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© 2006
Show of hands: How many out there ran out and built a lean-to shelter after reading my articles (#1 and #2)? I thought so. Not many. I can understand that, actually. It's tough to leave the ease and comfort of your own home and go live in the woods for even one day. Those of you who live north of Florida would be faced with fierce cold north winds and possibly snow (there's that word again). It's not easy to camp out even with the modern equipment of today. It would be even worse if all you had was a pack on your back...even one that contains all the recommended contents. In Florida, now in the month of March, our balmy days give way to chilly and humid nights that can go as low as 30 to 35 degrees. I know, those of you in Michigan don't feel sorry for us poor thin-blooded Floridians at all. That's OK. I feel sorry enough for myself.

As cold as it is, imagine that you are suddenly thrust into a survival situation today. Now. In the next 15 minutes. Get up, go outside, and close your eyes. Imagine the steps you would have to take if you only had 15 minutes to get you and your family out of the house NOW. No more pre-planning, no more pre-stocking, no nothing. Don't you wish you had practiced building that shelter? Now your "practice shelter" is the one you will spend tonight inside. Good or bad, it will be the "Days Inn" for the night.

Going to a state park or national park to practice in the winter will get you your choice of campsites - provided they are still open. Park rangers will give you really weird looks when you ask for a tenting campsite, but you don't have a tent with you. But, it will be very quiet in the woods. Unless there are other RogueTurtle readers out there. Practice, practice, practice.

You might not get too many family volunteers, but with some subtle and persuasive arguments on your part, some may think of it as a unique challenge. You must convince them you are not crazy. Point out that on the Survivor TV series, the ones who suffered the most were the ones who did not know how to make a shelter. If you watch the show, you'll see them huddled up, soaking wet, trying to cheer each other up while they are freezing on a tropical island. That's right - tropical. The island is warm, but the rain starts out at 35,000 feet where the temperature is well below zero. When the rain hits your body, it's like jumping into ice water. ITS C-O-L-D!!!


It's time to continue our discussion on shelters. In the first two editions I showed you several types of lean-to and teepee shelters (using native materials) that are pretty good at keeping you covered, particularly at night.

If you have been pre-planning and pre-packing your survival back pack, then you may have included a commercial tent to take with you. It's your option, of course. Today's pack tents are fairly light weight, semi-easy to assemble, and in some cases, very snug. So, let's talk about commercial tents.


Before you rush out and purchase the first tent you see in WALMART, make a list of all the things that your tent has to have to be suitable for you to purchase. These items to consider before you buy include:

  • The number of people in your party who will share your tent. Most small families will opt for one tent for the whole family. That means Dad, Mom, 2 1/2 kids, plus animals that will sneak in if you let them.
  • The time of year, weather, wind conditions, elevation (high mountains versus low deserts) other words, the outside temperatures you can expect to be sleeping in.
  • The weight of the tent fully compacted for travel. The lighter the better because you have to carry it on your back wherever you go. However, light weight does not always mean high quality.
  • Type of entry and closure. Some tents use snaps to hold them closed. Some use zippers or Velcro. Some have (but not many now) small strings to tie together to close them up.
  • Amount of gear you want to keep inside the tent with you.
  • Water and wind resistance rating for the tent by the manufacturer.
  • Warranty and factory repair as well as parts replacement availability.
  • Fire resistance rating. Nothing is "fire proof" now...only fire resistant.
  • Availability for additional tent rooms to be added.
  • Single or multi-room tent requirements.
  • Supports. Tube-type or external (flexible ribs), or tent poles.
  • Ground stakes included that are appropriate for the terrain you will be in.
  • Stuffing bag to carry the tent in while back-packing
  • Cost. Cost is always last. You have to pick the right tent, regardless of cost.

Types of Tents

There are many manufacturers of tents. Some tents are designed for the kids to spend a quiet night out in the backyard with the porch light on. Some are designed for climbing Mt. Everest in the winter. Some designs are for just one person, some have several rooms or separate rooms that can add on to the central tent. Each has its purpose and only you can decide which one you need. In order for you to make a good decision on the type tent to buy, I've designed a chart for you to fill in to make the best decision based on NEED...not on cost.

DO NOT COMPROMISE about a tent that meets only 8 out of 10 of your needs. The tent must meet ALL your needs, or you don't need that particular tent. Keep looking until you find the ideal tent for your needs.

