A more efficient camp routine is needed

Improving My Camp Routine

In case you were wondering, this isn’t a post about Dale Winton. Although I’m sure that would be a most worthy subject for a blog entry.

No, this was inspired by a piece I read on sectionhiker.com where our man was talking about his routines for making and striking camp,  It struck me that I am desperately in need of such a routine myself.  Not that I don’t have one, of sorts.  I do tend to do similar things in crudely the same order each time.  But it doesn’t feel like a particularly slick or efficient process and seems to involve a lot of faffing about.

After finding a spot, the pack hits the ground and out comes the tent.  That goes up and then a degree of unpacking takes place – sleepmat is inflated, my sleeping bag is extracted and lofted and the various dry bags strewn about the inner – clean clothes to act as a pillow, empty bags to the foot of the tent and various electronics, toiletries and food bags down the side.  This gets complicated further if I have wet or dirty gear (usually the clothing I’ve just been walking in). Then it’s generally off to find water.  I then tend to start on the evening meal and do my ablutions – although sometimes the other way around. Inside the tent for the night, I seem to do a lot of moving of stuff about, and the inside looks nothing like the neat and organised inners that you see in pictures.  Something needs to be done.

A more efficient camp routine is needed
A more efficient camp routine is needed

So what are the problems?

I think it comes down to:

  1. I still take too much stuff.
  2. When tired towards the end of the walk my judgement isn’t as sharp as it could be and tends to be focussed on  getting to a spot and getting the tent up.  Especially so if the weather’s a bit iffy.
  3. I’m still experimenting to some degree.
  4. Recent new gear means I’ve not been taking the same things on successive trips.
  5. I’m just not efficient.

So what does sectionhiker do ?

Sectionhiker’s making camp routine looks something like this:

  1. Hang bear bag (suspension system and food)
  2. Fill and purify water bladders. Return water filter/purifier to pack pocket
  3. Set up shelter
  4. Inflate sleeping pad/loft sleeping bag
  5. Pull out night gear. Pack the rest in a waterproof liner and pack
  6. Retrieve bear bag
  7. Cook dinner
  8. Wash up, myself mostly
  9. Hang bear bag (food only)
  10. Arrange night time gear
  11. Write or record a journal entry
  12. Plan next day’s route for the 40th time
  13. Fall aleep at sundown or earlier

Now, my routine can be simpler as in the UK it really is quite rare to be troubled by a bear, so I’ve crossed those out.  The key difference is that he sources water before he even puts his shelter up, which makes a lot of sense in some ways. A suitable spot to pitch may not be found near water, and the best quality water will tend to be faster flowing either below a summit pitch or above a more sheltered pitch further down.  So it makes sense to try to sort the water issue out on the way to the pitch. But what I currently do is essentially what I do at a proper campsite where water is never in doubt, and securing your pitch takes priority.

The sense of this was brought home to me on a recent trip in the Lake District’s Far Eastern Fells.  My pitch near the Garburn Pass had no decent water nearby despite a wide search after putting the tent up.  I was forced to put up with yellow water pouring out from under some grass.  This was fine when boiled but I wasn’t going to drink it neat, especially as filtering didn’t make it look any better. Clearly water needs to be sorted out earlier.

The fact that I haven’t got this right yet is all the more incredible when I think back to my key concerns when planning my first wildcamp.  Sourcing drinkable water was top of the list.

So the key making camp lessons are:

  1. Plan my water strategy in advance if possible.
  2. In any case, get water on the way to the pitch.
  3. Work to get my kit down to a standardised set of stuff for every trip.
  4. Take less stuff.
  5. Develop some rules for inside the tent.

Sectionhiker’s striking camp routine is as follows:

  1. Get dressed for the day: clothes and boots.
  2. Visit privy or take care of business elsewhere.
  3. Take down bear bag. Pull out snacks for the day and stow in outer pack pockets.
  4. Cook breakfast if I want a hot one, or eat it cold.
  5. Pack sleeping bag and pad in backpack.
  6. Pack sleeping clothes.
  7. Pack food bag.
  8. Pack water.
  9. Pack shelter.
  10.  Pack external pockets (toiletries, rain gear, cooking pot).
  11. Quick check of site and then leave.

