Prepping isn’t whacko

We’ve all heard the news immediately tag any news about someone hoarding weapons and ammunition and then doing something illegal with “survivalist” and “prepper”.  It’s no wonder that so many people have associated the act of emergency preparation with whacko.  It’s also something else that conspiracy theorists would say was the result of “They don’t want people to be prepared.”

I’m not a conspiracy theorist.  I’m actually a disabled grandma who lives in a small town.  I’m not a whacko, and I didn’t see Elvis down at the truck stop recently.  (Or ever, for that matter!)   Probably the craziest thing I have done recently was stopping to find out about a sewing machine that turned out to have a $13,000.00 price tag.  I still want it–but I am sane enough to realize that I probably will not have it under the Christmas tree this year.

I’m probably somewhere in the center of the “not crazy yet” scale, even if I have never seen it and don’t really think it exists.

But I’m a prepper.

I’m from a long line of preppers, too.

You see, what we call a prepper today is really what my grandparents called “being prepared for a rainy day.”  You didn’t count on anything in the future, so when you could, you stocked up.  On everything.

It’s not a bad way to live.  I’ve survived for a very long time off of what I had put aside for those rainy days without buying much, if anything, from a store.  Granted, it wasn’t due to the “end of the world” or anything resembling a huge disaster, but it would be the smaller disasters that strike.  Things like illness, unemployment, unexpected bills, income cuts, and injuries mostly.  It’s the same things that you may have also dealt with over the course of your lifetime, or will.

  • So start a plan to stock that pantry–it can save you a lot in the future, if you do it wisely.  It’s even better return than a savings account in the bank!  Compare actual inflation on food to your local bank’s annual interest rate.  I haven’t seen a bank yet that was offering anything over 10% or even close to 10% annual interest on a savings account.  In the grocery store, seeing inflation is nearly a weekly occurrence, and while the “official” reports on inflation do not agree with me, I know that I have seen some items’ prices jump by 50-300% in a single week, with a steady reduction in what we get for $100 to actually take home.  If that’s not inflation, then I’m completely ignorant of what inflation really is!
  • Items such as clothing, household supplies, and other goods of that nature don’t seem to have the same kind of inflation, at least yet.  That doesn’t mean that you don’t need to have the same sort of “stocking up” in those categories though.  Some things, such as toilet paper, laundry soap, bar soap, shampoo, etc., have an indefinite shelf life, and purchases made now are going to remain usable for years, if need be.
  • We’re not young, and we’re not fashion followers, so we don’t need a lot of clothing.  At the same time, at our ages, we know about how many pairs of underwear, socks, etc. we wear out in the course of a year.  Typically, this type of stuff is purchased once a year, and I’ll admit…we’re cheap enough that it is often among our holiday gifts to each other.  We also tend to add to our wardrobe, mostly to replace worn out items, very sporadically.  We could comfortably go a year without purchasing anything new, even if I wasn’t able to sew.  If you have children though, that’s not the case.  When there are kids involved, having the next size up in the basics is a great idea, especially if you buy them on sale or close outs.  At a certain age, you can often predict what they size they will wear in 9-12 months, and buy close out items at the end of THIS season for the next year as well.  That’s a great way to cover basic core wardrobe needs, such as jeans, t-shirts, pajamas, socks, underwear, and even swimsuits.
  • Even gifts can be pre-planned and stocked up on.  I have a shelf in a closet that holds everything from toys to jewelry for gifts, which I pick up using coupons, discounts, and sales.  When the occasion arrives, I shop my shelf!  Now that I’m back in the swing of creating things, I may have to expand my shelf space to hold the creations too.

But the physical goods are not the only things to be prepared with.

In a real emergency, especially long term ones, skills may be far more important than a 50 lb. sack of sugar will be.  It’s the skills that cannot be damaged by flood, fire, wind, or rain because you will have them inside your head, no matter where you are or what else happens.  The key to skills is to have usable skills that can be adapted to changing circumstances, no matter what they are.

Skills are best acquired by doing, and that means hands on.  Some are expensive to learn and acquire the initial equipment to acquire.  Others are less so.  Some will appeal to one person, and another may turn up their nose at learning them.  That is okay–choose things that interest you.

So what are skills good for?

  • Maybe it can become an alternative career.  Learning to build things out of wood can mean you could become a furniture maker, a carpenter, or even build houses and other buildings.  Learning to sew might lead to a career involving sewing.  The same can be said of hundreds of different skill sets.
  • Skills can lead you to a new hobby, which can be very fulfilling if you cannot work either due to an accident (that’s me, folks!) or injury, illness, or unemployment.  It gives you something to do that makes you feel positive and productive, even if it isn’t exactly a money earning hobby.
  • Learning a new skill can connect you with other people, and this can be a very good thing.  Learning a new skill, just like teaching one of yours, can be very satisfying in a social sense, as you meet new people and make those new connections. This helps prevent social isolation, and that’s a great thing too.
  • Learning multiple skills, especially in activities that you enjoy, can mean that you have options, for everything from hobbies to employment, social connections to creation of your own prepper “tribe”.  In my case, it has meant that despite losing the physical ability to do many of the things I was passionate about before, I still have activities I enjoy, as well as the ability to teach others the ones that I cannot do anymore, in a less hands-on method than I would have used before.  All of those seemingly unrelated skills now come together in unique ways.

