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Camping at the Herbal Bear

So you have decided to camp at the Herbal Bear. What should you expect?

The camping site at the Herbal Bear is considered primitive camping. By this we mean that we do not provide tent platforms or provide overhead shelter and no electricity. You should be prepared to set up your camp on the ground and have all your own equipment. The campsite is a large field near the Herbal Bear Cabin. It has been graded to provide good drainage (no pools of water) and has porto-potties located at one end of the field. It is a 2 minute walk to the Herbal Bear teaching Cabin. As students you will have access to the outdoor shower, hot tub and pool.

What do I need to bring for camping at the herbal bear?

This is the bare essential list for camping. If you have never camped before we recommend you consult a camping book or talk to a good outdoor supply store like EMS, REI, Dicks Sporting Store etc. What you need to tell a sales representative is you need a 3 seasons tent with rain fly protection (preferably a dome tent or other easily assembled tent). And that you plan to camp in the Northern Catskills from June though the end of October. They will then be able to show you all the options and set you up with accessories like tarps etc.

  • A tent (a free standing 3 season dome tent is recommended)
  • Waterproof ground cloth or tarp that will fit under your tent
  • Tent stakes to secure the tent to the ground
  • A foam pad for sleeping
  • A additional air mattress (optional)
  • Sleeping Bag and pillow.
  • A large tarp in case of extreme rain - must be able to cover the entire tent and extend at least a foot beyond tent perimeter (you will also need extra stakes)
  • Camp chair/folding chair
  • Flashlight/battery powered lantern
  • Plastic bags to keep clothes and personal belonging dry. I like to use the “space saver bags” for traveling - they are waterproof and designed to store clothes.

How Do I Pick a Tent?

There are many criteria to consider in your selection process, but certainly four of the more important ones include size, seasons, weight, and budget.

Size. Your tent will also serve as your private living space - so I suggest getting a tent for a minimum of 2 people. I find a 3-4 person tent is much better as you can comfortably store all your gear. Consider the height of the tent. Remember - if it is raining you will want enough room to move all items away from the tent walls (if items touch a wet tent wall - the water seeps into the tent). Consider the height of the tent. It is much easier to get dressed in a tent that you can stand in or at lease crouch. If you get a tent that is extremely low - you will be squirming into your clothes inside the tent. Make sure you buy a tent that also has a rain fly.

Seasons. Tents are designed for the variety of weather conditions encountered during different seasons of the year, as well as the activities in which you may participate during these seasons. Be sure that the tent you choose meets or exceeds the conditions that you expect to encounter. The Catskills have a variety of weather. Even in in the summer, night temperatures can go into the 40s. In October you can expect the possibility of snow or frost. The main tent categories are 3-season tents, good for Spring thru the mild stages of winter; and 4-season tents, which are often used in expeditions under severe weather conditions. Some campers just want minimal protection and focus on lightweight tarps and covers. That can be an inexpensive, lightweight direction to go, but not always practical under bad weather conditions.

Weight. Weight is an issue for tents used for backpacking, but pretty much a non-issue for the purposes of camping at The Herbal Bear.

Budget. Beware the cheapie tent at the discount store. It might keep a sprinkle off of you, but you’ll get wet in a heavy downpour; ventilation can be iffy, and heavy winds can bring it crashing down. The lighter the tent, usually the more expensive it is, and 4-season tents are more expensive than 3-season versions. Everything else being equal, larger tents are more expensive than smaller tents, but note that most high-quality, but small backpacking tents are more expensive than some discount larger family tents.

3-Season and 4-Season Tents.There are many differences between 3-season and 4-season tents, including: 4-season tents are stronger; more wind and snow resistant; less ventilated; have more poles; may have a different geometric design; and can be twice as heavy as a comparably sized 3-season tent. Personally I think a 3 season tent will serve your camping needs for the Herbal Bear. Unless you do a lot of winter camping, a 3-season tent should suffice – better model 3-season tents will protect you from a reasonable amount of snowfall and high wind if properly staked out.

