Making camp: How to create a safe, clean, and comfortable home base

Making Camp

Humans have an inherent need for a “home” even when we’re just camping for a few days. Most of what you need to recline, dine, and snooze in style is either in your pack or in your environment already. In this chapter, we’ll teach you easy-to-use tips on how to stay clean, dry, and hygienic from bed to bathroom using simple building techniques. We’ll also show you how to construct a decked-out outdoor kitchen and how to build sturdy places to sleep everywhere from the earth to the canopy.

16. Location, Location, Location

How to choose your campsite

Choose the right camp site locationPhoto by Srikanth JandhyalaComfort and safety depend on your choice of campsite. The ideal site will have flat, even ground with open space for a kitchen area and perhaps a play area. Look for potential hazards from above – dead tree limbs or loose rock ledges. Camping in the open through a stormy night is not fun and can be very dangerous, so listen to the weather forecast. Locate your tents in an area that receives morning shade. And stay a good distance away from the water’s edge because of flooding potential and the presence of animals and insects.

17. Shelter from the Rain

How to build an open shelter

A-frame open shelterPhoto by Pig MonkeyLightweight and compact, tarps offer flexibility in shelter configuration and are the quickest way to provide protection from the rain. A-frame construction prevents water from collecting on the tarp and causing it to fail. To make a simple A-frame shelter, stretch out a length of Paracord and tie each end to a tree at the same height – high enough for maneuver under the shelter; throw the tarp over this centerline. Attach individual ropes to the four corners of the tarp; secure them with tent stakes, rocks, or tie them to other trees.

18. Sleeping Quarters

Techniques for building a simple shelter

Leaf Hut ShelterPhoto by Mike PetrucciYou forgot the tent, and it will be getting dark soon; you must have shelter against the cold night temperatures. You can use what is around you to build a leaf hut, an A-frame shaped wedge that is weatherproof and insulated. Choose a straight, stout limb that is 10’ – 12’ long for the backbone of your shelter. Secure one end in a group of rocks or a tree fork, keeping the central rib oriented at an upward 30° angle. Use two forked sticks to secure the other end of the limb, forming a triangle. Down each side, place sturdy branches closely together at an angle, one end on the ground and the other on the central limb. Cover the frame with a couple of feet of vegetative matter – leaves, moss, and pine needles.

19. Sleep in a Hammock

How to make a simple hammock

Make a hammock with tarpPhoto by Nicholas YaxThe wet ground does not make for a restful sleep; neither does the thought of crawling insects or worse. To turn a tarp into a hammock, find two suitable trees about 10’ apart. Spread out the tarp and, beginning at one end, roll the two sides toward the middle and each other. Bind the rope around the two bundles tightly, 18” from the end of the tarp; fold the end over and wrap the rope around the fold several times, securing it with 2 – 3 half-hitch knots. Repeat the process of making a loop on the other end of the tarp. Tie one end of a 15’ length of rope through each “eye” and the other end to one of the trees.

20. Take to the Trees

Techniques for building a tree house

How to build a tree housePhoto by ythedarkdaysStay dry and comfortable with a greater level of protection from wandering wildlife by sleeping in the trees. Tree houses can be quite elaborate, but in the wilderness, you have only a small window of time to construct one. Locate a large spreading tree such as a Southern Live Oak or Deodar Cedar; use two or more horizontally growing limbs as the foundation for a platform. Lash branches perpendicular to the live limbs to create your floor, use forked branches to construct a guardrail around the perimeter and rig a tarp into an A-frame above the platform for protection from the rain.

21. Camp Kitchens

Simple workstation construction

Camp fire cookingPhoto by aston5manWhether indoors or out, every kitchen has the same basic requirements – a place to cook, prep food, store tools and supplies, and clean. Although folding camp tables provide an instant workstation, you can make a simple workspace from the natural materials in the area. Use rocks, logs, or tree forks for the legs of your table; the key is to make sure they are reasonably level. Choose two or three branches of equal length that span the distance between the table legs, lay them out parallel and 8” apart. Collect a bundle of sturdy twigs cut to 20” to form the top of the table; lash them, closely spaced, to the three base pieces.

