Camping: Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Do ground cloths belong under or inside the tent?

A. Ground cloths are intended to protect the floor of your tent from excessive wear, and either option will extend the life of a tent. If you choose to use a ground cloth under your tent, be sure it is slightly smaller than the floor of the tent. If it extends beyond the floor it can potentially collect rain water.

Q. What options other than freeze-dried food do I have?

A. Freeze-dried food is great for lightweight camping and offers a wide variety of meal options. If you're not carrying it on your back though, your menu can be as adventurous as you want. Pack a cooler with fresh foods – gas cook stoves offer few limitations. You can even get small ovens to fit some stoves. The only restrictions to camp cooking should be the chef's imagination.

Q. My sleeping bag is rated for three-season use but no matter how much clothing I put on at night, I am still cold. Should I get a warmer bag?

A. Sleeping bags are designed to provide warmth by trapping body heat in the insulation. If you wear a lot of clothing to bed you are preventing your body heat from warming up the bag. Wear a light layer – it might be chilly for a couple of minutes but eventually you should be quite comfortable. If that doesn't work, try sleeping in long underwear. Doing some jumping jacks before climbing into your bag will also get your body temperature up and make the bag's heat-trapping feature work more efficiently. Still cold? Try putting on a hat, since 30-50% of heat loss occurs through the top of the head.

Q. What are the best defenses against insects?

A. Flying insects are more bothersome certain times of the year. Here in Maine, black flies are usually at their worst in early June, then mosquitoes, then horseflies and so on. If you really don't like dealing with biting insects, learn their cycles and plan your trips around them. If that isn't an option, there are a wide variety of insect repellents that work in varying degrees. None are 100% effective. The most effective defense is to cover up. Wear long sleeves, long pants, socks and a head net for protection. If it's too hot to completely cover up, lightweight, breathable mesh pants and a jacket made specifically to keep insects out are other options and generally are comfortable to wear.

Q. When can I build a campfire?

A. "Leave No Trace" camping recommends that you leave a campsite as wild as you find it. As relaxing as it is to sit by a campfire under the stars, charred wood and blackened stones scar the landscape. However, if you are camping in an established campsite and there is an existing fire ring, fires are acceptable. Most likely you will need a fire permit. Keep your fire small and, in the spirit of "Leave No Trace" camping, don't cut down trees or mar the landscape collecting firewood.

Q. Are wild animals going to invade my campsite at night?

A. Most animals are leery of humans and their scents. If you are camping in a popular area though, chances are the wildlife has become accustomed to people and you may get visits from squirrels, chipmunks, mice and raccoons. As cute as they may be, resist the temptation to feed them; it only encourages them to eventually help themselves. When you are not using your food, put it away. If you're car camping, keep it in the trunk. If you are in the wilderness, hang it in a tree about 10 feet off the ground, 20 or 30 feet from your campsite. NEVER keep food in your tent. Most animals are not looking for a human snack, but the smell of food entices them and even a mouse may gnaw a hole in your tent to snag a free meal.

Q. What do I do if it rains?

A. Although you can't plan the weather, you can prepare yourself with the right gear. First of all your tent should keep you dry. A good tent will have a waterproof floor and ceiling. String up a waterproof tarp to give yourself some space outside the tent. A 12' x 12' tarp will keep an eating/cooking area comfortably covered. Dress for the weather. A pair of L.L.Bean Boots will keep your feet dry, a light rain jacket and rain pants will make camp life more than comfortable. Bring along books, a deck of cards or favorite games for entertainment.

Need help? Please call the L.L.Bean Outdoor Hotline at 800-226-7552, any day between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. EST.

