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Family camping trips are all about making s’mores and singing Neil Diamond’s ultra-classic “Sweet Caroline” around the campfire, right? We certainly hope so. Not everything always goes according to plan though, and even the most experienced campers can make silly mistakes. Whether you’re car camping or taking to the backcountry by foot, canoe or kayak, ensure your holiday under nylon is relaxing instead of aggravating. Learn from our past mistakes and avoid these easy-to-fix missteps. —KP


1. LEAVING FOOD IN YOUR PACK.


Everyone worries about the 400-pound hungry ursine that might come knocking in the middle of the night, and that’s a legitimate safety concern in bear country. Far more common however, is the chubby-cheeked, 19-gram field mouse that will scurry into camp and use its tiny jaws to chew through your fancy $400 backpack, all to get at the leftover nub of a forgotten Clif bar you didn’t really enjoy in the first place. Fortunately, following bear safe practices (www.rapidmedia.com/0615) will also vermin-proof your gear.


2. NOT TAKING CARE OF YOUR GEAR POST-TRIP.


It sucks when you pull out gear for your next trip and it’s not been repacked properly or pieces are missing. “Have you seen the tent poles?” is not a question you want to ask at midnight when you roll into a sleepy campground. Far worse, gear that’s not cared for doesn’t last long. Damp gear rots, loses waterproofing and durability—plus it smells. Forgetting to clean your water filter pump post-trip is a sure way to take the manufacturer’s claim of 10,000 clean liters pumped and reduce its output to nine measly trips. Wash, dry and repack everything when you return home.


3. BURYING BEAR SPRAY AT THE BOTTOM OF YOUR PACK.


It can’t help you there. Bear spray is a great safety tool (and provider of peace of mind) for campers in bear country but you need easy access to it. Side pockets of hiking packs work well but even better is a specialized holster. Pretend you’re in a spaghetti Western and practice drawing your piece from your chosen location— don’t get stuck asking the bear to stick ‘em up empty-handed.


4. LETTING A FIRST-TIMER PACK WITHOUT SUPERVISION.


First-timers know nothing, not even what you probably consider to be common sense. On portage-heavy backcountry canoe trips we’ve witnessed newbies bring: beans rehydrating in glass mason jars, a five-pound citronella bucket candle to ward off mosquitoes and a portable Coleman gas heater for use inside a flammable nylon tent. We’ve also seen them forget maps, matches and tents. Give your first-timer a list of essentials (www.rapidmedia/0616), encourage them not to deviate from it, and then give the gear a once-over pre-trip.


5. NOT MAKING A LIST.


Newbies aren’t the only ones to benefit from list making. “I’m 52. I don’t think I should check a list—I know I have to,” says canoeing guidebook author Kevin Callan. “It started out by forgetting small items, such as toothpaste and after dinner snacks. The moment I started forgetting T.P. and extra rations of whiskey is when I started making a list religiously.” It’s the only way to make sure you don’t leave something important behind.


6. PACKING FOR AN EXPEDITION ON A WEEKEND TRIP.


Stop bringing so much stuff. If you’re packing enough gear to survive an Apocalypse, then of course it’s going to seem like a lot of effort to get outside. Once you’ve looked after your needs for shelter, water and food, the rest is gravy. Pay attention to what gear is brought but not used and—unless it’s your rain jacket or first aid kit—don’t bring it next time.


7. FORGETTING THE GUIDE.


Bird nerds and tree sleuths sometimes seem a little geeky, but only until you get them into their natural environments. Then they’re pointing out a spotted wood thrush and explaining that its Australian relative, the bassian, directs a stream of flatulence towards suspected earthworm sites to gas them out and then eat ‘em for dinner. Cool! And gross. Unfortunately, natural interpreters don’t come pocket- sized, however field guides do.


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8. RELEGATING YOUR ADVENTURES ONLY TO LONG WEEKENDS.


The 100-mile, four-hour bumper-to-bumper crawl back to Urbania following a three-day civic holiday weekend is enough to make anyone say, “We’re never going camping again.” Get out more often. Master the lost art of the microadventure with our seven tips at www.rapidmedia.com/0617.


9. NOT CHECKING THE WEATHER REPORT.


Don’t cross your fingers and gamble on blue skies and balmy temperatures. The one-day temperature forecast is now accurate within two degrees—compared to within six degrees in 1972—according to the National Weather Service. Coming prepared will exponentially increase your enjoyment of any trip.


CHECKING THE WEATHER REPORT. In his 2012 essay, “The Weatherman Is Not A Moron,” Nate Silver refers to a study of TV meteorologists in Kansas City that found when they said there was a 100-percent chance of rain, it failed to rain at all one-third of the time. Wet bias is well documented and refers to commercial forecasters overestimating the chance of rain. For example, a five-percent chance of rain may be reported to the public as a 20-percent chance. This is said to increase the usefulness of the forecast. Use weather reports to guide how to pack for a trip—don’t let it be the deciding factor in whether or not you go. Possible exemptions for this advice include: hurricanes, tornadoes and volcanic lightning.


10. 11. WALKING AROUND BAREFOOT.


The editorial office—half of them barefoot for the discussion—was divided on this point, but shoes protect your feet from all sorts of sharp and bitey hazards. For backpackers and backcountry campers, it’s best to minimize the risk of injury to your tootsies completely. No shoes, no service? We like to say no shoes, no epidermis. We’re trying to make that a thing.


12. KILLING YOUR CAMPFIRE WITH TOO MUCH, TOO SOON.


Patience you must have, young padawan. A sixth sense for fire-making develops with the more infernos tended. However, a good rule of thumb is that if you can get your hand within six inches of the fire without feeling extreme (read: painful) heat, it’s still too early to put on anything thicker than your forearm. If you can’t get there, start with the basics of fire making at www.rapidmedia.com/0618.


13. IMPROPER AXE USE.


There are only two ways to avoid putting that axe blade in your shin—either good luck or proper form. We prefer relying on the latter. With a sharp blade, take a wide stance and swing the axe on an arc between your legs. Kneeling makes this even safer. The aim is to create an arc for the axe blade that avoids every part of you. The longer the axe the safer your kneecaps are.


14. WAITING UNTIL YOUR KIDS ARE XX YEARS OLD TO START CAMPING.


“The best age to start kids camping is now,” says Bruce Kirkby, author, explorer and father of two. Along with his wife, Christine, and two boys, the Kirkbys have climbed mountains, traversed deserts and paddled remote rivers. Our favorite example: When their youngest was just four months old the Kirkbys flew to Georgia, bought a chesnut mare and spent two months traversing the Caucasus Mountains. “For parental sanity, try to avoid bugs, heat and severe cold. Like anything in life, start the way you want to continue. Getting them outside early is setting you up for years of healthy, outdoor family fun,” adds Kirkby.


15. RUNNING OUT OF WHISKEY. Don’t let it happen to you—especially if you brought the kids.


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