This guide is offered as an aid for those unfamiliar with Pennsic.
It is reprinted with the kind permission of the author, Bart the Bewildered (Paul S. Kay).
The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not of the Pennsic War staff.
(Note - the Guide was updated in 2012 by the Pennsic War webmaster, to correct out-of-date information about the War)
Pennsic War Guide and Checklist
Originally, this was a checklist of things to take to Pennsic or any other
camping event in the northern eastern and mid-western states. After the first
issue, I realized that there were things I knew that could benefit others, so I
added a section on camping tips. The reaction that first update received has
prompted me to continue to expand on the idea. The document has steadily grown
to include other information.
The original checklist was targeted for Pennsic XII (back when it was a
week-end war), but it is still useful for most camping events. Add more of any
item as you see fit for longer periods and delete items for shorter events. This
is all meant as advice, I am not associated with anyone making policy for the
War. (Caveat: The rules on fires and flame sources are different in
different areas - follow the local rules!)
What follows is a list of useful things to know and to have along when
campaigning in the wilds of western Pennsylvania. As well as an extended checklist, there are sections on things
to be wary and aware of, hygiene, and
thoughts on dealing with food and eating. The
style may seem severe and the warnings stern, but do not let these scare you
off. These issues are raised in this manner to alert and instruct so that you
may better enjoy the War.
There are possibilities for danger in any camping trip, knowing what they are
and how to deal with them can be the difference between a little excitement and
a disaster. Included here are some of the things to be aware of, and have plans
for, when you go to Pennsic. This is by no means a complete coverage of dangers,
but it hits the points that cause the most trouble to most folks.
I would like to emphasize a climatological fact. The area the War is held in
is part of the Great Plains weather pattern. This means the area is subject to
disturbances at the leading edge of a cold front (a 15 to 40 degree
temperature drop). Friends of mine from the East (and West) Kingdom have
variously referred to these as "monsoons", " typhoons" and
" Storms of
Great Ferocity and Note." Those of us who grew up in the Midwest call them
thunder showers, except for some folks I know from Kansas who call it mild rain
(no twister and it did not flatten the crops). These thunder storm cells are 15
minutes to three hours of high winds (sometimes 50 plus miles per hour), heavy
rain, and spectacular lightning. A storm may be followed by several hours of
rain. The fronts seem to roll through every six to nine days in August. I advise
all to expect at least one storm.
The people who grew up with the weather do not ignore the storms, these folks
respect and plan for the weather. It is unpleasant, but need not be a disaster.
Some things to remember:
- Do not panic. If you are truly terrified, tell someone so they can keep an
eye on you, keep busy so you will not have time to panic until the camp is
secured, and then find company and cuddle or sing or give back rubs or whatever
it takes to get through the storm (this can make storms fun).
- Storms usually come from the west. Avoid setting up your tent with the door
facing due west. A slight cant to the north or south will keep things drier and
lessen the chance of having the tent blow down or tear.
- Make sure that your tent is set up with all of its pegs and tie downs (dome
tents may need extra guy lines; once they start rolling, they are hard to
catch). If you do this in the first place, you will spend less time in the rain
doing it after the storm hits.
- If you are camped on an incline (probable), then you might consider a small
drainage ditch on the uphill side of the tent. This channels water around rather
than through your tent.
- Do not use heroic measures to save a dining fly or awning. Some things were
not meant to stand high winds. A flapping piece of plastic with a pole attached
to it can do a lot of damage, both to people and to property. If the wind gets
high and the fly starts to take off, drop it down over what you want covered and
weight the edges.
A more subtle climatological fact is that the average temperature and
humidity in August is horrendous during the day, while the nights can be down
right cold. (Can you say frost? I knew you could.) Either of these
extremes can lead to health problems that have one symptom in common: the
affected person gets stupid. As someone who has suffered from these medical
conditions, I can think of no better description. The mental processes slow (or
shut) down and you are in a walking stupor. The sufferer stops listening to
reasonable advice and will do things that will seem stupid to them when
they have recovered. Many other injuries at the War are probably related to
these conditions. Watch your friends and yourself.