Free Standing or Not. A “free-standing” tent is designed with a pole structure that doesn’t require stakes to keep its shape intact. It is highly recommended that you buy this type of tent. Such a tent is ideal if you frequently camp in rocky areas or loose sand where use of stakes is difficult. But just because it is free-standing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t secure it with guy lines if its windy – otherwise it could go flying off like a kite. And, tents that are normally staked out can still be secured in rocky, hard ground areas with rocks laid on top of the straps normally used for the stakes. This isn’t perfect, but works fine in mild winds; use guy lines when stakes can’t be used for even more wind and rain security.

High Floor Seams. Beware of low-level seams where the tent floor meets the walls; could be an open avenue for water to seep thru.

Taped Seams. Be sure the specs indicate all the seams are taped for waterproofness. Do yourself a favor and buy waterproof tent seam sealer and reseal all seams at home, before you use your tent.

Rainfly. If a double-walled tent, make sure the outer wall, or rainfly, is easily attached to the poles or first wall with clips – avoiding a need to carry a lot of extra stakes. Make sure the rainfly adequately covers the tent body to offer full rain protection.

Doors. A 2- or 3-person tent with just one door can make it difficult to get in and out of without stepping on your fellow campers; doors on each side are ideal.

Ventilation. Double-wall tents are less conducive to condensation than single-walled tents, so keep that in mind when choosing, particularly if you camp in humid areas. Look for ventilation enhancements such as flaps, configurable rainfly doors, etc to maximize air flow. As soon as the sun hits your tent - it becomes a “cooker” so make sure there is adequate ventilation.

Poles. Look for color-coding in poles and straps or other helpful features that ease tent setup.

Vestibule. This is the tent “porch” of sorts – usually provided by a section of the rainfly near the door that extends out further than the tent body, offering covered shelter beyond the sleeping area. Can be used to protect gear, shoes or a canine companion you don’t want inside the tent with you. I find this is an optional feature (nice but not necessary)

Interior Height. Check this spec – ultralight tents sometimes get light by shaving off the amount of material needed with a lower profile. That’s great unless you have bouts with claustrophobia, or like to change clothes inside your tent. Some low-slung versions aren’t very conducive to movement inside. Also note that the listed interior height is usually at just one peak point; walls may descend sharply from that.

About Tent Sizes:

Everyone probably knows by now that a “2 by 4” board isn’t really sized 2” x 4” anymore. So be careful with claims about tents that say “2-man”, “6-person”, etc. They may be technically correct, but it can depend on the camper’s size and willingness to “be cozy”. For example, some two-man tents won’t have enough side room to lay two mattresses together without touching the side walls – I guess they assumed one guy would just lie on the ground. Some family-sized tents claiming room for 5 or more only fit that many if you stack everyone in a certain way, or if some campers are pint-sized.

Check out interior height specs to make sure you won’t get claustrophobic, and lengths to make sure your head and feet won’t be pressing up against the walls. Some tents get tight for those over 6’ tall. For multi-person tents, consider how campers will get in and out without stepping on someone else in a middle-of-the-night pee run – two doors help.

Most tent spec sheets include a diagram of the floor space with dimensions. If you can’t see the tent in person, mark out the dimensions on a floor and make sure it’s big enough for your needs. If you are at a store checking one out, have the sales clerk throw air mattress(s) inside of it and see how it fits. Climb in yourself and stretch out.

How do I set up a tent?

Take a look at a couple of YouTube videos on tent set up:

Tent set up (enlarge):

Tent sealing (enlarge):

Practice setting up your tent before you go camping. Setting up your camping tent at least a couple times, directions in hand, before twilight on the evening of your camping trip is a good idea. While some camping tents have simple designs, like family tents, other tents have complex designs, like dome tents, which will not be easy to assemble when it's dark and you're in the woods.