ALWAYS PLAN ON THE WORST CASE SCENARIO FOR YOUR OWN SITUATION, NOT FOR ALL SITUATIONS. If you will never, ever, be on top of Mt. Everest in your survival route, then you don't need an Everest-type tent. Get only what you need. Nothing more, nothing less. (If you ARE planning on bugging out to Mt. Everest...Why?)

Example Tents

I'm not going to surf the web for you, you can do that yourselves. I'm just going to point out some of the types that are available out there for your consideration. Since most chain stores only handle one or two brand names, they may not have access to ALL the types of tents that are out there.

When you go shopping you will only see what those companies have in their product line. These may not fill all your needs, so you could feel panicked to buy one "just to have one". Don't do that. Have patience and locate what you need, then purchase it. On line, in the store, I don't care, it doesn't matter. If possible, it is highly recommended that you can physically see and handle the tent before you buy it.

A tent may take a beautiful photo, but turn out to be too flimsy for your needs. Now you have to go to the time and trouble of shipping it back and getting a refund (eventually).

To help with the decision-making process, I have prepared a tent matrix that you can use to record the features of various tents you consider buying.

Willowbend 2 Person Tent

This is the kids' tent most suitable for back yard camping for young children. Up all night, eating junk food, only 10 yards away from the back door. Giggling boys or girls, telling each other scary stories and swapping lies. I remember doing this a long time ago. NOT SUITABLE FOR SURVIVAL USE

Prices: $18 - $30

Brookwood Internal Frame

Camping Pleasure Easy Setup with this 6'x4'2"x36" h. Sleeps 2 persons. Rugged taffeta with polyurethane coating. Tub style rip-stop polyethylene floor. Unique two-pole pin internal frame system with shock-corded fiberglass poles. Arch style front door with 1/2 "no see-um" mesh window and zippered storm flap. Two "no see-um" mesh roof panels provide superior ventilation. Complete with stakes, carry/storage bag and instructions. Flame retardant, meets C.P.A.I.-84 specifications. Forest Green/Golden Straw.

Source: Camp

This tent is available but no weight is given. It has a lot of the requirements I would need, but is too small for my purposes. A polyethylene floor is water resistant. The "no see-um" mesh is a plus. No mention of the type stakes (that usually means short, plastic stakes). Good for some people, but not for my purposes.

Camouflage 3 Person

Blend in with this 7'8" x 6'8" x 48" h. Sleeps 3 persons. Made by Texsport. Extra rugged taffeta walls and rainfly are polyurethane coated. Rip-stop polyethylene floor. Three-pole pin and ring frame system with shock-corded fiberglass poles. Arch style front door with 1/2 "no-see-em" mesh window and zippered storm flap. Six "no-see-em" mesh roof panels for ventilation. Complete with stakes, carry/storage bag and instructions. Flame Retardant, meets C.P.A.I.-84 specifications.

This comes a little closer to my own needs. It has 51 square feet of floor space. However, I computed that I need the following square footage in the tent to be completely comfortable:

Dad and Mom3' x 6' bed space = 18 square feet per person Total 36 square feet
Step Daughter 3' x 6' bed space = 18 square feet Total 18 square feet
Dog (big dog) 4' x 4' walk-around space = 16 square feet Total 16 square feet
Extra Storage 6 square feet Total 6 square feet
Minimum Space Needed 76 square feet

Camouflage Square Dome 5 Person

Blend in with this 9' x 9' x 72" h. Sleeps 5 persons. Made by Texsport. Heavy-duty taffeta walls and rain fly are polyurethane coated. 1/2 length 4-peak rain fly. Tub style rip-stop polyethylene floor. Two-pole pin and ring frame system with shock-corded fiberglass poles. Durable speed clips secure tent to frame. "No-see-em" mesh "D" style front door with zippered storm flap. "No-see-em" mesh rear and side windows with zippered storm flaps. Four "no-see-em" mesh roof panels provide superior ventilation. Lantern hook and mesh storage pocket. Complete with stakes, carry/storage bag and instructions. Flame retardant meets C.P.A.I.-84 specifications.

This tent has 81 square feet which gives my daughter a place to put her make up trunk and the dog a lot more room to turn around (and around, and around) in. Since I like camouflage stuff anyway, I would lean towards this one, just for the color.

