive campgrounds.  Some RVers like to bring along portable shower grate for added safety and sanitation.  These are usually made of wood or bamboo.  They are light weight and easy to clean.  They prevent slipping and keep your feet off the floor someone else might have recently contaminated in community showers.  IF you're worried about picking up a disease from the shower floor, wash your feet again when you get back to your camp and apply some anti-fungal foot spray or rub them with hand sanitizer.

Showering in your RV is very much like showering at home -- except you want to limit your use of water -- and you might have to duck your head and keep your elbows pulled in tight to avoid bumping your funny bone.  Remember, unless you're connected to campground water and sewers, your water supply and holding tank capacity is limited.  To begin with, don't waste the cold water that comes out waiting for the hot water to get there -- collect it in a jug or dishpan for future use rinsing dishes etc.  The hot water heater in most RVs is much smaller than the one at home so you'll quickly run out of hot water -- and waste propane -- if you let the water run needlessly or take extra long showers.  You want to take what is called "Navy showers" (ships at sea have some of the same limitations as RVs).  Turn on the shower to rinse and wet your body.   Then turn it off while you soap and scrub.  Then turn it on again to rinse away the soap.  Don't let the water run any longer than is necessary.   This is also true for washing your hands or brushing your teeth.   Many RV showers have a shutoff built in to the shower head.  This allows you to turn the water on and off without having to readjust the temperature each time.  If your shower doesn't have a shutoff, one can usually be added fairly easily and inexpensively.  You can conserve water and avoid needless filling holding tanks by running the water into a plastic dishpan or a jug while waiting for the hot water.  This water can then be used for pre-rinsing dishes, cleaning tasks, or dousing the fire.  One of my dirt biking buddies solved the problem of his teen age kids using up all the water showering and shampooing their hair every day in the desert.  He allocated each of them 2 or 3 gallon jugs of water for each trip and let them use it however they wanted: all at once or rationed for the trip.  If they tried to use the water in the shower instead of using their jugs, he shut off the pump.  If your RV happens to have an on demand tankless water heater you won't have to worry about running out of hot water prematurely but you still want to conserve water to avoid filling your holding tanks and minimize propane usage.

Sun showers are an easy, inexpensive way to have a comfortable shower anywhere.  The system consists of a large, heavy duty black plastic bag and a hose and shower head.  You simply fill the bag with water and let it lie out in the sun until the water reaches the desired temperature.   Hang the bag on a convenient tree branch or any other sturdy overhead structure.  A portable shower enclosure can be used for privacy.  Sun showers are a good option for tent campers or if your RV is doesn't have a bath or shower.  Many RVers with fully self-contained units use sun showers to conserve propane, limit water use, and avoid filling their holding tanks.  In a pinch you could use your hydration pack as a mini sun shower but I wouldn't want to contaminate my drinking water pack with non-potable water or use up my drinking water just to take a shower.

Portable hot water systems are available too.  They are usually powered by the same small propane cylinders you use for your lantern and camp stove but could run off larger propane tanks if you have the means to transport them and have the right hoses and adapters.   They are quite a bit more expensive than sun showers, but you can use them anytime, day or night, rain or shine, without the need for sunlight to warm the water.   They can also provide hot water for doing dishes and other tasks. You won't want to take these with you hiking or backpacking, but they are a nice addition for car camping, base camps. and small RVs that don't have a shower.

Shower enclosures are available to go with portable hot water systems and sun showers to provide privacy when showering outdoors.  These are usually free standing stalls like little roofless tents about 3' square.  You might also use them with the outdoor showers on some RVs.  Some are designed to hang from a tree or other overhead structure; some are free standing.  Be sure you know which style you want before you buy.

Cat baths are an alternative to showering and will conserve water.   You can usually do a pretty good job of cleaning your body with a small basin of water and a wash cloth.  It isn't as refreshing or as thorough as a shower, but it will help keep you healthy and smelling better.  Cat baths can be done just about anywhere, even hiking or backpacking and are simple solutions for people in tents or campers with limited facilities.  You can have a pretty comfortable cat bath with just a pan full of water heated on your campfire.   Cat baths may even be an options in survival mode.

Air showers.  Your showering options when hiking or backpacking or in survival mode will be limited.  If you're lucky you may be able to occasionally bathe in a lake, spring, or stream along the way.  Lacking a water source for bathing, plan on taking an "air shower" or smoke shower at least very day or so.  Remove as much clothing as privacy permits.  Hang your clothing out so it can air out and dry any accumulated perspiration while you let the air and sun purge your skin of unwanted moisture and bacteria.   It won't be as cleansing or comforting as a real shower, but it will help to keep you healthier and more comfortable than staying in the same soiled clothing for days on end.  A variation of an air shower suggested by some survival experts is a "smoke shower".  Allow smoke from you campfire in under your clothing to help dry up sweat and kill bacteria that cause odor and may cause disease.  Sagebrush, common in many parts of the western United States, is particularly useful for smoke showers since sagebrush smoke contains anti-bacterial agents and has a pleasant fragrance.

Tent campers may be able to avail themselves of hot showers at local RV parks.  Some sell showers to non-guests.  Don't expect to use them for free or to piggy-back on a friend's RV reservation.  When that happens, parks often withdraw their services.  After all, the park has to pay for the water and the fuel to heat it and for sewer services as well as recouping the cost of building, maintaining, and servicing the facility and paying taxes on it.  A clean hot shower can be very welcome after a few days roughing it and something your companions will also appreciate.

Keep clean!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Camp Cookware

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy cooking!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Emergency Shelters

Your RV or tent may serve as an emergency shelter if your home is damaged and becomes unusable during a disaster situation.  But what do you do for an emergency shelter when you're away from home?  You might find yourself in survival mode if you get stranded while hiking, horseback riding, hunting, or riding your OHVs or if your vehicle malfunctions.  Shelter is often one of your first priorities.  Shelter is seldom considered when the weather is moderate but it becomes critical as it gets hotter or colder or wetter.  You can only survive about 3 hours before you die of exposure in unhealthy weather conditions.   That's a lot faster than you would die of thirst or starvation.  Unhealthy weather includes excessive  heat as well as cold and wet conditions. 

Types of emergencies.  You could find yourself in an emergency/survival situation at any time. Natural and man-made disasters can occur without warning.  You don't have to be camping or hiking in a remote location.  Disasters can occur at work and at home too.  We had to evacuate our suburban neighborhood when a service vehicle knocked the valve off a large chlorine tank and released a big chlorine gas cloud.  Earthquakes, tornadoes, fire, can flood also strike without warning.  Events some distance from your location can put you in an emergency situation.  Flash floods can occur miles from where the rain falls.   Mudslides or collapsing highway and rail bridges can interrupt delivery of food, fuel, and other necessities and may strand you where ever you are.   These days, freeways and railroads crisscross the countryside and handle countless loads of hazardous materials so unless you live in a really remote location, you could be the victim of a hazardous spill on the freeway or railroad.  Fortunately, good business practices along with rigorous safety regulations make such incidents rare, but they do happen.  Some manufacturing plans present significant risk.   Just ask the people who lived anywhere near the fertilizer plant that exploded in Texas a year or so ago!   We learned there was a similar facility only a mile or two from our house!  Localized emergencies, like if your house catches fire or is damaged by a storm or flooding from a burst dam may allow you to get help from your friends and neighbors, but any large scale or wide spread disaster such as an earthquake is likely to shut down utilities and emergency services and impact your neighbors too and you'll be totally on your own for at least 24 hours and perhaps for a couple of weeks or more.   If that happens, what are you going to do?

