Increasing numbers of people are deciding to take camping trips closer to home, rather than spending major money on luxury beach vacations overseas. Not only are these camping trips cheaper, but they allow you to immerse yourself in nature, cut yourself off from day-to-day life for a short period of time, and see some beautiful sights. However, if you are planning a camping trip, you should pick up a few essential skills to prepare yourself and ensure that your trip is safe and comfortable. Here are a few important camping skills for every outdoor enthusiast to learn:
Starting a Campfire
When camping, almost always you will use a campfire as a source of heat and as a means to cook your meals. There are various ways to start a campfire, but regardless of your method, you should ensure that the fire is well away from your tent and any other flammable materials. Most campsites ensure this by having a designated fire pit that’s far enough away from the tent area.
If you’re backpacking, it’s imperative that you find out whether or not campfires are even allowed in the backcountry. Many parks across the US don’t allow fires in the backcountry to decrease the risk of forest fires. Check with park officials before taking off on your trip!
When you begin, collect wood and tinder of all sizes and be sure that everything you gather is dry. Wet fires are too hard to start and create too much smoke for camping. Gather your wood and kindling (smaller sticks) and prepare the fire bed. I like to create a criss-cross platform of dried wood first (the “log cabin” method) and then place the smaller wood in the middle. Fires are not hot enough initially to burn the large logs; you have to light the smaller sticks on fire so the fire can grow and get hot enough to burn through the thick wood. The “log cabin” around the kindling also helps block the wind, but ensures enough oxygen for the fire to burn.
One way to create a spark is by using a ferro rod. These rods are made from ferrocerium, a metallic alloy that creates super hot sparks when scraped against a knife or rock. Ferro rods seem to work a bit easier than the older flint and magnesium method, but they are both effective fire starters in the rain and both do not require lighter fluid. Prepare the fire area and arrange your wood. Use a ferro rod, matches, or alternate fire source to light your kindling. As the fire grows, add thicker sticks and twigs, and eventually add the logs.
Once you are done, always remember to extinguish the fire. Never leave an open fire burning unattended. Make sure that the fire is completely put out before leaving the site, as it could expand and create wildfires.
Especially if you’re in the wilderness, chances are good that you may have to cross a river. The majority of the time, hikers attempt to find a route around the river to avoid getting wet. However, sometimes you have no option but to head straight in and cross the waters. If you find that you have no other way around the river, before crossing, please be sensible and ensure that the river is safe to cross. You should examine its depth (this could vary between one bank and the other) and ensure that the current isn’t strong, as it could sweep you away. You should also be wary of sinkholes, a place where the river bed may suddenly become extremely deep. Also, never cross a river during rain or storms, as the elements can cause the waters to become dangerous.
When you attempt to cross the river, the first thing to remember is always wear shoes! Although it can be tempting to take off your shoes to keep them from getting wet, remember to never cross barefoot. You don’t know what lies on the riverbed and you don’t want to injure yourself in the process. It’s always better to keep your feet protected when walking on unknown surfaces. Second, avoid stepping on mossy rocks if possible. These can be slippery and cause you to fall. Be sure to walk slowly and steadily, and ensure proper footing before taking another step.
Other tips for river crossings:
- It’s always best to have a hiking partner for all sorts of reasons, but river crossings are safer when they are done together. Cross rivers as a pair. Two hikers can face each other, hold arms, and move sideways to safely cross.
- Use a large stick or hiking pole as a third leg for stability. Also, you can use the stick to determine depth and drop offs in the river bed.
- When you enter the water, leave your backpack on. If you have a hip strap and chest strap, undo them to allow you some freedom of movement and balance. If you fall, remove your pack completely.
- Even if the trail you’re hiking on has a designated location to cross the river, it may not be the best crossing at that particular time. Look for shallow water with minimal obstructions and/or gradual river banks to make your river crossing easier.
- If you’re crossing a glacial stream, plan on crossing earlier in the day when these rivers tend to be lower.
Water is vital to life and essential when out in the wild. Whether you spend most of your time around your campsite or out hiking, you will need plenty of water. Plenty of trails and parks have fresh water available. However, if you are off trail or in the backcountry, you won’t be able to carry sufficient amounts of water and will need to purify. (Learn more about finding water when in the wilderness here.)
One important rule of outdoor survival is to never drink any water straight from its source, no matter how clean a river, lake, or other expanse of water may appear to the eye. There could be all sorts of germs (Salmonella or Escherichia coli) or parasites (Cryptosporidium and Giardia intestinalis) present, regardless of the water’s clarity. This is why you need to know how to purify water.
There are three main ways that you can make water clean while you are out and about outdoors:
- Boil it – This is the cheapest but most time consuming method of purifying water. You will have to create a fire and also carry around a container with you that can withstand temperatures sufficient to boil water. Boil water for a full minute or three minutes if above 6,500 feet in elevation. You will also have to wait for the water to cool before you can drink any of it.
- Filter the water – This can be done by pumping the water out of its source and into a filtration system. The water will be ready to drink as soon as it’s filtered. Lifestraw (link to Amazon.com) is a popular and easily portable filtration system, as is the Platypus GravityWorks filtration system (link to Amazon.com) which is great for backpacking and filtering large quantities of water.
- Purify water with chemicals – This generally entails adding iodine drops or tablets to the water that you have sourced, killing all of the bacteria that exists in any unfiltered water. Follow the directions on the bottle, but generally add more iodine drops to still water (ie. lake) and/or cloudy water. Let the water and iodine mixture sit for at least 30 minutes before drinking. Note that iodine will change the taste and the color of your water, and not for the better. Newer purification methods include using chlorine dioxide drops as an alternative to iodine.
There are also products sold now that use UV light to disinfect water. However, they are not always reliable (especially in cloudy water) and don’t always remove 100% of bacteria and parasites. It’s better to purify your water with one of the methods listed above.
These are just a few camping skills that you should pick up before you head off on an outdoor adventure. It’s important to be prepared and get the knowledge and information you need to make your trip safer, healthier, and overall more comfortable.
sources: fs.usda.gov, cdc.gov
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