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Gear Up for Camping Out

When you think of camping, do you have the idea of leaving the comfort of your home and venturing out into the great outdoors? At home you have four walls, a ceiling and floor to protect you from the elements. You have a sink and toilet providing running water at the twist of the wrist.

Perhaps the outdoors is not so different from home. The sky is an endless ceiling, and trees offer a wooden and leafy wall of privacy. Think of grass and moss as nature's carpet. Streams and creeks provide running water. And the toilet... well, I'll leave that to your creativity.

The point is that nature can offer some of the same comforts as a house, as well as an invigorating experience that comes with co-existing with the out of doors. And with some of the new camping products on the market, camping can get downright cozy. Following are some tips to help you choose the right camping equipment for you and your family to ensure your next outdoors stay is comfortable and worry-free.

Tents

A tent is probably the most basic element of the campsite. There are some important features to consider when buying a tent: good ventilation, ease of set-up and protection from the elements. Good ventilation is key to a good night's sleep, especially when you have several tent mates. Unlike the old cloth Army tent my dad used to let me camp out in the backyard, manufacturers now make tents with large windows that let the breeze flow freely. If you're afraid of turning your tent into a nylon taffeta wind tunnel, look for a tent that has storm covers. Zippered roof vents offer even more ventilation, and you can control the airflow to your taste with the simple swipe of a zipper.

How easy a tent is to set up is important, especially when you're forced to pitch your tent in the rain or dark. It's a good idea to practice setting up your tent in the backyard before you take it on a trip. There are several different methods of tent set-up, the two most common being the clip system and the sleeve system. In the clip system, the ends of the poles are held by grommets (or reinforcing loops), and the tent is clipped to the poles. The sleeve system is when the tent poles are pushed through sleeves in the tent and the ends are held in place by grommets. Some tents employ a combination of the two systems.

When it comes to weatherproofing your tent, most of the responsibility falls on you, not the manufacturer. Manufacturers usually coat tent floors and flies with polyurethane or another moisture-repellent substance to prevent moisture from seeping from the ground into the tent. The body of the tent (the roof and walls) usually comes untreated, but a rainfly should be included to offer some protection from wind and rain. Some tents have a double-roof construction, which decreases condensation from forming on the ceiling. Manufacturers should and usually do tape the major seams of a tent. If the seams are not taped, use seam sealer to cover up the needle holes where the tent has been sewn together.

There are precautions you can take to ensure that you stay dry when sleeping in a tent. Examine your campsite carefully before setting up your tent. Place the tent on a flat area that does not appear to be a low point. A ground cloth under the tent is a good idea, but make sure the cloth does not extend out farther than your rainfly. Water will drip from the rainfly onto the cloth and settle under your tent, making your sleeping quarters a nice-size puddle.

Now you have some basic knowledge of what to look for when buying a tent. So, what happens when you're standing in the sporting goods store and faced with a gaggle of tents of different style, brand and price range? When choosing a tent, consider the style of camping in which you plan to take part.

Larger "family size" tents are good for campouts in a central location, while there are smaller, lightweight tents for backpackers. A nice family-size tent is the Eureka! Lodge, which sleeps six campers. This tent has a screened-in front room where you can enjoy the outdoors bug-free, and the sleeping area has four large windows that provide plenty of ventilation. For a smaller crowd, the Dome Tent by Avid Outdoor sleeps three.

My advice when it comes down to purchasing a tent is to consider what type of camping you will be doing and buy the best quality tent you can afford. Whether you're a beginner or an avid camper, either way, this is your bedroom for the camping trip.

Sleeping Bags and Pads

While we're in your "campsite bedroom," let's talk about your bed. A good sleeping system is to place a sleeping pad under your bag. Not only will you sleep more comfortably on a sleeping pad, you'll also stay warmer and dryer. Pads keep you off the ground, which can get damp and cold. Plus, your body will lose more heat to the ground than to that small space of air that's provided by the sleeping pad.

Next in your sleeping agenda is the sleeping bag. Some sleeping bags are mummy style, and some are flat and rectangular. Some sleeping bags are filled with down, while others have a synthetic fill. The right sleeping bag for you depends on the amount of money you want to spend, how cold-natured you are and the type of climate in which you plan to camp.

Down-filled sleeping bags are more expensive than those with synthetic fill, but are more compressible for compact carrying (good feature for backpackers). Down bags are also warmer, but watch out for cold spots. Cold spots occur when there is too much "fluidity" in the bag, and the down shifts to create empty spots of air. Check for firmness in the bag's compartments, when buying a down sleeping bag. Firmness means there is less room for the feathers to shift.

Whether you have a feather- or fiber-filled bag, fluff your sleeping bag before crawling into it at night. Fluffing creates more air space in the fill, and the air space is easily warmed by body heat.

Mummy bags fit closer to your body than the flat, rectangular sleeping bags. The closer fit seals in more of your body heat. Plus, mummy bags fit over your head, a place where you lose a lot of body heat.

The warmth of a sleeping bag is measured in degrees Fahrenheit. Ask a store clerk to help you find the correct warmth for the area you plan to camp in most. You can always layer your clothes or use a sleeping bag liner to up the warmth of the bag.

An inexpensive bag good for beginners is the Coleman Full Size Sleeping Bag. This sleeping bag is effective down to 40 degrees and is good for mild condition camping. The cover is made of nylon, and the liner is cotton flannel (Think of surrounding yourself with your dad's old flannel shirt. How about that for comfort).

