Camping Basics

Regardless of the type of camping, you need to address the following: food and water, shelter, and sanitation. Your food and shelter you bring with you. Your sanitation may be provided (as with a commercial campground), may be brought with you in the form of a chemical toilet, solar shower, etc., or properly improvised on site.

Assume that any water you get from a lake or stream is unfit to drink. Bring bottled water, or boil the water before you drink it. You can also use purification tablets to treat fresh water. (Be aware that boiling or tablets will kill bacteria, but they generally will not remove salt or toxic material from the water. If there is a chance there is salt, mercury or other contamination in the water, you should bring enough bottled water to drink and cook.

Your food should be easily prepared and not too expensive. If you have to spend too much time cooking, you may not have time to appreciate being out in nature. You may even find yourself fighting nature because of its interference with your elaborate cooking attempts. (Not every meal even needs to be a cooked meal.)

Also, try to match your menu to your climate. If it's summertime, a hot stew may not be the best idea. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches may fill the bill better.

When estimating your food quantities, try to err on the side of caution. It's better to have a little more food than you need, rather than going hungry in the middle of nowhere. But don't go overboard either. Besides wasting money, cooking too much food will result in scraps which will attract animals and insects.

Your shelter should be large enough that you are not cramped when you're inside. Why visit the "Great Outdoors" only to huddle inside of a too-small tent. The same can be said for RV's. Don't buy one without getting inside and checking out the size.

Some sort of organized container system for your gear and food is desireable for car and cabin boat camping, and is pretty much required for other forms of camping. Container systems include backpacks, duffle bags, foot lockers, storage boxes, bear bags, etc.

If you are primitive camping (no facilities), you need to be a little creative about your sanitation. In areas that are ecologically fragile (erosion prone, heavily used, etc.), a self contained chemical toilet is highly advisable. These can be purchased or improvised. Commercially manufactored chemical toilets start at around $20.00, and vary depending on size, portability, and complexity. Improvised toilets can be as simple as a five gallon plastic "pickle" bucket with a sealing lid and chemical inside.

Solar showers are fairly cheap ($10.00 or so) and can be readily found where camping supplies are sold.

The storage system mentioned earlier is for storing food and personal equipment. Personal equipment for stationary camping (not backpacking) include:

Sunscreeninsect repellent
towelsbiodegradable soap or simple soap like Ivory or Kirk's Castille
mess kitknife, fork and spoon
tent, tarp, or other sheltersleeping bag or bedroll
camp stovelightweight chair, stool or cushion
sandals, or water shoesflashlight
canteenfolding shovel
extra plastic bagsmatches or lighter
Lantern or candle lanternrope
Plain toilet paper

Optional items:

mapsfishing gear
solar showercot or air mattress
ice chestwater purification tablets or bottled water

If you are in an area where erosion is not a problem, and you can easily dig in the ground away from water sources, you can use a latrine for sanitation. A latrine is basically a hole in the ground which you use to dispose of human waste. In most areas, the top six inches or so of soil contain a myriad of decomposing bacteria. Mother Nature is quite capable of breaking down human waste in small quanities, as well as plain, non-scented toilet paper. (Paper with strong scents or dyes may take longer to break down. Look for septic tank approved or paper for chemical toilets. These are designed to break down quickly.) However, if you camp in an area with very heavy usage, you may need to use a chemical toilet.

If the area is suitable, and you are camping short term (overnight), you can pretty much dig a "cat hole" - a 6 inch deep hole just wide enough for one use. Be sure any toilet paper is buried along with the waste. Leaving paper on the ground is unhealthy, not to mention extremely rude. If you are camping long term, a 6 inch deep trench is a better idea. The length of the trench will depend on how long you will be staying, and how many people are camping there. Starting at one end, cover only the part you use each time.

After a latrine has been covered over with dirt, it is customary to place 2 sticks in an X pattern flat on the ground over the hole. This is to clue future campers not to dig there. By the time the sticks decompose, the human waste will be long gone.

When bathing or dishwashing, use biodegradable soap, or a simple, non-detergent soap. Use a bucket or large pot to bring water away from the source to do your washing and rinsing where the soapy water will not run back into the source. You can pour water over yourself, then soap up, then pour more water to rinse off. Plain soap will break down, but before it does it may kill fish. Only if you have a large quantity of moving water is it safe to let plain soap get into the water. Do not use detergent-containing soaps at all (diluted or not). The detergent contains chemicals (like phosphates) that will accumulate in the water.

A solar shower is a great thing to have. Hang it well away from the water, and the runoff should not be a problem.

General Camping Tips:

1. Avoid camping in areas where stormwater can collect. No sense being flooded out.

2. Avoid setting up camp directly under heavy tree cover. Trees will drip on your tent for hours after the rain stops. Also, limbs may break off during storm winds and cause serious damage and/or injury.

3. Avoid being totally out in the open. Wind can easily damage your tent, you will have no shade in the heat of the day, and privacy from other campers or passersby will be impossible.

4. Although campfires are great nostalgia items, they aren't necessarily the best way to cook. (They take a long time to prepare for cooking properly, they can soot up your cookware, and can be hard to get precisely the right size and hotness.) A small campstove will be less work, and will not deplete the local wood supply. (Be aware that when fools are camping and deadwood is not visible from the campsite, rather than going out to collect the dead wood that's nearly always around, they will often cut down live trees around the campsite for their fires!) Save the available wood for small night time campfires to sit around if you want to, and try to leave some easily available.

5. If you want to prove yourself as a true woodsman, see how little damage you can do to an area. If the place looks the same when you leave as it did when you arrived, you are a good woodsman.