Travels with Charley

The cool camping blog. Trying to find gear, supplies, adventure and activities for the 21st century camper.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Tips - Camp fire building

There are plenty of sources that tell you how to make a fire. There are plenty of books on camping, Boy Scout Handbooks and websites all describe firebuilding, or woodcraft, in one way or another. But I still had a time of getting a good campfire going. If the wood was dry then it would start right up, but often turn to smoldering logs quickly. Or we would have nothing available but wet wood. And then there’s the “fire ring”, which just as often as not is an overturned truck wheel rim. Half of the time I just struggled to get the fire going and the other half keeping it going. Sure I knew that a fire needs fuel, it needs air and it needs heat, but I still almost always came up short.

My able bodied camping assistant had to stand by and watch me curse and throw chunks of wood as I fought to prove that I was a real camper! She decided to take matters into her own hands and got me a book. GASP, did I really need a book on camp fires?? Well, this book isn’t about camp fires, it’s called Camp Cookery, by Horace Kephart and it was originally published in 1910. Keep in mind that this was when people (mostly men) went camping to go way back into the wilderness to shoot or catch something to eat. It covers camp cooking tools, such as the reflector oven and folding broiler. Mr. Kephart advocates a lot of lard and has a chapter on cooking fresh killed game, like bear and squirrel. But the chapter on building fires is invaluable.

Let me quote Mr. Kephart on starting a fire to cook a quick meal: “…gather a small armful of sound, dry twigs from the size of a lead pencil to your finger…Select your three best…shave them almost thru (they will look like a Christmas tree-ed.) …stand these in a tripod…build a conical wigwam of the other sticks (over these)”. I did this on our last camping trip, and then place split wood in a log cabin fashion around the teepee. I lit it off and within a couple of minutes had a roaring fire with no further tinkering. The same thing happened whenever I built a fire, every time. I was sold! The rest of the chapter talks about the differences between a cook fire and a camp fire. It also describes what woods are good and for what situations. This chapter alone makes the whole book worth acquiring if you’re serious about your campfire.

A really nicely printed and bound edition can be gotten at Lee Valley.
It is also available at Amazon.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Shelter - Teardrop Campers - Part I

tab_cherryBefore we bought our travel trailer, I was somewhat intrigued by the vintage teardrop campers I saw on a TV show. I still think they're cool and perfect for a couple or a 3 person family who really want to travel light. If you are OK with the one minus to the camper - size - then the pluses really add up. What's even better is that there are several really nice models being made right now and some are downright cool. There are even resources for do-it yourselfers to make their own.

The camper's advantages are numerous. Typically weighing between 1000 lbs to 1500 lbs dry , with a tongue weight of about 150 lbs, they can be towed by pretty much any car with four wheels. (Expect to be able to load around 500 lbs more in cargo). All but the smallest of modern cars can tow this much. You can store a teardrop in your garage, so those of you in oppressive subdivisions may be able to store it at your house. Unlike a pop-up, it's ready to sleep in as soon as you pull into camp.

Basically, if you want the comfort and protection of a camper, without a lot of weight and work, and you like the coolness factor, then a teardrop may be just right for you. Typically they contain a queen bed, inside storage for clothes, towels and bathing products and some counter space. The rear opens up clamshell style and usually houses a kitchen, that can be completely dry or have the amenities such as electric fridge and gas stove. If you go really posh you can have an air conditioner.

The posh end of the scale, with total iMac inspired coolness is the T@B, pictured above. You can get it in aluminum, fiberglass and combo models.

Airstream actually is starting to market a model called the Base Camp, that's even more out there.

Camp-Inn have really shiny aluminum models that have a cool retro feel. I especially like the Buck Rogers spaceship look of the Rain Drop: click on their link to check it out.

Other makes include Cozy Cruiser, and Hunter. Little Guy trailers are the all fiberglass mode of construction, so it appears.

In part II on Teardrop campers I'll cover some sites and information on how to build your own.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Gear - Weather Resources

latest These days you can access weather information through just about everything - TV, radio, weather radio, cell phones, websites, and even podcasts. When you go camping knowing what weather you will encounter is about the most important piece of information you can gather. It can affect your clothing, your bedding and perhaps even the shelter you bring. Weather can affect your planned activities and it could endanger your safety, especially if your going mountain climbing or boating. Obviously having accurate, up to date weather can be essential to having a successful and fun camping trip

Since I'm a bit of a weather junkie, I look for and have settled on my favorite source, which is, sponsored by the National Weather Service. Weather forecasts come directly from the government meteorologists, the site is updated as soon as conditions and forecasts change, is the direct source of all official weather bulletins, and the direct feed to the weather radars. But the geekest bit of coolness is the "Forecast Discussion"(example). This discussion is a look into the heads of the NWS meteorologists as they examine the data, run their predictive models and make their forecasts. Predicting the weather is still part art and being able to hear what these people are thinking when they make their forecasts is fascinating and kind of fun.

And the Internet has some great resources for get your latest info on the weather, here's some:

-The National Weather Service, my favorite - make sure you view the Severe Weather brief
-The National Weather Service Severe Weather page
-Online Weather School
-Official definitions of severe weather statements
-The Weather Channel
-Weather and Camping Safety
-Pricey but cool XM Satellite weather service
-Nifty Weather Radio