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Luck favors the prepared ...

Lesson No. 12: Camping

May 7, 2010
By ERIC AYRES, Times Leader News Editor

WHEN PACKING for a weekend adventure in the great outdoors, it's always good to be prepared.

Even the most experienced camper or festival goer can always make use of helpful tips that can help make their experience with "roughing it" that much more enjoyable.

While over-packing can be a burden in terms of preparation time and the limited space in your vehicle during the road trip, being prepared doesn't necessarily mean bringing everything but the kitchen sink.

Article Photos

Starting your campfire can be a snap with a little ingenuity. Stuff the cardboard tube from an empty toilet paper roll with lint from your dryer to make an inexpensive and effective, homemade fire-starting log.

Here are a few useful tips and tricks that may help make your trip a smooth and enjoyable one.

Around the camp fire

Starting a camp fire can be challenging for the non-Scout. Even with the right amount of kindling, it may be a difficult task to get the flames going in damp conditions.

If fire-starting logs aren't available, there's one easy routine that can be done at home to make your own fire-starters at no extra cost. Start by saving the cardboard tubes from empty rolls of toilet paper. Keep them in your laundry room, and every time you clear the lint out of your dryer's lint trap, stuff it into the cardboard toilet paper tube. When it's full bam! You have an inexpensive, convenient and effective fire starting log. Depending on your choice of fragranced fabric softener, laundry detergent and dryer sheets, the fire starters can be somewhat aromatic as well.

If you are traveling some distance to the campground and you plan to have a camp fire, make sure you purchase firewood at or near your destination. Because of the Emerald Ash Borer infestation that has plagued many states in recent years and has killed tens of millions of trees, it is still against the law in many states - including Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania - to transport firewood through counties where a quarantine has been issued. Those who operate the campgrounds are well aware of this rule and almost always have an abundance of locally-cut firewood for sale at a reasonable price.

Obviously, make sure your campfire is a good distance from your tent or other gear - at least 10 feet is the general rule for a standard-sized, personal campfire.

When you've got the fire crackling at night, make sure you have plenty of seating around the fire for your group and for neighbors and new friends as well. Having a welcoming campfire is a great way to meet new folks who share your passion for the great outdoors. It's always nice, too, when musicians bring along an acoustic guitar, hand drums, maracas and other acoustic and percussion instruments for a late-night jam session or drum circle.

While you're there

The best camping or festival experiences are the ones that you don't soon forget. It helps make your time more "unforgettable" when you bring back memories and mementos. A digital camera works wonders for recording great times, and your photos can be instantly shared with friends and family online when you return home. It's a good idea to pack extra plastic baggies to store electronic items like cell phones and cameras in case you're caught in the rain.

At music festivals nowadays, many of the larger fests have official tapers who record many of the live performances. Depending on the rules set forth by the artists and the promoters, mass distribution of live recordings are oftentimes encouraged instead of prohibited. For those venues that have recordings made from a soundboard feed, many shows are often available on compact disc in literally a matter of hours after your favorite artist wraps up their encore, and the discs can be purchased there on site. Technology has its advantages, even when you're "roughing it!"

Festivals are also brimming with an array of vendors who sell unique merchandise that you can't find anywhere else. Budget your trip with a plan to bring back a souvenir or two for yourself or others. From hand-crafted jewelry to T-shirts, trinkets hula hoops, buttons, bumper stickers, band merchandise and other goods, you'll always remember where picked up that special item.

Cooking in the great outdoors is often one of the best parts of the camping experience. You can also save a lot of money when you bring your own gourmet camp cuisine, as opposed to purchasing every meal from on-site vendors. Even if you are an expert on the camp grill, however, it's nice to at least try some of the dishes offered by the veteran festival vendors. Popular vendors like Disc-O Pizza usually can only be found on the music festival circuit, and their large portions and delicious blend of flavors truly hit the spot and are worth every penny for at least one big meal during your stay. Mobile food vendors at festivals are professionals - paying $1,000 or more to vend there for the weekend - and usually deliver cuisine that is by far superior to most mobile vendors you will find at your county fair or local street festival.


Being close to Mother Nature can bring you close to her wrath at times. Smart campers come prepared to face the elements regardless of the conditions. Cold nights and potential downpours can unfortunately be part of the experience.

EZ-Up shelters can be lifesavers during both rainy or hot and sunny conditions. They are much more convenient and easy to use than the old-fashioned tarp-and-pole shelters, know to some as the "Hard-Up." If you're not camped by a tree-line, a spot of shade from your shelter can make it feel 10 degrees cooler during sweltering summer afternoons. It can help you cool down and keep you out of the harmful rays of the sun. In such conditions, you should always drink plenty of water and keep a layer of SPF 30 or higher sunscreen applied.

A tip for hydration - instead of packing dozens of plastic bottles, be environmentally friendly and bring one large picnic-style beverage cooler. For hot summer outings, it's a good idea to fill the beverage cooler about full of water and stick it in the freezer for a couple of nights. Bring the ice block cooler with you, and as the heat from the sun gradually melts the ice, you should have an ample supply of cold water through the duration of your trip.

Another weather condition that is often overlooked is wind. Strong gusts can terrorize your campsite when you least expect it. Even if there's no wind when you set up camp, it's wise to plan for potential winds, which typically blow in from the west. If you're camping in a tent, always try to set up with the rear or side of the tent facing the wind. Most tents come with instructions detailing how to do this. Also, when high winds persists, those armed with EZ-Up shelters should leave the frame of the structure up and simply remove the tarp until the wind dies down. This will prevent you from having to tear your shelter down completely and set it back up later. Leaving the tarp on in windy conditions could create a parachute effect that can rip tent stakes out of the ground, pick up your shelter and ruin it by damaging the steel frame.


No one really looks forward to packing up and heading back to the daily grind.

In theory, campers should have slightly more room in their vehicles after going through food, beverage and other consumables over the weekend. Your strategic packing plan should be as efficient on the way home as it is on the way out of town.

If packing under rainy conditions, try to shake off as much water as you can before folding up the tent, camp chairs, tarps and other wet items. When you get home, make sure you unpack them and air them out to dry when the sun comes reappears. Leaving wet materials packed will likely result in mold or damage that could shorten the life or the water-resistant materials from which your tent linings and camp chairs are made.

The most important tip for packing up is to make sure you leave nothing behind but footprints. Pick up even the smallest scraps of trash and properly discard them. Good campers always make it a rule to leave their campsite in as good condition - if not better condition - than they found it when they arrived.

Ayres can be reached at



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