Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Five pleasant camping luxuries (wants)

A follow up to my last post about needs, this time exploring five of my current favorite luxuries to take with me to the woods.  Some people might call certain choices not "wants" but "needs", and I already went over the subjective nature of these concepts.  Suffice to say, I would argue you don't "need" the following five items from a survival perspective, and can improvise solutions to replace these things, which I will cover shortly.

Here they are:

1.  (top left) Small tin of instant coffee (weight 42g), small tub of powdered milk (24g), fast food sugar packs (about 5g each).

2.  (top right) Small tin of spices (25g), fast food salt packs (about 2g each).

3.  (middle left) Insect repellant (57g)

4.  (middle right) Lip balm (12g)

5.  (bottom) Hygiene kit (about 90g total), note that the soap is biodegradable.

I left out costs because a lot of the above are free/recycled, or very cheap.  The uses should be fairly obvious, but of course I like to note more not-so-obvious uses that might be helpful.

Having coffee/tea around while camping encourages hydration, as sometimes drinking plain water can be boring.  You have to boil water in order to make a good hot cup of coffee/tea, which will sanitize the water, and if it is cool or cold outside, a hot drink also helps prevent or combat hypothermia.  Adding some sugar gives a small kick of energy, which is often needed while out in the woods, as hiking out to get there in the first place is often a work out (especially through rough terrain).  Also keep in mind that the containers themselves can be useful tools, for example the coffee tin could be emptied and used as a small cup to drink from (say a friend forgot one) or to gather bugs/worms for bait for fishing.

Spices and salt add zest and flavor to food, encouraging you to eat more, which is important so that you have energy.  Camping is not a good time or place to start a diet or a fast, especially if there is an emergency situation--say you get hurt.  You will need extra energy to make it through a crisis, so eat well out in the wild.  Spices have other benifits, depending which one, for example garlic powder is a favorite of mine and garlic is also a natural insect repellant.  Salt aids in hydration, and can also be used to make a salt water solution to gargle if you have a sore throat, or to clean out stuffy sinuses.

Insect repellant is very often quite flammable, so it can double as an emergency firestarter and fuel source.

Lip balm need not only be used on the lips, you can also rub it on other parts of your body that might be dry.  It is mostly fat, so you could melt it down and mix it with wood ashes to make a crude soap.

The toothbrush can also be used in first aid.  I recently went on a day-hike with my sister in law, and she cut her finger.  I made sure to rinse the cut with some clean water, but noticed there was some dirt stuck in the cut (and of course it is important to prevent an infection to remove all debris from a wound), and it was tricky to finally remove all the little bits of dirt.  Having a toothbrush would have made it easier, but since it was just a day-trip I didn't bring it with me.  The toothpaste can also be used on a boil or pimple (a classic high-school trick for zits) to prevent it from getting worse, and the soap can also be used to wash not just your body but your clothing too.

Did you forget these at home?  Here are some alternatives:

1.  Make a wild herbal tea.  You can use lots of different plants, a classic bushcraft treat is lumberjack tea, and all it takes is hot water and some pine needles.  Nearly all pine needles are edible, and have vitamins as well to keep you healthy.  You can also boil up a handful of berries, add some sugar and you have the bushcraft version of Kool-Aid.

2.  As above with wild herbal tea, you can also gather herbs to cook with for more flavor.  Wild onions or ramps are a great find, for example.  Then of course there are wild mushrooms that are one of my favorite things to eat.  Be VERY careful anytime you venture into wild edibles, however, as there are plenty of poisonous plants and fungi out there, and you must be 100% sure of what you eat.  In the future I will devote more time to the wonderful subject of wild edibles, especially mushrooms, which I am a huge aficionado of.

3.  By now you should be detecting a pattern.  Yup, you guessed it, mother nature also provides natural insect repellants.  Some you can ingest and will make your general scent you give off less attractive to bugs, like garlic which I already mentioned.  Others you use externally.  Cinnamon is another example, and can be used both on the inside or outside of your body, and tastes and smells very good to most people (myself included).  

Whitecedar trees are also effective at keeping bugs away, if you can find it (not to be confused with true cedar trees).  Pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea, Swedish Gatkamomill, and pictured below) also repells bugs, and I have found this growing in center-city parking lots here in Sweden.  If you find either of these natural insect repellants (or others), just mash some of it up in your hand and rub it on yourself or your clothing.  

I am lucky in that I love garlic, onions, and cinnamon and used all three at home often.  Even when I don't use any insect repellant, I usually don't get that many bug bites.  What also helps is to use a soap with lemon, lavender, or eucalyptus oil (which I also do) at home, which are also effective repellants.  A body soap/rub that I highly recommend is called "Rub Rub Rub" and has lemon oil in it, and is availible at Lush.

4.  If your lips get dry, and you have any kind of cooking oil with you like olive oil, problem solved.  But what if you don't have any lip balm or oil?  Maybe you have nuts with you, a common camping snack that are high in fat.  Mash some up between two rocks and rub the paste on your lips, and then eat the paste.  If your lips are very chapped, however, be careful with the salt (ouch!) that most nuts are coated with!  Rinse them first then mash.

5.  Make an improvised toothbrush out of a twig.  It's easy, all you have to do is find a nice, clean, birch tree twig; then peel the bark off and chew on it.  Once it is soft and the fibers split from chewing, you can rub your teeth, and the inner bark of birch can be ingested safely.  You can also make a natural mouthwash by boiling acorns which are high in tannins that are astringent, just be careful not to swallow, as too many tannins can make you sick.

With the low weight and cost of these nice luxuries, there is little reason not to take these or similar luxuries (tea bags rather than coffee, for example, if you don't like coffee) with you to the woods.  Only the more hardcore ultralight zealot would scoff at bringing these five items, which total weigh only around 264g.  Remember the goal is to have a good time, and small comforts like a hot cup of coffee, yummy food, no bug bites, kissable lips, and being nice and clean ("So fresh and so clean-clean!") work wonders in making a camping trip a more pleasant experience.