The campfire snapped and cracked, bright red, yellow and blue flames dancing in the growing darkness.
A thick steak sizzled on the grill as the blood-red sun slowly settled toward the hill tops. Small birds flew overhead and several sang their “closing up” songs before heading for the roost. Everyone was having a grand time; after all, we were camping.
In today’s fast paced world, it’s very healthy to just get away from it all. Man isn’t really comfortable in his high-tech environment.
Deep inside you wonder at the unreality of it all, and now Covid. A weekend or week away from the stresses of modern life can be a blessing.
It’s nice to get back to the basics.
Camping can take on many different forms and requires different types of preparation and involvement by its participants. You can go primitive with only what you can carry on your back or drive a motor home to a prepared site.
Each has its own rewards.
I am going to take the middle road and look at camping in a tent. Out on your own, basic rules are critical to having a good time.
We’ll take a look at what you “must address” to assure an enjoyable trip.
Tents quickly put you right back into nature. Very light weight, portable tents are available for backpackers.
They can also be much larger and even have multiple rooms one can stand up in. The choice is yours. Tents of all types are much lighter and easier to set up today.
Before setting up your tent, you must carefully examine your surroundings. The first thing you need to address is safety.
Look around you, check for rotten trees a storm may have blown down and dangerous dead or hanging limbs. If you are next to a steep hillside, look for dry water channels that will fill quickly if it rains, or loose, large rocks which could tumble or trees with the root system largely washed away.
Never pitch your tent in a low-lying area, which can fill with water during a rain. Choose an elevated spot— the higher the better.
Once your tent is up, be sure and dig a trench touching the tent edges with a runoff channel at a corner. The ditch/trench will catch the runoff from your tent and prevent water from running underneath the floor and soaking you.
A careful look around will determine an elevated area to pitch your tent. Always remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and waking up in the middle of the night in a rainstorm with water running in the tent is a real bummer!
I always bring three or four 8x10-foot tarps or larger.
Erect one over the entrance to your tent, one over your eating area and another to cover your wood. If it rains, which happens all too often, you’ll be ecstatic to have them.
Nothing is more essential than a wood fire, for asthetics and especially if you don’t have a portable stove. You’ll be depending on your wood fire for cooking, heat and light.
At an existing campsite, you’ll most likely have a fire ring. If your site doesn’t have a fire ring, you’ll need to build your own. A small saw, hatchet or ax, bug spray and fire starter are all “musts.”
Camping away from prepared sites, you’ll need water. It’s always wise to camp by a natural spring or creek. This provides your water for washing, drinking and cooking. Boiling your drinking water from a stream is a must.
Streams also supply larger rocks for constructing your fire site. The bigger the stones, the better the fireplace. When constructing the ring, try and make sure the top most stones create a flat surface to set pans or pots on along with cooking utensils.
Flat surfaces are rare in nature, you’ll find, and you will need to create some.
Once your fire rings are complete, gather as quickly as possible a large supply of wood. A small handsaw with a 12 or 14-inch blade is a great help.
You’ll need wood of all sizes, from the tiniest twigs for starting the fire to the largest you can break up or cut. Gather more than you believe you’ll need and stack it in an elevated spot under a tarp to keep it dry.
Gathering wet wood during a storm and trying to start a fire is no fun. Be wise; lay in your firewood first thing. I can’t emphasize enough the necessity of having the warmth and light provided by a fire during rainy weather.
Once you have safe shelter, water and fire, you’re prepared for an enjoyable time. Your food, of course, needs to be in an animal-proof ice box with adequate ice for your stay.
I like two ice chests, one to be used immediately, the other with all contents frozen, the lid taped shut and buried in the earth or wrapped in a tarp in the shade to keep things cold as long as necessary.
Always remember to bring a warm winter jacket, long pants, a warm shirt and brimmed hat. You may not need them, but the odds are you will. Also, be sure and have a quality knife or two— you’ll use them constantly.
With the basics well in hand, you’ll have a great time. Mother Nature is unforgiving, but if you’re prepared, she’s much more hospitable.