Find an area that is flat and free of sharp objects. Clear the area of any large sticks, rocks or other debris which could cause a rip or puncture in your tent or that would be uncomfortable to sleep on.

Unpack the tent and all of its parts. Sort the parts of your camping tent into respective groups -- tent stakes, tent poles, rain fly and so on -- so you're not hunting for them as you set up the tent.

Unfold the tent and lay it in the respective area. Make sure it is facing the direction you desire. Point it towards the east if you want to open your tent door on the sunrise.

Stake down the corners of your tent. If your tent has a ground cloth or a footprint (a tent footprint is simply a ground cloth shaped specially for your tent), set that down first. Next, stake down your tent, making sure to pull the floor of the tent fairly taut as you do so. Big tents and family tents almost always have to be staked down, but some backpacking tents do not. This is a nice feature if you plan on camping where staking might be a problem, like on slick-rock in the American Southwest, but even free-standing tents should be staked down if possible. Most tents have to be staked before they'll stand up.

Connect your tent poles. Tent poles usually come in sections that you put together. To ensure that you don't put the wrong sections together, the tent poles may be color-coded. If not, read the directions for your tent to find out how to tell the difference between different poles.

Assemble the frame of the tent. Tents for camping come in a variety of different designs. Some tents are free-standing, like many dome tents, and use several poles that support each other, while other tents have simple two-pole designs and stand up only when the tent is staked down. However your tent works, actually erecting the frame of the tent will involve sliding the tent poles through sleeves on the outside of the tent or securing the ends of the poles in grommets at the base of the tent, and then attaching the body of the tent to the poles via clips.

Secure the rain-fly of the tent. Here's an interesting fact about tents: camping tents usually aren't waterproof. At least, the body of the tent itself is not waterproof. A few tents are (they're called single-wall tents), but they're usually expensive mountaineering tents that are uncomfortable for most normal situations. Most tents come with a waterproof cover called a rain-fly that secures over the top of the tent to protect it from the rain. If your tent has a rain-fly, secure it over the top of the tent. This usually involves fastening the corners of the rain-fly to cords that attach to the base of the tent, and may include additional clips or ties that attach to the tent poles.

Campsite Usage - tips for your comfort and safety

Rule #1. Always setup a new tent at home, in the yard or even in your living room if necessary, before taking it out on a trip. Figure out how it sets up and make sure all the parts are there before you leave home. I cant stress this enough - take your tent out of the box - set it up and re-seal all tent seams with tent sealer in the comfort of your home.

Always look over the area where your tent will sit and remove any sharp objects that may damage the floor. This is where most tent damage occurs.

Find the most level spot to pitch your tent; The camping area at Herbal Bear has a very slight pitch to its surface. Sleep parallel with the slope with your head on the higher side.

Look up above your intended site for overhead dangers. Tents are strong, but they won’t hold back a widowmaker – a dead tree or branch that started to fall but is precariously held in place by another tree.

Do not keep any food, cookware, deodorant, toothpaste or anything else aromatic in the tent with you. Don’t sleep in the clothes you wore all day or keep snacks in the pockets. Otherwise, you may have an unwelcome visitor at night checking you out. If you don’t heed these warnings you might have a potential problem with mice, squirrels and other critters coming in to check things out.

It is not safe to use a candle or candle lantern inside the tent. It is also not safe to cook inside or even under the vestibule. Use only battery powered lanterns or flashlights.

Tent Care and Maintenance

Like a lot of things, tents will last a long time if you take care of them, but can rapidly turn into trash if you don’t. Here’s how to avoid the trash route.

Rule #1. Proper cleaning and storage of a tent will prolong its life. When backpacking, try to reasonably clean and dry your tent everyday on your trip before packing it up for that day’s hike. Definitely clean your tent of all mud, loose dirt and debris as soon as you return from your camping trip. Shake out any loose dirt, and wipe the floor and fly clean with a sponge and water. Make sure your tent is completely dry before you pack it away. A tent that is packed away while damp will mildew. Storing your tent loosely in a large stuff sack or box may help prevent the formation of mildew, especially in humid climates. For a more thorough cleaning, hand wash your tent in a mild cleaner like liquid hand soap and water solution. Rinse thoroughly and allow to air dry out of direct sunlight. Never machine wash or tumble dry your tent.

