Archive for June, 2010

Putting Out Campfires

Don't let your campfire get out of control.

It is fire season again in Arizona. We’ve already had some devastating fires up near Flagstaff, including the Schultz Fire which burned more than 15,000 acres. In fact, just this week, Flagstaff law enforcement had to deal with an additional THREE little fires. Officials are thinking arson…

Fires take up a lot of airtime on our summer news broadcasts: man-made fires, smoking restrictions, fire restrictions, wildfires, and really scary terms like: “defensible space”, percent contained, homes lost.

You all know how much I love s’mores (4 recipes in one cookbook!) and that I have written articles in the past about safe fire starting. But, one of the most important steps of the fire making process, I’ve only mentioned in passing. And, that’s the right way to put out a fire.

HOW FIRE WORKS

The Basic Elements of Fire

The word “fire” refers to the natural phenomenon that occurs whenever a combustible fuel comes into contact with oxygen at an extremely high temperature. Fire is the byproduct of a chemical reaction in which fuel stored in a combustible fuel is converted to a gas. A fire’s flame refers to the visual indication of light that occurs once the gas is heated, and is evidence that a fire has taken place.

Fires can be man made or natural. When lightning starts a fire in dry grass, it can be just as devastating as a campfire that gets away. A few summers ago, a wildfire in Arizona was actually started by a dust devil. The story goes that a dust devil scooped up a piece of tin, the tin hit a power line and gave off sparks. The sparks fell into dry grass and BANG! a fire was started.

The Fire Triangle

The Fire Triangle was developed by natural scientists as a simple way of understanding the factors of fire. Each side of the triangle represents one of the three ingredients of fire — oxygen, heat, and fuel — demonstrating the interdependence of these ingredients in creating and sustaining fire. Remove any of these three factors from the triangle, and a fire will die.

All 3 = a fire

The interaction of the three equal sides of the fire triangle: heat, fuel and oxygen, are required for the creation and maintenance of any fire. When there is not enough heat generated to sustain the process, when the fuel is exhausted, removed, or isolated, or when oxygen supply is limited, then a side of the triangle is broken and the fire is suppressed.

Heat

A heat source is responsible for the initial ignition of wildland fire, and heat is also needed to maintain the fire and permit it to spread. Heat allows fire to spread by removing the moisture from nearby fuel, warming surrounding air, and preheating the fuel in its path, enabling it to travel with greater ease.

Matches, sparks, coals from a campfire not properly put out, a cigarette butt, etc are sources of heat.

Fuel

Fuel could be defined as any kind of combustible material, and is characterized by its moisture content, size and shape, quantity, and the arrangement in which it is spread over the landscape. The moisture content of any fuel will determine how easily that fuel will burn.

In Arizona, the large number of dead pine trees (caused by drought and the pine beetle) are an easy source of fuel for a wildfire. Since it is still hot and dry here the moisture content is low. When it rains, even dead wood will have a moisture content, absorbed from the rain and the humidity in the air.

Slurry (the red stuff dropped from the planes in the case of a wildfire) is 85% water. It’s used to raise the moisture content and help stop fires.

Oxygen

Air contains about 21% oxygen, and most fires require at least 16% oxygen content to burn. Oxygen supports the chemical processes that occur during a wildland fire. When fuel burns, it reacts with oxygen from the surrounding air releasing heat and generating combustion products (i.e. gases, smoke, particles). This process is known as oxidation.

Make Sure it is Out!

1. Let the fire burn down as far as possible. This is why having a small fire is better than having a big fire. Don’t leave a fire unattended.

Step 1

2. Pour water onto the fire and around the fire area. Use enough water to float the coals and totally soak the area. Roll back any rocks from around the fire and pour water in and around where they were. Be sure to put rocks back into the fire ring when you’re done.

Be prepared for ashes to kick up into your face so stand on the up-wind side and pour water on slowly, using a small stream of water. Don’t throw water on the fire since it can actually spread hot coals.

Step 2

3. Stir the coals, ashes and dirt. At this stage, you’ll most likely need to add more water and then stir again.

Step 3

4. Check the coals for heat with your bare hand when you think it is out to make sure there are no hot areas. If there are any hot areas, go back to step 2 and pour on more water!