Camp Stoves

A campout just isn't the same without a crackling campfire, but a campfire might not be the best way to cook your meals. Some campsites are lacking in accessible wood, and in areas plagued by drought, campfires are sometimes taboo.

When cooking, there are many advantages a camp stove has over cooking over an open fire or charcoal. A stove is easier and more efficient, because there is hardly any labor involved in starting it up. Plus, a stove works great in wet weather. If I've sold you on a camp stove, let's take the next step in determining what type of stove is right for you.

Camp stoves come in one-burner and two-burners. The number of burners you'll need depends on the amount of cooking you'll be doing and the number of people for whom you'll be cooking. If you're Betty Crocker or Carol Brady, go with the two-burner.

When buying a camp stove, there are two primary types to choose from: gasoline-fueled or propane-fueled. You'll have to decide for yourself which type of stove you prefer. To help you along, here are some advantages of propane, followed by some advantages of gasoline.

When using a propane stove, you don't have to pump the fuel into the stove itself. This saves time and effort, and provides a constant heat source. In general, cooking goes more smoothly. Propane burns cleaner and is easier to refuel. You don't have to worry about a liquid (like gasoline) overflowing onto your hands or something else. Spills can lead to flare ups, so keep your tents or any other flammable material away from a gasoline-operated stove.

Propane is bulkier than gasoline. Propane is sold in disposable canisters, and these canisters take up more room per hour of cooking time. (This is only a problem for backpackers.) Propane has a higher cost per hour and is less available in rural areas.

A good propane stove made by a reputable company is Coleman's Electronic Ignition Propane Stove. This stove eliminates the hassle of using matches, which are quick to burn up (and your fingers). This stove provides constant heat output regardless of weather conditions. It can boil a quart of water in 4 1/2 minutes.

Here is one last tip before we leave the stove section of this article: Never use a camp stove inside a tent. Camp stoves are meant for the open outdoors. Anyway, haven't you always wanted this much space in your kitchen?

Lights

Like camp stoves, most lanterns are fueled by compressed gas, such as Propane, or liquid fuel, such as kerosene or gasoline. But beginner campers will do just as well with a battery-powered lantern. Battery lanterns are not as bright as fuel lanterns, but they are much safer and easier to use.

Imagine unzipping the door to your pitch-black tent and instead of fumbling around to find a flashlight or lantern in the dark, you simply push the button on a remote control in your pocket to click on a bright fluorescent lantern. Viola, now you can see what you're doing. That's the convenience you get with the Coleman Remote-Control Lantern. The remote control device is very similar in shape, size and function to the remotes used for keyless entry on some newer cars and trucks. It operates the lantern from up to 50 feet away. The lantern can also be operated manually.

Flashlights offer a more portable and packable source of light. A durable and reliable brand of flashlight is the Maglite. The Maglite's light beam goes from a flood light to a spot with a twist of the wrist. All Maglites have a spare lamp inside the tail cap.

The 2-Cell D Maglite is an average-sized flashlight with features such as a push-button, self-cleaning rotary and three-position switch. The Mini-Mag is great for scrounging around the tent in the middle of the night without waking up your bunkmate. The tail cap of the Mini quickly converts to a freestanding candle...perfect for late-night reading in the tent.

Tools and Knives

They slice, they dice and they can be very handy at the campsite. Camp tools and knives are like a workshed and the kitchen drawers all in a compact instrument you can carry in your pocket.

The Camper Swiss Army Knife comes with a variety of tools (other than the basic large and small "pocket knife" blades) that is beneficial at the campsite. Features include a bottle opener, large screwdriver, wire stripper, corkscrew and keyring. The woodsaw can be used to cut small branches for the campfire, while the reamer and sewing eye will help if the tent needs mending. The tweezers are good for pulling out splinters. A corkscrew is available if you're serving up a civilized glass of wine with dinner, and there's a toothpick handy for after the meal.

The ST1N by Imperial Schrade is one tough tool with 21 functions/implements. It's a tool that can handle everything from bolts to beverages. For fix-it jobs around the campsite, the ST1N has needlenose and regular pliers, wire cutters, a measuring gauge, a locking heavy duty field saw and three types of screwdrivers. This tool also comes in handy at dinnertime with its can opener and locking dual edge knife.

While tools like these shouldn't take the place of every tool needed at a campsite, they do seem to have just the right tool at just the right time. Backpackers depend on these tools for their lightweight and utility, but campers at a stationery campsite should still plan ahead for any mishaps that could take place.

Water Purifier

The water around organized campgrounds is usually safe. The water is treated, either privately or supplied by a nearby city treatment plant.

Water purifying systems are necessary for camping trips where treated water is not available. Water purifiers eliminate all the icky microorganisms, such as viruses, bacteria and protozoa, which can make you sick.

Even though iodine tablets are much more inexpensive than purifying systems, these tablets are not effective against the protozoa Cryptosporidium. (Don't even try to pronounce it.) Whereas water purifiers filter out all microorganisms instantly, iodine tablets take time to penetrate the protective shell of the protozoan Giardia, which causes diarrhea. Plus, they make the water taste like medicine.

The Scout is PUR's most efficient water purifier, in that it makes water with less effort (one liter per minute). It's not as fast as the tap, but it's all for the cause of safe drinking water. Features include a base that won't slip, a Pleated Anti-Clog filter that requires minimal maintenance and a DirtShield screen that acts as a second prefilter to remove silt and sediment.

This article only mentions some of the basic camping equipment needed for a successful campout. Items, such as an axe, radio and first-aid kit, are just as important. Think about your needs and your family's needs when gathering camping equipment. Decide the items you need to have a successful, safe and fun camping trip.

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