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Camping Glossary

tents

Whether you’re new to camping, or a seasoned camper; there always seems to be terms we have either never heard or are not as familiar with. We at Camp Gear Center have out together a camping glossary to help with some of the terms associated with camping and backpacking. If you think of a term that we missed, please comment below and we can add it.

3-Season tent – A tent recommended for use in summer, spring and fall.

4-Season tent – A tent designed to handle any weather conditions, including harsh winter weather.

                                                A

A-frame – An older-style tent featuring a mid-support that runs the length of the structure in the shape of an “A”.

Altimeter – An instrument that measures elevation by using barometric (air) pressure.

                  B

Back country – The isolated and uninhabited sections of national park, public land or forest.

Making coffee on a backpacking stove

Backpack stove – Small lightweight stove that is easy to carry in a backpack. Most use either white gas or isobutane/propane gas. 

Backpacking – Traveling with all of your belongings, including tents and sleeping bags, carried in a backpack.

Baffle – Fabric panels sewn to the inner and outer shell of a sleeping bag. Baffles keep the insulation in place. Down bags must be baffled. Most synthetic bags feature quilted insulation.

Bank(ing) a fire – To build a wall around a fire (or where fire is to be) out of rocks or stones, or to build the fire next to a rock or dirt wall such that it blocks the wind.

Base plate – The see-through plate of an orienting compass onto which the compass housing is mounted.

Bear bag  – In bear country, campers must take measures to safeguard their food and cooking utensils. Food items are placed in a strong, waterproof bag (the bear bag), tied to a rope and suspended out of reach.

Bear Lockers – Metal lockers provided by a campsite to keep bears and other wildlife from eating campers’ foods.

Bearing – The reading of your compass in the direction you’re heading.

Bivoac shelter

Bivouac – A tent designed to accommodate only one person.

Bivy sack – A small one-man tent or bag of sleeping bag proportions often used for emergency shelter.

Boxing the needle

Boxing the Needle – The process of lining up a compass’s needle with magnetic north.

Breathable – refers to the porosity of fabrics. Breathable materials are not waterproof.

Bushwhacking – Off-trail travel through brush where no cleared path exists and hikers have to force their way through the branches.

                     C

Cache – A placement of food and/or supplies along or near a trail or route of travel for future use.

Canopy – The inner wall of a double-walled tent. The canopy is breathable; the outer wall, or fly, is waterproof.

Catenaly cut – the natural curve formed by a rope that’s tightly strung between two trees. A tent which has a catenary cut rigs tighter (less sidewall sag) than one without catenary cut. Catenary cut is a feature of the best tents.

Cardinal points –The four main points of direction on a compass–North/360 degrees; East/90 degrees; South/180 degrees; and West/270 degrees.

Chuck Box – A box or sack for camping cookware. Keep the chuck box separate from the rest of supplies to minimize cleanup.

Cirque (French, from the Latin word circus) – An amphitheater-like valley formed by glacial erosion.

Citronella candles – Popular and natural insect repellent that keeps away mosquitoes.

Cliff – A high, steep face of rock; a precipice.

                                            D

Day pack – Small backpack that holds enough gear for a one-day outing.

Deadman – A log or rock buried in the ground to provide a solid point for anchoring a tent in ground that is too soft for stakes.

Declination – The difference in degrees between magnetic north (the direction the magnetic needle on a compass points) and true or geographic north (the direction maps are printed towards).

Deep-lugged sole – A boot sole featuring deep ridges and grooves for maximum traction.

DEET – diethyl-meta-toluamide, the active ingredient in most insect repellents.

Dehydration – Excessive loss of body fluid that could result in headaches, fainting and more severe symptoms.

Denier -(den-year)- A weight measurement used to refer to the fineness of a yarn or thread used in some backpacking and camping equipment. The lower the denier, the more thin the thread. The higher the denier the more durable the fabric will be.

Diamond stone – a type of man-made sharpening stone which contains powdered diamonds. Diamond stones are lubricated with water (not cutting oil). They remove metal much faster than traditional oil stones.

Differential cut – The inner shell of a sleeping bag is cut smaller than the outer shell, to produce a Thermos bottle effect. The merits of this construction are still being argued by equipment freaks everywhere.

Dining fly – An overhead tarp (fly) used for protection from rain. Usually erected just before mealtimes, hence the descriptive name.

Typical dome tent

Dome – A tent shape where the poles create a dome by curving over each other (see picture above). 

Double-wall construction – A style of tent architecture utilizing two walls–an inner wall, or canopy, made of breathable nylon, and an outer waterproof wall or fly.

Down – The soft, fluffy under layer of waterfowl plumage used as insulation in some sleeping bags and coats.

Draft tube – The insulated flap that covers the length of a sleeping bag zipper. Without a great draft tube, cold air would be sucked in and warm air forced out every time you moved. A down-filled tube that runs the length of a sleeping bag zipper – prevents cold air from filtering through the zipper teeth.

Dropped-point knife – The favored style for hunting knives – the point is centered (similar to a spear-point) on the blade. Dropped-point knives are ideal for skinning game animals but are not the most suitable style for camp knives.