Make putting the fire out one of the first things you do when breaking camp. Put it out well in advance, so you can watch it for some time before you leave. Make sure that no roots are burning. Do not bury your coals — they can smolder and break out.

Readers Weigh In:

  • Have you had any experiences with a campfire that got away?
  • Have you ever been traveling the back roads and needed to put out an unattended campfire?
  • What tools do you carry with you to put out fires? (Shovel, water, etc)

Camping With The Queen Mother

The Queen Mother wanted to share her experiences of her recent camping trip to Pine Grove Campground near Flagstaff, Arizona.

This area is being threatened by a forest fire!

I had so much fun on our vacation. The weather was to say the least, very strange. We got to Pine Grove Campground and it was just plain HOT the first week. And very windy. And the fishing was lousy. We explored back forest roads and saw lots of wild game, deer, elk, antelope, turkey, ducks, squirrels and ONE skunk. The second week, we experienced rain, hail, wind and very cold nights.

Sad to say we feel blessed though, because we did not have to breathe forest fire smoke or worry that our trip would be cut short due to the Hardy Fire or the Schulz Fire. We had explored Schulz Pass and Lockett Meadow and found both to be beautiful areas. Now it seems that the whole Lockett Meadow area is threatened by the fires. The Outdoor Princess is a bit put out because we had JUST taken photos of the campgrounds in that area for EatStayPlay.com and now she’s afraid she can’t put them up; the fire might have destroyed the campgrounds.

TheOutdoorPrincess doesn't know if she'll be able to update EatStayPlay.com with photos of Lockett Meadow Campground. The campground might be damaged in the fires.

As we leisurely ate dinner or just sat around talking, we got to watch lots of campers setting up their camps. It was wonderful seeing families together and young parents with their children making memories.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that for that first dinner meal at the campground I bring it prepared. Setting up camp after a long drive is hard work even when everybody pitches in to help. It’s really no fun if somebody still has to cook a meal too.

On this trip I took a hearty alb√≥ndigas soup. Heated that up, set out a roll of Ritz crackers and we were happy! [I’ll post the recipe this Friday; it’s yummy!]

I also took several baggies filled with frozen orange smoothie mix. I let those thaw a little bit, poured that into a cup and called it dessert.

We are so lucky to live in such a beautiful state. I just wish everybody had the opportunity to visit northern Arizona. Looking up through aspen leaves with that brilliant blue sky behind those quivering leaves is a gift beyond compare.

Arizona aspen trees.

Picking A Sleeping Pad

Have you ever had this experience:

You spent forty-five minutes clearing the ground where you’re tent is going to go. You’ve picked up every stick, pinecone and rock. You’ve even flattened out the little bumps and filled in the little holes. But, then, when you go to bed you could just SWEAR that every item you moved from beneath the tent worked its way back and brought a friend?

That’s where a good sleeping pad can really help you get a good night’s rest!

I know that camping is supposed to have some level of discomfort. That’s why it’s called camping and not sleeping-in-my-own-bed. Or even staying-in-a-hotel. But there’s a big difference between roughing it and so rough you pack up and go home cranky.

Not only does a sleeping pad cushion you from the irregularities in the ground, it can also add another layer of insulation. Sleeping pads insulate by trapping a layer of non-circulating air between your body and the cold ground. Your body warms the layer of trapped air and then it forms an insulating barrier.

Because a sleeping bag’s loft gets compressed from your body weight, it’s important to have a pad to insulate you from the cold that seeps up from the ground. The amount of insulation a sleeping pad offers depends upon how much air it holds inside and how free that air is to circulate.

There are basically 5 choices for what you can put under your sleeping bag:

  • Air Mattresses
  • Cots
  • Closed-Cell Pads
  • Open-Cell Pads
  • Self-Inflating Pads

Air Mattresses

The air mattress has come a long way! They are best suited to car camping in temperate weather since they don’t offer much by way of insulation so they’re not a good choice for camping in cold weather.

Air mattresses come in a variety of sizes.

