In an era where all knowledge is accessible through the wonder of the internet, a printed book on how to camp may seem a little unnecessary — a little like a relic from a bygone age, right?
Well, not necessarily. Most of the places visited online provide more opinion than knowledge, although it may not always be presented that way. Outdoors folks have plenty of opinions, after all, whether it’s about the best tent to buy or whether trail runners are better than hiking boots. For someone looking to advance their skills, that can be an issue. When 20 different people recommend 20 different tents, what do you do? Are you really getting much help?
“How to Camp in the Woods,” conversely, (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 304 pages, $21.99) wants to educate you enough that you’ll be able to make your own decisions (which if you’ve been spending a lot of time on Facebook may feel like a new concept). Author Devon Fredericksen doesn’t tell you what to buy and painstakingly avoids mentioning brand names.
What he does is point out, for example, the differences between camping in backcountry or a state park, solo or with your family, during the summer or year-round. You’ll figure out what you need and then be able to further use the book to understand how to use that gear.
And the book does cover everything, from meal planning to camping with kids to altitude sickness. In fact, on first read, I wondered if it might be too comprehensive. I wasn’t sure that including the rules for playing hearts and rummy were necessary here, but maybe it is — if you’re carting this book along on a camping trip and you find yourself stuck in a tent on a rainy afternoon maybe those rules are good to have.
Fredericksen deserves kudos for covering topics that are so basic that many such books overlook them. For example: “Why camp?” Experienced types don’t spend much time thinking about the topic. The appeal is obvious, but we all know plenty of people who think it’s craziness to want to sleep outside on the ground. For others, who may be curious but aren’t yet sure what the allure is, this book provides some fundamental but solid pointers to help decide whether you’re the camping type or not.
The section on camping etiquette is important, too. With so many people getting into camping for the first time — often as something of a byproduct of backpacking — many of our outdoor spaces are beginning to see signs of overuse. There are people out there who don’t care about how they might contribute to that, but they are far outnumbered by those who do but just are uninformed about how to behave in the outdoors, how to leave no trace, and how to leave a campsite better than when they found it. This book provides good information in basic terms to help campers understand their impact.
Because the book is so comprehensive, you may never use much of the information (which specific parts will vary depending on how you camp). So the best way to maximize its value it is not by sitting down and reading from start to finish. Rather, keep it handy for when you encounter a specific need — figuring out what makes for a good campsite, for example, or knowing the best knots to use with outdoor gear. You can read about how a tie bowline, which is helpful when you need to attach a tent guyline to an anchor, but do you think you’ll remember when the time comes? Probably not. Keep this book with your camping gear so you’ll have it when you need it.
Jeff Moravec is a writer and photographer from Minneapolis. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.