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.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Benefits of Different Types of RVs

A common benefit of having almost any RV is having a sturdy and convenient shelter when camping.   A tent can provide a surprising level of comfort and protection from the elements, but an RV is sturdier and most require little setup time.  Some tent trailers take a little while, but most travel trailers, campers, and motorhomes, only need to be leveled and stabilized once you arrive in camp. With most RVs you have more than basic shelter.  You also have cooking, sleeping, and sanitation facilities.  Fully decked out you'll have a furnace, hot water heater, air conditioning, shower, toilet, and a cozy and comfortable bed.  An awning will give you your own private patio area next to your RV.   The addition of optional TVs, VCRs, DVD players and satellite systems give residential quality entertainment systems.

Ready to go is one of the benefits of just about any RV.  You can usually keep your RV stocked and ready to hit the road.  You can store clothing, basic supplies and provisions, tools, and cooking utensils so you're ready to go anytime.  You might arrange your tent camping equipment so it is easy to load and go, but usually you can get away faster with a well-equipped and properly maintained RV. And you're less likely to leave something you need at home.  About all you need to add at the last minute will be perishable foods and maybe fresh snacks.  You might also need fresh fuel for your motorized toys.

Tent trailers are often a person's first RV.  They are light weight, easy to tow, and relatively inexpensive, yet get you up off the ground and provide many of the conveniences of home.  They are easy to store and can often be stored in your garage.   Entry level models may have only an ice box instead of a refrigerator and very limited fresh water capacity.   Upscale models often have all the features of a self contained RV, including hot water, shower, toilet, and holding tanks.   Most tent trailers include a furnace or heater of some kind.  They usually do not include air conditioning so they might not be as comfortable if you plan to do a lot of desert or other hot weather camping.  Some of the primary benefits of a tent trailer are low initial cost and light weight for easy, economical towing with a regular car.  You can often store them in a normal garage so you don't have to purchase RV storage.  So, what are the disadvantages of tent trailers?  Like a tent, they can be noisy in the wind and will loose heat quickly in cold weather.  Setup time is usually longer than solid sided RVs.  The tent fabric is subject to wear and fading and may have to be replaced from time to time.

Travel trailers offer more protection against wind and rain than tent trailers.   Small, entry level models may have limited facilities, but many are fully self contained and provide all the comforts of home.   Always check the loaded weight of your trailer to be sure you don't exceed the Combined Vehicle Weight Rating for your tow vehicle.  Travel trailers may require a larger car, an SUV, or pick up truck for towing because of the added weight.  Trailers are usually less expensive than motorhomes but can provide virtually the same level of comfort and convenience in camp.   If you already have a suitable tow vehicle, a trailer may be a good choice for you.  If, on the other hand, you'll be buying an additional vehicle to tow your trailer you'll want to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the extra vehicle and trailer versus having a motorhome.  Having a trailer also means you can disconnect the trailer and take the tow vehicle out solo for shopping, sight-seeing, and other trips.  Travel trailers are pretty stable so long as you have an adequately sized vehicle to tow them.  If the vehicle is too small, the "tail will wag the dog" and the trailer may make the vehicle difficult or impossible to control.

Specialty trailers, like teardrops and toy haulers, cater to niche markets.  The teardrop trailer appeals to nostalgic campers or those who need a light weight, easy-to-tow trailer.  Toy haulers are ideal for OHV enthusiasts as they provide both comfortable living space and room to haul motorized toys and associated parts and equipment.

