by Ed Migale
When it comes to my outdoor adventures these days, it’s gotten so that I enjoy the camping out almost as much as I do the hunting.With time away from work more and more difficult to come by, I find myself trying to make every effort to assure that I’ll camp in comfort.
Now the word “comfort” can be a relative term. To some, camping in “comfort” might mean an air conditioned or heated motor home, trailer or cab-over camper. To others, a comfortable camp might mean an air mattress between a sleeping bag and bare steel pick-up truck bed.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll forego discussion of RV’s simply because these “camps-on-wheels” are already, by their very nature and design, comfortable.
Instead we’ll focus on camping out of tents and simple, no-frills pickup truck camper shells.
If I’m only going to camp out for a night or two, and the weather is good -- not too hot and dusty, or rainy and muddy – I’ll leave the tent at home and sack out in the bed of my truck, which is equipped with a fiberglass camper shell.
If you go this route and there is a chance you’ll be camping in cold weather, you must insulate yourself from the metal of the truck’s bed. I have sanded and varnished plywood in my truck’s bed, plus between the wood and metal is a layer of closed cell foam mats. Then, on top of the wood I place an inflatable sleeping pad beneath my sleeping bag.
Anytime my stay is going to extend beyond a night or two, and anytime I’m going to be driving from where I’m camping to where I’m hunting, I like to set-up a complete tent camp, with the seasons and weather forecast dictating the type of tent I pitch.That’s right, I have several tents to choose from, including a canvas wall tent complete with wood stove, tarpaulin floor, cots and kitchen. This set-up is for extended stays in cold weather such as snowy, late fall out-of-state hunts.
Another tent I like is one of those new “instant” or “pop-up” tents where the tent poles are incorporated into the tent. Wow, are these convenient with set-up and take-down in just seconds! Mine is a 48” high 7’ X 7’ that I tend to use when stays are short and the weather mild.
protect the floor from sharp rocks and damp ground. A better way to go – and one of my favorite tips for fellow campers – is to use closed cell EVA foam mats instead. These 2’ X 2’ square inter-locking “antifatigue” floor mats are sold in 4 packs in auto parts stores and home improvement centers.
By placing these between your tent’s floor and the ground, you’ll not only protect against abrasion and dampness but your knees and back will love them! Just make sure you cut the mats so that there is no extension beyond the exterior walls of your tent; just as you would do with a tarp. Otherwise if it rains water will be channeled under your tent.
Will it be hot or cold? When it comes to sleeping bag choices, it is one or the other. In warm weather, just about any lightweight bag will suffice. But if the weather is cold, you’ll be in for pure misery if your bag doesn’t keep you warm.
I don’t have the space to cover the all the pros and cons about down versus synthetic insulation except to say that if something goes wrong and your down bag gets wet, you’ll be cold. That’s why I go with synthetic.
Another thing I demand in a cold weather bag is a “duck” or “canvas” shell. Why? Because when the mercury plunges, I add wool blankets to the top of my sleeping bag which adhere to the rough textured “duck” shell. Wool blankets simply slide off of nylon shells.
Two more thoughts on cold weather camp sleeping: 1.) wearing a knit watch cap to bed will keep body heat from escaping from your exposed noggin, and 2.) always use at least one self-inflating sleeping pad under your bag for both comfort and insulation.
Whether protecting you from blazing sun or soaking rain, canopies – for about an $80 investment -- can be a real trip saver. Set one up over your picnic table, hang your lantern from the center and you’ll never leave home without one again.
As nearly all WU campsites include picnic tables, you’ll not need to bring your own. What you will need is a cook stove and utensils, plus a food storage system including an ice chest. I store my camp stove and all my utensils in a chuck box, which I was going to make out of plywood until I found a commercially made product at the local sporting goods store.
Rather than cook dinner in camp, I pre-cook my meals, vacuum pack single person portions, then label and freeze them. I even pre-cook pasta, cool it down, and store it in a zip-lock bag. Tossing the pasta in some boiling water for a minute or two heats it through. The only item I really cook in camp is rice to go with stews and gumbos. By pre-cooking and packaging my meals I can enjoy gourmet food such as wild turkey gumbo, venison Italian sausage pasta sauce, or elk meat enchiladas without using up a lot of valuable trip time.
It goes without saying that a lantern is essential for lighting the night. I suggest your lantern use the same type fuel as your stove; and don’t forget to bring along a good supply of mantles.
While having a flashlight on hand is pretty obvious, I get a lot more mileage out of a headlamp; after all it is hands-free.
It doesn’t take long to start feeling pretty grimy when living out-ofdoors, so a clean-up now and then can be mighty refreshing. If the weather is warm, some cool water from the ice chest drain spigot will suffice.
But when the weather is cold, cold water loses its appeal. That’s when I turn to fragrance free baby wipes. Go ahead and laugh, but they really work well.
Another product I use frequently – before cooking, during cooking, while eating, after visiting the outhouse, etc. -- is anti-bacterial hand sanitizer lotion. A MUST HAVE item.
Finally, to really make your camping trips enjoyable, try getting organized long before you ever depart. Have your gear stored in an accessible area, and ready for packing. One hunter I met built a large wooden trunk to store all of his camping gear. That way, when it comes time to pack, he simply pulls out the trunk, and he’s 90% ready.
Some smart gear choices and some pre-trip planning can make your camping trips a lot more enjoyable and so comfortable you won’t ever want to go home.