To The Spectrum of our Lives Formerly Pete's Family Camping Page Send Email
Why do we camp?
In the Name of Sanity
A word on Courtesy
In Search of the Perfect Campsite
Tent Topics
Packing the Kitchen
Ice and Coolers
Favorite Recipes
Packing the Clothes
Facing the Cold
Facing the Bugs
Building your fire

The Kitchen Ice & Coolers Tent Topics Dining Shelter The Galley Tarping Wash your hands! The Fire Our gear trailer Search the campsite for selected links.

Quick Getaways
Bears Raccoons and Other Friends
Wheels....a.k.a. "The Campmaster 2000"
Wheel Bearings
Wash Your Hands!
Dining Shelter
The Galley
If it rains....
Caring for your Pets While Away
A Favorite Photo Opportunity
We Have GAS!
A Busmans Holiday

We are a family of 4 that began camping in 1995. My wife and I camp with our two daughters ages 10 and 13. Our camping experiences have been centered around "Family Campgrounds", that usually offer some activities and amenities. We have yet to do any hard-core wilderness camping, perhaps soon now that the girls are getting older. Our camping outings are a mix of camping as we travel and simple weekends away from home, including 1 or 2 mom and dad only outings. We have decided to stay with tenting as opposed to a pop-up or something more closely resembling a house on wheels.

Our first year out we logged 30 nights with our longest trip being 10 nights. In 1996 we made it to 45 nights, with the longest trip being 15 nights. We have extended our season from May 1st weekend to Columbus day. Year 3 (1997) brought a new job with less vacation time but we still managed to be out for 34 nights including 2 "8 nighters". Being in southern Maine this means that we are dealing with some freezing cold nights. We have had many a morning where the spigot on the site was frozen. You learn to draw your morning hot beverage water the night before! Year 2000 will be our sixth season of camping as a family and we are looking forward to every outing like it was our first. As usual it will be a combination of camping on the road as we travel as well as some quick weekend getaways at nearby places we know and love.

If you have any ideas or comments please mail me I'd like to hear your ideas and comments. And while you're here don't forget to visit the rest of our site.

Why do we camp?
Why do we camp? That's what I want to share in this section. After all it costs money, takes preparation and we have no TV, so why? Vegetation falls in your plate, you sleep near the ground and have to share the bathroom with who knows who, so why?

After we got married my wife talked about wanting to go camping. I said ya ya ya, thinking it would pass. After we had our 2 daughters and the oldest was almost 5 we decided to have a yard sale and clear out the baby paraphernalia. We earmarked the proceeds for camping gear. After a few shopping trips we were ready to dip our toes into camping.

What we discovered was a whole other world not far from home one that took me totally by surprise. After our third outing I was hooked in a big way. We have weekends out of the house, and for a modest cost. We travel for weeks at a time for a fraction of what motel lodging would cost us. But these aren't the most important things.

Our kid's have developed the confidence to come into a campground where they are strangers and soon have friends. That's a skill that is bound to serve them well as they go through life. They learn to experience the freedom and responsibility of having room to roam, much like we were able to do on the streets of our hometowns a generation ago. They face the challenge of the day along with us and together we make the best of it all. We get to spend quality time as a family and in the midst of it all we have room to breathe. Along the way we have met many wonderful interesting people.

Mount Katadin viewed across Upper Jo-Mary lake
A room with a view for $16. a night !
Then there are the precious moments. One of my favorite times is walking back from the showers in the morning. The aroma of breakfasts in the air, sounds of kid's playing and the fresh morning air on my face. Evening fire time is another special time. First with the children, then latter with my wife as we talk, plan and dream under the stars with a warm fire crackling at our feet. Falling asleep to a lullaby from Loons, Whip-or-Wills, Owls or Bullfrogs Sometimes waking early and hearing mother nature starting the day being led by a chorus of birds.

We never know what treats Mother Nature will bestow upon us. It might be Fire Flies that congregate in my daughters hand, the Northern Lights as we sit by a peaceful fire or a flock of geese honking and flying south as we have breakfast below.

The first campground brochures that arrive early in January bring the same smiles that seed catalogs give gardeners in the dead of winter. A chance to daydream of warmer days and happy times only a season away.

Why is the page so long?
I have been writing and building this site since 1996. I forget now what the original topics were but I can say that except for being updated over time they are still here. Over the years I have received mail from a number of readers saying that they have printed the whole page and went out shopping for gear, used it as a field guide on their first outings or passed copies to friends not on the internet yet. With this in mind I have made it a point to keep this page a single document. I do have several back pages that include
Our list of CAMPING GEAR as well as the ever popular Ten steps to being a Totally Obnoxious Camper.

In the name of Sanity
Getting out of the house with what you need for an enjoyable outing can be quite a task. When we decided to start camping we made a decision to be setup for it. It meant buying totes and duffel bags and taking the time to make lists. We also continue to scrutinize how we do things. We can be ready for a weeks trip in about two hours with my wife and I preparing. Not counting laundry (which we would have had if we stayed home) unpacking is quicker. A lot of the content of this page is details of how we've dealt with aspects we found challenging and solutions that work for us. Every family has a different perception of camping and how they want to approach it. Likewise we all have different circumstances, vehicles, family size, sports, special needs, budget, etc.etc... I hope you can find some ideas here that will help make your family camping easier and more enjoyable. And if you have Ideas you'd like to share or add please e-mail me, I'd love to hear from you!

Another thing that can save some stress is to pre-flight as much gear as possible, Practice setting up the tent in the yard or park before heading out. Try cooking with the gas stove and learn to do things like install mantles in your lantern. The thing you do not want to do is show up on a campsite and find yourself unpacking gear you've never seen before.

Packing the Kitchen
We have a 30 gallon tote with our camping kitchen in it. Most of the stuff is extras and yard sale type stuff, though we did buy a few things new. We regularly look at what we have and remove items we really don't use. By doing this we've been able to limit what we carry despite adding quite a few gadgets. When we come home from at trip this tote needs minimal attention. We replace the dishcloths and towels after laundering, top off the dishwashing liquid and matches and stock it with a fresh roll of paper towels and that's it. All of our drygoods and canned goods are in a second 30 gallon tote. They are different colors to make recognition easy. In the food tote we have a plastic wastebasket that serves as a "bread box". It keeps the soft breads from getting crushed. These 2 totes stack in our van right over the rear axle since they are some of the heaviest items. The tote's came with "catches" that latched the cover down. They were just ridges that grabbed the box, it was awkward to constantly open these latches so I shaved them away with a wood chisel. We use bungee cords to secure the covers at night and when we're away from the site. If we think a raccoon visit is likely we will put the coolers on top for the night.

We package lots of stuff special for camping. For instance; a large JIF peanut butter jar holds enough Bisquick for several pancake breakfasts. We mark the recipe on the jar with a permanent marker. We have some other dishes that require a mix of spices, we make the spices up ahead of time and have them in small jar or zip-lock bag ready for cooking.

Packing Clothes
We pack all of our clothing in duffel type bags. We each have our own bag and they are all different colors. We also have another bag for coats. The reason being that we often go for a long spell without needing them, having them in a separate bag saves a lot of wear and tear on them. The rain coats also go in this bag. When I pack I have a list and follow it. I set limit of 4 days change of clothes. If the trip is longer than that the laundry routine kicks in and we can go forever. I am partial to packing in duffels for two reasons. First they are fluid and thus I can load the van with better density than with solid luggage. Secondly, they are a lot kinder to the inside of the van.

In each bag we have a smaller duffel bag that is packed empty. We use these when heading to the shower. They are just big enough to take my shaving kit, a change of clothes, and towel and washcloth. This is real handy when the showers are at distance and you want to take your bike there. Also if we leave camp for the day we pack these same bags with a change of clothes in case someone's clothes get soiled, this saves the day often with kids!

My wife also carries a "makeup case" for those things the ladies just have to have. It's a small plastic toolbox! Its waterproof, roomy, plastic so it doesn't beat up the inside of the van and only cost about $6.00. She gets a lot of positive comments on this one. We have a red one just like it under the seat in the van. It's a well stocked first aid kit.

Don't forget that metered (coin operated) showers are fairly common. A Kodak 35mm film container makes a great little container for a stash of quarters in your shower time bag.

