Monday, October 10, 2016

"Camping" or The Night of Shivering

We went "camping" on Friday night. If you're anything like me, you're imagining a backpacking trip, attempting to find a flat spot in the woods to find a place to stake a tent, and beef jerky and trail mix.  That is absolutely NOT what we did.

Dr. BB has been sharing his desire for more outdoor activities for several years now. I have enjoyed hiking and snowshoeing, but  my desire for sleeping outdoors was limited to non-existent. During the summer mosquitoes are a real menace and the rest of the year it is too cold. So I have been a supportive, if unenthusiastic, partner in his camping ambition.  My support has been in the consent to buy loads of camping gear AND continuously sewing bags to hold said gear.  I agreeably practiced putting up the tent in the living room four times before we left. My enthusiasm has been limited in that I have no desire to actually camp and so had done no preparation on my own. 

So we drove (CAR CAMPING) to the campground on Friday night, set up camp, had a campfire, and went to bed. The next morning we broke camp and went home.  There was no hiking, no beef jerky, and our campsite was carefully crafted with several good places for a tent.
We made some rookie mistakes. One, we didn't get to the campground until dusk. I had to work until relatively late and we ate dinner before we left home. This saved us from having to cook dinner over our camp stove, but it also meant that we were pitching the tent and starting the fire by flashlight, which was not ideal.  Two, we only bought one bundle of wood and that lasted approximately two hours and then there was no heat.  Three, we were woefully unprepared for the temperatures in the mid-30s that happened in the early hours of Saturday morning. We have nice sleeping bags and were wearing decent long underwear, but it's early October and we're not quite weather hardened. Talk to me in February and I'll probably go out in short sleeves with mid-30s temperatures, but I just wasn't quite prepared.  Lastly, we brought shitty pillows with us because we didn't want our actual pillows to smell like campfire, but we both slept like crap and I wonder how much that could have been avoided if I'd just packed our normal pillows and put them in the dryer when we got home.
So let's talk gear. We've been building up our camping gear relatively slowly over the last two or three years, carefully parceling out our REI member coupons to use for large purchases and funneling all our REI rebate money back into REI purchases (more on a sales pitch for why we are REI members here). Here are some of the larger items we've gotten.

1) REI Half Dome 2 Tent - This tent is pretty well designed (although I don't know what the hell I'm talking about, so take that with a grain of salt) and is super easy to put together. We practiced putting it together a few times in our living room at home and this served us well because we managed to put it together in about ten minutes at the campsite.  There has never been any marital discord surrounding tent assembly or disassembly, so I count it as a win. We purchased the footprint for this tent separately.  I've no clue if the footprint is super important, but after all we spent on this excursion, another $35 seemed reasonable at the time.

2) Sleeping bags and sleeping pads - We got the men's and women's versions of the Kelty Cosmic Down sleeping bags. They're rated to -7 degrees, but that's basically the limit to prevent hypothermia. I'm not sure I'd recommended it for below freezing at all.  We each got the same sleeping pad - a basic version that the guy working at REI recommended to us. Neither of us woke up sore the next morning and each of the pads stayed inflated throughout the night, so I'd say that was a win.

3) Camping stove - We went for a Trangia (25-2 UL). I swear we purchased it at REI, but I can't find it on their website. I almost cried at the price - it was nearly as much as the tent!  But my guess is that someday it will be something I'm happy we spent so much money on?  Maybe. It comes in an adorable package with a couple of bowls, a frying pan, and a TEA KETTLE. That is the selling point for me. Anyway, I did love that Saturday morning Dr. BB was able to make us thermoses of tea while I packed the sleeping bags and pads.

