A note on Backpacking vs. Car Camping
We will be living outside for nine weeks. However, we will not be carrying all of the things we need to do that on our backs. Thus, we are not ‘backpacking’. Most of your gear will need to go into one of two duffel bags which will be loaded onto our support truck every morning and unloaded every night. The furthest you will have to carry these bags is about 50 yards.
This type of camping is known as ‘car camping’. Instead of ‘car camping’ for a weekend, we are doing it for nine weeks. Most outfitters have the appropriate equipment for either backpacking or car camping. One of the biggest differences between gear needed for backpacking and car camping is weight. Since backpackers are carrying everything with them they need for living on their backs, the weight of those items needs to be as low possible. This means that most of those items sold for backpacking have been specifically designed to be light-weight. It also usually means they are expensive.
In our case we are not necessarily looking for the most light-weight, hi-tech items marketed to people buying outdoor equipment. Many common items suitable for every-day living at home also work well in an outdoor application, with notable exceptions. If you end up going to a retail outfitting store and work with a sales associate, the terms you want to use when describing how you plan to use the equipment are ‘car camping’ and ‘day hikes’ NOT ‘backpacking’. We are traveling around the U.S. by van, doing some moderate day hikes and car camping at night. We are not planning a summit attempt of Mt. Everest, an expedition to Antarctica, or through-hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Below we have provided some guidelines for purchasing equipment for GeoJourney as well as a list of everything you will need for living in the field and on the road for nine weeks. You may already have a most of the equipment needed for nine weeks of camping or you may not. We have put together these guidelines based on our experience so that you can minimize cost.
Required Camping Equipment
Tent- We will be providing a Kelty Gunnison 2.1 Pro – If you choose to bring your own tent keep the following in mind. There are many tents to choose from and the price-range for them can vary from $20-500. We recommended that you purchase a medium-quality 2-person tent with a sturdy, waterproof rain fly which you should be able to find from $100 (on-sale) to $250 (depending on the brand). Some students sleep out in the open many nights and don’t set up their tent often. Others, wanting more privacy, may set it up every night.
We will be experiencing some chilly nights out west at high altitude and a tent can keep the wind off you and keep you warmer. An inexpensive tent from Wal-mart may suit you if you only set it up a few times. Keep in mind the occasional storm can bring some serious wind and rain. In those moments, inexpensive tents usually don’t fair as well as one with a full coverage rain fly and tent guide wires. Also, with proper care, quality tents will last a long time past this trip. At the same time, realize that we aren’t backpacking or going into the tundra of the Northern Territories. Regardless of the type of tent you purchase, applying a water proofing seam-sealer is a good idea.
Ground cloth – If you are bringing your own tent you will need a ground cloth. For some tents an optional ‘footprint’ can be purchased which is specially designed to fit that tent. We have gotten many years of very good use from an inexpensive thin plastic sheet which can be found in the paint departments of Wal-mart. If you opt for plastic, as we do, cut it just smaller than the floor dimensions of your tent.
Sleeping bag – Many people are happy with 0-20° F bags. If bag doesn’t have a rating, be sure that it is heavy enough to withstand cold nights. A bag with synthetic fill is recommended since they are cheaper and provide warmth in the event it gets wet. If you are purchasing a new sleeping bag we recommend one that has a nylon inner-liner because they do not show as much dirt and oil and are prone to less odor than a cotton-lined bag. You should be able to find a suitable sleeping bag in the price ranging from $60 (on-sale) to $200 (depending on the brand).
Sleeping pad – The closed-cell foam pads (like military ‘PT mats’) start at $20.00 and will do the job. Also, very comfortable self-inflating mattresses can go up to $100. Inflatable pads like the Therm-a-rest are very comfortable and we have gotten many years of good use from the ones we have. If you are going to spend a little more money on any one item you purchase for this program we suggest you spend it on a sleeping pad.It is also most likely the single item that you will purchase for this trip that you will get good use of in other applications where you are traveling. We have taken ours on road trips and over to friends houses when we were crashing on their floor. If you plan to do much traveling after the trip in situations were you may not have a bed, then a good sleeping pad can be best item you buy for use after GeoJourney.
3 or 4 one-liter bottles – Water is a dire necessity in Death Valley and The Grand Canyon. Heat injuries can sneak up on you in the arid west because sweat evaporates almost as soon as it forms on your skin. You will loose far more water than you realize when exposed to the sun or are in an arid climate, especially if you have lived your whole life in the east.
Drinking water often is the key to staying hydrated and happy while on GeoJourney and their are several strategies for equipping yourself for those needs. If you want to go top-of-the-line, you can purchase a hydration bladder such as the Camel-back which allows for hands-free hydration while on the move. Expect to pay up to $30 for a 3 liter bladder with a hose. Or, you can buy entire day-packs with the hydration bladder included in the $40-100 range.