Ice and Coolers
Lets start by saying that if at all possible use block ice. We travel with 2 coolers. Both IGLOOS, a Legend 58 and a Legend 62. The Legend 62 is the same as the 58 except it has a high dome lid, giving it the extra 4 quarts capacity. They are red and blue. The legend 58 Is used for beverages and we let it run with a fair amount of ice water in the bottom. The Legend 62 is our "Food cooler" and is kept dryer. We try to have everything prechilled before we pack the coolers. When possible we pack meats frozen, except for the first meal. When we get in to the cool weather we don't have to worry as much. We came home from a Columbus Day Weekend outing with more ice than we left home with. The ice was still solid and some of the food actually froze!

After a few outings we realized it would pay us to run our freezer just to make ice. As it turns out we also started using it for conventional purposes as well and "free" ice was a bonus. For the beverage cooler I make blocks of ice using plastic shoeboxes, they work like jumbo ice cube trays. I fill them 2/3 full when we get home and nearly top them off latter in the week. I take 3 of these blocks on each trip. We free the ice with warm water and leave the "trays" at home. If things are going well I'll often have the next outings ice freezing before we leave. For the food cooler we use 1/2 gallon plastic milk jugs. I start by filling them to where they begin to taper and leave the cover cracked open a bit. Try to get jugs with screw type lids. After this freezes, top them off with some room left for expansion and leave to complete freezing solid. Be sure to close the cap when it's packing time! We lay 4 of these jugs in the bottom of the cooler with the meats in direct contact working our way upwards to produce near the top. The jugs last many trips. On long trips we'll cut the jugs for the remaining ice on the 3rd or 4th day and use it in the beverage cooler. We have collected many "special" bottles for condiments and other items that let us carry the right amount, we refill them when we're home.

Remember if you can get it get BLOCK ice, I've noticed availability varies from region to region. It's a lot easier to keep perishables from getting soaked with block ice. We often buy a block a day keeping the new one for the food and sending the remains to the drink cooler. There are bigger coolers out there but I don't know how you can move them if they are filled. For the sake of portability I'd set a 62 quart limit.

If you have an IGLOO cooler and need parts call IGLOO at 800-364-5566, they'll fix you right up!

Being tenters I suppose we are more sensitive to noise at bedtime. It's really surprising how disruptive a seemingly minor amount of noise can be. So whatever kind of camper you may be please try to remember that many campers are facing a day on the road or a full day of activity in the morning. When the quiet hour comes we are just that, quiet. If we want to stay up we will do so being mindful of noise, In any case we retire within an hour and are therefore "fully silent". This may not be your idea of fun but it's really the only way unless you're really secluded. Ask me I heard you "chatting' till 3:00AM!

My wife and I like hit the showers early. We go to bed with our duffel bags packed for the morning. When we get up we just steal away with our bags, never opening the van. When you want to enjoy the sounds of an early morning nothing shatters the moment like reveille being played with the doors of mini vans!

Here's a pet peeve! LOUD MUSIC.........
Yes we have a radio with us, but we play it for ourselves at a level the won't disturb others. I'm amazed at how many people pull in and crank up the tunes (usually hard rock) like they're all alone.

Let me begin by saying that having the right tool for the job makes one heck of a difference. If you must have one of those jumbo mattresses to sleep on for heavens sake get an INFLATOR. A mattress needs very low air pressure, running one of those car powered compressors is a terrible waste of energy. Worse still they make an awful racket. An inflator is just a blower like a blowdryer without the heat, and it will do the job much faster. I've even seen some blowdryers with a "NO HEAT" setting that come with inflator adapters. The same holds true for most floating tubes and rafts. There are a few things best served by a true air compressor, like big old truck inner tubes.

I'll never forget one night when we had just settled by the fire for the night. There were some late arrivals at a site near us. After thrashing with aluminum poles for 30 minutes the cabin tent was up. Then they started not just one but two air compressors to pump up their mattresses, needless to say the quiet evening was shattered for 45 minutes. Also, keep your eyes open, some campgrounds have a compressed air station (often near their maintenance building) that will let you inflate without any disturbance.

One other great thing about an inflator is that it can usually double as a defaltor, This will let you deflate and pack beach floats very compactly, saving valuable space.

Tent Topics
There is a lot to be said on this topic. Like anything else some is opinion and some is fact. But one thing is for sure, like everything else on this page it is all based on what has worked for us. I'll be adding topics to this section as ideas for the sections come to me, so if seems disorganized for now please understand.

My mom always said, "always buy the best you can afford". That advice is as good as ever when it comes to tents. However that is not to say you have to break the bank. If you are just starting out and you're not sure if this is for you a $99. wonder might just be your ticket, as long as you know its limitations. We did just that, we got 75 nights out of a $99. 9 X 11 hex dome. It's nearly as good as new and we still carry it on the trailer as a spare or for guests. For those 2 years we observed other tents and how we functioned with ours, then this year we spent some serious money. A pair of 4 man tents made a lot of sense for our needs. They offer sleeping space for up to 4 and are easy to set-up.

The girls wanted a tent of their own. We felt OK with this since they took to turning off the night-lights this past winter! We weren't heartbroken about the new-found privacy either! We now have a pair of LL BEAN WOODLANDS-4 tents. I'm not trying to be a BEAN fanatic but it did fill our requirements nicely. Let me list some of the characteristics of the tent and explain them a bit.