All the above tents would have to be checked for the types of tent pegs supplied, and more information would be needed on wind resistance and weight. The 3 windows are a plus on hot Florida days, but a minus on cold, windy snow days. I'd have to see this one to buy it.

Marmot NYX - 3 Season Tent

For good friends who like to go camping together, consider the Marmot NYX Tent, a spacious, lightweight backpacking tent. Made from 40d Nylon Ripsop and DAC FeatherLite poles, the NYX is an incredibly versatile 3 season tent, with good ventilation, and solid protection from the weather, whether it be strong winds or a hot sun. Pitching is a piece of cake and at under 5 pounds, the tent is among the lightest, strongest two-person tents on the market.

Fly Fabric: 40d Nylon Ripstop 2000mm PU/Silicone F/R, Floor Fabric: 70d Nylon 5000mm, Canopy Fabric: 40d Nylon R/S, Pole: DAC FeatherLite 8.4mm, Number of Poles: 3, Min. Weight: 4 lb 8oz , Max. Weight: 4 lb 13oz , Bare Bones Weight: 1 lb 12oz , Number of People: 2 , Dimension: 90" x 56" x 40" , Floor: 35 sq/ft , Vestibule: 18 sq/ft , Pack Size: 7" x 20" Window Weld , Stake Tape , Bare bones set up , Knees pole system , Vestibule , Optional footprint, Optional gear loft

Source: US Outdoor

The Marmot is a high-end brand that gives a lot more feature information than the previous tents. This usually means a higher quality tent, with accompanying higher cost. Only by examining each tent, and using the decision matrix, can you make a good comparison to get the biggest bang for your bucks. This tent is heavier than the others listed before it, but will probably stand up better to strong winds and heavy rain. Too small for my personal use, it would be ideal for one or two people (without dogs).

Mt. Hardwear Light Wedge 3 Tent

Redesigned this year with Mountain Hardwear's patented tension shelf for strength and storage, the Light Wedge is more than competent as a free-standing, easy to set up tent. Ideal for campers and climbers who like to spend time in everything from sunshine to winter storms, the Light Wedge 3 Tent uses a 2-pole wedge design and back-tacked stress points to add strength and durability.

Caternary-cut seams make a taut canopy of the 70D nylon and mesh, and with a single D-door that stays off the ground when it's open, there's maximum ventilation without letting weather come in. Offering over 35 square feet of living space for two adults, not including vestibule space, the Light Wedge 3 Tent is more than big enough for you and your tent partner to each have their personal space. Mountain Hardwear's aptitude as technical gear originators is marked by their use of superior materials, innovative construction, and useful features that come standard in all Mountain Hardwear tents.

Taped, full coverage polyester fly. Keeps weather out and resists stretch when wet; Taped floor seams; Locking pole tips ease of set-up; Vestibule brow pole provides increased space and creates an awning over front entry ; Off-ground perimeter seams form a waterproof tub; Bias bound zippers allow for ease of use and extended zipper life; Large mesh pockets and webbing hang loops keep things organized inside the tent; Large front vestibule with wide opening for storage and easy entry; Gated Power Clips at pole intersections ; Mesh doors and windows maximize ventilation and weight savings;

Two mesh top vents and one rear window vent ; #8 YKK zippers with nickel-plated sliders and pull-tabs for durability and noise reduction; Opposing double slider fly zippers for ease of ventilation; D-shaped doors stay off ground when open; Single full-size mesh door; Large, clear, non-yellowing, non-clouding UVX film windows.

Weight: 6.31 lb; Packaged weight: 7.23 lb ; Type: 3 Season; Capacity: 2; Length: 7.87 ft; Width: 6.23 ft; One door; Two Poles; Brow pole: yes; Vestibule pole: no; UVX windows: 1; Mesh windows: 4; Exterior height 4.13 ft; Interior height: 3.9 ft; Tension shelves: 1; Gear loft: Rectangle; Total area: 45.19 ft; Floor area: 35.51 ft; Vestibules: 1; Vestibule area: 11.84 ft; Packed diameter: 7.09 in; Packed length: 18.9o in; Canopy fabric: 70 D Nylon Ripstop; Fly fabric: 75 D Polyester Taffeta .