Advantages – Adjustable, easy to use, inexpensive, very comfortable, can take bed-sized sheets and blankets.

Disadvantages – They can puncture, you have to bring an inflator, not a good insulator, bulky.

Kim’s Experience – I am ALWAYS cold on an air mattress! And, if you are sharing the mattress with another sleeper, you can roll around when they shift position. To me, air mattresses and water beds have a lot in common.

Cots

Sleeping on a cot keeps you from actually sleeping on the ground. A cot can be a nice compromise between ‘hotel’ and ‘tent’.

Cots can be very comfortable.

Advantages – Away from irregularities in the ground, no crawling bugs, extra space below the cot for storage.

Disadvantages – bulky, difficult to assemble, can be uncomfortable, might not fit in all tents.

Kim’s Experience – I’m a fan. But, that being said, our tent is designed for cots: there’s plenty of floor space around the cot AND head room above it. I had to still put down a sleeping pad because the cot was very hard. But, there was lots of extra storage space beneath it for duffels, shoes, etc.

Closed-Cell Pads

Closed-cell sleeping pads are made from a durable dense foam material.

Closed cell pads repel water.

Advantages – lightweight, water resistant, good insulators, inexpensive.

Disadvantages – bulky, can be too firm; you might need two.

Kim’s Experience – A closed cell sleeping pad is better than nothing. Mostly I’ve found it just forms a layer OVER any bump in the ground so you still feel it, but not as sharply. I do like the pad because they’re pretty much water-proof. I prefer to keep one cut up in my day-pack and use for an impromptu cushion on a hike than for under the sleeping bag.

Open-Cell Pads

Open-cell sleeping pads are made of a lighter, more fragile foam than a closed-cell pad. The foam is more comparable to a sponge.

Advantages – more comfortable, light weight.

Disadvantages – will absorb water, not a great insulator, bulky.

Kim’s Experience – An open-cell pad can be VERY comfortable but it’s still not my first choice because it absorbs water. That can be everything from sweat to moisture seeping up from the ground to a spilled water bottle. I’d save this for backyard slumber parties.

Self-Inflating Pads

Self-inflating sleeping pads are open-cell foam pads wrapped in air-tight, waterproof nylon shells.

The best of both worlds!

Advantages – water resistant, comfortable, excellent insulation, firmness is adjustable, very compact when rolled up.

Disadvantages – heavier than other types of pads, can get punctures, have a tendency to curl on one end (from being rolled up), might need additional blowing to fully inflate, can be difficult to roll-up at the end of the trip.

Kim’s Experience – This is the best of both worlds. The inflatable sleeping pad has an adjustable firmness to make it more comfortable. What I don’t like is that there’s always one end that just refuses to lay flat– the end that was rolled up first after the last use. I also find that self-inflating pads can be difficult to de-inflate and roll for storage.

Final Thoughts

Before you buy any type of mattress, cot, or pad, make sure that it will fit comfortably in your tent. You will still want room to move around and space for shoes and luggage.

All sleeping pads have different sizes so be sure to purchase one that is both long enough and wide enough for you to sleep comfortably. Nothing is worse that waking up in the middle of the night half-on, half-off the sleeping pad!

You also need to think about how much space you have in your car (or backpack) for a sleeping pad. Some options are bulkier than others. If you can try it out in the store before you buy, I ALWAYS recommend that. Don’t be afraid to look silly if you’re testing out a cot in the aisle of the sporting goods store! You wouldn’t buy a mattress at home without testing it in the store — a cot or sleeping pad would be no different.

(Of course, make sure that you’re allowed to open the package first!)

If you’re sharing a tent space, you might want to consider getting pads that can Velcro together. Otherwise the pads will separate during the night and somebody will end up sleeping on the ground!

If you’re ready to buy, or want more information about your choices, here’s a link to sleeping pads.

Readers Comments:

  • What do you prefer as a sleeping pad?
  • Have you had an horror stories of waking in the middle of the night with a major problem with the sleeping pad?
  • What advice can you give in picking a sleeping pad?

Sleeping Bag Care & Cleaning

Now you’ve learned all about the different styles of sleeping bags, you need to know how to care for and maintain your sleeping bag.