Q. Should I use a sled or a backpack to transport my gear in winter?

A. It depends on your personal preference, the type of terrain where you are camping and the length of your camping trip. If you're planning a short trek, you may prefer a backpack that allows you to travel without the hindrance of a sled tugging behind you. If you are planning a longer trek and require more gear, a sled may be preferable. The weight that normally rides on your back is now sliding behind you. A fit winter trekker can pull his or her own weight in a sled. Snow and terrain also play a role. A sled will glide smoother if you are skiing on level terrain and on packed snow than if you are traveling through deep powder on mountainous terrain. If you carry your gear on a sled, be sure to include a day pack to use on day tours from base camp. The day pack can hold essential items, including map, compass, water, first-aid kit and extra clothes.

Q. When should I snowshoe and when should I ski in the backcountry?

A. Snow conditions, terrain and vegetation determine whether travel is better by ski or snowshoe. A good general rule is to ski as far as you can and snowshoe from there. But remember, climbing skins on your skis can help you navigate some pretty steep terrain before you're forced to switch to snowshoes. Many choose snowshoes when the snow is deep and vegetation is dense. Cross-country skis are usually the top choice because in packed snow conditions they cover more distance faster and with less effort than snowshoes.

Q. Can I drink water from a stream in winter?

A. All wilderness water should be treated through either filtration, purification or boiling, no matter how cold the weather is. For assistance in choosing the correct treatment method during the winter months, call the L.L.Bean Outdoor Hotline at 800-975-4552.

Q. Which backpacks are best for winter camping?

A. Many winter campers prefer internal frame packs. An internal pack, with its soft frame, molds to your back and is narrower than traditional external frame packs. When packed correctly, the bulk of the pack's weight rides lower on your back than with an external frame pack, which has a higher center of gravity. Also, external frames are more likely to catch on branches. Because internal frames hold the load close to your body, you have a free range of motion when you are poling, skiing and climbing. You also have better balance as you navigate over slippery snow conditions.

Q. What types of sleds are there for pulling my gear?

A. A plastic recreational toboggan is recommended for pulling a load over level terrain. Load your heavier items toward the rear of the toboggan so the front curl of the sled stays above snow. Make sure no items hang over the edges or they might catch on branches or rocks. A molded plastic sled known as a "pulk" is ideal for rolling terrain. It has rigid bars connecting to your waist or hips that prevent the sled from ramming your heels during a descent. The pulk's hull should have runners along the bottom so it tracks in a straight line behind you. The load on your toboggan or pulk should be wrapped in a tarp and lashed securely so it will not spill its contents.

Q. How do you balance on skis with a heavy backpack load?

A. When you're carrying a heavy pack and skiing, you're actually shuffling or walking more than you're gliding unless you have the luxury of traveling on packed snow. Skiing with a pack demands that you economize your skiing motion and concentrate on keeping your balance. Your center of gravity is higher with a heavy pack than when you ski unencumbered, so you need to ski without exaggerated movements. Aim for a well-balanced, upright posture and keep your knees bent for flexibility and stability. A pack that has a lower center of gravity nearer your waist is easier to ski or snowshoe with than one that rides high.

Q. How do I keep liquids from freezing?

A. Insulate them by wrapping your clothing around them and packing them close to your back, deep in your pack. Some water bottles come with insulating covers or you can wrap a sock around them. You can also tape small heating pad squares to your water bottle. At night, place your water bottle (filled with hot water and securely sealed) in your sleeping bag.

Q. Which stoves are best for camping in cold temperatures?

A. You need a tough, reliable stove that will heat water quickly and work well in low temperatures. Many campers prefer white gas or unleaded fuel, which is additive-free gas. Check to be sure your fuel and your stove are compatible. While it is tempting to cook in your tent for warmth, especially during a snow storm, do not. Stoves produce carbon monoxide fumes and priming stoves can cause flame-ups, which can melt your tent. If you must cook near your tent, set it up outside and check for proper clearance from stove flare-ups. Tent material is flammable. Keep your tent doors open for ventilation. When you operate a stove, place a pot lid or pan underneath it to keep it from melting the snow beneath, causing it to shift or tip over. If there are high winds, shovel out a clearing around the stove and build a high wind-block wall of snow.

Need help? Please call the L.L.Bean Outdoor Hotline at 800-975-4552, any day between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. EST.