We have found motorhomes a good option for our family.  We like having all the facilities available on the road.   All but the driver can use the on board bathroom without the need to find a rest stop or service station -- a real boon when you're traveling with children.   Entertainment systems can stem the incessant chorus of "are we there yet?" that seems to be a significant part of the job description for young people when traveling.  Your co-pilot can grab you a cold or hot drink or a snack when you need it.  When you arrive in camp all you need to do is find a level parking spot, close the curtains, and hit the sack.  Because motorhomes combine both living space and a motor vehicle, they tend to be more expensive than trailers.   Because of their size and weight you won't get as good fuel economy as you might with a trailer, although towing a trailer significantly affects fuel economy no matter how efficient the tow vehicle is solo.  For added convenience and fuel economy on local trips, some motorhome owners tow a "dingy" vehicle.  Towing an additional vehicle will affect highway fuel economy but will make local trips easier and less costly.  Ironically,  Class C motorhomes often have more sleeping space than many larger Class A units.  Class C units are often good for families.  Large luxury Class A coaches have a tendency to cater to affluent retired couples. Like most generalities, these should not be taken as absolute rules.  Class B van conversions are good for single campers, couples, and small families and often have the advantage of doubling as a second car.  Just make sure whatever you choose fits you and your families' needs.  Motorhomes are about the most stable of any RVs in wind.  The heavy automotive style truck/bus chassis and low-mounted holding tanks give them a relatively low and stable center of gravity.  Truck campers, on the other hand, have a fairly high center of gravity because everything sits in or above the pickup bed.

Truck campers are a good option for anyone who already owns a pickup truck with enough capacity to handle the camper.   Campers can be unloaded between trips so the truck can be used for other purposes.  Of course that means you need extra time to load and unload the camper for each trip, but it might be worth it.   Make sure your truck has sufficient load carrying capacity and power to handle the extra weight of the camper.  Truck campers tend to be somewhat top heavy and easily affected by wind.

When cost is a significant factor ( and isn't always?), look for good used units.   RVs don't get used as often as most of us would like, so you can often get really good bargains on pre-owned units.  I have found other benefits to pre-owned RVs:  1) they have passed the stage of "infant mortality" where early problems with new units have already been fixed by the original owners under warranty and , 2) previous owners have often added accessories that make them more convenient or add functionality.   Such additions rarely add much to the book value (or price) but a lot to useability.

RV today!

Where to Get Camping Equipment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shop smart!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Be Prepared

"Be Prepared" is the Boy Scout motto.   It is also excellent advice for campers -- and would be campers.  Preparation takes many forms.  In the beginning, preparation may mean mostly learning about your options.  You need to know the advantages and disadvantages of various types of RVs and tents and other equipment in order to make informed decisions about choosing a camping method and purchasing items to meet your needs.   Once you have more or less committed to a camping lifestyle, you need to continue to learn about your options -- and learn how to make the most of what you have. Learn how to use and how to care for your equipment.  And you need to learn how to prepare for an outing (see my post on Pre-trip procedures for more details.

If you decide tent camping is the way to go for now, educate yourself about types of tents.   Know which types will be suitable for the type of activities you plan to engage in and the climate where you'll be using them.   Know the range of prices for new and used equipment so you can make your budget go as far as possible.   Once you have acquired your basic equipment, learn all you can about using and maintaining it.  Know how to set it up and take it down correctly and quickly.   Know how to store it safely.  Know how to make appropriate repairs when something is damaged.   Learn what tools you need.   Acquire them and learn how to use them and take care of them.  Learn how to use your equipment to best advantage and know and respect its limits.  Always make sure your equipment is clean and dry before your store it.   Dirty equipment attracts insects and vermin and the natural decay of organic contaminants may damage fabrics or other components and leave foul odors. Some forms of mold may even be toxic!  Damp tents and sleeping bags foster growth of mold and mildew that can rot fabrics and produce stains and unpleasant odors.   Don't store your sleeping bags tightly rolled. It will compress the filling and destroy much of the insulating quality.

Choosing the RV lifestyle has many advantages but it also brings additional expense and responsibilities.  An RV can provide more comfortable living space for camping and during emergencies that a tent, but it takes more effort and expense to maintain it and there are additional things you need to learn.  If you have an RV you need to learn about each of the on-board systems (electrical, water, sanitation, propane, cooking, heating, cooling, entertainment), how to use them, how to maintain them, and how to make basic repairs.   Being able to take your RV to the shop whenever something goes wrong may be convenient, but is can also be expensive.  More importantly, when something goes wrong in a remote area or during an emergency, you may not have the luxury of access to mechanics and technicians so it is incumbent on RV owners to be able to perform basic repairs themselves.  Being able to affect basic repairs in camp can mean the difference between a slight inconvenience and a ruined outing.