Mildew will “kill” a tent. A musty odor, and/or small cross-shaped spots on the tent fabric indicate mildew formation. Mildew uses the dirt and soil as nutrients to grow and reproduce. This fungus actually penetrates the urethane coating of the tent fabric and grows between the tent fabric and coating, eventually lifting the coating from the fabric. Waterproofness is thus lost and the fabric is eventually destroyed.

Should mildew begin to form, immediate action can be taken to retard further growth. Wash the tent as instructed . Sponge-wipe the tent with a solution made up of 1/2 cup Lysol to a gallon of hot water, or rinse with a solution of 1 cup of lemon juice and 1 cup of salt to a gallon of hot water. Sponge over the affected areas and allow to air dry, out of direct sunlight, without rinsing. This will kill the mildew on the tent, and prevent it from getting worse, but it may not remove the mildew marks. In some severe cases, the mildew and/or the treatment will damage the coating that waterproofs your tent. In those cases you might be able to salvage the tent by spraying the affected area with a waterproofing solution.

Avoid storing your tent in a plastic bag or any other airtight, confined space. Find a cool, dry spot to store your tent such as a closet inside your house where it won't be exposed to humidity.

Most of the problems experienced with tent zippers are due to wear in the zipper sliders, rather than a failure of the coil itself. (The slider is the metal part that you move to zip and unzip the zipper.) Particles of dirt and grit on the coil, accumulated during use, abrade the mechanism inside the slider head. When the slider becomes sufficiently worn, it will stop engaging the teeth of the coil correctly and cause the zipper to open up behind the slider. Obviously, keeping your tent as clean as possible will slow this process. The more exposure to sand and grit that the zippers see, the more quickly the sliders will wear. Be sure to clean the zipper coils after every trip. Water and a gentle brushing works. Zipper cleaners and lubes are available at most outdoor stores, or you can use paraffin wax or lip balm if you're in a pinch. Petroleum based lubricants are not recommended.

Most seams in good quality tents have been taped at the factory for increased waterproofing. While seam tape helps, additional seam sealing will improve the performance of your tent in rainy conditions. For additional weatherproofness, seal all places where attachments are sewn to the fly, including webbing, Velcro, snaps, guy-outs, and zipper tracks. The best way to seal your tent is to use a urethane-based seam sealer such as Seam Grip, and run a thin bead around the base of the attachment, where it is sewn to the fly. Do this to attachments both on the inside and outside of the fly. If needed, seal the perimeter seam of your tent floor by running a bead of seam-sealer around the inside perimeter. Make sure the seam-sealer is completely dry – up to 12 hours - before re-packing your tent.

Keep all flame and heat sources away from tent fabric. Many tents are made with flame-resistant fabric, but are not fire-proof.

Another silent tent killer is UV damage from the sun. UV damage will cause nylon and polyester to become brittle and tear easily. Setup your tent on trips in the shade when possible, and don’t let your tent set up all week in your backyard as it's drying out from your last trip. . Consider using the rain fly even on clear days, since it acts as a sunscreen to the tent and is less expensive to replace if damaged.

Don’t wear shoes inside your tent. Create a “mat” to place outside your tent door to minimize tracking in dirt and twigs. A plastic garbage bag works well for that.

To get tree sap or pitch off your tent, freeze the tent and pick off the pitch with some duct tape rolled back on itself, or use mineral oil to clean it off.

Avoid letting your tent poles come together by hard snapping of the shock cord--it could bend the tips. Avoid scratching the pole coatings, since that promotes corrosion. Lightly lubricate the pole joints to minimize wear, and break poles down from the middle to reduce strain on the cords. If possible, store the poles in assembled position to minimize stress on the cords.