  • RECTANGULAR: Sleeping bags and duffels are rectangles, why would you want a Hex shaped tent? A hex is stronger in wind and snow. These were not big issues with us. Our new tents are much easier to organize and things just plain fit better. If you have rectangular pegs what kind of hole would you expect to best fill with them?
  • 4 PERSON: Tents are rated for people sleeping...period. If you want to have your clothing duffel etc. with you add to the head count, start with at least 50% more. We also wanted enough room in the kid' tent so they could have a friend or relative along from time to time. Furthermore it is a 4 person tent, if we are making a 1 night stop on a trip we can all sleep in one tent and minimize our setup time. Though setup or take down isn't much more than 5 minutes per tent. There have also been some sites so full of roots and rocks that 2 tents (or 1 mega tent) can't be well placed.
  • DOME:(as opposed to cabin) The great thing about a good dome is the way they take the rain. The secret is the fly. A good fly will have enough overhang to let you keep the windows open in a pretty good rain, this adds to comfort. Also hidden behind the fly is a tent that is largely mesh fabric. Air is able to come up under the fly and pass in and out of the tent offering ventilation and privacy. This is important both to keep cool on summer nights and to release moisture in cooler seasons. A good fly will come down to near the ground and can be staked out so that a straight falling rain will never touch the actual tent! I have never been in a cabin tent but I have observed in these parts that throwing a tarp over your cabin tent is almost universal practice, imitation is the fondest form of flattery. On our old faithful $99. wonder we used a tarp to form a full coverage fly when nasty weather was brewing. With this addition it weathered storms in fine form. In fact I have a post that I stood about 4 feet in front of the door that formed a great A-frame vestibule with a few guy ropes.
  • SHOCKCORDED POLES: This means that a bungee cord runs through each pole assembly. This keeps the pole together so you don't have to hunt for pieces. As the poles sections slip together the cord holds them together so they can be handled as a single pole.
  • CLIP TYPE ATTACHMENT: Your actual tent fabric will be will be connected to the frame in one of two ways. The poles will pass through fabric sleeves that are part of the tent or there will be clips that connect the fabric to the poles. There are also hybrids. Having used both I prefer the clips. If you get sleeves I recommend dusting the poles with silicone spray every 2-3 outings. Getting them in is fairly easy, but when you are removing the poles all you have is the pull of the shock cord. It's easy to pull the joints open and almost pinch your fabric. Once you get the touch it's easy enough but clips are easier.
  • BATHTUB FLOOR: This means that the floor actually wraps up along the sides. Generally for 4-6 inches. This eliminates a lot of seams and chances for leaks.
  • MAJOR SEAMS TAPED: Due to limits in fabric sizes and the need for contours in the tents design some seams are inevitable. When fabric is sewn the needle forms a hole in the tent that will leak. Manufacturers add a plastic tape to the seams that seals these holes. Any seams that are not taped but subject to rain will require sealing when new and generally once a year. Your tent will have instructions regarding sealing, also see later in this section.
  • "D" STYLE DOOR: The doors fixed edge is vertical, usually the left side. There are some tents out there that when open have the door rolled up at the bottom. To me this is insane. With children around the door is sure to regularly be trampled and will soon be soiled if not damaged.
  • FABRIC COATING: It's hard to get specifications to fully compare tents on this point. One of the things you get with a higher priced tent is fabric with better waterproof coating and durable base fabrics. This won't always translate into heavier so it is a leap of faith to some extent.
  • THE FEEL OF IT: Before we got our present tents I bought a pair of another popular model from a different source. They just didn't cut it, the fit and feel really didn't reflect higher quality. They were notorious for snagging the rain flap in the zippers and with this defect I felt justified in sending them back after a weekends use. Our present tents are a joy to setup and take down, things just plain work together well. Even after a winter of studying catalogs, visiting websites and following newsgroups we still visited LL BEAN twice before settling on what we now have. My wife and I compared features, ran the zippers, poked, prodded and examined the floor model to death. Take your time it can be a big investment, that is why I don't discount the option of starting out in a less costly tent. However you must realize that there are tents out there that will keep you more comfortable and setup easier, like anything else, "for a price".
We have a few simple rules that we follow around the tents.
  • Shoes off in the tents!
  • The tent is not a playroom. We make exceptions for a weary child or weather.
  • Bikes stay away from the tent. With ground that is often soft an accident that could tear or otherwise damage a tent is just too easy to have.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you choose a spot for your tent.
  • Avoid exposed roots and raised rocks
  • Make sure the spot is clear of stones, branches, chewing gum etc. We carry a rake for this purpose, some campgrounds have rakes at the restroom buildings for your convenience. Otherwise your hands will suffice. If you're lucky there is little to be done.
  • You will want to be sleeping in such a way that your head is at the high end of the grade. I know I can't sleep well at all if my feet are high. Also if you sleep on a side try to place the tent so you will sleep facing into the hillside, otherwise you'll feel like you're going to fall off the hill. If you're site is dead level you lucked out. Just pray it's not the place where all the rainwater runs to!
  • Eyeball the site carefully and try to identify where rain runoff might come from and flow to. If bad weather is expected and the site is nasty you might try for another site. Many campgrounds don't really keep tents in mind when evaluating sites. A site that can be fine in a pop-up can be a tenters nightmare.
  • Use a little common sense, look above for hanging branches, consider where your door will face. If you will be breaking camp early try for morning sun, it might dry the dew before you have to stow the tent.
The purpose of a ground cloth is to protect your tent floor from objects on the ground. A ground cloth can be a sheet of polyethylene, "blue tarp" material or any other sheet that will also be waterproof. It should be trimmed to size so that you can't see it when it is under the tent. If you can see it then rain can fall on it and it will collect right under your tents floor. We also have a scrap of tarp material we lay on the floor inside the tent. It covers the third of the floor closest to the door. It collects sand that gets in and protects the tents floor from it. It takes little space in the tent sack and helps a lot.

Here are a few things we make a habit of when packing the tents

  • Make sure all belongings are out of the pouches you may have for personal items. It's no fun unpacking the tent because someone can't find their watch
  • Sweep the tent floor clean. We carry a foxtail and dustpan. If there is any dried mud splashed on the tent most of it will probably brush away too.
  • Fold the tent as needed. When it is folded to width the door should be at one end on the "strip". Then roll TOWARDS the door. Air will escape easily and the tent will roll nicely. Don't roll any tighter than necessary to get it into the supplied sack.
  • If you must pack the tent wet get it dried as soon as possible. Try to avoid getting it too hot until it is dried. In addition to mildew I have heard of some coated fabrics sticking together after a steaming.
Exposed untapped seams of tents need to be sealed. The factory could not do this because the sealer must cure for 24 hours before you re-pack the tent. I set them up in the garage to do the job. Apply several coats to all seams that rain can reach. Do the fly separately. I lay them out on a tarp and fold them so the seams are easy to reach. Make sure you allow adequate drying time before you re-pack the tent. SEAM SEALER-3 is a common brand that seems to work well. I haven't had a chance to use any yet but SEAM GRIP has become a very popular product.

I like the plastic ABS pegs. They are often sold as Powerpegs. They are lightweight, tough and seem to work well. From time to time I'll rinse them clean especially after being in clay type soils. Carry some extras in case you hit rocks, the tip can bend. If they get damaged the tips can be sharpened on a sander. You could probably also whittle them. If you leave the bent tips alone the stakes will be hard to drive. I carry a inexpensive plain 16 oz claw hammer for driving and pulling pegs. I also carry a plastic jar of nails, you'll need some if you have to tent on a platform. The claw hammer is handy then too.

In Search of the Perfect Campsite
You're planning a big vacation and want to camp, how can you find that perfect place? You're looking for some variety in your "local" weekend getaways, but which campgrounds are your style? You could try them out one by one for sure but you know some will feel wrong from the moment you check in, why risk a weekend if you can avoid it. These are issues we've all faced at one time or another.

If possible visit the campground first. We have done this by taking a day trip to the next state or sometimes on our way home from a camping weekend. We will pull in and go to the office and tell them we are interested in staying with them in the future. They have always been very hospitable, if they do not offer a map of the campground ask for one. As we walk the grounds here are some of the things we check for out

This is really a very valuable way of screening places. On one occasion there were 3 places in town. The two most promising ones according to ratings and brochures were near disasters, the third was idyllic, we have enjoyed 2 eight night stays there so far. Usually it only takes about half an hour to check a place out and it's a great way to break up the ride home on a Sunday afternoon. Do remember that when doing this you are guests and all should be on their best behaviour. We always do this on foot to get the best perspective and to be the least disruptive.

One source you do not want to overlook is roadside rest areas. Most states operate rest / information stations where you can browse from a plethora of brochures. They generally have material on specific destinations as well as regional publications detailing things to do while visiting. These facilities are usually found in strategic locations such as near state borders.

Of course sometimes this won't be practical and you have to do your fact finding long distance. There will be times when you may be traveling to places that simply are not camping Mecca's. This calls for research. If you belong to AAA call or drop by and get the guide books for the states you are visiting. They also used to have separate camping books for each region. They may have been merging those into the regular travel guides. Either way make sure you get campground info from them. If you want, spring for one of the big camping books like Woodall's. Woodall's has an online directory you can use for free, it's not the same as thumbing through that big book but if you know what you're looking for you can save $20. and a tree! Another great way to get info is to contact the states tourism department, you can usually do this right on the web via state websites and e-mail. Make sure they know where you are heading and you need info on camping attractions. This is also a nice time to have large format Maps so you can plan your itinerary. These maps also will give you clues to many non commercial destinations.

When you get all this material together lay it out on the kitchen table and start sorting. First decide what you want to do, then look for accommodations. I like to stop and smell the roses when I travel so I like to keep travel legs at 200 miles or less. Remember you will be breaking and making camp. Once you have a rough idea where your nights will be spent start sorting through the campground options based on your own criteria. Things you may find important include, fishing, open water swimming, swimming pool, hookups, handicapped accessibility, playgrounds, theme weeks or weekends, and so on.

Now you should have an itinerary and a number of options as to where to camp. Get on the phone and request brochures, rate cards and any other material that will help you make your decision. Don't be bashful about this, you are offering to put bread on their table and they are glad to hear about your interest. They like to know how you learned about them so have that fact handy. Also ask about any attractions that you may be considering. You may find that a place you were going to visit burned to the ground 3 weeks ago... back to the drawing board. The campground hosts can be fantastic help in planning local trip details.

Keep in mind that you are probably not going to be spending all your days in campgrounds, you'll have places to go and things to do. I try to home in on places where I can be comfortable for the evening and get a good night's sleep. As much as I like open water, a quick dip in the pool with the kids is often all we have time for on a trip like this. If this is your only vacation you may choose a more leisurely pace. Our feeling is that we have traveled a good distance and we want to invest out time seeing and experiencing new things.

This is a good time to mention the KOA chain of campgrounds. They are not the most interesting places you can find, that's for sure but they are clean, well run, and have some of the nicest washrooms you will find. The ones I've used (only 3) also had separate sections for tenting which I really liked. They have a discount card that you pay for initially, as I recall we broke even on night 3 or 4 then it was all savings. So if you can't find something you feel good about they are probably a safe bet.

