How to be a Happy Camper

by Duke Frederick of Holland and Duchess Eilis O'Boirne

This article is for those of us who weren't fortunate enough to be in the Girl Guides, the Boy Scouts, or one of the other youth-oriented camping associations. For these folks, an overnight campout at a recreation event likely to be a first exposure to camping out. And with the increasing popularity of re-creation events, there are more and more of these people every year. A little awareness and preparation can make a world of difference in making your event a safe, healthy and enjoyable experience.

The following article was written by Flieg Hollander, known in the SCA as Duke Frederick of Holland, OL, OP, MSCA. Frederick does more SCA-style camping than anybody I know ... at least fifteen weekend events per year, or the equivalent of more than a month of camping every year. And he's been doing this for nigh onto thirty years. His aquaintance with the SCA goes back to the very first event in 1966. There is nobody who is better qualified to write this article, and it is my privilege and honor to publish it here.

Duke Frederick often refers to SCA West Kingdom Law, since he originally wrote this article for a West Kingdom audience. Because much of the West Kingdom's social interaction happens at camping events, some of the principles have been incorporated into formal rules. (The West Kingdom is also probably the most flammable Kingdom, resulting in very stringent fire laws.) If you "play" in other kingdoms, be advised that other rules may be in effect. And when Duke Frederick refers to the "Eric," he's talking about the main tourney field, which is the West Kingdom's version of a town's central square.


Camping in the SCA differs from mundane camping in several important respects. The most obvious difference is that we go camping, not to get away from it all, but to be near our friends. This creates a very dense population in a restricted space, and courtesies which are not as necessary in a mundane campground become very important. This dense population, especially when an event is longer than just a weekend, can also lead to potential "public health" problems. The other major difference is that we actively work to create a certain ambiance. The medieval environment which we build is strong, but is at the same time fragile. It can be seriously damaged by lack of attention to detail.

Although most people are doing reasonably well in these areas, the carelessness or lack of education of a few can spoil the enjoyment of many. What we discuss below are some areas that deserve consideration, plus possible solutions. There may be other areas -- there are alternate solutions.

The West is one of the few Kingdoms with laws regulating camping -- and those Laws came into being because people did not pay attention to details. It would be pleasant not to have to write Laws to cover the remainder of these subjects, but to allow them to continue to be covered by common sense and common courtesy.


1) "All guy ropes must be flagged with at least one flag visible by night." It's not just a good idea -- it's the LAW!!! (WK Law V.8.3) This is especially important for pup tents, domes, and other low tents which are not immediately obvious, and for pavilions which are guyed in a non-standard manner. This Law is a protection not only for the night-wandering populace, but for the owner of the pavilion, since someone tripping over a guy rope can bring a whole pavilion down. While not specifically covered by the Law, portable holes from which the banners have been removed, and other hazards to navigation, should be clearly marked in a color visible at night if they cannot be removed entirely.

Note that many colors which are vibrant by day can be almost invisible at night, so plan to have guy-flags which have some white or yellow in them in addition to the colors that you like. White and yellow are the only colors reliably visible at night. Make the flags big enough to see! While an inch wide strip of torn sheet is better than nothing, it isn't much better. Flags should be a minimum of three inches wide and six inches long. While only one flag per rope is required, two or more are much better.

2) Be courteous in your use of flashlights and Coleman lanterns. Kingdom Law forbids the use of Colemans outside closed pavilions (WK Law V.8.4), although allowances are made for those setting up after dark. It is polite to use the bright light for only as long as absolutely necessary, and to try to shade it from the rest of the camp. Flashlights, when used, should be directed at the ground. NEVER shine a flashlight into someone's face -- it can startle and temporarily blind them.