Don't wait until you NEED shelter to get started.  You should already have plans for what to do if you are forced to evacuate your home.  If not, start planning now.  For camping or other emergencies away from home you may need more primitive skills.   It will take some time to find or build a shelter in the wild, so don't wait until it is getting dark or starts to rain or snow before you start looking.   By then it is probably too late.  You want to have a place ready to go to when you need it.   If you wait until you need shelter, you could die of exposure before you could construct one.   Waiting until it is raining or snowing means you'll be working in bad weather with materials that are already wet or snowy.  Much better to build a dry shelter ahead of time and stay dry.  Your core temperature can drop enough in about 3 hours to make you dangerously hypothermic, so ofttimes shelter will be your first priority.   A common mistake of lost campers is to wait until too late in the day to begin working on a shelter.   Starting too late often means you won't be able to finish it before it gets dark and you can no longer see to find materials and finish construction and it will start getting colder after the sun goes down.   If you have any daylight left after you get it done you can always put that time to good use searching for food or water, but if spending your daylight hours searching and end up without shelter for the night it could be a fatal mistake.

If you find yourself in a survival situation, shelter will probably be your number one need.  You will need water and food eventually, but, depending on weather conditions, you may not live long enough to get thirsty or hungry without appropriate shelter.   Remember The Rule of Threes: 1) you can live only about 3 minutes without air, 2) 3 hours to maintain body temperature (shelter) 3) 3 days to find water, 4) 3 weeks to find food.  If an emergency forces you from your home you may be able to use your RV or tent as an emergency shelter.  If you are lost or experience a vehicle failure in the wilderness, you'll need to learn to make do with whatever is available.   Shelter in a hot desert climate will mostly mean finding or creating shade to protect you from excessive sun and heat.   In some desolate desert areas the only shade may be from what you have on you.  A dirt bike or ATV doesn't provide much shade, but its better than nothing.  Your shirt might be used to make a sunshade if there is anything to attach it to.  In cool or wet climates, you'll need to focus on keeping warm and dry. Even in the desert, staying warm at night may be a priority.  Seek or construct a shelter to protect you from the elements -- sun, wind, rain, and snow.  Being able to create some kind of shelter may mean the difference between surviving and succumbing to the effects of exposure.  Remember the "Rule of Threes" (and yes it is worth repeating): you can survive about 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter in adverse weather conditions, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food.  Use that as a guideline to prioritize your survival activities and your efforts to help others.  You may be able to save a life by simply clearing an airway for someone who isn't breathing.  Yes, that's twice I mentioned the Rule of Threes in this paragraph.   I hope that tells you something about how important it is.

Vehicles as shelter.  If your vehicle malfunctions and you are stranded, usually your best bet is to stay with the vehicle.   Although I recall being told you would freeze to death staying in a disabled car in winter, you are more likely to freeze to death outside in the wind and snow.  The vehicle at least provides some protection and, if you are only stuck in the snow, you may be able to run the heater occasionally to take the chill off.   The glass and metal construction of most vehicles allows heat to escape pretty easily, but the being inside a vehicle will at least shelter you from wind and precipitation and most likely will help preserve body heat since it won't be escaping into the open air. It will also be easier for  rescuers to locate your vehicle than your  body stuck in a snow bank!   However, many vehicles have very little insulation and the most common single pane glass is pretty good conductor of heat, so there may be some validity to finding better shelter if you can.   Even a dirt bike or an ATV might provide some shade in the desert or a bit of a wind break during a storm. If you must abandon your vehicle, consider whether there are any components you can scavenge that may assist your survival.   I read of a young couple who got their 4x4 pickup totally stuck in the snow on a back road (they unwisely had chosen to take a little used short cut in winter).  Since there was little chance of any traffic on the remote road they chose to leave their truck and try to walk to safety. Following something they saw on an episode of Survivorman, they ripped up the seats and used the upholstery and foam padding to make mukluks to protect their feet tramping through the deep snow -- and, happily, they survived!   If you're lucky enough to have a vehicle with a working engine, fuel, and heater, you may be able to stave off the cold by running it periodically to warm things up.   If the engine or heater doesn't work or you run out of fuel, you may need to consider whether the vehicle provides enough shelter against the elements for you to remain inside.   Open a couple of windows a little bit to ensure proper ventilation and prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.  If you are stuck in the snow, try to dig out around the tailpipe so exhaust fumes can escape without being drawn into the passenger compartment.   In some winter situations you may find it easier to stay warm in a snow cave.  That may seem counter intuitive, but having a properly sized snow cave could keep you warmer than trying to heat all the empty space in a vehicle.

Simple shelters can be created from many natural materials.   However, building a shelter from natural materials isn't going to be a easy as you think it will be -- nor as hard.  One survival expert said he'd NEVER built an emergency shelter that didn't leak.  Those made with large leaves, like palm fronds, are easier to overlap to ensure a drip-free interior.  Covering a shelter with pine boughs or leafy branches will require many layers to keep out the wind and rain.  Better to have a ready-made waterproof shelter with you.  A large orange plastic bag is the top suggestion of many survival experts.  Solar and thermal blankets are lighter but not as durable.  If there is brush or trees you can usually create a lean-to type shelter to help protect you from sun, rain, wind, and snow.  You'll need a couple of uprights plus a cross member to create the main framework.  Then add rafters from the cross member to the ground on the windward side and cover them with leafy branches, pine boughs, large leaves, birch bark, or even grass and leaves, pine needles, or other debris.  Any kind of plastic tarp, trash bag or poncho to help waterproof the roof will be helpful.  A lean-to can provide shelter for several people, depending on the size.   Don't waste time and materials building a shelter larger than you need.  You don't want to be cramped, but neither do you want to lose your body heat because your shelter is too big or too open.   Another really simple and primitive shelter is a debris hut.   It is exactly what it sounds like: a hut made of debris. Even a squirrel knows how to build a debris hut.  Essentially it is just a pile of "stuff" (leaves, grass, pine needles, dry weeds) you can burrow into to keep warm.

A debris hut is pretty easy to build and can provide a surprising amount of protection from the elements.   Just gather leaves, pine needles, etc, to create a pile big enough for you to burrow into for shelter.  Even a lowly squirrel can build a debris hut.  It may not be the most appealing and comfortable option, but it could save your life in a survival situation as it did for a young Boy Scout lost overnight in sub-freezing temperatures in Utah this past winter.  He had wandered away from his troop wearing a short sleeved shirt, not expecting to be facing temperatures below freezing.  Make sure your debris is dry and free from insect infestations.   For one-night use you can just pile it up and burrow inside or lie down and cover yourself.   If you anticipate using it more than once you might want to try to build a framework of sticks or branches covered with debris so you can get in and out of it and reuse it.  When constructing any shelter, avoid making it any larger than necessary.   It will just be that much harder to keep warm.  Insulate the walls and roof as well as you can using leaves, brush, pine needles, etc.  The exception to this rule is a debris hut.  The more debris you pile around you, the more insulation there is between you and the cold.  However, building TOO big a pile of debris may just sap your strength or make you sweat, losing both energy and precious body fluids.   I'd shoot for about a foot of debris between me and the elements.  And don't forget to put something between you and the cold, cold ground.  If you need a heat source, such as a fire, in cold weather, provide adequate ventilation, including an opening in the roof of your shelter for the smoke to escape and keep your fire away from the combustible walls and ceiling!  Or keep your fire outside and use heated rocks or reflected heat to warm your shelter.  This applies especially to a debris shelter. Don't even think about bringing fire into one of these!  Even "Survivorman" managed to set one of his driftwood shelters on fire -- and it was made of rocks and large pieces of wood -- so be extra cautions using fire inside or close to any shelter.  Better to build a fire outside the door with a reflector behind it to direct heat into the shelter.   Or heat up some rocks and drag them into your shelter to provide heat without flames.

