cabin stuff
April 18, 2011 8:05 PM   Subscribe

What cool/useful/fun items do I want to have at a cabin with no electricity?

Electric lanterns? Hand crank radios? A stack of warm blankets? Binoculars? Cast iron dutch oven? What else do I need/want that is utilitarian AND delightful?

posted by ian1977 to Home & Garden (73 answers total) 77 users marked this as a favorite
Where's the cabin?
posted by box at 8:06 PM on April 18, 2011

Batteries in all sizes.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:11 PM on April 18, 2011

A couple of decks of cards?
posted by deadmessenger at 8:12 PM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

A deck of cards.
A Coolgardie safe.
posted by pompomtom at 8:13 PM on April 18, 2011

Lots of books.
posted by deborah at 8:14 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

thread for friendship bracelets
something to make fire with
glow in the dark anything
a book of "stories with holes" (or printed from the net before leaving)
someone to get frisky with
cheese or chocolate for fondue
if you are feeling productive, buy two large pieces of fabric (usually fleece) and bring a pair of scissors to make one of those tie at the edges blankets
posted by fuzzysoft at 8:17 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you want to stock kitchen stuff? (non-electric can opener, bottle opener, corkscrew, veggie peeler, kitchen knife, cooking spatula and spoons, basic dishes+utensils, supplies for washing and drying dishes, basic spices)

Games etc (deck of cards, Scrabble, chess/checkers/backgammon, jigsaw puzzles, stack of paperbacks, crossword book, star charts, field guide to local trees and birds etc, local roap map)

Matches; candles (preferably with safe glass enclosures like hurricane lamps);

Fireplace tools if the cabin has a fireplace
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:17 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are all awesome! Thanks!

Do you want to stock kitchen stuff?

Yes! All of it. Kitchen stuff. Sleeping stuff. Fun stuff. Fire stuff. Organization stuff. Anything I can research or just generally geek out and drool over and make fancy listy lists with.
posted by ian1977 at 8:21 PM on April 18, 2011

Spare blankets
Bug spray and sunblock
First aid kit - bandages, rubbing alcohol, aspirin, tweezers, etc
Rope/line and clothespins; soap for washing dishes or clothes
"Party games" like Taboo or Trivial Pursuit are good and used copies can be had cheaply at Goodwill or off eBay
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:22 PM on April 18, 2011

Give a bit more detail about what the cabin is like and where it is.

Does it have a sink in the kitchen and a bathroom with a flush toilet?
Does it have a fireplace?
Will you be using it in hot weather or mild weather or cold; is it rainy or dry where it is; will you be skiing or fishing?
Roughly where is it (so we can think about things that might be relevant in some places and not others)?
Will you be driving up to the door, or do you have to get dropped off by bush plane and then hike a mile to it?
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:25 PM on April 18, 2011

Knitting needles and yarn! A cabin sounds like the perfect place to learn how to knit. Cozy, practical, and delightful.
posted by Zephyrial at 8:27 PM on April 18, 2011

Propane powered fridge
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:28 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Give a bit more detail about what the cabin is like and where it is.

Okay LobsterMitten...

No sink. I'm thinking of some sort of wash tub that has a simple hand pump water jug combo. Does that make sense?

No fireplace. But a firepit.

For now...late spring to early fall. Down the road, early spring to early winter.

It'll be in Wisconsin. Cold ass Wisconsin.

No bush planes, just a driveway.
posted by ian1977 at 8:29 PM on April 18, 2011

A woodstove, if you don't have one, and all its accoutrements:

-Wood (split and preferably seasoned)
-Kindling (split firewood into smaller sticks, ask around your locality for types of wood that make good kindling)
-Newspaper for starting fires
-Matches, also for starting fires
-The number of a reputable chimney cleaning service
-Fire extinguisher
-Metal pot that you can set on top and fill with water to prevent the air from drying out to the point where you feel like your sinuses are mummifying
-Long-handled forks for toasting things

Sorry if you already know these things! It's just the first thing I'd want if I had a cabin with no electricity.
posted by corey flood at 8:29 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

2-stroke blender
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:32 PM on April 18, 2011

Oh, and some kind of means of controlling mice: Hanta virus is no joke. Whether you use humane traps or a cat, or whatever, is up to you. I don't recommend the glue traps, though--they're appallingly cruel.

