Low Budget Camping
By Christopher Nyerges
Low budget camping? How about no budget camping. A skilled person doesn’t need everything in the outdoor store to have a good time. Christopher Nyerges, long time friend and one of the most knowledgeable people I know talks about how to do just that in this blog.. A great teacher and has written many articles for many magazines and websites. Christopher Nyerges is the author of numerous books on the outdoors, including Testing Your Outdoor Survival Skills and Guide to Wild Foods. He has led wilderness trips since 1974, and has written weekly outdoor newspaper columns for over 15 years.
Some time ago, an editor of a magazine called and asked me to write an article for his readers about “low budget camping”. My first question was, “What do you mean by low-budget?” He thought about it for a while, and then told me to keep the total shopping list under $2,000. Wow! That’s low-budget? He then explained that he was assuming that the reader has absolutely no equipment at all, and he or she would have to go out and purchase everything from scratch.
I eventually wrote the article entitled “Backpacking on a Shoestring,” and everything I suggested could be purchased for under $300 or so, if you followed my instructions.
However, I had to think back when I was 10 or so to how my brothers and I got interested in hiking and backpacking in the Angeles National Forest. Even if we couldn’t get a parent to drive us, we could just walk outside our door and a short while we were in the mountains. We certainly enjoyed exploring the hilltops and valleys and hidden canyons. That appeals to everyone. But unlike so many of the urban attractions, we knew that we could do our mountain exploring without ever having to pass through a ticket booth where someone collects an admission fee. For all practical purposes, the mountains belonged to the people and they were free for anyone to enter and explore. And for us at that age, that was critically important. We didn’t go hiking on a “low budget”. We went hiking and backpacking on NO budget. We had no money and none was needed to head to the hills.
Over the years, of course, I gradually acquired camping gear that works for me and that I feel is worth having. I don’t mind spending extra money on an item if I know it’s the best and if my life can depend on it. On the other hand, to this day I don’t care much for useless gadgets that just take up space and add weight to the pack. I like to go as light as a I possibly can.
So, I thought that readers would enjoy hearing how we went hiking on no budget. Some of you will chuckle at our youthful enthusiasm and silliness. A few of you might even think we had a few food ideas.
We NEVER purchased special clothes designed for hiking and backpacking. We just wore what we called our “play clothes”……clothes that we didn’t worry about getting dirty or torn, but durable enough for a weekend or a week in the hills. We simply dressed for the season and took an extra sweatshirt along if it was cold.
The other area that could have used improving was footwear. I usually had poor footwear on the trails but I never let it bother me. The worst time was when I had some old suede shoes while hiking in the snow. My feet were wet and cold the whole time, so I was either constantly moving or sitting by the fire all the time. Eventually, I learned that you could put a plastic bag over your socks and keep your feet sort of dry in the winter.
But since most of our hiking was in fair weather, wearing our “city shoes” into the hills was usually not a problem.
Heck, every kitchen has a knife, doesn’t it? We just wrapped a small kitchen knife in a piece of cardboard for safety and put it in with our gear. Eventually, we received Boy Scout knives as gifts one Christmas and we carried them all the time.
Why would we need to go out and buy something special just for hiking and backpacking when every kitchen in the world — well, at least OUR kitchen — had dishes, silverware and pots? We would pack an old pan and pot, and would sometimes just carry an old pie pan and an empty can. We reasoned that with the pie pan and can, we could crush them and bury them before returning home and wouldn’t need to carry the back. We’d also grab a few plastic forks and spoons, and maybe an old metal one. Nothing more was needed.
Back in the mid-1960’s, plastic wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is today, and the plastic that was around back then was low quality. So we didn’t have plastic containers to use for water. On occasion, I actually carried a glass mayonnaise jar as my canteen, and I wrapped it with cardboard so it would be protected. Eventually, I spent about $1 and purchased a metal WWII canteen. It was a very good investment.
However, we tried to plan so many of our hikes around the known water sources, that I never bothered to carry a canteen half the time.
Stove? We simply cooked right on the flames of our small camp fire. I’ve never carried a stove.