Supple branches, such as young willows and poplars, can be bent and woven like a basket to create a simple framework for a temporary shelter.  You might secure the intersection of branches by wrapping each joint with cordage (vines, reeds, long grass, rope, string, twine, wire).  With a little practice and patience you can create a shelter of almost any size and shape.  Cover the framework with leafy branches, pine boughs, etc. until it keeps out the wind and rain.  You can use the weaving same technique to create a door for an igloo or debris hut.

Don't expect your crude emergency survival shelter to be perfect.    I've heard more than one survival expert admit it is nearly impossible to create a survival shelter that is completely leak proof using natural materials.  A tarp or some plastic sheeting would go a long way toward keep you dry.  However, what you can manage with pine boughs, leaves, etc, should keep a lot of the rain off and provide at least some protection against wind.  The more protection you have against wind and precipitation, the better.

Sod shelters.  American pioneers built homes from sod on the plains where trees were scarce.  Simply chop blocks of sod from a grassy area and pile them up like bricks or concrete blocks.   Take care to ensure the stability of your structure so it doesn't collapse on you.  A sod house provides excellent insulation to keep you warm when its cold outside and cool when in hot weather.   Because of the effort and difficult of building a sod shelter you probably won't want to undertake such a task unless you expect to be there for some time or if conditions (such as high winds or constantly changing wind direction) make using a simple lean to ineffective.  You also need some substantial tools to cut sod. A shovel or an axe or adz is ideal, but probably not something you have in your pocket.  You may have to make do with sticks or a piece of shale you can push into the grass to cut out the blocks of sod.

Snow shelters.   It may seem counter intuitive, but snow actually makes a pretty good emergency shelter.  You can make a simple snow cave by burrowing into a snowdrift.  If you have the time, energy, and inclination, (and he snow is right) you can cut blocks of snow and build an igloo but it isn't as easy at it sounds.  An alternate way to build an igloo if there isn't enough snow to cut blocks is the roll a bunch of snowballs about the size of basketballs and pile them up.  Then pack snow between the balls to make a solid mound.  Poke some sticks about 2' long into the mound, then hollow it out until you reach the ends of the sticks.  A foot of snow provides about the same insulation R-value as the 3" fiberglass insulation in the walls of your home.  Another type of snow shelter is  a snow trench.  Dig a trench deep enough for you to lie down in, then cover it over with branches and snow and crawl in it to get out of the weather.  Just getting out of any wind will save you a lot of body heat.  The walls and ceiling of the snow trench will also contain and reflect back much of your body heat.

Be creative.   If you find yourself in a survival situation, look for any resources that will help you create appropriate shelter.  A cave, a hollow tree, a fallen log, or an overhanging ledge can provide ready made or partially ready made shelters.  A thicket or stand of trees may provide ready-made uprights for building a lean-to or other shelter.   If you anticipate you may need to survive for some time, the sturdier and more permanent your shelter, the better off you'll be.  If you are stranded due to an accident or mechanical failure of a vehicle, the vehicle itself or parts of it, might be used to create or improve a shelter.  An intact, enclosed vehicle can provide shelter from sun, wind, rain, and snow. Be aware that most vehicles have limited insulation and will loose heat quickly in cold, windy conditions, but still not as quickly as your body will if directly exposed.   In winter you may improve your level of protection using snow to insulate the exterior of the vehicle. In cold weather you might need additional insulation to keep you warm.  Gather pine boughs, leaves, grass the same as you would for a debris hut and use it like you would a blanket to keep warm.  You might remove parts of a wrecked vehicle to help create a lean-to or tear apart upholstery to get materials for bedding or clothing or insulation or for waterproofing the roof of your shelter.  Use whatever is at hand: driftwood on a beach, fallen limbs and branches in a forest, scrub brush in the desert, palm fronds in tropical climates, trash bags and other debris along roadways.  Even snow can be used to create an emergency shelter.   People live in igloos in arctic climates, but they require considerable effort and skill to build.  A simple snow cave can be made by burrowing into the face of a drift to hollow out enough space for your body. A foot of snow provides about the same amount of insulation against outside air temperatures as the fiberglass insulation in your walls at home. That is significant when outside temperatures drop below zero F.   It may seem counter-intuitive for something as cold as snow to keep you warm, but it works, by trapping air around you and reducing the loss of heat from your body.   If you can, use leaves, pine needles, etc. as a buffer between you and where you sit or lie on the snow.

Using your RV or tent as an emergency shelter.   It case of a local catastrophic event like an earthquake, fire, or some other disaster that interrupts normal utilities and emergency services or damages your residence, your RV or tent can serve as a temporary emergency shelter.   Staying in or RV or tent on your property may reduce the chance of vandals stealing things from your damaged house or causing additional damage.  You will also enjoy more privacy and probably be more comfortable than you would be in a community shelter set up in some school gym. In order to take advantage of your RV or tent as an emergency shelter you need to make some advance preparations. First off, you'll need to make sure your RV is parked safely, where it won't be rendered useless by falling trees or having your house fall on it.  If you're a tent camper, keep your tent and all your camping gear in ready to use condition and store it where it can be quickly and easily accessed in an emergency.  If it is buried deep inside the debris of collapsed garage or basement it isn't going to do you much good.  You might even consider keeping it in a separate metal shed in your back yard if your other options would risk having it inaccessible after a disaster.  Keep your RV ready to roll -- holding tanks empty, motor fuel and propane full and, climate permitting, fresh water tanks full.   Both RV and tent campers should keep your first aid kit and other emergency tools and supplies (and training and certifications) up to date and easily accessible.  Keep at least a 3 day supply of basic non-perishable foods and water on board your RV or safely stored in plastic tubs with your camping gear. Your RV will provide sanitation facilities for a time, but for tent camping, you will need alternate means of handling human wastes -- a porta-potty or some other kind of portable toilet. Even a plastic bucket will do in a true emergency. Emergency preparedness suppliers have toilet seats that fit on a 5-gallon plastic bucket for added convenience. Porta-potties will have to be dumped periodically. Waste deposited in plastic bags in buckets or folding toilets needs to be carefully stored for disposal when things get back to normal.   Avoid burying human wastes in your yard, especially if there is any chance it will contaminate ground water.   Accumulated human waste is considered a bio-hazard and creates serious health risks if not handled properly, treated correctly, and disposed of safely.  For added convenience and safety, get some "Wag Bags".  These are bags containing chemicals to handle human waste.  It helps control odor as well as turning it into a gel to reduce the chance of spillage.

