June 2, 2009

Manly Skills, Outdoors

Gear Up: A Man’s Guide to Camping

Editor’s Note: On Tuesdays, we’ll be featuring an excellent article or video that was originally posted in the Art of Manliness Community by a community member. Today we’ve selected a post from Michael Halbrook.

Summer is finally upon us, and that means a few solid months of baseball, BBQ, swimming, and camping trips. Nothing says “summer” quite like sitting around a campfire with friends, heading back to the tent and finishing a good book, and cooking your own meals over a camp stove.

This year, I plan to take my oldest son camping for his first time, and I knew that my usual suitcase of rations for my business travel wasn’t going to cut it. So I pulled out the old Boy Scout Handbook and jotted notes from the “What to take Camping” page. Luckily, some friends had made me proud with wedding gifts from the “camping and outdoor” section of our wedding registry, so I didn’t have to look far to load up the bags.

Before you head out for the summer nights under the stars, consider the gear and be certain to “Be Prepared.” What should you ensure is in the trunk?

No list is going to be perfect or complete for every situation. Your needs will vary, depending on how many days you’ll be away, who’s going with you, or where you’re heading. Assuming that it’s just you and one or two other people heading out for a night or two, here’s a primer to help you gear up for the excursion.

The Tent

The tent is key – it is your protection from the elements. If it rains, you’ll appreciate a good, water-proofed tent, properly erected.

Tents are almost always sold with a suggestion of the number of persons they’ll hold. If you’re buying a tent for comfort, or for your family, aim high. If it’s just you and a friend or one or two of your kids, you can look at smaller models.

Although it’s not necessary, I always like to take a light tarp to put down on the ground under my tent. It protects it from the oddities of the ground that you might not notice and clear up first (sticks, rocks, mud, etc.) It also helps keep it protected from rainwater running underneath in the event of a heavy rain and from condensation and dew seeping up underneath in the mornings.

You might also consider packing a hammer or mallet for staking your tent, and for other use around the campground.

The Sleeping Bag

When it comes to sleeping bags, there’s as wide a variety to choose from as with tents. Keep in mind that if you’re just picking up a sleeping bag for use in the summer months, you don’t want the heaviest bag on the market.

Although one alternative, particularly if you think you’ll try some cold-weather camping as well, or if you need to be prepared for any weather, is to choose a heavier bag, pack a sheet or light blanket, and sleep on top of the bag, during the summer months.

In addition, you can pick up a simple closed-cell foam camp sleeping pad at your local retailer – usually for under $10 – and it, or a simple air mattress, will contribute to your comfort. They’re niceties, though. A manly camping trip can certainly be had without a sleeping pad, air mattress, or even sleeping bag, for that matter. Plenty a man has spent a perfectly happy and comfortable night under the stars wrapped snug in a wool army blanket.

The Clothes

Keep an eye on the forecast as you prepare to depart, and pack for the worst-case scenario. You don’t need much, particularly for a weekend. Some of my best weekend campouts have been the ones where I’ve only taken the clothes on my back, and a change or two of underwear, undershirt, and socks.

If the evenings will still have some cooler temperatures, you might consider packing a jacket. And if rain is the remotest possibility, be sure to take a rain jacket or poncho. You’ll be much more comfortable knowing you’re not going to be drenched if the rains move in.

A good hat is also good to have when camping – it’s your first level of protection from the elements, and from ticks, etc., depending on your region. Also, a hat with a good brim will keep your eyes protected from the daytime sun.

The Knife

There’s already been plenty written on Art of Manliness about the fact that every man should carry a good knife. But if you don’t usually do so, be sure to pack one for your outing. In addition, a small axe or saw is handy if you plan to cut some firewood for an open fire.

The Food Stuff

I prefer to cook over an open fire when camping. At the camp I worked at growing up, if a staff member couldn’t start a decent fire in one try, with one match, there was a good amount of peer pressure applied to help him be able to do it right the next time. But a simple gas stove (2 burner, available at most retailers or sporting/outdoor supply stores) is also pretty easy to come by and convenient for those less confident in their ability to get a fire going steadily – and hot – enough for cooking.

If I head out for a night or two of solo camping I typically take just a metal pan/plate, a bowl that I can use over a fire, a cup (and a good amount of water, if I don’t think I’ll get good water where I’m heading), and some utensils. Many foods can be cooked right on a fire without even using a dish – hamburger could be cooked in a hollowed-out onion, or wrapped in foil. An egg could be cooked in a hollowed-out orange. Be creative.

I almost always take a small camping coffee pot/percolator. But that’s only because I can’t stand to go a weekend without a few good cups of coffee.

Frequently, you’ll find that you can pack this all into a larger pot that you can then use for heating dishwater or for cooking.

All of this equipment can be picked up in the camping section at a common retailer or sports/outdoor outfitter.

In addition, if I’m cooking for or entertaining anyone else on the trip, I love to take a cast-iron dutch oven and/or skillet (the inverted lid of some dutch ovens can even function as a skillet.)

If you’re taking the family, you might also consider some rags – sometimes they’re nice to have to wipe down tables that aren’t always left in the best condition in public campgrounds – or a tablecloth.

If nothing else, the rags – and a small travel bottle of dish soap – will come in handy in washing your pots and pans. Keeping your dishes properly clean and sanitary will save you a lot of uncomfortable and unpleasant time on your outings.

Consider your menu – the food you’re planning to pack and prepare – and ensure you have all that you’ll need to keep it stored safe (cooler? ice?) and to prepare and clean up properly.

Flashlight

Sure, you can get by without a flashlight, particularly when camping under a full moon. But when you need the extra artificial light to see what’s joined you and is crawling in your tent, or to safely make it out for a bathroom break, you’ll appreciate having one around. Load it up with fresh batteries before you leave home, and don’t feel you have to use it all night. Let your eyes adjust to the dark and enjoy seeing the natural world at night.

I have a small tea candle lantern that I take to sit up at night and use to read (although I never take the open flame into the tent.) Personally, I prefer it to my flashlight.

First Aid Items

“Be Prepared” really hits home here. I got lazy and lax with first aid supplies, until a couple of times when serious cuts or bites illustrated the need for a few basic first aid supplies.

Others Things to Consider

One way or another, if you’ll be building a fire or cooking on a stove, be sure to take matches, a lighter, and/or a fire starter.

I always like to take my journal and a pen or pencil, and a book or two to read. But that’s just something I typically keep with me, so I don’t consider it part of “packing.”

Here’s some other stuff I always take along… just in case:

  • Maps/directions/compass, depending on where I’m going.
  • A few squares of toilet paper, in a zip-up bag, in case my campground happens to be out or I journey further into the woods and have to dig and maintain my own latrine.
  • A couple extra zip-up bags.
  • Towel, washcloth, and toiletries, if I’m staying more than a day or two or plan to shower while away.
  • Medications or supplements.
  • Bug repellent, if the season or the area dictates it.

Leave Some Stuff Behind

To have the best time, take what you need to be comfortable and safe. Don’t underdo it – but don’t overdo it either. It’s fine to take your mobile phone if you want it for emergencies, but consider leaving it in your car when you hike out to your camp site. Enjoy a good book or just some good company instead of taking your Blackberry or Game Boy.

Have Fun.

In the end, getting out into the great outdoors is about getting away. For me, it’s a good escape from the computer, technology, and media saturation of which my career is comprised. Give it some thought, make a list of what you’ll need for your unique situation, and load it up. In the end, though, it’s all about getting out, having fun, and having a good, relaxing time in God’s country.


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