Glass jars or other mouse-proof containers for storing food.
posted by corey flood at 8:33 PM on April 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

Swiss Army Knife covers most of the basics
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:33 PM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Depending on the closeness and tolerance of your neighbors a slingshot/BB Gun/pistol for plinking at cans
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:38 PM on April 18, 2011

posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:40 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Cribbage board and cards.
Seconding the needles and yarn.
A treadle powered sewing maching
Field guides for birds, animals, plants trees and flowers, WITH binoculars
Dutch ovens are perfect for firepits. Biscuits, cakes, stews, you name it.

Do you have a breezy outhouse? Windchimes in a breezy outhouse are a delightful thing.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:40 PM on April 18, 2011

A pie-iron, so you can make delicious hand pies over the campfire. My family's recipe was just wonderbread, butter and canned cherry pie filling, but you can make it as fancy as you like (or not).
posted by janepanic at 8:41 PM on April 18, 2011 [5 favorites]

First Aid Kit
Sharp knife
Bottle opener
bug spray
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:44 PM on April 18, 2011

Adirondack Chairs
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:47 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Head lamps.
Yes, they're dorky, but unbeatable for their hands-free usefulness in dark situations.
Get enough so that all cabin cohabitants can have one.
Look for ones with a red setting - that way you won't create constant dear-caught-in-headlight situations.
I have this tiny Petzl one and like it quite a bit.
posted by leastlikelycowgirl at 8:48 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

A book on whittling or a vintage boy scout handbook
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:50 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Throwing knives/axes or a basic archery set
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:52 PM on April 18, 2011

Shortwave radio. Good weed.
posted by dhammond at 8:53 PM on April 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

Mr. Purenitrous lived off the grid for several years, and this is his favorite item from that time....the Aladdin Oil Lamp. Excuse the dorky website; these really are fabulous. Unlike most oil lamps, they give a steady light that is much easier to read by than your standard lamp.

Here's a slightly better link. They aren't cheap, but worth the investment.

I'd second the headlamp idea, something for rodent control, and anything cast iron.

Depending on the climate, think of something to control dampness when you aren't there heating the place.

I'd suggest a few basic spice blends: salt, pepper, and a few things that you use most. Some basic canned goods, so you're covered if you ever get snowed in. Honey. You know, things that keep well.

A star map, for those blissful nights taking advantage of being out in the wilderness and away from the city lights, staring at the stars.

Some Foxfire books, with advice for living off the land.

Basic tools, shovel, etc.
posted by purenitrous at 8:55 PM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

A plan for what to do if your car won't start when you want to leave.
posted by jjderooy at 8:56 PM on April 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

A solar powered charger for a cell phone. Beware that the ones that a) aren't huge and b) don't cost a small fortune will take a fairly long time to charge up. Sure beats the alternative in an emergency, though. If you bring anything with batteries, look into a solar-powered charger that can power a rechargeable battery charger.

A magnesium fire starting tool will last longer than matches.

A couple of well-made basic tools: axe, hammer, shovel, and a multi-tool. A whetstone for sharpening the axe and multi-tool blades.

A sewing kit. A serious first-aid kit including a wide variety of over-the-counter medications.

A book on edible wild plants.

Water purification tablets. Along those lines: a sturdy, sealable bucket with a comfortable handle, in case you have to haul water from a stream or lake.

LED head lamps are indeed very useful.

An astronomy guide and a good pair of binoculars for star gazing.

If the cabin is isolated and becoming stranded for a while is a possibility, or if you like target shooting (and can do so safely at the cabin): A Henry Repeating Arms AR-7 and a box of .22 cartridges. Failing that, a high-powered air rifle suitable for hunting small game and a box of pellets. An air rifle has the advantage of also being effective for pest control, if you're patient.
posted by jedicus at 8:57 PM on April 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oh, and also (in the splurge category):

An on demand propane water heater.