Sometimes we’d find a flashlight in a drawer at home but more often than not it simply didn’t work. Perhaps the batteries were no good. So I never got addicted to needing a flashlight at night. Did you know that the average adult has the ability to see in the darkness almost as good as an owl after 30 minutes in the dark?
Lantern? We had NO budget. If we had a lantern, we’d have to buy fuel and wicks and stuff called “misc”. However, on some occasions, we actually carried an old soup can. We cut out both ends of the can, and put an old clothes hanger through the can for a handle. Then we cut a hole in the side of the can and inserted a candle. That was our “lantern”.
Though we marveled at the beautifully carved walking sticks at backpacking stores, we never even came close to buying one. For one thing, after we spent $40 for a beautiful walking stick, who wants to mess it up on the trail. Additionally, we discovered that there was never a shortage of sticks in the woods which could serve as a walking stick.
Tent? Those are heavy and expensive. I have never carried one. The closest I have ever come to packing a tent was when I used tube tents a few times in the early mid-1970s. But otherwise, you can usually avoid the need for a tent if you simply pick your campsite well.
On many of my first backpacking trips, I never carried a sleeping bag. I slept in a hammock with a tarp. I was cold. My first sleeping bag was loaned to me by my older brother, and it was a layered paper sleeping roll designed for just a few uses. I was cold.
I have carried just a blanket or two with me, and I have gone backpacking with just an emergency space blanket. I have learned to sleep in holes, in lean-tos, and in various natural shelters with no sleeping bag and stay warm. A sleeping bag is one item where it pays to get the best you can afford. Buy one that can be compressed into a small bag. Even still, I have purchased good quality sleeping bags for as little as $5 (and never more than $20) by watching the ads in the newspapers.
Sometimes we went into the bathroom before our camping trip, grabbed a roll of toilet paper and tossed it into our pack. But often we forgot to do this, and discovered that the woods are full of “toilet paper”.
MAP AND COMPASS
Get real! We simply went up to the mountains and followed the trails, and often had no idea where we were going, other than some obscure rumor from someone that a friend of a friend talked to and suggested that maybe this particular trail actually led to some really good place. It all sounds very silly and imprecise as I think back on it, but that’s how we did things.
After a while, we got to know more and more of our local trails and we would go back to our favorite spots again and again, day or night, summer or winter. No map or compass was ever needed and we never got lost.
We would take book matches that we got for free at the local supermarket and stick matches from our parent’s kitchen, and wrap them up in several wrappings of plastic. Back then, there were no Bics, no magnesium fire starters, and none of the high-tech devices that today assure fire for even the village idiot.
Again, remember we had no budget. We have actually carried bags of stuff into the mountains which made us look more like we were running away from home than campers. Eventually, we purchased canvas packs at the Army surplus shop that used to be in downtown Pasadena. We spent a few dollars on what was an excellent investment. Still, those heavy old packs are dinosaurs compared to the packs of today.
On occasion, I have used potato sacks to carry things, but that is uncomfortable and doesn’t leave your hands free. My best “for free” pack was made from converting an old pair of pants into a pack. You simply stuff all your things in the pants. The legs are carrying straps. You then tie off the waist and cuffs, and tie the cuffs up to the waist. Presto, a pack. If done right, you get a very comfortable pack that everyone laughs at.
I have even made an emergency “pack” from a long sleeve shirt, but I had to do a bit more tying to create the pack.
Food in the backpacking shops always seem to cost too much. Freeze-dried, specially portioned exotic meals, MREs, special candy bars, juices, etc. Why? We would just go to the supermarket and purchase dry things like rice and buckwheat groats and spaghetti. Then we purchased dry soup mixes and instant potatoes. Then we’d get a bottle of dried spices, some nuts and seeds, some fresh fruit like apples and avocadoes and perhaps some cheese. After a while, you have good food at a reasonable cost.
