Happy Camping Guide: Sleeping
In a few weeks, I'll be accompanying my Cub scouts on a weekend camping trip. I sat down this morning to jot down a few tips for the families in our group who may not be experienced campers, and decided it was a Noteworthy topic. So over the next few posts, I'll be sharing tips on how to camp without roughing it.
Tents have come a long way from when I was a little girl, camped out in our musty-smelling Coleman model, made of heavy canvas stretched over a metal frame. It must have weighed a ton. It wasn't waterproof, either, which was a problem if you lived on the east coast. I can still hear my father barking, "NOBODY TOUCHES THE WALLS" as we huddled together in the middle and watched raindrops beading on the exterior, threatening to penetrate.
I'm a fair-weather camper today, and I keep a close eye on the weather before loading the van. We've had our spirits dampened occasionally, but have always managed to sleep dry and mildew-free. Both tents we've had in our ten-year family camping career have been Coleman's, which is somewhere in the middle of the quality/price spectrum between Eureka and the Target/Wal-mart store brands, Greatland and Ozark Trail. You can almost always find a deal on a new tent online. Remember that the capacity estimate is based on a can of sardines. If you want to move around your tent in comfort, you'll need to pad it by a couple of bodies. Personally, I like to be able to stand up in my tent. Ours is an 8-person, three-room tent, no longer in production, but along the lines of the one pictured below. You'll want at least one good lantern, but the magnetic clamp-on night light is handy to have, and extra stakes, a mallet and a whisk broom are essential. I am a lunatic about dirt in the tent, barking at the kids in the same tone as my father with the rain, "NOBODY WEARS SHOES IN THE TENT!"
Any tent can be upgraded with a five dollar bottle of seam sealant. A new tent should come with a rainfly and ground cloth (footprint), but I recommend buying an extra tarp to fold up and tuck (completely) under the floor. Every layer of insulation you can put between your body and the cold, hard ground is going to keep you that much warmer and drier at night.
Someday I'm going to get into backpacking and go tripping down the Appalachian Trail with gear so ultralight and high-tech, it will have to be weighted down at night just to stay earthbound. In the meantime, I am a car camper, the kind who backs the van up to the site, rolls out an eight-person tent, and looks for a place to plug in the Christmas lights. Because no one has to carry their bedding more than a few feet, we are able to bring many of the comforts of home. Or more precisely, the comforters of home. We have two inflatable air mattresses. The one Patrick and I sleep on is an Aerobed, and it is as comfortable as our bed at home. The only problem is, it has to be plugged in to inflate, unlike the kids' bed, which has a battery-powered pump. It's not a problem at state parks with hookups, but for elsewhere, I need to pick up a power adapter. Also, "NOBODY BOUNCES ON THE AIRBEDS!"
Remember what I said about insulation between you and the cold, hard ground? Air counts as insulation. So the elevation of the air mattresses really ups the comfort level. Placing an old blanket or sleeping bag under the mattress will improve it even more. Also, never wear your day clothes to bed, especially your socks. Even a little lingering perspiration will make you cold and clammy at night. I make everyone change into synthetic long underwear and fresh socks. More on clothing to come, but in general, COTTON=BAD.
If you have sleeping bags, great. But if you're starting from scratch, and are on a budget, I'd say spend the money on air mattresses, and just bring your duvets, comforters and pillows from home. Just give it all a good shake when you get back, and of course NOBODY WEARS SHOES IN THE TENT, so the dirt should be minimal. Of course, if you plan to camp in less than fair weather, you'll want to look into sleeping bags with the appropriate temperature ratings. My eldest son has one for Boy Scouts that cost a fortune and is rated for nights on Pluto. But Patrick and I stay pretty toasty under our feather duvet. It's getting out in the early morning that's the cold part. Which brings me to
Gear For Sissies (Like Me)
There are now portable heaters that are safe for use in enclosed spaces, though I would certainly not leave it on unattended, or while sleeping. But I'd really like to get one for preheating the tent before bed, or getting warm in the morning.
The table, pictured above, is a really cheap contraption of aluminum and plastic that folds flat into its own carrier. But it's nice to have somewhere to sit and play cards or eat cereal inside the tent, and if it lasts four trips, it'll will have been worth the 30 bucks or so I paid for it (with a coupon). When it finally gives out, I'd like to replace it with the sturdier one pictured below.
Finally, you want a place to corral dirty clothes, because clothes get unspeakably filthy in the great outdoors, and spiders love to hide under yesterday's socks. A pop-up hamper contains the laundry, and makes unpacking a little easier when you get home.
Up next: Eating
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