Be prepared is more than just the Boy Scout motto.  It is essential advice for surviving any emergency, on the trail, in camp, or at home.   Preparation has two primary components: resources and training.  Resources include up to date first aid kits, emergency tools and supplies, and provisions (medical supplies, food, fuel, and water).  However, having all the resources in the world won't do you much good if you don't know how to use them.   Practice your survival skills.  Start your camp fire using flint and steel or a bow drill instead of matches.  Practice making various styles of temporary shelters appropriate to your usual camping environment.  Use your RV and/or your camping equipment frequently.  Not only is it fun, it will help you be prepared if you need it in an emergency.  Having had first aid and CPR certification 10 years ago is a start, but you need to keep your training and certifications up to date.   Even without the advances in techniques and equipment that are typically introduced over time, you will eventually forget much of what you learned unless you are using it constantly or refreshing your training frequently.

Be smart enough to "get in out of the rain".

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Setting Up a Base Camp

First of all, what do I mean by "base camp"?   I'm sure you've seen mountain climber movies where they have a "base camp".   But if you're not scaling K2, why do YOU need a base camp?  A base camp is your primary base of operations for any camping activity.  From there you may go forth for fishing, hunting, boating, hiking, OHV riding, horseback activities, or sight seeing.  Your primary vehicle (car, truck, or RV) is usually near or even part of your base camp.

When you are group camping in an RV, your base camp is the primary campground from which you and your associates launch various activities.  Your base camp may be a group site or collection of individual sites in a developed campground or a chosen part of the designated open camping areas in primitive locations.  Either way, the site needs to be large enough to contain all of the vehicles and accommodations for the group.   Sometimes you may have to limit the size of the group when staying in group sites at developed campgrounds.  You will also want to visit any remote sites ahead of time to be sure there will be sufficient room for everyone and that they will have suitable access.   Your personal base camp if you're going solo is where ever you park your RV or set up your tent.   Make sure you select a campground that is accessible for your vehicle.  Just because you can get there in your Jeep doesn't mean it is good for motorhomes and trailers.  Consider whether the access route will accommodate the vehicles you expect in the group.  Inspect ground clearance, road width, sharp turns, obstacles in the road, bridge limits, and overhead clearances.  You should choose a location for your base camp that allows easy vehicle access and is near activities you want to enjoy.  You'll want a fairly level spot. T he top of a gentle rise is a good choice. DO NOT set up camp in a depression or a sand wash that could be flooded by sudden rain storms.  When we set up a base camp for dirt biking in the Mojave desert, we choose a large, flat area close to passable access roads and within an hour or less off road riding time of appropriate trail systems and destinations for our OHVs.  We used the old wagon train pattern and "circled the wagons" around a central community fire pit.  To guide new members of our group, we put out "Desert Rat" signs on the highway and access roads near the location.  I have a "Desert Rat" flag I fly on a flagpole mounted on the front of my dirt bike trailer to help identify our group and at night I put flashing strobes on the roof to guide after dark arrivals.   You want to leave the right amount of space between your vehicle(s) and others in the circle of wagons.  You'll all need room to unload and park your OHVs and you'll need to open awnings and slides (if your RV is so equipped).   Leaving too much room wastes space and spreads the group out too far for convenient sharing.  Parking too close to another vehicle limits access for both you and your neighbor and may put you too close for privacy.  When using the wagon train model, be sure to leave sufficient space in the interior circle for a common fire pit, group activities, and safe walking between units.  Until you get a feel for how much room is appropriate, watch others in the group or look at other groups and follow their example.   Or park your vehicle and attempt to unload your equipment.   If you don't have room to open the ramp door and unload your OHVs, you're obviously too close.   You may need to adjust your spacing a few times before you get it right.  For large groups you may have more than one row of campers.  Those on the outside may not enjoy the same benefits as the "inner circle", but sometimes multiple rings are necessary.  Sometimes you can mitigate the situation by parking support vehicles in the outer ring and reserve the inner ring for primary tent and RV space.

Tent base camps should follow most of the same basic guidelines as RV base camps.   Choose a level site with good access in a location that is not subject to flooding if there is a sudden storm. Arrange your vehicles and tents in a circle around a community fire pit.   It usually works best to have the tents as the inner ring of the circle, with the vehicles outside.  Sometimes it works to have the vehicles and tents side by side, but that may not be the best use of real estate and you might force some members of your group outside the circle.  Of course, if that begins to happen, you can always have some folks move their vehicles behind their tents to make room for others to join the circle. Having the vehicles beside the tents can make access to provisions in your vehicles more convenient, but usually getting everyone's tent in the inside circle takes priority.  Give special consideration as needed to campers using truck and SUV tents so they're able to be an active part of that "inner circle".   Sometimes you may need to accommodate truck and SUV tents and you may want to use vehicles as wind breaks to minimize wind impact on tents.

Community services.   Base camps function well to coordinate shared community services.  A central community fire pit lends itself to active and enjoyable social gatherings.   A shared fire usually means you don't have to bring along enough firewood yourself for all the nights you'll be there.   Make sure you do bring your fair share.  You may want to plan shared meals.   Even a spontaneous potluck can be a lot of fun.  Your base camp can serve as a resource center, lending mechanical and medical assistance to each other.   I always have a large first aid kit in my dirt bike trailer and my motorhome or in my backpack when tent camping.  My wife and I are both certified as Red Cross Professional Rescuers, with lots of first aid and CPR training.   I also became certified in Advanced Wilderness Life Support.  We always let our fellow campers know we are available in case of an emergency.   I have splinted more than one broken bone and prepped the patients for transportation to the emergency room.  My well-equipped dirt bike trailer attracts a lot of interest and has allowed me to assist many fellow campers with emergency repairs.   Before we acquired the skills and equipment to be self-sufficient and to be able to help our fellow campers, we often enjoyed the hospitality of others in the group.   In any given group you are likely to have people with a variety of skills and equipment that can be helpful to the whole group.   It is good to share your background, skills, experience, and resources and encourage your fellow campers to do the same.  Our Desert Rat group has included engineers (quite literally, rocket scientists), doctors, nurses, mechanics, and welders.  A well organized base camp provides ready resources for almost any emergency. Sometimes it may be as simple as borrowing a cup of sugar.   Other times you may need or provided life-saving assistance.

Individual base camps.  If you're not camping with a group, you will still have your own personal base camp.  In a developed campground, this will be your assigned site.   In a primitive area, you will choose where you set up.  Many of the basic criteria stated above for group camping applies to choosing a your individual site in a remote area.  You want a spot that is fairly level, free from any flood danger, and also free from possible wind hazards.   Camping under a nice shady tree is always appealing in warm weather, but consider whether the tree is laden with "widow makers", which are loose or dead limbs that might be blown down by the wind.  Also, don't camp under or near a single tree or the tallest tree around if there is ANY chance of lightning!  You never want be or to be near the highest thing around when there is lightning.  You'll want to choose a location that is convenient to planned activities.  If you're going to be fishing, try to get a spot near the fishing holes you plan to use.  If you're hiking, you'll want to be close to the trail head to avoid too much walking before your hike even starts.  For OHV activities, try to choose a spot more or less centrally located among the trail systems or destinations you plan for your rides.   Make sure you know how to find your campsite when you leave it.  In designated campgrounds, be sure to remember which loop you're on and your site number.   In open camping areas, note permanent landmarks that will guide you -- or tag your vehicle with an easily recognizable flag that can be seen from a distance.  You'd be surprised how similar different groups of RVs may appear out in the desert.

