Camping Tips: An Interview With Dick Finke

I love to camp.  But I’ll be the first to admit that we don’t camp nearly as often as I’d like to. We could blame it on our young children but that wouldn’t be fair. Just as I was doing some research and thinking about writing a blog post on camping, Dick with Tent Camping HQ shot me an email. I figured it was the perfect time to ask a guy who loves camping a bunch of questions about camping!
As we’ve done with the interviews the past few weeks I’ll let Dick take it away!

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Q1. One of our goals is to support and encourage people to get outside who might be new to hiking, camping, backpacking etc and to help them overcome some barriers that exist to outdoor recreation. What advice would you give to someone who has never camped before who might be a little bit scared or uncertain about the idea of camping?

A1. When I come across someone who has never been camping before I simply ask them “Why not?” Then I hear their fears or worries about camping. There seem to be a lot more than you would think.

Three of the biggest things I hear are: “Where do you go to the bathroom?”, “What about bugs?” The one that gets me the most is “I don’t like to be dirty…”

If you are just getting into camping or are trying to get your kids used to the idea of camping, start small. Camp in the back yard for a few nights. Then move up to a nice campground. Nobody said your first camping trip has to be a primitive campsite that is only accessible by hiking miles into a forest with only what on your back.

The first time you road a bike you didn’t just jump on a mountain bike and hit a single track trail… you started small, probably had training wheels for a while then when you got used to it the training wheels came off then slowly moved to bigger and better bicycles. Taking small steps is the best way to start.

Bathrooms are available at all family campgrounds. I suggest before you set up your camp that you find the nearest restroom. That way your not doing circles when the time comes (especially handy when kids are involved). Even while camping at campgrounds I like to bring my own T.P. Because you never know…

When you are camping in a secluded area, say in a forest with no one else around just make sure you pick an area to use thats pretty far away from camp, and down wind. You will need to bury your “droppings” in a hole a minimum of 6 inches deep. Be sure to use biodegradable toilet paper or at least know which leaves NOT to use (avoiding anything poisonous such as poison ivy or poison oak).  It just takes a little more preparation to use the “restroom” while camping in a primitive setting. It also helps to avoid spicy food, or anything known to make you “go” in a hurry. Don’t worry, they do make camp ready port-a-potties as well!

As for bugs, exposure to them can be controlled. The easiest way is by picking the right time of year. The colder it is, the less bugs you will have. I always enjoy a spring or fall camp because of this. Also in spring plants are coming alive and flowers are starting to bloom, and in fall you have the beauty of the leaves changing colors and the raw smell of the years leaves as they drop and decay (which is a good thing).

Insects can be kept away in a number of manners anything from bug nets to manufactured bug repellents to bug sprays. I am now trying to learn more on how to keep insects away naturally by using different organic plant oils and minerals. Even just rubbing sassafras leaves or orange peels on your skin will help out (you do need to re apply it every 15 min. or so). (Wow, cool Dick, I had no idea!)

Now… being dirty in the woods. Never worry about that. Some campgrounds have showers. If you prefer to camp more primitive, there are an array of waterless soaps, biodegradable soaps, and hand sanitizers that can be purchased for a few bucks at many stores. I always enjoy camping near a water source like a lake or a stream. That way I have water that I can filter to drink and a way to clean myself up a bit. Not to mention a dip in a lake is great after a long day of hiking!

Also, it helps to take someone along with you that is experienced in camping. But, let them know ahead of time that you are new to camping so they understand what they might be getting into.

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Q2. What are a few common mistakes that you see beginning campers make? Any advice on how to avoid making these mistakes?

A2. There are many mistakes made by beginning campers, as well as seasoned campers. Many of these mistakes lie in the preparations made for the camping trip. There are two things that I commonly use to help me with my preparations. One is our great “Perfect Camping Checklist” that can be found on our website.

The other is also explained on our website in the article “How to Pack for Camping.” I have been using these methods for years. Basically packing like you just bought a tiny little house that you need to furnish.

Start with the the Kitchen be sure you have water and food, and a way to prepare these items. If you have the means to carry more food than you think you need, do so. Then on to the bathroom, that would be all of your hygiene products (toothbrush, T.P., medicine, etc).

Then continue traveling through the rooms of your house. Bedroom is where I include my sleeping bag, tent, sleeping mat, etc. Then if I still have room remaining that’s when I pack the den (books, pen & note book, art kit, etc.) and then the game room.

I leave the fun stuff for last, to be sure I take what I need to have. Be sure, when packing that you have everything you need. Lay everything out on a bed or the floor and look it all over. Look at your checklist against your pile of gear, is everything there? Yes? Well check it again. I check my gear against my check list two to three times.

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Q3. What would you consider to be the top 10 most essential things to pack when car camping?

