Just thought I’d collect my thoughts following a recent canoeing and ‘get out and stay out’ camping trip in the Wye valley. I’ve shared a few tips and ‘learns’ below that I’ve picked up in recent trips with the help of a touch of ‘backyard’ testing too.
Camp Fire! Firstly, respect your surroundings at all times, only light camp fires where and when they are allowed and keep it safe. Depending on where you are and if there are restrictions – find out and follow the rules. Extinguish remains and embers thoroughly as it can travel both over and under the ground.
- Collect the fluffy bits from your tumble dryer – from the filter you have to keep clear. Great tinder support. Keep it dry and take it as back up as you can find tinder in the field / woods, even in the rain if you know where to look. Ray can anyway.!
- Open pine cones great too, put a couple in with your small twigs. The air gets in around them and it really picks up quickly
- Prepare your sizes of sticks before hand and have them in different graded size piles. Nothing too fussy but otherwise you will be scrabbling around for the right sizes…. and the fire has gone out.
- Birch tree – tiny delicate bark shavings are fab too – they are flakey – care not to damage any trees though. We’re talking the tiny bits from broken branches if possible.
- Have a lighter and/or matches as back up but try to light your camp fire with a simple steel striker without an instant naked flame doing the work for you. I know this maybe cheating too but it’s only a step away from a flint stone approach, so stop making it so easy and improve your skills.
- I find that firing up Kelly Kettle and using what’s left is easier than starting from scratch with a general camp fire. Let the chimney effect of the Kelly process do its thing. Remember to point the ‘vent’ hole into the approaching wind to feed Kelly with air. If there’s no wind, blow in there but too much puff and its out. Once your water is boiling use the established fire base to start your camp fire and have the sticks ready. It’s all in the prep.
- A well as a small sharp knife, if you don’t mind carrying it – a little wooden handled hand axe is very useful or even a hand sized fold up saw – most DIY stores.
- On two occasions recently, I burnt my hand lifting the full kettle from the fire and in my instant reaction to the burn, spilt precious water on the fire that I still needed as I lifted it off! Now I run a decent stick under the kettle handle, angle it and lift from there, to keep my hand away from climbing flames in the ‘chimney’ of the kettle. Also, if you put the kettle straight on to a small fire rather than its own base, remember to keep the cork and wooden part of the handle away from the ‘wider’ flames.
- The medium Kelly kettle takes 2.5 pints but remember not to fill it unnecessarily. How much tea do you need? You’ll be peeing all night. Boil what you need for 2 mugs and it will be quicker anyway.
- Collect fire wood, tinder, dried grass, leaves etc during your walk or canoe trip. Don’t expect it to be lined up for you where you want to light your fire. There won’t be a boot sale there with an estate car full of twigs with a bloke going, ‘’50p for the lot – get your fire here.’’ Not in the places I’ve camped anyway. Chances are it will be getting dark and there won’t be a dry stick in 50 metres radius especially if it’s a well used spot. You might be lucky but don’t walk past some great natural fuel if it’s jumping out at you. And it will be. So much of it you might not see it. Can’t see the wood for the trees and all that. Take the dead stuff – don’t hack away at branches. Look under your feet. Chuck it in your bag or into the canoe if you can reach it but don’t rock the boat! It’s all in the prep.
- Get the right side of the wind. There’s nothing worse than a face full and eye full of smoke just as you’re getting it going. As your eyes sting and stream with tears, the appeal will wear off and you’ll be longing for a gas cooker and a wet flannel.
- During the effort, refrain from putting your ‘tools’ from your kit on the ground – eg knife, striker, maglite etc. You’ll mislay it, walk it into the soil, lose it in the cover or generally lose track. Get in the habit of putting it into one handy pocket with a zip… and zip it up or it’s falling out with all the stooping you’re doing. It’s like at home doing a bit of DIY – can you ever find your pencil if you put it down?! And the car keys…….
old swag in a bag
There’s something to be said for not having a tent covering you up and hiding you away from the sky, especially when it’s fine. I guess in a tent, you’re not really out – you’re still ‘in’ and enclosed. Recently, I lay half under the half turned boat in my sleeping bag with nothing above me apart from a little dew and a million stars. As my old mate, Kevin, snored and grunted like a badger in his swag bag with only his beard on show, I listened to the Tawny Owls echoing in the valley, the splash of jumping fish in the Wye beside us and I picked out the shooting stars that were occasionally trailing and burning through the sky – sometimes I was momentarily tricked by the constant path and track of a man made one. The birds were singing at 4.30 and it was impossible to sleep so watching the sunrise in the valley was the next thing and it was going to be a scorcher. The ‘badger’ was awake too, not long after – and it was coffee, courtesy of good ol’ Kelly!
travelling light with your buddy
- I find a good way to keep things to a minimum, with your buddy doing the same, is to challenge each other. Basically swap bags and go through each others and get ‘tuff with the stuff’. Take it out. Why do you need this? and this? and this? How many of these?! Be honest with each other and eliminate any unnecessary duplication of kit. Never cut out essentials but know what the essentials are. Could be they’ve forgotten something and you need to add rather than take away but you only know by checking. Oh, when you’ve checked it to an essentials ‘list’, check it again. Make sure you both know where the car keys are, the mobile, the tiny first aid kit you argued about taking earlier……….and zip up pockets and pouches ….or an item could slip out in the long grass when you have your next brew and you’ve lost it for ever……..