Setting up your base camp.  As previously mentioned, it is a good pattern to set a group camp up around a central fire pit.  Have everyone bring their wood and stack it near the fire.  If you are in a developed campground, there will probably be a permanent fire pit for your use.   In a primitive site, there may be one constructed by previous campers or you may have to build your own.   You'll have some flexibility when setting up your personal base camp in primitive camping areas.   Make sure you choose a location for your fire that is free from bushes and overhanging limbs that might catch fire.  Try to place it downwind from your tent or RV.  Follow all normal fire precautions, including clearing the ground of combustible materials for at least 5' all around your fire pit.  If you're tent camping where there aren't any toilet facilities, you may have to create a latrine.  You'll want that located downwind of any prevailing winds.  It should be close enough to camp for convenience, but far enough away to provide privacy and keep odors away from camp.  These days there are many types of portable toilets to add convenience to remote tent camping.   They range from simple foldable stools to which you attach plastic bags to catch your waste to fancy "porta-pottis" that have self contained water supplies and holding tanks.  Some are even battery operated.  You will need to properly dispose of waste from all portable toilets.  Do NOT just toss the used plastic bags into trash cans and NEVER burn them in your campfire (I promise you will not like the smell!).  Dump porta-potti holding tanks into an RV dump station or carefully empty them into a flush toilet.  If your porta-potti gets full and you won't be able to reach a proper dump facility, dig a hole deep enough to hold the contents and bury it. Take care that you do not build a latrine or dump waster anywhere it could contaminate water supplies (e.g. within 200' of lakes streams, lakes, springs, wells).  Lacking any kind of portable toilet, dig a small hole in which to deposit your waste, then cover it up when you're done.

Well equipped based camps can greatly expand your options and comfort when tent camping. You can bring a long a generator to power entertainment equipment, appliances, and lighting.   You can set up a larger tent where you can have stand up headroom and room to get your gear in out of the weather.  You can set up a large canopy for group activities.  You can use a portable hot water system and a shower enclosure for a really comfortable way to wash off a day's dust and sweat from strenuous activities.  You can right size your campfires for each evenings' gatherings without running out of wood like you might out on your own.

Build on a solid base!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Camp Bedding

The kind of bedding you need for camping depends on many factors.   If you're camping in an RV you'll generally have more choices for comfort and familiarity than for tent camping.  Ordinary sheets, blankets, quilts, and comforters are usually adequate in an RV and can give you home-like comfort and familiarity.  If you are only staying in full hookup campgrounds you could even use electric blankets.  There are a few 12-volt electric blankets if you really need one while boondocking -- and have a big enough battery bank to handle it.  Sleeping bags can be used for convenience or added warmth in an RV.  While you can use ordinary bedding when tent camping, it usually isn't very convenient, is easily soiled, and often isn't warm enough.   Sleeping bags are the preferred option for tent camping.  Loose bedding can result in parts of your body getting out from under the covers.  At home or in an RV that is usually a minor irritation.  Sleeping in a tent, it can spoil your whole night. Sleeping bags eliminate this problem.   But some people get claustrophobic if they're confined.   "Mummy" style (form fitting) sleeping bags are particularly confining

Sleeping bags are typically rated by temperature ranges.   "Summer" bags are designed for temperatures above +35°F.   So-called "3-season" bags (implying spring, summer, and fall) are rated for +10F to +35°F.  Cold weather bags are for -10°F to +10°F.  Winter/extreme bags are rated for below -10°F.  The temperature rating is intended to indicate the lowest temperature at which the average sleeper will remain warm.   If you're a "cold" sleeper you may need extra insulation.  On the other hand, if you tend to kick the covers off at home, you may need a lighter bag or leave your bag unzipped.  Keep in mind that wind will speed heat loss.  The wind chill factor indicates how cold the air will feel on bare, exposed skin.   The higher the wind speed, the colder it will feel.  If you're snug in your sleeping bag you won't have exposed skin so wind chill isn't as noticeable, but wind will affect the ability of the bag to keep you warm since any breeze will continually bring cool air to absorb heat from the sleeping bag.  It would be wise to consider expected wind chill factor when choosing the right sleeping bag.   By the way, temperature ratings are not an exact science.  They are usually specified based on having the bags tested by company employees and are very subjective.

In really cold weather you can double up sleeping bags for extra warmth.   For one snow camping trip I unzipped a pair of old sleeping bags and put one on the floor of the tent underneath our sleeping bags and the second one spread out over both sleeping bags and we stayed very comfortable all night with temperatures down into the low 20's.  Be careful piling extra heavy blankets or sleeping bags on top of your primary sleeping bag; it can compress the loft and you'll end up with a net result that leaves you cold.  Of course you can just put one sleeping bag inside another if you find one isn't keeping you warm enough.  Sometimes just adding a sleeping bag liner will do the job.   Sharing a sleeping bag with another person is also a way to keep warmer.  Zip two rectangular bags together (this won't work with "mummy" bags).  With two bodies contributing the heat in one enclosed space, you'll both be warmer than you would be in individual bags.

Sleeping bag liners are separate items you can add to increase comfort, warmth, and to protect the sleeping bag. They can add 8° to 15F° protection.   On warm nights you might use just the liner. Liners are an inexpensive and easy way to increase the warmth of your sleeping bag without the expense of upgrading to a heavier bag.  They also give you flexibility to adjust the warmth much like dressing in layers in cold weather.   Liners can be easily removed and washed, like sheets on your bed at home, saving the cost and inconvenience of having your sleeping bags dry cleaned.

Blankets and quilts are a readily available and inexpensive way to add warmth.   Usually you can just lay them over your sleeping bag but if you need a lot more warmth you might wrap yourself up in one before crawling into your bag.   In really cold winter weather I used two extra sleeping bags: one beneath us to insulate us from the snow-covered ground beneath the tent and one spread out over two campers.  Covering two campers with one blanket, quilt, or sleeping bag helps share and conserve heat.

Sleeping pads do more than disguise those annoying pebbles and twigs beneath you.   They provide insulation so you don't lose precious body heat to the cold ground.  Consider them essential, not a luxury.   Use them even when sleeping on cots to preserve body heat.   Cold air circulating beneath the relatively thin fabric of the cot will suck the heat right out of you.

Electric blankets may be an option in RVs in cold weather.   Of course you'll need an adequate source of power to operate them.  No problem if you're camping where you have an electrical hook up or have an inverter and massive battery banks.  Not so useful for boondocking because you shoudn't run the generator all night, but you could use them to pre-warm your bed.  There are also 12-volt versions available, if you have a strong enough battery bank to power them.

Sleeping bag designs.   Most sleeping bags employ a rectangular design.   It provides the most room and two bags can usually be zipped together for couples who are used to sleeping together.  Semi-rectangular bags are a bit more tapered, sometimes to the point of being nicknamed "mummy" bags. Sleeping bags may also be gender specific.  Women's sleeping bags may be narrower in the shoulder, wider in the hips, and have extra insulation at the upper body and the foot.  Bags may include a hood that can be gathered around the head in cold weather.  Some have attached pillows or a pillow pocket to hold your clothes and serve as a pillow.  If you're used to putting an arm under your pillow you'll want to use a separate pillow.  Remember, the more comfortable and familiar you can make your bedding, the better you will rest.