Dining Shelter
 The dome shaped dining shelter
Handy in rain, sun and cold.
This shelter has got to be one of our best investments. It has saved the day more times than I can remember. It's quick to put up, and compact to carry. Sometimes we won't use it for several outings, but when we need it it's great. It's big enough to dine and cook under and even holds a nice dome of heat from the stove on cold mornings. Ours is from LL Bean, a similar one is sold by Kelty and I've seen that one in a lot of popular catalogs. Many times we've used it as a sun shelter when we ended up on an open site. Sometimes it's used just to keep the sun off of the coolers and food. One time we had a site with a wooden canopy over the picnic table and we used it as a pantry/sitting room when we had some showers. Two or three people can carry it after its up so you can move it around as needed as the weather changes. Also by spreading the legs you can vary the height to area ratio to suit your needs.

Based on our own gut feelings and the experience of others we do take exception with the recommended method of erecting the shelter. We assemble everything flat on the ground as the instructions say. Then someone sneaks under the tent and raises the shelter while I scoot around an plug the pins into the poles. It's much easier than trying to raise the shelter by forcing an arched pole to lift it.

Last I saw they were selling for a little over $100.00. I've only seen one other in use and it was the Kelty. Every time we use it we get plenty of visitors though, so I expect them to catch on.

Our Galley
The galley all set up on a campsite
The galley
This is our galley. We only use it for extended stays or if the weather really calls for it. It's nice not doing all of the cooking at the picnic table. It consists of some EMT conduit, an 8 X 20 foot tarp and a few odd pieces of hardware. It takes about 10 minutes to set up or take down. Using the gear trailer as a base really simplifies it and gives us a lot of dry off of the ground storage space when the weather is wet. We hang the pots and pans from the crossbar shown at the far left, that eliminates a lot of fumbling through the tote and really makes the site feel like home when we're at one for a week or so. Except for the table the whole thing amounts to a bundle less than 6 inches in diameter.

When we started Camping I was amazed to see some of the awesome tarps people would have suspended between the trees. As time went on and I noticed how some were doing it. I became amused and in some cases annoyed. I saw people bringing stepladders with them for the purpose of erecting these shelters, even using pole-climbing spikes to climb trees! Another frustration was to arrive at a site and find lengths of twine and rope hanging from the limbs of trees where earlier campers had just cut the cord and taken the tarp down.

To get a tarp in place you need 4 things:

  • A tarp, Pick a size it's up to you and the site what will fit.
  • Lots of rope, enough to connect at least 4 corners, I like 1/4 nylon, make sure you take time to burn your ends to make them solid.
  • A way to get rope up into the trees, some folks were born to be in rodeo, then there are those like me.
  • A way to get the rope down, if you're not going to do this right please don't bother.
My stick for manipulating tarp ropes from the ground
Simple to make and handy.
The last 2 items are covered by the item shown in the picture, my tarp stick. Mine is an 8' length of pine strapping (3/4 x 2-1/2 actual) that I had lying around, one end has a notch cut into it, the other end has a common clothesline hook. Of course it can be any length that suits your vehicle. With it I can pull down a rope that makes it over a limb but not quite back down, I can lift a "noose" higher on a tree trunk to get good height, and with the hook I can loosen a noose when it's time to take it all down.

I generally attach to the tree with either a noose around the trunk or a rope over a stout branch where it attaches to the trunk. I then lace through the tarps' grommets and back to a point on a tree where I can tie it off. Usually 2 of each type of attachment works well. Make 2 noose connections then you can hoist it up with 2 more that pass over limbs. It's all done from the ground and it's simple, safe and lets you leave the site unscathed.

A few final points:

  • Be careful, some campgrounds have overhead wires that are relatively low, it these are nearby don't even think of reaching near them!
  • Remember to plan for rain if there is any chance, pitch the tarp so rain will run off, you'd be amazed how much water one of those can hold.
  • Sometimes an extra pole or 2 come in handy to create a central highpoint, like over the picnic table, to aid in shedding water. These can be anything you have handy. Use your imagination.
  • Finally remember that if you're in a safari field with no trees this section probably won't do you a darned bit of good.

If it rains
Well first off let's get the beginning right. It's not if it rains but rather when it rains. If you take a trip of any length or are anything but a last minute weekend camper you'll have your share of wet weather. That's OK, wet weather just adds another dimension to family camping. There are 2 aspects to this. One is keeping dry and comfortable. The other is making good or better still enjoyable use of the inclement periods.

Some of my most memorable times camping took place in rainy weather. One was a misty afternoon in New Hampshire, there was what sounded like a saxophone playing soothing jazz melodies for what seemed like hours, it was surreal. I couldn't be sure if it was someone playing at a nearby site or just a recording nor was I in a big hurry to take a walk and break the illusion.

Another special weekend was in late September, thankfully it was a mild weekend here in Maine, none the less it was wet. We took a few extra minutes to set up a tarp ahead of (not over) the fireplace and we also set up the galley and dining shelter in addition to the 2 tents. It added about thirty minutes to our setup time but was well worth it. We had a virtual home in the outdoors, kitchen, dining, living, and 2 bedrooms! We still had a short walk to the toilets but hey we were roughing it, right? We had space to spend time together and to find solitude when we wanted it. The rain added a quiet background noise that just seemed to enhance the peaceful setting near the pond.

Finally there is one more special thing about camping in the rain. There is probably nothing in this world that I find more romantic than being alone with my wife in our tent with the sound of rain blocking out the noise of the world.

So you planned and traveled and there you are and it's raining when you get to camp. What are you going to do? This will happen, trust me. This is when some flexibility comes in handy. You have to get set up so you have a place to stay. Unless you have good reason to believe the weather will get better in the next few hours go ahead and get setup. Yes some stuff might get sprinkled a bit but it won't be the end of the world. This is where planning and teamwork are crucial. Getting a tent up and the fly over it before the inside gets soaked takes cooperation, but isn't that one of those family skills you are trying to build anyway?

If you are putting up a tarp for a dining shelter or as a general shelter do it first. If your tent is a dome style (as I hope it is) you can set it up under the tarp and move it complete with a ground cloth out to its location. Just be fast with the tent stakes! When we camp we plan to prepare nearly all of our meals. We save the meals out for rainy days. These are also great times to do the laundry, visit museums or maybe even catch a movie. On one trip we traveled all day and arrived in a steady rain, we got setup, changed and went to town for dinner and a movie, it was a nice change after spending 4 prior nights at a very secluded campground.

Finally look at it as a challenge and an opportunity. Do your best to get through it being safe and comfortable. There is a great sense of pride when you weather a storm with your gear safe and dry. Like they say, "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade".

I'm not going to go into great detail on how to weather the storms, my section Tent Topics covers most of the important stuff. The rest is commons sense, you just have to approach it with the right frame of mind. Finally use your head, your tent is no match for severe weather, if taking cover is advised do so. I'd rather see tomorrow as a safe conservative camper than as a dead macho one.

Wash Your Hands!
Softsoap and a towel tied to a tree with our spiggot
Bungee to the rescue!
This is my wife's pride and joy. Lets face it when you're cooking with raw meat, eggs and the like a damp rag isn't always an adequate way to clean your hands before you prepare a salad. Not to mention washing your hands before mealtime. Often we find ourselves on a site with a spigot, whether we wanted one or not. When we do this makes a nifty wash station. Just a bungee than secures a bike while we're on the road, a bottle of soft-soap and a towel. It helps if you pull the towel in before the rain. We don't always get to do this but when we do it's a nice addition

There are times when this is not appropriate however. If you are at a handpump you would be depositing soap and bacteria directly above the water supply where it could contaminate the source for you and others. I'd also refrain if your site is situated such that runoff will be likely to enter a body of water. Abbey wrote with the following suggestion: "If you're worried about the SoftSoap entering into water run-off or other natural water sources, you can buy soaps that aren't harmful to the natural environment."

Our gear trailer all loaded and ready
Sometimes you just don't know what will come in handy... or what you will really need.
We camp with a 93 Aerostar and a utility trailer (we refer to as the Campmaster 2000"), some would call us shleppers. We got by nicely the first year with just the van until we decided we wanted to bring 4 bikes along with us. Since we need quick access to the back hatch for the coolers and it's already an extended length van, bike racks were out of the question. We observed a few folks pulling a trailer for gear and decided that was the way for us to go. Having been pushed over the edge and into the trailer we decided to make the most of it and it has worked out splendidly for us.