Daytime high temperatures average in the high 90's with humidity to
match. If you are not used to this, or are not in prime condition, take it
. More people, fighters and spectators, are lost to heat than all other
types of injuries. Folks who are used to desert heat are as likely to drop as
anybody else. The high humidity, which they are not used to, slows heat loss via
If the temperature and humidity get high, drink lots of water, stay in the
shade, eat fruit (especially bananas)(*),
and occasionally taste metabolite replacement drinks (drinks that replace
minerals that the body sweats out). While Gator-Aid is not the best, it is easy
to get (too high a concentration of mineral salts and too much sugar; dilute
with water for best effect). If Gator-Aid does not taste bad, drink up until it
does, you are in trouble. (How is that for rough and ready sports medicine?) Go
easy on the alcoholic beverages. An occasional beer or wine cooler is a relief,
but alcohol speeds dehydration by replacing water in the body. Your body then
uses more water to metabolize the alcohol, so, in quantity, it is a very bad
Other symptoms of heat disorders include flushed and dry skin, lethargy, no
sweat, and, as I said, acting stupid.
A large difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures is
common to the area at this time of year. The nighttime temperatures usually seem
to range from mid 30s to the 50s, e.g. chilly. This can lead to another problem
encountered at the War, hypothermia. This is a drop of the core temperature of
the body, which can lead to coma and death if not treated. Treatment is to warm
the person up as quickly as possible.
It is easier to avoid hypothermia by changing out of wet clothes, drying off,
and getting warm. If a friend is wet (say after being out in the rain) and
getting cold (since the temperature dropped 30 degrees in the last hour) help
them out. Get them into dry clothes and get them warm. Strong drink (liquor) is
not advised if they are still wet or cold. While they may seem to feel warmer,
drinking alcohol speeds heat loss, which is what you are trying to avoid.
The next point I will touch on moves from cold back to hot, i.e. fire. This
wonderful tool is like any other, it will turn and bite you if you mishandle it.
The fire safety consultant would like to mandate a minimum of 10 feet between
open flames and tents. I wish them luck since common sense is hardly common.
(For instance, what is an open flame is a question that they have a much more
restrictive answer to than is normal.) The rule of thumb I use is "far enough
away so that the fire cannot be knocked into the tent." Except in extreme
drought years (2 so far), the grass is wet enough that flames will not spread
quickly. If there is a drought, special rules are published to reflect the
Never have an open flame in a tent. Most modern tents are too air
tight and are made with fabrics that melt too fast and too hot for you to want
to take chances. Even Fire-retardant canvas will burn if heated long enough. In
case of tent fires (Heaven forfend!), most Autocrats in the last 10 wars have
demanded 3 feet between tent walls, hoping this will keep a fire from spreading
if and when. If this seems like a lot, look at the guy lines from a properly set
3-person A-frame pup tent and you will find that two of them will end up having
their walls three to four feet apart. If they use that much space (my pavilion
uses more), I find this request reasonable.
This was brought home at Pennsic 25 when a candle in a tent fell over and,
after a while, set the canvas on fire. I understand it was spectacular; the
pictures sure were. Quick thinking by the Security team that spotted it probably
saved the lives of the folks in the tent. The space between the tents and
further quick response by folks with extinguishers saved the surrounding tents.
It made some stiff competition for for horrifying sights for the Pennsic 23
"brazier heating a dome tent" meltdown / implosion / fire (pick one, they all
kind of fit).
As for campfires, if you are not good friends with Prometheus, be very
careful. Let me put it in simple terms. Amateurs make me nervous, and a wood
fire can be a hard teacher. There are very few people in the world (let alone at
Pennsic) who are good at treating amateur fire gods who become burn victims.
There are enough accidents, do not go looking for trouble. If you are not used
to fires, learn by observing and take your time.
If you have never been camping, you are about to find out one of the less
thrilling things about nature; God must love insects, he sure made a lot of
them. Something for folks from the "left coast" to remember is that there are a
lot more insects, both type and number, on this side of the Rockies. I never saw
a tent with zip-out bug netting until I helped King Paul from the West set his
up at a Pennsic. They just are not sold in the Midwest or East. Bring mosquito
netting and bug spray and remember to keep garbage, coolers and tent netting
closed. If you are allergic to bee stings, bring your medication! Some types of
bugs of note:
- House flies - That friend you thought you left at home is here at the war,
too. Just like at home, he never wipes his feet before landing on your table (or
food), no matter where he was last. Keep food and garbage covered and clean food
preparation areas, just like at home.