Sheets are not usually used in sleeping bags, although a sleeping bag liner is kind of like a sheet and adds a little warmth and is easier to clean than the sleeping bag.  The beds in an RV are often made up just like your bed at home, but due to unique sizes of the mattresses in some RVs you may need special sheets to get the right fit.  Sheets should be washed regularly, just like at home, perhaps more often because of increased dust, dirt, and body moisture present during camping.   It is a good idea to have several sets of sheets -- enough to last the whole trip unless you have access to laundry facilities in the campground or in your RV.   In a pinch  you could wash them out in a wash basin or sink and hang them out to dry.

Choosing a sleeping bag.  Choose a bag designed for temperatures a bit colder than you expect to experience.  If you're expecting near freezing temperatures, get a 20°F bag. If it turns out to be too warm you can always unzip it for additional ventilation to make you comfortable.   If you get one that isn't warm enough, there won't be much you an do about it once you're in camp.   As a precaution, always bring along a few extra blankets or quilts.  Wool blankets are very warm and very durable. Synthetics are often light weight and fluffy and not as scratchy as wool, but in most cases they won't keep you as warm as wool will.  Wool also has the unique property of retaining its insulation value when it gets wet. If you're using the blankets over your sleeping bag, it won't matter if they're scratchy and wool will keep you warmer.  Surplus Army blankets are always good for this.

Pillows may be critical for getting a good night's sleep for some people.   If you have room to bring along your favorite pillows or can duplicate them in your RV or camping supplies, you'll be more comfortable than making do with inferior pillows or stuffing your clothing in the pillow pouch of a sleeping bag.  Because pillows can be rather bulky, many people opt for compact substitutes when tent camping or even in an RV.   If that works for you, go for it.   But if you can't get a good night's sleep or experience pain or discomfort or just can't get comfortable in bed due to the wrong pillow, making room for ones that work is a good use of space.

Storage.  For travel, especially when hiking or backpacking, you want to compress your bag as much as possible.  This is not a good thing to do for long term storage.   It permanently compresses the insulation.   I about froze in a 10°F sleeping bag in 32°F weather after it had been stored tightly packed for a season.  The once-lofty fluff inside was all but gone!   If you can, unroll your sleeping bags and hang them up between trips.  This will allow them to dry thoroughly and to restore loft to the insulation.  Sometimes running them through a "fluff" cycle in your clothes dryer will restore loft. If worse comes to worse, send your bag(s) to the dry cleaner for professional cleaning and restoration.   Like parkas, some sleeping bags may indicate they can be machine washed, but personal experience has shown that to be less than satisfactory.   Machine washing resulted in badly clumped insulation that made the item nearly useless.

Cots and mattresses.   A folding camp cot can increase your sleeping comfort over sleeping on the ground in your tent.  You'll still want a sleeping pad or mattress on the cot.  Air mattresses are the easiest to transport and the pressure can be adjusted to just the firmness you want.  RV mattresses are often thinner and offer less support than your home mattress.   If you find this is the case you may want to upgrade your RV mattress.  After all, about 1/3 of the time you spend in your RV will be in bed and you might as well be comfortable!

Another option is a "cowboy bedroll".  Cowboys had to be able to carry everything they needed for months at a time on their saddles or in their saddle bags.  A cowboy bedroll is a mostly waterproof bed made of heavy canvas and warm blankets.  Start with a piece of canvas a few feet longer than you are tall and about 9' wide.  When you put it together, you lay blankets or quilts on the canvas, then fold it over in thirds.  That way you have double everything on top to keep you warm. The extra length is folded over your head to protect your face from rain or dew. A cowboy bedroll is simple and takes up little space. It can keep you dry at night, but doesn't provide the dressing room or protected storage a tent would.  You may still want a  foam sleeping pad under your cowboy bedroll for comfort and warmth.

Survival bedding is going to be harder to come by.   If you find yourself in a survival situation you will want to make yourself as warm and comfortable a bed as you can.  You probably won't have a sleeping bag with you in a surivival situation.   Pine boughs or pine needles, leaves and grass an be used to build a makeshift mattress.   Not only will it be softer than sleeping on the ground, it will help insulate you from cold and possible damp ground.  Lacking any blankets to keep you warm, you may have to again use debris to cover your body.  Of course if you have any dry coats, blankets, or upholstery from a stranded vehicle you can use that to cover you and help keep you warm.  Even cardboard or newspapers will add insulation in an emergency.  You might be surprised how much heat your body alone will generate -- if you can keep it from escaping.  A good item to carry for emergencies when venturing into the wild is an "emergency sleeping bag" or "space blanket".  They are made of aluminized mylar and are said to retain up to 80% of body heat.  They fold up into a packet about the size of a handkerchief so they are very light weight and take up little room in pack or pocket.  I keep one in the tool kit on my dirt bike in case I get stranded somewhere overnight or in bad weather.

Sleep tight!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Types of Tents

There are many types of tents to choose from.  What you choose will depend on price, weight, how many people you need to shelter, climate, and how and where you plan to use them.  You can often get very good deals on used tents.  People may purchase them and then not use them or may upgrade to an RV or switch to a different tent.  Either way, you may get a bargain price if you shop around carefully.  Sometimes their family outgrows a tent or as kids leave home they may choose to downsize.  Check your local classified ads, garage sales, thrift stores, and web sites like ebay and craigslist.   Don't fall for bargain prices without checking out the merchandise.   Price alone doesn't ensure a good value.  Getting a great deal on a spectacular 1-man dome tent may be a total waste of money if what you need is a family tent.   Likewise, a low price on a big family tent may result in little use if you only need a 1 or 2 man dome for your needs.   The big tent will just be a burden to transport and set up and may be too big for you to keep  warm.  Prices that are too low may indicate there are serious problems with the tent.  It may be worth it if all it needs are some simple repairs and cleaning that you are willing and able to take care of.  Minor tears or damaged stake loops are pretty easy to fix.   Missing poles may be easy and not too expensive to replace, depending on the tent. Major damage, severe staining, foul odors, or lots of missing components should be avoided.  There will be plenty of other (and better) opportunities.  Those that are unsuitable for use may be a good source for parts IF they match what you already have AND have usable components you can use.

Single wall versus double wall tents.   Simple tents are usually single wall tents.  Double wall tents are those that have an external rain fly that covers the tent.  These are usually dome tents and the rain fly sits on top of the framework an inch or so above the inner tent wall.   Double wall tents may provide extra protection against rain, wind, and sunlight, and may help make it easier to control temperatures -- keeping you warmer in winter and cooler in summer.  The extra layer of fabric absorbs sunlight instead of  heating the air inside your tent in warm weather; the air gap between the tent and the rain fly acts much like the insulation in the walls of your home, helping retain whatever heat there is inside in cool weather.  It also keeps the wind from drawing the heat directly out of the tent.  Most rain flys end a few inches from the ground but some folks add skirts to extend them close to the ground to prevent drafts and block snow from blowing inside in winter weather.

One of the first things to consider when choosing a tent is the kind of climate in which it will be used.   A good 4-season tent can, as the name implies, be used year round.  They will usually be heavier -- and more expensive -- than summer tents.   If you plan to do any winter camping, choose a 4-season tent.   Look for one with a sturdy rain fly that comes down as close to the ground as possible.   Some people sew on a skirt to extend the rain fly almost to the ground.  This keeps snow from blowing up inside to the vents.   If you're only planning to be camping in fairly warm weather, a lighter, 3-season tent will be easier to transport, set up, and take down.  The added weight and cost of a 4-season tent will just be an unnecessary burden if you only use it in warmer weather.

