Have You Ever Cut a Camping Trip Short because of Rain?

This spring we have had a lot of rain and cooler temperatures in Ontario and I’m sure many of you have already been drenched on some of your camping trips. I have been drenched many times on camping trips over the years. One Thanksgiving weekend, I was camping in Algonquin Provincial Park during a torrential downpour throughout the day and evening. We killed off part of the evening by driving to a restaurant in Whitney to watch the World Series. When we returned to the campsite, the bottom of the tent was drenched right through to the point that there were puddles inside the tent. Our campsite was too low, and water accumulated in puddles all around our tent and seeped in. The tent was so wet that we had to sleep in the car overnight and went home the next day to dry out.

On one particular camping trip to Bon Echo Provincial Park, we had heavy rain for twenty-four hours. We stayed relatively dry because we used tarps over our tent and dining area and were camped on higher ground. The people camping across from us put up a tarp over their fire-pit, so that they could keep their fire going during the rain. The strategy for keeping the fire going worked well; however, they didn’t have a tarp over their tent and got drenched. They ended up going home the next day to dry out.

My most recent wet camping memory was in Balsam Lake Provincial Park in May 2008. It rained for almost three days non-stop. It can be very discouraging when you are camping and it is constantly raining. Given enough rain, anyone’s spirits can be dampened to the point where they want to pack up and head home early. Nobody likes camping in the rain; however, the more prepared you are, the more you will be able to make the most of your trip. Here are some suggestions for coping with rainfall while you camp:

Tarps: Always hang a tarp over your tent and dining area if you do not have a screen house.

Groundsheet: Place a groundsheet inside your tent to provide a moisture barrier between you and the wet ground.

Sleeping Gear: Keep your sleeping bags, pillows, blankets and clothes off the floor and away from the walls of the tent to avoid dampness. Place your gear on top of air mattresses or sleeping pads, which can then be placed on top of the groundsheet inside the tent. Make it a habit to ensure that these items are completely on top of your air mattresses or sleeping pads when you are out of the tent during the day.

Footwear: Always wear sandals or Crocs without socks during rainy summer days. Although your feet will be cold and wet, your socks and other shoes will be dry and ready for use when it stops raining. Your sandals and Crocs will dry out quickly. For cool, wet weather; wear rubber boots or hiking boots that have been treated to repel water.

Dress Appropriately: Wear rain gear and appropriate layers to accommodate for the temperature.

Select a Campsite with Partial Sun: A campsite that receives some sun will allow you to quickly dry out and warm up after heavy rainfall.

Stow Gear when not in Use: Before going to sleep each night, store all camping gear safely away from any potential rainfall. We move our lawn chairs, sports equipment, and other gear into the screen house. We take all clothes and towels off the clothesline and drape them on the car seats to dry overnight. Finally, we throw a tarp over the bikes to reduce water damage. We also do this during the day if there is a chance of rainfall. I have seen many campers with drenched camping gear over the years because they failed to stow their camping gear before rainfall.

Morning Dew: Ontario has warm weather and high humidity, which causes morning dew. As your camping gear radiates heat during the night, it cools down and dew appears on the surface of the camping gear. Again, if you do not want your gear to get wet, stow it.

Resources: For camping information and tips, see: The Camp Tripper. For camping gear, see: http://astore.amazon.com/tip4cam-20.

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Encounters with Black Bears

Back in August 2005, we were on a camping trip at Killbear Provincial Park. One morning, I was the first one in our family to wake up, around 6:30 am. As I unzipped our tent and looked across the road to the campsite facing us, I saw a black bear rummaging through their camping gear in the screen house. As soon as the bear saw me, he ran away. The people who were camping there had left some food in their dining area overnight, which drew the attention of the wandering bear. As soon as these campers woke up, I told them that a bear had visited their campsite. They had a look of terror on their faces. Always put your food away and clean up when you have finished eating. See my previous post on Keeping Bears and other Wild Animals off Your Campsite.

I am a firm believer that bears are generally timid and will run away from you at first sight, provided that you have not fed, startled, or angered them. In all my years of camping, this is one of only a few times that I stumbled upon a bear, and he ran away from me at first sight. When camping in Ontario, always read the information guides provided to learn about the animal situation at the park and follow what is recommended. I read the information guides all of the time, just so I know what to do if I have a bear encounter. Here is the most common advice that I see in the information guides regarding black bears:

Do NOT Feed or Approach Bears: In most cases, a bear will flee when it hears or smells you, long before you even see it.

Safety: If you are near a building or vehicle, then go there for safety.

Stand Your Ground: If the bear charges you, it is usually a bluff, so waive your hands and start talking to him so that you appear bigger than you are to him and slowly back away from the area. Bears have bad eyesight, and this may be enough to scare him away. If you are with others, stay as a group, but make sure that the bear has a clear escape route.

