Hello, everybody. In light of today’s nationwide paperback release of my book, Under The Stars, I wanted to share some advice about gearing up for your campouts. I’m willing to forgo pride when it comes to borrowing gear from other people and give up hot brands and styles in favor of utility. Mixing it up is the best way to get into camping without impoverishing yourself. If you’re persistent and have a decent Salvation Army or Good Will in your town, you can find about half of what you need right there. I always give myself leeway to “splurge” if need be. In my experience, there are certain areas where you must not skimp, and where it makes great sense to buy the very best that money can buy: those items are your tent, your boots, your raincoat, and your high-quality synthetic down sleeping bag
Here are some of my go-to items:
-Trekking pack with detachable fanny pack. I use this whether I’m backpacking or car-camping (as a vertical duffel bag for odds and ends)
-Nesting mess kit with pot grabbers and pot-swabbing cloths and sponges
-Topo maps (I love Tyvek maps because they are waterproof.)
-Easy-to-use blue-tip matches with plenty of extra boxes.
– Self-inflating mattresses (nothing fancy. Mine is about 40 years old and is so short that my legs don’t quite fit on it.)
– Compressible sleep pillow
-Kindling and logs (always buy locally, meaning close to your camping spot. Once I bought these things far afield, and just as I was lighting the fire, some horrible bugs, which looked like the early incarnation of the monster in Alien, rushed out of the fire, gnashing their little teeth, unleashing an unspeakable plague on the campground. Buy locally and you lessen the risk of loosening non-native invasives on the campground.
— Fire starter (I like to have a box on hand in case I mess up the great Horace Kephart’s cook fire instructions)
-Reliable pocket filter, plus gallon container of water cut in half (the bottom half works best) to serve as a basin in case we go on day hikes and I need to filter water out in the field. I’ve had my Katadyn filter since 1994 and it hasn’t failed me yet
– Book (camping is not necessarily the time to take on Middlemarch. Bring something that will entertain and transport you. Fine observers of nature (H.D. Thoreau, The Maine Woods; John Haines, The Snow, The Stars, the Fire; Annie Dillard, Pilgrim At Tinker Creek; Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire) will heighten the way you see and hear and feel out there, whether you’re car camping at KOA or sleeping rough in the Hoh.
– Insulated multi-season sleeping bag
-A roll of Paracord to secure my tent
-Extra tent pegs because I always wind up denting some of them
-Pocket knife or Leatherman multi-tool
-Maglite with lots of extra batteries
-Cheap, knock-around battery powered lantern with a hand crank
-Hatchet for making kindling.
-Trowel for digging cat holes, if you’re out in the backcountry
-Lots of extra Hefty-type large trash bags to serve as dry bags in case it rains; I always keep one set of clothes bone dry no matter what
– plenty of labeled stuff sacks with DIRTY LAUNDRY and FRESH CLOTHES and CAMP SNACKs clearly labeled in laundry marker
– for car camping and backpacking, I heartily recommend drawing a “user’s map’’ of the contents of your pack or car trunk so you keep track of where everything is.
My basic set of knock-around clothes for every campout is:
– Synthetic long-sleeve shirt. You will find aisles and aisles of this stuff at TJ Max and other stores.
– Wool-mix warm hat. Gone are the days of horrid, scratchy hats. SmartWool and other companies specialize in wool “beanies” that you can wear all day in comfort. I usually double up on these on cold nights, or have the SmartWool on the inside and wrap a coarse wool beanie around that for extra warmth.
— Durable, breathable, soft boots with arch support. (Leather tends to poach my feet.) Merrell works for me, though the last pair I bought could not hold up to the rigors of the Adirondacks.
– Merino wool/nylon mixture hoodie. If you can find one: I waited in line for an hour and forty-five minutes to get mine for about $89 at an annual close-out sale up at Triple Aught Design, a gear company that is based in San Francisco and makes their well-crafted but expensive outdoors clothes right here n America. In my opinion the merino hoodie is the most versatile piece of camp clothing you can find — good for chilly mornings making coffee, good for sleeping, good to have around your waist on a day hike in case the wind kicks up. It won’t freeze you out if it gets damp, although it will make you smell like a wet sheep.
