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Camping Tips For Beginners

Camping Tips

Do you love being outdoors and sleeping under the stars? Do you dream of crisscrossing the country in an old pickup truck, or hiking through the wilderness without having to worry about wifi? Here’s are several camping tips to help make your camping adventures awesome!

“I’m new to camping. What do I need?”

When you’re new to camping, it can be overwhelming. There are so many things to remember and so much gear to buy. If you’re just starting out, take a deep breath, because it really isn’t as hard as you think it is! We’re going to talk about five things that every beginner should know that will get you on your way to a great weekend (or week) outdoors.

Before You Go Camping

Be sure to check the weather before you go. You don’t want to pack for cold weather if it’s going to be warm, or vice versa.

Camping Tips For Before You Go

When planning a camping trip, it’s best to plan ahead. Secure your campsite well before your scheduled departure. If you wait until the day before or show up in the evening, you might find that all of the nearby campsites are fully booked and you have to drive a long way to find a spot.

Make sure your car is in good condition and has plenty of gas in it. You don’t want to get stranded on the side of the road somewhere on your way up or down the mountain.

Bring all of the equipment you need for your campsite and make sure it’s all in good condition. No one wants to go out into the woods to find that their tent is leaking or that their sleeping bags are broken.

Bring plenty of food with you—you don’t want to have to go shopping once you’re already there!

Where Should You Go Camping?

Probably one of the best camping tips we can give is for you to start out at one of your local state parks. Many states have ample camping and recreational opportunities for low cost. A lot of these have amenities such as toilets and showers (you may not want to completely immerse yourself in the wilderness on your first camping trip).

For instance, in Michigan, you can visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website to find and reserve a state park campsite.

Need More Camping Tips?

Be sure to check out our sister website, hikehuntcamp.com for more great information on camping adventures.

Questions or comments?

Leave a comment below or reach out to us at our contact us page and we’ll get back to you.

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Campfire Safety Tips

5 campfire safety tips

5 Campfire Safety Tips

According to the Insurance Information Institute, approximately 90% of the cause of wildfires happens because of people. These wildfires start with people leaving campfires unattended, cigarette butts, debris burning, powerlines that are down, and intentional arson. The last 10% of wildfires start by lava or lighting.  Here are 5 Campfire Safety Tips to make sure you’re being responsible.

Camping responsibly means doing your best to ensure that your camping party does not cause these kinds of accidents. Being a responsible camper also makes your trips more relaxing and enjoyable and ensures that your camping adventures do not get cut short.

1. Plan Ahead And Research The Rules

It always helps to know what the campfire rules are for the location where you’ll be camping.  Every site is different and has different government entities that manage burning regulations.

Specifically, some locations provide strict guidelines and require campfires to be in provided campfire pits only. Others have little to no restrictions, allowing you to use your best judgment in determining where to put your campfire. 

When camping in a different state, a secondary consideration is that bringing firewood across state lines can introduce pests and diseases to the locations that you will be camping. So, if you will be going to a new site, you recommend forage or purchase firewood. 

2. Weather Regulations

There are defined campfire rules that you have to follow for the location you’ll be camping in, but regulations are also weather-based and can change quickly.

For instance, as of this writing, there are significant burn warnings in many places in Michigan because it’s been such a dry spring and early summer.  Places out west are teetering on having outright burn bands in place due to the ongoing drought. To sum up this point, always check what the current conditions allow.

3. Firepit Safety

Always check with the local officials or wildlife resources to see if fires are allowed. State-owned parks will provide a firepit. This pit is the only place you are allowed to build a fire. 

If you are in a place where campfires are allowed, but there is no fire pit provided, it is best to use your shovel to dig a firepit. Look for space where there are no overhanging branches, powerlines, tent parts, and make sure there is a 10-foot circle of clear space around the firepit.

Once you finish the firepit, line the outside of the ring with rocks ensuring a barrier if your flames start to spread. 

4. Put Out Your Fire At Campsites

Just like you lock your cars to keep valuables safe, when you leave your campsite unattended, put your fire out. An unattended fire can have items blow down onto the fire, or the wind can quickly spread the flames, especially if the fire is not in a firepit. 