In Camp

Be gentle when you remove your sleeping bag from the stuff sack. Don’t yank it or it could tear.

Carefully remove the sleeping bag from the stuff sack.

Before you crawl into your bag on the first night of your camping trip, be sure to give the bag a few shakes. You want to fluff the insulation — but of course not damage the seams or zipper!

I recommend using a sleeping bag liner whenever you’re in your bag. Some types of liners will actually keep you warmer by giving you another layer of insulation.

The real reason I recommend a sleeping bag liner is to keep the inside of the bag cleaner. Come on, how many times have you just barely pulled off your boots before tumbling into your sleeping bag? Well all the sweat and dirt (and campfire smoke!) you’ve accumulated during the day has now transferred to the inside of your bag.

Gross!

A liner is a lot easier to wash since they’re usually like a small blanket, unlike washing a sleeping bag which can be like washing an enormous comforter off your bed at home!

Don’t put your sleeping bag directly on the ground. Always have a sleeping pad or ground cloth down first.

If you spill something on your sleeping bag, let it it dry completely, but out of the sun. If you have a towel, you can use it to sop up any excess moisture.

Storage

For years, I always stored my sleeping bag all wadded up in a stuff sack. And then, I could never figure out why it wasn’t as fluffy as it used to be. And it didn’t seem as warm.

It turns out that sleeping bags should NOT be stored in a stuff sack or rolled!

If you can, sleeping bags should be stored flat. I’ve seen under the bed as a recommended spot but I’m not really excited about that idea. Lily (my dog) likes to scoot under my bed and it always seems that under the bed gathers dust bunnies.

Good storage is hanging over a large hanger or rod in a closet.

Or, you can put the sleeping bag in a LARGE mesh laundry bag so it is only loosely stuffed. Then, the whole thing can be stored on a shelf in a closet.

Don’t use a plastic bag or garbage sack! If the bag is damp at all, the plastic will keep it from drying out completely. The plastic will, however, encourage the growth of mildew, mold, and icky smells.

Storage Tip: Put the sleeping bag’s stuff sack into the sleeping bag before you store it. That way the stuff sack can’t get lost!

Cleaning

Sleeping bags do NOT need to be laundered after every trip! An exception would be if you spilled something on the bag, if a child had an accident, or if you went to bed extremely dirty.

Washing Your Bag

Do not wash your sleeping bag in your home washing machine. Instead, grab a good book, lots of quarters and head to your local laundry mat. You’ll want to launder your bag in warm or cool water on a front loading machine. Use the gentle cycle so zippers, seams, and straps are less likely to become damaged.

I also recommend using less soap than you think it needs. Because there is so much mass to your sleeping bag, it will take several rinse cycles to fully remove the soap.

Avoid fabric softener and dry cleaning since both will damage the bag.

If you have a down bag, you can purchase special soap formulated to wash down. If you’re not comfortable laundering your down bag yourself, call around to local laundry mats or dry cleaners to see if any body specializes in WASHING down items. You want to make sure they wash it not dry clean.

If you decide to try hand washing, the bath tub is your best bet. Give yourself plenty of time because it’s going to be a BIG job.

Drying your bag

Again, don’t try to use your home clothes dryer for this job! It will be too small to do the job properly and you could damage your sleeping bag, dryer or both!

Sleeping bags take anywhere from 2 to 5 hours to dry completely. I want to impress upon you that laundering your sleeping bag could very well be an all day job so give yourself plenty of time.

Tumble dry the sleeping bag in the largest commercial dryer you can find. You’ll want to use a low heat setting since a high heat setting can scorch the synthetic shell, fibers, or liner. If in doubt, air-dry your bag, or use a no-heat setting in the dryer.

Check the bag periodically to make sure the fabric isn’t scorching hot and the insulation isn’t bunching or clumping. To combat clumping you can throw in a tennis ball or two. They help maintain the loft of the insulation.

Just be sure they’re NEW tennis balls not the ones Fido buries in the back yard. Yuck!