For more modest budgets, wide-mouthed Lexan plastic bottles like Nalgene bottles allow you to put ice in them and come with a plastic screw-top lid that is attached to the bottle with a thick plastic tab. These types of bottles can be easily carried on a belt loop when combined with a small carabiener clip. This is the most popular method students employ to keep liquids with them at all times. They are even handy on days-off. Expect to pay between $6-10 a piece if you this route. Label them or another camper will acquire them.
For those looking to maximize their dollar in order to afford a nice sleeping pad or tent, empty 1 liter Gatorade bottles work as an inexpensive alternative to water bottles; if you loose one you can get a another one at the next gas station we hit for about $1. Regardless of how you carry it, the more water you have with you in the desert the happier you’ll be.
Flashlight or Headlamp – Very important for the midnight dashes to the camper’s comfort station, the early morning wake-up calls, and avoiding tent guide wires. Headlamps are hands free and convenient. Mini Mag-lites are bright and you can buy a headband for them that turns them into a headlamp.
Pocket knife – Good for camping and required for field sample ID. Don’t ask to borrow ours, they tend to get lost easily.
First-aid kit – Keep a kit or Tupperware box in your duffel bags and carry a small sampling with you in your day pack. Your kit should include the usual, Band-Aids, gauze, tape, antibacterial soap and ointment, ace bandages, mole skin, and aspirins. Also include emergency supplies of personal medications. If you’re allergic to bee stings, get your doctor to give you an emergency bee sting kit and to show you how to use it. Take some precautions against motion sickness if you are effected by it. We will cover 13,000 to 14,000 miles and some of the roads are quite curvy. I suggest you include some sort of power bar or energy gel in your kit. They provide loads of carbohydrates if you were to need them. I also recommend that you give some serious thought to your first-aid kit. It may be hard to find what you need or want while on the road.
Sitting lawn chair – These are necessary for lectures, sitting at study tables, dinner, and relaxing in camp. I would suggest getting the aluminum-framed sort from Wal-mart, however they have become increasingly difficult to find. I do not recommend the collapsible folding camp chairs. If you cannot find the aluminum-framed chair a collapsible chair can substitute. Be sure to get as rugged a design as possible. This is another item to label.
Emergency whistle – Put it on a necklace and wear it.
Navigational Compass – A simple one that points the way works great.
Laundry detergent – POWDER ONLY !!!!
Sun glasses – Protect your retina and get 100% UV protection, at least.
Sunscreen – Don’t worry, you’ll get a tan even with sun block 15. Make it stronger, depending on your skin’s sensitivity to the sun.
Alarm clock – Not your cell phone. You’ll see a lot of sunrises this summer (I promise).
Health Insurance Card
Drivers license or Passport
Recommended Camping Equipment
Toiletries – You know what you need. You might add a travel-size lotion, lip balm, and toilet paper. Do not use glass containers. Screw-on caps (not flip-caps) work best (i.e., bottles are less likely to explode in your bag as we change elevation)
Laundry Bag – A plastic garbage sack, or a pillow case. Makes life easier.
Rope/Twine – You may need some.
Clothespins – Put together with twine and you have a drier.
Plastic Bags – I find that this is the ideal way to keep stuff dry, within by bag.
Duct Tape – The name says it all.
Required Clothing Items
Pack for the weather! In the summer it is usually hot, but we will see cold nights too. In the fall it can be down right cold, we may see snow so pack accordingly.
Hiking Shoes – A supportive hiking shoe is required. Obviously, boots work, but “light-hiking” shoes that lace-up and have moderately aggressive tread (aka- approach shoes, trail runners, country walkers,adventure sport shoes, multi-sport shoes,etc.) are lighter, more comfortable and are quite versatile. I prefer light- hikers. They keep your feet comfortable and are not as hard to break-in as boots.
If you choose to bring boots YOU absolutely must break-in your boots long before the trip begins. This means wearing them everyday for at least a month before we depart. Your brother cannot break in yours boots for you so don’t bring his army boots.
Other Footwear – You’ll certainly need something other than your hiking shoes. Chacos or Teva sandals are really nice. Note: You will definitely want to bring some cheap, throw-away shoes for our salt marsh hike. I’m bringing an old pair on sneakers.
Shorts – 3 to 4 pairs should do it.
Socks – 8 pairs of hiking/regular socks will work nicely.
Pants – 1 to 3 pairs will do (at least one).
Regular Underwear – If you wear any.
Long Underwear – A nice way to stay warm at night and in camp.
Shirts – In the desert light colored, long sleeves will keep you cooler than a tank-top. In the south and here in Ohio obviously the opposite is true so bring both.