Whether you are an RVer or a tent camper, you will want to keep your camping equipment in good repair and ready to use at a moment's notice.   Disasters strike without warning: an earthquake, a tornado, a flood, a fire, a chemical spill can all put you into disaster-survival mode in a matter of seconds.  How well you handle the situation will depend largely on how prepared you are.   Do you have your survival equipment prepared and accessible?   Do you have sufficient food, water, and medical supplies to meet your immediate needs?  How much do you know about potential disasters in your area?   Do you have a disaster plan for you and your family?   If your camping gear is somewhere in a collapsed basement or garage or your RV is crushed by a falling tree or failed wall, it isn't going to do you much good.  I like to have multiple options.   My RV is my first choice if I have to abandon my home, but tent camping is a secondary backup . I try to keep my RV as ready as possible and my tent camping gear readily accessible and easy to gather and go if I have to.
In many disasters, access to emergency services is going to be severely restricted for several days or even weeks.  When involved in activities in remote locations, you may be miles and/or hours from a hospital or emergency medical services. In a local emergency like an earthquake or tornado, local emergency services are likely to be overwhelmed if not completely disabled for some time after the event.  Regardless of your situation, you should be prepared to deal with medical emergencies until normal service is restored.   That means you need at least first aid and CPR training and you need to stock basic first aid and medical supplies.  Your disaster first aid training should include triage -- knowing how to quickly assess injuries and classify victims/patients to ensure effective and appropriate treatment to do the most good for the most people.   As human beings we tend to respond first to the bloodiest, most gruesome injuries or the loudest victims or the first victims we encounter. However, in doing so you may waste your efforts trying in vain to treat a fatal injury while other victims that could have been saved may die.   Proper triage will let you prioritize your treatment resources to save as many people as possible.  Triage on your own family will be difficult, but is still necessary.  While trying in vain to save one fatally injured family member another who could have been saved if reached in time may die.  Take care of those you can save before trying to revive someone who is already dead or dying.   Contact your local Red Cross, community emergency services agency, or fire department to find out where you can get appropriate first aid and disaster preparedness training. C.E.R.T. (community Emergency Response Team) training is an excellent way to prepare yourself to deal with disasters, protect your family, and assist your neighbors.

If possible, carry appropriate spare parts for you vehicles and equipment and know how to make repairs in the field.  Belts and hoses are common points of failure for most motor vehicles.  They are fairly inexpensive and usually pretty easy to change . OHVs often break clutch, brake, and shift levers, and drive chains.  Being able to replace or repair such failures quickly can prevent the loss of an entire weekend's activity or keep you from getting stranded in a remote camping area.   Failure of a camp stove or lantern may not be a major catastrophe, but being able to diagnose and repair common problems on site will add to your comfort and convenience.  Repair kits for stoves and lanterns are usually available at retail stores where ever the stoves and lanterns are sold.   They are not terribly expensive and are a good investment in convenience and peace of mind.  Always carry a basic tool kit and learn how to perform basic repairs.   If you don't already know how to do fundamental mechanical and carpentry repairs or are out of practice, take an adult ed class to renew or acquire basic skills.

Maintain emergency provisions in your RV or tent camping supplies.  Provisions should include food and water to supply your family for at least 3 days.  You should also have medical supplies, including prescription medications.  Review you provisions regularly to be sure they are up to date. Expired medications and ingredients have many potential problems, ranging from loss of effectiveness to serious illness or even death.   Out dated adhesive bandages and tapes will be useless.    They become slick or dried out and won't stick.   Check canned goods for signs of spoilage. Bulging, rusted, or leaking cans should be discarded and replaced immediately.