Source: US Outdoor

This is the last example I'll show you. There are literally hundreds of styles, shapes, floor plans, and costs of these tents. Let your common sense tell you when you've found the one for you. If the tent looks "flimsy", it probably is. Just because it's light weight, doesn't mean it's the best tent, or the right tent for you. You do not need an Alpine designer tent when a less expensive tent will do the same job.

Community Tents

If your survival plans include a large group of individuals who will eventually all end up at the same location, then you need to plan on some form of tent or shelter to house a large group of people. Survival rings, large families, or a lot of friends, may form up for mutual protection. This is a fine idea.

Pole Tents/40x40 White

These two photos show the type of tent I am referring to. A place to meet, eat and play out of the sun and rain. With added side walls, you can provide protection for a large group. Tentbuilders can custom manufacture any tent, any size in a range of colors. However, most of them seem to be the stripes seen in the bottom photo. I would go for a dark color green or black, if stealth is a problem for your group.

Source: Tent


Pole Tents/20x30

Tents this size must be pre-positioned in your pre-planned shelter area. They are bulky and would place a heavy burden on the person designated to haul it along with their personal items. That means you will have to have a hidden and locked storage area that every group member can get in to. If something tragic happens to the one member designated to bring it along, then the rest of the group goes without the large tent.

General Purpose Large Canvas Tent

Description: A rectangular, hip-roofed, pole-supported tent. Height: 12'3". Sidewalls: 5'6''. Length: 52'. Width: 18'. Floor Space: 936 sq. ft. Material: 12.29 oz. canvas duck. O.D. color. Doors: 2 doors - 6' x 4'. One at each end. Ventilation: 4 windows on each side. Stovepipe Opening: Accommodates a 4'' pipe. Poles Needed: 4 center 12'3", 12 walls 5'8'', 4 doors 6'2". Stakes Needed: 100 Cost will vary on size and condition, but plan on over $1,000.00.

Source: Major Surplus n

While not cheap, there are several companies specializing in new and used military surplus tents. You all have seen these tents, most notably on M*A*S*H. Designed for the most severe weather conditions, the sides roll up to make a tent similar to the ones seen in the above photos. If I had a large group, this type tent would be my personal choice because of the protection provided by the heavy waterproof canvass. It will also bring back a lot of personal memories and war stories from my 20 years in the military. I can bore you for hours.

Many people in this country go tent camping for holidays and vacations. Some climb high mountains and sleep on slow-moving glaciers. (I have slept on a glacier in Glacier National Park. Froze my butt off when my air mattress decided to go flat.) Heat is always a problem inside a tent. Never take a heater into a tent that uses a flame of any sort. Even using a candle is risky. Any fire uses oxygen. Fuel heaters such as catalytic heaters still put out carbon monoxide and fumes that can kill you. Never use hot charcoals to heat a tent. The put out carbon monoxide too. Try wrapping hot rocks in a towel. You will find it can warm up a sleeping bag quickly. No flame, only heat.

Tent Safety

A few words are in order for those of you who have never had to spend any time inside a small tent. They are usually crowded and the close quarters can create some hazards if you don't pay attention to inside organization.

Nobody should try and lay out their sleeping bag to block the doorway. People need to be able to get in and out with relative ease during the night for various reasons: Stoking the fire, using the restroom, or just getting some air. A person, particularly a large person, sleeping in front of the doorway blocks the one and only way out. Others inside either have to wake you up to get out, or try to climb over you to unzip the door. Nobody wins when you block the door.

In an emergency, the very closeness of the tent means that you need to practice, at least once, how to get out of the tent in a hurry. Assign one person to unzip the door and hold it open for the others. Two or more people trying to do the same job will only interfere with the effort and slow it down.

I mentioned it before, but food should NOT be kept inside any tent where you sleep. Predatory and hungry animals - particularly in State and National parks, may have lost their natural fear of humans. I KNOW the bears are not afraid of people. Bears will enter any tent, any time they want to, and there's not a thing you can do about it - except prevent the bears from wanting in there to begin with. Never allow any food in the sleeping tents. Not even a midnight snack. Roving bears will smell the presence of the box or wrapper and think there is food inside. You only have to see the claws on any bear (one time) to realize that the thin fabric of your tent will not even slow the bear down. These bears will not care that you are sleeping in there too. Usually, they only want your food, nothing else. Don't try to dump out the food quickly, because the bear will only want more. You don't ever have enough food to fill up a hungry bear. More about bears later.

