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December 31, 2008

Choosing the Right Sleeping Bag for Your Camping Style

Ahh camping! Enjoy a full day of hiking, swimming, fishing, and playing in the sun and fresh air. The only thing better than a full day of camping is a good night’s rest in a warm comfortable sleeping bag. There is nothing worse than shivering all night long, or not being able to scrunch down because your bag’s too short. And if you’ve ever been camping with kids, you know that sooner or later, someone’s sleeping bag is going to end up wet, one way or another. Choosing the proper sleeping bag for your camping style will prevent a lot of discomfort beforehand.

Down verses synthetic

Synthetic sleeping bags are cheaper than down and usually non-allergenic. They dry more quickly when wet, but are bulkier and heavier than down. Synthetic sleeping bags are easier to take care of, especially if spills or stains are sponged off immediately before setting or drying.

  • It is difficult to wash a synthetic sleeping bag by hand, but it can be done.Use warm water and detergent; pretreat stains ahead of time if necessary. Rinse several times to get the soap out.
  • Wash a synthetic sleeping bag in a front-loading washing machine with detergent. Zip the bag before putting it in the machine.
  • Dry a synthetic sleeping bag in a dryer on low heat, so as not to melt the fibers. It may also be dried outside.

Down sleeping bags are difficult to dry, and take a long time to dry fully. They are more expensive, especially if they are made from goose feathers. Duck is slightly less expensive, but just as hard to dry. Down is lightweight and extremely warm. This makes it a good choice for backpackers. Down sleeping bags do require special care.

  • Make sure your down sleeping bag is completely dry before putting it away to prevent mildew, and clumping.
  • Wash a down sleeping bag by hand with mild detergent.
  • If you must use a washing machine use the gentle cycle, preferably in a front-loading machine.
  • Always shake the bag out after drying it, and before using it to fluff out the down.
  • The best way to dry a down sleeping bag is to lay it out flat.
  • If you use a dryer to dry a down sleeping bag use very low heat and throw in a couple of clean tennis balls to fluff the down and break up clumps. Remember, it takes a long time to dry a down sleeping bag, but don’t turn up the heat or you will ruin your bag.

Comfort Ratings

All outdoor sleeping bags are rated by a “comfort rating” This is according to how warm they keep you in low temperatures.

  • Summer weight sleeping bags keep you warm in temperatures 35 degrees or higher.
  • 3-season sleeping bags keep you warm in temperatures of plus 10 degrees to 35 degrees.
  • Cold weather sleeping bags keep you warm in minus 10 degrees to plus 10 degrees.
  • Winter/Extreme sleeping bags keep you warm in minus 10 degrees and below.

Most children’s character sleeping bags are not designed as outdoor sleeping bags, so if you have kids, check first, and take extra blankets if it gets cold at night.

Size and Shape

Sleeping bags come in different lengths. Make sure you have enough room to be comfortable, but not too much empty space that makes it hard to stay warm.

  • Mummy bags are cut so that they are narrower at the feet and wider at the shoulders. The bag conforms more closely to the body than a rectangular sleeping bag making it easier for the bodies heat to warm the space. These bags are slightly restrictive if you move around a lot in your sleep, but are great for cold weather camping.
  • Rectangular sleeping bags give more room to move around and can usually be zipped together with other rectangular sleeping bags. Heat escapes from the top more quickly than a mummy bag, but some semi-rectangular sleeping bags come with a contoured hood making up for the heat loss

Hope this helps you choose a warn, snug sleeping bag for you and your kids to snuggle-down for a good nights sleep the next time you go camping! (Or at least a comfortable night of no sleep, which often happens with kid campers.)

By Sandra M. Webster

December 29, 2008

Camping Convenience

Filed under: Camping — writer @ 2:24 pm

The thought of packing up a truckload full of items and trudging off into the woods is not appealing to many people. It is imposing to consider all of the gear, food and supplies necessary to essentially live in the wilderness, although there are a few handy little gadgets that can make your camping trips much more enjoyable.

Eating during a camping trip has always been a concern. After all, how is it possible to have a tasty, home-cooked meal with no tools over an open flame? However, cooking problems have been remedied with the invention of camp-specific cookware. Cabela’s makes a complete line of cookware for the outdoors, with their deluxe 50 piece set offering every pot, pan and utensil you might need. Affordable and versatile, the Cabela’s set makes any meal much more enjoyable.

Cleaning up your campsite can be a bit of a headache, especially when trying to collar various blowing pieces of garbage. Large, collapsible trash cans are your best bet, holding enough garbage to be useful, yet folding up for traveling. Pine Creek Outdoors sells an extremely useful trash container that holds up to 13 gallons of trash at a time, yet folds flat to fit under any camping gear.

