Skip to main content.

California Camping Menu

California Camping Sites

Types of Tent Camping

Bookmark and Share

How to select the best place and to pitch the tent—A brush bed—The best kind of a tent—How to make the camp fire—What to do when it rains—Fresh air and good food—The brush leanto and how to make it

Going camping is the best fun in the world if we know how to do it. Every healthy boy and girl if given an opportunity should enjoy living outdoors for a week or two and playing at being an Indian. There is more to camping however than "roughing it" or seeing how much hardship we can bear. A good camper always makes himself just as comfortable as he can under the circumstances. The saying that "an army travels on its stomach" means that a soldier can not make long marches or fight hard unless he has good food. The surest sign of a "tenderfoot" is the boy who makes fun of you because you try to have a soft dry bed while he prefers to sleep on the ground under the mistaken idea that it is manly or brave. He will usually spoil a trip in the woods for every one in the party.

Another poor kind of a camper pitches his tent so that his bed gets wet and his food spoiled on the first rainy day, and then sits around cold and hungry trying hard to think that he is having fun, to keep from getting homesick. This kind of a boy "locks the door after the horse is stolen." If we go camping we must know how to prevent the unpleasant things from happening. We must always be ready for wind and rain, heat and cold. A camping party should make their plans a long time ahead in order to get their equipment ready. Careful lists should be made of what we think we shall need. After we are out in the woods, there will be no chance to run around the corner to the grocer's to supply what we have forgotten. If it is forgotten, we must simply make the best of it and not allow it to spoil our trip.

It is surprising how many things that we think are almost necessary to life we can get along without if we are obliged to. The true woodsman knows how to turn to his use a thousand of nature's gifts and to make himself comfortable, while you and I might stand terrified and miserable under the same conditions.

Daniel Boone, the great wilderness traveller, could go out alone in the untracked forest with nothing but his rifle, his axe and a small pack on his back and by a knowledge of the stars, the rivers, the trees and the wild animals, he could go for weeks travelling hundreds of miles, building his bed and his leanto out of the evergreen boughs, lighting his fire with his flint and steel, shooting game for his food and dressing and curing their skins for his clothing and in a thousand ways supplying his needs from nature's storehouse. The school of the woods never sends out graduates. We may learn something new every day.

With a head shelter and a sleeping bag he can keep dry

and warm

With a head shelter and a sleeping bag he can keep dry and warm

The average city boy or girl does not have an opportunity to become a skilled master of woodcraft, but because we cannot learn it all is no reason why we should not learn something. The best way to learn it is in the woods themselves and not out of books.

A party of four boys makes a good number for a camping trip. They will probably agree better than two or three. They can do much of the camp work in pairs. No one need to be left alone to look after the camp while the others go fishing or hunting or to some nearby town for the mail or for supplies. There is no reason why four boys of fifteen who are resourceful and careful cannot spend a week or two in the woods in perfect safety and come back home sounder in mind and body than when they left. It is always better to take along some one who has "camped out" before. If he cannot be found, then make your plans, decide what you will do and how you will do it, take a few cooking lessons from mother or the cook—if the latter is good-natured—and go anyway. First elect a leader, not because he is any more important than the rest but because if some one goes ahead and gives directions, the life in camp will run much more smoothly and every one will have a better time.

If it is your first experience in camping, you had better go somewhere near home. The best place is one that can be reached by wagon. If we have to carry our supplies on our backs or in a canoe, the amount we can take will be much less. After you have had some experience near home you can safely try the other way. Where you go is of comparatively little importance. Near every large city there is some lake or river where you can find a good camping site. Campers always have more fun if they are near some water, but if such a place is not easily found near where you live, go into the woods. Try to get away from towns or villages. The wilder the place is, the better.

You had better make sure of your camping ground before you go by writing a letter to the owner of the land. It isn't much fun after we have pitched the tent and made everything shipshape to have some angry landowner come along and order us off because we are trespassers.

In selecting a place to camp, there are several very important things to look out for.