To keep your food safe from most "midnight marauders" store it in the sealed trunk of your vehicle. If you don't have a vehicle, keep it suspended at least 10-15 feet off the ground using a strong rope. Remember, I said "most marauders"? Raccoons will climb up the tree and down the rope, and eat your food while you watch. Food stored like soap-on-a-rope should be inside strong metal, wood, or plastic containers that the raccoons can't get in to. Use a back pack if you have nothing else.

Never allow any heat source that uses liquid or jelled fuel (like Sterno) into the tent. This includes Coleman lanterns, charcoal burners, fondue pots, candles, catalytic heaters, or any other type of flaming heat. Use only battery-type lighting. Tents, and particularly the contents of the tents, are not fire PROOF. Tents are usually fire resistant. That means they will burn slowly to give you time to get out of the tent. (See paragraph 3, above).

Avoid using any sharp utensils such as knives in the tent. Somebody will get cut...or somebody will cut the tent. Setting a sharp knife (open) on the floor invites someone to either step on it, roll over on it, or sit on it. None of those are good. If you need to cut something, go outside to do it.

Firearms must be secured from children. I have mixed emotions about trigger locks. For the novice campers whose children are not familiar with weapons, the trigger locks are a must. For others with children who grew up with weapons, only you can make the choice. Parents are ultimately responsible for the safety of their children. No matter what, the weapons stored in a tent should be unloaded with the safety ON. Rolling over in your sleep and setting off a shotgun will NOT make you popular, even if you don't kill anyone.

High Wind Conditions

Storms that pass by can carry very strong winds. Tornadoes have been clocked at over 300 miles per hour at the core, with speeds decreasing at the outer edge to a "peaceful" 100 miles and hour. You cannot stand up in those winds, and even if you could, you would be killed by flying debris.

Thunderstorms, without tornadoes, can generate 30 to 90 mile and hour winds that can blow down a poorly positioned, or poorly secured tent. The following review of a tent whose manufacturer I will not mention was published by (of all things) a company selling the tent:

"2001 The tent survived for 3 days out of 7 in Iceland. During high winds I returned to my camp to find the thing shredded and most of the poles turned into pretzels. (totally screwed) It was a long trek back to some shelter. -NEVER- rely on this tent to stay intact. But it did last 3 days...(shrug)."

The author will probably not be asked to indorse this product. He was NOT a happy camper.

Perhaps, though, had the above author built some sort of protective barrier around the tent, the damage would have been less, or even zero. Yes, building a wall around a tent takes time. But, it beats not having a tent - doesn't it?

The actual wind break doesn't have to be as high as the tent, but the higher the better. The key to a good wind break is sloping the terrain leading up to the tent. By directing the wind up and over your tent, you will be much better protected than facing the wind full force broadside. The wall itself has to be made with the materials at hand. Ideally, you already picked your campsite inside a copse of trees that will, by themselves, provide a natural wind break.

Never scoop out the ground to lower the tent into a hole. Yes, it would protect you from the wind; but yes, it will fill up with rain water.

Never place your tent on the top of a hill, but put it below the top level. That way, at least you are protected if the wind comes at you from that direction. If you have a vehicle, park it along side of the tent so the vehicle is between you and the prevailing wind direction. Later, if you have to move it, the vehicle is close by. If you have no vehicle, consider using rocks, logs, piles of dirt, or even packed snow to build an upward sloping wall to protect your tent.

Probably the safest place to put a tent to be protected from high winds is inside a copse of trees. That doesn't mean you can just "plop" it down and you have instant safety. Examine the trees around you. If there are a lot of dead trees, or trees with obviously dead limbs, you need to do one of two things. Either find another location without dead tree limbs overhead; or use a rope and pull down all the dead branches that may fall on you when the winds come up.

Moving your site has its up side. If you move your site you will be much safer since it is more likely that green, living branches will stay intact during a storm, and not fall on you. However, pulling down dead limbs also has a plus side. It gives you immediate access to a lot of very dry firewood. Make sure you pull down the branches BEFORE setting up your tent and campsite.