A Tulikivi Finnish soapstone woodstove; heats the whole house, stays warm for a couple days, can get them with a bread or pizza oven.
posted by purenitrous at 8:57 PM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Playing cards or board games
stuff to make s'mores or banana boats over the campfire
stuff to make a campfire
bug spray
a good utility knife
matches and a lighter in a waterproof bag
long johns
moist towelettes
dried fruit/trail mix/other non perishable snacks in airtight containers
camping cookbook (think "stuff that can be made over a fire", which is almost anything if you know what you're doing)
warm thermal socks
large plastic tubs for washing dishes and/or a sponge bath
posted by katyggls at 9:06 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get one of those flashlights you shake or wind up, so you won't have to fumble for the battery in the dark.
posted by Soliloquy at 9:10 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you have a fire pit, a Dutch Oven is a fun way to cook food. There are specific meals (enchiladas, stews, many more) that turn out fantastic cooked this way. Plus, it's something you set up and let sit while you're hanging around the fire.

Book lamp. Reading by a fire sounds romantic, but it hurts your eyes. Light the fire, but use a book light for actual reading.
posted by EvilPRGuy at 9:17 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

utilitarian AND delightful?

A partner.
posted by spasm at 9:19 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

So this is a cabin you're still in the process of planning?

I would second the suggestion of a wood stove with properly fitted chimney, tile/brick/other nonflammable flooring on the immediate surround, etc. You may also want to think about a good place to store wood outside while it is drying out; it takes more than one season for this, so you want to be able to store the wood, covered by a roof or tarp, maybe a bit away from the house to discourage termites, nesting mammals, etc from getting into your house.
The cast iron stove top steamer/humidifier corey flood mentions is a good idea - LL Bean used to have them but I'm not seeing them now. search for "lattice wood stove steamer" and you'll see many options.
In addition to fireplace tongs it's nice to have a set of fireplace gloves.

If you're designing the place, you could design it so there are convenient wall niches or hooks where you can sit a lantern or hang it up.

You may want to think about a good place to leave wet things - if you come in soaking wet from the rain, think about where you'll want to leave your coat and boots so they can dry out, but so they don't make the whole space feel damp. Maybe a rack by the front door, with an impervious flooring; maybe a sheltered spot outside the door; maybe (if you have the space and budget) an antechamber mudroom.

Chairs and a kitchen table are musts. A squashy couch is nice; a built-in wooden bench along the wall, with a wide cushion, is ok. Will you have a separate bedroom w/bed?

Folding camping chairs that you can take down to the lake (or wherever) for the afternoon are nice to have and usually not expensive.

Linens, depending how rustic: Towels, washcloths, sheets, pillowcases, dishcloths, blankets and spare blankets; table cloth and table napkins maybe. (oilcloth tablecloths are nice for picnic tables outdoors if you're thinking you might be having a bunch of friends up)
You may want to have a supply of junky old towels there too for whatever messy projects need towels
Spare clothes: might make sense to keep an extra set of cold-weather clothes there - extra wool hat, wool socks, mittens/gloves etc in case you forget something.

Kitchen: Plates, cups/mugs, bowls, utensils; kitchen knife; paring knife; whatever utensils you want for cooking in dutch oven (wood and metal spoons? ladles? those big forks you use for turning meat? tongs?); aluminum foil (plenty of cooking applications); silicon potholders?; cutting board; rack for drying dishes.
Would you want a simple grill or hibachi kind of thing, and its associated implements?

Knitting is a great idea - If you're going to bring needles and yarn, bring an instruction book too! A basic instruction book is good, and then you can also get books by Elizabeth Zimmerman who's a wonderful knitting writer who lived in a semi-cabinlike place in Wisconsin, IIRC.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:22 PM on April 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Nice candles, drip-less danish tapers that self extinguish after five or six hours, and a comfy hammock plus mosquito net .
posted by hortense at 9:23 PM on April 18, 2011

I lived in a trailer with no electricity for a little under a year, and I'll be there again in a little bit... If you're gonna stock your kitchen without electricity I can't recommend these guys enough for dehydrated foods - mostly veggies and fruits.