Going on an all-day hike or climb only to arrive back at camp to the ravages of a fire is not usually a part of our camping plan. It does not add to the camping experience. 

Attached to the topic of firepit safety, wearing proper clothing around a fire will prevent burns. If you are camping with young ones, teaching them always to wear shoes around help to avoid burns on your feet from embers that have popped out of the firepit. 

5. Safe Fire Starting

Matches or a Ferro rod fire starter are the best ways to start a campfire. We enjoy using a tinder ball or a bushcraft fire tin because the fuel is contained in a way that ensures we have dry tinder for starting our fire. Depending on your location, dry wood and kindling are not a guarantee when camping. 

Conclusion

Camping responsibly benefits you, your host, and our world. We have to live here, let’s make it as safe, clean, and enjoyable life as we can. Adventures in the outdoors are a perfect opportunity to teach those around us fire safety.

Questions? Comments? Send us a message!

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10 Things You Should Have In Your Survival Kit

10 Things You Should Have In Your Survival Kit

What is a survival kit?

Before we talk about the 10 Things You Should Have In Your Survival Kit, we should define the context that we’re talking about. 

A survival kit could be any kit that you have put together for an emergency situation. For instance, it could be a kit that’s meant to provide you with food, water, and basic first aid supplies to hold out for a few days at home during the aftermath of a hurricane or other storm(here’s a good list from the Red Cross). 

Or it could be a small kit that you take with you when you’re hiking, hunting, camping, or just in the wilderness to provide you with the basic necessities to stay alive and be found.  It’s this later iteration of a survival kit that we’ll be laying out here.

10 Things You Should Have In Your Survival Kit

  1. A firestarter.  This could be matches, a lighter, or a ceramic and ferro rod firestarter.  Having a dependable firestarter allows you to provide heat and purify water-both survival requirements.  Adding some tinder options such as our Survival Tinder Balls are a great addition as well.
  2. A knife or multi-tool.  A good knife or multi-tool should be part of every survival kit, no matter the context.  For a credit-card style multi tool, check these out from MichiganFishingForever.com.
  3. A compass.  Depending on the severity of the situation, having a reliable navigation tool (and knowing how to use it) can be life saving.
  4. Emergency bivvy. An emergency bivvy can be a life saver. It can quickly function as both a sleeping bag or emergency shelter in inclement weather.
  5. Water filtration.  Having clean, drinkable water is a survival necessity.  While we don’t sell them here at Graft Outdoors, a Sawyer Mini makes a great survival kit water purification tool.
  6. Whistle.  When you’re lost in the wilderness, it’s important to be able to establish a signal that doesn’t appear natural. This is where a survival whistle can help you.
  7. Signal mirror.  You can usually find a good compass/signal mirror combo. This is great as it helps remove single-purpose items from your kit.
  8. Basic first aid kit.  At the very least, some medical tape, gauze pads, antiseptic swabs, bandages, and some ibuprofen would be a great first aid kit. However, take into account where you’ll be possibly stranded, AND your personal medical needs when putting together your survival first aid kit.
  9. Paracord survival bracelet or other length of paracord.  550 Type 3 paracord is made with 7 strands of nylon placed in an exterior shell.  So 10’ of paracord can give you up to 70 feet of high-tensile thread that you can use for things such as fishing line or thread.
  10. A Flashlight or headlamp.  Having easily accessible light makes navigating in wilderness much easier and safer.  

While not an exhaustive list of survival tools, this list does include the basic tools you’ll need in most survival situations where you’re stranded or lost for an undetermined amount of time.  With the tools on this list, you’ll be able to secure the four basic elements of survival: shelter, water, fire, and food.

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Camping For Beginners: Wilderness State Park-Michigan

Wilderness State Park is part of our Camping For Beginners series simply because it’s a great opportunity to explore the outdoors while not leaving civilization (Mackinaw City is only 10 minutes away, and there’s even cell phone service!)  It’s a great park to camp at that features multiple ways to camp, and enough space that you can spread out however you want to (please follow all of the posted rules and regulations though).

