Read an Excerpt
Camping in Comfort
A Guide to Roughing It With Ease and Style
By LYNN HANEY
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2008 Lynn Haney
All rights reserved.
One balmy summer night several years ago, while camping off the coast of Down East Maine, I sat on a log and twirled a hot dog over a crackling fire. My husband and two children joined me in this time-honored ritual.
I wondered: Can a vacation get any better than this? We had just spent a week hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, swimming, and lazily pitching stones over cool, clear waters. Now it was time to go home. "Where shall we camp next year?" I asked brightly.
"In a hotel," retorted my son. He popped a marshmallow into his mouth and glanced at his sister. She nodded in agreement. They had obviously discussed the matter.
How could such a shocking idea emanate from the lips of my own flesh and blood? Our annual pilgrimage to the great outdoors was a family tradition, our way of washing off the dreck of civilization.
As the number-one camping enthusiast in the family, I couldn't help but take the hotel suggestion personally. Had the kids gone soft? Did my children have issues with Mother Nature or—heaven forbid—their own mother?
"A hotel sounds great to me," chimed my husband. As he spoke, I noted he was leaning perilously forward on one of our dilapidated camping chairs. The plastic webbing had shredded away from the rickety frame. Collapse was imminent.
At his feet sat Quincy, our Labrador/golden retriever—a foundling from the streets of New Haven. The mutt of my dreams was fixing me with baleful eyes. What's going on? I asked myself. Dogs love camping.
"We're just fed up," my husband volunteered. "We come back to our campsite at night, and we're forced to reckon with this lousy equipment. It's time for a change."
As the evening wore on, the campfire stories revolved around our battles with the elements, and with our gear. "Remember when our tent blew away in the hurricane?" marveled our daughter.
"It was only a tropical storm," I corrected her.
"Well, my sleeping bag felt like a wet sandwich," groused our son. "And when I washed it at home and took it out of the machine, all the insulation had clumped to the bottom."
With a heavy heart I scanned the scene. Our threadbare tent was suspended from wobbly poles. Inside it stood four cots with their middles sagging, each cot topped by a thin pad. The gauntlet was thrown. I had to come up with a solution fast. Otherwise, camping en famille was history. And I regarded this piece of our lives as too valuable to toss away.
Love of the outdoors was bred into my bones. The offspring of a huntin' fishin' father, I grew up camping high in the Allegheny Mountains of western Pennsylvania. As a student in Paris, I backpacked through Europe on a few dollars a day, sleeping in haylofts, hostels, and the outbuildings of chateaus. Returning to the States, I pitched my tent at music festivals, political rallies, and on coastal beaches.
But it wasn't just for my own sake that I wanted to safeguard our family's camping experience. The values of camping were something I wanted to pass on to my children. I wanted to instill in them the sense of unpredictable adventure that comes when you exit the beaten path. And camping was a way to help them see the country's natural resources up close and convey the importance of preserving them for future generations.
But their complaints had merit. Like many families, we had purchased our gear willy-nilly at big-box retailers. We hadn't given much thought to quality or durability. So it was not surprising that our equipment had not held up well.
The next morning as we wended down Maine's Route 1 and I puzzled over our meltdown, I had what I call "my epiphany." If we could avail ourselves of the latest technological innovations in camping equipment, we could make our outdoor experiences almost hassle-free. As if by divine intervention, we approached a sign for L.L. Bean: gear nirvana. "Pull over!" I barked at my husband.
Anyone who ventures into one of America's great gear emporiums is immediately struck by how camping has taken on a bright new look. The venerable old brown boots and drab-looking tents in subdued hues have been replaced by cheerful colors.
Much of the new gear is user-friendly, compact, durable, and downright stylish. It gives nature lovers the freedom to enjoy the outdoors without being hamstrung by cumbersome, weighty equipment.
These gear headquarters are vacation destinations in themselves. Companies rent space in their cathedral-size rooms for conferences, and couples have even been married in these stores (guests are surrounded by gift ideas). Much of the stores' popularity has to do with a resurgence in outdoor pursuits. Camping is the number-one outdoor vacation activity. According to a recreation executive report, one-third of the adults in the United States has gone on a camping vacation in the last five years. Since 9/11, camping activities have risen 30 percent.
Increasingly, Americans are choosing to bring home amenities to their campsites. "We still have diehards, folks who want to rough it and take the minimalist approach," says Jim Reid, an executive at Coleman, "but the much, much stronger trend is families who want to maximize convenience and comfort."
Returning home from Maine, I donated any salvageable gear we owned to Goodwill; the rest I tossed in the dump. Then I set about mastering camping in the twenty- first century. During the process, I enlisted the help of experts in outdoor equipment, field-tested products and sought honest opinions from other campers.
I soon realized that outdoor enthusiasts want the straight scoop. You're hungry for accurate information about gear—particularly new merchandise that's lightweight, portable, and practical. You may be put off by the mind-boggling lingo of technical gear and wonder whether some of this gear is reserved for the outdoor elite. You want specific tips on how to cut through the feature- intensive confusion and simplify your needs. Most of all, you don't want to be burdened with advertising hype and hearsay.