1. Be sure you are near a supply of drinking water. A spring or a brook is best, but even the lake or river will do if the water is pure and clean. The water at the bottom of a lake is always much colder and cleaner than the surface water. When I was a boy, I used a simple device for getting cold water which some of you may like to copy. I took an old-fashioned jug and fastened a strong string to the handle and also fastened this string to the cork of the jug as the drawing shows. The jug was weighted so that it would sink, by means of a piece of stone tied to the handle. We used to go out to the middle of the lake where the water was the deepest and lower the jug over the side of a boat. When it reached bottom we would give the string a sharp tug and thus pull out the cork. The bubbles coming to the surface showed us when the jug was full. We then hauled it on board and had clear, cold, drinking water from a lake that on the surface was warm enough for swimming.

The jug by which we obtained pure, cold water

The jug by which we obtained pure, cold water

2. The next important thing in selecting a camp is being near a supply of firewood. A week in camp will consume an amazing amount of wood, especially if we have a camp fire at night to sit around and sing and tell stories before turning in. In most sections there is plenty of dead wood that we can use for camp fires. This does not mean a lot of twigs and brush. There is no use trying to go camping unless some one knows how to use an axe. In another chapter I will tell you something about the proper use of axes and hatchets. For the present it is sufficient to say that an excellent place to practise handling an axe is on the family woodpile. You will thus combine business and pleasure, and your efforts will be appreciated by your family, which would not be the case if, like George Washington, you began your lessons in woodcraft on the favourite cherry tree.

Almost any kind of wood will burn when it is dry, but it takes experience to know the kinds of trees that will burn when they are green. If there is no dry wood in the neighbourhood, and we are obliged to cut a tree down to get our supply, it is very important to pitch our camp somewhere near the right kind of a tree and not be obliged to carry our firewood a long distance. The best "green wood" for the campers' fire is hickory, although birch is excellent. Hickory is also the best dry wood. Other trees that will burn well when green are cedar, white ash, locust or white oak. There are comparatively few places, however, where dry wood is not available and of course it is always best to avoid such a place.

3. The camp site should be in a fairly open spot. Thick woods and underbrush are either hot or "damp" cool. If you can find a site that is shaded during the heat of the day so much the better. It is unwise to pitch the tent under a tree that stands alone on account of possible danger from lightning. If your tent is shaded by a tree be sure there are no dead limbs to blow off and wreck it during a storm.

Be sure that the drainage is good, so that in case of heavy rains, the water will run off and not flood the camp. It is very important if your camp is along some river or stream to be high enough to avoid the danger of sudden floods. This can usually be determined by talking to some one who knows the country. You can also tell it by studying the previous high water marks in the trees. In case of floods there are always some wisps of straw, pieces of brush, etc., caught and held by the limbs of trees after the water settles back to its former level. It is a good chance to practise your woodcraft by trying to find them.

Damp locations are very bad. The higher we can get, the drier it will be. We avoid both fogs and mosquitoes. Usually there is some prominent place that will give us a good outlook and where the breezes can reach us.

There are both good and bad points in pitching our tent on the site of a former camp. As long as the former campers have not scoured the surrounding neighbourhood for firewood nor have left a place littered up with all sorts of rubbish and garbage to draw flies and vermin, they may have fixed up things around the camp site to save us work and to add to our comfort and pleasure. Each case will have to be decided on its own merits.

A wall tent

A wall tent

The three important things then are the water supply, the firewood supply, and good drainage.

Next in importance to the camp site is the outfit, and the most important thing is the tent. For a party of four boys on their first camping trip, the best kind will be a wall tent. A tent, 11 x 14 feet will be large enough to provide sleeping quarters and to have every one comfortable. A simple shelter of canvas outside can be provided as a dining-room but this is more of a luxury than a real necessity.

Canvas or duck is the common material from which tents are made. The standard eight-ounce khaki duck used in the United States army will, for this size tent, cost about twenty dollars. This will include a fly, which is merely a second roof to the tent. The best material for tents is balloon silk. It is much more waterproof than canvas and only weighs a quarter as much. It is also much more expensive. A tent can be made at home, which is of course the cheaper way. They can also be hired from previous campers or from some awning maker who is also usually a tent maker.

A canvas tent without a fly will leak in a rain storm if the roof is touched on the inside either by our hands or our clothing. It may be made partially waterproof by a coating of paraffine which has been previously dissolved in turpentine. The simplest and at the same time the warmest tent for an experienced camper who knows the tricks of the trade is a leanto tent, one with one side entirely open, in front of which a blazing fire may be kept burning. This is hardly adapted for boys on their first trip, however.