A3.  My top 10 car camping list would be

  1. Knowledge (YES! We totally agree with you on this one!)
    1. Know how to use your gear before you use it
    2. Know your destination and how to get there
  2. Water or means of retrieving clean water (water filter)
  3. A good Knife (which we have an article on “How to Choose a Knife – Philosophy of a Tool”)
  4. Shelter – You can always retreat to the car if needed but what fun is that?
    1. Tent
    2. Tarp
    3. Rain Gear (yes, I include this as shelter as well as heavy outerwear in colder weather)
  5. Food for as many days that you will be camping. Plus at least one day extra.
  6. At least 3 ways of starting a fire.
    1. Matches, Lighter, Farrocerium rod etc.
  7. First Aid Kit
    1. don’t just buy a store bought kit and toss it into the car with out first going over it and making sure you know how to use everything in it before you need it. Store bought kits are usually lacking something that you might need. I always at least add more bandages and any medication I might need.
  8. A way to cook the food you are bringing. Stove, Grill, Grill grate for over the fire etc.
  9. Maps (Just Trails shameless plug…if you’re in Southeastern Wyoming or Northern Colorado we know where you can get some kick ass maps 😉
    1. Always keep a map of the roads in the area and any trails you may be hiking. Its easy to get turned around even while staying on a known road or trail.
    2. It’s good to know a quick way out in case of an emergency.
  10. My Camera.
    1. This will insure that you remember all the good times you had on your camping trip and make it easier to talk someone else into going camping with you in the future, when they see what a great time you had.

Keep in mind, these are just for the camping aspect of car camping… There are many more things to keep in mind such as your car. Keeping a emergency car kit, spare tire and means to replace it, tools and the knowledge in how to use them will greatly increase your chances of having an enjoyable camping trip.

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Q4. I noticed that on your website you also share a few campfire cooking recipes. What’s your favorite camping meal and why? Can you share a recipe?

A4.  Bannock. Hands down my favorite thing to cook and eat while camping. Its origins can be found all over the world from Celtic Scotland to The Great Depression in the United States to many indigenous cultures though out the world.

It is extremely versatile as well. It can be a main coarse or a side dish or desert. It is a bread product that seems to be a cross between a pancake and a biscuit. I like to add fresh fruit to mine and top it with honey or maple syrup. I also have heard of people adding meat to it, from pepperoni to ground beef. Once in awhile I will make it at home and eat it plain along side of stew or a roast.

TCHQ-Strawberry Bannock Recipe

The basic recipe is as follows:

  • 1 cup all purpose flower
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. Salt
  • Water, till bread dough consistency

Optionally you can add sugar to taste, fresh fruit, meats, dry fruit, nuts or seeds.Try topping with honey, maple syrup, peanut butter or jam and jellies

If I am car camping I will premix all the dry ingredients at home and store it in a Mason jar then mix it in a bowl with water at camp. If I am backpacking I will make a couple batches and store them in zip top bags. I will then add the water directly into the bag, zip the top and mush it around to mix the dough.

My favorite way of cooking it is in a cast iron skillet with a tiny bit of oil. You can also form it into a thick rope and wrap the dough around a stick and cook it over the fire like you where roasting hot-dog or marshmallow.

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Q5. I also noticed that you have a really cool post on how to tell a scary campfire story. So, how do you start the perfect campfire so you can get on with those scary tales? In your opinion what’s the fastest and easiest way to start a campfire?

A5.  The perfect fire… well… There are many, many ways to build a fire. A lot of people like the “tipi” fire over the “log cabin” style campfire. Or the “long fire” or the “scout fire pit” or a self feeding fire. I could go on…

The most important part to know with the “perfect fire” is how to start it. If I am around a campfire when its being built I will stand back and watch the person make it to see if there is anything I can learn from their method. Recently in a friend’s backyard I watched this friend take over the starting of the fire. He didn’t use a conventional fire “style” he just tossed a bunch of crumpled magazine pages on the bottom and sticks on top of that. Nothing fancy about it, but it started quickly and burned all night.

Be sure you have a way to spark a flame such as a match, lighter, ferro rod, or flint and steel. Again, ways to spark a flame are many. You need to know how to use your “flame sparker” and be sure you can use it when time arrives. Always have a backup, or two.

Lets imagine you have an open flame such as a lighter. First thing you need to do is to catch something else on fire with it first, then work your way up to the log. I will put this in list form with some examples. Starting with the first thing to light.

Tinder or a fire starter: Small easily flammable matter like dry grass, eaves, twigs smaller than a pencil diameter, newspaper, fire starter (waxed cotton ball, dryer lint etc).

Once the Tinder has a flame use it to light the kindling. Kindling are twigs or sticks the diameter of a pencil to the diameter of your thumb.

Continue on once the Kindling is lit, use that to light the fuel wood on fire. Fuel can be broken or cut tree branches the diameter of your wrist and up.

Remember, for fire to exist you need heat, oxygen and fuel. In this situation the heat origin is the lighter. The fuel is the wood and if you smother everything together you wont leave space for the oxygen. When making your piles of tinder leave it fluffy. Leave the kindling spaced apart. When you add the fuel wood only add a piece or two at a time.