Make Noise: Use a whistle, air horn, or bear spray if you have them. You could also try banging pots together or using bear clappers. I have also read articles about people scaring off bears with bright flashlights.

Do NOT Run Away or Climb Trees: This may trigger a predatory response in the bear. Bears run fast, are excellent climbers and swimmers.

Fight Back: Fight back as hard as you can with black bears using stones, sticks, and your fists if you have to.

Polar Bears: If you are camping in polar bear country in northern Ontario, then you should review the strategies for bear encounters with parks staff and other officials there.

Resources: For camping information and tips, see: The Camp Tripper. For camping gear, see: http://astore.amazon.com/tip4cam-20.

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Good Camping Habits Ensures That Camping Is More Enjoyable for All

Each year I notice that there are many people going camping for the first time in campgrounds across Ontario. It should be noted that having good camping habits ensures that you enjoy your camping trip and have a great time with all of your neighbouring campers. Most seasoned campers have good camping habits that include the following:

Campfires: Make your campfires using the campfire-pit on your campsite. If there is no campfire-pit, then campfires are probably not permitted.

Campground Rules: The campground rules are for the safety and enjoyment of all campers and are usually posted at the campground office, so please follow the rules.

Do NOT Be Excessively Noisy: All campgrounds have quiet times during the night when excessive noise is not permitted. However, respect for your fellow campers should be extended into the day as well. Don’t be excessively loud when camping.

Do NOT Hog the Facilities: The showers, sinks, and toilets are to be shared by all campers. Always show consideration for others when using the facilities. Also, the facilities should be left with the same level of cleanliness that you found them in.

Do NOT Walk Through Occupied Campsites: Other campers have rented campsites for the time that they are there. Please show respect and walk along the campground roads and trails without taking shortcuts through occupied campsites.

Don’t Litter.

No Speeding in the Campground: Children will be playing on the campground roads. Drive slowly, so that you do not accidentally hit someone or create unnecessary dust in the campground.

Supervise Your Children and Pets: You are responsible for monitoring your children and pets. Ensure that they do not disturb other campers or get hurt.

Washing Dishes: Wash your dishes at your campsite or the designated dish washing stations, whichever applies at your campground. Do not wash your dishes at the water supply taps or in the washrooms. Campground staff and other campers frown upon this.

Leave No Trace: When your camping trip is over, please leave your campsite the way you found it. You are not permitted to cut trees or remove fallen trees, branches and other vegetation from the campsite and surrounding area. Doing so may result in a fine. Pack and dispose of all garbage and ensure that the campsite is ready for the next group of campers.

Backcountry Camping

Here is how you can do your part to keep the backcountry clean and safe during your canoeing, kayaking, cycling, fishing, and hiking trips:

Do NOT Litter the Lakes, Rivers, Trails and Backcountry: Anything that you pack in needs to be packed out or properly burned in a backcountry fire-pit. It astounds me how often I find pop cans, food wrappers and other debris scattered across the backcountry.

Help Those In Trouble: Always help those in trouble on the lakes, rivers, trails and backcountry, however you can.

Are there any other good camping habits that I have missed? Please share any additional good camping habits that you have and we will post them here.  Thank you!

Resources: For camping information and tips, see: The Camp Tripper. For camping gear, see: http://astore.amazon.com/tip4cam-20.

Posted in Book, Camping, Clean, Habits, Leave No Trace, Rules, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cook Safely While You Camp

A camping stove is a necessity at the campsite, however it must be operated properly to ensure that it is safe for all. If you have just purchased a new camping stove, learn how to use it in your backyard at home before you leave on your camping trip to ensure that you know how to use it and that it works properly. Review the instructions and ask the sales staff at the store if you are still uncertain of how to properly operate it. Practice lighting your stove, adjusting the heat level, and turning it off outside in a ventilated area, away from anything that can catch fire. You should also test it out annually before going on your camping trips to ensure that it is still operational. Here are a few more points to remember when cooking with your stove:

Excessive Heat: Turn off the stove if it is flaming radically or looks very hot.

Fuel and Fuel Containers: Only use the recommended fuel and carry it in approved aluminum fuel canisters or the original can that it was purchased in.

Never Leave the Stove Unattended by Adults.

Placement of Stove: The camp stove should be placed at one end of the picnic table, with children and adults seated away from the stove for safety. The stove should also be placed far enough away from screen house walls, overhanging tarps, and any other camping gear, so that the flames from the stove do not burn it. The picnic table must be level in order for the stove to work properly. You can level the picnic table by inserting rocks and wood chunks under the legs.

Refilling the Fuel Tank: Do not attempt to refill the fuel tank when the stove is in use or is hot.