Another very good and very simple tent is the "A" tent used in the army. This looks like a "V" turned upside down. We can pitch it without the aid of tent poles by simply hanging it be ween two trees to which a rope has been stretched.

An "A" tent

An "A" tent

The Hudson Bay tent, trapper's tent, forester's tent, canoe tent, and a dozen others, including an Indian tepee and wigwam, are all good tents for special purposes. The pictures show the different styles and all of them are designed for special uses, either for warmth or lightness in carrying or ease in pitching. If we go camping in summer and can have our equipment or "duffle," as the woodsmen call it, carried by team, the wall tent will be the best one to take.

Tent pegs can always be cut in the woods, but it is far more satisfactory to get them ready at home before we leave. If you do cut your own pegs, select hardwood saplings to make them from and to further harden the points, char them slightly in a fire. If you spend a few winter evenings at home making the pegs, it will save you a lot of time and trouble when you reach the camping ground. The best pegs are made of iron or steel. This is especially true when the ground where they are to be driven is hard or rocky, which is usually the case. Steel tent pins may be bought for six cents apiece or possibly the local blacksmith will make them for less. They should be a foot long.

A sod cloth is a strip of canvas eight or ten inches wide fastened to the bottom of the tent wall. Its purpose is to keep the wind and rain from blowing under the tent. After the tent is pitched a ditch should be dug all around it to catch the rain and carry it away. The earth that is dug from this trench may be thrown on the sod cloth to hold it down.

It is an excellent idea, if you are a beginner, to practise pitching the tent at home so that you will understand it better when you are in the woods. Besides this, you can try sleeping out a night or two to see how you are going to like it.

A trapper's tent camp

A trapper's tent

When you reach your camping place, the first step is to clear the ground of all rubbish, loose stones, sticks and brush to have a clean floor. Then unpack the tent and fit the pegs of the two upright poles through the two holes in the ridge pole. Next raise the tent and peg the guy ropes on the four corners first. A little practice will show you how to do this. After all the ropes are pegged at a proper distance from the tent, they should be tightened and the tent made secure.

Always plan to have a full four hours of daylight to make your camp ready. If the drive is a long one and you are obliged to get up very early in the morning, you will have to do it, that is all. I made my first camping trip when I was twelve years old. We had just reached the camping ground, unloaded our kit and sent the team home that brought us when—bang! over the mountain across the lake from where we were going to camp, a terrific thunder shower came up and in a few minutes it was pouring. There was our whole outfit—tent, bedding and food—getting soaked because, instead of hurrying along during the day, we had fooled away our time trying to catch fish in wayside brooks that had never seen a fish and not realizing how important it is to make haste as well as hay while the sun shines.

An Indian tepee tent camp

An Indian tepee

We quickly pitched the tent, not as it should have been pitched, but in a heap over the rest of our goods to keep out as much water as possible and then ran for a nearby barn where we spent a cold hungry night, wetter but wiser. The next day, out came the sun and dried our things, but if the rain had continued we certainly should have been obliged to go home or at least to a farmhouse to stay until the weather cleared. We soon forgot our unpleasant experience but we have not forgotten the lesson it taught—and that is not to waste time along the road when there is work to be done at the journey's end.

Next to a good tent, the most important thing for the camper is a good bed. It is even more important than good food because if we sleep well, hunger will furnish the sauce for our grub, but if we spend the night trying to dodge some root or rock that is boring into our back and that we hardly felt when we turned in but which grew to an enormous size in our imagination before morning, we will be half sick and soon get enough of being an Indian. A canvas cot makes the best camp bed if it can be taken along conveniently. There is one important thing to look out for in sleeping on a cot. In my first experience of the kind, I nearly froze. I kept piling things on me until all my clothing, and even the camp towels and table-cloth were pressed into service and was thinking about pulling some dry grass to pile on the rest of the stuff. Still I shivered until I discovered that the cold was coming up from underneath because there was nothing to keep it out but the single thickness of canvas. When I put one of my blankets under me, I was as warm as toast.

Very often it is impossible to carry cots on a trip, and that is where a knowledge of woodcraft comes in. The softest, sweetest, downiest bed in the world can be made with no other materials but those which grow in the forest—if we know how. At least the tired camper will think it is soft and will sleep on it like a top and wake up refreshed in the morning. Perhaps if we had our choice we would prefer our own bed at home, but in the woods we do not have this choice. Most people call this a bed of "pine boughs."