Also, I'm not sure how they'll work in Wisconsin in the spring (they work best in hot, dry climes and they definitely don't work in Mississippi) but you might try a zeer pot. Also, for baking, a sun oven, again, I'm not sure how well this will work in Wisconsin in the spring/winter...

Books definitely, and if you're going into town regularly, get a subscription or two for any magazine just for variety. Also, coloring books and crayons (no, I'm not joking). Knitting needles, yarn, crochet hook. Maybe even some needle point or sewing (by hand of course) there are plenty of "no pattern" patterns online that you can look up beforehand. These are all great time killers and they produce usable things so they are not time wasters. Cards are okay but you can only play so much solitaire. Get a camera for picture taking. You'll want to record this experience.

Baby wipes work a lot better than towelettes for all over body washes when water is tight. You might consider going No Poo to save water. Again to save water and keep pests to a minimum, don't bring more dishes than you'll use in a couple of meals. Buy camping dishes (they last longer).

Oh, and extra blankets. It's easy to underestimate how cold a night without a heater can get.
posted by patheral at 9:26 PM on April 18, 2011

No fireplace. But a firepit.
For now...late spring to early fall. Down the road, early spring to early winter.
It'll be in Wisconsin. Cold ass Wisconsin.

As a cabin owner in colder-ass Ontario, allow me to beg you to reconsider. Get a good stove, if you do nothing else, as many people here have recommended. There are many great reasons why people don't use open firepits as primary heat or cooking sources anymore. Most convenient is a wall-mount propane furnace.

A wash basin and jug similarly gets old very quickly. A well is the permanent solution, but we used a jug for many years, with a shower and wash water drawn from a lake. A 5 gal water heater costs nothing to run, but makes all the difference for comfort. It's enough for one shower, or washing all your dishes. Laundry by hand is similarly No Fun but possible.

The three things we have lots of at the cottage are (used) books, especially local histories gleaned from church and jumble sales, jigsaw puzzles and board games of all kinds. Hammocks and canoes are also heavily used.
posted by bonehead at 9:40 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

No sink. I'm thinking of some sort of wash tub that has a simple hand pump water jug combo.

A sink, even without running water, is far nicer to have, and considering the amount of money you'd be looking at spending on all this other stuff should be a trivial cost. I know 3 people with live-in cabins without running water who have this setup. Sinks have been in use in many times and places running water was not available.

Set up a countertop or table next to the sink at the same height or a little higher, and put your 5-gallon jug or whatnot on it. Turn the water to a trickle for washing hands or dishes. Drain the sink into a bucket, or preferably by running a pipe or tubing out to where some plants can use the water.

If you want to get fancy you can mount some sort of water reservoir higher up and have tubing running down to the sink. (I suppose this would be a good place to mention that when I say "sink" I'm not meaning to imply that a faucet would necessarily be involved)

It's also possible that I have misunderstood what you mean by "hand pump", perhaps you need that for some special reason, in which case carry on.
posted by yohko at 10:19 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

We have an unpowered place in the middle of nowhere, NZ. It's on a hillside by a spring so we rigged up a series of pipes and gravity works to pipe in water directly from the spring to the tap. We are careful with water use and it runs back out into the creek. We have a gas-powered fridge and stove (and an arrangement to have 9-kg LPG bottles brought out when we need it). We did have a jury-rigged califont made from an old water cistern and fire -- but the tank has perished over time and I don't even know how it worked in the first place.

We have a pot-bellied stove which is great for cooking on and heats the whole place. All our firewood is gathered from the ground and chopped up. It's also great for the kids to make toast over the flames in the morning, and it heats our water.

A small solar panel (maybe 12" by 4"?) powers a radio and could potentially charge a cellphone, but we have no reception at our place so I've never tried. We have a combination of candles with a buttload of matches/lighters and gas lanterns for light, headlamps and torches with a buttload of batteries for going outside to the longdrop toilet in the woods. You'll want a snuggly armchair/sofa or two plus a good supply of thick socks and blankets. We find our bedding gets musty though so if you're not living there fulltime you might want to take it out with you.

