So, you have your beans, bullets, and bandaids. But do you and your family have the skills you need should you ever have to face a bug out situation? What if you need to load your vehicle and head out? What would you take? Do you have things packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice?
Ten years ago, I would have answered all those questions with a resounding NO! My first camping trip with my husband was a complete disaster. I’m an indoor girl at heart, so automatically camping is not my favorite thing. But my outdoor, fisherman, hunter, and camping enthusiast husband thought he would take his brand new wife out in the woods of Missouri and have a chance to prove his skills. What was he thinking?!! It was fall and this Florida city girl was completely out of her element. A very cold sleepless night and a morning spent standing in a frigid stream, with no fish to show for it, is not my idea of a good time. Where was the bed and breakfast? Where were the cute little antique shops? I was miserable in the woods and I couldn’t feel my toes! Can you relate? Do you have members of your family that can relate? How would they fair in a bug out situation?
As I write this, my family is getting ready for our annual fall camping trip. I’ve learned to camp in the last ten years and things have gotten a little easier for me every year. This year we have invited over one hundred people to our off grid homestead to camp with us. Ten days and ten nights of fun! Crazy?! It’s a lot longer than just a weekend trip when you can make it through a couple nights and head for home to a hot shower and washing machine. Camping can be fun and is full of great family time, but these days it has become so much more for us. We realize how important it is to practice, practice, practice.
I’ve seen a lot of camping lists online and even information about how to go “glamping” (glamour camping). Ten years ago that would have been right up my alley. I guess I’ve practiced enough now that I don’t need the comforts that glamping would offer. But wherever you are in your camping comfort level, for the sake of preparedness you need to practice and you need to practice with your family.
Camping packing lists can be extensive, but in this article I’m going to focus on some areas where you may need to put a little more thought when you are getting ready to camp without running water, electric hookups, and campground facilities. And since you are going to all the work of packing for a camping trip, try to also make these supplies your bug out supplies. You’ll thank yourself when you have those bug out supplies packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Let’s get right to it and start with the one thing that’s on everyone’s mind when I say camping without facilities. Do I really mean no flushing toilet? Yes, I do! My family and I are experts at using a humanure bucket toilet. We have used one every day for almost 3 years in our off grid home, but when camping I keep it in our tent. I use a 5 gallon bucket with a toilet seat/lid that is made to snap right on top of the bucket. The one in the picture is made by Reliance. After each use, we cover the contents of the bucket with sawdust and put the lid down. For a bug out situation, dry leaves or grass would work just fine. When the bucket is full, dump it in a humanure location that you choose away from your camp and cover with a good layer of dry leaves. Rinse the bucket and start again. No, it doesn’t smell as long as you cover after each use. My favorite part is that I don’t have to run to the bathroom in the middle of the night. It’s a dream come true when camping with kids!
Water is your primary consideration when locating a campsite. I speak from experience when I say that hauling water can wear you out. Finding the water is the first step, but you need something to carry it in. I like to use 5 gallon buckets with lids or the Coleman 5 gallon jug in the picture. About ten gallons of water can supply my family with enough for a day.
A good water filter is also a must for camping equipment. We take our Big Berkey filter when camping, but for bugging out purposes we have a Katadyn Pocket filter and the Lifesaver 2000 bottle in our bug out bags.
I’ve heard it said, “If Davy Crockett could have used a Bic lighter, he would have.” Lighters are cheap, small, and they last a long time. I’ve even had them get wet and they work just fine after I let them dry. There are more self-sufficient ways of starting a fire. My husband has lots of practice making fire with primitive methods like a bow drill or flint. However, if you’ve never practiced camping or fire starting before, I recommend that you pack some lighters! You’ll also need some newspaper and small kindling. For a bug out situation, make sure that you take the equipment you need to cut wood (ax and/or chainsaw).
If you have never camped before and are a little scared of cooking with a fire, I recommend having a back up cooking method. It’s not cheating to take a propane camp stove. I use mine regularly, especially when it’s raining. Just keep in mind that camping is the perfect time to practice your cooking with fire skills.
Camping is also a great time to practice food preparation without refrigeration. Have you ever thought about leaving the cooler at home? With a little intentional meal planning, you won’t have to worry about buying ice. Try packing foods like potatoes and other root vegetables, dry or canned beans, canned meats, pasta and/or rice, eggs, nuts, coconut oil or olive oil, and different kinds of fruit. Oatmeal is a great camping breakfast. I also like to make ahead my pancake and biscuit mixes. Powered or evaporated milk is great to use as an ingredient for cooking or baking. One of our favorite dinner meals is tacos. I use canned chicken or venison and season it with chili powder and cumin. Open a box of taco shells and a jar of salsa and you have a delicious meal. Add an avocado and you won’t miss the cheese! In a bug out long term camping experience, I would make my own tortillas in a cast iron skillet over the fire.
It’s tempting to want to pack everything but the kitchen sink. You can actually make do with very few cooking utensils, but you do need a kitchen sink! I use two large plastic basins, one for washing and one for rinsing. For cooking, focus on cast iron. You can do a lot with a skillet and dutch oven. I also pack an enamel pot with a lid that can also double as a mixing bowl. A few different sizes of mason jars are nice to have. They are glass, but very durable. I use them as drinking glasses, measuring cups, and food storage containers. A couple of knives, cutting board, long handled wooden spoons, can opener, spatula, long handled tongs, and welder’s gloves round out my cooking supplies. These are the bare essentials for me. Sometimes I include more depending on what I plan to cook. Try to go without paper and plastic products as much as possible. Remember when they run out, you can’t replace them.