How the bough bed is made

How the bough bed is made

Why I do not know as it never should be made of pine under any circumstances. The best wood for the bough bed is balsam. If this does not grow in the neighbourhood, hemlock, spruce, or even cedar will do. To make a bough bed properly means a lot of work. The first step is to cut four straight sticks. The side pieces should be six feet and a half long and the end pieces three feet and a half. They should be notched on the ends with an axe and either nailed or tied together from saplings or from a tree that you have felled. Small balsam boughs should be broken off with the fingers and laid one on the other until the whole bed is filled with them. On this, the rubber blanket or poncho should be spread and the blankets over all. All the boughs should be shingled with the stems down to keep them in the best condition. This kind of a bed will require remaking every day.

A better bed for the boy camper is made as follows: Take a piece of heavy bed ticking and sew it into a bag about three feet by six feet. When you reach camp you can make a regular mattress by filling it with whatever material is most easily found. Dry leaves? grass, hay, even moss or wet filler can be used if nothing dry can be found, but in this case the rubber blanket will be an absolute necessity. Of course it is much better to use some dry material.

Be sure to have a comfortable bed. No matter what ideas you may have about cowboys and soldiers rolling up in their blankets and snatching a few hours' sleep under the stars by lying on the bare ground, a boy who is used to a good bed at home will never have much fun out of a camping trip if he tries to sleep on the ground with a rock for his pillow.

For a summer camping trip, one blanket is enough. You must learn to roll up in it. Lie flat on your back and cover the blanket over you. Then raise up your legs and tuck it under first on one side and then the other. The rest is easy. This beats trying to "roll up" in it, actually. The common summer blankets used at home are not much use for the camper. These are usually all cotton. A camper's blanket should be all wool. You can buy a standard U.S. Army blanket, size 66 x 84 inches, for five dollars. They can often be purchased in stores that deal in second hand army supplies for much less and are just as good as new except for some slight stain or defect.

A sleeping bag is expensive but is excellent for cold weather camping. It is much too hot for the boy camper in summer.

Do not sleep in your clothing. Unless it is too cold, undress, about as you do at home. If the blanket feels tickly, it would not be a great crime, no matter what the tenderfoot says who wanted you to sleep on the ground, to take along a sheet. I have never done this, however.

At the end of this chapter, you will find a list of things to take with you.

The camp fire and the cooking fire should be separate. Almost any one can kindle a fire with dry materials. It takes a woodman to build a fire when it has been raining and everything is wet. The boy's method of taking a few newspapers, and a handful of brush or leaves will not do.

First look around for an old dead top of a pine or cedar. If you cannot find one, chop down a cedar tree. Whittle a handful of splinters and shavings from the dry heart. Try to find the lee side of a rock or log where the wind and rain do not beat in. First put down the shavings or some dry birch bark if you can find it, and shelter it as well as you can from the rain. Pile up some larger splinters of wood over the kindling material like an Indian's wigwam. Then light it and give it a chance to get into a good blaze before you pile on any larger wood and put the whole fire out. It sounds easy but before you try it in the woods I advise you to select the first rainy day and go out near home and experiment.

To make a fire that will burn in front of the tent all night, first drive two green stakes into the ground at a slant and about five feet apart. Then lay two big logs one on each side of a stake to serve as andirons. Build a fire between these logs and pile up a row of logs above the fire and leaning against the stakes. You may have to brace the stakes with two others which should have a forked end. When the lower log burns out the next one will drop down in its place and unless you have soft, poor wood the fire should burn for ten hours. With this kind of a fire and with a leanto, it is possible to keep warm in the woods, on the coldest, night in winter.

The frame for a brush leanto

The frame for a brush leanto

This is the way to build a brush leanto: First cut two sticks and drive them into the ground. They should have a point on one end and a fork on the other. Lay a stout pole across the two forks like a gypsy fire rig. Then lean poles against the crosspiece and finally thatch the roof with spruce, hemlock or other boughs and pile up boughs for the sides. A brush camp is only a makeshift arrangement and is never weather proof. It is simply a temporary shelter which with the all-night fire burning in front will keep a man from freezing to death in the woods. Any kind of a tent is better or even a piece of canvas or a blanket for the roof of the leanto will be better than the roof of boughs. Be careful not to set the leanto on fire with the sparks from your camp fire.