Ratbait for when you're not there, probably...

Canned goods are great, they last forever and vermin can't get into them. Rats at our place eat everything, even the rubber feet off the bottom of the kitchen chairs. We have tons of durable plastic storage tubs for other foods like sugar, coffee, and it all goes in a strong lockable cabinet (we've had trampers break in and eat our stuff, which we don't actually mind because they probably needed it). We have another lockable cabinet for cleaning stuff and poisons like the aforementioned ratbait.

For entertainment we have books, board games, alcohol, card games, music, an old guitar, binoculars, jigsaws and ourselves. If I hear of a used-book fair I'll get a plastic bag of books to take up and throw out the oldest, mustiest books, likewise games and puzzles. I took up a 1000-piece puzzle last time that is all shades of blue (sky, mountains, lake) and have started it with the expectation that the next relative to go up there will continue it and so on until it's done, with photographic evidence.

We also have a wall where anyone who stays leaves a message. Great reading on a rainy day.
posted by tracicle at 10:25 PM on April 18, 2011 [6 favorites]

No fireplace. But a firepit.

Inside of the cabin?? You will want some way to let the smoke out, at the very least a smoke hole in the roof, huge health hazard otherwise, not to mention unpleasant. The fire will use up the oxygen in the air and produce carbon monoxide -- in the short term, this presents a high risk of death, and there are probably some long term health effects for people who are still alive after months of that. Many people die in house fires from smoke inhalation, so providing a source of fresh air should be a priority.

If you are near town a health club or swimming pool membership is a nice way to provide yourself with a hot shower, but it's also fun to hang up a solar shower and shower outdoors. I've also seen a Coleman brand inline water heater that ran off one of the small propane canisters, it was briefly demoed for me but I haven't actually tried taking a shower with it, seemed nice though.
posted by yohko at 10:39 PM on April 18, 2011

Chess, Go, mancala, and Chinese Checkers for a crowd. An astronomy guide and a small telescope.
posted by peeedro at 10:45 PM on April 18, 2011

A dog.
posted by exphysicist345 at 11:01 PM on April 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

posted by lover at 11:14 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

We love our LL Bean crank radio, which we use in an island summer house where power outages are not unexpected. Make sure you get one that receives not only AM/FM, but also receives NOAA weather radio stations. Seconding the wind chimes recommendation as well.

You should check out Lehman's, which does a healthy mail order business in products aimed at people who do not have/use electricity.

Seconding the recommendation of a fire extinguisher or two, and a good first aid kit. Make sure to include or supplement a basic kit with scissors, tweezers, an ace bandage or two, some extra supplies for burns or blisters, antibiotic ointment, and at least a couple of instant cold packs. Nthing a healthy supply of bug spray and sun block.

We have a small portable checkers/chess/backgammon combo set, dominoes, as well as lots of books, jigsaw puzzles, scrabble, decks of cards and a rule book/instructions for different card games. If you have any outside clear or open space, and decent weather, bring things like kites, frisbees, and a bocce set. If you are a bit more ambitious you have the option of a croquet set, badminton set, etc..
posted by gudrun at 12:22 AM on April 19, 2011

Art supplies, small easel so you or guests can make art for the walls.
posted by vitabellosi at 4:16 AM on April 19, 2011

Did anyone mention a solar shower?
Star guides and a telescope.
Bird guides.
Art supplies and writing supplies.
posted by mareli at 5:48 AM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Even if you are not a writer or artist: Notebook (or sketchbook). Pencils. Knife or other low-tech pencil-sharpening device. These items are all in my disaster kit, in a ziploc bag. Express self, communicate, doodle.

The pencils will work even if you lose gravity! :)
posted by tomboko at 6:32 AM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I once saw a outdoor "shower" where they built a three walled "room" with the fire wood and hung the shower bucket in it.