Dry bag –  A bag used to keep contents dry when the top is folded correctly.

Duck – Two or three small rocks piled one on top of the other to be used as a trail marker.

Duluth pack – A voluminous envelope style (usually, canvas) pack popular with canoeists.

Dutch ovens stacked

Dutch Oven – A heavy metal pot with a cover used around camps to bake and prepare other delicious meals. Usually made out of cast iron.  There is an art to good Dutch Oven cooking and some spend their lives perfecting their tasty dishes. Often a complete meal can be prepared in one Dutch Oven.

DWR – Acronym for Durable Water-Repellent finish, a treatment found on outerwear that forces water to bead much as wax does for a car.

                                             E

Embers – The best thing to cook on if using a wood fire. When the flames have died down and the part-burnt wood glows orange or white, it is the most efficient heat to cook on.

Encapsulation technology – A special durable water-repellent finish (DWR) that wraps around each fabric fiber, as opposed to going on like a continuous coat of paint. Provides excellent water-repellency, doesn’t compromise breathability, is abrasion-proof, adds tear strength, and makes garments feel soft and supple. Used in some down and Polarguard 3D-insulated clothes.

Ensolite – A soft rubber material that makes wonderfully light yet, for the most part, comfortable sleeping mats for use under sleeping bags while backpacking or camping. Originally developed by NASA to protect pressure from damage.It has virtually 100% memory and is waterproof.

Escarpment – The steep face frequently presented by the abrupt termination of stratified rocks. 

EVA (ethyl-vinyl-acetate) – Strongest, most resilient, and most expensive of the closed-cell foams. EVA makes an excellent trail mattress.

External frame pack – A backpack supported by a rigid frame on the outside of the pack.

                                                  F

Face – The side of a cliff, escarpment, or other mostly vertical rock structure. The side of a geological structure, as in west facing slope.

Fanny pack – A small zippered nylon pack that’s attached to a waist-belt.

Ferrule – The metal sleeve that’s attached to the pole sections of fiberglass tent poles. Ferrules form a joint between pole sections.

Filling power (of down) – Same as “loft”. It’s the thickness of a sleeping bag lying flat and fluffed. Generally speaking, the greater the “loft” of a sleeping bag, the warmer it will be.

Flash Flood  – A sudden flood of water resulting from a cloudburst.

Flat-fell seam – Overlapping construction; the seam goes through four layers of material.

Floating dial compass – The compass needle is part of the numbered compass dial, which rotates as a unit. This allows the instrument to be read in the same plane as the eye of the user. 

Floor area – The amount of usable floor space in a tent, measured in square feet.

Foam pad – A sleeping mattress made of either open-cell or closed-cell foam.

Foot – The rounded end of a sleeping bag, also called a foot box.

Footprint – The shape and square footage of a tent floor.

Frame pack – a pack with an exterior aluminum or fiber framework.

Free-standing tent – A type of tent that doesn’t require ropes or stakes to keep the tent standing (see dome tent).

Frostbite – A medical condition caused by extreme cold that could eventually result in amputation if left untreated.

Frost liner – A detachable inner “roof’ for a tent that absorbs moisture which might condense, freeze, and drop on sleeping occupants. Frost liners are made from cotton or cotton polyester fabric and are needed only in below freezing conditions.

Fuel – 1. larger wood that keeps the fire going.  2. gas for a stove or engine.

Fuel bottle – Traditionally refers to “Sigg” aluminum bottles, which are used for the storage of gasoline and kerosene.

                                              G

Gaiter – A water-repellent, internal sleeve that can be tightened around boot and lower leg to keep out snow.

  or

Gators – Nylon anklets (usually with side zippers) used by skiers and mountaineers. Gators prevent snow from getting in your boot tops, and they add extra warmth.

Gauntlet – A glove extending beyond the wrist for added warmth and protection.

Geodesic dome – A dome-shaped tent with a strong faceted framework of tubular aluminum. Geodesic domes are the Cadillac of domes!

Gear loft – An overhead shelf in a tent. Keeps small gear overhead, providing more floor space for bags. Good place to keep a flash light or other small items. 

Giardia – A bacteria that contaminates water in the backcountry and can cause severe stomach cramps and other symptoms. More properly known as giardiasis, an infection of the lower intestines caused by ingesting the amoebic cyst, Giardia lamblia, in untreated water.

Giardiasis – A waterborne disease carried by the protozoan “Giardia.” Giardia is commonly carried by beaver. Incubation time is one to two weeks. The pathogen is very hardy.

Girth – The inside space, as measured around the sleeper’s waist area. Mummy bags have the smallest girth, and rectangular have the largest.

Gray water – Wastewater that’s created from bathing, cooking, laundry and other activities.

Grommet on a tarp

Grommet – Little round metal sewn-in rings found on corners of so-called post & grommet type tents – usually 2 or more per pole point/corner, on better tent models. These make for durable, fast set-ups, and easier adjustments when temps change fabric and pole lengths. Also found on generic tarps, and some custom tent footprints. Grommets can sometimes be plastic as well. 

Ground stakes or pegs- Anchors that hold a tent to the ground.