We started by having a nice utility trailer built. It's 5 x 8 feet with 12 inch tires. The shop that built it uses wishbone bracing on the tongue. I had him build it with a longer than standard tongue so that I could but a dock locker ahead of the trailer box on the tongue. This is an aluminum box about 24 X 56 and 30 inches deep. I made a wooden bin that runs across the box rear the top that is nifty for holding dozens of little gizmos and tools. The posts and rails of this trailer were made with pressure treated lumber. That made it easy to fabricate a secure cage area. I had to make a wall across the trailer and a hinged top that has a hasp and padlock. This was done with 6 inch pressure treated decking ripped to half width. Over the axle I mounted a wooden box that I had lying around since the beginning of the earth. This is my woodbox, it holds better than 1/20th of a cord, enough for 2-4 nights in all but the coldest weather. The box has a tarp attached to the back edge and pulls over the wood and bungees to the cage to keep the wood dry in bad weather. Finally behind that is another dock locker. It's about 6 inches smaller than the other in every dimension. It was a 2pc. set at SAM'S for only $199. I hadn't planned on this one but it turned into a fantastic pantry for long trips. The side boards beyond the caged area were built up to be as high as a mountain bike so we can stand the bikes in the trailer and bind them to the rails. My daughter's bikes get lashed to the tailgate.

The Big Forward Dock Locker
This box swallows up a ton of stuff that we used to load for every trip and another ton that we would never have dared carry without it. Packed in the open part of the box; Our old tent as a backup& for guests, the dining shelter, 2 ground cover tarps to fit the tents, 3 assorted larger tarps for various shelters as needed, 2 square pails, our Coleman propane lantern, a 20LB propane hookup post/lantern support, the propane hose to connect the post to the Coleman stove. several citronella candles, a sack of tent pegs, a 1/2 gallon bottle of bleach for sanitizing, an empty Hershey syrup jug (for late night bladder relief), 2 or 3 bottles of charcoal lighter fluid (for briquettes and hopeless firewood) several standard propane bottles (in case we come up short on the 20LB tank or for excursions away from camp),2 50 foot hanks of rope (for clotheslines and/or supporting tarp structures), a dustpan and foxtail for sweeping out the tent and brushing dried mud from the gear after a rain, 2 umbrellas, a 5 foot garden hose with a nozzle (just enough to rinse off mud splattered gear if that's what happens), a pump bottle of glass cleaner, a hatchet, a camping maul, a wood splitting wedge, a Frisbee and don't forget a nice sign to hang up so folks will know who you are and where you're from.

Then in the top of this box the tray up top contains the following; a standard claw hammer, a tent stake puller, plastic jar of nails (sometimes you end up on a tent platform),grommet repair kit (for all those tarps), a set of those snap on instant grommets, a bundle of ready to use tiedown ropes (3/16 nylon with the ends melted solid to prevent fraying), several Bic lighters as a backup ignition source, 7/8 wrench for the propane distribution post, spray can of WD-40, silicone spray, leather work gloves, small bottle of fast orange hand cleaner, a handful of bungee cords, a propane torch for belligerent firewood, finishing rope ends and lighting stubborn citronella candles, a jar of lantern mantles, and a tube of Seam Grip seam sealer.

The Cage
In this open but ventilated secure space we keep: a 20LB propane tank, fire extinguisher a garden rake (so we can groom the spot where our tents will go), a camp shovel (used mostly for fire tending, also handy for ditching if needed and permitted) a small plastic table that sits between our chairs in front of the fire, a bucket of beach toys, 2 pool noodles, a fireplace grate, 2 plastic chairs for the kids, a baseball bat, a "kick" ball, jugs of bottled drinking water a spare tire for the trailer and a crossbar lug wrench (the van's jack works fine).

The Rear Dock Locker
The contents of this space varies. Our 2 tents, inflatables for the beach, and extra softdrinks. On shorter cold weather trips it might serve as a secondary woodbox.

Out In The Open
In the open space we will of course have the 4 bicycles. In addition to that; 2 jackstands for the back of the trailer, support boards (painted orange) for the jackstands and the front dolly jack, a wooden post for when we form a vestibule fly on the tent, 2 sealed pails of charcoal briquettes and 2 wheel chocks. I also have a vinyl covered cable and padlock that I lace through all of these items if we have to park in an unsecured area as we journey between campgrounds.

One use for the trailer became apparent at a few campgrounds. On the sites we had there just was no place to set-up a clothesline for the swimwear and towels, all those rails served the purpose nicely! When I find the time I'll detail some of the less than obvious items that we carry in the van.

Wheel Bearings
If you are pulling a gear trailer as we do or a pop-up rig don't forget your trailers wheel bearings. These bearings see much more severe service than the bearings on your vehicle for the following reasons

  • The smaller tire diameter means those little wheels are spinning much faster. When I'm driving at 65 MPH my trailers wheels are spinning at a rate equal to 83 MPH. And don't let that well balanced load make you think there is no weight on those bearings.
  • The seasonal use of these rigs makes the grease subject to moisture infiltration.
  • Depending where you lug your rig it may be subjected to water deep enough to wash the bearings out. This is a perpetual problem for boat trailer owners.
I decided to check my bearings before a recent 3 hour trip to northern New Hampshire and I was glad I did. The trailer was just over a year old and had about 4500 miles on it. The grease was sparse and dry, one seal had burned up leaving the bearing unprotected. Luckily I caught it before a bearing or trip was ruined. A quick run to the auto parts store and a hour of dirty work had things in fine shape.

Here is the procedure (topics C&D) for repacking your bearings. If it's not a project you're up to be sure to visit your RV or auto service center.

Another option is a product sometimes called a "Bearing Buddy" You replace your bearing cap with this device. It has a spring pressurized reservoir for grease and you fill it with a common grease gun. It will insure a constant grease supply to both your inner and outer bearings. Since it is pressurized it will also discourage the entry of water.

Facing the Cold
We found out our first year camping that a weekend of freezing to near freezing weather can be real chilly in September. In hind sight just coming off of a warm summer ones body isn't acclimated to those temperatures, especially for prolonged exposure. Our second and third years we went prepared and were comfortable through our last outing, Columbus Day weekend. This coming spring (98) we are planning to begin with the first weekend in May. I'm anxious to see how we fare coming off of the chill of winter.

First of all unless you've been working outdoors as the season has been changing don't be afraid to dress for the weather and then some. Things like long johns and good socks really do work. If you're tenting keep in mind that you'll be essentially outside for the duration of the outing. When bedtime comes a hooded sweatshirt is a must for me. It keeps my head and neck warm, I need it as the hair is awfull thin up there!

For our first 2 years the sleeping bags were nothing special, what Coleman called a "COOL" or 40 degree rated bags. Since we did most of our camping in warm weather I couldn't see investing in real good bags right off. Without a doubt we survived nicely in temperatures down into the upper twenties. We did bring along an old comforter and throw it over the top. We also slept in long johns and sweats if needed. This past fall we dicided to add some zero degree bags to our gear. We're booked for May first in 1998 so we decided that our cool weather camping would justify the investment. They were nice to be sure though they were a bit too comfy on one unseasonably mild night. We'll still use the old bags through the summer months.

This past season we tried some Therm-a-Rest pads and I wish I could say I really impressed. I didn't sleep as well for some reason, it was a bit of a issue staying on the pad and they are without a doubt the most difficult piece of gear to pack when breaking camp. My wife likes her's. I think I'll give a plain closed cell pad another try.

We also brought hats, gloves and winter jackets, as did many other campers. A frosty morning is a frosty morning no matter how fresh the memories of summer may be.

Be careful with you food. On our final trip in 96 we came home with all our ice, some frozen items we didn't use were still frozen solid and we had produce sustain frost damage. It just goes to show how different a situation we were dealing with. We'll probably lighten up on the ice next time.

If you're at a campground and are someone who shaves with a razor I found that EDGE gel type shaving stuff works better than the foams when chilled. Before I found this out I had considered taking my shaving cream to bed with but I never got around to trying that one.