Starting the Stove: This is the time when it can flame up and get dangerous. When igniting the stove, use as little fuel as possible. I once melted a hole through a screen house wall because the stove was too close to it and I opened the gas a little too much.

Ventilation: Never use a stove inside your tent or any area with poor ventilation.


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Keeping Bears and other Wild Animals off Your Campsite

Do not leave food unattended on your campsite or anywhere else, while camping. Always clean up and put food away after every meal. In the summer of 2010 while camping at Algonquin Park, I could not get over how sloppy many campers have become. I saw food and coolers left unattended by campsite picnic tables during the day. In fact some campers left their coolers out overnight. Some campers even stored their coolers in their tents. While camping at Lake of Two Rivers, I heard other campers yell “bear” or honk their car horns to scare off bears on three of six nights. The black bears were attracted to the campground because there were irresponsible campers who did not follow the rules and stow their food properly. Here are some tips to ensure that you do not spend your camping trip dining with raccoons, chipmunks, bears and other animals from the forest: 

Stow Food: Food should always be stowed away in airtight coolers and containers that are then locked in your vehicle or RV when not in use. Do not leave exposed food unattended, and never eat or store food, soap, toothpaste, or anything else that has a fragrance in your tent. If you are backcountry camping, your food should be stored in airtight containers and hung from a tree, twelve feet off the ground, to ensure inaccessibility to wild animals. 

Storage Containers: Use a large plastic storage bin to store all dry and canned food on car camping trips. Any food that is not in your cooler should be stored in this bin. These containers are weatherproof and seal out the scent of food reasonably well. Store these containers along with your cooler in your vehicle when not in use. Use Tupperware or ziplock bags to store unwrapped food products. 

Clean Kitchen: Your dishes, cookware and cutlery must be washed after every meal. Clean up all food scraps and wipe up all food crumbs and grease immediately after every meal. Ensure that all tins, plastic, and other disposable containers used for food are rinsed and bagged immediately. Bag all organic waste in sealed bags and dispose of it in the dumpster daily. 

Canned and Dehydrated Meals: Consider canned and dehydrated meals on your camping trips as these meals release less odour then fresh food when in storage. 

Do Not Feed Wild Animals: In Ontario, it is against the law to feed wild animals, and you can be fined for doing so. Feeding wild animals causes them to lose their fear of humans, and this can create dangerous situations. 

Some campgrounds have a policy to fine sloppy campers who do not keep a clean campsite. This is an excellent policy when it is enforced for two reasons. One, it keeps the campground safe for all to enjoy. Two, it helps to prevent the problem of bears scavenging for food on campsites. Once this happens, bears lose their fear of humans and will need to be captured and destroyed. Leave no trace of any meal on your campsite at any time! If you keep a clean campsite, the wild animals will dine elsewhere. A clean campsite is a safe campsite for you and the wild animals. 

Resources: For camping information and tips, see: The Camp Tripper. For camping gear, see: http://astore.amazon.com/tip4cam-20.

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Black Flies and Mosquitoes – Two Bugs That Can Wreak Havoc on Ontario Campers

I will never forget the time when, camping as a child in Algonquin Provincial Park, the black flies were so bad that we had bites all over our bodies. It was late June and it had been rainy and cool that month. I remember having red welts and itchy skin for days after returning home from the camping trip. Over the years, I have come to realize that sometimes you need to make adjustments to accommodate the things that you cannot change in your life. The same rule applies to camping in bug season. I have one of the less common blood types. I guess bugs find me more appealing, almost like dessert, because my blood tastes a little different. Anyway, my rule is to not go camping in black fly and mosquito country during bug season. For me, this means that I avoid my favourite camping spots in Ontario’s Canadian Shield during late May and June. During bug season, I camp at other regions in Ontario that are drier and warmer. How do you know when it is bug season? It depends on the region that you are camping in, the climate, the time of year, and so on. After you go camping in your region for a few years, you quickly come to learn when the bugs are biting. Here are more suggestions for coping with the bug season that traditionally kicks off camping season every spring in Ontario: 

Insect Repellent: Pack the best insect repellent that money can buy. The oily repellents that you rub onto your body are more effective and last longer than the ones that you spray on. Apply the repellent liberally to all exposed flesh. Repellents that contain Deet are considered to be good, especially for protecting against West Nile virus. Apply the repellent to your hat and it will help to keep the pesky critters from landing on your head. Sprays work the best on hats and clothing. Incidentally, Deet should not be used on very young children. For young children, you also need to use milder repellents for comfort and to minimize the burning sensation if they accidentally rub it into their eyes. 