Refer to my article Lots and Lots of Knots and Nets. In the section on the "Monkey Fist" knot you'll find a way of making the end of the rope heavier to throw it over high branches. It may take a few times for you to get the hang of it. Put a rock inside the knot and it makes it a lot easier to toss the rope over the branches and pull them down. You do NOT want the dead branches falling on your tent with you and yours asleep inside. One or two good sized branches and you're set for the night.

Many old-timers called the dead limbs from trees "squaw wood". I guess that was "women's work" at one time or another. Now, its not a socially acceptable term. The nice part about dead tree branches is that when they "snap" off the tree, you know that the wood is dry (8 to 20% moisture content) and will make a relatively smokeless fire. Many publications say that squaw wood was very small (pencil sized) branches. That may be true, but I bet the kids picked most of that stuff up. To make a fire last all night, you need a lot of heavier branches to make a good bed of coals.

If the wood you are pulling down is rotten, so much the better from a safety standpoint. While rotten, the dead wood is heavy and usually soaked with water and bugs. It could definitely hurt you if it fell on you in strong winds. If the entire tree is rotten, you (and a couple of friends) may try to pull the whole tree down. Not for firewood, but to make the area safer to camp in. Better a safe, controlled fall than to have it crash down on top of you in the night.

WARNING: The rope should be longer than the tree is tall. Otherwise, the tree will fall on you.

In some state and national parks, gathering firewood off the ground - or from dead tree limbs, is the only legal way to gather firewood. This keeps the forest floor cleared off and "safer" from forest fires. Most parks prohibit cutting down trees for firewood. That is the reason my trailer and truck carry a rather heavy load of seasoned oak collected from neighbors' tree trimmings. Cut, split and seasoned for over a year, this is great firewood. It lights if you smoke too close to it. (Almost)

Southern States: We have a cute little critter down South called the "FIRE ANT". Before you set up your tent in these areas, check out the ground for fire ant nests. You can't miss them. The holes are about the size of a large pencil, and very fine powdery dirt encircles the hole. They look like a miniature volcanoes. These little devils will swarm out of their hole if their nest is disturbed. If you are allergic to these bites, it can be fatal. They bite for no apparent reason, even long after the threat to their nest is over. Each bite usually leaves a small blister on the skin. Little children playing on the ground are particularly vulnerable to the fire ant. They can't swat them off. For kids, fire ant bites will cause non-stop screaming and extreme pain. Check the site out carefully.


Never place your tent inside a gully, dried river or stream banks, or a dry wash. Flash flooding can occur without you even know it has rained. Many a camper has drowned in their tents thinking a dry wash was a wind-proof shelter area. Yes, it's safe from the winds. No, it is still not safe. Rain storms from miles away can runoff into this dry wash and turn it into a raging torrent with no hope of escape. And if it happens at night, you won't even see it coming. You won't even get wet - until you drown.

Rain water, running downhill towards your tent, will find the smallest opening in your tent and soak everything in it. If you don't take steps to prevent this from happening, you will be cold and miserable inside until you can dry off yourself and your equipment. A rain "gutter" should be dug around your tent to assist in diverting the flow of water. These channels should completely surround your tent on the UPHILL SIDE and open up several feet in front of your tent - down hill. You are now directing the heaviest flow of the rainwater around the tent, and letting it flow on down hill. These channels should be at least 6 inches deep, but wider and deeper is always better. Rain water will also carry with it the dirt and debris it collects as it flows down hill. It may collect inside your gutter, and fill it up rendering it useless. During long rainy spells, someone needs to go outside and check to make sure the little ditches haven't filled up. Clean them out with a shovel and retreat to the tent until the rain stops. You can use this as a dual purpose job - you can shower off at the same time. Send "Stinky" out.


Try to let all your equipment, and the tent, dry before packing it up to bug out. I know this isn't always possible, but when wet, everything is a LOT heavier for you to carry. Additionally, metal objects packed in your back pack may start to rust - and clothing will start to mildew. When you get to your next overnight destination, you will still have to dry everything out before you will be comfortable. The smell of wet, mildewed clothing in a tent is something not easily forgotten. My wife, "super-Beagle" will not be happy in this condition.

More About Bears

Food Handling and the Grizzly Factor


Always check first with rangers about wildlife activity in the area you are visiting. Heed whatever advice is given.

Here are food-handling tips that apply in grizzly territory; they're also smart moves in places where black bears are known to be active.