Setting up a tent is often the most frustrating part of camping. A myriad of poles, fabric and stakes can make even the steadiest camper a frustrated mess. Camp Tents makes a number of pop up tents what require virtually no time to erect. Simply open the package, shake the tent open and stake it on a flat, open surface. Quick-set tents are as steady and secure as traditional fabric and pole tents, with much less aggravation.

Camping is certainly one of the most relaxing and enjoyable adventures for those that love the outdoors. Roughing it can certainly be a challenge, although new products are constantly being developed to give those brave adventurers a little ease and comfort while out on the trail.

December 26, 2008

Meeting a Bear in the Smokies: What to Do

With the Smokies in my backyard, I know how easy it is to stumble upon a bear’s domain. It’s so important that guests in the Smokies understand that the mountains serve as the home of the bear–and the bear looks at humans as the intruders, not vice-versa. If you are camping in the Smokies, you should know that bears in the Park are wild. While they may look cute and cuddly, they aren’t. It’s true that bear attacks in the Smokies are rare, but they have occurred. If you cross paths with an angry bear, here are some guidelines that can help you stay in control and come out alive.

Do not approach any bear that you see. If you see a bear and he stops what he is doing, the chances are high that he has also seen you. This means that you are too close. Slowly start to back away from the bear while keeping an eye on him. Put as much distance between you and the bear as possible.

Angry Bear - Photo by Lara Schneider

Angry Bear - Photo by Lara Schneider

If the bear starts to follow you, but he isn’t acting aggressive, change your direction by walking backwards. If the bear continues to follow you after you’ve changed your route, stand still. If he continues to come closer, begin shouting at him. Act as aggressive as possible. This has been known to intimidate bears and make them run off. The most important thing you can remember is to never run or turn your back on a bear.

If the bear is still trailing you, make yourself seem as large as possible. You can do this by moving to higher ground, or standing on something such as a large rock. If the bear continues to approach after you have tried to intimidate him with your voice and acting large, begin to throw non-food objects at him. This can include rocks. If possible, find a large stick to hold. It can help you fight off the bear if he should continue to approach.

If the bear begins to act aggressive and you have food on your person, the chances are very high that he smells it. Drop the food, back away, and put as much distance between you and your food as possible. Many times the bear will stop focusing on you, stop at the food, and start investigating it.

If the bear ignores the food and continues to come after you and you are physically attacked, fight back as much as you can. Use anything you can to fight off the bear, like large sticks and rocks. Scream and holler at the bear. Make as much noise as possible. Not only can this scare the bear, it can also alert others to your predicament.

While bear attacks in the Smokies are somewhat rare, they do happen. During the summer of 2008, a child was attacked by a black bear in the Smokies. His father fought him off, the child ran away, and the bear followed and attacked the child again. After taking a severe beating from the father, the bear eventually ran off. The bear was tracked and found by park officials and put down.

Knowing what to do in the event of an attack can help you survive. Remember, never turn your back on a bear, and if it comes down to it, fight the bear with everything in your power. Heeding these two tips can mean the difference between life and death.

December 24, 2008

Canine Camping

Filed under: Camping — writer @ 2:49 pm

Taking your dog campingDogs have become a fixture in the lives of people around the world. Dogs often serve as partners, companions and protectors, and more and more people are taking their dogs with them when they travel. Camping is a very dog-friendly activity, although it can be a bit more difficult to spend time in the wilderness with your four-legged friend.

A camping adventure with your dog does not have to be a complex operation. You only need to make sure you pack a collar, lead, food and water bowl for your furry friend. As long as your dog is housebroken and won’t potty in your tent, there’s no need to worry about special housing overnight.

Safety is paramount what camping with your dog, so make sure that he is on lead at all times and never out of your sight. Predators such as bears and mountain lions will prey on dogs if left alone, so keep an eye out for bear tracks or lion dens on the trail. Keeping your dog on lead also helps to keep him from disturbing the natural environment and avoids destroying the habitat of the local creatures. It is illegal in many states to allow your dog to harass or injure local creatures, so be vigilant.

Clean up after your pooch throughout your trip. It’s only common courtesy to pick up any potty spots so that other campers don’t step in it. Also, keep you pet’s food and water picked up if he’s not eating it, so that it does not attract wildlife. Take along a garbage bag or two to clean up after yourselves and a small cooler to keep your dog’s food fresh and keep the scent from attracting other animals.