- Horse and deer flies - While you can go the whole war without seeing them,
these beauties are not uncommon in the area. They both bite and leave a welt.
Horse flies are slightly larger than house flies. Deer flies are dark with white
"eyes" on the wing and are slightly smaller than house flies. They are both
easily discouraged by using insect repellent.
- Ticks - Both Woods and Deer Tick are indigenous to the region, each can
vector for some nasty diseases. Insect repellent works, but a "tick check" twice
a day is still a good idea.
- Mosquitoes - While not in the same class as the ones in Alaska or Minnesota
("It is awe inspiring to watch as the mosquitoes majestically flap their wings
as they carry off sheep and small children."), mosquitoes are a pest in the
wooded and low areas. Insect repellent makes the evenings more pleasant (and
- Ground Hornets and Wasps - There are usually several nests in the woods. If
you find one, mark the area and walk away passively. Do not disturb the
nest. Contact site security (the Cooper staff) about it, if it is in a high
traffic area they will probably bomb it.
There are other bugs out
there -- ants will find any open food, given time, and a cricket is not an ideal
tent companion -- but they are not threats to health or comfort. Some are
downright good companions. A Crane-fly (Mosquito hawk), for instance, looks like
an oversized mosquito, but eats several times its weight in mosquitoes a day.
Spiders are also on your side, unless you rile them.
Pennsic Road Concerns
Many people who have worked War Security will tell
you that road and parking issues are the things they seem to spend the most time
on. It may seem picky, but there are health and safety issues involved, as well
as comfort, esthetics and fairness. This may come off a bit hard, but I got to
deal with these problems one year. It was appalling that that large a minority did
not think of things I took for granted.
First let me address the esthetics and fairness issues. I think we all agree
that, well, the camp just looks better without cars. That is why the rule is to
get them to the parking lot in a reasonable time. If most of the folks,
including folks with disabilities, are putting their cars in the lot, it is only
fair that every one do it. It's just the right thing to do. (The folks running
the show have the right to grant exemptions, of course, but those are probably
As for the safety and access concerns, some things to think about are:
- When setting up an encampment, plan for unloading
vehicles. People are coming to camp for a while, right? For instance, group/household camp planners can make everyone's life
easier using one or more of the following hints:
- Designate a section of the fence as "drive through" and either use the area
on the inside of it as a common area or allocate that as the place where the
tents for the last expected arrivals will be set up. This way folks can pull off
of the road to unload.
- Set an area on a minor main road as the unload area and have a back gate
- Admit the shadow walls are for privacy and let people take one section down
rather than forcing them to carry stuff through the gate. (This also allows them
to park off of the main road and not have to schlep stuff twice as far as the
person who set the camp up.)
- Do not encroach on roads used by busses, hay wagons, or service vehicles with your encampment. Just because it
is still wide enough to pass 2 small cars does not mean it is wide
enough for the person in the Ryder truck who is unsure of where their corners are or
the guy with the water truck. This is especially true when lord Generic parks
opposite this spot to unload groceries. Also remember that if the service truck
cannot make it through due to a choke point, someone's privies do not get
cleaned or the dumpster is not getting emptied.
- Do not encroach on intersections. Just because it is still wide enough to
pass cars does not mean that the long pick-up or the car with the trailer can
negotiate the turn. They will probably take out a tent, maybe your tent.
- Park in close if you must park on a main road. Try to leave room for 2 cars
if at all possible (it's not, but you get the idea). If you cannot and you are
on the hay wagon route, expect to get grief and be quick about what you are
doing. Those tractors and wagons are wider and longer than you think, and some
of the tractors cost more than your car (unless you drive a Lambourghini - and
if you do, how do you pack for the war???). The owners are not going to try to
squeeze by, for which we should all be thankful. (Ever wonder where the wagons
are? They are probably down by the lake waiting for somebody to move their car
that is blocking a bit too much of the road.)
Update - the hay wagons have long since been replaced by shuttle buses, however,
drivers still need to leave enough room on the roads for the buses to pass.