With the ample trails, the scenic beauty, and the relatively ‘wilderness’ feel, it’s a great spot for camping for beginners. Wilderness State Park is an amazing park in Michigan that’s just west of Mackinaw City in Emmet County.  Wilderness State Park features more than 10,000 acres of northern forests with some areas of meadows and swamps.  The park is next to the Headlands International Dark Sky Observatory which is a designated dark sky area which features some of the best night-time sky viewing in the midwest.

Wilderness State Park also has 26 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline.  Most of it is rocky and shallow, but there are some beaches with sandy swim areas.  The west side of the park is great for shallow water carp and smallmouth bass fishing, depending on the time of the year.

Probably the best part of Wilderness State Park though is it’s beautiful ‘walk in’ tent campsites (really accessible, just a 20 foot walk from the designated parking area) that are right near the Lake Michigan shoreline.  It’s perhaps some of the most stunning camping areas (at least as far as official State of Michigan campsites go) that you can find in Michigan.  Off to the north east, you can even see the lights from the Mackinac Bridge at night.

Wilderness State Park features ample tent camping, RV camping, and has several bunk houses and group campsites. Amenities include ringed campfire pits (learn some campfire safety tips here), water pumps, pit toilets, trash dumpsters, and even showers.  There’s also a camp host in the campgrounds as well.  

As far as activities go, Wilderness State Park offers many!  There’s hiking, fishing, swimming, cross country skiing, and hunting allowed in the park’s 10,000 acres.  There is also a boat launch on the north side of the park, just west of the campground.  There’s even some limited phone service!  For some reviews of the park, check out this link from The Dyrt.

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Shelter Building

survival basics shelter building

Shelter Building Is A Critical Survival Skill To Master

When you find yourself in a survival scenario, you must assess your situation and make some tough decisions.  One of these decisions is how to spend your time.  Whether you plan to hike out of your situation or plan to stay put, you will need some kind of shelter, and this is where having shelter building skills are critical.  The Rule of Threes states that you may only survive three hours without warmth from fire or shelter.  If you didn’t bring a fire starter, then shelter may be your only option.  This is especially true if it is rainy.

Fire is another critical survival skill to master. Check out our firestarter necklaces and always be able to get a spark!

There are a few general rules for building a shelter.  These rules are the same whether you are building a platform shelter in the jungle or building a debris hut in the mountains.  There are also just a couple shelter designs that I use on a regular basis.  In this article, we will cover these basics so you can be ready to build a shelter in the wilderness.

Find a Location

Your location for your shelter is incredibly important.  I like to have two or three prime locations from which to choose before I make a commitment.  To accomplish this, I first focus on resources.  Where is the water and where are the building materials?  Once I establish this, I start getting more specific. 

You want to be close enough to water that you can easily walk there several times a day. However, you want to be at least 100 feet away to avoid insects, predators, and flooding.  You want to find a spot where the wind is minimal, so I like dense woods and like to be down off the top of any ridges. You should also consider the direction of the wind as the shelter needs to block most of the wind.

Finally, look for a flat, dry area.  There should be minimal rocks and plants on the ground, so you are not clearing the area for hours.  Before you lay out your design, clear anything that needs to be cleared.

Assess and Collect Resources

It is hard to put all of these steps in any particular order because the order will be a little different each time.  For example, part of assessing your resources is looking for natural structures which you can build upon.  This really should be done while you are looking for your location.  If you see a cave, a rock face, or a large downed tree, these can all be part of your shelter.  By using these structures, your shelter will be stronger, more windproof, and more waterproof.  It will also be a faster build.

While you are finding your location, you should also be looking for building materials.  I generally look for dead trees on the ground for poles and dead leaves or spruce boughs for insulation.  Once I have my location, I like to move at least half of my building supplies to the site so I can be over half-way done before I need to take a break. For example, I know I need one long ridge pole, at least six or seven shorter frame poles, and a good pile of insulation before I get started with the build on a lean-to. 

Assessing resources also means considering what you brought with you.  Tarps, emergency blankets, cordage, and cutting tools will all affect how you build your shelter.  That being said, I will teach you how to build an effective shelter without any of these tools.

