Happy camper. Or not...
August 29, 2008 3:03 AM   Subscribe

I have scored a week long wilderness trip. Hurrah for me. Except the last time I went camping was when I was, oh, 14. And I hated it. This time, I'll be working as well as camping. So my question to you, gentle woodsfolk of Metafilter, is what can I do to make my week in the wild productive and fun? Rather than the living hell I remember camping to be.

Details, details...I'll be with about 12 other people, in Cape York, in Far North Queensland, Australia. Some nights I'll be in a tent, others in a swag outside. Sometimes there'll be toilets. Sometimes, just the bush. Sometimes there will be electricity, where I can charge camera batteries and laptop. But mostly not. There won't be mobile phone reception (unless someone has a sat phone I guess) or internet connection (not even with roaming).

I can bring: a backpack for clothes and stuff, my laptop (the bag has loads of pockets and stuff that I can shove things in), my camera bag, and one other small bag for work books and things and extra camera stuff.

I am worried about: getting a good night's sleep. Getting my work done. Going to the loo in the woods. Keeping relatively clean and comfortable. Not going mental on the long long drive each day. Not wrecking my kind of dodgy lower back. Getting on well with a bunch of strangers, mostly blokes much older than me, for a week in the middle of nowhere.

Not worried about: wild animals and scary Australiana. I live in Far North Queensland so it's not a novelty. My personal safety re camping with strange men in the woods.

Thanks to this thread, I will be packing toilet paper and wet wipes. And insect repellent. And a torch.

But apart from that I have no idea. So any suggestions about what I should bring… or how to cope with living rough for a week… would be awesome.
posted by t0astie to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
http://www.amazon.com/Backpackers-Field-Manual-Comprehensive-Backcountry/dp/0517887835 has everything you need to know - it's a bit over the top with medical advice, but everything else is spot-on.

My experience is extensive but limited to the Northeastern US. The things that won't change: bring non-cotton clothing, a comfortable backpack, a headlamp, and a good sleeping pad.
posted by ellF at 3:16 AM on August 29, 2008

Response by poster: Oh.. and I'm leaving next week. So I can go to the nearest town to buy stuff this weekend, but not able to order things online. They'll arrive while I'm away!
posted by t0astie at 3:22 AM on August 29, 2008

Best answer: A good book and a personal tune-box are key, so that you can shut off the rest of the world for a bit. For me, a stove where I could brew decent coffee and look smugly at all those who were suffering caffeine withdrawal always cheered me up. And, of course, marshmallows.
posted by YouRebelScum at 3:22 AM on August 29, 2008

Sleeping pills may help you get the rest you need at night. Ear plugs too in case noise, like a snoring tent-mate, is bothersome.

Maybe you could get some work done during the drives to relieve the tedium. A power inverter that plugs into the cigarette lighter socket to provide 120V (assuming that's what you use there) could help with keeping the laptop and stuff charged.

Taking a crap in the woods is no big deal, ideally have a garden trowel to dig a small hole first that you can cover once you've done your business, some toilet paper, a way to clean your hands, and have a designated area and some sort of material signal to indicate when it's in use.

I've found on trips with strangers is that you get to know them quickly, and everyone is there to enjoy the trip, or they wouldn't be there, so it's always turned-out well, and I'm shy so that says something. Usually before the trip there was a champagne and cheese get together to let people mingle, and to go over the details of the trip.

At night, a campfire is great, lets people chat, or you can just stare at the flames. In the morning, coffee is welcome. For cooking and dish cleanup, everyone should be involved, whether chopping veggies, or just drying dishes.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 4:49 AM on August 29, 2008

Best answer: Bring earplugs, so you can sleep even if half your companions snore to beat the band. A small first-aid kit with band-aids, antiseptic, analgesics, allergy pills. Comfy camp shoes to stumble around the campfire in if you're going to be wearing big clunky hiking boots during the day. Kleenex. Soap in case there's none in the restroom. A hammer or mallet for pounding in tent pegs.

