Camping is a wonderful pastime for those that love the great outdoors. It should provide the ideal relaxing getaway for friends and families that want to unwind. The only problem for newcomers is that it can all seem a little confusing. There are so many terms in the camping vocabulary that it seems like campers have their own language. Tell an experienced camper that you are heading out, and they may ask questions about the site and equipment that you can’t answer. The following glossary for newcomers should get you started.
Let’s Begin With the Terrain and the Campsite Area
Before you even think about pitching a tent anywhere (setting one up), there is that journey to the best campsite. Some people may book a designated spot in an established campsite. Others will want to experience the great outdoors. If you are feeling adventurous, memorize these terms.
1) Backcountry. If you are heading out off the beaten track, as the old saying goes, you are probably heading out into backcountry. This is a campsite out in the wilderness away from more designated campsites and amenities. Forget about your campsite toilets, shower and Wi-fi connections here.
2) Trailhead. In order to find this perfect spot in the wilderness for a campsite, you need to trek (hike) along the right trails. Trailheads are useful markers that help to highlight the start of specific trails. You can match them up on your map and know that you are heading in the right direction – to begin with at least.
3) Switchback. That newly discovered trail may cover the route in what hikers and campers refer to as a switchback. This is the zigzaging route across the terrain that has seen hundreds of pairs of hiking shoes in its lifetime. It may seem long and inefficient at first, but it really is the best way up to higher terrain.
4) Open or closed site. As you get further into the wilderness along this switchback trail you can seek out a great place to set up the tents. There are two main approaches here. There are open sites, where you are camping out in the open, with more light and less cover. Then there are the more sheltered closed sites.
5) Exposure. Exposure has two meanings when heading out in the wilderness on a camping trip. There is the exposure to the elements – like the cold and rain. Then there is the exposure of the site. This means the steep sides of a mountain or cliff face. Keep this in mind when pitching your tents.
6) Hypothermia. The difference between a closed and open site, and the exposure, can make a big difference with the risk of hypothermia. This happens when the body’s core temperature drops to dangerous levels. The body shuts down to protect itself, and this can lead to fatalities. Some foul weather gear (weatherproof clothing) and plenty of layers will help.
Setting Up the Campsite
Once you have found the ideal site out in the backcountry, with no risk of hypothermia or other dangers, you need to set up your campsite. Again the following terms could help when dealing with the area you will call home for a few days.
7) Primitive campsite. This trip out into new terrain means that you are sure to create what is known as a primitive campsite. This means the bare minimum in requirements for shelter, sustenance and bodily functions. Key features of this primitive campsite include the following.
8) Kindling. Not a small, kind person, nor anything to do with a popular electronic device. Kindling is essential material for starting your camp fire. It needs to be dry and flammable, but also easy to carry back to camp. This means bark, twigs and pine cones.
9) Cat hole. This is not somewhere for a pet feline, or a place to attract cougars. Instead, this is a more pleasant camping term for your toilet. Find a spot away from the campsite and any water source, dig an 8 inch hole and create a little latrine.
10) Tent pad. Ideally, this cat hole will be an adequate distance from your tent pad. This is not some padded element in your sleeping arrangement, such as a camping mat. Instead, this is the patch of ground where the tent will lie. It should be dry, flat and clear, ready for campers to walk and lie upon.
Setting Up The Tent
Of course you can’t really have a tent pad without a tent to go on top of it. These structures are your place of comfort and safety for the weekend ahead. There are many different types of tent to choose from.
- Quick Pitch Tents are small collapsible models that require minimal effort
- Pop-Up Tents are even faster with a pop-up design and few other features
- Dome tents have a strong domed structure and suit lots of needs
- Tunnel Tents are longer bigger curved structure with extra capacity and ease of assembly
- Ridge tents have a classic look and sturdy build, but offer less space
- Geodesic Tents are compact but tough – so great for couples mountaineering
- Air Tents, are an odd new inflatable option that are quick to put up but not that convenient otherwise
- Family tents tend to have more space and compartmentalized living arrangements
Unsurprisingly, these tents also come with a confusing list of terms and vocabulary to get to grips with. For example:
11) 4-Season Tent. This is essentially an all-purpose tent for use during any camping trip. In others words, it can handle any season. This is important for all those that want to head out on adventures at any time of year. It should provide as much security in winter as in summer.
12) Freestanding or guy lines. This one may confuse a few people new to camping. It is quite possible that you have heard the term guy line, and misheard it as guide line. They are the cables tied to the tent, and then staked in the ground to support it. Those that don’t require these guy lines are known as freestanding tents.
13) Deadman. Those new to camping will understandably assume that a dead man is the last thing they want in their campsite. We just learnt about hypothermia so that isn’t so much of a risk now. A deadman is actually the process of tying a guy line to a rock and burying it. This is done in areas where the ground is too soft for stakes.
14) Rainfly. Then there are some more weird terms associated with the tent itself. The first is the rainfly. This is an essential piece of kit for anyone looking to head out in bad weather. This sheet of canvas covers the tent for an extra protective layer of waterproofing.
15) Vestibule. This term can also be a little confusing. Some may assume that the vestibule is the space within the tent where we sleep and live. This isn’t the case. Some tents don’t have a vestibule. Others offer a generous, waterproof one where we can store wet gear with ease.
Other Terms for the Camping Experience
So the campsite is ready, the tent is secure with a deadman or 4, and you know your vestibule from your rainfly. It is time to enjoy the camping experience. There are some other terms that may come in handy when enjoying your new campsite and the local environment. In addition to setting up your kindling-stoked fire and cat hole for basic needs, you also need to be able to eat and drink securely. The following terms may be useful here.
16) Cache. Your cache is your supply of food. A secure little store that is safe from thieves and damage. Squirrels and foxes are well-known for creating caches in secure locations where they keep their supplies away from others. This is a similar principle. This cache may contain a range of food stuffs that want spoil, such as the camper’s favorite – GORP (good ole raisins and peanuts).
17) Bear Locker. This is one is a bit more self-explanatory than some of the other cryptic terms. A bear locker is a secure place to cache food where there is no risk of a bear attack. They are strong, bear-proof devices that should keep these hungry forest neighbors away.
18) Canteen. A canteen of some kind is also important on these trips. This isn’t a designated dining area, but rather a secure form of containing and carrying water. Fresh water is vital on these trips. A strong, portable canteen will keep campers hydrated. Look for one that will clip to your daypack (back pack for day trips away from the tent).
19) White Gas. White gas isn’t essential for all those that want to cook over an authentic campfire. Still, some experienced campers are sure to ask you about it before you go. This is a great, efficient fuel source for camp stoves and lanterns. It it a clean, pressurized liquid that is easy to use.
Whatever your approach to the campsite and trip away, there is one more term that all campers need to remember.
20) No trace. When you go camping you want to enjoy the area in a safe, respectful manner. You should leave no trace of your self behind. Put out the fires, cover over the cat-hole, pack up all your rubbish and gear. Leave everything as you found it.
This is just a starting point on the terminology associated with camping and the campsite. There are plenty more words to learn as you become more experienced with camping and hiking. For now, this should get you started on your first adventure. The next time an experienced camper tries to talk about your trip, you should be a little better prepared.