Gusseted tongue (bellows) – A leather piece attached to both sides of the upper on a hiking boot, designed to keep out water and dirt.

Guy lines – A length of cord used to secure or reinforce the walls and rain fly of a tent.

Guy-out loops (also known as guy-out rings, guy points, storm rings, storm ties) – Extra connection points on tent, for cord/line runs to additional stakes in event of wind gusts – basic tents usually require customer purchase separate line and stakes to make use of these rings, which is strongly suggested you employ in event of weather changes. 

Guy point – One of several points outside a tent where a line (a guy line) can be attached and then secured to a stake or other anchor in order to increase a tent’s structural integrity.

                                                        H

Haft – The handle of an axe. 

Hanging out in a hammock

Hammock – A method of camping where a nylon “bed” is suspended between two trees. Makes for minimal environmental impact and a great night’s sleep. 

Haversack – A bag or pouch used by hikers to carry food, usually carried at the side by a shoulder strap.

Head gasket – A piece sewn around the hood of a sleeping bag to keep in warm air.

Heat stroke – When your body temperatures rises significantly from being exposed to the sun.

Hike – A long walk usually for exercise or pleasure.

Hip belt – The main support device on a backpack. Large padded belt that buckles around the waist and is fully adjustable. (makes carrying the pack much more comfortable)

Hollow-ground (knife) – The edge is ground to a concave bevel which produces a thin, razor edge and a stiff spine.

Hood closure – The tie cord and fastener which secures the hood of a sleeping bag around the sleeper’s face.

Horn – A high pyramidal peak with steep sides formed by the intersecting walls of three or more cirques.

Housing – The rotating part of a compass that holds the damping fluid, the magnetic needle and has degrees engraved around its edge from 1 to 360. 

Hypothermia – A potentially lethal physical state caused by lowering of the body’s core temperature, due to exposure to cold wet weather.

                                               I

I-pole tent – A tent with a single vertical pole at each end.

Imu – A shallow pit used for cooking.

Inselberg  – Prominent steep-sided residual hills and mountains rising abruptly from plains. The residuals are generally bare and rocky, large and small, isolated and in hill and mountain groups, and they are surrounded by lowland surfaces of erosion that are generally true plains, as distinguished from peneplains.

Internal frame pack – A backpack supported by stays on the inside. The stays give the pack shape and make it more comfortable to carry than a traditional soft pack.

Iron ranger

Iron ranger – An “iron ranger” is a fee collection box used at campgrounds that do not have full time attendants. Upon entrance to the campground, you deposit your nightly fee(s) in an envelope with your name and site number and drop this in the collection box. At sometime during the day, a park ranger will make rounds of the campgrounds and collect the fees. You will often see these in National Park and National Forest campgrounds.

                                                  K

Kerf – A cut made by an ax, saw, etc.

Kindling – Small, thin, dead wood (1″ around or less) used to start a fire.

Knife-edge – A very narrow ridge crest. In spots, the crest of a knife-edge is too angular to walk on, and travel requires scrambling over and around pinnacles, along ledges on the side of the ridge, or even straddling the ridge.

                                               L

Layering – Wearing several thin layers of clothes, one over the other. Layering is the most efficient clothing system for cold weather.

Lean-to – A two or three-sided shelter with an over-hanging roof and one open side.

Leave No Trace – A set of outdoor ethics promoting outdoor conservation.

Lensatic compass

Lensatic compass – A compass which features a built-in magnifying lens for ease of reading directions. See above

Lexan® – A material used in water bottles and other camping gear that is extremely durable and can withstand a wide range of temperatures.

Lock-back knife – A folding knife that has an integral lock which “locks” the blade in place when it is open. Some modern lock-backs are really “side-locks” or “front-locks.” Lock-back knives do not have pressure springs like ordinary jack-knives, so they can be opened easily with one hand while wearing mittens.

Loft – The height and thickness of insulation in a sleeping bag. The thickness of a sleeping bag that’s laying flat and fluffed. Generally speaking, the higher the loft, the warmer the bag.

Low-impact camping – An ethic that treats nature with respect by leaving as little trace as possible (see Leave No Trace).

Lumbar pad – A support on a backpack to comfort heavy loads on the lower back.

Lyme Disease – An infectious disease usually spread through ticks.

                  M

Magnetic north – The geographical region towards which all magnetic needles point. This point is approximately 1,300 miles south of true north.

Map index – a specially gridded small-scale map which lists “maps in print,” how and where to get them, and their cost. A map index is available free from the U.S. Geological Survey and the Canada Map Office. See text description.

Marquee – A large tent, often used as a dining or meeting tent.

Massif – A compact mountain group consisting of several summits.

Mesa

Mesa – A tableland; a flat-topped mountain or other elevation bounded on at least one side by a steep cliff; a plateau terminating on one or more sides in a steep cliff. Seen in many areas of the southwest.

Millar-Mitts – fingerless gloves used by mountaineers for technical climbing. Millar-mitts are great for fishing, canoeing and general hiking.

Mocoa – a popular camp drink which consists of hot-chocolate mixed with coffee.

Modified dome – A dome tent that has been designed for specific elements, such as wind or snow.