  • Cook meals 100 yards away from your sleeping site, preferably downwind.
  • Opt for freeze-dried meals rather than more aromatic items that require more simmering and stove-top preparation.
  • Avoid wiping your hands on your clothing; store the clothing you use while cooking with your food stash.
  • Try to avoid leftovers. Store any exposed food item in a zippered storage bag. Double-bagging is a good idea in areas of known bear activity.
  • Use minimal soap and no toothpaste in areas active with bears.
  • Everything with any kind of aroma, edible or inedible, goes in your food stash. So do all pots, utensils and trash, especially food wrappers.
  • When washing pots in black bear country, widely disperse the rinse water far from your sleeping area, and do so on rocks. Traces of salt may linger and marmots, rodents or goats may come along and shred plants in a search for a food-like scent.
  • Before entering grizzly territory, ask rangers for guidance on rinse water. Sometimes they may advise you to pour it into a flowing stream. In this circumstance, consider licking your pot clean to minimize any residue.
  • Never leave food scraps behind. This rewards animals inclined toward food-snitching. Keep a scrupulously clean camp.
  • Never, ever feed a wild animal, no matter how cute it might be. If you do, you are disrupting its foraging instincts and rewarding unnatural behavior.
  • Do NOT try to retrieve anything any bear has in its possession.
  • Ask local rangers how to respond to a grizzly entering your camp. The response will be "leave them alone".


Camping Near Water
Site Selection

This drawing to the left says it all. If there's a possibility that alligators are in your area, keep well back from the water. Alligators "pounce" on their prey both in the water and on land. They can run at remarkably fast speeds for short distances. If you are 100-200 yards away, and the brush is not too dense, you should be OK, but BE ON THE LOOKOUT.

The alligator is not the only threat you face when you pitch your tent near the edge of Walden Pond. Every body of water, from puddles to oceans, changes water levels. Going down isn't a problem - going up is. Ocean levels can rise dramatically depending on where you are in the world. Large lakes and small ponds grow and subside depending on wind direction and rainfall. As each body of water recedes from its highest point, it leaves behind a "ring around the collar" type debris line. This is the high water mark. No tent should ever be pitched between the water and the high water mark.

Fresh water lakes may have this high water mark seen by muddy areas where no vegetation grows. The muddy areas may be dried up, giving you a false sense of security that it is OK to camp there. This area, however, will flood when it rains the next time. (See photos at the end of this article.)

Peaceful and seemingly tranquil inland lakes and rivers will get ocean-type "white-caps" rolling in during severe thunderstorms. Never underestimate the power of the wind to move water. I lost an absolutely perfect fishing hole in Oklahoma when a passing storm moved all the water to one side and broke a levee holding the pond together. The fish had been growing in this pond since the WPA built it. I was heart-broken. Neighbors picked up 30 pound channel catfish and 15 pound bass just laying in a corn field.

Remember, after the storm hits, it's probably too late to move your tent. You must insure that your tent - when near any body of water - is above its highest possible level.

Advice: Animals use the water too. They must drink it to live, and predators hunt prey in the same spot. Don't place your tent so close that you disrupt the natural order of these events.

I used to have a recurring nightmare as a kid that I woke up in my tent and found myself in the middle of a large lake. Lake "Turtle" I called was horrible.


The United States Geological Survey (USGS) published these photos to show you the key indications for locating a high water mark. In the upper photo, the (Poison Ivy) vine has signs of mud deposited at the bottom of the vine. The water in this creek rose at least to this level during a flash flood from a thunderstorm.

The bottom photo, of the same stream, shows debris hanging off the branches of a tree. While this shows that the water was a lot higher than it is now, the branch was probably dragging in the water, collecting debris. The branch is NOT a good indicator of water level...but merely warns you to look for better clues. Notice the mud bank on the far side of the photo. Had your tent been pitched on that bank during the storm, you and the tent would no longer be with us.

Closing Comment

Like any activity, tent camping has its share of dangers. Being familiar with your tent and how to set it up in a safe spot is your responsibility. You don't want to have to learn how to do it in an actual emergency. Every member of the family should know how to both set up and take down the tent. The strongest family member usually gets to pack it, but anybody can roll it up. Pay attention to the little details, and the big details take care of themselves.

Now, go outside and practice. Go on, I'll wait.