SCA Camping for the Newcomer
By Her Grace Bridget Lucia MacKenzie
So! You are going to War and camping in a tent for the first time! Big adventure! Great Fun! It will be, as long as you plan ahead and do your research. Here are some questions to ponder, and some hints to help you.
Who are you camping with?
Many folks are with an established household, warband, or other related-interest group (the Archers, the Brewers). If you know someone in these groups, ask if you can camp with them. Remember that each group has its own flavor and style. Some are family camps, some are noisy warbands, some have quiet storytelling around the campfire, and some have drum circles and belly dancers. Find a group you will feel comfortable with. It is often good for folks with children to find family camps with kids the same age so they can play together. And if you are bringing pets, make sure they are not “whiners” and that the folks you are camping with don’t mind. If you don’t have anyone to camp with, talk with your local Baronial or Shire Chatelaine, or the Kingdom Chatelaine to see if there is a Newcomer’s Household. Most Baronies and/or Shires also have encampments that certainly welcome new campers. No need to camp alone.
What will you eat?
Some encampments have Food Plans where each person contributes money and/or food and/or chores. Make sure you understand what is exactly what is required of you. No one wants to be surprised with kitchen duty when they planned on going to the battle field. And if a person in the camp has food allergies, you want to make sure no one gets poisoned. Some encampments have big planned gourmet meals with many folks preparing the food, and some folks are fine with burning meat over the campfire. Some folks are happy heating cans of stew over the propane stove, and sometimes just a combo plate from the Chinese food merchant is just what you want. Regardless of what food you plan to eat, bring 1/2 to 1 gallon of water or sports drink per person per day to drink. Stay hydrated, even when it is cold.
What type of tent do you have?
Some of the Period Encampments require that only fancy pavilions be used, and that all camping equipment be historically documentable. But most encampments don’t mind modern nylon tents; they may just ask them to be put behind the big, pretty, period pavilions. Don’t be offended, take comfort in knowing that your nylon pop-up can be assembled in a few minutes and you be relaxing with a cool beverage, while those guys with the lumber and ropes are still setting up. Actually, it would be right neighborly if you helped them.
Where are you camping?
Know where you group will be camping, either by exchanging maps before you set out or by marking the big map at the Gate to War. Be sure to exchange cellphone numbers and contact phone numbers of people who are back home and can act as communications relays. Be sure you know when your camp mates are arriving and vice versa, and have plans for if someone does not show up when they were supposed to. Also, once you arrive and set up, and before you park, take a drive around the war site to get familiar with where your camp is in relation to Merchants, the Battlefields, Children’s’ Activities, friends camps you want to visit, etc. It is much more difficult to find other peoples’ camps in the dark.
Personal comfort and health
It seems silly to have to remind folks, but BRING YOUR MEDICATIONS! Just because you are on vacation does not mean your required medications are too. Also bring any over-the-counter health items you may possibly need. Remember the closest drug store is a long walk to your car, then a long drive away. And I know of many folks (myself included) who have gone to war and come home with sore throats, bronchitis, and worse.
We urban folks are only pretending to be hearty Middle Ages Nobles, who were used to sleeping in drafty castles and poorly heated manor houses during a mini-ice-age. Most of us are actually rather frail, and sleeping in a tent is not what most of our bodies are used to. Check the weather reports before you go, if it will be rainy, freezing or of excessive heat, bring items to keep you comfortable in those environments. Is your sleeping bag rated for sub-zero? Do you have rain-boots and a complete change of clothes in a plastic bag? Sunscreen and sun hat?
I did not start tent-camping until I joined the SCA, and found it nearly impossible to survive the night. If I slept in the cold, I was guaranteed to wake up with a sore throat. So to keep from daily illness I developed a series of steps to keep me healthy while camping. Before sleeping I pre-medicate my throat by drinking a hot liquid formula medicine (like Theraflu). I have sore throat syrup and a thermos with warm water that I can drink from throughout the night if I wake up with a dry throat. And I cover my head with my blankets to pre-warm the air I breathe. It is a pain, but it is how I can camp in the cold. What problems do you foresee about your camping experience? Be sure to plan for these problems and bring any medicines or foods you may need.
More about sleeping in a tent
- Before you sleep, be sure you change all your daytime clothes with fresh ones. Wearing socks and underthings that were worn during the day can make a person cold, lowering body temperature.
- Put a flashlight, your car keys, and your shoes/boots in a place you know where to find them in the dark. If you need to get up during the night, either for a routine trip to the privy (bathroom) or in an emergency, you will need to be able to grab these items in a hurry.
- DO NOT use a heater in a nylon tent. It is just plain stupid: Because it is dangerous! There is danger of fire and smothering fumes.
Get to know the folks you are camping next to, they are your Friendly Neighbors. You may need to call on them if you are having a problem. Let your neighbors know if you are diabetic, allergic to something, or anything else that might cause a medical emergency. While we Historical Reenactment folks pride ourselves on being capable and resourceful, if you find you are having a health situation, ask for help. We have Chirurgeons (volunteer first aid personnel) on scene who can take care of minor medical emergencies, and if it is out of their abilities, they can call the paramedics.
If any of these things sound too scary or physically impossible for you, there is no dishonor in getting a motel room to stay safe and healthy.
What do you want to do while at War?
Make a list of things you want to do or see while at War. See the Battles, Archery, Equestrian, Childrens’ Activities, Shopping at Merchants Row. Let your Camp-mates know what you want to do, and likely they will take you to it or at least tell you how to find it. You might want to check in at Newcomers’ Point, since they often have walking tours of the site to help you get familiar with what is going on. Want to take an Arts and Sciences Class? You might want to check out the list of classes and find out what you need to bring for the classes you want to take.
The SCA is known for being a Society of Honor, and the safety of Ladies and Children is always paramount. If a lady (or any good gentle) wants to go on “walkabout” at night to visit the bardic circles or the camps of friends, it is a very good idea to have an escort. So find the company of friends before you go walking. And while it is considered good Hospitality to offer a traveler a nip of good mead to ward off the cold, care must be taken to NEVER give alcohol to anyone under 21. This is a mundane law that we MUST comply with. Do not be afraid to ask a young-looking person for ID, because you could go to jail for violating the law. And ALWAYS cooperate with the Constables (volunteer security personnel and war staff) when they ask you to bank your campfire or keep the noise down. They are giving up their fun-time to patrol and keep the War safe, and they WILL make your War miserable if you do not comply with the site rules.
Volunteering and the Rules
Our SCA events are run by each of us, for this is a participatory society. So give at least 2 hours of the War volunteering to help. Check in with Volunteer Point and find a task you will enjoy. Volunteering is also a great time to meet new folks. Lastly, before you leave for War, jump online and read all the Site Rules. Then upon arriving at the War, read the War Guidebook thoroughly in case there have been changes since you read the website rules. We are each responsible for abiding by the Rules, and helping others abide by them as well. Follow these Rules, and my hints above, and you will have a fine War!