Mosquitoes have probably spoiled more camping trips that any other one thing. The best tents have mosquito net or cheese cloth fronts which may be held close to the ground by a stick on the bottom. Perhaps the easiest way to secure protection is for each boy to take along a few yards of cotton mosquito netting and by means of curved sticks build a canopy over his bed.

A smoky fire called a "smudge" will sometimes keep the pests away from the neighbourhood of the tent or if we build it in the tent will drive them out, but the remedy is almost as bad as the disease. As a rule they will only be troublesome at night and the net over our bed will enable us to sleep in peace.

The most common "dope" used in the woods to keep off mosquitoes is called oil of citronella. It has a very pungent odour that the mosquitoes do not like and the chances are that you will not like it either. At the same time it may be a good plan to take a small bottle along.

You may safely count on finding mosquitoes, no matter where you go or what the people tell you who live there. Perhaps they have never tried sleeping in the woods and do not know. Be sure therefore to take along some netting or cheese cloth to protect yourself against them.

Everything that you can do at home to get ready for your camping trip will add to your pleasure when you get out in the woods. If any part of your kit needs fixing, fishing rods wound or varnished, your jackknife ground, your camera fixed, or if your clothing needs any patches or buttons, do it at home.

No one ever does half that he plans to on a trip like this unless he does not plan to do anything. Take along a few books to read for the rainy days and have them covered with muslin if you ever expect to put them back into your library.

If you have been putting off a visit to the dentist, by all means do it before you get out where there are no dentists. An aching tooth can spoil a vacation in the woods about as easily as anything I know of.

As a final word of advice to the beginner in camping, let me tell you a few things that my own experience has taught me.

A felt hat is better than a cap as it is sun and rain proof.

Wear a flannel shirt and take one extra one. You can wash one and wear the other. Be sure to have a new shirt plenty loose in the neck as camp washing in cold water will make it shrink. Do not go around in gymnasium shirts or sleeveless jerseys. One of my companions did this once and was so terribly sunburned that his whole trip was spoiled.

Two sets of underwear are plenty, including the one you wear.

Take along a silk handkerchief to wear around your neck.

Wear comfortable shoes. A camping trip is a poor place to break in new hunting boots or shoes.

Take bandanna handkerchiefs and leave your linen ones at home.

If you have to choose between a coat and a sweater take the sweater and leave the coat at home. A coat is out of place in the woods.

Khaki or canvas trousers are excellent. So are corduroy. An old pair of woollen trousers are just as good as either.

A poncho is almost necessary to your comfort. It is merely a rubber or oilskin piece with a slit in it to put your head through. The right size is 66 x 90 inches. With it you can keep dry day or night, either using it as a garment or as a cover. When you are not using it you can cover it over your bed or food supply.

Take along a good pocket knife and compass. Better leave the revolver home. Also always carry a waterproof box of matches.

You will require some kind of a waterproof "duffle" bag to carry your personal things—tooth brush, extra clothing, mirror, fishing tackle, towel, soap, medicine, in fact whatever you think you will need. If it is your first camping trip you will come home without having had any use whatever for more than half the things you take. That is the experience of every one, so do not become discouraged.

If you camp within reach of a post-office, address some stamped envelopes to your home in ink before you leave. Then you will have no excuse for not writing a letter home.

You can make an excellent pillow by rolling up your trousers. Be sure to take everything out of the pockets first, including your knife, and roll them with the top inside so that the buttons or your belt buckle will not bore into your ear.

If you fall overboard and come ashore to dry out, stuff your shoes full of dry grass or old paper to keep them from shrinking. When they are dry, soften them with tallow or oil. Every one who goes camping at some time or other gets wet. The only advice I can give you is to get dry again as soon as possible. As long as you keep moving it will probably not injure you. Waterproof garments are of little use in the woods. They are always too warm for summer wear and by holding the perspiration, are more of an injury than a benefit.

Never wear rubber boots in the woods or you will surely take cold. Better have wet feet. The best foot wear is moccasins. If you wear them see that they are several sizes too large and wear at least two pairs of heavy woollen stockings with them.


Camping Resources

Free Services

Free Text Messages
Free Picture Messages
Free Fax
Free Calls Anywhere

Follow Us