– Wool-mix socks with sweat-wicking, heat-retaining liners: I’ve got pretty bad frostbite-related circulation issues. The layering approach never lets me down.
– Synthetic cold-weather gloves: Don’t skimp on your gloves, ever. Wool sweaters and wool cozy hats can be found in thrift stores, but I’ve never seen decent gloves on any Salvation Army aisle. Outdoor Research and Carhartt do pretty well for me, as long as I wear them on top of a pair of liners.
– My mess kit always includes a small nonstick frying pan, a basic set of nesting aluminum pots, lightweight titanium spoons, forks and knives and a basic Primus stove, which takes quite a while to boil the water but can’t be beaten in terms of overall convenience, a spatula, a swabbing cloth and plenty of paper towels, a colander for pasta, and a large unbreakable bowl. When I camp, I’m so desperate for coffee that those little Starbucks tube packs work just fine for me. But if you are finicky, like my wife, the Aeropress coffee maker, once you get used to using this plastic French-press-like contraption, is highly transportable and just about unbreakable, which makes it convenient for camping with any fussy coffee drinkers you know. You can discharge the puck of spent coffee grounds right into your trash bag. The only drawbacks are the fact that you have to make your Aeropress coffee one cup at a time, which can be annoying on a cold morning in camp.
Some easy camping foods to consider
My advice is mix it up. Through trial and error, learn to strike a balance between the salty and the sweet, the dried food, the nuts, the grains, the instant soups.
One reliable standby is the Walking Apple Salad. Core an apple, but only part of the way (don’t drill through the bottom!) then fill the partial hole with whatever sweet or savory shelf-stable treats you please, from chopped up walnuts to honey-sweetened creamy peanut butter to chocolate chips, raisins, diced apricots and M & Ms. Thank you to Joe Hackett of the Adirondacks for this good tip. Another good snack is Peanut Butter No-Cook Moon Balls, to be prepared prior to the campout. Empty one 16-ounce tub of creamy peanut butter into a bowl, stir with ¼ cup honey and ½ cup nonfat milk powder, refrigerate for one hour, roll into balls and store in Rubbermaid container. Some people roll these things in cocoanut for extra flavor but I’m not a fan.
If you are car-camping overnight at some place that has bear lockers, and if you have access to coolers and dry ice, don’t be a fool and eat dehydrated and freeze-dried backpacking food that you would use way out on the PCT. (I’ve made this mistake, apparently out of habit.) If you’re staying for a while and want to keep eating quality foods, you might want to use recipes that require nothing but dry pasta and canned items that you can use a few days into the campout without worries about making yourself sick. One of my all-time favorites is Doomsday Puttanesca using shelf-stable ingredients. All you need is a 16-ounce can of salted diced tomatoes, a small bottle of olive oil, a container of garlic powder, (or a bulb of garlic if you’re only going to be out there for a day or two), a small jar of capers, two two-ounce “flat” tins of anchovies, a pound of spaghetti, and a container (preferably a soft plastic one of pitted kalamata olives), a large stockpot and a large saucepan. Bring a few quarts of water to a rolling boil, cook the pasta following the instructions on the box, drain and set aside. First, place the kalamatas in a bowl and cut each of them in half. Then heat up three tablespoons of olive oil on your nonstick pan, then add three teaspoons of garlic powder (or two garlic cloves if you have them on hand, two teaspoons of capers and the can of diced tomatoes to the hot oil. Mix thoroughly. Add both containers of anchovies. I usually mush and squish and mix them in there really well because some people, unfortunately, get skeeved out by the sight of anchovies. After a while, the anchovies will melt right into the sauce and become invisible, though they may add a brownish tint to the tomatoes. Cook until thickened, then add the chopped up kalamatas at the last moment. Allow the pasta to cool for five minutes, then slop the sauce on top of the pasta and mix well. Season to taste with black pepper and salt, and extra capers if you so desire. Serve immediately, and you will have a dinner that will give you the morale boost and the strength to get through just about any apocalyptic scenario.