Once again, no bears in the UK.  My striking camp routine broadly follows sectionhikers except for two key differences (bears aside!):

Firstly, his shelter isn’t the last thing packed, so he’s packing some of his stuff in the open, and potentially in the lashing rain and wind. I’d rather pack what I can inside the shelter and make it the last thing into my pack. Clearly, if the pack is starting out wet from the previous day, then this may be academic.

Secondly, packing my rucksack usually works best if I insert the hydration bladder before there’s too much else in – it just becomes too tight a fit otherwise.

I’m not proposing any significant changes to my striking camp routine, other than just to get faster and slicker with more practice, and coping better if the weather’s a bit frisky. But there are some key things to bear in mind, nonetheless:

  1. Efficient striking camp and packing is related to the process of unpacking – the less I unpack or the more organised stuff is around its packing bags, the easier it will be.
  2. I need to find a slick repeatable way for dealing with the varying states of decay of clothing during a trip – clean stuff is ok, but what about dirty gear still in use, or dirty gear that is finished with ? And what about stuff I’ve washed and is simply getting dried ?
  3. A further consideration is that I may want to get my stove out at lunchtime, so it’s not always simply a matter of packing that away low down in the bag when finished with.

Conclusions

With every camp, I am getting better, but I’m nowhere near efficient yet. I still have lots of work to streamline the amount of stuff I take, and I think that mastering the ability to handle day after day of wet conditions and dealing with kit that isn’t dry is important too. And water needs to move back up the priority list. Certainly after struggling for water on my recent Far Eastern fells trip, it’s been brought home to me how critical this really is.

7 thoughts on “Improving My Camp Routine

  1. The first thing that i do if i am packing up camp is deflate the Neo air mattrace while still in the sleeping bag as this makes it more efficient to deflate while i am still in the sleeping bag.
    i also tend to take to much food need to plan better.
    Otherwise similar to you

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  2. Oh yes, I do that too, although it does tend to sound like I’ve “let one go”. I’ve decided to not take spare meals – just enough for the number of meals expected. I always skip some or make use of pubs anyway.

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  3. Not only is a routine important, having gear organised into stuff stuff sacks or containers saves a lot of angst. Knowing where everything is help to avoid losing gear.
    However, I don’t stick to a rigid routine. When pitching, if it’s raining, I collect water first, if not it’s often last. When packing, if it’s wet, I’ll pack everything under cover, but if it’s fine I’ll move outside to pack. I think the key is knowing that there are a certain number of tasks and choosing an order.
    Like most people I always over cater on food, but I’d rather have a little too much than run out. You never know if you might be delayed. It’s good to reevaluate how we do things.

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    1. Thanks Robin. It just seems that every camp I do it all differently , but I agree that it needs to be flexible to adapt to the circumstances of the camp. I think it’s the core routine that needs the work.

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  4. Hi I’m using the travel tap filter which removes all nasties but water can be stained in colour .on a trip to same ares with @Alex and @ lee Taylor off Twitter they both were so impressed they borrowed mine and have now both bought one.on your trips do you always use rhetoric cross poles Ive never used mine yet and that’s 340g out of your pack weight.once ive found a good water source near where I want to camp I set up camph first as soon as I find a good pitch.then pitch and go back for water saves carrying pack and the extras water …

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    1. Peter – I’ve got a travel tap too. But still when the filtered water looks identical to the unfiltered, you do momentarily wonder if it’s working! I do find it quite hard work to squeeze the Travel Tap, and obviously you can’t get at the last bit, so I generally only use it for drinking water – any cooking water I tend to not bother filtering and just boil it. One of my inefficiencies is that I use a 3L Camelbak for drinking while I’m walking, a platypus bottle to collect raw water and carry it to camp, and the TravelTap as a pure filtration device. Clearly I need to work to cut one of these out.

      I don’t always use the crossing poles because they are a bit of a pain to put on. On my first wild camps in the Scarp, I did put them on, largely adopting a belt and braces approach. I’ve never found it windy enough to absolutely need them, but where I do find them useful is in substantial rain – they just help hold the flysheet that little bit further away from the inner, which is useful when you’re a clumsy oaf like me. The 340g is the price of confidence that I can handle whatever conditions I encounter, I guess.

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      1. Tried a plattypus just seems extra faffing, plus you,carry to much water cannot see how much is left also you have to clean.I just use old plastic water bottle super light and easy to replace. The filter is a good idea though especially on long distance walks

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