That doesn’t mean I’m off the hook for learning new ones either.

Learning new skills helps keep the brain active, which studies have shown will postpone the inevitable onset of cognitive decline.  Since I don’t want to start getting as “loopy” as my aging dog, this is important to me, as I’m on the north side of that half century mark now.

So how do we go about it?

Think about new skills that would be useful or necessary in a less-than-wonderful world.  It doesn’t have to be anything apocalyptic in nature–look at the devastation that has descended on places as a result of military invasion or civil uprisings for an example of tough living!  Choose 12 new skills for the upcoming year, and start learning them, whether by taking a class, using books and online tutorials, or finding someone to teach you.  Some common “prepper” type skills are listed below.

  1. Gardening
  2. Greenhouse gardening
  3. asexual reproduction of plants
  4. grafting (for fruit trees)
  5. plant breeding
  6. Canning
  7. Jams & Jellies & Preserves
  8. Dehydration
  9. Pickling
  10. Fermentation
  11. Beer/Wine Making
  12. Soapmaking
  13. Wood working
  14. Carving
  15. Furniture making
  16. Leather working
  17. saddle making
  18. tack making
  19. blacksmithing
  20. horse shoeing
  21. herding
  22. shoe making
  23. moccasin making
  24. Upholstery
  25. Quilting
  26. Sewing
  27. tailoring
  28. Pattern drafting
  29. Knitting
  30. Crocheting
  31. Auto repair
  32. Small engine repair
  33. Bicycle mechanics
  34. Welding
  35. Rope making
  36. Spinning
  37. Weaving
  38. Rug making
  39. Carpentry
  40. Construction
  41. Butchering
  42. Animal husbandry
  43. Curing/Smoking of Meats
  44. Sausage making
  45. dog training (herding, hunting, obedience, guard work)
  46. Hunting
  47. Fishing
  48. kayaking/canoeing
  49. boat building
  50. Camping
  51. backpacking
  52. trail running
  53. geocaching
  54. non-tent temporary shelter construction
  55. first aid
  56. first responder
  57. Morse code
  58. herbal medicine
  59. Outdoor skills
  60. Plant identification
  61. Edible plant identification
  62. building/maintaining solar/wind powered generator systems
  63. Ham radio licensing/operation
  64. CB radio operation
  65. physical fitness/training
  66. bicycling
  67. musical instrument (playing)
  68. musical instruments (building)
  69. masonry
  70. pottery
  71. outdoor oven construction & use
  72. cutting down trees safely
  73. milling wood to lumber
  74. cutting and splitting firewood
  75. horseback riding
  76. driving horses
  77. milking a cow
  78. building a fence
  79. goat milking
  80. cheesemaking
  81. tea making
  82. curing leather
  83. composting
  84. permaculture
  85. no till gardening
  86. pruning fruit trees
  87. making butter
  88. weaving baskets
  89. building carts and wagons
  90. off grid living skills

Shall I go on?  It’s nearly infinite!  There’s 90 different ideas listed there for you, and there are easily that many that I did not list.  Just choose twelve and work on learning them.  Or choose one and start on it.  The key is to just get started on something!

Currently, I’m working on recycling/upcycling skills to re-use things that would otherwise be discarded, as well as on refreshing sewing and quilting skills that have gotten a bit rusty.  I’m also working on pattern drafting skills–something I hadn’t done a lot with before, beyond kids’ toys, doll clothes, and dog clothes.  For over half of these skills listed, I have at least a basic level of proficiency, and most of those skills I’d actually assess myself at an “advanced beginner” level.  A handful are sufficiently practiced that I’d say I was at least an intermediate at.  That’s not bad, considering I’m still learning new ones.

I’d still be lost if you sent me a message in Morse code though!



Big bag are great for holding all kinds of things, from tents to clothing, with everything in between. This is a great tutorial on making a large bag.  If you are looking for more outdoors-worthy fabrics, check out Seattle Fabrics, but be warned–good fabric is not cheap!

Weekend designer

lifewithbirdbag_notcotFeatured: Turtle Tote by LIFEwithBIRD

An exercise in stylish functionality by Aussie line LIFEwithBIRD. A roomy, oversized canvas carryall, it can seamlessly go from work to after-hours party to weekend getaway, all without missing a beat. Here is a similar carpetbag version easy to draft and make up for your daytripping.