A number of companies have latched onto the idea of camping with your dog, producing a number of supplies specifically geared towards camping pooches. Doggie backpacks allow your pooch to carry his own supplies, and boots can help keep his feet free from sharp rocks on the trail.

Camping with your dog can be a very enlightening, relaxing and rewarding experience, as long as you plan ahead. Pack only the essentials, travel lightly, and leave the wilderness just wild as it was when you entered.

December 22, 2008

Campfire Memories: Songs and Stories to Share

What better way to end a perfect day of camping than with a bright, cheerful (or scary!) campfire? Wonderful memories of campfire activities will last a lifetime. Family and friends come together at the end of the day to wind down and relax. The first step is building the best campfire ever, which will be the focal point of the gathering.

Types of Campfires

  • The Pyramid-start with a bottom layer of logs that are 4”-6” in diameter placed in a square shape. Add additional layers of smaller, shorter logs until you reach the desired height. Fill the space in the middle with kindling and tinder. Light the fire on a small platform of twigs near the top so that the burning cinders fall into the middle of the pyramid.
  • A Log-Cabin style fire starts with 2 large logs as the base running parallel. Place the next level of smaller logs perpendicular to the base. Continue alternating for a few layers. Fill the space between with kindling. This is important so that the fire does not burn too fast.
  • A Tepee fire is made by stacking wood on its end so that the tops meet and form a shape like a tepee. Kindling and tinder should be placed in the middle, and the fire is lit from the bottom.

How big you build your fire depends on many things; the most important of which is your surroundings. Do you have a designated fire pit, or area that is safe to build a larger fire in? Make sure you have permission before building any fires and take into consideration the age of the participants. If you have several young children a roaring bonfire is an accident waiting to happen. Explain campfire rules and safety tips before the excitement begins.

Songs to Sing Around Campfires

Campfire Songs, Photo by miamabanta @ Flickr

Campfire Songs, Photo by miamabanta @ Flickr

  • She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain
  • Down By the Bay
  • Alice the Camel (especially appropriate for younger crowd, just make sure they don’t get too close to the fire.)
  • An Austrian Went Yodeling
  • The Other Day I saw a Bear
  • Rounds-such as Row Your Boat, Sarrasponda and Kookaburra
  • Kum Ba Yah
  • Michael Row the Boat Ashore

There are hundreds of songs that may be sung around a campfire. Don’t be afraid to ask for suggestions, or let campers make up new songs.

Storytelling is another great activity to engage in around a campfire. Appropriate stories for younger children may be told earlier. When they are sent off to bed, older children and adults may tell stories that are a bit scarier. If younger children are really frightened-stop the story.

A Scary Story for Younger Children

This is a classic story that most children learn early. Choose a youngster’s name from the group, or a generic name.

Once there was a (girl/boy) named (say name).

One night (she/he) woke up about midnight because (she/he) heard someone walking downstairs.

Step…step….step

(She/He) quickly pulled the covers up over (her/his) head and shivered.

Then (she/he) hears a wavery voice: (say the next line slowly in a scary voice)

“ (Say child’s name) I’m on the first step and I’m coming to get you!”

Then, (Say child’s name) heard another step and then the voice said
” (Say child’s name) I am on the second step and I am coming to get you!”
Well every step the voice called to (her/him) until the voice was right beside (her/his) bed.
“(Say child’s name) I am right beside your bed!”
(crouch down in front of the audience)

“(Say child’s name)! (pause)

I GOTCHYA! Jump at the campers as you yell

Stories for Older Children

Most pre-teens and teenagers know at least one version of the old classic about the couple that go on a date and meet the escaped maniac with the hook. If you prepare ahead of time with a Halloween prop this is a real scream. Local ghost stories are also great.

Another classic campfire story that needs proper staging is “The Cremation of Sam Mcgee”, by Robert Service. This story works best is the presenter can memorize it first. The campfire should either be built up so that it is blazing, or if the coals are dying down, the storyteller may hold a flashlight in front of their face for effect.
by Sandra M. Webster

December 17, 2008

Love in the Wild

Filed under: Camping — Tags: , , — writer @ 9:50 am

Photo by Tom Check

Happy Camping Couple; Photo by Tom Check

While dirt, bugs, and wildlife might not seem even remotely romantic, camping can be the perfect way to reconnect with your sweetie. What better way to rekindle the flame than to spend an evening in a secluded tent, cuddled up next to the one you love?

We all know that life gets hectic, and we often tend to take those we care about for granted. It can be difficult to stay close to our significant others, but the rugged outdoor nature of camping is an excellent way to get back in touch. Setting up your tent, for example, is a job too big for just one person. Working together with your loved one helps to reestablish a feeling of togetherness and reinforce your team-working skills.