The camping trips I've been miserable on have been wet and/or cold; be sure you've got the right clothes and sleeping bag for the weather, etc. But don't forget the earplugs.
posted by magicbus at 4:54 AM on August 29, 2008

Best answer: Try to find a small, comfortable pillow. I like camping but I can't stand those inflatable pillows or rolling up clothes to make a pillow. For me, a decent pillow is what makes for a good night's sleep.

Also, bring a small super-absorbent towel.
posted by chippie at 5:01 AM on August 29, 2008

It sounds like you don't want to go. I'd call in sick. What's with the driving every day? Will you be going from a basecamp to ... ?

I liked bringing an air mattress when we're near a car, and a sleeping net. If you're worried about dogs and such pepper spray is pretty effective. Heat up a small container of water to wash your face with in the morning, helps the feeling of clean.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:19 AM on August 29, 2008

Best answer: Remember to bring ibuprofen of some kind. I sometimes get nasty headaches (possible dehydration) while camping and one trip without ibuprofen made me miserable.
posted by collocation at 6:43 AM on August 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Assuming you will be doing some hiking - bring blister protection/treatment! Also, give your hiking shoes a test run to make sure they are not pure evil.
posted by smalls at 7:00 AM on August 29, 2008

Response by poster: There will be no hiking. Thank GOD. But camp shoes?! Genius. I would never, ever have thought of that.

These are great tips! Keep 'em coming.
posted by t0astie at 7:19 AM on August 29, 2008

Best answer: bring either a small pillow or a big towel you can roll up into a pillow. this will make you so much happier at night.

your profile doesn't say if your male or female, but i'm assuming female since you're worried about going in the woods. to pee: pull your pants down to your knees, squat, reach between your legs and pull your pants as far forward between your knees as possible to avoid the stream, pee, wipe, carry on. to poo: in general the same rules apply. leaning against a tree is sometimes helpful. find out if you're supposed to bury your TP or carry it with you to dispose of later.

bring sunglasses and sunblock. lip balm. ear plugs. bug dope. a poncho or rain suit of some kind if you expect rain. more socks than you think you'll need; then toss in a few more pairs. if you take any daily medications bring a few extra days' worth, just in case.

i am baffled as to why a work trip involves camping at all. is that an aussie thing?
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:20 AM on August 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: misanthropicsarah: Ha! It's not like you can just book in at a Travelodge on the Cape. And so... camping.
posted by t0astie at 7:35 AM on August 29, 2008

Like others have said -- bring an air mattress if you have space for it in your tent. It will be almost like sleeping in a bed. I don't mind my Thermarest when space is at a premium, but if you are not camping far from vehicles, it is much cheaper to buy a big air mattress/pump and it will be much cushier. A twin size air mattress will fit in a 1-2 person tent, a full/queen will fit in a 3-4 person tent. I have something like this that I roll out when I have guests in town, easy to find at a discount store here in the states. (Be sure to get a pump)

A good book or magazine is easy entertainment in the wilderness. Get a headlamp to make stumbling around in the dark easier, also very good for reading. (The LED ones run really cheap these days) Some tasty beverages will pass the evening time if you are allowed to drink on your work trip. Bring a comfy folding lawn chair/camp chair for sitting in -- either while working on you laptop or just sitting around the campfire.

Keep all the kitchen stuff in a box that is sort of a camping pantry -- don't be afraid to cook "gourmet" foods on a camp stove or over a fire -- it really isn't that much more difficult than at home. (And so much better than those freeze-dried delights for backpackers) Car camping is a lot of fun because you don't have to pay attention to every ounce you bring with, and you can bring a cooler full of delicious delights!
posted by sararah at 8:18 AM on August 29, 2008

Keeping clean is tough in the bush. If you can, take synthetics that you can wash or rinse cold and hang dry quickly.