You will need:

  • 1 ¾ yds. [1.5m] canvas or upholstery fabric, 54” [137 cm] wide
  • 1 heavy-duty zipper, 18” [46 cm] long
  • 1 ½ yds. [1.4 m] heavy webbing, 2” [50 mm] wide
  • All-purpose thread
  • Cardboard
  • Kraft paper

DESIGN TIP:Match zipper colour with webbing strap colour.

DIMENISONS: approx. 20” X 10” X 15”   (51 cm X 25.5 cm X 38 cm)


bag draft

Add ½” [12mm] seam allowances to all pattern pieces.


layCut 2 of each piece in fabric.

Cut 2 straps from webbing – 26” long

Cut a rectangle 20” X 10” in…

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A Perfect Tent and 16 Wishes

The perfect tent means many things to many people.  There is immense variety in the tents manufactured for sale, from price to design to size.

So what makes a perfect tent then?

It depends on your needs!

We car camp these days, as disabilities restrict how far or fast we can go anywhere.  That means we don’t need an ultra-lightweight tent to stuff into a backpack as we trek for miles through unspoiled wilderness.  With that said, we do camp primarily in fall, winter, and spring in the South, when insects and summer’s heat & humidity give us a much needed break.  While four season tents are rated to manage  a snow load, withstand winds, ventilate condensation, and keep in as much heat as possible, a four season tent doesn’t work well for camping in the South.  Even in the “cooler” seasons, we need more ventilation and greater flexibility with ventilation to keep a tent comfortable.  We also invariably deal with one or more downpours of rain during each camping trip, which means waterproofing and storm resistance are critical factors in whether we’re going to like a tent or not.  (It also means we always carry at least one spare tarp for going over a tent!)

For six or seven years, we’ve been using an instant tent, one of the first ones to hit the market.  I bought it as a clearance item in a big box discount store, paying about $30 for the tent.  I’m not sure how many people it was originally rated for, but we all know that those ratings are counting very slender, petite people who really truly like each other and don’t mind sleeping up close and personal.  Since most of us don’t have families like that, we seek out tents that are rated higher than what our families really measure.

In our case, it’s a couple with three dogs who often camp in what most people would call utterly miserable camping weather.  Sometimes we camp in campgrounds with amenities such as electricity, and other times, we’re camping primitive.  This tent holds the equivalent of a queen size bed and a four foot table, although we have to fold the bed back to make room for chairs inside.  We can put two dog crates under the table, and the third dog sleeps where ever she finds a comfy spot (she’s old and a big girl.)  We’ve actually used it in sub-freezing temperatures both in campgrounds and primitive environments, and find that it is drafty with its mesh roof if there is a breeze at all.  In summer, it’s unbearably hot and stuffy even at night inside.  The absolutely worst feature is the tiny eyebrow pole that is supposed to keep the rain fly suspended outward from the outwardly sloping door.  It never does, resulting in water pooling over the door on the fly, and that invariably dumps as someone goes in or out of the tent door, flooding into the tent, along with whatever rain is coming down.  It’s a dreadful door design for a tent in a rainy climate.

In addition, it does not have a full coverage fly, which means that the outwardly sloping walls are the victims of the falling rain, as well as any rain running off of the rain fly, and believe me, in the South, there is plenty.  We’ve repeatedly treated the tent with sprays to waterproof the lower half of the walls, but we usually have some leakage despite that.

Decades of camping in a wide variety of climates, weather, and terrains has taught me a lot about tents and what I don’t like.  Unfortunately, tent designers & manufacturers don’t come flocking to my door asking my opinion.  So if I was actually going to design my own tent, what features would I include?