I stayed at a remote vacation house (not exactly a cabin -14 bedroom house on the ocean) that had been in the family since the 20's. They had guest books from the last 80 years. They were amazing. What they saw for wildlife, who was there, what you did. I would think one of these would work very well. You could keep track of changes at the cabin, birds and wildlife you see, and visitors you may have. And you can have your visitors write a note. Fun to do, fun to look at later.

A collection of field guides. I collect them from book sales. Mammals, bird, mushrooms, flower, etc.

An extra tent for a "guest house".

After taking time to read what everyone else wrote...what everyone else said.
posted by beccaj at 6:36 AM on April 19, 2011

Along the lines of glass jars to mouseproof the food, tight plastic bins to store everything that you leave there. Dust, dirt, rodent footprints, spiderwebs, etc all accumulate a zillion times faster in a cabin, and it's super nice to not have to be afraid of unfurling your blankets when you arrive.
posted by aimedwander at 6:39 AM on April 19, 2011

I skimmed...

Anyone mention a propane grill/stove yet? And if you have the funds, drill a well for a hand pump at the very least.
posted by thatguyjeff at 6:45 AM on April 19, 2011

Hot hands packets. And a hot water bottle you can fill with heated boiling water from the firepit/fireplace/woodstove.
posted by shortyJBot at 6:52 AM on April 19, 2011

I've actually been meaning to post this thread myself for a few months. I have a place in Wisconsin and one in Minnesota. My best advice is to get one of these: They go on sale for $159 all the time. You'll also need a 12-volt deep cycle battery to go with it. Then you can power 12 volt lights and a car stereo. Better yet, you can get a small inverter and a phonograph and start your record collection. Endless good times!

If you're in the sandy part of Wisconsin, I drove a sandpoint well by hand in about 45 minutes for $200 or so in materials. Doesn't work in rock.

I can't say enough good things about these. Warm up a bucket of water and it's shower time:

Oh! Oh! And a trail camera! I'm up to four of them. This one is my favorite: If you're nerdy like me, you can skip the D-cells and rig it up to run off from the solar system above. Same goes for the shower.
posted by LowellLarson at 7:09 AM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

My family has a cabin in outback minnesota. If we blitz the woodstove it's habitable in the winter. But the road isn't plowable so we mostly use it in the warm. To me I'd say the essentials for being up there are a hammock, outdoor fire pit, musical instruments (whatever you can play), and places you can hike.

Yes on the small solar system, it's the nicest improvement we've made since I've been alive. There's a single panel with a charge controller hooked to a boat battery. That's wired to 12v garden lighting inside, which is 100x better then candles/propane/oil lamps for nighttime. It's also enough to charge up an iphone.

The second best addition to the place is a rain barrel that get pumped into a gravity fed indoor water system.
posted by kjell at 7:33 AM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding the rain barrel.

Also, if you're staying for an extended period of time, make sure to unplug your car battery. Vampire draw is a massive pain in the ass.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:51 AM on April 19, 2011

Acoustic musical instruments. A beat-up but in-tune piano would be great.
posted by BostonTerrier at 7:52 AM on April 19, 2011

* The Klutz Book of Classic Board Games. 15 boards for 15 classic games, plus enough pieces to play all of them.

* A good way to block drafts.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:54 AM on April 19, 2011

Paper & pencils. If you play any card games, you'll need to keep score. Paper can also double for kindling. A gas torch for lighting fires in a hurry. Fire extinguishers, since you're in the sticks and the FD might not get to you as quickly as you'd like when you set the curtains on fire with that gas torch.
posted by chairface at 9:48 AM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

A good, well-maintained, gas-powered chainsaw and sufficient gas to take down multiple trees in chunks one person can handle. If trees fall and block the road, no one will know but you. There's an additive that you can put in gas to keep it from going bad if you have to store it in a gas can for months at a time.
posted by galadriel at 11:18 AM on April 19, 2011

Another thing. Keep a journal. Be disciplined about it. Every time you're there. It'll seem more chore than fun. Jot down who was there, how long, what improvements you made, interesting things you saw/did/discovered, what the weather was like. You'll be glad you did it. Trust me.

