Tom’s Tips for Tranquil Tenting

OK, so the title of this column is a little cheesy. We’re in the dog days of summer, and my thinking cap has been chewed by my neighbor’s dog.

My suggestions are still good, so hang in there.

Camping is very popular with four-wheelers, and with some quality camping time left this year, I thought it would be a good time to revisit this topic. This isn’t Camping 101, however. Instead, I’d like to review some of the finer points of preparing for your trip.

The following suggestions are gleaned from years of experience in the outdoors. I think even veteran campers will find some of these useful. Let’s dig in.

• Freeze water bottles. They make great ice packs for your cooler, but also are a good source for cold water throughout the day. As you drink the melted run off, any water added will be kept chilled stretching your ice cold water to almost 2 bottles’ worth. You can also freeze meat in advance for longer trips

• If shopping for a tent, pick one that’s easy to set up. I like at least a three-season tent, which features snaps on the outside to hold the tent poles. No need to run the poles through those fabric tunnels and the hassle involved. Also, try to find one with a rain fly that extends all the way to the ground. That will keep out sand and dust better. Purchase a footprint for your tent. This protects the tent floor from rough ground you may encounter and adds a layer of insulation (although a thin one). Many manufacturers produce these, though a large tarp can work as well. This footprint also keeps the bottom of the tent clean, meaning less mess during take down. Practice setting it up before your trip! This includes practice putting up the tent at night with your headlamp! I know, sounds kinda dorky but I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had to set up in the dark.

• After setting up your tent, I suggest you tuck or fold the edges of the tarp under the tent to keep it from collecting rainwater and snow which is then funneled right under the tent.

• Position your tent so it faces downwind. That will help keep out dust and moisture. You can position your truck also to make a bit of a wind break. If you are in an area with lot of gnats/flies, face your tent door into the wind. The flying insects like to loiter in the lee of your tent!

• Tie a small rope on each tent stake (about a 1”- 2” loop). This will make it easier to pull up the stake in hard or frozen ground. If need be, you can cut or untie the rope and save the tent loops. (You can use a propane torch to thaw metal stakes that are frozen in the ground. Remove the tent first, of course.)

Speaking of cold, if your eggs are frozen in the morning, peel them like a hardboiled egg and melt them in a flying pan. Then enjoy scrambled eggs!

• I like to roll up my tent from the backside. That way I always know where the front door is for the next time.

Sleeping

Nights can get surprisingly chilly, especially in the mountains and desert. You won’t sleep well if you’re cold, and you shouldn’t get behind the wheel the next day if you haven’t had a good night’s rest.

• If you only have a 2-season bag, pack two sleeping bags or one sleeping bag and a blanket. Put the extra bag or blanket inside the main bag for warmth.

• Use a good insulator between the bag and the ground. When it is cold outside, the ground will serve as a gigantic heat sink and suck all of your warmth out. Some form of sleeping pad should be used both for insulation and comfort. I have found Therm-A-Rest air mattresses are great for camping. I still supplement the Therm-A-Rest up with a foam pad underneath.

• Synthetic materials dry out much better than down and can be compressed without as much loss in insulation as down. Cheaper too.

• If kids are part of the camping experience, a durable cotton cover on the bags can extend the life of your bag.

• Don’t forget to pull tomorrows’ clothes into your sleeping bag so that they are warm when you put them on in the morning!

• When you roll up your sleeping bag, put the head part in first. It will remain clean and dry.

• Store your sleeping bag open in a very large bag. Rolling it up compresses the fiber, causing it to lose some of its insulating capability. If you have access to a large dryer, tumble your sleeping bag for a few moments before leaving to fluff up the material.
Store your Therm-A-Rest fully open too. If you keep it compressed, it will not restore to its full thickness right away.

• Sleep uphill if there’s a slight grade to the land. It’s much more comfortable that way. If the grade has you feeling like you are going to roll off to one side, stuff tent bags, clothes, etc. under your sleeping bag at your hips and shoulders to create a berm.

• Your jacket makes a great pillow when rolled up or stuffed in the sleeping bag stuff bag.

• Don’t leave anything out over night. It may blow away, animals may get into it, or snow could cover it all up and you will not be able to find it. Stow it back in your vehicle or in the tent. An exception: Don’t store food in your tent or vehicle in bear country.

Now, get out there and enjoy the great outdoors!

PS – I would love to hear your tips! Send me an email.

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