Make it a point to have your morning fire materials ready when you retire. That way you can start or rekindle a banked fire as early as you want without being disruptive. I'll have newspaper, kindling and firewood covered but accessible to get the chill from the air. And remember that you'll probably have a morning and evening fire going, you'll need more wood than on a July weekend.

We found that metal camping plates get cold and really chill your hot food. Now we use our fire grate over the campfire to warm the plates while we cook on the gas stove. It's surprising how nice it can be to hold a warm plate.

Facing the bugs
Here in Maine we start with we call "black flies" in May, miserable little critters that love to swarm and bite. In June the Mosquitoes come around for the season. What is one to do? Well it all depends who you are. The one thing I have come to believe is that body chemistry and personal habits like scented soaps and perfumes are the most important factors. Some are barely bothered while another person gets all of the bug's attention.

So all I can hope to do here is share what works for us. First remember that these little bugs a kind of fussy. They don't like the heat of the day or the chill of the night. Often this means that if you can survive breakfast and dinner the rest is a piece of cake. We usually rely on tried and true DEET products like OFF Skintastic, Deep Wood OFF is the heavy-duty product. Spray it here and there and then rub it in and around to get full coverage, up into the sleeves and anyplace those critters might consider visiting. There are non-DEET products out there so if you're concerned seek them out, many people speak highly of them. One quirky product is Avon's SKIN-SO-SOFT, we've had real good luck using this stuff to keep the blackflies away. Other people find it useless, it all comes back to body chemistry and the bug du-jour. Consider different toiletries especially if you are using some perfumed products.

Another tactic is to manage the environment. Pass up the secluded wooded site for a sunny open spot. Keep a fire burning, this works great but you have to plan on keeping someone there to mind the fire. Citronella candles help sometimes, they sure have a nice camp smell about them anyway. Exposed sweets seem to be like rolling out the welcome wagon so let that be a cue to keep a tight kitchen. Wear a hat of some sort, bugs head for the heat and the hair seem to be a favorite destination, just cover your head. When evening comes make sure the lantern is setup some distance from where you're hanging out, this can make a BIG difference in your evening comfort.

Last but not least it comes down to mind over matter, If you don't mind then it won't matter. Besides what are you going to do, stay home all summer.... I don't think so.

And if all else fails...

Building your fire
For me nothing ends a day of camping like a nice fire. It's also a welcome treat on a frosty fall morning. Generally my fires aren't big usually 3 small logs burning in a bed of coals. The three most important things you will need for an easy fire are:

  • Dry wood
  • Dry wood
  • and Dry wood
We live on 6 wooded acres that are a mix of hard and softwoods. I keep about a cord of wood cut to 12 inch lengths and stacked for camping. This means I'm always burning wood that has dried for at least a year. Most of my firewood is standing deadwood, blowdowns and an occasional tree I take to thin congestion. Most of my wood is Pine, Oak and Birch. I live in an area that was ravaged by a major fire in 1947 so most of what I take is in the 3-6 inch range. Most logs will burn nicely without splitting.

I also do a fair amount of woodworking and repair around the house. Any scrap wood that isn't painted or pressure treated gets cut to 6-8 inches in length, stacked and dried in the shop for use as kindling. When I have extra cardboard boxes I pack it up. Then I can throw a box on the trailer when packing and have some excellent kindling. It may not be the most rustic kindling material but it's a useful recycling tactic and starts a fire like gangbusters.

There are 3 basic ingredients that go into my typical fire:

Crumple the sheets of newspaper loosely and individually. Mound them in the fireplace, ring or pit. Distribute the kindling above the paper. Set the firewood on top of it all. One good match should light the paper in 2-3 places and off you go. Once it's going good add more firewood, 2-3 pieces at a time going up in size and towards hardwood if you have it. Before you know it you will have a fire that will burn rocks as I like to say. Once a coal bed has been built add the logs in a crisscross pattern and they will catch and burn nicely.

That's all fine and good if you have primo wood to work with. Unfortunately if you're are relying on buying your wood at the campground store you may very well end up with fairly green (wet, fresh cut) softwood. The softwood part is OK, you'll just go through more. But what do you do about the green part? Start by taking your camp axe and shaving a piece or two to get a mound of chips or shavings. Then split a piece or two into small sticks. You can substitute local twigs and sticks if they are around. Kid's love rounding up that stuff. Finally split a few pieces into a 1 inch size range.

Now build your fire. Newspaper, Shavings, sticks, split pieces. The trick here is that almost anything will burn if it's cut small enough. Remember Mr. Wizard with the steel wool? Light it off and away you go. If it stalls fan it with a sheet of newspaper a little extra oxygen can also do wonders for a slow starting fire. Building the fire in a teepee shape is also helpful since fire loves to follow the grain and move upward. Now just add wood, working your way up in size. Before long you will be able to burn anything you have. At the end of this section I have a recipe for fire starter logs that would also be handy at times like this, I've never tried it but it sounds like fun.

Then there are the desperate measures.... Like propane torches and lighter fluid. I've used them in the past, I still carry them with me though starting my fire is not the primary reason. I've also found that there are often folks selling firewood near campgrounds. Sometimes they have great dry wood all split and ready for a reasonable price, keep your eyes open when you're near your destination. Just fill the back seat floor and let the kid's put their feet up on the stuff.

Here's a handy little make-at-home firestarter for all those camp fires:

  • Cut newspaper into 2 to 3 inch strips
  • Roll up and tie with cotton string
  • Soak in melted paraffin
  • Lay out to cool on foil.
Paraffin can be found at most any grocery among canning supplies. I like to use a large tin can (newpaper strips cut so they'll fit) and rig a double boiler with a pot. Heat slowly. The kids love to make these firestarters, and they work wonderfully!

Then there are the most important things, never leave your fire unattended and make sure it's out before leaving or retiring. Be sure to keep a bucket of water waiting nearby. Make it a rule that there be no horseplay around the fire, an accident only takes a second. Before you know it you will be mesmerized by the lazy glow of the red coals.

Caring for your pets While Away
We have 2 cats that are outdoor yard cats 2 goldfish and a rabbit. When we're away for as much as 2 weeks we need to provide for them, here's how we do it.

First the rabbit, for long weekends, up to 3 nights away we just strap an extra water bottle to the rabbit cage and make sure the cage is clean and the food hopper is full. The tandem water bottles carry him through the period with plenty of reserve. For longer trips we either hire a neighborhood youngster or bring the whole cage to my inlaws where they watch over him. When I do my local working vacation we bring the whole cage to the campground and let him vacation with us.

As for the cats lets start with water. I bought a battery operated water timer made for lawn or garden watering. I connected it to a plastic tub with a hose. The timer turns on for 15 minutes every 6 hours refreshing the trough. One important thing is to have a flow restrictor spliced into the hose. Mine is solid with two 1/16 inch holes through it. When I used to just open the spigot a bit it tended to close it's self off either through swelling or expansion. An open spigot and an inline restrictor solves the problem. For the cat food I built a small shelter. There is a dish in the corner of the shelter. In the dish is a 3 foot length of 4 inch PVC pipe standing upright like a silo. The bottom is cut open on a side so that the food flows into the dish. The pipe passes through the roof and the whole thing is watertight. This holds our 2 cats (and the neighborhood strays) for a good 4 days. We have someone come over every 4 days to refill the silo if were going to be away that long.

Then there are the goldfish. For the last 3 years they have traveled with us. We have a wide mouth plastic jar that candy came in as I recall. That along with a can of food and a net is all they need. We close the jar most of the time while driving. They spend most of their time someplace shady on the campsite depending on the arrangement. At night they go in the van, on the floor where nothing will bother them.

Favorite Recipes
When I started this page I thought this would be an easy section but as it turns out it hasn't been. The reason is a simple one. The first rule of writing is that need to have something to say. I must confess that compared to many camp gourmets we are kind of plain. You won't find any great Dutch Oven recipes here or other real fancy stuff. A lot of what we eat while camping is quite like home fare; the trick for us is in the preparation. My wife is an avid bulk cook and freezer person. We often leave home with a few frozen meals in the cooler. The trick is how we prepare and serve them, and like any great eatery the atmosphere is key.

