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The Canvas Camperby Don H. Meredith © 2001
(published in the May 2001 Edmonton Sports Scene)

a canvas camp

I know I'm a dying breed. It's evident every time I go to a designated campsite in a national or provincial park. There, I'm only provided a gravel pad on which to break my stakes and wear out the floor of my tent. Yes, I'm a "canvas camper" and modern campgrounds aren't designed for my kind. They're designed for the more common "hard-shell campers," the ones that sleep under a hard roof of one sort or another. I prefer to sleep under a canvas roof on which the wind and rain can play lullabies or inform me what's going on outside.

Now, I can appreciate the creature comforts provided by an RV, trailer or truck camper. They have most of the conveniences of home — gas cook stoves and heaters, easily accessed storage space and they pack up quickly. They're ideal for travelling — that is until you compare their costs over time with the renting of a motel room. But I digress.

To me, camping is an experience to be savoured — even in the cold and damp. I take pride in putting up a well-pitched tent and making a campsite comfortable. But comfort is a relative thing and varies with what you're prepared to accept. If I'm backpacking, I'll accept a lot more discomfort than if I'm "car camping" or renting a hotel room for the night.

In a backpacking camp, where the weight of your gear is a major concern, the most important thing for me is that I get a warm and dry night's sleep. If I succeed at that, and can eat at least one hot meal each day, I know I'll be ready for whatever the trail and countryside might throw at me. For me, that's comfort while backpacking.

Hunting or fishing camps are a different thing. Weight and bulk are not big issues. So we expect considerably more comfort in camp. A good quality tent is important. I prefer canvas over the more modern fabrics. Call it tradition or whatever you want, but there's something about the feel, heft and smell of canvas that tells me I'm going to be all right.

Sleeping accommodations are the first concern when we set up a camp. We look for a relatively flat piece of well-drained ground that will accommodate our tent. If we're in one of those gravel-pad camps, we may try to cheat by moving the tent into a more tent-friendly environment. But if the "tent police" are on hand, we often have to accept the space that was designed for heavier equipment. As a result, I pack a lot more tent pegs to replace those that don't survive the pad.

After our tent is set and beds laid out, we set up a cooking area a good distance away from the tent. There, we dig a fire pit, if one isn't already present. We also set up a gas stove to boil coffee in the morning and provide hot wash water. If the weather looks dicey, we'll string up a dining fly over the table.

Now we're ready for a day's hunting or fishing or just looking around. We know when we return, despite whatever the weather may bring, we will enjoy a warm meal and sleep in comfort. This knowledge comes from having done things right, not just having bought the right things.

In talking with folks about the benefits of one style of camping over another, the hard-shell campers always bring up the issue of security — that tents don't provide enough protection from bears and thieves. Despite the fact that I've never had a problem with a bear or thief coming into my camps, I must agree that a tent would not stop either as well as a modern camper or RV.

I know why bears don't come into my camp — I don't provide them with a reason to be there. But thieves are indeed another issue. Time was that a person's camp was his or her castle no one would ever think of going into it without permission. However, times have changed. We often don't know our neighbors where we live, let alone in a campground, and we're more reluctant to find out about them. As a result, more camps are broken into.

Our solution? Try not to leave anything in camp worth stealing. Since we like canvas tents, they're older and less desirable. In fact, they're probably not as much a target as are the more conspicuous hard-shell camps.

Choice of camping equipment is very much a personal thing and depends on your experiences, family traditions and what makes you comfortable. The important thing is to get outdoors and enjoy our wild places. Whether you prefer a roof of canvas, nylon, aluminum or plastic, always leave your campsite cleaner than you found it. More people are going to Alberta's outdoors every year, and we all must do our part to keep those outdoors wild.


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Check-out Don's adventure novels:

Grizzly One
The Search
for Grizzly One
Dog Runner
Dog Runner