In his book, Camping and Woodcraft (1917), Horace Kephart wrote that he took to the woods not to “rough it,” but to “smooth the way.”
Kephart believed that expert skills and appropriate gear were the keys to comfort in the wild outdoors. And you should never be miserable on a camping trip, either. So here are some tips for camping in comfort.
Protect the Head
Bring more hats than you think you’ll need. These three will keep you prepared for any weather: a broad-brimmed canvas hat (preferred) or ball cap for sun, a wool stocking cap for cold, and a waterproof “sou’wester” for rain. In cold weather, bring along a wool balaclava for use as a neck warmer and/or sleeping helmet.
Buy Clothes Big
Long-sleeved shirts and sweaters should be a full size larger than your city clothes. Rain jackets and shells should be larger still, and cut full — like an Inuit winter parka — so that they will fit over bulky clothes. Sleeves should be wide for ease of movement. Zippers should close high on the neck so icy air can’t chill your chest; most parkas leave a gap at the throat when they’re zipped up. And, more often than not, underarm zippers will leak in heavy rain — even those claiming to be waterproof.
Nix the Rain Pants
The zippered ankle closures don’t keep out rain — they just restrict ventilation and make you sweat (primitive man learned long ago that water doesn’t flow uphill). Plus, the zippers jam with debris and often fail. And the zippered legs can’t be shortened to fit short people. Avoid rain pants with wicking liners. When the liners get wet, they droop below the cuff and absorb water and wick it to your legs. They may also catch on vegetation and cause a fall.
Go With Wool
Always bring a long-sleeve wool shirt and lightweight long johns, even in the summer. Wool has a greater temperature comfort range versus synthetics. It’s more breathable, and it doesn’t develop obnoxious odors. If you think you’re allergic to wool, you haven’t tried Merino wool from Australia and New Zealand. Tip: You can shrink-fit military surplus woolens to fit small kids if you cook the woolens in boiling water for five minutes and then dry them with high heat. For centuries lobster fishermen used this “shrink-fit” procedure to make their woolens water-resistant.
While you might get by with a cotton T-shirt, a synthetic fabric (such as Dry-Fit) will help keep you cool during summer. But socks, no matter the season, should always be nearly pure wool. Trousers may be nylon, polyester, cotton-polyester or a mix of these fabrics. Shorts and sunburn go hand-in-hand. Do not wear blue jeans except for day hikes in perfect weather.
Jacket for Windy Weather
Everyone should have a breathable nylon wind shell for dry, blustery days outdoors. Wear the wind shell for gusty weather and save your rain gear for rain. Why? Because any garment that is worn too much will soon develop holes. Store rain clothes in a protective fabric sack in your pack.
Sit When Possible
Camp chores — cooking, washing dishes, tending the fire — go easier when you don’t sit on the ground. So, bring a folding stool. One variety has a backrest and zippered storage pouch, and it sits on two parallel aluminum rails that won’t sink into the ground. When not in use, it folds flat and clips (with bungee cords) to a pack. When weight is a concern, nix the stool and bring a square of closed-cell foam.
Cover the Hands
Wear wool gloves with rubber traction dots for cold and neoprene gloves for rain. Winter trips demand both gloves and mittens.
Keep It Personal
Everyone should have a personal supply of adhesive bandages, aspirin, soap, and hand cream in case the first-aid kit is inaccessible (perhaps in a leader’s pack).
Each person should take responsibility for small cuts that can become infected if they’re not washed and quickly bandaged. Frequent use of hand cream will deter cracked skin. And how can you freshen up during the day if your toothbrush and soap are packed away?
Many Scouts don’t have the latest gear. But they often camp more comfortably than non-Scouts who do. Why? Because Scouting takes its motto seriously: Be Prepared.
Cliff Jacobson is a Distinguished Eagle Scout and the author of more than a dozen popular books on the outdoors.
What are your secret “comfort” camping tricks? Share your suggestions in the comments below.