Let's start with a simple one.........
This one we often prepare at home and let it cook while we set up camp. Dice up a bunch of onions and green peppers. Then slice up between 1 and 1-1/2 baking potatoes per adult. We slice them so they'll cook easier and to let the onion and pepper impart more taste. Cut up some steak into bites sized pieces, whatever portion you like. Mix the onions, peppers and steak in a bowl. On a sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil lay the mixture between potato slices standing on edge. Add salt, pepper marjoram and butter. Then just wrap it up tight. To reduce the fat we use the Fleishmans fat free butter in a bottle stuff; it seems to work out fine. The cheese flavored version sounded great, but came out pretty bad, just my opinion. We dump a bucket of briquettes in the fireplace light it off and place the foil packets on a grate. By the time camp is setup dinner is ready.

Or this one I'm looking forward to.........
Start with some meatloaf (from home) add onion, peppers and some barbecue sauce, wrap it up tight in heavy duty foil and cook over the fire till the veggies are tender.

Baked potatoes..........
I never had much luck with the throwing them in the coals wrapped in foil trick. Our daughters won't go near them if they are charred at all. We cut them in half to reduce the cooking time, place them flat side down wrapped in foil on the grate till tender and fluffy.

The ultimate evening treat. Toast 2 marshmallows, lay them on a full graham cracker, crown the marshmallows with a few squares from a Hershey Chocolate bar and finish it off with another graham cracker to form a sandwich. Gently press down to marry the marshmallows and chocolate. Savor under the stars.

We were treated to this one late last fall and plan to do it ourselves this year. You will need some wooden dowels, either 3/4 or 1 inch in diameter. Old broom handles can be used if they are free of finish, make certain of this! You don't want anyone getting lead poisoning etc. You will also need some cans of Pillsbury crescent roll dough, store brand stuff is fine too, and cheaper.

Bears, Raccoons and Other Friends
Even if your camping excursions are going to be limited to established campgrounds there are some things you need to know. Otherwise you or at least your breakfast may be in jeopardy.

The first rule is NO FOOD IN THE TENTS.... PERIOD. The first thing this ensures is that if a bear wanders onto your site it will be much less interested in your tent, or it's contents. This means no storing of food and should also include not eating in the tent. Make this your standard rule and you also have a good way to keep messy candy out of your tent(s) without being the bad guy.

Next you have to determine your level of risk. If you're conservative it's simple, all the food goes into the vehicle at night. Generally your biggest risk will be raccoons. If your food is in totes make sure they are tied securely closed with a bungee cord. This method is not fool proof, trust me. It is a lot of fun to wake up in the middle of the night and watch the raccoon flailing at the bungee cord. When you fall asleep it will quietly open the tote and have a field day. Breads I have found are very popular. We did find that onion bagels were not a big hit, there may be a message there but I don't want to go into that here and now. We have resorted to putting the heavy drink cooler on top of the food tote. The drink cooler doesn't smell that appetizing to the raccoon and so far it has worked.

When you get ready to turn in make sure you don't forget any munchies you had out on the table or by the fire. If you do you may find yourself stumbling out of your tent to defend your Pringles, peanuts and marshmallows. Some of these campground varmints are quite comfortable around humans and may be perfectly happy to sit and wait you out while you try to scare him away without awakening all of your neighbors.

You may even be greeted by a raccoon if you take a midnight stroll to the restroom. I've found them near trashcans or watching from up in trees. They're not going to bother you, just move along.

If you are in bear country the campground will usually make it very clear to when you check in. All food should be in your vehicle at night. The alternative is hanging bear proof food canisters in the trees. This is beyond the scope of this page and from what I've read isn't a sure bet either. Remember no food in the tents.... this is serious stuff !

I'm sure that in different locales there will be different varmints but generally a tidy site will serve you well. It never hurts to ask the campground hosts what to expect.

A common concern for those new to camping and tenting in particular is the issue of security. This becomes a concern when people realize that with tents, bedding, clothes as well as all of the cooking paraphernalia a family on a site can easily have well over a thousand dollars worth of gear out there.

The good news is that in commercial campgrounds and on public campgrounds with onsite rangers this is rarely a problem. I'm sure it happens but I have yet to hear of an incident during a stay. Knock on wood! It is said that there is a "code of honor" among campers, while we are in no way bound together there does seem to be a mutual respect for other campers property.

Nonetheless some common sense should prevail. Electronics, cameras, money and credit cards, jewelry (some just have to bring it camping!) and other easily pilfered items should be kept secure in the vehicle when not in use. Keeping them discretely out of sight while you're there won't hurt either.

Campground security varies from an open driveway to gate systems requiring pass cards and some cases tended gates. Some establishments lock the gates for the night after quiet hour to keep traffic out. Non camping guests are always required to register at the office and usually pay a fee. There should be no traffic off of the highway wandering through the campground. All vehicles will have some sort of tag hanging in the windshield and the hosts will be on the lookout for unregistered visitors. They have a vested interest in keeping you secure so feel free to share any concerns.

The problems that I have heard of usually center around campers on remote back woods sites that happen to have proximity to a road. Locals learn that gear will be left for the day at a single site in the woods and raid it while the camper(s) are gone for a day hike. This should not be a problem in a campground setting. If your campground is near a highway and you happen to get a site near a boundary you might be a little extra cautious however.

So relax, use a little common sense and you should be OK. We regularly leave our site for the day when travelling and have no problems to date. By the same token if you happen to see something suspicious during your stay inform the hosts right away, you might save someone's vacation!

A favorite Photo Opportunity
 Our daughters posing in front of a town sign
Awesome souvenirs and keepsakes
This is a little off of the camping topic but I decided to throw it in anyway. When we travel we keep an eye out for signs at town lines. A lot of towns have colorful and interesting signs that make great spots for shots of the kids. Often they make a good establishing shot if we'll have other pictures in that town. The signs a usually colorful and frequently highlight something unique or historical about the locality. We've been known to turn around and go back for a shot of a real good one that sneaks up on us, that or we'll watch (and hope)for a sister sign as we leave town. These make some of my favorite shots to go back and look at.

It's a good reason to get out of the vehicle for a few minutes and it makes the travel time less of a chore. I will warn you that there is an age where they will grow tired of this one, so enjoy it while you can.

We Have Gas
When it came to fuel we decided to go with propane. I just couldn't see risking leaks and spills of liquid stove and lantern fuel. I suppose propane has it's risks too but I came down on the side of propane. Our first year camping we went through about 1-1/2 propane tanks per weekend, just cooking. Light was from batteries and the campfire.

For year two we wanted to add a propane lantern and it was obvious that the gas bottle consumption was going to be expensive and wasteful. Since our gas grill was getting tired we essentially had a 20 lb. tank for free. We also bought the Coleman gas pipe that supports a lantern about 30 inches above the tank. It came with a hose that connects to the gas stove. We did 45 nights on one tank last summer and that included a lot of corn on the cob and dishwater heating! The pipe and hose set cost about $42. (Wal-Mart) and paid for it's self easily in one season. We still carry 3 small bottles in case we want to cook on a daytrip away from camp or we run out of gas.

One neat trick is that you can shut the valve on the tank and let the lamp burn off the contents of the pipe. It will run about fifteen minutes, plenty of time to get settled into the tent. A word of caution is in order here. In the morning when you open the gas valve to cook breakfast the valve of your lantern will be open and gas will flow if you don't close it first. If you have a group with you on the site and other people are using the gas appliances I would avoid doing this. The gas lantern has a pretty significant hiss so it's unlikely the situation will get out of hand before you notice the sound and smell.

If you don't have electronic ignition on your stove you might want to consider this.... We bought one of those propane stove lighters and before I knew it it was out of gas, what a waste of $3. Then I tried using the dead lighter simply as an ignition source: voila! Turn on the gas, point the tip at the burner and pull the trigger, bingo rain or shine. We used that spent lighter all last summer and it sure beat messing with matches.