A Roaring Campfire - Photo by Chas Redmond

A Roaring Campfire - Photo by Chas Redmond

The thought of even trying to prepare food over a campfire is enough to frighten some people. But think of it this way – sitting close to a low, romantic fire cooking for the person you love most in this world. Grab a couple of thick steaks, some baking potatoes, a bottle of your favorite wine, and you’ll soon have a meal fit for even the hungriest of lovers. Poke a few holes in your potatoes and wrap them in aluminum foil before placing them directly onto the coals for simple baked potatoes. Season your steaks lightly and grill directly over the fire for three to five minutes per side depending on your preference for the perfect, simple steak.

Most people are used to the hectic pace of everyday life, and usually wind down by watching television or spending a few minutes on the computer. Camping removes all of these electronic luxuries, so finding ways to occupy your time can be difficult. A simple deck of cards can provide the perfect distraction for a long night in the wild. If you have an area to yourselves and feel adventurous, try a quick game of strip poker to heat up the night.

After a satisfying night of good food and good fun, retreat to your tent for some well-deserved rest. Try spending the night snuggled in a single sleeping bag, as opposed to separate beds. This close contact will not only help keep you warm in the chilly air, but also keeps you as close as possible to your loved one. Stay warm, sleep well, and wake up to the beautiful sunrise with a new appreciation for your significant other.

Romantic Sunrise - Photo by Pam Roth

Romantic Sunrise - Photo by Pam Roth

December 16, 2008

My View of Camping

Filed under: Camping — Tags: — writer @ 4:48 pm

Camping is my favorite type of vacation. I believe that camping is probably the healthiest type of vacation that a family can take—mentally, physically, spiritually, and romantically.

My family tries to camp in areas that have lots of recreation—such as hiking, swimming, nature trails, bike paths, wildlife viewing, and more. I personally believe that some of the best places in the United States to camp are the national and state parks. Not only are they reasonably priced, but you can’t beat the scenery and history of these places. It’s fairly easy to find secluded camp sites in these parks, too.

Maybe I’m just a romantic, but I think that everyone should experience camping at least once in their lives. From my experience, it beats the heck out of staying in a crowded resort, and it’s a great way for you to truly get to know and bond with whoever you are camping with.

One of my favorite things about camping is getting up in the mornings before the rest of the family even rolls over. My husband and I love to sip our coffee as we watch the sun come up. It’s a very peaceful (and romantic!) way to start the day. The fresh air and out of the way settings seem to bring out the best in both my husband and me. Having this quiet time in the mornings energizes us and prepares us for fun filled family days of exploring and enjoying the great outdoors. It also allows us to connect as a couple, and not just as “mom and dad.”

I encourage anyone who needs some rest and relaxation, and some time for couples or family bonding, to consider camping. You can camp in a mountain cabin, RV, or sleep in a tent. There really are no set rules. Your camping style can be whatever you want it to be. Just do it!

December 12, 2008

The Pennsylvania Grand Canyon – Camping, Hiking, Fishing… Something for Everyone!

Pine Creek Gorge - Photo by S. Webster

Pine Creek Gorge - Photo by S. Webster

Deep in the woods of Northeastern Pennsylvania, near the small town of Wellsboro, you will find some of the most beautiful camping and hiking spots anywhere. This is the location of the Pennsylvania “Grand Canyon,” also known of as Pine Creek Gorge. If you are looking for peace and quiet, or you prefer hiking, rafting, fishing or photography you will find it all and more.

State Parks Near the Canyon

Leonard Harrison State Park is located on the east rim of the canyon. This is where you will find the most famous scenic views of the Pine Creek Gorge. Leonard Harrison also is the more modern of the two state parks surrounding the canyon and includes flush toilet, hot showers, a playground for the kids and a sanitary dump station. Some sites have electricity.

Leonard Harrison is also home to the famous “Turkey Path Trail.” Along the two miles trail down, you will find beautiful waterfalls and scenic views. Wildlife and wild flowers are abundant, and the fall foliage is breathtaking.

Colton Point State Park is located on the west rim of the canyon. It is a much more rustic facility if you really want to experience the outdoors. Hiking trails are abundant and fishing is great if you don’t mind carrying the equipment down the trail and the catch back up! There are no facilities for kids on this side, so unless your kids really like camping and hiking, it probably isn’t the best option.

Hills Creek State Park is located about 20 miles from the actual canyon. It does, however, have boating and swimming facilities, a snack bar, and modern facilities.