  1. Instant set up  Yes, I know that this means that it is going to be a heavy tent.  However, for car camping, instant set up means more time to have fun and less time spent getting the tent pitched correctly.  We’re also not as young or as able as we once were, and instant means we can do it without any help, a very important feature and one which is likely to have immense appeal with an aging American population.
  2. Bathtub floor I know some people hate these, but camping in the rain means that a downpour can leave water standing because it is coming down too fast to drain away.  In those situations, if you don’t have a bathtub floor, you will have a leaking seam.  The bathtub floor is essential.
  3. Replaceable parts/repair kits  Tent poles and even the joints on instant tents can have accidents.  There should be an easy way to replace damaged joints or poles, even if the damage happens due to operator error.  We had ours damaged when friends were helping take it down and forced a joint.  We’ve also had to patch a tent wall where the pole had rubbed during transport, causing a hole.  If you read reviews on instant tents, the lack of repair/replacement parts is one source of many complaints.
  4. Close-able windows Windows that can be opened or closed, depending on the weather, from the inside.  Whoever thought that making windows operable from the outside was a good idea is an idiot or has never gone camping and had a rainstorm blow in at 3 a.m.  Windows make it possible to get better airflow through a tent when the weather is warm.  It also allows for ventilating during cooler weather as needed.
  5. No mesh roof  I know that the mesh roofs are used to reduce weight and cost on tents, as well as automatically vent condensation.  However, if the weather is cool, I don’t like feeling like I’m standing outside with a continual cool breeze.  These roof vents need to have close-able panels to adjust ventilation as needed, using a breathable fabric.
  6. 2 doors Having a tent with two doors is immensely useful, especially if it is somewhat cramped inside due to more gear or bad weather.  It makes it easier to exit/enter without disturbing your partner.  However, whichever idiot thought two doors, side by side on the same side was a great idea is also not too bright.  One front door, one back or side door, and it would be a better design.
  7. 2 zipper pulls on each door It may seem silly, but I vastly prefer a D-door with a continuous zipper and 2 zipper pulls.  That leaves me options as to how to zip/unzip to make it easier for us to enter/exit.  They also close with fewer entry points for the biting insects that plague us.
  8. Vestibules  Even though we’re not backpacking, we still appreciate a usable vestibule.  That translates to big enough to come in out of the rain, take off rain gear/muddy shoes, and then step into the tent without bringing the outdoors in with us.  Nobody makes a tent that has a vestibule of this size with anything resembling “instant” either.  The vestibule should also open on the side, remaining a wind & weather break for the door even when the vestibule door is open.  There should be equal sized vestibules for both doors on a tent as well, allowing for dry-ish storage of gear.  The vestibule also means that the door does not need the weather seal that so easily ends up caught in the zipper, causing frustration and aggravation as we work to clear it again.
  9. E-port that zips or velcros closed  This may seem like an idiotic thing for a die-hard camper, but sometimes, we all enjoy a bit of “luxury”.  Being able to bring in a power cord conveniently without inviting in the creepy-crawlies is a great thing then.  It’s also a great idea for it to be close-able to the point that insects, snakes, & rodents don’t see it as an open invitation when primitive camping and it is unneeded too.
  10. Ground vent/air conditioning port Okay, I’ll confess, this is something that I would have once scoffed at the idea of adding.  However, I can no longer tolerate heat at all, which is why we are no longer camping at all during the warmer season.  I have to have a place to cool off during the day, as well as a cool place to sleep.  In the South, that is not going to happen from May through September.  That would normally force me to either choose an RV or travel trailer or to stay home.  With the ability to add a small window air conditioner easily and affordably, I could still opt for campground camping in the summer when family and friends are enjoying the Great Outdoors too.  At this point, I have only found one manufacturer that makes a couple of tents with this feature.  If the ground port also has a mesh to zip closed, it would work well in the shoulder season to help with ventilation without air conditioning as well.
  11. Size Granted, we’re just one couple but we do have a lot of stuff that goes along camping, including three dogs.  We also have a knack of camping in foul weather, which means we end up confined inside for meals and leisure too.  (We have rain gear so we do go do stuff even in the rain.)  Whether we are sleeping on a pallet on the floor, using cots, or one of us is off on our own adventure, we still need some space.  In foul weather, we’re also going to have a couple of dog crates, a 4′ table, 2 chairs, our bed(s), a cooler, and some assorted gear.  Sloping sides reduces the actual amount of floor space, but experience has taught us that 8×12′ is a good size, and 10×15′ is a better size with vertical walls.  For sloped walls, we add a foot typically.  Anything less than 8′ means that it may be too narrow to accommodate our bed without someone hitting a wall with foot or head.    We also like about 6’2″ for headroom, as we are getting old enough that standing or dressing in a crouched position is asking for grief.
  12. Hang loops Every tent ceiling should have at least one and preferably two loops for hanging a lightweight battery operated lantern for illumination.  Adding one in each vestibule is also a great idea.   It makes everything easier if you aren’t trying to do things with a  flashlight in one hand or via a headlamp.  This is also a very cheap little add-on for a tent, but few manufacturers include it.
  13. Gear pockets If I can only have one, can I please have it alongside the main entrance?  That would be the ideal location for essentials such as keys, flashlight, glasses, etc., not at the furthest point from the door.  Ideally, there would be one by each door.  Other locations such as under windows would be nice, but the door…that’s where the one-and-only should be located!
  14. Attic While it can’t hold much weight, the attic is a fantastic place to put small, lightweight items that you want dry, safe, and where you can find them, such as your medication, cell phone or spare glasses.  It also moves them up out of reach of small hands (we do have a grandchild.)
  15. Rain fly Single wall tents in rainy climates don’t fly–they are apt to leak.  That makes the rain fly essential, and it becomes important to have a full coverage fly in cold weather too.  Make the fly adjustable and then the tent is actually 4 season, by allowing a section on each side, like over a window, to be unzipped or rolled up, for better ventilation.  Just ensure that the fly rolls under rather than over, to remain a waterproof barrier that sheds water during a thunderstorm.  When fully expanded and staked down, a good full coverage fly minimizes breezes entering at the edge of the fly by staking down near the base of the tent and/or tightly to the ground.
  16. Sturdy and reliable Nobody likes a tent that fails them at a critical time, and nobody carries a spare tent just-in-case either.  I also expect my tents to last a minimum of five years with regular use and proper care.  That means UV resistant fabrics, strong seams, good workmanship, and high quality components such as zippers and poles.