3) Remember that Kingdom Law includes a provision that only period pavilions should be erected on the Eric at Kingdom events (WK Law V.8.1), and that a ten-foot walkway must be left between the Eric and the guy-ropes of front-row pavilions (WK Law V.8.2). Remember also that this is a walkway. It is not a seating area for those who do not have pavilions on the Eric, nor is it an armor dump. If you are not set up on the Eric and wish to watch or participate in the fighting, make arrangements to visit friends with a front-row location. Consider getting together with friends and set up a courtyard arrangement with pavilions around a central location in the second or third row and a sunshade at the entrance on the Eric. While it is not covered by the Law, if other areas of the site are designated as "pavilions only" by the autocrat you should comply with that request.

If roads lead off of the Eric, they are not counted as part of the Eric as far as the ten-foot walkway rule is concerned, and guy ropes can come to the edge of the road. Please do not encroach on the road, however, as it is often there for safety purposes.

4) If you are setting up a mundane tent, remember that at times the second and third rows of camping are visible from the Eric, and that certain areas on access roads are almost always visible from the Eric, and therefore fall under the "visibility" provisions of the Law. Unless you know for sure that the people in front of you are putting up a pavilion that will shield your tent from view, maybe you should consider setting up further back from the Eric. If you are setting up a sunshade on the Eric to be "period", but are camping behind it in a mundane tent, make sure the sunshade has a back wall. "See-through" sunshades should have period pavilions behind them. Fabric "walls" have been used very effectively, especially by groups, to hide mundane tents. However, walls which block the view should not be placed on the Eric; they take up space which could be used very effectively by other people who want to be able to see and have pavilions which are allowable.

5) Help to maintain the medieval ambiance through other actions. Throw on a short tunic over your T-shirt if you are setting up after the "official" start of an event, or if you have to take down early, before the official end of the event. (For weekend-long events, consider the "official" start as dawn on Saturday. The end is whenever the Royalty says it is, usually after last court.) It does not take much effort to throw a tablecloth over an ice chest.

Other obvious mundanities are also relatively simple to disguise. For example, pour your beer or soda into a tankard, and put your sunglasses into a pouch and wear a floppy hat instead. If you use a Coleman stove for cooking, even if it is only for breakfast, pack it away as soon as possible after use. Don't leave it set up out in the open.

6) All cars should be unloaded and then parked in the designated parking area as soon as possible, even on Friday afternoon. Although it is not always possible to have a parking area which is totally out of view of the tourney area, it is much nicer to have all the cars in one place where our eyes can "edit them out" instead of spread randomly about.

Always drive slowly through camp. This is for your own safety and the safety of others. If the roads are dusty, which they often are, drive even slower. Remember that 5 mph is only a little bit faster than normal walking speed. Many campgrounds have 5 mph as their speed limit.


7) Cooking over open fires or in firepits of various sorts is one of the more enjoyable aspects of medieval camping, and is one more thing that is different from mundane (Coleman stove) camping. However, most sites have rules about whether fires are allowed, and what sort are allowed. In addition, the West Kingdom Fire Regulations do not allow "ground" or "open" fires -- the ones built in a cleared space on the ground. Some sites have a special area for a ground fire, which is usually reserved for the bardic circle.

Sites usually do allow fires in permanent barbeque pits, and most allow "raised" fires, in firepits which are off the ground or in hibachis placed on tables. If a severe fire danger exists, we are sometimes limited to charcoal fires rather than our choice of charcoal or wood. If you aren't sure, check with the autocrat.

If you are making a wood fire, ask the ranger or autocrat before helping yourself to the wood lying on the ground. Never cut wood, even deadwood, without the explicit permission of the ranger, either directly obtained, or obtained through the autocrat. Never, never, NEVER, cut green wood! Not only is it bad for the site, it burns poorly besides.

8) Remember that while fires are fun to cook over, they like to eat sleeves and other dangly pieces of cloth. Tie your sleeves back or wear tight sleeves when cooking.

9) Always put a board or other protection under your firepit, to prevent the ground from being scorched. This is necessary even when the firepit is elevated.

Don't leave fires unattended, especially with food on them. It is always a good idea to keep an open bucket of water or a fire extinguisher (or both) near each fire. Be aware of the location of the nearest fire extinguisher. If we happen to be in a drought condition, all fire precautions are doubly necessary. Fire is our friend, but we don't want to let it get out of hand.

