Night fire - Solar lights in the "hooch"
Mountain side camping along the
Trail of tears
Camping shouldn't mean going primal, or Neanderthal. At least not to me. If it does to you, skip this post and carry on the way you have been packing it in. This post is for the guys and gals that went camping and found themselves wishing they had just got a hotel instead. You went out loving the idea, and came back with a back ache, tick bites, wet clothes and a tent that leaks. If that's you, read on...

See if like me, and you go camping whether it be for a week-end, a week or perhaps even longer, with the frame of mind it's to relax... To get back to nature... you probably found out that all that gear you've been lead to believe was the must have gear for your time in the woods isn't at all what it was cracked up to be.

You may have discovered that crawling on the ground to enter a solo tent or dome tent or being stuck in the same when it's raining laying on the ground in a damp sleeping bag going stir crazy isn't quite what you had in mind as a "Backpacking" or "Camping" trip. To top it off you discovered far too late that cooking using a "camping mess kit" despite the pretty package and nesting capability where not truly designed to cook with for any length of time let alone on an open hot flame. Or use spoons and forks or spoorks that break while finally getting that burnt meal done and broke lifting a spoon of mashed potatoes or couldn't cut the fish you cooked despite the fact that half of it is still stuck to the little frying pan. Well, I'm here to tell you, you are not alone. So I for one, set out to do it myself the proper way.

And this is what I came up with to bring some normality and comfort to my style of camping. Read on grasshoppers, learn, and enjoy your next backpacking trip, my way.

Now it should be said before I get into my way, I do own and have used 3 solo tents, 2 Jr tents, 1 - 4 person 4 season North Face Expedition tent ( which I still like), 1 Catoma Military EBN System and even a Shark Solo tent (looks like a shark - it's a beach thing). And all the cookware, backpacks and the like to go along with it that we are told we're suppose to use and are designed for camping. Some of that gear very pricey.

Having spent 6 months in the hills this past year along the border of Tennessee and Georgia camping proved to me, that all this gear was pretty much useless and not what was actually needed to go camping and relax while doing so, let alone live day to day in comfort. While on that trip I ditched most in lue of what I found to be better way of doing things.

First discovery was, solo tents suck, especially the Military one I had. I couldn't sit up in it, the dew dripped in on me all the time and I hated trying to get in the damn thing. Front entrance or side, I always have. And forget about it if it rained and that's all you had for shelter. My other ones aren't much better in that I have to crawl on the ground essentially, or expose the inside to the weather to get in them. That said, the bed net part of them will come in handy in the future for my proven style of comfort zone camping. So if you have one, don't toss it just yet.

Catoma EBNS
River bank site along the Trail of Tears

Along with that discovery was that fact that everything including the trees wants to kill you and eat you or eat what you have. Every crawling anything is on the ground, where you are suppose to sleep and despite the little 3 inch entrance barrier of your tent, they are all trying to crawl into your small domicile with you, including ticks, scorpions, spiders, ants and things I don't know the names of.

One of the many visitors while camping
Trail of Tears

So sleeping on the ground which was wet or damp most of the time... not going to happen for long.

Solution: I got a cot to put my EBNS on... so much better and where man should be - off the ground.
Now I could at least sit to get in it and it would make things more difficult for things crawling around to join me.

Catoma EBNS on Slumber Jack Cot
River bank site along the Trail of Tears

Second discovery was not one commercially purchased tent of any size big or small of any campers and backpackers in the area were holding up to elements for any length of time, including mine, a $350 military grade EBN System. If it didn't leak, it dripped dew.

Solution: A 14'x20' polyethylene tarp and other bits of tarps, including a canvas boat cover of all things, I found on the trail and made my own A-Frame "hooch" as they call them in the southern hills. And wow, it may not have looked all pretty like a store bought tent, but what a difference in comfort and durability. I was finally "camping".

Initial build of chase's 14'x9' A-Frame "Hooch" 
made from discarded items by other Backpackers and Campers
Mountain site along the Trail of Tears
With this style domicile one "camps" in modern human comfort not in primal cave dweller fashion. I could stand in it as it had a peak of 9'. It was plenty wide at 9 to 10' and perfect in length at 14'. Weathering out storms was actually enjoyable. Made more so with the bonnet style awning I added to the front which also allowed the smoke from the evening fire to flow through up and over the main roof. My own design thank you very much.

Inside was kept cool by the shade of the trees and plenty of air flow, which could be adjusted by simply lifting or lowering the side walls. The front door was made from a part of a consumer tent that didn't fair well and had been left behind. The rear zipped "windows" too, I installed from yet another tent that apparently didn't fair well and was left discarded.

The floor step tiered 3 levels to follow along with the slope of the mountain side.
My EBNS bed net fit nicely on the cot on the upper most tier to the rear of the A-Frame.

Another feature of this style base camp as I called it, was it's strength to fair winds and weather. As you can see with this image of the rear, for a first time builder, I built the frame that proved itself in an upcoming storm - solidly. Spared from what could have been very serious injury by the ridgeline pole deflecting a very large tree branch that fell from 40 -50 ft up during a major storm. How easy it was to fix the holes... think not of special glues and nylon patches my friends... think Duct tape!