A few words of caution:

  • The 20 lb. tank rides in an open caged section of our gear trailer. Thus there is no chance of gas buildup in the event leakage. If you will have the tank in an enclosed vehicle make your own risk assessment.
  • If you must handle the tank in a closed vehicle then fill it at the end of the shopping trip, this will reduce the chance of it over heating in a closed vehicle on a sunny day.
  • As always the DOT safety plug should always be in place when transporting a tank.
  • Don't let the refill station overfill your tank, it will make it prone to venting through the relief valve if it spends time someplace hot, like a car. Then just 1 spark and KABOOOOM.
  • You can always check the level of your tank with a bathroom scale. The TARE weight of the tank will be stamped on the tank. The tare weight is the weight of an empty tank. It should NEVER exceed TARE + 20 pounds, for a 20 lb tank. When 20 pounds of gas is in the tank it is actually about 80 percent full and has room for expansion.
  • Be careful with the hose. It will hold a charge of gas and will slowly escape unless you connect it to it's self, or store it where the escaping gas can dissipate slowly. The post will vent when you disconnect it from the tank but the perfume scent may linger so if you can, delay stowing it in the vehicle. Idealy the last time you are using an appliance close the tank valve and finish up by burning the gas trapped in the hose.
  • Disposable cylinders are just that. The canisters and valving are not intended for re-use. There is a reason why the much sturdier refillable cyclinders require certification.
  • New bottles within the last couple years come with an OPD valve (overfill prevention device) that closes automatically when the 80 percent level is reached to prevent accidental overfilling. These bottles also will not let you discharge gas (intentionally or otherwise) unless they are connected to a pipe or hose (of course a loose connection could still leak). All bottles will be required to have OPD valves by spring of 2002. New 20 lb bottles with OPD valves will fit all old appliances and can be bought inexpensively from many sources (usually cheaper than trying to buy the valve alone).
Oh one more thing... Be sure you bring a wrench for the tank connection. Our Coleman pipe uses a 7/8 wrench that we keep on board at all times.

We carry a canvas tote bag of newspaper with us. I only bring the plain white paper, the glossy flyers don't work nearly as well. The sack stays in the van where it is safe and dry. In addition to the obvious fire starting use my wife found another. If shoes get wet and you aren't blessed with a sunny afternoon stuff them lightly with newspaper, it's surprising how well it will wick the moisture away and get the shoes useable again.

For years we have traveled with the "Maine Atlas and Gazetteer" it's a tabloid sized atlas of the state. It includes indexes to campsites, places of interest, museums, trails, and all sorts of recreation opportunities. The best part of it is that it maps the state (Maine) in blood curdling detail at 1/2" = 1 mile. The scale will vary slightly from state to state. They are published for most states by DeLorme publishing in Yarmouth, Maine just down the street from L.L. Bean. There other similar publishers of these but I prefer the Delorme versions. Depending where you buy these they cost between $10. - $20., a bargain given the precious vacation time they can save and the free recreation they open the door to.

Last summer when we traveled in New York and Pennsylvania we wished we had sprung for these atlases. After 4 days at a campground we stumbled on an incredible shortcut that didn't appear on any of the handout maps. We prefer to avoid the inter-states when time permits and like to wander the backroads seeing small towns. These maps give you the information to connect the towns and see the backroads of America. It's a small worthwhile investment when you consider the cost of a vacation.

Let me share a quote with you.....
Thanks to the interstate highway system it is now possible to travel the country coast to coast without seeing anything.
Charles Kuralt
Don't let that happen to your trips, get good maps and see the countryside. Pete

A Busmans Holiday
Prior to this year (97) I had worked my way up to 4 weeks of vacation time per year. After a career adjustment this past winter I found myself with half as much vacation time. Suddenly an idea we had always discarded started to make a lot of sense. There is a campground we really like that is within commuting distance from where I now work. Why not spend a week there while I worked?

After talking about it for a few weeks we booked out favorite site for 8 nights. After having done it let me say it was the next best thing to a full fledged vacation. Waking early and getting ready quietly while the campground was asleep and having breakfast with the Chipmunks made for a great days start. Getting home for super, a swim in the pond with the kids, some fun time and an evening campfire set the scene for some great rest.

The rest of the gang got to take their time and enjoy the week. They made some new friends, got involved with lots of activities and made some real gains in their swimming skills. My wife is already planning to do it again next year, in fact she didn't want to leave!

It may not be for everyone but if you have the right circumstances it can be a nice way to augment your precious vacation time. I did got into the week planning and expecting a full work week, I think that was key to maintaining the right frame of mind. Otherwise it would be too easy to become resentful.

Quick Getaways
Sometimes it's fun to just leave and travel light. In recent years my wife and I have had the opportunity to just get away for quick weekends while the kid's stayed with grandparents. When we've done this we've traveled light. We knew we were dealing with fair weather and brought just the essentials.

On these trips camping has been more an inexpensive form of lodging while visiting places best done without youngsters. We even treat ourselves to most of our meals out. We do bring one cooler stocked with beverages. We bring a box of cereal for a breakfast with milk and juice from the cooler. Disposable dishes are always in the picnic basket under the seat. If it's not a nice enough morning we find a nice breakfast spot. One time we came across a D.A,V. all you can eat breakfast for $3.00 a head.

Beyond that its just what we will use. A tent with just enough pegs, sleeping pads and bags, pillows and our duffel bags. Last time I got smart and packed a campfire in a box, split logs, kindling, newspaper and matches. And 2 chairs to sit on by the fire.

The whole outing takes less than an hour to pack and load and even less time on returning home. We get out of the house, enjoy a peaceful evening alone and add another dimension to our camping experience. Done this way even a one nighter is a satisfying experience. It would work with the kids though the meal cost would be higher but for now it will be our little escape.

I'm not sure what I was expecting when I began to write this page. I think it may have just been the lure of the internet letting me hang out some information about something I felt was important. I have another web page about creating websites in it I say "You must have something to say or share, an interest or a passion if you have that prerequisite the rest will be a joy". Well I do want to stop and thank all of you for the joy you have brought me. Your E-mails are a constant source of reward and ideas.

Here is a sampling of what the camping community has shared with me;

I am continually gratified to find my site has held someone's hand as they ventured into camping, or rekindled the camping bug in a veteran. The page has been featured in a number of places both on the web and in print. Thanks again to all of you for writing and sharing your experiences and to those who have featured my site and helped spread the word. And thanks also to the many related sites that we have exchanged links with, together we make the web. I still have a number of chapters written in my head that I have to lay down, look for them in the coming months.



This site was selected as a magazine Official Fun Site!

Internet Outdoor Family Fun Yellow Pages

As I update this in January of 2008 we are beyond what I have called a family in transition. Life's priorities have been shifting for all of us and for now at least camping isn't the centerpiece of our summers as it once was. The girls are growing (now 17 and 20) and in July of 2008 I will be walking the oldest down the aisle. Work schedules are also a little more constraining than they were when this adventure began in 1995 We are still camping, just less than we used to and more often than not there is a reason for the outing. My wife and I became certified scuba divers on 2005 and a campsite makes a wonderful base for a week of diving. When we do get out the magic is there just as much as ever and we don't see an end in sight. The updates won't be as frequent as in the past but that's mainly because I've told our story, not for a lack of passion.

Fast forward 20 2018. I'm flabbergasted to see I last updated this epilogue 11 years ago. If you do the math the girls are now 27 & 30. They have blessed us with grandsons age 4 and 6. We have high hopes of sharing camping with them soon. We still have all the gear and did manage a backyard camping night with one of the boys.

For us it's been a few years since our last night camping. Schedules and the nature of our travels just weren't tent appropriate. I look forward to being in campgrounds again, they really are an "other world" experience. Often on a summer evening I listen to the crickets and imagine myself on a favorite site.

Some readers have written about the lack of recent additions to the page and I want everyone to know that the page is alive and well, as are we. I look forward to your messages and hope to hear how your family has coped with camping through the adolescent years of your children or selves.

When I set out to create this page some years ago I wanted to share the joy that camping has brought to our family and help others take those first steps. That story has pretty much been told here and if you follow the rest of my site you will see that my website is a hobby about my many hobbies, activities and pastimes.

To the young families out there I should share one lesson that I have learned. Your children will grow up quickly, more so than you can imagine and if you have a number of children spanning years there are very few "golden years" to share. I'm referring to the time when their time is yours to plan. Before you know it they begin to develop lives of their own and getting away just isn't as simple as it once was. I'm thankful that I threw myself (actually, my wife shoved me) into camping. If after reading this site you are still hemming and hawing I urge you to go for it, it's truly another world when you're camping.

Happy Camping


Updated February 25, 2018