Moleskin – brand name of soft-surfaced bandaging material used to protect blisters. The sticky side of Moleskin is placed over the unbroken blister; the cushioned surface absorbs the friction from socks and boot.

Monsoon – In the Southwest, a seasonal outbreak of localized severe thunderstorms that deposit large quantities of rain often resulting in flash floods, especially in canyon country where there are narrow slot canyons and little vegetation to help absorb the sudden rush of water.

Monument – A large pile of stones used to mark a trail or often found at the summit of a peak. 

Mountain parka – A generic name for full zipper thigh-length parkas. Mountain parkas usually have lots of pockets. They’re traditionally constructed from 60/40 (60 percent nylon, 40 percent cotton) cloth, which is doubled for added warmth. The U.S. Army field jacket is a true mountain parka.

Mummy bag

Mummy bag – A close fitting, shaped, hooded sleeping bag very efficient at conserving body heat. 

                N

Nalgene Bottle – A type of “plastic” bottle that holds up well under the harsh conditions of hiking and camping. Originally designed to store chemical reagents, the plastic resists taking on the smell of the liquid or ingredients it contains. A very popular type of water bottle, especially the wide-mouthed variety. They hold up for years.

No-see-um mesh – A tent mesh so fine that it keeps out the tiny biting bugs called no-see-ums.

               O

Orienteering – Using a map and compass in the field to determine your route of travel.

Orienteering compass – A compass that has a built-in protractor which allows you to determine directions from a map without orienting the map to north. This is the most practical compass style for outdoor use.

Overlapping V-tube construction (sleeping bags) – A type of baffle construction in which down is secured into V-shaped tubes which overlap one another. Some very warm winter sleeping bags are built this way.

              P

Pack basket – A basket pack that’s traditionally woven from splints of black ash. This original Indian made item is still going strong in the New England area and is available from L. L. Bean. Pack-baskets are ideal for berry picking, picnicking, canoe trips, and auto camping. They will protect all your breakables. Compared to fabric packs, they are quite inexpensive.

Packed size – The dimensions of a collapsed tent and its contents, in square inches.

Parka – A thigh-length shell garment with integral hood. Parkas may be lined or filled with down, polyester or other insulation for use in cold weather.

Pile – A luxuriously soft fabric made from polyester. Pile absorbs little water and it dries quickly if it gets wet. Pile has almost replaced wool as the material for cold weather camping.

Plateau – A relatively elevated area of comparatively flat land which is commonly limited on at least one side by an abrupt descent to lower land. Sometimes called a table or tableland.

poison-ivy

Poison Oak/Ivy – A poisonous shrub or plant that causes itchiness and rash when touched. Poison ivy pictured above. Remember the phrase “leaves of three, let it be”. 

PolarGuard® 3D – A hollow-fiber, highly durable, polyester insulation used in sleeping bags and clothing that has a high warmth-to-weight ratio.

Pole sleeves – Fabric tunnels on the outside of a tent into which the tent poles are inserted.

Poly-bottle – short for polyethylene bottle.

Poncho – A rectangular, hooded rain garment. Ponchos provide good ventilation and can be worn over a hiking pack. They do not supply reliable protection from rain, but are great for an emergency. 

Pothole – A hole generally deeper than wide, worn into the solid rock at falls and strong rapids by sand, gravel, and stones being spun around by the force of the current. In desert country a pothole often collects water during rains and can contain a variety of small freshwater creatures. After rain they can be an important water source for the local wild animals. Care should be taken around potholes to not contaminate or unnecessarily waste the precious water.

Primaloft® – A microfibrous polyester insulation so close to down in terms of structure, warmth, and feel that it’s also known as patented sythetic down. Primaloft is lightweight, durable, very compressible, and unlike down, highly water repellent.

Primitive campground – A place to camp without amenities, including bathrooms, showers and electricity.

Prime  (as in “priming” a gasoline or kerosene stove) – Some stoves are usually primed by filling an integral “spirit cup” with gasoline or alcohol, then setting the fuel aflame. Stoves can be “over-primed.” If too much gasoline is forced into the spirit-cup, the unit may ignite into a ball of uncontrollable flame.

Priming – Allowing fuel to collect in the burner of a white-gas stove before ignition.

Prismatic compass – A compass with a mirror designed to allow a user to see both distant objects being sighted and the compass face at the same time.

Private campground – An area to camp that’s owned by a business.

Puncheon – A log bridge built over fragile terrain that is wet.

Punkies – Also called no-see-ums; a tiny insect called a midge, which bites severely.

Purifier – A drinking water system that removes contaminates and eliminates viruses with a combination of specialized filters.

                  Q

Quallofil® – A synthetic material developed by Dupont for use in sleeping bags and parkas. Each filament has four longitudinal holes which trap air and add warmth. Quallofil®  is one of the best synthetic insulators.

Quick-release knot – A knot which can be removed by a simple pull of the tail. The most common quick-release knot is the “bow” used for tying your shoes.

Quilted  or Quilt Construction – A stitching style that runs through the shell and lining of a sleeping bag or garment to keep insulation from shifting. Quilting is lighter and less expensive than it’s more complex cousin, baffle construction. It is also less efficient because the stitching compresses the loft out of the fabrics and allows cold to move freely through the compressed area around the needle holes.