Shelter Building Designs

There are just a few primary shelter designs that I use on a regular basis.  A good shelter is small to hold in body heat.  It is simple to keep your build time to a minimum.  All a good shelter needs to do is keep you dry, warm, and out of the sun and wind.  Once you learn the basics, you can always modify these designs to fit your exact situation. 

The lean-to shelter is one of the designs I use on a regular basis, especially if I have a fire.  One side of the lean-to is open so you can build a fire next to the shelter to stay warm.  The roof of the shelter should block the wind and rain if there is any.  It should also reflect heat back towards your body.

Start by finding two trees about eight feet apart with branches down as low as four feet from the ground.  Poles can be cut with a saw or camp knife, or you can break dead poles.  Just place the pole between two trees that are really close together.  Then walk forward pushing one end of the pole to break it at the appropriate length.

Place a 10-foot ridge pole across these two trees at about four or five feet off of the ground.  Then start placing frame poles about six or seven feet long against the ridge pole.  They should be leaning at about a 45-degree angle towards the side with the prevailing winds. 

At this point you can tie off poles for a more solid structure or you can add a tarp or emergency blanket for waterproofing if you have the materials.  If not, start adding insulation at the base of the roof and work your way up.  You will need at least one foot of insulation to block the wind and about four feet of insulation to make it waterproof.  You also need a couple feet of insulation inside the shelter to act as a bed.

If you have no fire, a debris hut is the way to go.  You will still need a long ridge pole, but your support poles will be shorter.  Start by attaching your ridge pole to two support poles about five feet long.  Next, build your bed with insulation.  Then you will want to add support poles of varying length down both sides at a 45-degree angle.  Finally, pile up four feet of insulation on top.  This design acts as a big natural sleeping bag to hold in body heat, so make it as small as possible.  You can use your pack for a door, or you can build one if you like.

If you find yourself lost in the woods and need to build a shelter, please remember these basics.  Keep your shelter simple and keep it small.  Be careful when selecting a location.  Drink lots of purified water and take breaks in the shade so you do not dehydrate while building.  I have been there before, and it is hard to build when both arms are cramping.  I suggest you practice the two designs we described here, so you are ready when the time comes.  Whether it is in the back yard or on your next camping trip, that practice could save your life. 

Subscribe to Graft Outdoors on YouTube for more great content, adventures, misadventures, and product videos! Read about water purification in the wilderness here.

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Water Purification In The Wilderness

water purification

Water purification in the wilderness and on extended fishing trips is a critical skill to master. (It’s not the ONLY skill to master. Check out our handmade firestarter tools such as our firestarter necklaces and survival tinder balls).

It is commonly known that the more remote a fishing spot is, the more likely it is to be a good one.  When it is easy to get to a particular fishing location, that means more people will likely visit that spot.  This means fish will be spooked and concentrations will be smaller.  There is something to be said for hiking or boating to virgin waters for a prime fishing experience.

Hydration can be an issue when fishing remotely for several days.  There is a good chance you will be doing lots of hiking or paddling in the hot sun.  Wading also can wear you out and dehydrate you.  On trips like these, carrying drinking water is tough.  Water is heavy and can really weigh down your pack. 

The best solution is to purify water as you go.  Since you are on a fishing trip, you should be near a good-sized body of water.  However, drinking that water without purification could make you very sick.  In this article, we will cover ways to safely stay hydrated in the wild without carrying drinking water.

Why Hydrate?

The Survival Rule of Threes states that the average person can survive about three days without water under normal circumstances.  However, wilderness fishing trips are not normal circumstances.  You will be spending lots of time in the sun working hard to get to the right fishing spots.  This shortens your window.  You may only survive a day or two without water.

In addition, the side effects of dehydration kick in almost immediately.  You will notice that you become weaker and get winded easier.  You might be light-headed or dizzy, and headaches are common.  Then come cold sweats, dry mouth, and heart palpitations.  Your last warning sign is if you pass out or stop sweating. 

I have experienced severe dehydration several times, and it makes basic tasks very difficult. When I am fully hydrated, I can walk three or four miles with a heavy pack before I want a break.  When dehydrated, I may only make it a few hundred feet before I need to sit down or even lie down.  It just sucks all of the energy out of you, and it feels like your heart is going to beat out of your chest.  You should start regularly hydrating as soon as you start your adventure, and never wait until you are thirsty to drink.