Obviously, nobody makes such a tent.  So what can I do?  Actually, there are an amazing number of options if I’m willing to modify a more standard (or should we say sub-standard) tent to meet my requirements.  I guess that would be another post though!

Stay tuned and I’ll get back to that!



Emergency preparation with common sense

Nearly a year ago, I wrote a book called “Being Prepared Without Being A Kook.”  It was my antidote to the stereotype that most people stick on anyone who identifies as being a “prepper”.  This stigma has all preppers as people who are preparing for the “end of the world.”  In truth, preppers come from a variety of economic statuses, career choices, areas, ethnic backgrounds, and ideology.  They are inclined to be interested in sustainability and outdoor activities as well.

My basic theory is that the end of the world actually makes life as we know it truly impossible.  As humans, we don’t survive in the vacuum of space.  Therefore, if our planet is destroyed, we’re not going to survive.  End of story.

That does not mean that emergency preparation is a waste of time, effort, and money either.  I am a firm believer in the value of emergency preparation, and in the old days, it was simply common sense and “being prepared” in general.  A hundred years ago, almost everyone would have qualified as a prepper, as they stocked their pantries to live comfortably through long winters, and put things up to have supplies for a rainy day or hard times.

Today, most people have less than a week’s worth of food in their house.  Most cities, even without rushes on the grocery store shelves, have about three days of food within their borders.  It does not take a rocket scientist to come up with a dozen or more ways that new supplies could not arrive in a town or city, or that stores were not open to sell goods in an area.  Add in situations when it would be physically impossible to get to a store to purchase additional items, and the situation quickly can become more than inconvenient.

Granted, I live on the Gulf Coast (although inland now) and I lived in Greater New Orleans for Katrina, so I have a different perspective on nowhere to buy anything than someone in Iowa or Oklahoma would.  Each area has their own potential disasters that are more than a remote possibility, and those all influence how and why someone should be prepared.

Tonight, I interviewed Brian Breedwell from Southern Preppers on the Dawn of Shades.  (The recorded program is here.)  Southern Preppers is having an expo in Oxford, Alabama on September 5-7th, 2014 focusing on sustainability, emergency preparation, and homesteading.  All of these go hand in hand with the common sense approach to managing emergency preparation, since it is really about being practical rather than tactical.  It isn’t what people expect in terms of the prepper stereotype, but rather focused specifically on being practical.  There are no gun vendors in attendance, but there are vendors with everything from a home freeze drying unit to grain grinders and long term storage food going to be in attendance.  They will also be offering a long list of classes, also free of charge, just like admission to the expo is free to attendees.

Oxford Alabama is about four hours away, far enough away that few things would tempt me, but this sounds like an expo worth attending, just to see the vendors!

Like most people today, I’m a savvy shopper online.  It saves me immensely in terms of time and gasoline when I don’t have to chase down elusive products that are on my shopping list, whether its freeze dried fruit, powdered butter, or a new backpacking stove.  At the same time, I don’t know every single product on the market for use in the outdoors or for emergency prep.  I also don’t know what is new or the latest-and-greatest, let alone what these items are priced at.  Seeing the vendors means I can get a feel for how the company is to deal with (I love great customer service!) as well as what products are going to make it to the top of our own wish list or simply sitting there until the cows come home or our ships come in, whichever the case may be.

Then, there are the other attendees to expos.  It’s an opportunity to meet like-minded people and have real conversations.  I can hear what they like or don’t like, what worked great for them, and what didn’t as well.  I can find out about a lot of things in relatively short order when I get the chance to be face-to-face with other customers too.  I have always loved the other attendees at special events and conventions for that reason alone.

Offering free classes on a variety of topics is a bonus.  Most of these classes will typically run $1o or more, sometimes pushing the $100 mark, and having a chance to take as many as I like (and have time for) without paying any fee at all is a huge bonus!  Each one is also an expert in their field, not merely some guy who has done it once or twice.  That’s also a benefit that can’t be beat.

Take a look at their website–it’s worth your time.  If you live close enough or are inclined to a September road trip, consider attending this expo, especially if you are like me and interested in things like sustainability, homesteading, and emergency preparation.  There is also plenty that falls in the camping category too. It’s a great opportunity, and one that isn’t found as often as we would like to see them happen.

Camping in the rain

I can’t believe that the entire month of May vanished before I got around to posting anything!

It’s not that I haven’t been DOING anything though.

Get Ready Go, as in the social group, has had two camp outs this spring, but the most recent one was in the rain.  That meant that almost everyone except a couple of diehards (like me and the Mississippi Hippy) chickened out.  I honestly don’t mind camping in the rain, as long as I am prepared.  It’s a different experience, and while there are times it can be frightening (lots of wind and lightning are scary) when it’s just a normal rainy weekend, it’s quiet and sort of peaceful.

