Survival Camping – 5 Things You’ll Want To Learn Quickly
Survival camping, for the uninitiated, is effectively extreme camping or hardcore camping. It is ultimately, whatever you make it as it is camping with the least equipment you can bear. You can go into the woods with as much or as little as you choose. You build your own shelter, start fire without a lighter, try to pick, catch, or kill your own food, find water, so on and so forth.
That being said, it’s been different things over the years for me, evolving as I’ve honed in on the kind of survival camping I really enjoy the most.
I’ve found mimicking survival scenarios the most fun and rewarding from a skills weighed against leisure type atmosphere. These scenarios range from things I can duplicate and spread out over a weekend or a long weekend in the woods. I’ve been fortunate enough to have always had a cabin with plenty of land in the Southern Tier of New York State at my disposal, so it’s easy to park, and walk into the woods and get as lost as I want to. But to be honest, this can be done mostly anywhere, even your own backyard, but it’s best experienced in the wilderness if you can get out there.
I would also add it is best experienced with friends as they not only split the work load in half, but naturally the goal of this is to have fun, and what better way to have fun than some time in the woods with your friends?
In terms of what we’ve brought into the woods with us, it was different every time and the gear you take with you into the woods is appropriate for whatever scenario you’re duplicating. We mimic many situations, from a lost day hiker, to lost hunter, to broken down car, and the list goes on.
But I didn’t start off a hardcore survival camping pro. I mentioned I grew up with a cabin to go to and woods to play in, but I didn’t always utilize it or appreciate it. My appreciation for the outdoors came later in life in my early twenties.
Probably just like you, my father is an outdoor enthusiast, hunter, fisherman and I had a casual interest in shows like Survivorman and Man vs Wild. But I soon learned it wasn’t a casual interest and it quickly grew from there, where I would watch everything I could find on TV and YouTube.
Then gradually, I started trying to duplicate what I saw on television, but you learn a few things quickly that are not always evident from your viewing experience. So, if you are considering getting into survival camping, or even just bushcraft and survival skills in general, START WITH THESE:
1) Don’t Sleep On The Ground
These are two shelters I’ve made in past survival camping adventures. On the left, is a typical A frame shelter, where my buddy and I slept on a mylar survival blanket, on the ground. That makes the left photo the BAD photo.
On the right, is a more complex shelter where you’ll notice the three of us had suspended sleeping platforms achieved in a very simple way, cross beaming logs, lincoln log style.
The first several times I made my survival shelters I slept directly on the ground, and I couldn’t figure out immediately why it got so freezing cold when I tried to sleep. The answer was conduction. Simply put, the ground sucks the heat right out of you and replaces it with cold ground coldness. Even if the air is 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the ground isn’t.
So, from now on, I only do survival camping in scenarios where I can get off the ground, or I make it a priority to build a platform of some sort to get off of the ground.
ITEM OF NOTE: Hammocks and suspended sleeping can be an issue as the cool air passes beneath you because you’re then dealing with convection.
2) You Never Have Enough Firewood
If you think you’ve gathered enough firewood to get you through the night, take a look at the pile, then make that pile 5 times the size it is now.
Also, do it quickly and make it a priority DURING DAYLIGHT. The light from the fire doesn’t extend very far beyond camp so your visibility is practically nothing, this makes gathering firewood in the dark extremely challenging. Even if a flashlight is part of your survival camping excursion or if you were hardcore enough to make a torch, reaching for downed logs can result in problems if you can’t see very well such as snake bites and more. Not to mention, processing wood in the dark is a challenge and a half as well.
Firewood you find in the woods burns a lot FASTER than those nice seasoned cords of wood you get at home or the kind you buy when you go to the camp site. The wood is often wet and on the ground, slightly rotten, or if you cut it down yourself, it may be full of resin, which can be an effective accelerator.
Because of this, you’re going to be “burning” through firewood (PUN INTENDED) much quicker than you expect, even in the summer, because…
3) It’s Cold Once The Sun Goes Down, Even In The Summer
Make fire a priority, even in the summer when it’s 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. Not only is fire comforting at night and fun to watch and makes a fantastic white noise when you’re trying to sleep… but when the sun goes down and the cool breeze winds its way around the trees, the importance of the fire becomes evident.
At night, you can’t see much around you if you’re survival camping proper without lights, so your activity revolves around sitting around the fire, and winding down for sleep, laying still. Your body cools off with the lack of movement, combined with the drop in temperature due to the sun setting, and the convection of any breeze around you. This makes things a lot chillier than you may expect.
To combat this, don’t just make that typical and utterly useless “camp fire” you see in the movies and cartoons. You know the one, a fire surrounded by a rock circle. You’re losing all the heat from that fire and you have to practically be on top of it to get any heat from it.
The reason for this is because you’re not controlling the heat. I’m sure you’ve seen or heard of “reflecting walls” with fires. This can be a stack of wood behind the fire, or typically a rock wall built behind the fire, or even building your fire in front of a big slab of rock.
The idea is, that reflecting wall directs the heat back towards wherever it is pointing. Ideally, this would be made directing the heat into your shelter or directly towards where you’re laying (not on the ground!). The higher the better on a reflection wall.
4) Food Is Hard To Find, Very Hard
I don’t care what the survival TV programs show you, or what the books say, you aren’t tripping on berry patches every two feet you walk in the woods. Additionally, all the wonderful creatures of the forest that are so high in protein and taste so great on the BBQ don’t magically appear to people who are survival camping, or even hiking. Animals AVOID YOU on purpose.
So that makes hunting and trapping extremely challenging, unless you’re in the forest from Bambi and animals are just walking around everywhere and maybe even talking to you. IMPORTANT NOTE: If the animals are talking to you, that mushroom you ate a little while ago was BAD NEWS and you need to end your fake survival camping trip and get help immediately, because now you’re in a real survival situation.
I do most of my survival camping trips in the Eastern Woodlands, which is comparable to a lot of terrain, making it typical of many peoples experiences and I can tell you first hand, there may be berries theoretically that grow in the woods and all kinds, but finding them, and finding them when they’re in season is as difficult as finding a needle in a hay stack.
And mushrooms… just stay away from mushrooms. The margin for error is too great and no matter how smart you think you are, if you’re wrong, even a little bit, you’re dead. They’re not on the menu.
5) Survival Camping Is Way More Fun Than Normal Camping
It became apparent right away to me that building shelters out of what I had or what was around me, and building fires the same way was like being a kid again building a fort in the back yard or out of cushions in the living room.
There is the testing your limits and skills that brings a challenge that removing a few luxuries and staying in a camper or camp site with water slides and WIFI just doesn’t bring.
Knowing you were directly responsible for your comfort by affecting your situation in a positive way using your know how and ingenuity is thoroughly satisfying and the best part… the journey is the fun!
Getting lost on purpose is hiking at it’s best, and building a shelter is just building a really cool fort where you are only limited by your imagination. If you want to get off the ground, you can do it, if you want to have a fire on two sides to surround yourself with heat, you can figure out a way to do it. It’s not work or a chore like setting up a tent with never ending tent poles that make no sense and don’t fit together.
Survival camping doesn’t have to just be about survival or prepping. If you’re out there, you’re out there to have fun, remember that and keep that in mind to make sure you always see the forest through the trees.
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