Gloves – A light pair for warmth, not work.
Sweatshirts/Sweaters/Fleece – Something warm. You may want more than one, but not a big, heavy winter coat. However in the fall I do make use of my lightweight puffy jacket from time to time.
Knit hat – These really help retain body heat.
Wide brimmed hat – Great shade for your face, neck, and shoulders. You will make a mistake by not bringing some kind of hat!
Wrist watch – Not your cell phone. A rugged and waterproof watch is ideal but all that is required is a time piece.
Rain gear – It has rained on us for 6-7 days straight. Need I say more? Gore-Tex seems to work nicely but, it is expensive. Wal-mart makes great plastic rain coats and rain pants. The choice is yours. Remember, if it’s raining cats and dogs and we need to get up and pack and move on to the next site, we do it. Ponchos are worthless, you would be better off with a trash bag.
Recommended Clothing Items
Spare eye-wear – extra contacts, glasses, etc.
Bandannas – Great all-purpose headband, etc.
Swim suit – There are lots of opportunities for relaxing in the pool/river/lake/ocean.
Jewelry – You must be very careful with what you’re bringing.
Required Storage Items
A food storage container – some sort of container with a secure-fitting lid for food. It can be plastic (Tupperware or Rubbermaid) or it can be a wide-mouth thermos. This is for the occasional hot lunch.
Two Large Duffels – You are only allowed two. These bags should contain everything you own except your chair, books, and daypack. Theses bags should be sturdy and capable of being loaded and unloaded from the support truck every day for 9 weeks. These bags should be self contained, not multiple small bags tied together. Things to look for in a good duffel are sturdy handles, big heavy duty zippers, a sturdy material and NO WHEELS. While wheels are convenient at the airport they don’t handle gravel or mud well. Also they can cause injuries when loading the truck in the field, please try to avoid them. L.L.Bean makes excellent duffels.
Day pack – High volume book bags are fine, but have a good one as they will take a beating pretty much every day. The one you use on campus will probably do just fine. You do not need a 50L expedition pack, just a daypack.
Tote-bag/VERY SMALL gym bag – a small bag that will be kept in the van for your books. This bag is to organize your books and school supplies for when you don’t want them in your day pack during a hike (e.g. Do you really want to lug that reading packet all the way down the Grand Canyon?) It should be no bigger than your day pack (with regard to volume) and it should be able to fit UNDER the seat of a van. Small canvas tote-bags will work very well.
Required Storage Items
Protractor – Used for mapping project
Small calculator – Don’t bring an expensive HP mini-computer.
Colored pencils – A small set will do, nicely.
Paper or Notebooks – 200 sheets of notebook paper and 25 sheets of graph paper.
Headphones – For use with the instructional iPods and your music, that is not stored on your phone.
Pencils and Pens
Textbooks – A list will be provided before departure.
Rand McNally Road Atlas – So you know what state you are in.
Warning! While in the field things can get a little dirty and usually they also end up wet eventually. Electronics rarely fair well with water or grime so we recommend keeping them to a minimum.
Digital Camera – This is one piece of equipment we highly recommend. However life in the field is hard on all equipment so be prepared to take special care of your camera.
iPod or Music Player – We have had great success with the GeoJourney instructional iPods but we recommend a sturdy case for your music player if you plan on bringing it along. Again this is not your cell phone.
Cell Phone – We will talk about cell phones at the orientation picnic. Don’t plan on having it with you.
Charging Your Electronics – Many of the campsites we visit have electricity. Also there are two cigarette style chargers available for students use in each bus. This means they will be shared with the other 11 students in the bus with you. They are not for cell phones, and they are not for inverters over 120watts.
Please Do Not Bring Your Laptop!
Miscellaneous Recommended Items
Insect repellent – 100% DEET is the only thing that really works but, it’s pretty harsh stuff. Skin-So-Soft seems to do the trick. Don’t leave this unprotected in your duffels, it will leak and camp will smell like kerosene. So put your liquids and aerosols in bags that seal.
Camera – You won’t want to miss the shots at the places we’re going. Also, you’d be surprised at the amount of animal life we get to see.
Quarters – You will need many of them for laundry, showers, etc.
Stamps and envelopes – You may want to keep in touch with family, friend, etc.
Journal – This is a great way to remember your trip.
Recreational Stuff – plan on bringing something like a soccer ball, frisbee, etc… Remember, though, that you have to keep up with anything (in your bags) the whole trip. Musical instruments are OK, but please let us know if you are going bring a guitar. Things get banged around, so don’t bring your finest. Sorry…. No Bikes.
Extras – General extras of anything you might need, like shoe laces!
Shower shoes – Your Tevas/Chacos will do nicely