But in the very beginning —-as I said, we had NO budget —– we just looked through our parent’s cupboards and picked out anything that was dry and light and that we thought we might like. Doesn’t every kitchen cupboard in the world have at least enough odds and ends to make a few decent trail meals for a week or so? Ours always did. And though some of our meals were very slim, it was partly because we didn’t want to carry any more weight than was absolutely necessary. Which is why I have pursued the study of wild edible plants for most of my life —- but that’s another story.
Some of these ways that we did things might help some of you to keep the weight in your pack as low as possible, and to retain as much money as possible. I have always believed that simple enjoyment of the outdoors should be as unadorned as possible. Part of the attraction, to me, is to be in the outdoors where you can think and be with yourself and friends. Why clutter it up with all the overpriced gimmicks and gadgets that take up weight and occupy too much of your time?
THESE CLASSES AND MANY MORE BY CHRISTOPHER NYERGES ARE COMING UP.
FOR A COMPLETE LISTING GO TO http://www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com
[note: WTI classes are held every Sunday, on healing with plants, preserving foods, natural soaps, etc. These are EVERY SUNDAY. The Noon classes are every other Sunday, with one on August 25. THIS SUNDAY THE TOPIC WILL BE “WHEN THERE IS NO DOCTOR: ALTERNATIVE REMEDIES. The “spiritual studies” classes are every Sunday at 9:30. Location: 5835 Burwood Ave, Highland Park, CA. Call Prudence at 323 620-4720, or Julie at 323 255-4028 for those classes.]
Saturday, August 24, 10 a.m. WEEKEND ETHNO-BOTANY SERIES, #3
WILD FOOD AND USEFUL PLANTS– part of new certificate and certification program. This is a 4-part series which will occur on the third Saturdays of the month, including today, September 28, and continuing after that. You can attend just one class, or sign up for the entire series. Session three begins with a plant walkabout, where we will walk in a local area with the focus of identifying the useful MEDICINAL plants. Guest teacher is Dr. James Adams, author of “Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West.” We’ll also discuss some of the ideal literature about healing with herbs, and some of the herbs you can grow in your own yard. In this 3rd class in this series, the walking will be about a mile. You will add to your Field notebook, with your notes on the uses of the plants.
Pricing: $65 per class; if you pay in advance, you pay $195, meaning, you get the 4th class FREE.
Location 2. Hahamongna Watershed Park.
Thursday, August 29, Noon, LUNCHTIME NATURAL NAVIGATION, $25.
In this two-hour class, you’ll learn how to construct a sun compass, and how you can use that to tell time. You’ll learn some natural methods of telling direction, how to identify constellations for telling directions, and how to navigate with just a compass. What we cover in our short time will depend upon how much time everyone needs to grasp the concepts. Location 2, Hahamongna Watershed Park.
Saturday, August 31, 10 a.m. BOW MAKING, $45
In our class time, you’ll learn how to select a piece of wood for making a bow. You’ll learn the basics of creating a long bow (aka self bow). You will learn how to determine the belly from the back, how to slowly reduce, how to tiller, make nocks, etc. Your goal will be to learn all the steps involved in making a functional bow. If you rush because you simply want to take a bow home, you might be disappointed. If you have tools, such as sharp axe, draw knife, files, rasps, etc., bring them. We do bring tools if you don’t have any. Location 2, Hahamongna Watershed Park.
Wednesday, September 4, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
WRITING FOR PUBLICATION, Pasadena City College. $65.
This is a 3-part workshop sponsored by Pasadena City College, taught by Christopher Nyerges. Call for exact location. This is a workshop where you get assignments, or you develop your own projects, share in class, and discuss how to market your work. Bring your projects. Call PCC at (626) 585-7608 for information and registration.
Thursday, September 5, Noon, NATIVE FOODS WALK, $20.
Let’s explore a local area and learn about the diverse flora, and how many of these were used in the old days by the indigenous people who found everything they needed in the natural world. We’ll walk in a natural area and learn about the plants that grow there, and learn their possible uses. If possible, we will collect enough for a taste-test salad, so bring a bowl. Meet in the parking area of the Arroyo Archery Range / Casting Pool area, Location 8.