                  R

Rain fly – A tent covering that aids in keeping a tent dry and windproof.

Rating – The degree Fahrenheit to which a sleeping bag is constructed to sleep comfortably. i.e. -30 degrees, 0 degrees, +15 degrees.

Reef – A sedimentary rock aggregate, large or small, composed of the remains of colonial-type organisms that lived near or below the surface of water bodies, mainly marine, and developed relatively large vertical dimensions as compared with the proportions of adjacent sedimentary rock. In canyon country a “reef” is simply a nautical term carried over into geology to describe a barrier, such as Waterpocket Fold in Capital Reef National Park in Utah.

Reflector oven – An aluminum sheet-metal oven which bakes by means of reflected heat. Reflector ovens are hard to keep clean and they are very cumbersome. They require open flame for baking and cannot be used on stoves or over charcoal. They are very efficient if you have a nice bright fire.

Ridge – A relatively narrow elevation which is prominent on account of the steep angle at which it rises. The narrow, elongated crest of a hill or mountain; an elongated hill; a range of hills or mountains.

Ridge-vent – The triangular window at the ridge of A-frame tents.

Ring & Pin – On tents, a very easy-to-use corner assembly design where long pins (1 to 3 inch steel or aluminum) with metal rings attaching are permanently sewn to the exterior corners of the structure, and the pins are then inserted into the hollow ends of the tent poles. Fast, goof-proof, inexpensive, widely used, and suited to most 2-3 season general rec tent models; the higher line post & grommet corner system is main alternative, found on most 3+ season mountain grade tents.

Rip-stop nylon – A lightweight nylon fabric that has heavier threads sewn in at approximate one-quarter-inch intervals. Rip-stop is less likely to tear than taffeta but it has less resistance to abrasion. Rip-stop nylon is commonly used for outwear garments, and is distinguished by a fine pattern of boxes (barely noticeable) that are designed to keep fabric from tearing. Rip-stop is very lightweight material. It is water and wind resistant.

Rock Glacier – A glacier-like tongue of angular rock waste usually heading in cirques or other steep-walled amphitheaters and in many cases grading into true glaciers. 

Rucksack – A type of knapsack or backpack, usually made of canvas with two shoulder straps.

                   S

Saddle – A low point on a ridge or crest line, generally a divide between the heads of streams flowing in opposite direction.

Scarp – An escarpment, cliff, or steep slope of some extent along the margin of a plateau, mesa, terrace, or bench.

Scree – Loose rock, typically fist size or smaller that accumulates at the base of a rock wall. 

Seam-sealer – A special glue, available at all camping shops, used to waterproof the stitching on tents and rain gear.

Seam Sealing – Coating, waterproof of the sewn seam areas on tents, backpacks, and other combined outdoor fabrics, to decrease water entry. Treatments range from inexpensive water-based dauber bottles, to heavier brush-on polyurethane coatings, to very heavy technical grade near-plastic fillers.

Seam tape – A waterproof tape applied over all seams on a tent or other equipment meant to be totally water repellent.

Self-inflating air mattress – A camping pad to go under your sleeping bag that has foam inside and a valve on one of the corners. When the valve is opened, air is allowed to enter and can be trapped inside by closing the valve.  Very insulative and comfortable to sleep on. They come in all sorts of thicknesses and sizes.

Self-supporting tent – Theoretically, a tent which needs no staking. However, all self-supporting tents must be staked or they’ll blow away in wind.

Semi-mummy bag – A sleeping bag with a barrel-shape and no hood. A good choice for those who feel confined by the mummy shape but want lighter weight and more warmth than that supplied by standard rectangular sleeping bags.

Sewn-through construction (same as “quilt” construction) – A stitching style that runs through the shell and lining of a sleeping bag or garment to keep insulation from shifting. Quilting is lighter and less expensive than it’s more complex cousin, baffle construction. It is also less efficient because the stitching compresses the loft out of the fabrics and allows cold to move freely through the compressed area around the needle holes.

Shell – The outermost material in a sleeping bag or outdoor clothing, consisting of a fabric used to meet a particular demand such as abrasion resistance, water repellency or suppleness.

Shock cord – An elastic cord running through tent poles to separation or loss of the poles, and to expedite set-up. 

Shock corded pole

Shock corded poles – This means that a bungee cord runs through each pole assembly. This keeps the pole together so you don’t have to hunt for pieces. As the poles sections slip together the cord holds them together so they can be handled as a single pole.

Side canyon – In decreasing order of size, local usage is: canyon, fork, gulch.

Sigg fuel bottle – Traditionally refers to aluminum bottles, which are used for the storage of gasoline and kerosene.

Single-walled tent – A lightweight, single-fabric construction tent that is chemically treated for insulation and waterproofness but which may not be very breathable.