Get proper training.  The most expensive and complete first aid kit in the world will do you little good if you don't have basic first aid skills.  A fully equipped ER treatment room would be useless without at last some idea what needs to be done and how to do it.  Likewise, the best tool set will be useless without some mechanical skills.  If you plan activities in remote areas, consider survival training.  You may find yourself in survival mode if you get lost or your vehicle breaks down.  Learn how to use your RV range and camp stove correctly and how to maintain them.  Learn basic cooking skills. In addition to basic first aid and CPR skills and certifications, my wife and I have both expanded our emergency medical training to become certified Red Cross Professional Rescuers. Because many of our outings are in remote areas I have also obtained a certificate in Advanced Wilderness Life Support. First aid and CPR training and certification are available through the Red Cross almost anywhere.  The only place I've seen the Advanced Wilderness Life Support class is the University of Utah.  For more information see "WWW.ALS.ORG".   Be aware the course is intended primarily for medical professionals and costs several hundred dollars.  There may be some parts of it that are beyond what you as a "civilian" can do ethically and legally, but most of it is good training for anyone who may be involved in remote activities.

Aquatic adventures bring their own special needs.   Fishing, swimming, boating, canoeing, water skiing, and jet skiing all put you in or near the water where you may need to know specialized rescue skills to ensure the safety of your family and your companions.   First of all, always observe proper safety procedures for the equipment you are using.   Wear approved flotation devices when using any kind of watercraft.  Don't go in the water during electrical storms or soon after eating.  It is always a good idea to appoint a member of your group as "safety officer" during an activity.   The safety officer should not be a participant in the activity, but remain as an observer to keep an eye on everyone else and call a halt or launch rescue efforts if needed.

Mental/emotional preparation is often underestimated.  You may think you know how you will react in an emergency, but until you are faced with one, you won't really know for sure.  One of the modules in the C.E.R.T. course is Disaster Psychology.   It helps you understand what to expect of disaster victims, including yourself and how to deal with it.  Participation in planned community exercises is a good way to hone your skills.   Lacking opportunities for formal exercises or between exercises you can do your own "what if" exercises in your mind.  What if there is an earthquake, flood, blizzard, fire, or tornado while I'm camping or at home?  What if I am without power for several days?  What if I can't contact emergency services or they aren't available?  What if I don't have normal fuel to heat my home or cook with?  What if I am faced with multiple victims from a large scale disaster?  What if my vehicle is disabled and I'm stranded in a remote campground?  What if I have to forage for food to survive?  What if my OHV breaks down out on the trail?  What if I can't find my way back to camp?  What if my fellow campers panic?  What if I or another OHV rider are injured on the trail?   A dirt biker friend of mine foolishly went riding alone.  He hit a rock in a dirt road, crashed, and ended up with a broken collar bone, several broken ribs and a broken ankle. Suffice it to say his self-rescue was very slow and painful.  Remember, YOU may be the only first responder you can really count on.

Never ride alone is a good motto for all OHV riders.  The principle can also be applied to any kind of camping activities.  You should always use the buddy system so if one of you becomes ill or is injured, the other can render aid and go for help.  When you go camping or hiking or riding, make sure someone at home or in camp knows when you are leaving, where you are going, and when you expect to be back.  That way, if anything happens to you, they'll know where and when to start looking.  Once you have begun to execute your shared plans, stick to them.  Spontaneously changing your route may be fun, but it could prove disastrous if someone gets hurt and searchers don't know where to look.

Most states have "Good Samaritan" laws that protect people who offer help in emergency situations.  Helping others in an emergency is a good and natural thing to do, but you don't want to put yourself or your family in jeopardy.  Improper medical procedures can expose you and those you love to unnecessary health risks and perhaps make you liable for expenses or penalties if you exceed your authorization and protection under the law.  For your own protection, know your limits, not only in your home state, but anywhere you may be traveling.  Keep disposable rubber gloves where you can easily get to them in an emergency.  Blood born pathogens are a significant cause of infections being transferred from victims to would-be care givers.  There are some really scary diseases (like AIDS)  passed along in "bodily fluids".  A guideline I learned is, "if it's wet and it isn't yours, don't touch it".   A mouth guard to protect you while giving CPR could save your life!

Be prepared!