So what do you do when it’s raining and you are camping?

Being prepared is important.  I know that my tent, which is aging, leaks like a sieve.  I still stayed dry because I cover it with a tarp–a simple solution to the leaking issue.  If you know you are facing rain, bringing along a tarp is a great idea–leaks can spring unexpectedly, and it’s a quick solution to toss a tarp over your tent and tie it down with some cord and stakes.  It can save your weekend.

Don’t forget the footprint either.  I don’t care how new or expensive your tent is, when the ground is wet, there is going to be some moisture migrating through the floor and into your bed.  Nothing makes camping in the rain hit sheer misery faster than even a damp bed, and heaven forbid that it is actually wet.  Go cheap–a sheet of plastic (like a painter’s drop cloth) or an inexpensive lightweight tarp will work fine.  Just remember, never let the edges of your footprint extend beyond the edge of your floor or it will actually channel rain water under your tent, increasing the likelihood of moisture migrating into the tent.  The footprint also keeps your tent floor cleaner on the outside, with fewer bugs as well as less mud and debris, ending up stuck as you are packing up to leave.

Bring a canopy or tarp for your eating and cooking area.  This means you have somewhere other than your tent to sit out of the rain.  It also gives you a place to cook and eat without contaminating your tent with food odors.  (bad news in bear country)  This is essential when group camping too, and even if it doesn’t rain, it ensures a place out of the sun for hanging out, cooking, and eating.  In rain, the bigger the better, as long as it is supported so that rain does not pool on top.  (Water is heavy and can collapse a frame or rip a canopy roof or tarp.)  If the wind is blowing, an additional tarp can become a side wall, blocking the wind and rain from your eating and cooking area.  Just remember, in high winds, this tarp is going to be like a sail and may result in disaster!

Use weather proof containers for storage.  Even if you aren’t leaving items sitting out under your canopy when not in use, you do have to get food and dining gear to and from the vehicle to the canopy and back again.  Containers that are actually weather resistant can make a huge difference.  However, make sure that lids are on and secured.  The best container cannot protect anything if someone forgets to put the lid on the container, and you can just about bet that the rain will find its way in.

For dry goods, such as coffee, sugar, and creamer (hot items at our camp outs) make sure that they are in easy to use containers that are also easy to reclose.  Seasonings, especially salt, don’t like rainy weather.  Try sealing small amounts in a plastic straw to use as you need it, reducing the chances of an entire container being ruined by wet weather.

Of course, don’t forget the rain gear.  Ponchos are great for easy on/off, as well as one-size-fits-all, but aren’t so good for long walks in the rain if there is a breeze.  Rain coats & pants offer best protection for extended periods of time in the rain.

Quick drying clothing & shoes make for a better experience if it is on/off rain.  Rain resistant clothing helps for extended rainy periods.  Don’t forget a spare pair of shoes–soggy footwear can cause blisters and sore feet, as well as being simply miserable to be stuck wearing.  I love the rubber/plastic clogs for rainy camping trips–they wipe dry and are great for slogging around the campsite in.

Bring some old towels or a microfiber towel.  Those fake chamois-like cloths can soak up a LOT of water to help dry out a tent if it leaks, has rain come through a door, or has water tracked in due to heavy rain.  Soaking up water from foot traffic in and out goes a long ways towards keeping everyone happy.

Get your bed up off the floor when you aren’t in it.  Tent floors are also what we all walk on, and it is inevitable that mud and water will get tracked in during the day as needed items are retrieved from the tent.  Use something to get bedding up off of the floor, whether it is a dry camp chair, a crate, plastic container, cot, or even a big plastic garbage bag.

Avoid going in and out of the tent as much as possible.  It really helps reduce debris, water, and mud from getting tracked in.

Pack a microfiber sheet or microfleece throw/blanket into zip lock or vacuum packed bags.  This makes great emergency bedding if someone’s bedding does get wet or damp.  The bags make sure the bedding stays dry until you really need it.

Bring along some fire starters, whether its cotton balls dipped in petroleum jelly or pine cones dipped in wax or whatever your preference is.  Campfires are useful for drying out damp shoes, warming after getting caught in a rain, or just for ambiance.  Wet wood, on the other hand, is not cooperative about burning just because you are chilled, and fire starters are very useful for encouraging its cooperation.  Having a good fire starting kit with fire starters, dry kindling, matches, etc. is always a good idea on any camping trip.  These are easy to assemble, and compact to carry.

Don’t forget some large garbage bags.  These can be immensely useful for everything from packing up wet gear & keeping your car dry to using as impromptu rain ponchos.

Traveling with a dog or two? Keep in mind that they get wet & cold too.  You’ll need extra towels for frequent toweling off.  Rain gear for dogs does help, but you will still need a towel to clean feet and legs, as well as to do additional drying off.  A wet dog running into a tent can soon have EVERYTHING soaked, so keep them on leash, dry them off at the door, and discourage puddle jumping!