Because of Dr. BB's dietary restrictions, I see food as being the biggest obstacle for us in any camping expeditions that are longer than a brief overnight. We brought our cooler and that's great, but if we're backpacking or bike camping, that's not going to be an option. I'm really concerned about food options when/if we do more "serious" camping.
4) Cooking iron - I remember camping with my aunt and uncle (RV camping at a campground with electricity and water hookups!) and making mountain pies in one of these cooking irons. We put wild blueberries we picked in it, we made calzones with tomato sauce and pepperoni, and we made cinnamon toast with it.  I have VERY FOND memories of it. I failed to account for vagaries of gluten free bread (see: my lack of preparation from above) and we never actually made an edible one on Friday night.  I'm going to attempt to figure it out for next time.
5) Clothing - Look, we didn't buy any clothing especially for this. We live in Wisconsin, so having good long underwear is just a necessity for living here.  I'm a big fan of SmartWool. It is, sadly, not made in the USA, but it's good quality and almost all of my pieces of long underwear are SmartWool (I have some Icebreaker, which is less expensive, but doesn't fit me as well).  I also think you should know that my Windstopper hat makes life bearable. During the fall and spring I wear it almost daily and during super cold winter days, I wear it UNDER my winter hat to help with wind. I love it and whenever someone moves to a cold climate from a warm climate, I send them one in a care package.  I'm a huge proselytizer of Windstopper hats (not so much their gloves, though). 
6) Camping knife- Dr. BB also purchased a camping knife. We used it on the wood to get tinder and, honestly, even though he was using a glove, Dr. BB got a blister between his thumb and index finger. I'm pretty sure he's going to buy a hatchet for this purpose.

Things I Wish We Had:
1) Better pillows - Since we had the car, there was NO reason for us to be worried about how compressed our pillows could be.  Space wasn't an issue, so that was a big mistake.
2) Headlamps - We ended up making camp in the dark, which wasn't ideal, but moving our flashlights around was tedious.  Headlamps honestly aren't that bulky and I think we could find them super useful.
3) More knowledge on starting campfires - Some of this was my fault (no preparation on my part), but I was essentially no help when Dr. BB had some difficulties in starting the fire. It has rained for most of the day on Wednesday and Thursday and we'd even had a brief shower on Friday morning, so all the wood was wet. It took longer than it should have to actually start the fire and by the time we had it going we were FREEZING.
4) Crappy camping clothes - I only own two pairs of jeans. I was wearing one pair, but I was nervous about getting them torn, so I was a bit of a wimp about getting down on the ground. I actually wish I had gross clothing that I wasn't nervous about hurting, so I think I'm going to head to Goodwill soon and get a pair or two of jeans for that purpose. 
5) Camp chairs - Every year when we watch fireworks we lament the fact that we don't have outdoor chairs. We pulled the picnic table as close to the fire pit as we dared, but it would have been nice to have more flexible seating when the wind changed direction and smoke was in our faces.

So, all in all, I'm going to say that I don't really understand the appeal of camping. It is expensive - all this gear added up, despite our REI loyalty and careful coupon usage on the pricier items AND it cost us $40 for one night at the campground and we had to get a state park sticker for our car, which admittedly we already had.  It wasn't really fun - it seemed like A LOT of work for relatively little relaxation. I didn't sleep well and I didn't come out of it refreshed in anyway. Dr. BB suggests that if we camped LONGER it would be better because it won't be just put up camp and take it down, but I have my suspicions.

But Dr. BB really wants this, so I imagine we'll try camping one more time this season while it's still warm enough and then we'll try again in the spring with Dr. BB's ambitions of eventually spending multiple nights out, maybe at a campground further away from our house than ten minutes. I think he really thinks we're going to end up doing bike camping later on, but I don't know about that.

End dissertation.

(As always, no one pays me anything for this blog. These are things we've actually purchased and we actually are REI loyalists.)


  1. You are right on about headlamps. Much easier around the campsite (hands free), plus they are excellent for reading in the tent. For camping pillows, I bring a small pillowcase (perhaps you can sew one!) and stuff it full of the PolarTec I am not wearing. I like a thin pillow, so it works for me. Finally, as a VF Corporation, thank you for your loyalty to Smartwool products.

  2. PS If you ever want to go canoe camping in the BWCA, I can offer you some good homework to make the journey more enjoyable.


Template: Blog Designs by Sheila