Sixty-forty parka – A parka made from fabric which consists of 60 percent nylon and 40 percent cotton. The term “60/40” is now generic; it defines any mountain style parka, regardless of the fabric composition. Mountain  parkas of water-repellent 60/40 cloth, polyester/cotton blends, or waterproof Gore-Tex are  light-weight,  windproof and  “breathe-able”, making them an excellent choice for use as the outer shell of your layered clothing system.  In  a  downpour, 60/40 and polyester/cotton mountain parkas can be  augmented with a lightweight, loose – fitting poncho of plastic or coated nylon, which can be worn to protect your  pack  as well as your body.  Gore-Tex mountain parkas need no additional rainproof layer.

Shell (garments) – Refers to unlined garments, or the interior or exterior wall of a sleeping bag.

Side-wall baffle – A baffle that is opposite the zipper on a sleeping bag; it keeps the down from shifting along the length of the bag.

Siwash – To live off the land with a bare minimum of essentials. Most modern campers do not siwash!

Slickrock – Generally a smooth, weathered sandstone surface that becomes slippery due to the presence of sand grains. These can be dangerous to walk across.

Slot canyon

Slot canyon – A deep, narrow, steep-walled canyon, most often cut through sandstone, and often with water running along its bottom. Sometimes referred to as narrows.

Smores – Simply a great camping treat to make for kids, big and small, around a campfire at night

Sou’wester – The traditional rain hat of sailors and commercial fishermen. The sou’wester was developed centuries ago and it is still the best of all foul weather hats. The best sou’westers have ear flaps, chin strap, and a flannel lining.

Space filler-cut – Where the inner and outer shells of a sleeping bag are cut the same size. This construction allows the inner liner and fill to better conform to the curves of your body than the Thermos bottle shape of the “differential cut.” The merits/demerits of space-filler versus differential cut are still being argued by sleeping bag manufacturers.

Space Blanket – Mylar-coated “blanket” used in survival kits. Space-blankets are waterproof and are very warm for their size and weight. Every camping shop has them. They are also called Mylar blanket, Aluminized blanket. The blanket measure 84″ X 54″ when spread open, they are the perfect for retaining warmth in any emergency. Easy to store with it’s compact design and light weight packaging. A must have item in your survival or emergency response kit. The blanket can serve different uses. It can deflect heat when used as a shelter from the sun. You can decrease heat inside your automobile by using the solar blanket to cover the roof and windows. Primary use is to reflect back your own body heat. It conserves 90% of body heat when wrapped around a person.

Sternum strap – A short nylon strap which connects the shoulder straps of a hiking pack. A properly adjusted sternum strap transfers some of the pack load to the chest.

Storm-flap – A panel of material which backs the zipper of a parka. This helps to keep the cold out and the warmth in. 

Stuff sack – Traditionally, a nylon sack in which a sleeping bag is stored. The term now defines any nylon bag with drawstring closure.

Swiss Army knife – originally, the issue knife of the Swiss Army. Now, generic for any “Scout-style” multi-tool pocket knife.

Switchback – Climbing a mountain or hill with a zig-zag motion. This allows for a significantly easier ascent in many situations.

                  T

Table – A relatively elevated area of comparatively flat land which is commonly limited on at least one side by an abrupt descent to lower land. Also called a plateau.

Talus – The loose rock of all sizes that falls from a cliff and accumulates at the base. The distinction between scree and talus is generally that talus is large enough not to move underfoot.

Tank – Natural depressions in an impervious stratum, in which rain or snow water collects and is preserved the greater portion of the year. Also a natural or artificial pool or water hole in a wash. Seen often in the arid southwest. 

Tarn – A small rock-rimmed lake in an ice-gouged basin on the floor of a cirque or in a glaciated valley.

Technical climbing – Mountain climbing requiring use of ropes and fixed belay anchors on either rock or ice. Also includes any sustained climbing where the arms are used to pull upward rather than being used solely for balance.

Tent – The main type of shelter for camping. Tents come in all shapes, sizes and sleeping capacities. Read more here

Tent stakes

Tent stake (or peg)  – A piece of wood, metal or aluminum pointed at one end for driving into the ground to hold a rope supporting a tent. Why you need to stake your tent: for without the stakes your tent could quickly become a kite in the lightest of winds and destroy itself as it tumbles through the woods or across the sand dunes. Sometimes called tent pegs. 

Tinder – small twigs, wood shavings, dry leaves or grass, dry needles, bark or dryer lint (ultra-fine dry material).
This should start to burn immediately with a lighted match or spark from your magnesium fire starter. 

Topographic map

Topographic map – A map showing the topographic features of a land surface generally by means of contour lines.

Trenching (also called “ditching”) – Digging a trench around a tent to carry away ground water which accumulates during a heavy rain. This form of guttering is illegal in all wilderness areas. Ground cloths and tent floors have eliminated the need to “trench” tents. Trenching goes against the principles of Leave No Trace. 

Trailhead – The point at which a trail begins. In most parks and popular areas there is a parking lot or turn out for easy access.

Traverse – Horizontal travel across a mountainside or over a ridge. An ascending or descending traverse refers to a gradual elevation change while traveling across a much steeper slope.

Tread – A trail’s surface. Refers to the amount of traction there is for hiking. 

Trekking (“to make one’s way arduously”) – A very difficult or lengthy hike. Or perhaps over unmarked or totally undeveloped terrain

Tumpline – A strap across the forehead and over the shoulders, used to carry loads on the back. Voyageurs carried hundreds of pounds of furs with only a tumpline. Today this feature is found only on traditional canvas duluth packs which are used for wilderness canoeing.