Dress Properly: Wear clothes that cover your entire body. This means long-sleeve shirts and long pants, socks and shoes. Exposed feet are a favourite for the bugs. Hats, because bugs also love your head, especially when you start sweating on hikes. Lighter clothing colours seem to be less attractive to bugs than darker colours. Screen netting over your face can be added if the bugs are in a really nasty mood. 

Avoid Certain Scents: Do not wear makeup, perfume, cologne, or scented deodorant, as these fragrances attract bugs. 

Select an Appropriate Campsite: Try to camp in more open areas where there is a breeze instead of near swamps, creeks, marshes, and bushes. 

Keep Your Tent and Screen House Zipped Shut: Bugs enter through any little gap they can find, as they are very opportunistic. Do not encourage them by leaving your tent and screen house unzipped. Turn off your flashlights at night when entering the tent and screen house, as light attracts bugs. 

Resources: For camping information and tips, see: The Camp Tripper. For camping gear, see: http://astore.amazon.com/tip4cam-20.

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Setting Up Camp: Tarp

If you do not have a screen house, you should hang a tarp over your dining area. If you plan to “wing it” without one, you are asking for trouble, especially with the constant rainfall we have been receiving in southern Ontario this spring. Having a poorly sheltered dining area is probably one of the biggest reasons why camping trips end early. Consider hanging a tarp over your tent as well. Most tents will eventually leak with heavy rain, and the tarp provides the first layer of defence by deflecting most of the rain away from the tent. Having a drenched tent and sleeping gear is another reason why camping trips end early. A few years ago, we were on a nine-day car camping trip in Algonquin Provincial Park, when it rained almost every day. The inside of our tent was dry, with only a little dampness on the bottom of the air mattresses (we forgot to pack a ground sheet to keep the moisture away from the air mattresses). If the tarp is hung properly over the tent and overhangs the tent by at least two to three feet on all sides, itwill keep most of the rain away from the tent. The tarp also protects the tent by reducing the amount of falling branches, sap, and other debris that hits the tent. In all our years of hanging tarps over our tents, we have never been drenched inside the tent during heavy rainfall. This photo demonstrates how you can hang a tarp using surrounding trees.

How to Hang Tarps

Unravel the tarp and spread it out and centre it between the trees that you will hang it from. Tarps have grommets (hoops/holes) along the sides of the tarp to facilitate hanging the tarps with ropes. When hanging and fastening your tarps to ropes, you should feed your ropes through these grommets to help keep the tarp tight and reduce it from fluttering in the wind or collecting rainwater.

Four Trees: If you have four trees to hang your tarp from, tie one end of the rope to one tree, as high as you can. Then feed this rope along one side of the tarp through the grommets. Once the rope has been fed through all grommets on one side of the tarp, tie the other end of the rope to a second tree, again, as high as you can and about the same height as the first tree. At this point, you should have one side of the tarp hung between two trees. Now feed a second rope through the grommets on the opposite side of the tarp. Find two more trees to fasten this side of the tarp to.

  • Ensure that the tarp is higher on one side than the other to allow for proper water drainage.
  • Ensure that there are no dips on top of the tarp where water can pool. The tarp needs to be reasonably tight, so that all water drains off. If too much water accumulates on top, it will rip the tarp loose from the ropes. This has happened to me on a few occasions.
  • Once the tarp is hung, you can adjust the corner ropes to get the proper height and tension. Ensure that the tarp is high enough to avoid contact with your head and any flames from your stove.
  • If the tarp flutters too much, then tie off some of the grommets on the sides of the tarp to other trees or to stakes in the ground. This also takes some stress off the corners of the tarp and provides better rigging for high winds and rain.

Two Trees: If there are only two trees to work with, feed the rope through the grommets (hoops/holes) on one side of the tarp. Tie one end of the rope to one tree, as high as you can. Tie the other end of the rope to the other tree, again, as high as you can and level with the first tree. At this point, two corners (or one side) of the tarp should be hanging between two trees. The other two corners of the tarp can be staked to the ground with ropes and tent stakes, if there are no other trees available. This will create a “lean-to”-style shelter.

More Points: Rainwater will drain off the lower end of your tarp, so ensure that it is not pooling under your tent or in your dining area. To allow for better ventilation when hanging a tarp over a tent or screen house, hang the tarp high enough so that it doesn’t make contact with the tent or screen house. Over the course of your camping trip, the ropes can slip down the side of the tree trunks due to winds. This will lower your tarp. To prevent the ropes from sliding down the side of the trees, tie the rope just above a tree branch whenever possible.

No Trees: If trees are not available on your campsite, the alternative approach is to drape the tarp over the tent and stake it down, as depicted in this photo.

Resources: For camping information and tips, see: The Camp Tripper. For camping gear, see: http://astore.amazon.com/tip4cam-20

Posted in Book, Camping, Dining Shelter, Gear, Screen House, Setting Up, Tarp, Tent, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment