How to go camping: Part 1 – Introduction

I’ve recently noticed a disturbing trend. On Monday mornings, people ask me what I did over the weekend. I tell them I went camping, and they say “Oh, I’ve never been camping before.” I find this absolutely incredible. Occasionally, they decide they’d like to try camping sometime, and ask me where to buy a tent.

Running off half-cocked to the sporting goods store is a sure recipe for unhappy camping. So, I thought I’d write a series of blog entries explaining how to go camping for complete novices.

First off, let’s define what camping is, and what the point of it is. Camping is when you go outside and sleep over. The point of camping is to escape from your house. Your house is full of all sorts of bullshit that you’re better off without, at least for a short time. There is television, phone calls, bills to pay, leaky faucets that need fixing, Facebook, etc. The point of camping is to say “fuck all this bullshit” and get the hell away.

This is an important thing to remember when you’re deciding what to bring with you on your camping trip. The more stuff you bring, the less you’re getting away from.

You can’t get away from it all if you bring it all with you.

Bring as little as you need to be safe and comfortable for the conditions you are likely to encounter. The more time you spend setting up and tearing down your campsite, the less time you have to actually be camping.

No Campers!
Do not buy a camper. This is worse than not camping at all. Now you’ve got a whole other house full of bullshit to worry about.

I think it’s best to imagine a mythic, idyllic camping trip that requires absolutely no gear at all, and work your way up; only bringing the gear necessary to mitigate problems that are likely to arise when the real world differs from camping paradise.

The Idyllic, Mythical Camping Experience:

  1. It never rains.
  2. There are no mosquitoes.
  3. The ground is as soft and comfortable as a feather bed.
  4. The overnight temperature is warm enough to sleep naked with no blankets.
  5. The forest is full of fruit trees and wild berries, so you never have to cook or do dishes. Bears will not try to eat your dinner.
  6. You never have to go poop.
  7. You are a Zen master — totally content to sit and commune with nature. You never get bored.

The Real-World Camping Experience:

  1. It sometimes rains.
  2. Sometimes there are mosquitoes.
  3. Sometimes the ground is hard, cold, and/or lumpy.
  4. Sometimes it gets cold at night.
  5. You’re probably going to get hungry, and hungry forest creatures might try to steal your dinner.
  6. You will have to go to the bathroom.
  7. You might get bored.

In the Idyllic camp-out, you simply walk naked and empty-handed into the wilderness, sleep on the ground, and walk home when you’re done. You need no equipment at all. In the real world you will probably need one or two pieces of gear.

Not to worry, though. The problems presented by the real world require surprisingly little equipment to mitigate. My kit for an overnight trip in the woods weighs about 20 pounds, and fits in a small backpack. I can carry essentially the same kit in my bicycle panniers, or in the bilge of my kayak.

I’ll go over what you need and when you’ll need it as we go along.

Next up: What if it rains?

Indexed Shifting on the Karate Monkey

I was having a little bit of trouble friction shifting the 9 speed cassette on the Monkey, so I ordered some of these new fangled Shimano “SIS” shifters.

Deore XT Shifters

I was afraid they were going to be hard to set up. I’ve never really had much luck with indexing before.

It took a few readings of the instruction sheet before everything made sense, but they actually work extremely well. I took the Monkey out for a ride in the woods and ran up and down the gears a few dozen times. Everything worked like magic.

Monkey in the woods.

I was also worried about not being able to trim the front dérailleur. This didn’t seem to be a problem, though. I’m not really sure how Shimano makes it so you never need to trim, but I don’t remember hearing any rubbing noises; no matter what screwball gear combinations I tried.

Anyhow, I only have 20 miles on this configuration, and I did clean and lube the chain this morning. So, this is probably the best possible scenario to test it under. That said: I like it. I really like it.

I’m going to take the 9 speed barcons I had on this bike and move them to the Trek, so I can index that, too. I’m not going to switch to STI on my touring bike. That would be ridiculous.

Half Time Report

So, it’s half way through the year, more or less. I thought I should log where I stand on the resolutions I made for 2011.

The plan was to lose 1 pound per week, and ride 35 miles per week. This is week 27, so I should be -27 pounds, and have 945 miles. As it turns out, I’m -36 pounds and have 489 miles for the year.

I had hoped to be a bit further along on both fronts by this point in the year, but, all things considered, I’m still pretty happy with myself.

Further Thoughts on My New Tent

Since the last time I wrote about my new tent, I’ve spent two nights in it; both car-camping excursions.

On one of the two trips, it rained. It poured. Like Apocalyptic, build-an-ark rain. Everything inside was dry as a bone. The ventilation is awesome. I had no condensation problems sleeping inside during the monsoon.


Tent at Gifford Pinchot State Park

I think I need to retract, or least, modify my earlier statement about its roominess, though. I don’t think it’s really big enough to share with another dude without it feeling gay. Maybe if you laid head to feet, it might be ok. If there was a blizzard outside, or you were something appropriately manly, like climbing Everest or hunting Grizzly Bears, then it might not be gay.

It’s probably the ideal size to share with a lady, however. Though I’ve not as yet had any volunteers to test this theory.

Now that I’ve set it up a few times, I can get it pitched in about 5 minutes. The poles are a little bit confusing at first, because there are funny hubs holding them together, and it’s easy to try to put them in backwards.

I think I’m going to order the footprint for it next payday. You are supposedly able to set the thing up with just the footprint and the fly. Then you can crawl inside and set the actual tent part up without getting it wet. This sounds like one of those things that works in theory, but won’t work in practice. We’ll see.

At any rate, this tent rocks. Throw a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir in it, and it’s as comfortable as my bed at home. The NeoAir, btw, ranks right up there with indoor plumbing as one of the greatest inventions in the history of the world, but that’s a story for another day.