- Do not abandon your car "for just a minute" in a high traffic area. Aside
from being rude, if it becomes a problem, it might be gone when you get back.
Always assume that you will be talking for a while at the war (it always takes
me a lot more time there) and park that way.
- Please do not dump water in the road. If it is dry out, it makes a mess and
if it has rained, it makes the road worse.
- If you have an oversized truck or bus or a trailer, please use the
oversized lot for parking them. They have had one for years. It is usually
flatter than the main lot and planned with wider aisles. If you do not have an
oversized vehicle, please do not park there, especially in front of
someone else's trailer. The former might mean that an oversized vehicle ends up
parked in the main lot, risking it and the cars around it. The latter might get
you a stern talking to by someone with a trailer that costs about what your car
does and is not amused with the options for hooking back up to it. ("...So I
hooked up the come-along and dragged that Escort....")
- Park as if you knew the folks around you. Try not to take up too much more
space than you need and try to avoid parking too close. Yes, the parking moves
around as folks come and go, but there are limits. Use some sense, less than 6
inches is probably not enough when trying to pull out on wet grass, and the rude
folks who scraped their trailer in between 2 new cars were lucky that
they were not caught. There is a lot of parking lot and the bus runs all the
way, try to remember that rather than making someone else's life miserable.
For many folks, Pennsic is their first and/or only camping experience. When
camping, the standard rules of hygiene apply. There are also other, camping
related, practices to be aware of that help make camping safer and more fun. It
does not take much to turn camping from fun into a nightmare. Many of the of the
causes for discomfort can be linked to disregarding some sensible rules.
This topic is an old one. I had it from my parents, in the Boy Scouts, and in
High School Gym class, but it is still important. If these precautions seem
trivial and unnecessary, think again. The heralds have cried these through the
camp and published them at Pennsic. These include:
- Put the lid down on the privy when you're done. It reduces the smell, and keeps the flies from spreading
- Wash your hands after using the privy.
- Wash your hands before handling food, especially if you are preparing it for
more than yourself.
- Use clean surfaces for food preparation.
- Store food correctly. This means meats and milk products in a cooler, bread
in plastic in the shade, et cetera. All meat should be kept in a cool
place, even sausages. Sausages with a high fat content, even if smoked, can go
- Cover or close your garbage container. This makes it harder for flies to
Camping also requires some special provisions for hygiene beyond those above.
Looking through my Scout manuals reminds me of several that were so ingrained
that I take them for granted. I was also reminded of some safety and courtesy
rules that make camping more pleasant. Some of these are:
- Keep your cooler(s) closed tightly. The ice lasts longer, the food stays
cooler, and the chances of an insect invasion go way down. Another good thought
is to keep drinks in a separate cooler than food.
- Check yourself occasionally for ticks and rashes. Poison ivy is no fun, but
can be contained if you catch it early, as can Lymes Disease (which has been
reported in the area).
- Wash dishes completely and carefully. Get them clean!
- Wipe off excess food before you start.
- At least use a basin of soapy water and a hot rinse. Use a final
rinse with a sanitizing solution if you can, especially if someone in your camp
- Change the water (especially the rinse water) if it starts getting dirty.
- Air dry dishes on a clean surface. This may seem odd, but it is less likely
to spread disease than using a towel.
- Dispose of waste water carefully. Under normal circumstances, this means
keep it away from the fresh water supply, but it also applies to not dumping
dirty water around the spigots. After a day or so, the area around the water
spigots becomes a quagmire from people washing dishes and performing their
personal ablutions there. Put the water in a bucket and do your washing
- Use a sump hole or grease pit to dispose of waste water and liquid waste
(e.g grease). This is your home for a while; would you pour out dish water on
the kitchen floor? This hole can be sited either near the fire pit or in some
area that will not be used as a walk way. Mark it to keep people from stepping
in it in the dark.
- Use a fire pit. Cut away (and save) the sod and dig a pit larger than your
fire and surround the outer edge with stones or piled dirt from the hole. This
non-green barrier reduces the chance of grass fires.
- Never leave a fire untended. If you are leaving the area for a while, or
going to bed, bank the fire carefully. If you do not know how to bank a fire,
put it out. (Actually, Security will probably put it out any way and,
considering the way some encampments were set up, I don't blame them.)