View of the backside
Built in this manner proved strong through storms

And while my simple wood built A-Frame faired very well in some serious storms, others camping around me and all along the trails in consumer tents constantly had issues every time the weather turned foul with leaks, soaked floors etc. As for me, well quite frankly... I was sitting and sleeping mighty comfortably.

I later added things such as a two shelf kitchen area, and a big deep toned wind chime hanging from the tip of the awning I found tossed away one visit to town. I added two Solar re-chargeable LED light kits which auto came on at night if I so chose them to as seen along the ridge line in the first image of this post.

Cost for this entire camp set up - $30 buckaroos. That was the cost of the 2 Solar Powered LED's sets. Every single thing to make this humble domicile was found discarded along the trails and I repurposed them or re-used them including the little camping grill which though it didn't have a grill, worked great for a contained small fire at night. When I left, of course, I removed it all from the forest. With the exception of the wood supports for the A-Frame which  I left stacked on the ground for the next person - or - myself if and when I return.

Granted it would cost more to build this from scratch with purchased items brought in. But what are we talking about to build this entire thing from new..?
The roof tarp - a whopping $20 at Harbor Freight for the same size and thickness tarp. La di da.
A floor tarp of canvas - a painters tarp would work of a 10'x14' size with plastic under it ... another $20 maybe?
A Tarp for the Door and Rear entrance ways... Lets add in another $20
So we're at $90 bucks with 2 sets of Solar powered lights.
How much would a nylon tent of equal size cost you? A lot more, I can tell you that.

All poles are in the woods and I didn't cut one live tree or sapling to build this. These were all fallen trees. All I had to do was look for them and cut them to length. 5 cuts... 30 minutes to erect. Done!

Too heavy to carry in...? That's debatable, if so, get a two wheel cart and wheel it in.
Heck do that anyway, why carry it on your back anyhow? We did invent the wheel after all, might as well make use of it. This is camping... primitive at most, not Neanderthal.

As mentioned another discovery was none of the cooking kits are worth a damn for cooking. Boiling water maybe, but not cooking. With the exception of the small pot that is. I made some great one pot meals such as my Chicken and Dumpling Stew with Tortilla chips seen below.

One Pot Meal - Chicken and Dumpling Stew
Trail of Tears
Or who could forget about my One Pot 4 Bean Meat Chili with Cheese Bagel... mmmmh!

4 Bean Meat Chili with Cheese Bagel
cooked on the Trail of Tears

 The frying pan however was absolutely useless, HATED IT!. Though expensive and heavier than most kits as kits go. The frying pan aluminum literally boiled and had burn holes through it in the bottom using it with my little jet stove seen above. Which with out a dampener for the flame. Boiling water is about all you can do with it or heating meals like seen above in little spirts.

Solution: Go get a 2 quart pot with lid and a 9 inch frying pan. Medium weight. Not those thin cheapo ones you find at the dollar store or are like those cook kits we bought. Normal everyday cookware is exactly what you need.

Using a 2 quart Pot makes it easier to make a hardy meal such as this
Chicken, Rice, Noodle Stew with Fresh Veggies all in one pot.
Trail of Tears.

And forget about those plastic Sporks, or any utensil designed for camping - after two sporks broke in a couple weeks, and the other "camping metal ones were so flat you couldn't eat with them. I went with plain old fashion utensils. Butter knife, Spoon and Fork. And yes, a steak knife. Same you'd find in your kitchen and use every day.

Showers... I own two solar showers - no good in the forest shaded by trees. A pain to pick up 50lbs of water over my head every day while trying to tie a knot to hold it convinced me that something much simpler was needed.

Solution: Build my own shower. Instructions on how you can build one are in my post DIY Hand Held Camp Shower. An in the field proven must have on any camping trip!

Tools - That is what you really need on a backpacking and camping trip. To build the above A-Frame style base camp or anything else you need, you need tools. But not many, I found all I really needed were basic tools, a good hatchet, a 13" Pruning Saw, and a good 6" Knife. That and plenty of twine such as Electricians pulling twine of  around 220 lb test worked great for all bindings I needed for the A-Frame. And made it easy to take it down when I left.

They do make consumer available "tents" like the above A-frame. Just build the thing yourself. Even if you don't go that big, get a cot, put a ground cloth down, put the cot on it, your solo tent on that and a 9x12 tarp over the whole thing like a lean to. Get off the ground. Give yourself some room to stand up and breath and move around if the weather turns foul. It's funny that we hike to the open country just to box ourselves in this little tiny tent. Trust me, it sucks doing it that way.

When I was finished putting this A-Frame up, word spread and you wouldn't believe how many people hiked up there to see what I had built and how I was camping. And my hand shower was a hit as well. And they go camping all the time up there. So if they liked it... give it a try, you may as well.
And next time you come back from camping, you just may come back refreshed and wanting to do it again.

I would like to give a quick shout out to those in the state of  Tennessee and Georgia that made my camping venture a memorable and enjoyable one. The people were very hospitable and certainly showed me what Sothern Hospitality was and did so with a smile.

Thank you to all of you - I enjoyed camping in your woods and meeting so many of you.
See you in the future again some day and on the trails.

Hope all enjoyed this post

Till next time
Keep thinking, and when you get the chance
...stepping, outside of the box!

- chase -

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