Why Purify?

Most water sources in the wild will contain tainted water full of debris, bacteria, and other pathogens.  The warmer the water temperature is and the more stagnant it is, the more likely it is to make you sick.  Drinking this water can cause vomiting and diarrhea which would only dehydrate you faster.  The only time you should ever consider drinking tainted water is if you have already gone several days without water and have absolutely no way to purify it.  At this point, you just need to hydrate enough to survive a few more days. Many waterborne pathogens take a few days to really start affecting you. 

There are a few exceptions to this rule.  If you have clean chunks of ice to melt, it should be okay to drink.  You should avoid snow as it is 90% air and 10% water.  Springs are spots where water spews directly out of the ground after being purified by the earth itself.  This is safe to drink as long as it does not smell funny.  Mineral deposits are still possible in springs.  If you can set up a rainwater catchment system, it is safe to drink most rainwater.  Finally, there are plants like coconuts and watervines that can be safe sources of water.

Filters

By far the best option for purifying water is a filter.  Modern water filters eliminate 99.999% of all harmful pathogens.  You can use a straw style filter to save space in your pack.  Just be prepared to get on your belly to drink unless you have a container for water.  I prefer filter bottles as they allow me to fill up and then drink as I go until I fill up again. You can also get gravity fed filters with rubber bladders that hold several gallons of water.  These are ideal if you will be camping in the same spot for several days, or if you have a group of people using one filter.

Boiling

One of the oldest methods for purifying water is to boil it over a heat source.  Chances are you will have a campfire or a camp stove of some kind, so boiling water just takes a few minutes.  We were once told that the water must boil for a long time to make it safe, but we now know you just need to bring it to a boil and then let it cool.  This does not remove debris, so filter as well if possible.

Iodine Tablets

I typically carry iodine tablets with me in the wild because it is common for my water filters to become clogged with debris.  Sometimes I can fix them, and sometimes I cannot.  If it rains, fire can be a problem as well.  This leaves plan C.  A vial of iodine tablets can purify about 25 bottles of water and will easily fit in any pocket.  Just drop two in a bottle of water, shake it up a few minutes later, and you can drink in 30 minutes.  You can use bleach to accomplish the same thing, but I prefer not to pack liquid chemicals-plus you have to be careful to make sure that your measurements are correct, or you could end up poisoning yourself.

Other Options

If none of the previously mentioned methods can be performed, you still have a few steps you can take.  None of these purification methods are ideal, but they are much better than doing nothing or not hydrating.  You can layer gravel, sand, and charcoal in a bottle to make your own water filter. Just tie some cloth over the opening at the bottom to remove debris.  You can set clear water out in the sun in plastic bottles for six or more hours to kill most pathogens with UV light.  You can also dig a proximity well next to a body of water and hope that the earth will filter out most of the pathogens. 

As you can see, hydration is something to take seriously.  If you or someone in your group becomes dehydrated, you could end up in a wilderness survival scenario instead of a fishing trip.  If you see signs of serious dehydration, try to call for help.  Sometimes an IV of fluids is the only way to bring someone back.  If this is not possible, sip lukewarm water in the shade and put a wet cloth around your neck.  Hopefully, this discussion will help you stay hydrated throughout your whole trip.

Water Purification Is Important But Must Be Approached Carefully

Please note that these are basic tips and advice regarding water purification. Please follow all local regulations and understand the affects that various chemical treatments can have on your health. Water purification isn’t something you can afford to get wrong.

Questions? Concerns? Contact us here!

You can find out a TON of great information about backpacking trips in Michigan from Jim DuFresne’s classic book, Backpacking In Michigan (You can find it here) (Yes, it’s a classic).

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Backpacking on the Shingle Mill Pathway

Backpacking on the Shingle Mill Pathway is a great trip that can be accomplished easily in a day and a half. The Shingle Mill Pathway is located just a few hours north of both Grand Rapids and Detroit, Michigan, making it a great spring or summer weekend destination.

