Modern camping gear better and lighter

Published 10:03 am Tuesday, April 8, 2014




By Fred Bonner


A typical early 1950s Beaufort County camping trip with the old Boy Scout Troop 22 in Aurora would make modern campers laugh. The modern camping and survival gear that’s available to today’s outdoorsman is “space age” compared to the gear we had available to us back in the day.

On the other hand we were lucky to have had access to all the old military surplus gear. “Brother Jack” McWilliams had gained access to the U.S. Marine Corps salvage yard at Cherry Point and Camp Lejune as a payback for his guiding services on numerous waterfowl hunts on the Pamlico River. About once a year Mr. Jack would take his farm truck down the base and load it up with every imaginable kind of camping gear. We were lucky.

We paired off so that our old U.S. Army Surplus shelter halves, rolled blankets and assorted gear could be carried on a pole between the two of us. Another surplus pack carried on our already stressed backs was other essentials and enough cans of food to last us through the week. In retrospect, the total weight per person that we carried the two miles to the old Mary Daniels Farm must have weighed at about 50 pounds.

All our cooking was done over an open campfire. Our utensils were quite an array of cast iron pots and pans, and we ate from the old G.I. mess kits the Marines supplied up with. We boys had some wonderful times at the “Wildcat Alley” campsite on South Creek.

This old campground is now home to the PotashCorp Administration Building, and any self respecting Boy Scout Troop has access to equipment that we “Old Timers” never imagined.

Our G.I. surplus shelter halves had no floor and no mosquito netting to keep the bugs out. Air mattresses were unheard of and our bedding was a surplus wool blanket. If it was good enough for the Marines, it was good enough for us.

Modern Tents are made of very lightweight polyester or nylon, very waterproof and weigh very little. You can purchase a Wal-Mart, two-man dome tent that will weigh about seven or eight pounds and, for a beginning camper, that’s about all you need.

Experienced campers can really pack light with a two-man tent that weighs in at about four pounds. Any tent you have today will have a floor and mosquito netting to keep the bugs out.

The price for a two-man tent will range from about $50.00 for a basic model to well over $500.00 for an expedition grade, four season tent.

Bedding has evolved from the old wool blankets to kapok filled sleeping bags that weigh about five pounds and will keep a camper comfortable to well below zero.

Our old open campfire has been replaced with very lightweight gas, propane or butane stoves that range from the basic two burnerfold-up stoves to the single burner stoves designed for backpacking that will burn gas or even sticks, pine cones or any available combustible material.

The recent L.L. Bean catalogue even has a very lightweight stove that not only uses any available fuel to cook with but also has an attachment on its side that converts heat to electricity and will charge your cell phone, computer, GPS or LED camp light.

I recently tried out a Waka-Waka solar powered unit that serves to charge a cell phone or other electrical device that accepts a USB cable. It’s about the size of the average smart phone and has LED lights on the unit.

The old kerosene wick lanterns we used to have in the 1950s gave way to the pressurized Coleman gas lanterns, that gave way to the new LED lithium ion battery powered camp lights that are about the size of a saltshaker. These tiny but powerful lights cost about as much as a gallon of white gas for one of the old Coleman lanterns and are far less dangerous to have around camp. They, too, can be recharged with a tiny solar panel.

One new camp light has a built in solar panel with six LED lights all enclosed in a blow-up, clear plastic container. Fully inflated, the unit is about six inches high and six inches in diameter. It’s waterproof and can be used as a pillow. The weight is about two ounces and it serves very well as an area light.

Excellent global positioning units (GPS) are now available to the average camper and really do not require a lot of training to use. The satiny units are even available in a wristwatch-sized unit and, of course, can have their batteries recharged with a solar energy panel. Dick Tracy is alive and well!

Today’s modern camper or survivalist has access to gear that staggers one’s mind. I can’t help but wonder … what’s coming next?