Army Corp of Engineer Parks

Ives Run Camp Ground, also known as Tioga Hammond Lake, is another great place to camp that is near the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. It is a great facility for kids. There are RV sites with full hook-ups down to tent sites in a primitive area. There are playgrounds, a beach for swimming along with swimming from campsites in certain areas, boating, water-skiing and other water sports, hiking trails and gardens, and just a whole lot to do.

Ives run is also located close to the New York State Border and the Corning Glass Museum as well as other attractions for rainy days.

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod Statue - Photo by S. Webster

Wynken, Blynken, & Nod Statue - Photo by S. Webster

What Else is There to Do?

If you are tired of camping, fishing and hiking, or it’s raining, there are several other options.

Animaland Zoological Park is right near Leonard Harrison State Park. It has over 200 exotic, wild, and domestic animals housed in a 12 acre landscaped exhibit. There is a snack bar and gift shop.

Wellsboro is located about 12 miles from the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. This picturesque town has gift shops, antique stores, and great restaurants. Don’t forget to visit “The Green,” located across from the Tioga County Court House, and view the famous Wynken, Blynken and Nod sculpture and fountain inspired by the poem of the same name by Eugene Field.

Wellsboro, PA - Photo by S. Webster

Wellsboro, PA - Photo by S. Webster

If you still need more to do, stop at the visitors center and learn about Pennsylvania’s scenic Route 6 and all it has to offer.

December 10, 2008

Stay Safe While Camping in the Smokies

Filed under: Camping Safety — writer @ 10:32 am

Always thinking of safety measures may not be the most fun thing to do, but if you’re camping in the Smokies, it can save you a trip to the hospital. Here are a few camping safety tips you should be mindful of when camping in the Smokies.

Bear Country - All wildlife is dangerous. Do not approach or feed.

The various safety signs you’ll see throughout the park are posted there for a reason — to keep you safe. If you’re smart, you’ll be mindful of these signs when you see them. If there’s a sign telling you not to climb on the waterfalls — you shouldn’t climb on the waterfalls. No one is out to spoil your fun; officials just know that some of the rocks may be covered with moss or algae which could cause a person to slip.

If you are hiking, you should make sure everyone in your hiking party has proper attire. Weather can change rapidly in the park. You may start out with a cool morning, have a hot afternoon, and then a cold chill can quickly descend on the mountain as night falls. Before you head out on any hiking excursion, make sure you know what the weather is expected to do so you can prepare for it. At the very least, everyone should have a weather proof jacket and a supply of food and water.

You should also watch out for poison ivy, ticks, chiggers, and snakes in the mountains. You shouldn’t let your children wander too far ahead on trails because they could step on a snake. They shouldn’t be allowed to roam alone off of a trail, either. Poison ivy is plentiful in many spots, and a bad case of poison ivy can put a damper on your vacation. To cut down on bug bites, ticks, and chiggers, wear long pants and use bug repellent when hiking. Be sure to check everyone for ticks and chiggers each night.

Following these tips can ensure that you and yours enjoy your trip to the Smokies.

December 8, 2008

Play with Your Food

Filed under: Nature — admin @ 3:32 pm

Eating in the great outdoors can be a challenge. Storing your food, keeping it cold and away from all the nosy little creatures is often more trouble than it’s worth. But eating on a camping trip can be quick, simple and still very tasty.

Buy a few essentials before hitting the road. Simple, everyday kitchen items such as aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and paper plates make meals on the go a breeze. Be sure to pick up a few garbage bags, too, in order to keep your campsite as tidy as you found it.

Pick up simple food items. Deli meats and cheeses keep well in a cooler full of ice, and fresh fruits and vegetables stay edible for days as long as they are cool. Canned chili, beans and soups also make for quick, easy and affordable camp meals.

Cook simple meals while you’re camping. After all, it is supposed to be a relaxing experience. If you like fish, put your pole to good use. Clean and fillet your fresh catch and lay it on a large section of foil. Add in a bit of onion, lemon, and a few veggies, and season lightly. Wrap the ends of the foil up and place it directly over your fire. In 20 minutes, you’ll have the freshest food in the entire camp.

Sweet treats can also be simply accomplished over an open flame. Roll out a large sheet of foil on a flat surface. Add a layer of graham crackers on the foil, add a piece of your favorite chocolate (dark, milk or white work equally well), squish a marshmallow atop the chocolate, and finish off with another cracker. Cover with another piece of foil and heat until melted. For a festive holiday touch, crumble up a candy cane and add a bit to your S’mores.

Camping is a relaxing, enjoyable experience, and eating should follow suit. Keep it simple – eat, relax and enjoy!

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