As I was driving up the winding Mink Creek Road into the Caribou National Forrest, southwest of Pocatello, Idaho. I reflected on a Memorial weekend camp out 14 years ago in the Buffalo Campground at Island Park, Idaho. I was joined by my sister and her two boys. Instead of enjoying the sounds of nature, I was treated to the sounds of three nearby families arguing and the droning of generators. I made a vow to myself that weekend. I would never camp in a designated campground again.
We in Idaho are blessed with an immense amount of public land. Those of us who spend our fall in elk camps have experience camping off the beaten path. Taking our families to similar spots can be a shock to their systems. This article will hopefully minimize their trauma and help you share in the outdoor experience that eastern Idaho offers.
I prefer Tents when I Camp because they allow me to savor my surroundings and hear the sounds of the outdoors. During last September’s bow hunt, I was settling into bed about midnight. Suddenly a bull elk started bugling from a ravine 40 yards from my camp. I listened to that elk scream for two and a half hours as I drifted in and out of sleep. I had vivid visions of a successful hunt dancing through my head. That was one of the most memorable events of my hunt.
Purchasing a Tent requires that you evaluate a tent before you make your purchase. The design of a tent is fundamental in making your selection because it dictates the ease of setting it up, it’s size and strength. There are three basic types:
1) the dome tent; 2) the cabin tent; 3) the wall tent.
I have both a wall and a dome tent. I use the dome tent for trips shorter than a week and the wall tent for a week or more. Visit several outlets and investigate your choices. Material and construction are important considerations. Tents are made from nylon or cotton. Cotton breaths, stays cool in summer, holds in heat better in winter but is expensive and heavy. I love my 12 foot by 29 foot wall tent but with poles, it weights 275 lbs and takes two hours to erect. Nylon and its cousins are light, durable and cheaper. A high quality dome tent weights less than 35 lbs and takes 20 minutes to erect. Beware of inferior materials and designs. If a tent claims to sleep four but folds up to the size of Sunday’s paper, the material is too thin. If the zipper on the door is finer than the zipper on your wife’s slacks, it will not last long. If the tent poles could double as a trout rod, they won’t withstand a stiff breeze. Storms find ways to collapse substandard tents. Size is essential to a quality experience. I warn you that when a manufacturer advertises a 4 man tent; it probably accommodates four who do not mind spooning. My rule of thumb is (unless you are backpacking) purchase a tent advertised to sleep twice as many people as you intend to accommodate. When considering height, decide how much crouching you are willing to do. I prefer to stand in my tent.
Setting up the tent determines the quality of your camping experience. Just like the rules for a successful business, location, location, location is crucial! When searching for a site, consider the following: Always allow for a retreat in the event of bad weather. Roads that are so deeply rutted that you can barely drive into your camp spot when the weather is dry, may not be passable after a cloudburst. Never camp at the base of a ravine or on low ground if you are near a stream or river. Rain or snow can change your world in a hurry. Think ahead.
Look for natural windbreaks using hills, mountains or trees. Face your tent door down wind. Pay attention to the wind patterns and check the weather forecasts. Consider grade when searching for a place to erect your tent. Flat ground is essential. If there is any angle at all, position your bed so your feet are downhill. Clear the rocks, sticks and stumps from the ground before erecting your tent. Avoid still or slow moving water? Nothing ruins a camping trip like getting consumed by mosquitoes!
The Bed you choose will determine the length and frequency of your camping trips. Long, uncomfortable nights make for short trips. The foam pad is the simplest and the least costly. It is a little bulky but works well. You can also get self-inflating pads which are foam pads encapsulated in an airtight synthetic cover.
The cot does get you off the floor but I have never found them comfortable without the addition of padding.
The inflatable mattress is the third alternative. They are available in various sizes. I prefer a queen inflatable mattress on an expanding frame. They are comfortable and there is plenty of room for a couple. A battery powered pump can air up one of these mattresses in five minutes. Fill your air mattresses before you go camping and check for leaks. Deflated air mattresses are not comfortable! Whether you are using a cot or an air mattress, remember that your sleeping bag compresses beneath you. During a cold night, you are going to be very uncomfortable. Use a blanket, an extra sleeping bag or a foam pad under your bag and you will be much warmer.
The Heat is wood or propane. If your heat is a campfire, check with the Forest Service and make sure that open fires are permitted. Include a bucket and a shovel for fire control. I take a heater if the temperature is forecast to be below 45 degrees. My wall tent has a large cylinder stove that will burn for eight hours. When my need for heat is marginal or I take a smaller tent, a Mr. Heater Buddy works great. I won’t run them all night but firing it up at 5:00 am sure makes it easier to climb out of the sack. Make sure that your heater is designed for inside use, that your tent is properly ventilated and that you keep objects a safe distance away from it.
Water is an essential provision to camp. Carry in your water. If I am camping within ten miles of a source, I’ll fill my 5 gallon water jugs when I arrive. I take twenty gallons with me. Collapsible water containers are very space efficient.
Cooking good food makes everyone happy. If I eat well, I can camp forever. I judge a stove by how fast it heats up a gallon of water, how fine the flame controls are and how durable the unit is. I have been cooking on my Camp Chef Professional model GB 90P stove since I was a scoutmaster more than 15 years ago and have never been disappointed. The 3 burners allow me to keep water hot while using a large griddle to cook up a full breakfast of eggs, hash browns and bacon.
Lighting is an important equipment choice before camping. Propane lanterns are the currently the brightest but it has a flame and should not be used in a small or medium tent. Battery powered fluorescent are better for interior lighting but utilize a large number of batteries. LED’s are the newest development in lighting. LED lights use only twenty percent of the power of the fluorescent. I have a collection of lanterns that use to take with me, until recently. I switched to the FlashLantern last year for all of my lighting. It gives me all the light I need and a box of 24 AAA batteries was all the fuel I needed for a week of bow hunting.
Toilet facilities are a happy addition to a camp. I prefer a portable flushing chemical toilet. They are compact and make it easier to coax a wife into a camping trip. An inexpensive toilet shelter completes the facility.
Showers are much more efficient. I purchased Coleman’s Hot Water on Demand and found it to be very efficient and adjustable. Dome-style shower stalls are available. They can be quite spacious and can double as a toilet shelter. One trick to a comfortable showering experience is to dig a shallow trench across the center of where you intend to set the floor of the stall. Once the stall is up, place several pebbles on the floor along the trench to create a depression. Place a wood or plastic grate over the depression and your shower stall will drain.
Enjoying wild spaces can be a great family pursuit. Searching for a camping spot off the beaten path is challenging and fun. It is a type of hunting that can be enjoyed by the entire family and a successful find can result in enjoyable memories for years to come.
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