22. Make a Rope

Materials and Methods

Make a RopePhoto by Shelley GingerMaterials like grasses, the long fibers of palm and cattail leaves, or the interior bark layer of cedar trees are perfect for making cordage. Group several strands of differing lengths into a bunch and tie a knot in the end. Make several tight twists in a clockwise direction with half of the fibers and wrap them counter clockwise around the straight strands; repeat the process with the second half of the fibers. As the strands begin to thin, simply splice in new ones and keep twisting. The different lengths you started out with ensuring that you are not making all of your splices in the same spot.

23. Tie the Knot

Essential knots everyone should know

How to tie a knotPhoto by steveAn infinite number of knots exist, but not all of them are appropriate for all purposes. Different situations often require different knots. To make a closed loop at the end of a rope, use a bowline knot. The taut-line hitch is an adjustable knot frequently used to tie down tent corners; the adjustability allows the knot to be tightened. The half hitch is a weight-bearing knot, ideal for hanging a hammock or suspending a bear bag in the trees. And if you need a little leverage moving a large log, combine a timber hitch with a couple of half-hitches for a tight grip and a high weight capacity.

24. Lash it Together

Learn this simple construction technique

Knotted bambooPhoto by Willeke_igktAn age-old method of wrapping cordage around two or more objects to bind them together, lashing provides a strong but flexible connection. The technique works so well because each wrap adds pressure that makes the bond tougher. Like knots, different lashing patterns perform different functions – connecting a horizontal limb to a vertical tree trunk or making an A-frame for a shelter. To make a cross brace, lay out your sticks, hold the end of your twine on top of the horizontal part, wrap counterclockwise around the vertical branch, downward around the horizontal, and clockwise around the vertical branch. Continue wrapping in this method 10 – 12 more times and tie a square knot in the end.

25. Play Games

Fun games to make and play

Outdoor gamesPhoto by Kevin JonesThe shelters, tents, and outdoor kitchen are set up, the fire is roaring, and the kids are getting bored; it’s time to play. Send the young ones on a scavenger hunt to collect leafs, seeds, and sticks; something smooth, something rough, and something green. Include man-made litter, reinforcing the importance of taking care of our natural areas. Instead of a sand castle, build a twig fortress. Paint or mark a Tic-Tac-Toe board on top of a stump or log; collect and mark stones for the playing pieces. Take lots of Glo sticks; placed in plastic bottles, they provide beautiful illumination for nighttime bowling.

26. Keep it Clean

Practical tips for camp hygiene

Store food safely in treesPhoto by Ray DumasProper sanitation is perhaps more important in the wilderness than it is a home, and vital if you are in a wilderness area that falls within bear territory. Never leave out food or garbage; store both in airtight containers secured in the trees. Other items such as toothpaste, perfumes, and shampoos can also attract animals. Store these items in airtight containers away from your sleeping quarters. Set up a washing station complete with water jug, liquid soap, and paper towels; hang wet clothes on an improvised clothesline. And always change into clean nightclothes before turning in; you will sleep more comfortably and your tent will stay fresher.

27. Camp Toilets

Managing waste

Path on hillPhoto by Jonathan Kos-ReadHuman waste attracts flies, spreads disease, and pollutes water sources if not disposed of properly. Human feces should be buried at least 200 feet away from your campsite and any waterways. Choose a spot that is inconspicuous in an area not likely to be used by others to dig a ‘cathole’. The most commonly accepted method of disposal, a ‘cathole’ should measure 6” – 8” deep and 4” – 6” wide. Cover with soil and natural materials. In some ecologically sensitive areas – river canyons and extensive floodplains, campers are required to pack out their waste. So check with the appropriate land management agency before you go.

Conclusion

A little building knowledge, familiarity with the weather, and some creative entertainment ideas are all you’ll need to stay safe, clean, and happy as you settle in for a night in nature. You’ll find that building your own toilets, beds, and toys isn’t so different from prepping these necessities indoors. By the time you’ve set up camp, you’ll probably have worked up a thirst: so, in the next chapter, we’ll walk you through how to find and prepare safe drinking water.

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