Walking into the woods, carrying everything needed to stop you from dying, is a daunting prospect. Sleeping in a tent where bears, cougars, and hillbillies can get you is terrifying if you’ve never done it before. Starvation, dehydration, floods and sunstroke, broken legs and hungry coyotes are all the hidden terrors that reign supreme in our thoughts for what can go wrong. But I always find it interesting that it’s the smaller things that derail your time spent in the woods, making it a miserable destination instead of “where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul” as John Muir saw it. The good news is that most of the smaller disasters can be taken care of with just a bit of knowledge and planning beforehand.
Moving from one house to another is said to be in the top 5 most stressful things in a persons life; while moving from car to campsite (or from campsite to campsite) is nowhere near as massive an undertaking it can pose problems all the same. Most commonly, the issue is that all the gear you spent so much time packing carefully at home seems to have tripled in size once unpacked again. Sleeping bags that were rolled so tightly at home take on cartoonish proportions once you try squeezing them into their stuff sacks. To make this easier, take care of 2 problems with a single solution. First, don’t roll your sleeping bag as repeatedly compacting the insulation in the same spot will cause it to lose heat retention properties. Instead, stove-pipe stuff your sleeping bag into the stuff sack, just taking one end and shoving it in until you can pull the drawstring closed. I promise that when done properly it is faster and more consistent than rolling ever was.
Inflatable sleeping pads and mattresses have the same problem of being almost impossible to put away once taken out of their stuff sack for the first time; they look impossibly small on the store shelves in their sacks the size of Nalgene bottles and they seem doubly impossible to put them away again unless you know the trick of how to do so properly. First, open the valve and fold the air mattress starting on the far end and moving toward the valve, squeezing out the air with every fold. When you reach the air valve, close it to make sure no more air rushes back in. The next step depends on the size of the stuff sack, but fold the mattress so when you roll it, the width of the pad is the same as the stuff sack; then, roll the pad tightly, stopping near the end to open the air valve again to let out all of the air trapped in the mattress. Close the air valve once it’s completely drained and it should slide into its stuff sack with ease.
Before marriage, I believe every couple should have to put up a tent together, in the dark, with headlamps dimly lit from dying batteries. Communication skills are not mastered in the comfort of a movie theater or a Food Truck Friday. You don’t know who you are romantically entangled with until you’re wet, cold, tired, and trying to erect this contraption that seems engineered by both NASA and Barnum and Bailey. Tents are all so different, I can’t give specific advice on the best way to set it up, but in general threading all the poles through the sleeves and then clipping the top most pole into the corners works best. As stressful as putting up the tent can be, packing it away can be worse. How I manage it, is remove the rainfly from the tent, and then remove the tent stakes and the poles; leave the body of the tent (and foot print, if you’re using one) in place. Haphazardly stretch out the rainfly across the center of the tent; much like sleeping bags, if you roll the rainfly in the exact same way time after time it will break down the waterproof coating and reduce the life of your tent. Next, fold from the outside to the center of the tent so that the width is the same as your tent poles, and then roll the tent around the poles. If needed, correct the edges so that the tent body doesn’t spread out beyond the tent poles. Once it’s rolled tightly, it should slide into the storage sack with ease.
As a horrible cook at home even with all of the utensils and gadgets, cooking and cleaning up while camping has always been a sticking point with me. Backpacking generally gives you two options: freeze dried meals that taste good but are packed with enough sodium and preservatives to make sure you never die, or meals that Gordon Ramsay would be proud of but require an advanced culinary degree and hauling 30lbs of food and cooking equipment. One of the tricks I use to make it easy is using meals that only require boiling water to make, and then adding in other foods as needed. Pasta sides are a favorite of long distance hikers on the Appalachian Trail for this reason, but I like to add in packets of tuna or pre-cooked chicken for some added protein to repair your tired muscles after a long day of physical labor. Zatarain’s also makes single serve options that are as easy as boiling water, and you can mix in sausage or other meat depending on your preferences. If you’re car camping, you have more options since you’ll have a larger grill and a cooler to keep things cold. I’m personally a huge fan of using pie irons, which is like a sandwich press that goes in the coals of a fire. You butter 2 pieces of bread and fill the center with whatever creation you can think of. I’ve made everything from simple fruit pies and pizzas to hot sandwiches and the cleanup is basically washing your hands and wiping down a cutting board. Also, instead of trying to do smores with graham crackers, chocolate bars, and marshmallows, just put 2 chocolate chip cookies on either side of a cooked marshmallow and call it a day. It tastes better and has far less of a chance of crumbling to dust in your hands and falling on the ground.
And if you’ve always had a problem getting a fire going, ignore the Pinterest articles that show you how to stuff paper towel tubes with dryer lint. While that works just fine, it’s not exactly something you can do last minute. And while those magnesium sticks that look so cool can start a fire in theory, it’s so much work that it’s probably quicker to just sit and wait for a meteor to spontaneously start a fire. What I’ve found to work really well is to grab a bag of Matchlight Charcoal and just using a few briquettes at a time to start a campfire. They initially give a good flame and burn down to warm coals which are a perfect base for a campfire. For a lighter weight option if you’re backpacking, look into buying a package of Esbit Solid-Fuel Tablets; they burn at 1400 degrees for up to 12 minutes and only weigh half an ounce a piece. Esbit even makes stoves that utilize their tablets for fuel so it can pull double duty.
Like anything, over the years you pick up tips and tricks that cut out the hard parts of your favorite activity and lets you spend more time on the fun parts. I’d love to hear any tips and tricks that you have!
Amish in the sense that, at one point, my family helped others raise barns.
Now I build websites to help others build their businesses.