Professor Holmes' Website

Camping Advice

Camping Advice

Suggestions for what you should take on a camping trip; backpacking, real camping where you make your own campsite. I've added some things for kayak camping[in brackets].

My experience has been that my enjoyment of nature and hiking increases inversely with the weight of my pack, when I backpacked. Yet I believe one should be prepared for unexpected adversity and have enough creature comforts to be hedonistic at times. The following describes what I have taken and explains my reasons. I now horse Camp. When I horse camped with only one horse my kit excluding what I was wearing including my coat and pistol wighted just 25 pounds and included five days worth of food and alcohol. If I have a packhorse, weight is not a problem as a horse can pack up to 250 pounds with no problem and a mule can pack 300. When I kayak I tow a pack kayak. I highly recommend the cheap Seyvlor kayak, which you can buy at Campmor, or West Marine, or in many sporting goods stores for $90-$100. You can see them in the pictures of the Waccasassa. They are extremely seaworthy.


The fundamental idea is to be able to put on and take off multiple layers in order to stay warm or cool. I usually wear blue jeans and take a light weight pair of rain pants to keep them dry and/or stay warm. In addition I sometimes carry silk long underwear to sleep in and as an emergency backup for cold weather and to protect against hypothermia. Although I conscientiously try not to get my clothes wet, extra clothing in case you do get your clothes wet is just good sense. I usually take three pair of socks at least two of which are wool. I take two T-shirts (silk or microfiber is best), one wool sweater or wool coat, one silk turtleneck, and a lightweight, water resistant if not proof, windbreaker with a hood. I reserve one T-shirt to sleep in. I bring a watch cap to sleep in and wear a broad rimmed hat. I also take a rain poncho (lightweight nylon or plastic), and hiking boots or hiking tennis shoes. A good pair of hiking boots or hiking tennis shoes is well worth the investment. Because I wear cowboy boots when I ride a horse I usually bring a pair of good moccasins to wear in camp.

Sleeping Gear

I sleep with socks, silk longjohns, T-shirt and possibly watch cap, which I try to use just for sleeping. I take a light weight, cheap sleeping bag. It is very important to have an air mattress or insulation under your sleeping bag. A 1 1/2 inch thick air mattress is the minimum. (When I horse camp I use the saddle pads.) If it gets too cold I sleep in more clothes. In a tent a lantern, even a small candle lantern creates a lot of warmth.


I like a roomy tent, always with a floor, so if it rains you can store all your gear inside and not be crowded. Almost all modern tents have a exterior fly to protect them from the rain. The larger, closer to the ground this exterior fly is the better. The more lightweight the tent, including poles and stakes, the better. I take extra lightweight line to attach the grommets when the ground is too rocky for stakes. I also usually take a piece of plastic sheet and lightweight line to rig on top of the fly to ensure I stay dry within the tent and to have a porch.

Cooking and Food

I bring the cooking equipment and food for the major meals. As you will see I go extremely light and this is very important for having a lightweight kit.