Little luxuries can go a long way to making the experience more bearable, even fun. I knew a couple who would bring wine glasses (plastic) with them because nothing says classy like blue koolaid in a wine glass. Similarly, I won't camp without a coffee press. Another friend used to bring a stovetop espresso maker. Fancy cups and all, too.

You'll eat more and be hungrier than you expect. It's better to pack food out than stay hungry. Hungry == cold at night too.

Bring some food treats for the whole group. Everybody remembers booze, but not many people remember dessert.

One of my favourites: Bring as many oranges as people, the biggest navel oranges you can find. Cut the tops off and eat the insides with spoons. Fill the insides about 1/2 way with instant chocolate cake mix, replace the caps (you kept the caps, right?), wrap with foil and bake in the embers of your campfire. Instant cake! People will think you are a wizard.

The instant powdered dessert isle of your grocer has a lot of treats: no-bake cheese cake, brownie mix, etc... Add a little water, oil/margarine and maybe an egg.
posted by bonehead at 8:22 AM on August 29, 2008

Response by poster: Hmmm... foods! Hadn't thought about that either. We'll be fed, but it might spam and baked beans for all I know. Will add treats to the list.
posted by t0astie at 8:37 AM on August 29, 2008

Can't second the "cook in an orange peel" suggestion. It might look cool, but things that ought not taste like oranges taste awful in that contraption.

Since you're not hiking, you can splurge on decent bedding (if you don't like firm sleeping surfaces). Blow-up mattresses always spring leaks, so seek something with foam that rolls up relatively easily. Bring a stuff sack for your sleeping bag & pillow (not a rolled-up towel, since that might be perpetually wet). A big one may accomodate your sleeping pad, too.

I'd leave the expensive elecrtonics at home, as they may get wet/really dirty/stolen. If you really, really need them, invest in a weatherproof bag. A (relatively inexpensive) music player can double as earplugs in case of excessive snoring.

Second the bug repellent, dehydrated food (yum), and remember a manually-operated can opener if you bring canned food (cheaper than dehydrated).

Instant coffee is your friend, if you're not a coffee snob. ;) Boil water and it's done.

Extra rope (clothesline) comes in handy for many things -- not just drying stuff.
posted by catkins at 9:28 AM on August 29, 2008

a knife
posted by low affect at 9:32 AM on August 29, 2008

Forget the laptop.
posted by rhizome at 11:37 AM on August 29, 2008

When in the outdoors, I can't live without:

a plastic french press
Deet (toxic, but it works)
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 12:02 PM on August 29, 2008

You don't say whether you are female or male. If you are female and you think you're going to be "on your cycle" make sure you have sanitary supplies! I had my period in 7th grade in the desert. We were told to bring baggies filled with aspirin and black tea bags, which supposedly hold in the odor. We weren't supposed to bury the used stuff, the idea was to put the sealed up trash back in our bags. Let's just say I can't remember if I followed the rules or not!

For long driving, invest in some sort of back support. I am a big fan of the Back Vitalizer but I don't know if it's available in Australia. If you find that heat helps for your back pain, bring some disposable heating pads (Thermacare is the brand we have in the US, but you may have something different...if you can't find those, get a reusable hot/cold pack and heat it in a pot of water from the campfire.) If you like ice, like I do, bring some disposable instant cold packs. (In fact, I just used one at work today after moving supplies around and it was very helpful. I love working at a blood bank!)

Forgive me I am not really sure of the weather there right now, but if it's going to be cold make sure you have a nice comfy warm hat!

Oh also since you are bringing bug spray, bring some cortisone or other anti-itch cream in case the bugs do get to you!

Are you going to be hiking at all? If so, get thee some good hiking books and hiking socks and spend the entire next week breaking them in!
posted by radioamy at 9:14 PM on August 29, 2008

Keep your food in the car, if possible, away from the goannas. They can get into everything, even eskies, and you won't be able to easily replace food (unless, perhaps, you find goanna tasty or are a skilled croc hunter).
posted by goo at 11:14 AM on August 30, 2008

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