What's the best way to tackle this book? You can read it straight through, or you can zero in on your particular interests. The chapters cover gear, activities, and modes of camping. Let's be clear, however: This is not a primer on the basics of camping, nor is it a handbook on the fundamentals of particular outdoor activities, such as "How to Backpack" or "How to Kayak and Canoe." Numerous books have already tackled these subjects. What's more, this book isn't written for campers who are interested in strenuous or highly technical pursuits such as through-hiking, mountaineering, whitewater paddling, or transcontinental bike touring. And it has little to say to no-pain no-gain purists who regard endured hardships as badges of honor. Rather, this book is written specifically for fun lovers who simply want to enjoy nature with minimum hassle and maximum pleasure.
So what exactly is camping in comfort? For some, getting back to nature means a campground bustling with RVs and barbecues. For others, it is a string of wilderness days away from the maddening crowds. For many, it is somewhere in between—a park, a riverbank, or a sequestered cabin.
If you are car camping at a state park, for example, your site can become a virtual outdoor suite with multiple tents, inflatable mattresses, collapsible tables and chairs, and sturdy kitchen equipment such as a portable range and a barbecue grill.
Many developed campgrounds offer restrooms with hot showers, laundry facilities, picnic tables, tent platforms, trash cans, and electric outlets at the tent sites. Some campgrounds even schedule organized activities for children (to the relief of many parents).
If backpacking is on your agenda, welcome to weight watchers. If your assembled gear is too heavy to move, perhaps you'd better stay home. Backpacking— particularly ultralight backpacking, which has revolutionized the sport—is an exercise in relentlessly minimizing weight in order to be comfortable. To reduce what you carry, you might search out titanium tent poles, LED (light-emitting diode) flashlights, and sleeping bags that fold to pocket size.
Not so long ago, backpacking tents were little more than crude shelters. Now, with the advent of superlight, waterproof, ripstop fabric, you can have a luxurious tent that weighs a mere two or three pounds. Today's packing tents are well built, rugged, easy to store, and simple to set up.
Minimalism for backpackers also extends to clothing. A wind shirt, for example, allows you dress in lighter base layers during active exercise in cold conditions. Footwear, too, is lighter. There is a saying that "a pound on the foot equals five pounds in your pack." For this reason, many people have moved away from full-blown boots and now hike in low-topped hiking shoes.
Compared to backpacking, canoe camping and kayak camping are outdoor luxuries. Boats can easily transport you, your family, and all of your gear across the lake to your favorite campsite in the woods. Think of these boats as floating pieces of luggage.
See Chapter 9 for more on boat camping.
Bicycle camping brings other joys and challenges to creating a comfortable campsite. Like backpacking, biking is noteworthy for its self-sufficiency. Bike campers, however, can carry more gear.
If you are a cyclist making overnight stops, camping in comfort means being well equipped for the demands of your particular sport. You'll want to carry tools and spare tubes and tires. Lack of preparation in this case could mean you'll spend a night camping on the roadside.
Like backpackers and kayakers, cyclists are focused on weight. They can pack more volume than a backpacker but not as much as a boat camper. Biking with a heavy load in panniers or a trailer, even on flat, well-paved stretches, is a lot more strenuous than day biking. For minimalists, tents are available as small as a pound and a half for one person and three pounds for two people. For the more comfort conscious, an extra tarp ensures protection from cold, wet ground, although it adds a pound of weight.
Well-equipped camping cyclists also give special attention to their clothing and equipment. Safety gear is of particular concern to bikers.
See Chapter 8 for more on bicycle camping.
At the far end of the camping spectrum is RV camping. RV owners carry their living quarters with them. They have comfortable beds with innerspring mattresses. Showers. Closets. Couches for lounging and tables for dining and playing games. A clean bathroom that's always nearby. What else could you want? Well, toys are nice—specifically ones that fit into the confines of your rolling cottage. That's why inflatable boats that pack down small, and lightweight bikes that fold up, are so popular with RV vacationers. These campers also appreciate traveling with their laptops, entertainment systems, and plenty of food to cook in the built-in microwave.
See Chapter 10 for more on RV camping.
My favorite way to camp in comfort is to hole up in a solid structure, say in a cabin, yurt, or tree house. Click on www.reserveamerica.com, a government-contracted reservation service, and you'll discover a world of options. More than fifteen hundred public-use cabins pepper the nation's state and federal lands. Some are rustic tent cabins; others are more like a home away from home. Full-service cabins offer queen-size beds, private bathrooms, electricity, kitchen utensils, and outdoor grilling areas. The park system also lets you rent decommissioned fire lookouts atop Colorado peaks, surplus forest-guard stations along Rocky Mountain rivers, and Mongolian-style yurts facing the Pacific. Yurt camping is on the rise and is also available at many private campgrounds.
For those who think the call of the wild should be answered by room service, we'll even take a look at luxury camping. Glamorous camping, or glamping, is growing steadily both in the United States and abroad. The idea is to cultivate an atmosphere as nice as a hotel but retain the sights and sounds of camping. Think of the cushy amenities provided by safari camping outfitters on the Serengeti. You'll learn about places such as El Capitan Canyon Campground in Santa Barbara, California, where for $285 a night you can chill out in an elegant canvas tent with a handcrafted willow bed, linen service, maid service, and massages.