Tent materials.  For many years, tents have been made of canvas.  Most heavy duty military tents are still made of canvas.  Some large family cabin tents and even personal pup tents are also often made of canvas.  It is waterproof and durable.  But it is also heavy.  The weight of canvas tents led to the introduction of tents made from lighter materials like rip-stop nylon.  These lighter tents aren't as sturdy or durable but are usually more than adequate for family camping.  In fact, nylon tents are even used by climbers of the highest peaks in the world in the most extreme conditions.  Light weight tents are favored by many campers because they are easy to carry, easy to set up, and take up less room during transport and storage.  Rip-stop fabrics are resistant to tears but are not rip proof.  A special weave pattern helps keep tears from spreading.   Light weight tent fabrics may be water proof or water resistant, depending on the chemical treatment they were given and the density of the weave. You may be able apply additional waterproofing from a spray can if your tent starts to leak.  The brand I'm most familiar with is Camp Dry.  It is a silicone waterproofing spray that can be used on tents, boots, jackets, backpacks etc.  It is clear and provides protection against stains as well as adding waterproofing.

How big a tent do you need?  The size you need will depend on how many people and how much gear it needs to house.  Unless you are back packing where weight is a major consideration, I would buy a tent a little larger than I think I need.  If you end up with more room than necessary, the only downside would be keeping it warm in cold weather.   But if your portable domicile is too small, you'll be constantly fighting for space.  A rule of thumb is to get a tent rated for about 1or 2 more persons than will be using it so you'll have room for equipment and maneuvering inside.  I had a 3-man dome tent that was perfect for me and one son.   A 6 person family tent is probably just about right for a family of 4.  Tent sizes are usually determined by how many people they are designed to sleep so using tents rated for an extra person or two gives you extra storage and living space that is usually well worth the extra weight and extra cost unless you have to carry it long distances or up steep slopes.

Dome tents are very popular because they are light weight and usually pretty easy to set up. Some are even "pop-up" tents that are self-erecting.  You just take them out of their bag and toss them into the air and poof!   Instant tent!  Dome tents are typically made of fairly light weight nylon or polyester material, supported by flexible fiberglass poles.   Even large 4-6 man dome tents can often be erected by one person.  Light weight and small size when packed make them attractive choices because they're easy to transport.  About the only downside to dome tents is they are not quite as sturdy for use in adverse weather conditions and the fabric is more susceptible to wear and tear than heavier canvas tents.  Dome tents are, however, often used by mountaineering expeditions in extreme weather because of their light weight and portability.  Dome tents are available in a variety of sizes, from small 1-man pop-up tents to huge, multi-room family tents.

Cabin tents are a more traditional style, usually made of heavy canvas.   They are very durable and usually quite roomy.   The usually have vertical walls and pitched roofs (like a cabin, hence the name).  Because of the weight and the somewhat bulky size when folded for storage or transportation, they are not as convenient for car camping or weekend outings as dome tents.   I had a used 11x14 cabin tent I used as a Scoutmaster.  I originally picked it up cheap to use as a portable garage on dirt bike outings so I wasn't too concerned about cosmetics.  With a little TLC is was fully functional for personal use.  My scouts nicknamed it "The Hotel".  Compared to their pup and individual dome tents, it was huge.  It was certainly convenient to have full head room and plenty of storage room on extended outings, but I could have never used it on any hikes, without a pack horse or OHV to carry it.   Cabin tents often have center poles to support the high pitched roof.  Some have external pole systems to avoid any obstructions inside the tent.  Large cabin tents are good for families or large groups in extended camping in a fixed location.   They are a good option for car camping and base camps.  The size and weight makes them poor choices for hiking or frequent changes in location.  I would not choose a cabin tent to take on a cross country road trip.

Umbrella tents typically have a trapezoidal profile, with sloping walls.  The "umbrella" description comes from the way the roof is supported.  Some have a single center pole, others have poles at each corner.  Size and weight are usually greater than a dome tent but sometimes less than that of cabin tents.  The peaked umbrella roof usually gives pretty good stand up head room in the center but limited height nearer the sloped walls.

Truck and SUV tents are available to fit most pick up trucks and SUVs.  Truck tents fit in the truck bed.  SUV tents attach to the side or back of the SUV.   Truck tents have the advantage of getting you up off the ground.   SUV tents usually are designed to allow you to make use of the flat cargo space in the back of your SUV for a safe and comfortable sleeping area while providing stand up room adjacent to the vehicle for dressing and other activities.

SUV tents are designed to fit on the back or side of popular SUVs, giving you the option of sleeping in the back of your SUV, yet have stand up dressing room.  They usually attach to the roof rack.  Another benefit of SUV tents is that they usually are more stable than stand alone tents since they are anchored to the vehicle.

Truck tents fit in the bed of  pickup.  They get you up off the ground on a level sleeping surface (if you've parked on the level).  The bed of the truck provides some additional protection against wind and rain.  Truck tents are usually designed so that the rain fly fits over the side of the bed so rain runs off onto the ground instead of under the tent.  They use the same type of free-standing poles as dome tents and you might be able to adapt a dome tent of the right size to work in the back of a truck, but for better fit, get a truck tent that fits the size of your pickup bed.

Roof tents are a unique kind of vehicle tent that mount on the roof or more commonly, the roof rack, of a vehicle.  They have the advantage of getting you up off the ground are so are especially good choices if you are camping where there are lots of bugs or other critters that might wriggle into your tent.  Its kind of like having your own private penthouse when camping!

Personal tents.  Personal tents may range from small backpacker tents that are little more than a sleeping bag cover to heavy canvas tents.  The U.S. Army typically issued a "shelter half" to each soldier.  The expectation was that two soldiers would combine their shelter halves to make one shared tent that would protect the two of them and their equipment.   Small, one-man "pup tents" are often used by boy scouts and other hikers who need individual shelter.   They typically are about 3' high and 3-4' wide.  They have a pole in the center at each end and are secured with stakes at each of the 4 corners and ropes from the top of each pole to the ground.   A pup tent is usually only adequate for a single person, but there are larger 2-man versions.  By the way, a 2-man pup tent does not come with 2 men or a pup.   In order to have enough space for gear, consider getting a tent that is rated for at least one more person than the number of people that will be using it.  I had a 3-man dome tent that worked very well for myself and one son and our gear for scout outings.  We found it a little too cozy when we squeezed 2 people into a 2-man tent.  Tube tents are an inexpensive variation of a pup tent.  They are often made of plastic.  They are typically supported by a rope along the top and secured with tent pegs at each corner.  Because they are cheap and light weight, they are frequently used by boy scouts and other novice campers.  The plastic is fully waterproof unless it gets torn, but it is even more susceptible to tears and campfire embers than a nylon or polyester tent.

What is the best tent?  The best tent will be the one that is right for you and your immediate needs. If you need an inexpensive tent for one person for a weekend, a cheap tube tent should be sufficient. If you need shelter for a family of 4-6 people, you're going to need a large family tent, probably one with multiple rooms.  If you're going to be hiking or moving around often, focus on tents that are light weight and compact when transporting and easy to set up and take down.  Cabin tents are good choices for base camps and extended stays in a single location.  If you you are getting a tent to serve as an emergency shelter for a disaster consider something that will be very durable and larger than you think you need.  You might find it more convenient and perhaps less expensive to purchase multiple smaller tents for a family instead of buying a big family tent.