10) Candles and lanterns should not be left unattended unless they are kept firmly upright, are enclosed, and are out of the wind. Tiki torches are not allowed by West Kingdom Fire Regs.

11) Hot coals should NEVER be placed in garbage bins. Obvious, you say? Well, it has happened and continues to happen far too often. Make SURE that your fire is out before disposing of the ashes. If you are "pretty sure" it's out, run your hands through the ashes before dumping them. If you're not willing to do that, the fire is still lit -- dump some water on it. (Dry ashes aren't really dirty, just messy.) If you need to pack up and there is even a chance that your fire is still warm, douse it thoroughly, stir it up, and douse it again!


12) Don't wash your dishes in the restrooms, or at a communal faucet. Think of the faucet as the village well!

Dishes contain food debris which can clog drains, and which attracts insects if spilled on the ground. (There have been events recently where the only water source was made almost unuseable by wasps attracted to it by food debris left by dishwashing.) Wash your dishes in a bucket or washbasin at your campsite. This will allow you to use water heated on your cooking fire, which will result in cleaner dishes.

13) Don't shampoo your hair at the faucet either; it leaves a bog! It also leaves soap all over the ground, which is gross and environmentally unsound.

14) Remember that you are not the only person using the privies. With non-flush privies, remember to close the lid after each use, in order to keep down the odor and discourage the bugs. The built-in ventilation system in privies does not function properly when the lids are left open.

At sites where we are fortunate enough to have flush privies, treat them as you would treat your own home plumbing. Remember that there are things which were not designed to be flushed away. Dispose of these things in a proper alternate manner.

15) In a related matter, if we are lucky enough to be at a site with showers, use common courtesy when you take your shower. Remember that they are a luxury, not a necessity, even at a long event. Don't leave a mess, and don't hog the hot water, especially if there is a long line. Consider taking your shower during an off-hour when the fighters don't need it to clean up after the tourney. Not only will there be fewer people and shorter lines, but the water will be hotter, too.

If we don't have showers on site, you still don't have to be dirty. Take a bucket of water back to your campsite and heat it over the fire, then sponge down. If you are careful, you can even do this in a small mundane tent without getting the floor wet. Even if you don't take a full bath, washing your hands and face in camp can make you feel a lot cleaner and improve your outlook on life.


16) Respect each other's space. Do not pitch a tent in a densely packed area without checking with those already set up in the area to make sure that the specific area you have selected is free. Sometimes space is left open as a passage between various encampments or as an accessway for emergency vehicles. Other times, people are holding space for friends who are expected shortly. (While it is not acceptable to hold Eric space unless you have the fabric on the ground, or hold Eric space at all past dark on Friday (except for Royalty), it is still okay to hold second and third row space.)

17) Remember that pavilions (and tents) are people's homes. Do not enter a pavilion uninvited, even if you are fascinated by the construction. If there are many people lounging round in a pavilion, even if they are your friends, do not just wander in and sit down without permission. Some of the walls in our "towns" are fabric, and some are only air, but they are real walls. (An extension of this is that anything overheard through pavilion walls does not exist.) "Knocking" on a pavilion can be accomplished by saying "May I enter?" Please do not try physically knocking on pavilions or poles, since many of them are not set up to withstand that sort of stress.

18) There is a strong tradition of open hospitality in the SCA, and in the West. Very often, space HAS been thrown open to all and sundry. However, you lose nothing, and gain credit for courtesy, if you request permission before joining a party.

Conversely, a closed pavilion often, although not always, means a closed party. In those cases, it is wiser not to intrude at all unless you know the owners of the pavilion.

19) If you are planning to entertain in a vigorous or late fashion, check with your neighbors to make sure that this will not greatly inconvenience them. In fact, invite them to the party! Conversely, if you have children or tend to retire early, do not set up near known "party pavilions" and then complain because you or your children can't sleep. Please also keep in mind that, although autocrats may designate a "noisy" and a "quieter" area, most of our sites are small enough that the "noisy" area is almost always clearly audible from the "quieter" area. If you are partying late, try to keep the grosser forms of noise in check after midnight. If you are sleeping, remember that the partiers are trying to be considerate.