Like luxury camping, flashpacking is also on the rise among outdoor travelers. These campers like to take to the woods with accoutrements such as digital cameras, cell phones, laptops, battery chargers, batteries, power adapters, and flash cards (hence the name flashpacking). The proliferation of internet wireless is abetting this trend.
GETTING THE GEAR
This sourcebook is by no means the last word on all the equipment that's out there. There's simply too much of it. Instead, consider this book a starting point and a navigating device to steer you through the vast array of gear available, and as a means of streamlining the selection process.
But lacking the latest gear shouldn't keep you from camping. Equipment is easy to find and can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. All you need are a few basic items, such as a tent with rainfly, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, flashlight and/or lantern, cook-stove, mess kit or individual place settings, matches, and—very important—a good first-aid kit.
You can also cast a wide net with friends and relatives to see what you can borrow. Or rent gear from a local outfitter; most rental places have all the items available, from tents and sleeping bags to lanterns, cook stoves, and utensils. And don't forget the secondhand market, virtual as well as real-world (check out sites such as geartrade.com, ebay.com, and craigslist.com).
Just keep in mind that function is the key to happy camping. So don't cut corners on quality. Unreliable equipment can ruin a camping trip as quickly as foul weather. This doesn't mean you have to take out a home equity loan to outfit yourself for the great outdoors. With the checklists, shopping tips, and websites listed in this book, you'll be able to take advantage of the many bargains available.
Whatever kind of camper you are, durable equipment that you enjoy is a central part of creating a pleasurable outdoor experience. A little upfront research can prevent hours of frustration at the campsite and on the trail. If you outfit yourself with the appropriate gear—then plan your trip, prepare well, and pack carefully—you are ensuring a successful camping experience.
SAFETY AND FIRST AID
Now that you've had a taste of modern camping, are you ready to give it a try? Perhaps you're hesitating because you fear a camping trip could result in broken bones, poison-ivy rashes, snake bites, or water-borne illnesses. Take heart; a few moments of education and preparation can help ensure your health and safety.
Most minor camping setbacks are no different from what you might encounter in your backyard: your husband trips on a downed branch and sprains his ankle; your daughter puts her hand on the hot barbecue grill; you get overzealous carving a watermelon and take a small chunk out of your thumb. If you can handle any of these problems at home, you can handle them while camping, too, as long as you are prepared.
Educate yourself in basic first aid and bring a well-stocked first-aid kit. Be prepared to treat cuts and scrapes, bee stings, or allergic reactions. (If you plan to venture into deep wilderness, miles from the nearest ER, consider taking a first-aid course with an organization such as the Red Cross.) Even if you haven't taken a first-aid course, many prepackaged kits include a first-aid book with step-by-step instructions to help you manage minor injuries.
If you choose to assemble your own kit, consider the following basic items:
* exam gloves
* sharp knife/scalpel
* self-stick bandages
* waterproof medical tape
* blister pads
* topical antibiotic
* anti-diarrheal pills
* pain relivers
* antihistamine pills and cream
Other safety items include maps, a compass, flashlight, pocketknife, waterproof fire starter, personal shelter, whistle, warm clothing, high-energy food, water, and insect protection.
Creepy crawlies are probably the biggest threat to camping comfort. Be prepared to face mosquitoes, ticks, flies, blackflies, deerflies, redbugs, hornets, yellow jackets, and wasps.
Far from being just an itchy annoyance, mosquitoes are disease carriers. In recent years, West Nile Virus has become a problem in North America. Thankfully, the chances of contracting West Nile Virus are very slim, according to the Centers for Disease Control. For the most part, mosquitoes are just a nuisance, but take precaution and use bug spray.
Ticks are disease carriers, too; namely, Lyme Disease. If you're camping in tick country, inspect your family every night and have someone inspect you. Inspections are particularly important if you've been walking in tall grass. Ticks like to hide on scalps, behind ears, in armpits, and in the groin area. Regularly check pets, too.
If you find a tick, remove it. Using tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Do not grab the tick in the middle part of its body. Ticks may carry harmful bacteria, and squeezing their abdomen may inject the bacteria into the wound. Once you have a firm grasp of the tick, pull it straight out. It's likely that the tick's mouthparts will break off during the removal process and remain under the skin. If so, should you dig them out? There are two competing opinions on this. On the one hand, the embedded mouthparts can cause a secondary infection, and should be removed like a splinter. On the other hand, you might do more harm by digging out the mouthparts with a needle, and the mouthparts will eventually slough off anyway. To avoid this dilemma altogether, carry special tick tweezers that are designed to remove the tick completely.
Contrary to popular belief, you should not smother the tick with Vaseline or burn it. These methods are not effective in removing the tick and may force infected fluid into the bloodstream.
Excerpted from Camping in Comfort by LYNN HANEY. Copyright © 2008 by Lynn Haney. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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