Twist on a stick

Twist-on-a-stick – Baking powder bread made by twisting dough on a stick and baking it over the fire.

Tunnel tent – A low profile tent that is long and rounded.

                 U

Ultralight tent – A tent designed for one or two people, weighing five pounds or less and designed to carry on or in a backpack.

UV degradation – A breaking down of material due to the sun’s harsh ultraviolet rays. UV degradation can be a potential problem with tent flies exposed to the sun for extended periods.

               V

Vestibule – A covered area outside of or connected to a tent, usually created by an extended rain-fly or a special attachment. Vestibules provide a place to store gear out of the weather

Volume – The amount of space in a backpack measured in cubic inches.

                W

Wachita stone – A medium-hard mineral oil stone used for sharpening knives.

Wash – The wash of a stream is the sandy, rocky, gravely, boulder-strewn part of a river bottom. In the southwest a wash is usually the dry bed of an intermittent stream often at the bottom of a canyon. Also called a dry wash.

Waterproof – Impervious to water. Covered or treated with a material (as a solution of rubber) to prevent permeation by water.

   

Water-resistant vs. Waterproof

 

A garment that is water-resistant is “treated with a finish that is resistant but not impervious to penetration by water,” while a garment that is waterproof is “covered or treated with a material to prevent permeation by water.”

 

 

Water-repellent – Treated with a finish that is resistant but not impervious to penetration by water.

Water pocket – A bowl in rock that has been formed by the erosional action of falling or running water. Often times a collection point for rain and run off water, and thus a potential source of drinking water for wild animals and humans. 

White-gas – A distillate of petroleum, also called petroleum naptha, commonly used in backpacking stoves.

Wilderness – A tract or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings, essentially undisturbed by human activity, together with its naturally developed life community, generally an empty pathless area.

Wind shirt – Differs from a wind-parka in that the shirt is cut to waist length and does not have a hood. Wind pants are made of breathable fabric and are popular for winter camping.

White-print map – A provisional map that’s similar to a “blue-print.” White-prints are up-to-date maps which show the location of logging and mining roads and man made structures. These maps are designed for professional use; they are not listed in standard map indexes

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How to Choose a Sleeping Bag

The right sleeping bag can make the difference between a great camping trip and a miserable one. If you get cold and wet, the right bag can also ward against hypothermia. 


It is important to choose a bag that will keep you comfortable. If you’re normally warm, choose a bag rated about 10 degrees lower that the lowest temperature you will be camping in. If you’re normally colder, choose a bag that is rated at 20-25 degrees lower than the lowest temperature you will be camping in. 


Sleeping bags can vary in price anywhere from $20 to 700 depending on a variety of factors such as temperature ratings, insulation, weight, shape and construction. 


Temperature Ratings

Sleeping bag temperature ratings identifies the temperature at which the bag is intended to keep the average person warm. When a bag is described as a “0-degree bag”, it means that most users will be warm when the temperature goes no lower that 0 degrees. Important: manufacturers assume the camper is using a camp pad and wearing a layer of long underwear while using it. These ratings are not a guarantee of comfort, but a guide. 


Insulation

There are 2 types of insulation: synthetic & goose-down. Many campers choose the synthetic insulation for the price and versatility. Synthetic insulation is less costly than it’s goose-down counterpart and insulates even when wet (it also dries quickly). If you camp with kids or animals (many dogs love camping!), the synthetic insulation filled sleeping bag will hold up better. One downfall to synthetic insulation is that it does not compress down as much as goose-down which makes it less desirable for backpack camping. 


Weight

Weight is usually only a factor when backpack camping. When car-camping it doesn’t really matter how much your sleeping bag weighs, because often times the cot, dutch oven and other comforts usually weigh more! Sleeping bags that are lighter and have higher quality insulation will cost more, but bringing the right bag for the conditions will help you trim bulk and weight. 


Shape

The way a sleeping bag works is that once you’re inside, the bag traps the non-circulating air inside and your body heats it, keeping you warm. The less air inside, the quicker it will warm and less time for you to not be comfortable. Sleeping bags come in 3 basic shapes: rectangular, semi-rectangular, and mummy.

-Rectangular bags are by far the most common shape of sleeping bag. This shape bag offers the most comfort and roominess. With all that “roominess”, it will take longer to heat the non-circulating air and therefore rectangular bags aren’t as efficient. One thing you can do with rectangular bags is zip two of them together (if they have the same size zipper) and make a double person bag. 

-Semi-rectangular bags, or barrel shaped bags, have a tapered shape and are more efficient than the rectangle shaped bags. These bags still offer comfort and roominess; just not as much as the rectangular bags. 

-Mummy bags have a narrower shoulder and hip width and taper down even at the feet. These bags are designed for the backpack camper as they are usually lighter and more efficient. Many people find it difficult to get comfortable in a mummy bag. 

-Double wide sleeping bags are basically rectangle shaped but are sold as basically 2 rectangular bags together. Many can be unzipped to make 2 separate rectangle bags. If you put a double-wide sleeping bag on a queen sized air mattress you and your sleeping partner are sure to be comfortable. 