When we are camping, we do our work and chores during the daylight hours. I pack a battery powered lantern that we use for getting ready for bed. Headlamps are great for moving around outdoors after dark. Remember to pack extra batteries! I don’t use kerosene lanterns while camping. I’m worried that they would be a fire hazard and I’m not willing to risk that. In a grid goes down situation, any kerosene that you would be able to pack will eventually run out, just as batteries will. Rechargeable solar yard lights are also a great option for camping. The Nuwick candles in the picture are another good option. They can be used for light as well as minimal cooking and can’t get knocked over!
I definitely recommend a 4-season tent and one that stands up to high winds and storms. I’ve seen tents blown right over. That’s no fun when camping and can be life threatening in a bug out situation. Invest in the best tent you can afford. My parents have a 4 person Alaskan Guide tent from Cabelas. I’ve seen it hold up very well through all kinds of storms and has never leaked. I would love to get the 8 person version for my family. Stay away from the cheap tents sold at the China-mart stores. They won’t last more than one or two outings. It’s a good idea for whatever type of tent you have to put a tarp below it and have an extra tarp to put over the top if you need it. Don’t forget the tools you need to set up your tent and definitely go with the large metal tent stakes over plastic.
Gone are the days of filling a washtub once with every family member taking their turn until the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater. Gross! In my regular off grid life, I’m able to clean my family with four gallons of water in a shower bag. In the winter months, we fill the bag half full of room temperature water and the rest of the way with boiling water for a warm shower. For this purpose, a funnel and tea kettle get packed along with our shower bag. If you have little ones that can’t take a shower, I suggest sitting them in an empty plastic tote (you probably have one from camping gear you have unpacked) and giving them a cup bath. I’m able to clean my little one with less than half a gallon of water using this method.
While air mattresses are usually the go to choice for camping bedding, I don’t believe they are the best option. Firstly, they usually require some kind of electric pump. When the batteries run out, you are stuck. Secondly, they are not the best in really cold weather. The cold ground keeps the air in the mattress constantly cold so you are basically trying to sleep on cold air all night. I would love to have cots for all of us, but right now we are using foam pads. Sleeping bags are great, but they can get expensive if you need a good one for all seasons. Buy the warmest ones that you can afford. My family has still not invested in sleeping bags for all of us. In the coldest weather, my husband and I pile on the blankets and snuggle close. He keeps my feet warm for me!
Speaking of feet, I always pack plenty of socks for my entire family. In order to stay warm, you always want to keep your feet warm and dry. The one game changer that most people don’t do is to change your socks right before bed. It will be much easier to get warm and fall asleep. In hotter weather, it’s important to have dry socks so that you are not susceptible to foot problems like athlete’s foot. Our wardrobe is limited in other areas. A couple pairs of pants, a few t-shirts, a sweatshirt, thermal underwear, winter coat/hat/gloves, waterproof hiking boots, and rain parka can cover us in all weather and seasons. I wear my Merrell boots in all seasons except summer. I don’t take any other shoes when camping.
Oh…that dreaded word. Do I mean that you will actually be doing laundry on your camping trip? Usually you would just pack up your dirty clothes and take them home for the machine, right? Well, on an extending camping trip, doing laundry is often necessary. And it’s great practice! I use either a 5 gallon bucket or a deep plastic tote, depending on the amount of clothes I need to wash. Load the bucket or tote with clothes, a little soap, and fill with water. Plunge, soak, plunge again, soak, and scrub any stained areas. You get the idea. (For plunging I like to use my Mobile Washer, but a new toilet plunger with holes drilled around the plunger can work as well.) In a little time, your clothes will be clean. Squeeze them out to remove as much soap as possible and put them in clean rinse water. Squeeze again and then hang them to dry. A rope stretched around trees makes an instant clothesline. Don’t forget to pack clothespins!
Bug Out Bag
Don’t forget your bug out bag when you go camping. Although you will have other gear, camping is a great time to practice using your bag also. You probably have things in there like duct tape, a multi-tool, hatchet, single serving pot, first aid kit, portable water filter, and other things that will be handy while camping in the woods. Speaking of bug out bags, I love my women’s Kelty.
Bug spray and citronella candles may come to mind when I say pest control, but there are also bigger and more dangerous pests that you may have to deal with in the woods. Never leave home without your weapons. The first round that my husband and I have loaded in our pistols during the summer is 9mm snake shot. Bigger pests like bears, coyotes, or even a pack of wild dogs can be taken out with our rifles. Of course you will also want your rifle for shooting wild game to provide fresh meat for your family.
Practice makes perfect, right? Have you practiced with your family? Even under normal circumstances, camping can be stressful for the inexperienced. But in a disaster situation when bugging out becomes a necessity, that stress can escalate to major freaking out and perhaps even complete inability to function. Practice. Start where you are at and practice. If you need to go to a campground with facilities as a starting point, do that. Make it fun and get out there and try. It’s a chance to learn what everyone needs (as well as what you don’t need) to make a trip in the woods go from miserable and very stressful to comfortable and “we can do this if we ever need to.” Because, as every good prepper believes, at some point you may really need to.