Entertainment on rainy camping trips is tricky.  Electronics are fussy about getting wet–take care to protect them, whether its a tablet, phone, or hand held game.  Cards also don’t like moisture.  A good substitute for cards? Try dominoes.  They stay put in the wind, recover from getting wet well (buy plastic ones) and are very durable.  Dice games are another idea, although keeping score on paper can become a bit soggy.  Storytelling is a traditional rainy weather activity that works well.  So is singing!

Some things to skip?

Don’t bother with the old fashioned recommendation to “trench” around your tent.  It isn’t going to do much for channeling water away from your tent, and it does damage the environment.  In addition, if you are in a campground, you will have very unhappy park rangers!  It’s also a lot of work with little pay off with our modern tents.

Do look up and around before selecting your campsite.  Are there dead branches overhead? Trees that are likely to fall if the ground becomes saturated?  Dead trees? All of these are referred to as “widow makers” and for good reason.  Avoid camping near them.

Look around the campground.  Is water pooling in your campsite?  Don’t put your tent on low ground–it will flood and inevitably get you wet.  Don’t put it in the path of run off either–the last thing you want is a new creek to appear in your tent!  You also need to avoid low ground near creeks and rivers–they can have rising waters appear unexpectedly, resulting in disaster.

Don’t get into swollen creeks and rivers.  The currents are swifter than they look, and drownings happen every year.  This is true on foot or in a vehicle–avoid flood water.  Discourage your pets from getting in as well–they also can be swept away and drowned.

Having a positive attitude goes a long ways towards enjoying camping, even when its raining.  Whining and complaining about the weather is not going to change it, or make anybody happy.  Just grin and bear it!  I find I enjoy the more peaceful experience immensely, as the more boisterous campers seem to be water soluble and tend to pack up and head home.  At the same time, when weather turns severe, as can happen in the summer, be prepared to abandon camp and seek more secure shelter.

Hammock Camping–What’s the fuss all about?

First of all, let me state one minor fact right up front.

I am not a hammock camping expert.  I’ve only spent one successful (sort of) night in a hammock, and that was a cotton hammock that turned out to be far too warm for a hot, muggy summer night in Florida.  The hammock didn’t fail, so much as the user failed to use her brain cells to realize that thick cotton fabric might “breathe” but it would also not let a breeze cool it down and it would absorb moisture too.

I can say that I know experts, and I have consulted with them as I try to set up an efficient and comfortable hammock sleep system, mostly because the idea has so much merit.


So moving right along…

There’s a lot of techno-geek jargon used by the hammock camping crowd that IS intimidating to the newbie.  They scare the hell out of me with their prusik knots and night eyes.  Seriously.

Figure 9? I am just well educated enough to realize that all carabiners are not created equally and that cord and rope both are rated by how much weight will break them.  I know that a rope or cord with frayed strands has lost strength and can’t be counted on, and that abrasion can cause that fraying too.

I also know that rope will abrade a tree’s bark whereas a strap, even 1″ wide, will not.  That’s because of how the stress is distributed, as well as the shape of the stress distribution system (round rope versus flat strap).  I’m also smart enough to realize that abrading a tree’s bark is akin to a human skinning their elbows or knees–it’s an opportunity for the tree to lose “blood” (sap) as it flows through the cambium layer beneath, as well as presents an opportunity for insects and disease to infect the tree.  In other words, it’s a no-no, just like driving nails into trees is a no-no, and it does not matter how many times we deal with a tree that has been damaged that way by some inconsiderate idiot, it’s still wrong.  Responsible campers NEVER damage living trees with their chainsaws, saws, axes, hatchets, hammers, ropes, or nails. Period.

It’s because of those inconsiderate idiots that many parks and campgrounds absolutely and totally forbid hanging hammocks, (along with anything else) even with appropriate tree straps, from the trees.  I am told that some states are relaxing that somewhat, but using strict guidelines about the width of the tree strap.  Right now, I’m using ratchet straps that are 1″ wide, but unfortunately made of nylon.

Nylon, it turns out, is a bad thing for hammock hangers.  It stretches.  While we may like the fact that our too-tight pants will stretch out with wear again, in a hammock it has an unfortunate effect.  You start off the appropriate 18″ from the ground, with your properly hung tarp to protect you from the rain that is beginning to fall.  You’ve done everything right.

Or so you think.

About 2 a.m., you wake up.  You are cold and wet, your hammock is now hanging low enough that your butt and torso are on the ground, the rain has soaked you from the ground, and is coming in on top too because you are now too far from your tarp.  Even if you have somewhere dry to creep off to, as well as dry clothes to put on, your night has been interrupted with an unexpected cold shower…without the soap.

So, I have learned.  No nylon.  Poly is my friend.

I wish knots were as easy.  I have a bunch of them to figure out.  I’m regretting my misspent youth when I regarded macrame as foolish and boring too.  At least I would have learned SOME knots there.