A cheapo acoustic guitar is also highly recommended, if you or anyone you know has any ability whatsoever to play it. Loosen the high strings when you leave it in the winter.
posted by LowellLarson at 11:19 AM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

As above, a book for guests to sign.

Nature guides (stars, leaves/trees, birds, animal tracks): if you go outside you shuold be able to figure out what you are seeing.

Games that are analog and take a long time to play -- cribbage, ideally.

Take a picture of first-time vistors (or everyone's first fish, ilke my parents do at their cabin) and hang them all up in one place.

Hang up an aerial photo of the area to provide some geographical context. Get coordinates or directions to local landmarks for planning hikes.

Put materials into the cabin that were taken from its surroundings: e.g., use wood from the lot to make shelves, lightswitch plates, furniture, or a cribbage board.

Pick up the local paper on your way in each time. (My parents actually get the weekly paper from the town closest to their lake place in northern Minnesota.) Since you're Not From Around Here, it's helpful to know what's going on -- and if there's some local law that gets changed (I have to have a septic system/gun permit/anti-Zebra Mussel net/whatever) you won't get surprised.

My parents also have a deer head on the wall, plus a pair of mounted hooves over the woodstove which hold a musket: it's really cool.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:45 AM on April 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

A couple of buckets and glow sticks save you a lot of trouble if you have to pee at night. You can keep one outside the door with a glow stick in it so you can find it in the dark and you don't have to go to the outhouse.

Somebody bought me one of those foldy clip-on book lights and I thought it was a stupid gimmick, but I have used the hell out of that thing!

Fly strips are a must. You see certain types of flies get into the walls of the cabin and bed down for the winter, then you arrive and warm the place up and voila! you reenact that scene from the Amityville Horror.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:49 PM on April 19, 2011

I lived in cabin without running water or electricity for a long time in Northern Canada.


I had one of these crank radios and it was pretty cool. Get something with short wave cause it's fun getting stations from all over and you'll pick up more stations in the evening when you're most likely to be indoors and bored anyway. Battery power is way better than cranking the fucking thing all the time though. I'd usually use a big lantern battery wired up to it.

Nthing cards, cribbage, board games, books (incl. plant/animal/mushroom/whatever guides and woodcraft books but also something long and fun for those rainy days.)

Bird feeder. You could also build this yourself for added entertainment but bring a bunch of bird feed. Nothing cheers up the quiet woods like birdsong. You'll also find yourself just sitting around watching the little guys a lot. Make sure it's squirrel proof if you have them.


Telescope. If you are a city person who's lived with light pollution all the time this and maybe an astronomy book or star map can be a lot of fun. A good pair of binoculars with a tripod can be just as good as a cheaper telescope.

Polaroid Camera.

Water stuff if you are by a swimming spot.


One thing you haven't mentioned is where your water is coming from. This is going to become very important to you if you are spending any amount of time there. You'll find you need a lot of water, often hot.

A rain barrel is great. I had a big plastic 55 gallon mounted up high on the roof where it'll get lots of sun. A couple bucks in plumbing fittings and you have a gravity fed water tap that'll be nice and warm on a hot day. Though, we got our water from the lake. After years of carrying water in big buckets we got a two stroke pump and pumped it from the lake into this big barrel. It was awesome.


I can't imagine living in a cabin without a wood stove. I'd rather stay in a teepee built around a fire pit than a cold ass cabin with no heat. Maybe it's a little warmer in Wisconsin but I think you'll freeze your genitals off so bring some good blankets and candles and lanterns for heat (don't burn the cabin down). I used kerosene type lanterns, very bright and warm. Always wanted one of those Aladdin lamps.

Will you be buying split wood for fires? If you are splitting it yourself be sure to get a good splitting axe (maul). Get a good hatchet too. And a good knife. I personally prefer a good old fixed blade buck knife type that you can hammer on the top of it for an axe like action. Also get good sharpening stones and learn how to sharpen your tools. This is a good skill to have and makes you feel like a big man/woman.

