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Get Your Gear In Gear

By Kristi Streiffert - March 8th, 2004

The days are getting longer. The sparrows and finches are singing. You are day dreaming about hiking, backpacking, camping. You start to get out the map. . . But wait!

Admit it. For most of us, it is still WAY too early to go camping. It's still snowy in higher elevations. Down below, it's muddy.

But this is no excuse to be completely idle. You have a lot of getting ready to do for the upcoming season. Getting the gear organized now will pay off big when prime time really arrives.

I know, I sound like your mother, but: did you wash your sleeping bags before you put them away?

First, spread out your tent - make sure it is clean and tear-free. Your best investment in camping comfort is to waterproof the seams. Follow the directions on the bottle carefully. While you've got the seam sealer out, check your rainwear and decide if it is time to seal it, too.

Next, give your boots a critical look. You may need to finally retire those tattered favorites. If so, buy them in plenty of time to break them in. If not, give them a good cleaning and conditioning.

I know, I sound like your mother, but: did you wash your sleeping bags before you put them away for the winter? If not, they'll need to be freshened up. You'll need to use the extra large capacity washers found at Laundromats, and follow the manufactures' suggestions for detergent and drying.

Since we camp so frequently, we use homemade sleeping bag liners - twin sheets folded lengthwise and sewn - to keep our bags clean. (Unless we are backpacking; then weight considerations overrule cleanliness.)

Next, restock your first-aid kit, using suggestions found in a general information camping book. Or better yet, use Dr. William Forgey's book, "Wilderness Medicine, 4th Edition." If you have children, be sure to include dozens of extra adhesive bandages, and a small lollipop. If a child has a bad spill, the lollipop can be applied to the crying mouth and will work wonders while you clean up the wounds.

While you have all your equipment out, work up a master checklist of all your camping gear. I write mine on large index cards and tape them to milk crates holding the gear. Start with a general list, everything you'd take on any camping trip, for example, and then make specialized list cards for backpacking, canoeing, fishing, etc.

Keep all your gear together with the lists, and you are always ready to go camping. Just check your lists, throw the gear in the back of the car, fill your cooler and then decide where you are going.

For ideas on what to include on your lists, use a general how-to camping book. I like "Basic Essentials of Camping" by Cliff Jacobson. Some things on my list that I occasionally forgot until I started using this system include: coffee/coffee filters, sunscreen, bug spray, spare batteries, scrubber for dishes, and notebook for field notes.

Another factor to keep in mind during the planning and organization stage is the "what if" factor.

When I update my lists, I like to spread out all the gear and check it over. The date on my sunscreen bottle is usually expired. I am probably missing a fork or two from my mess kit. My gaiters may need mending.

When you have everything mended, sorted and organized, start trip planning. Get out maps and calendars. Calculate driving times. Begin negotiations with your boss.

Another factor to keep in mind during the planning and organization stage is the "what if" factor. "What if" every trip this summer involves rain, hail, lightning, swarms of bugs, and grizzly bears?

Now is the best time to be a pessimist, because if you are prepared for the worst conditions, every camping trip can be a positive experience. Make sure you have enough clothing layers, rain gear, bug spray and backwoods savvy to triumph over less-than-ideal conditions. Backwoods savvy means making sure your survival skills are up-to-date. Have a thunderstorm plan. Practice using your compass. Contact the area you plan to visit and ask for their bear tip-sheets. Invest in mosquito netting.

One of my trips last year was practically miserable as a result of bad planning. It was late September; we were heading for a deep dark canyon and I was thinking fall... you know: chilly. I took fleece sweats, wool sweaters, hat and gloves. I didn't say "WHAT IF it is eighty-five degrees the entire trip?" I'm still sweating.


Kristi Streiffert's work has been featured in national and regional magazines and major metropolitan newspapers. Her work has been published in National Wildlife Federation and National Audubon Society national publications. Her articles appear often in Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Living Bird, and in Texas Parks & Wildlife and Canoe & Kayak. She is a regular correspondent to a number of newspapers in Washington. A sampling of other credits include: FamilyFun, Backpacker, WildBird, SeaKayaker and Outside Online.

Streiffert's past accomplishments have included: an award-winning essay on outdoor risk-taking for parents, a legislation-spawning news report on wildlife mortality in oil pits and a groundbreaking women's column in a national watersports magazine. Her writings are included in text of the George Washington University course, "Ecotourism Planning and Management."

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