Moving A Wet Sleeping Bag

A sleeping bag full of water will be very heavy and very delicate. If you’re not careful, you could tear a seam in the bag. When moving your wet sleeping bag, always move the ENTIRE thing — never pick it up from the end. I recommend putting it carefully in a large plastic clothes basket to move it from the washer to the dryer.

If you are going to let the bag “drip dry” you’ll want to find a place to lay it flat, out of the sun. Layer several clean towels below and above the bag to absorb excess moisture. Change the towels as they become sodden. And keep an eye that the bag is drying out — you don’t want to grow mildew in a bag you just laundered.

I don’t recommend hanging a sleeping bag to dry for a couple of reasons. It can damage the seams from the weight of the wet bag AND the insulation can shift and clump. If you’ve ever slept on a lumpy pillow that somebody threw in the washer and dryer you know what I mean.

A Quick Definition

There’s nothing I hate worse than reading an article and getting to the end and saying: What was XYZ term they used? What did it mean?

So, in case you don’t know what a stuff sack is a tubular bag that you can stuff gear into. You don’t roll your sleeping bag first — you just stuff in (gently!) into the bag. Most bags then have a flap that covers the opening and a draw string to cinch it tight.

You can also get a compression stuff sack which also has straps around the bag. Once the bag has been stuffed, you draw the straps tight to further compress the bag’s contents.

Reader’s Experience:

  • Have you ever laundered your sleeping bag? How did you do it?
  • Would you rather wash your bag yourself or pay somebody to wash it for you?

Buying a Sleeping Bag

3 Things To Know Before You:

Ah, sleeping bags! A good sleeping bag is the difference between enjoying your camping trip and heading home at 3 am. (Okay, so there’s a BIT more to it than that, but sleeping bags play a major part.)

Sleeping bags work when your body heats the air inside the bag. All of these types of bags should be available in both child and adult sizes.

If you’re in the market for a sleeping bag there are 3things you want to consider:

Shape

Sleeping bags come in three shapes: mummy, rectangular, and semi-rectangular.

Mummy Bag

Mummy: This sleeping bag is narrow at the feet and wider at the shoulders. The bag tapers again around the head. Most mummy bags also include a hood that would be drawn around your head.

Advantages: Light weight since it uses less materials. That makes it a favorite of backpackers when space and weight are at a premium. Mummy bags are considered warmer than other bags since there is less air for your body to heat.

Disadvantages: This is NOT a good choice if you are claustrophobic since the bag fits your body pretty tightly. The bag also might be uncomfortable for a side sleeper.

Kim’s Experience: I’m NOT a fan of mummy bags. I didn’t find my mummy bag to be warmer, frankly. I know that you’re supposed to roll the entire BAG over when you’re switching positions, but I always just rolled inside of it so by morning I felt like I was a fork wrapped in spaghetti!

Semi-Rectangular or Barrel-Shaped Bag

Semi-Rectangular: (Also called barrel-shaped) This sleeping bag is somewhere between a mummy (form-fitting bag) and a rectangular bag. It can be a good compromise for a lot of folks.

Advantages: A semi-rectangular bag isn’t as constricting as the mummy bag and has more room for the shoulders, hips, and feet. Not as heavy and bulky as a rectangular bag if space or weight is an issue.

Disadvantages: You give up some of the warmth efficiency of the mummy for extra sleeping room. Barrel bags weigh more and are bulkier than mummy bags.

Kim’s Experience: This is a nice compromise bag. My first “adult” sleeping bag (after I had graduated from the one with Snoopy on it!) was a semi-rectangular bag. It was find for tent or RV camping.

This is the bag I have. Made my Coleman.

Rectangular: Rectangular sleeping bags are exactly what they sound like: a rectangle. They are usually used as warm weather sleeping bags or for recreational campers.

Advantages: Rectangular bags are roomy so you’re less likely to feel claustrophobic. You can buy oversized bags that are wider and longer for anybody who wants more space. Many rectangular bags can zip together to make a larger sleeping bag for two people. This style is a must if you think that a kid might get cold in the middle of the night and crawl into the sleeping bag with Mom!

Disadvantages: They are usually not suitable for backpacking and hiking campers since they are bulky and heavy. Rectangular bags take up the most room of any of the styles. They also may not be as warm because the wide top opening allows more warmed air to escape.