  • I make a pit fire and cook on a small, lightweight grill. (Kayaking or pack horse camping I take a small lightweight gas stove, and we will carry distilled water to drink.)
  • Usually the first evening I like steak with French bread and some raw vegetables and/or fruit. After that my staple is a wonderful beef stew (made from Wiley’s freeze-dried, packaged, beef stew or hearty beef soup, I add powdered onion and pepper, red wine, a can of roast beef, and carrots or peas. For breakfast I make coffee (with lots of sugar for me), instant oatmeal, English muffins with jam, and ham grilled, which has a wonderful flavor over an open fire. If the latter does not appeal to you we will have some cheddar cheese. We will boil water in the morning and evening at which times I drink a great deal of it, as should you. I can bring tea and lemonade mix and sugar if anyone will drink it. You can replenish any water bottles with boiled water, in the morning and evening.
  • You never drink water out of the clear mountain stream without boiling or purifying it. I only drink un-boiled water if I can see where it comes out of the ground from a spring. It would be a good idea to bring some of the water purification pills that don’t taste so bad. [Kayaking I will bring beer and some polar Orange dry and you should bring enough of whatever you like to drink, weight isn't much of a problem.] Dinner and breakfast are the only hot meals and should be large in calories. Lunch and snacks you should plan carefully and think about the weight and calories of each individual meal; dried fruit, granola bars, cookies, beef jerky, salami, hard cheese, chocolate and other candy are all excellent. I will bring some chewy rolls, i.e. Kaiser rolls or French bread, to make sandwiches with; one or two per person per day. I never buy camping food except in a grocery store; if you do not enjoy eating camping food at home why in the world would you take it camping? Most freeze-dried preprepared camping food is simply awful, plus it's expensive. (I found a 21 meal catch of abandoned camping food and we threw away all of them after tasting them without exception. Some MREs are pretty good but most are mediocre, heavy and expensive.
  • The secret to successful, pleasurable camping is: Do not bring a great deal more than you will eat, weigh and count the calories for each days lunch and snacks. I recommend you select one thing that is a special treat for an after dinner treat; a small bottle of liqueur, a chocolate truffle or special candy bar, a Twinkie, whatever works for you and makes you think pleasant thoughts even if it’s been raining all day and you’ve been miserable. You should also bring a bottle, preferably hand operated, of bug spray that is at least 25% DEET, e.g. DeepWoods.

Don't forget your camera!

  • Mountain In BackgroundMountain in backgrounf
    Mountains in Colorado

Personal Items and Hygiene

I bring a collapsible toothbrush, one disposable razor that I reuse, a small bar of soap (which can be communal), one washcloth and a Ziploc bag for it and a second one for all of the rest of the stuff. For first aid I will bring some antiseptic, triple antibiotic salve, several Band-Aids, some two inch-wide waterproof athletic tape, antihistamines, Tylenol, ibuprofen, and throat lounges. Also duct tape. You only need to bring any personal medicines.

I take personal protection including but not limited to a handheld pepper spray and something which I think would kill a bear, god for bid I would need to use it. In snake country I use a walking stick and push it in front of me on the ground. I'm not afraid of snakes, despite the fact that I've had three rattlesnakes come close to getting me and I know I cannot see them unless they move. [Kayaking in the South involves a lot more snake possibilities and its simple, if tedious and not cool looking, too avoid being bit. I run my kayak paddle along the ground in front of me if I'm walking through the Bush, at night before I get out of my tent for a duty call, I shine the light where I am going to step, and I run my faithful kayak paddle in front of me. I may look silly but I've lived a long time. Before you sit on a stump or a log it's best to make sure you won't disturb a copperhead or coral snake. Basically it's a lot of common sense. You needn't be afraid of snakes if you just use your brains. I have killed hundreds of poisonous snakes and you would be amazed at how small and fragile their head bones are. If you hit them in the head with a stick or a paddle (I believe your hand would do it if you were fast enough) you will kill them instantly. Rat shot from a pistol does a wonderful job.]

You should bring a backpack and should not need a fanny pack. I will pack all of the food, except what I want to eat that day for lunch and snacks, on the packhorse or kayak. On a packhorse I put all of the heaviest stuff in the panniers. This will include the food, cooking utensils including pots, plastic plates and silverware, tents, and perhaps air mattresses and sleeping bags. [kayaking we will have our gear in a towed kayak or two and it is easiest to have small sports bags, which can be inserted into garbage bags if it rains, for all of your gear because they are easy to load and unload, and carry.]

Your backpack should contain your extra clothes, rain poncho, a small flashlight, knife (I carry a folding knife) and your lunch or smacks and a couple of bottles of water. You will reuse these bottles each day. Your pack should not weigh more than 10 pounds, 15 at the absolute maximum. Once your pack gets over 25 pounds the pleasure of backpacking vanishes. I once hiked into the Trinity Mountain wilderness of Northern California with a 72 pound pack. You only look where your feet go and you’re only and greatest pleasure is when you rest and take your pack off. It was not fun.