How many times have you heard someone say, “You need to get experience in the woods!” without actually explaining how to do it? To someone who’s been doing it for years it’s almost a no-brainer. But what if you’ve never been out in the woods or have very limited experience?
Here’s a quick primer on how to get that experience that just might save your life some day.
First, let me give you some idea of what you’re going to discover on this journey. You will get dirty. You’ll probably discover that pine pitch is tough to wash off. There are likely to be bugs of various sorts. Some might bite, some might sting, but mostly they’ll just scare you a little when you first see them on you. Perfectly natural, so don’t feel like a weenie if you give a little yell when you see something crawling up your pant leg. Pretty soon you’ll be able to sort out the ones you have to worry about from the ones you don’t. Even the stingers no longer bother me these days as I know not to bother them first.
Things you’ll need:
- A pack or bag to put your gear in. A small backpack is a perfect choice.
- A good survival knife
- Firesteel and lighter
- Stove and fuel
- Poncho and a contractor bag
- Cordage – paracord or something like it
- Notebook and pen
- Compass and map of your area (you might be able to print something in your area from Google maps)
- Canteen and canteen cup and/or a small pot for boiling water
- A place to practice your skills. A small patch of woods, a field, or even your back yard will work
- Small first aid kit
- Small tent
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
First, find a good spot to set up an over night camp. Look for level ground and if possible a spot sheltered from the wind. A large rock can be used as a fire reflector if there’s one around.
The weather will help decide where you set up your camp. If it’s very cold and windy you’ll want to avoid setting up on the very top of a mountain or in a valley (cold air settles to the bottom.) A spot midway down the hill is usually a decent choice if you can find a flat spot for your tent. Avoid low lying areas where water might pool up if it rains. Try looking for spots that have running water nearby, so you can have water to drink and cook with. Make sure to boil it first. If you’re having a fire try to camp near a spot that has a good supply of firewood nearby. If it’s very windy try not to camp under trees where branches can break off and fall on you.
Having said all this, over the years I have violated all these guide lines and I’m still around to talk about it. Find the best set of conditions you can for your situation and go with it. Remember, this is about getting experience and not all experiences are going to be good, but they can all be learned from.
Start by setting up your tent. Make sure there aren’t any big rocks or roots under the tent and once the tent is up go ahead and lay out your sleeping pad inside the tent. I like to use the foam kind, but there are different types available on the market. Why foam? KISS – keep it simple stupid. It’s hard to mess one of these bad boys up! They’re designed to keep your body from losing heat by keeping you off the ground and not to make you comfortable. Once you lay the pad out go ahead and lay down on it. Lay on your back and sides to make sure it’s comfortable with no lumps or sharp objects sticking into you. When you’re satisfied lay your sleeping bag out.
Now you’ve got your tent set up you’ll want to start collecting wood for a fire. I like to get a big pile of wood and then double it, so I know I’ll have enough. Make sure the wood you find is dry. Standing dead is usually the best source of dry fuel. Look for a tree no thicker than your arm and then chop (or saw) it down. If you cut 3/4 or more through you can usually push it in the direction you want it to fall.
Another source of dry wood is branches that have fallen, but are off the ground. Most anything laying on the ground is likely to be wet – at least on the ground side – and won’t burn as well or at all.
Make a fire pit. There are many techniques for doing this, but the way I prefer is by making a simple fire ring out of rocks. Living in Maine there is usually a good supply on hand to choose from. I usually get the about the size of my head or smaller then put them in a circle about 18″ to 36″ in diameter depending on how big I want my fire to be. Make sure your fire pit isn’t too close to your tent as sparks can fly out and land on your tent. If you’re using a light hiking tent the chances are good that one of the sparks will put a small hole in your tent. Not good.. (Trust me.) Also, try to make sure the tent isn’t down wind from the fire. A good breeze will all that smoke right into your tent. Also not good.
Once you’ve carried the trees/logs/branches back to your site it’s time to process them. I usually carry a small camp saw with me. I personally use either the Sven Saw or the Sawvivor. Go ahead and cut the wood into lengths that are good for you. Sometimes it’s easier to break the wood between two trees then to saw it and some people will just lay the ends in the fire and and keep pushing the log in as it burns. It’s all good, so find a method you like and go with it.
Now you have your tent, fire pit and firewood ready to go. These are the two big chores you’ll have when setting an overnight camp. Next you need to designate a spot for going to the bathroom. This is a nice euphemism because there are no bathrooms out there. If you have to make a standing head call it’s not a big deal, but if you have to make a sitting head call you should dig a cat hole or even a small latrine if there are enough of you. To make a sitting head call unhitch your britches, squat down (I like to put a hand on a tree for balance if possible ), then do your business. Hopefully you remembered the TP. Once you’re done go ahead and bury everything in the pit. Also remember to set the latrine area well away from your tent. If you have to get up in the night to go make sure you have a flashlight nearby and don’t get lazy. I’ve known people (and done it myself especially in the winter) where they just take a few steps away from the tent and whizz away. Try to walk at least ten steps away from the camp before doing your business.
Next week – starting your fire and cooking over it.
How about some experiences campers out there shouting out a little advice? Everybody likes to run their camp a littler different.
Sound off below!