20) After midnight, it is always appropriate and considerate to let partiers know if they are being disturbingly loud. Those who are staying up late are not always aware of how far the sounds they make are carrying, or of the time. Well-mannered partiers will thank the person who helps them in this way.


21) Remember that a sick camper is not a happy camper. Bring along a complete supply of any medications which you may need. (This is especially important at events longer than just a single weekend.)

If the weather is hot, be aware of your own reaction to heat and take care of yourself. Drink lots of fluids and sponge down regularly.

If the weather is cold, bundle up and keep warm. Layers usually work better than one garment, and fire becomes a very special friend.

If you drink alcohol, do so responsibly, and remember that extreme weather, either hot or cold, enhances the effects of alcohol.

Pack a first aid kit; the chirurgeons are always willing to help, but if you can put a bandage on your own cut finger or other minor injury, then the chirurgeons can save their efforts and time for real emergencies.

21A) As has been recently and tragically brought to our attention, heaters and tents can be a deadly combination. Heaters can be very useful, even life-saving in cold weather, but they are not compatible with human life when sealed in an air-tight container. Mundane tents are more often a potential problem, but a well built and tight pavilion could be one as well. Read all instructions and follow them.

There are many strategies for dealing with cold weather. Wear layers of clothing; wear wool, silk and linen in preference to cotton and polyester. Cover your head to keep heat from escaping. Insulate your bed from the ground. Hot water bottles can be your special friend if you are the type that chills easily.

22) Bugs are not your friends. This applies not only to flies and bees, but also to the little tiny ones that you can't see.

To control the ones you can't see, make sure that you have plenty of ice in your ice chest, and that food which should be kept cold is returned to the ice chest as soon as possible. If you are cooking, make sure that hot foods are kept hot, not luke-warm. If you have left-overs, find someone who is hungry to get rid of them, or use some of your ice to cool them down to a safe temperature.

To control the bugs that you can see, keep your camp cleaned up at all times, and use plastic bags for garbage. Close the bag at all times after you have used it, so that the bugs can't get at it, and dispose of it promptly when it gets even close to full.

Don't dispose of your "grey water" close to where people are camping, and make sure that any large food scraps are cleaned out of it even when there is a good disposal site. Waste water attracts as many or more bugs as uncovered garbage. (Some campgrounds will have designated waste-water disposal sites -- please use them.)

23) If you keep your campsite picked up on a regular basis, you will not have as much trash to dispose of at the end of an event. You will also make your site pleasanter to be camped next to. Remember the SCA tradition that we always leave a site cleaner than we found it.


24) A few of our camping sites are dry, really dry; they have no water. If we have to bring water on site for ourselves, the recommended minimum allowance is 2 gallons per person per day for drinking and washing. Double this for any fighter in your group. Double it again, for everybody, if it is hot. If you have space, add a safety margin of 50%; you'll be glad you did (or a neighbor will).

Four and five gallon buckets of food-grade plastic are often available cheap (or free) at local fast-food places, or can be purchased for not too much money at your local brewers supply store. They make excellent storage containers for water and can also double as fire-buckets.

Fruit juices and soda can substitute for some of the water for drinking, but beer cannot, nor does any other alcoholic beverage. All alcoholic beverages are inherently dehydrating, and actually increase your need for fluids.

25) Some potable water is full of minerals to which your body may react badly. If you know that you have a problem with this sort of thing, you should bring your own drinking water, but you can use the site water for washing. This can apply to everyone when the site water exists but is not potable. In that case, carry-on water can be reduced to 1 gallon per person per day.

When site water is not potable, remember to keep the two water supplies separate in camp. Tie a blue ribbon to the "good" water container.

Revised, September XXX (1995)

Material in Section 21A added February, 2001

Index of Previous Columns

Other articles you can read, mostly on tentmaking and medieval tents

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