Construction

Your sleeping bag’s outer shell is usually made out of nylon or polyester and the inside lining is not. The shell is designed to deflect water and the lining is designed to disperse body moisture. Some outer shells have a waterproof coating which can be tested with a wet cloth. Rub the wet cloth across the lining; and if the water beads, your bag has the waterproofing! A bag with high quality horizontal baffles are usually warmer and don’t have air leaks and keep you warmer. 


Additional Features

There are some bags that have some pretty cool features to help keep you warm and comfortable. Some of them are:

-Sleeping bag hood. Since campers loose the most heat through our heads, some manufacturers’ semi-rectangular bags have a built-in hood that is cinched with a drawstring to help keep you warm. If your bag doesn’t have a hood and you’re doing some cold weather camping, consider a fleece hood. I have one that is basically a hood that I can wear to help keep my head (and therefore the rest of me) warm in colder temperatures. 

-Sleeping pad sleeve. Some bags have a sleeve built-in to slide your sleeping pad in and not have to worry about slipping off the pad at night(something I seem to always do). 

-Small pocket. Some sleeping bags have a small pocket sewn into them for keeping your glasses, phone, flashlight, or whatever you need close by. 

-Inside collar. Some colder weather bags have an inside collar with an elastic drawstring designed to bring the lining around you and keep the warmed air inside. 

-Pillow pocket. There are some bags that have a pocket in them that is for inserting clothing to act as a pillow. I suppose you could also insert your camp pillow int one of these pockets as well. 


Sleeping Bag Accessories

There are some accessories available that make caring for and transporting your sleeping bag easier. 

-Stuff sacks. Many bags come with a stuff sack, but in case yours didn’t, they can be purchased so you can easily transport your sleeping bag. Tip: Get a stuff sack that’s a little larger than what you need and throw your camp pillow in it. It won’t get lost that way!

-Storage sacks. Instead of storing your sleeping bag all rolled up or stuffed into a stuff sack, hanging your sleeping bag fully unrolled will help prolong the life of the bag. When you store the sleeping bag in the stuff sack or rolled up, the insulation compresses and becomes less effective over time. 

-Sleeping bag liner. Sleeping bag liners can add to the warming effectiveness of your bag. They can add as much as 15 degrees of warmth to your sleeping bag! If you’re camping in really warm weather, leave the sleeping bag at home and just use the liner!


The Bottom Line:    

Get a sleeping bag you can afford. A borrowed bag or inexpensive bag will still get you outside and camping. That really what matters! A $600 bag will make camp a little more luxurious, and if you can do it, by all means do. The most important thing is to be out there!

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That Tent Sleeps How Many?

 

Tents come in all shapes & sizes. One of the great great mysteries of life for new campers is tent sizing. I’m often asked, “How is it that such a small tent is considered a 2-man tent?”. I used to wonder the same thing. I had a small “2-man” tent that had a footprint to 5′ x 6′ and used to wonder how 2 men could sleep comfortably in there.

It turns out that tent manufacturers use the back packing tent capacity method. Self inflating sleeping pads are laid next to each other until no more will fit without overlapping. That’s how they figure it out. Granted, this does not make for roomy accommodations since sleeping pads are usually 20-22″ wide.  To conserve weight, backpackers will often cram into a tent sleeping head to toe in mummy bags (this also conserves body heat in the winter). In this scenario, back packs and other gear are stored under the rain fly or just left outside if no rain is eminent.
Most campers (me included) want a little more room than afforded by the backpacking style when camping with the family.

Tent manufacturers adopt this model of capacity rating to make their product more attractive to buyers by increasing the sleeping capacity of the tent. One thing is for sure; if you sleep 4 people in a 4 person tent, there is no room for another living soul or their gear!

This gives you a pretty good indication of just how many people you don’t want in your tent. I use the formula of “SSC-2” (where “SSC” = stated sleep capacity) and subtract 2. This will give you plenty of room for the number of campers and their gear without being right on top of each other. Depending on how much gear, the tent will be full but not too full. My son & I used to share a 4 man dome tent and we were comfortable. Our setup included a 2 cots, sleeping bags, back packs, and a cooler. We would set up the cots across from each other with the cooler in the middle serving as a sort of “night stand”. Our backpacks would fit easily under our cots so we had plenty of room.

Obviously, tents with 4 sides (either rectangular or square) offer less sleeping area than the dome tents with 6 or 8 sides. With the dome type tents (and a rectangular sleeping bag) you have the space not taken up by sleeping bags for gear utilizing this “extra” floor space.

The one exception to the SSC-2 rule is the 1 man “bivy” style tent. Obviously, you cant subtract 2 from a 1 man tent. I like a small bivy tent when out by myself or camping with the scout troop. It is big enough for me & my gear and not so big that my gear can get scattered around.

What size tent should you choose? It depends on the type of camping you’re doing, who is camping with you (sharing a tent), and how much gear you have. Camping is fun. It is better to have a bigger tent with a family so that you’re not all cramped together (especially if the weather turns and you have to take shelter!)