I have learned about hammocks a bit.  Like what to do when there are no trees that you can use as the foundation for your hammock sleep systems.  While I was recently gifted with a pair of stands, they were homemade ones.  Here is a photo showing a commercially produced set that breaks down to a much more transportable size for car camping.


I’m not certain of the manufacturer–I know this is an ENO hammock set up with hammock, bug net, and tarp.  I also know that the user was high and dry despite a rainy night, while those of us in tents dealt with leaks.

I knew that I had a rainfly that did little to keep water out, and had covered my tent with a tarp.  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me, two of the stakes had either had the cord broken by someone running into it during the night or had pulled out of the ground (probably for the same reason) resulting in the one end of the tent leaking water in.  I put reflective cord on my wish list as a result.  Even high visibility bright yellow had not prevented it from being run into.

The other tent used a poly tarp for its floor and did not have a built in floor.  It was a lesson that even though a poly tarp may not have holes, it may not be waterproof anymore.  The old tarp, faded from much use for many things, had become permeable, resulting in water flowing upwards through the tarp, soaking the floor.  Since its occupants were on cots, it was not a major disaster there either, although they did have a lot of items to dry out, including their boxer’s sleeping bag which had become completely saturated.  We actually dragged it home with us, to use for the non-waterproofing projects that a tarp can be useful for.  (Like moving leaves, soil amendment mixing, covering the ground to work on a project without getting as dirty, etc.)

I also learned that even though I had also bought a Hammaka hammock, from the same retailer even, as one of the experts, my hammock was not rigged the same.  Instead of having a circular loop through the end, mine was simply a doubled strand pushed through the end with a knot on one side and a loop on the other.  I had bought mine about two years after he had bought his, and  apparently, they had gone to a quicker method of inserting the rigging.  That meant that it pulled incorrectly, making it prone to the bucking that had me performing gymnastics unexpectedly.  A properly rigged hammock, it turns out, will have a very tight “C” shape that nearly closes on the top.  The hook that was provided to hang the hammock also has a loop that is supposed to be closed, but…the rigging rope pulled through it anyhow, resulting in frayed strands.  It too will need to be replaced.

I’ll confess.  I’m not sure what I should use to re-rig the hammocks.  I’m not even sure what I should use for the cord that ensures that the hammock has the right amount of sag–something the YouTube videos didn’t ever show me, but it turned out to be important in setting up.

Live and learn, right?

There are some issues with hammocks that I’d want to address, with or without stands.  Things like space for cooking and gear in the rain.  We live in the South, and along with our hot humid nights, we have frequent thunderstorms.  That alone is inspiration for perfecting the use of stands–have you ever seen a lightning struck tree literally blow up?  I have.  It’s loud and it provides a LOT of toothpicks, kindling, and firewood too.  I’d really rather not be attached to one when it happened.

I’d also like to have a place to put my pack and shoes so that come morning, they are still dry.  Granted, I could just carry along big garbage bags and use those…but I’d rather not.  We car camp, as we are no longer spring chickens, but we do like to keep it as compact as possible.  (Our SUV is full of dogs, actually.  We have 3, and 2 of them travel in crates, while the third one occupies the back seat.  We also like taking our granddaughter, who occupies part of the back seat with her car seat, and also needs gear!)

I have a goal, along with an action plan.  I’m starting off small–perfecting hanging the hammock from the stands.  When I master one, we’ll duplicate the stand and set up a second hammock.  We’ll then address the child hammock, and likely do one for our old dog too–she wants to sleep in mine with me, but in summer, it’s just too hot!  Then, we’ll figure out what will make a workable “tent” over the stands.  For my prototype, due to the cost of ripstop nylon, I’ll likely use either sheet plastic or Tyvec before going to a longer lasting actual nylon tent.

Keep your eyes peeled at campgrounds, you never know when you’ll see a strange Tyvec tent set up on hammock stands with a bunch of dogs and a kid set up one weekend!


The Big Book of Camping Hacks, Hints & Help

It’s hot off of the press, folks, and in time for the camping season of 2014.  It’s also available in both Kindle and print format, making it accessible to everyone.

Yes, it’s The Big Book of Camping Hacks, Hints, & Help.  Lots of ideas and new things to try too.  It also has two different covers–one for digital and one for print, but inside the covers, they are the same book with one minor exception.  The print book is black & white, whereas the digital version has color photos.  Overall, that’s a fairly minor change between the two editions.

Here is the digital version‘s cover:

KDP cover


And here is the print edition‘s cover:

Book full cover


Which cover do you prefer?  Why do you like it better?

We may all say we should not judge a book by its cover, but in reality, we all do.  These covers are rather straightforward and plain, but the contents are also straightforward and plain in terms of delivering information about camping.  It has ideas about activities, including rainy day ones, as well as advice on choosing a campsite and a long list of other information and ideas to use while camping.  It’s like having your own experienced camper riding along in your backseat!

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