For the easiest fire making be sure everything that you use in building the fire is dry. This not only means the Tinder, Kindling and Fuel wood but it also includes the ground where you are starting the fire. Many tinders can pick up moisture from the ground also a wet soil is harder to heat up so you will be loosing a lot of heat downward towards the ground instead of up into your kindling. Try using a piece of aluminum foil or a dry piece of wood on the ground under your tinder.

After the fuel wood is lit a blaze you can then set damp wood near the fire to help it dry out for future use.

Keep in mind that bark on a tree is there to protect the tree. For quickest fire starting, split the dry branches so you are lighting the wood of the tree on fire not trying to get through its protective layer of bark.

To me, the “perfect fire” is the one that will maintain a flame and holds the ability to pass that flame on to other logs.

Please, check our website for a link to our Campfire Safety article and read that before attempting to start any campfires. There are also a couple articles on how to start campfires.

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Q6. Is there anything you’d like to add about camping?

A6.  Camping can be a wonderful experience if it’s done properly. Myself, I’m not a religious man. When I am in the woods alone living close to the earth it is what I would consider to be a near religious experience. The forest (my preferred camping location) is a living organism. It breathes, it provides, it lives and it dies. It has everything needed for you to survive yet it can also be a dangerous place if you don’t know what you are doing or are unprepared. If I learned anything from watching too much T.V. As a kid it is that G.I. Joe was right, Knowledge is Power.

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Take that first step towards camping if you haven’t. Learn as much as you can about it. I learned a lot by reading survival manuals and travel logs. Years later I have the Internet with many great camping related websites to learn even more about camping, survival, gear and outdoor recreations.

These sources not only provide entertainment they also pass knowledge. Knowledge gives you confidence. Once you are confident in your abilities and your gear through practice, then you can relax and enjoy the reason you went camping in the first place. Get back to nature and breath that fresh air. Enjoy it for what it is and leave it the way it was.

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Q7. Where can we find your websites and where can we find you on social media?

A7.  Follow us on the following sites:

Personally I can be found

  • www.DF3Photo.com – my photography site where I run the gamut of photo subjects
  • Youtube.com/df3photo – Where I do my “Too Much T.V. Project” Basically a reason to watch less T.V. And I make videos on Camping, Hiking, Homesteading, DIY and bushcraft
  • Youtube.com/df3outdoors – Where I post my nature time lapse videos

Here’s a little bit more about Dick:

I was lucky enough to have parents who introduced me to the outdoors at a young age. They frequently encouraged me to “Go play in the woods!” I believe this is where I got my love for all things in nature as well as my love for camping. As I grew older I would explore different areas of North West Pennsylvania and western New York state. Camping and hiking always seemed to fit into my vacation plans.

When I was in my early twenties I was having a hard time sleeping after loosing a job. The only thing I knew that always put me asleep through school was reading, and what was more boring to me than reading? Reading instruction manuals, So I picked up a survival guide and started reading. Then I had a hard time sleeping because I was way into it. It was tough for me to put them down. One of my favorite authors was Tom Brown Jr. I own over a dozen of his books on survival, bushcraft and tracking.

In my early to mid twenties I started taking my birthday off of work every year. First it was to just go be by myself for a day, usually immersed in nature in some manner. It didn’t matter what I did as long as I was away from my roommates for the day. Those days then became weekends of camping alone. First car camping then hiking into camp. Sometimes, I would bring my trusty dog along for the adventure.

Youtube came along, I started following many people that where into the same thing as I. Some homesteaders, some bushcrafters and a lot of hikers and campers. I really enjoyed watching these videos, so much so that I started my own channel. I have been making videos fairly consistently for Youtube since around 2010.

In 2012 I heard one of my friends started a website all about camping. I thought it sounded like a great idea and offered to help anyway that I could. That’s how I became partners with my friend Dave, working on TentCampingHQ.com. I now write articles, make videos, and maintain the Youtube, Facebook and Google+ accounts for TCHQ. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it.

Thanks for the awesome, informative interview Dick! And now I’m off to cook bannock and learn how to tell a scary campfire story 😉

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I’ve had so much fun interviewing a few awesome outdoorsy folks the past few weeks! If you’ve got a story to share, a tip for the good of the community or can tell us about a lesson that you learned the hard way let me know! I’d love to feature you on the blog. Shoot an email to rebecca(at)justtrails(dot)com. Thanks! 

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User Comments

  1. George |

    Excellent article. About many things I feel the same.
    I would add several items to the packing list for a car camping trip: a) camping shower; b) camping toilet; c) solar panels (these are cheap these days and come very handy).

    All the best to you, guys 😉

    • Rebecca |

      Really? We’ve never brought any of those things on a car camping trip! But maybe we’re doing it all wrong? Thanks for your comment.

  2. Great interview! Tent Camping HQ probably wouldn’t even still be active if it wasn’t for Dick.

  3. Dick |

    I had a great time doing this, Thanks!

    • Rebecca |

      Thanks Dick! It was fun to get to “meet” you and hear more about your website!

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