Kim’s Experience: This is my favorite type of sleeping bag. Since I’m usually in a RV or tent, I don’t need to worry about size or weight. There is plenty of room for me to turn over without getting tangled in the bag.

When I was little and would go camping, a rectangular bag was a must. At about 1 am I would decide I was FREEZING and crawl into my mother’s sleeping bag. If you’re camping with small kids, the size of a parent’s bag might be a consideration!

Fill

There are two basic kinds of materials that are used to fill (stuff) a sleeping bag: down or man-made synthetic. The fill of a sleeping makes a big difference on how a sleeping bag will keep you warm in different weather conditions.

Fill is designed to catch and hold air between its fibers. The more air the fill can trap and hold, the warmer the sleeping bag will be. Manufacturers use a variety of different methods to fill the bag, including enclosed channels, layers, and baffles, all of which effect how the fill will settle during storage!

Down: This means goose or duck down — the soft fluffy feathers. Down fill usually is warmer than man-made synthetic. Down is very light weight, warm, compressible, and expensive. And, you have to be able to sleep in a bag that has feathers in it — might not be a good choice for people with allergies.

Synthetic: Constructed with man-made fibers. This costs less, is easier to clean, and is a choice of people with allergies.

Kim’s Experience: My bag is synthetic fill. I’ve only borrowed a down bag so I don’t have a lot to share. Just know that which ever fill you choose, you need to consider proper cleaning and storage.

Next week’s article will be about care and storage of your sleeping bags!

Materials

When buying a sleeping bag, you want to take into account the OTHER materials that are used in its construction.

Zippers: the bigger the teeth, the better! Look for a vinyl zipper as it is less likely to jam. Make sure it has a guard on it so you don’t zip the liner of the sleeping bag into it! If you are getting a rectangular bag, you want a zipper that allows the bag to lay completely flat. That’s perfect for when you want to zip two bags together or use it more like a blanket than a bag.

Liner: Nylon, usually in mummy bags, is lightweight and durable but doesn’t feel very warm against your skin. Cotton flannel is soft, warm and durable and feels good against your skin on cold evenings. Cotton bi-blend isn’t as warm as flannel but feels more like a bed sheet.

Shell: A nylon is lightweight will be very light weight. Ripstop nylon is the most durable and might be a good choice if you have kids or pets that might snag the shell of the sleeping bag. Cotton is rugged and a good choice if weight is a nonissue.

Kim’s Experience: Any form of nylon will be slippery so you might slide around on your sleeping bag or RV bed in the night. I’ve also found that nylon can be noisy when sleepers roll over or adjust position. The bag I own now has a cotton shell. The bag prior to that was nylon — I slid around a LOT with that bag and prefer something that will stay put a bit better.

I also use a separate sleeping bag liner. These come in a variety of materials (adding warmth or not) and really make a difference in keeping the inside of a sleeping bag clean. This can be really important after an evening around the campfire!

Do Your Research

Be sure to read the weather ratings for each bag before you buy it. You want to match the temperature rating of the bag to the expected temperature when you’re planning your camping trip. ESP Boss has different sleeping bags (warm weather, cool weather, cold weather) depending on what season it is.

Sleeping bags will also have length and width sizes. It is important to notice that when buying a sleeping bag — too large and you get cold; too small and it’ll be uncomfortable so you won’t use it!

I don’t recommend buying a sleeping bag just because of the price. Do your homework to make sure the bag you pick will make sure you sleep comfortably on your camping adventure!

My last bit of advice:

If you have kids that like to take a sleeping bag for slumber parties: buy a cheap on! You don’t want them taking the high-dollar camping bag to a party with six other kids who play sack-races in the sleeping bags! Or spill orange soda on Dad’s down sleeping bag!

To make life easier for you, here’s a link to some sleeping bags so you can start the research and shopping process!

Next week’s article will be about the care, storage, and cleaning of sleeping bags so be sure to check back!

Experienced Campers:

  • What type of sleeping bag do you like the best?
  • Have you ever had a sleeping bag you hated?
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