I don't know how you feel about the two-stroke engine, they are noisy and smelly but do a lot of work. I only used them in chainsaws, boat motors, and that pump. If you are going to be cutting your own fire wood and need a chainsaw get a good one like a Stihl and learn how to sharpen it.

When not bathing in the lake I'd heat up a kettle of water on the wood stove and bathe in one of those old-timey type wash basins. A smaller basin was used for washing dishes and things. Position the basin under one of those water cans with the spout at the bottom for a basic cabin sink.


Get a good kettle and a good skillet. If you are really going to be using only a fire pit for cooking make sure there is a good solid grill on your fire pit and get stuff with strong metal handles. Cast iron rules everything for camp style cooking as long as you don't have to carry it anywhere. Tin foil. They also make these cool wire things to make toast over a fire I don't know what they are called. Stove top coffee maker. 2nding fireplace popcorn maker.

I'd also highly recommend a good secondary gas or alcohol stove even if just a small one to heat something up quick in the morning without having to wait to get a cooking fire built. You can make one yourself for next to nothing.

Propane fridges rule. But, if you aren't going that route get some good coolers and buy lots of ice when you can.

Lots of strike-anywhere wooden matches.

Other useful stuff:

Lots of good rope, bailing wire, tarpoulines.
Compass and topo maps (I guess GPS these days as well).
Hand tools like hammer (claw and sledge), nails, handsaw, shovel (spade type for sure).
Wheel barrow.
Big stack of newspaper for starting fires.
Rain gear.
Big flashlights that you can find easy ( the big red ones with the handle on top are nice).

Also nthing these:

Comfy lawn chairs.
Swiss army knife or good multi-tool.
Head lamp.
Bug stuff.
Sleeping partner.

Had but never used:

Firearms. I guess the standard cabin firearms would be a 12 gauge, a good bolt action hunting rifle and a 22. I don't hunt so I never used them personally.
posted by goat at 2:13 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh also what LowellLarson said. I'd be doing everything he suggested if I was going back in the woods nowadays.
posted by goat at 2:32 PM on April 20, 2011

A guitar.
A waffle iron.
A slingshot.
LED flashlights. (Choose a battery type and stick with it).
posted by jefftang at 2:40 PM on April 20, 2011

The best camping shower
posted by hortense at 3:17 PM on April 20, 2011

Seconding paper & pencils. You wouldn't believe how many vacation cabins with electricity I've been in that had none.
posted by kidsleepy at 3:54 PM on April 20, 2011

Windows. Huge windows on the sunny side (if it's in a cool climate) or on the shady side (if it's in a hot climate) that can be shuttered or even barred when you go away. If you had great big shutters hinged on the top, you could swing them up and prop them up on poles so that the shutters double as big awnings (to keep off rain or sun) over your big windows. In good weather, you could sit outside under the awnings but have access through the windows to the inside. If the shutters were also removable, you would be able to just take them off and put them out of the way or use them for table tops for picnics.

Huge screens on those huge windows, or at least on the panes that open. Mosquitoes and flies can ruin everything.

A rain barrel to catch all water running off your roof. In fact, maybe a rain barrel as the first line and then a bathtub to catch overflow from the barrel. You just might want a big ol' bathtub full of water to give yourself a cooling dip or, I don't know, get water to scrub muddy clothes or wash dishes. Cover them with screen so you don't get bugs and leaves in the water. Maybe an elevated rain barrel so you have a little running (and heated?) water in the cabin.

A comfortable, private toilet situation. I don't know how you plan to handle this, but I would definitely want a better option than walking out into the woods with a shovel. If not a proper outhouse, then at least a screened temporary arrangement near the cabin so you can sit down privately and drop a load for proper disposal later.

A garden, if you're out in the open.
posted by pracowity at 2:34 AM on April 21, 2011

Single ply toilet paper is ultimately utilitarian, but no one's mentioned it yet.

Handguns and a reactive/spinning target to shoot at are both utilitarian and delightful.
posted by talldean at 8:18 AM on April 21, 2011

An old desk, a manual typewriter, a comfortable chair, a pipe and a bottle of cognac.
posted by gypseefire at 8:54 PM on May 5, 2011

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