Manufacturers keep improving their offerings.   I recently saw some beautiful tents that look almost like a Swiss chalet.   They're designed to sleep up to 10 people.  Another cool innovation are front porch tents, that essentially have a large screen room on the front of the tent.   Some tents have vestibules that serve as closets to store clothes and gear.   A tent with a vestibule around the entrance would be useful in cold weather to protect the entrance and avoid unnecessary heat loss when opening the inner door.  The overall trend is toward larger, lighter, stronger, more attractive tents.

Special considerations.   If you have back problems or any other disability that might make sleeping on the ground difficult or impossible, you'll need a tent with sufficient height to accommodate sleeping on cots.   If anyone in your group has allergies, take care to select a tent that doesn't aggravate them.  Because of unknown contaminations that might occur in used tents you might want to seek a new tent to minimze allergic reactions.   Alternatively, you might have a used tent professionally cleaned before using it.  As a precaution, any used items should be carefully vacuumed and wiped down with a mild disinfectant.  You might also want to refresh or supplement the waterproofing with a good spray waterproofing, available at most camping stores, especially after washing or cleaning the fabric.

Adverse weather conditions will make staying in just about any tent somewhat uncomfortable.   You can minimize the discomfort by choosing a tent that is designed for the type of weather you're going to be using it in.  Heavy canvas tents will offer more protection from wind, rain, and snow, than their lighter counterparts.  However, light weight dome tents are often used in extreme weather conditions, such as found in mountain climbing.   It is surprising how much protection even a thin nylon tent will provide.  Heavy canvas tents can often be fitted with stovepipe adapters to allow the use of wood, oil and gas stoves or other tent heaters.   For dome tents, propane or white gas powered catalytic heaters can be used to provide some warmth.   You will need to provide adequate ventilation whenever using any kind of stove or heater or gas powered lantern in a tent.   Some will give off toxic fumes. Even catalytic heaters that don't give off toxic fumes will consume oxygen so you need adequate ventilation so you don't suffocate.

Rain flys.  Many tents, especially dome tents, are equipped with rain flys.  Theses are an extra piece of fabric usually not sewn to the tent, that covers the tent.  It allows rain to run off without coming in contact with the internal tent itself, keeping it dryer inside -- and cooler in warm weather and warmer in cool weather. The sleeves for the poles on dome tents are often over the outside of the tent, extending a few inches above the tent fabric.   This keeps the fly from coming in direct contact with the tent itself so water doesn't wick through to the inside of the tent.  The air space between the tent and the rain fly may also provide some insulation to better maintain desired temperatures inside the tent. In winter it can help keep it warmer, in summer, it helps shade the tent from direct sunlight to reduce heat build up.   The extra layer can also mitigate unwanted light from disturbing your slumber. In extreme weather conditions you may want to rig you own rain fly using an ordinary tarp over a tent that doesn't come with one.  Try to avoid having the tarp in direct contact with the tent itself. Anywhere the tarp or rain fly contacts the tent may cause moisture to wick through to the interior. Any additional protection will extend the life of your tent and improve your control over the interior environment.  If you have a single wall tent you may be able to improvise a rain fly using a polytarp.  Try to rig it so it isn't in direct contact with the walls or ceiling of the tent itself.

Roof top tents are another variation of vehicle tents.   As the name implies, a roof top tent fits on the roof of a vehicle, usually an SUV with a larger flat roof.  Sometimes they have extensions with hard floors that reach out over the front, rear or side of the vehicle.   Panels can be added to enclose the space under the extension for additional closed living space.  Roof top tents can include insulation that makes them warmer than regular tents and thus they become truly four season tents.   One review I saw showed several SUVs with roof top tents parked in the snow.  Being up off the ground is appealing to a lot of people.  It keeps you off cold ground and away from insects, snakes, and varmints.  When stored they only add a few inches to the height of the vehicle.  When erected they provide a comfortable living space that doesn't require its own footprint on the ground.  You usually need a ladder to get in and out of them.  They are not cheap. Plan on spending $200 - $3500.  But they do have their advantages.  You don't have a trailer to tow but you do have comfortable, weather proof sleeping quarters.   They are usually self-erecting, using cranks and/or gas struts so set up is pretty fast and easy. See AutoHome Roof Top Tents for some examples.

Car tents are not new.  They have been around since the early days of the automobile.   Some early models were designed to travel on the running boards and made use of running boards as part of the support system for off-the-ground beds.  Here is an example: Shilling's Auto Camp.   Like modern SUV tents they attached to the roof of the car.   Often people would attach tents to both sides of the car, creating a two-bedroom car/tent arrangement.   Something called a Tentobed offered in-car sleeping.

Large military tents may be suitable for big groups camping in a fixed location for an extended period of time.  The size, weight, cost, and difficulty of transporting and erecting these huge tents severely limits their potential for individual or family use.  They are usually designed to be transported in big trucks and set up by a platoon.  Some smaller military tents may be adaptable for family base camps, but they're still usually heavier and bulkier than their commercial counterparts

Tipis have an appeal to anyone with a feeling for the Old West and/or Native American culture. There are a few commercial versions available, but I've found them pretty costly.  You might make your own.  There are plenty of plans or instructions on the Internet for doing so.  You'll need a lot of long poles and a covering cut and sewn to the right shape.  In their original use, tipis were more or less permanent homes for the nomadic tribes in the western United States.   The high central peak could be opened to allow smoke from a campfire inside to escape.  Tipis are about the only tent that accommodates a fire inside.  American Indians transported their tee pees by dragging the poles behind their horses (or slaves).   In some cases, they only transported the covering and simply cut new poles when they arrived at their destination.  You'll need to consider whether the poles will fit in or on your truck or trailer.   The very high peak, steep walls, and opening at the top make having a fire inside more practical than it would be in a shallow tent.

Emergency makeshift tents can be made from tarps or even ponchos or plastic garbage bags.   You'll need some way to support and anchor the tent.   Support may come from poles or from a rope, cable. or stick between two trees or other uprights over which the tarp can be hung.  Lower edges will need to be staked down or secured to stakes or other anchors using ropes or bungee cords or heavy objects.  You will get the best level of protection if the sides go all the way to the ground, but sometimes a canopy to keep off rain or snow may be all that is needed.

Setting up your tent is at least as important as choosing the right tent to start with.  Choose a spot that is fairly level, preferable a little higher than surrounding ground so rain water and runoff won't puddle beneath the tent.  Take advantage of any available natural or man-made wind breaks if you can.   Use a good ground cloth.   I like to use one under and inside the tent to protect the floor from ground debris and moisture and from wear and tear from walking inside.  Be sure to erect the tent according to them manufacturer's instruction, with proper poles and stakes.   Don't over-tighten ropes or extendable poles.  You need the tent to be taut but not stressed.  Sometimes it is a good idea to dig a trench around the base of the tent to capture runoff and carry it away so it doesn't run under the tent but it isn't practical in all circumstances.  You won't want to dig a trench if you're set up on lawn or if the ground is rocky, really hard, or frozen.  To make your first outing in a new tent easier, try setting up at home a time or two before you take it out.  Some tents come from the factory with color-coded poles.  If yours didn't you might find it helpful to number or otherwise mark the connecting parts of the poles or framework to make setup in camp easier.  Colored plastic tape, permanent markers, or a touch of paint to identify matching ends of poles can save a lot of time. 

Pitch in!