Check out our firestarters to help you have a safe backpacking trip!

You can find out a TON of great information from Jim DuFresne’s classic book, Backpacking In Michigan (You can find it here) (Yes, it’s a classic).

This is an amazing overnight backpacking trip that’s drivable in an afternoon from Grand Rapids, Michigan or Detroit, Michigan. It’s a 10 to 11 mile loop, with a six mile loop as well. The trail starts by meandering along the Pigeon River and skirts some small lakes in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan. This is pretty much the epicenter of the elk herd in Michigan as well. I was notable to see many animals, since there were quite a few people in the campsites that dot the trail. I did see some snakes, toads, birds, and frogs. And insects, of which there were plenty of. I also conveniently left my bug spray in my vehicle, so camping in the swamp (the dispersed camp site at the south end of Grass Lake), was quite interesting.

Our Survival Chainsaws are a great addition to your camping and backpacking gear. Check them out here.

The best part of this hike is the varied landscape. You start out in dry pine woodland, that’s interspersed with meadows and clearings. Then it transitions to swamp land, and then hardwood forests, and then back to sandy pine woodlands with the occasional clearing. I think that this could be a great hunting and backpacking trip as it’s state land, and there aren’t a lot of opportunities to do those trips here in the lower peninsula.

This is definitely a great hike. And even if you’re a beginner, I would recommend backpacking on the Shingle Mill Pathway as an annual trip. Most of the hills are easy with minimal exposed roots and the trails are (mostly) well-marked. There are ample camping opportunities, both dispersed as well as state of Michigan rustic campgrounds along the river, of which there are a few. Those campgrounds do need to be reserved, and from the couple that I walked through, they appeared to be completely full. So if you’re planning on camping at one of the state campgrounds here, you’ll want to plan ahead.

This has been my favorite trip to date and I look forward to returning. Update: The Jordan River Pathway is amazing also. Check out our YouTube video!

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Backpacking on the Shingle Mill Pathway
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NCT: Nichols Lake to Condon Lake With Kids!

Nichols Lake to Condon Lake

Backpacking from Nichols Lake to Condon Lake with kids! Note, this hike is part of the North Country Trail: Nichols Lake to Highbank Lake hike found in Jim DuFresne’s book, Backpacking In Michigan. Always a good idea to bring along a firestarter or two. Check out ours here.

Nichols Lake to Condon Lake on the North Country Trail (Bitely, Michigan area). May 2020.

Took the kids (6 and 7 as of this trip!) on a quick overnight backpacking trip on a section of the North Country Trail near Bitely, Michigan. We parked at Nichols Lake which is just a short drive west of Bitely, Michigan.

There’s a boat ramp as well as parking for the trailhead to the North Country Trail, so there’s ample parking (note: you have to purchase a parking pass there, so bring cash). We hiked north about 3.5 miles to Condon Lake where we spent the night, and then hiked out the next morning. The kids did terrifically! And overall, it’s not a difficult stretch of trail and definitely able to be hiked by younger children.

Check out our survival tinder balls! We used them on this trip and had a great camp fire going in no time.

There are a lot of bugs as much of this trail alternates between hills and swamps, so I’d definitely recommend on bringing the bug spray here. We saw several different groups of campers and hikers, including a number of people mountain biking this section.

The kids did quite well, but we pushed and they were a bit tired as to be expected once we made it back to the car. They enjoyed helping gather firewood, eating our ramen, and drinking tea. One thing to note as mentioned, is that bugs are quite an issue in this stretch as it is mostly swamps interspersed with hills. You’ll definitely want to bring along some decent bug spray(or mentally prepare yourself) for kids, as they tend to not enjoy getting ate by mosquitoes. We ended up doing about 3.5 miles up the trail, and then another 3.5 miles back.

Most people it appears use this as through-hike spot, and for obvious reasons. There’s not a lot to see from a nature perspective as it’s a well traveled area but with minimal sights. The small lakes don’t offer much in the way of fishing, although we did catch a small bass out of Condon Lake(there isn’t much access to the lake from shore outside of the campground located on the north west shore of the lake).

But it was still an enjoyable overnight trip!