- Do not throw refuse in the fire. Most common plastics release toxic fumes
when burned, glass bottles can shatter (explode), and cans will still need to be
disposed of after the fire is out.
- Leave the campsite cleaner than you found it. Clean up as you go (this
really makes the whole trip more pleasant). When you are leaving, cover your
fire pit and refill any other holes you have dug (replacing the sod is a nice
Eating during the War is a problem with several solutions. If the weather is
typical (hot), you may not feel like eating much. Do not give in to this! Drink
lots of fluids and force yourself to eat fruits and easy to digest protein
during the day. This way, when it cools off at night, you will have enough
energy to eat carbohydrates and other difficult to digest foods that you need.
Bring some or most of the food you need. It can either be pre-prepared and
frozen or brought as ingredients if they are not perishable. Perishables
(vegetables, ice, and such) can be purchased at Cooper's Camp Store (which has
gotten quite large) or from a store in town. Butler is 15 miles east on 422 and
New Castle is 10 miles west. There are grocery stores, state stores (liquor and
wines), and beer distributors in both cities. There are also department stores
in case you need something else, like a new tent. (Mine blew up in a storm one
year. That is right, not down, up. The front blew right off. I have witnesses.)
Join or Form a Food Plan
Many groups and households do their cooking together. For information on how
the local group or your household is doing things, ask at local meetings. If you
do pool resources, set it up before hand. I advise cash in advance and an agreed
upon work schedule. People resent someone who appears to be free-loading.
Catch as Catch Can
The food courts offer a variety of dining options. These food booths
are checked out by the county Health Inspector, just like those at the Butler County Fair.
What to Take
This is the real reason I started writing this, to give a basic checklist.
For ease of reference, the list is broken into two Sections: that which you need
and that which might come in handy.
The following should not be left at home. If you have limited room,
the items on this list can all fit in one duffel bag or two medium sized bags.
- Enough of any prescription medication that you need for the length of your stay.
- Sleeping bag and pad. You can always bum a place to sleep, but you ought to
have something to sleep in, even if it is just a couple of blankets. This area
can get down into the 50's on warm nights. This is no joke. The pad can
just be something to keep you off of the cold ground; a thicker pad adds to
- Rain gear. Rain coat or poncho, boots for mucking about, wool socks, plastic
tarps. While a heavy, somber toned poncho most resembles an oil skin cloak
(period rain wear), use what you have. Better safe than soaked; I have found
mundanity is accepted when it is bucketing rain and you are holding down a tent
(especially someone else's tent).
- Hat. This gets a separate item because it is important. A hat keeps the rain
off, cuts body heat loss in the cold or at night, and keeps the sun from boiling
your brain as quickly. Sun stroke and sun burn can be a drag. The hat should be
medieval looking, but that leaves a lot of lee way. All oriental hats, many
straw hats, and some leather cowboy hats look right. A note on hat etiquette:
remove your hat in buildings, tents, or even shade. As well as being polite,
wearing a hat out of the sun is almost bad for you as no hat in the sun.
- A warm cloak (or a friend that has one) or a plain blanket that can be worn
as one and can be sat on. Again, the nights can get cold and the dew
falls heavily even (especially) after the hottest days.
- Garb. This is an S.C.A. event, and some attempt should be made to
dress in period as much of the time as possible. Mundane costumes are fine for
under armour or for going into town (but you might get complaints even then).
The following should suffice:
- Two to four simple tunics or dresses in some light colored solid, with
trousers or skirts to match, if desired. These should be a natural fiber that
breaths well (e.g. cotton, linen, et cetera), as light as possible, while
- A warm piece of garb, or an over-tunic to pull on over a light tunic
(layering is very effective), for cold nights or days. A solid colored cheap
velour or heavy trigger work well for this as both have a high polyester content
and do not breath much.
- One good or semi-good outfit for court, going to the taverns, or visiting
the campsite of someone you wish to impress. If the piece in item 2 is well
made, it will do admirably.
- Light shoes or sandals, unless you want to slop around bare foot. Be warned,
the gravel on the roads is sharp.
- Heavy shoes or boots if you plan to go into the woods.
- Accessories. A belt with a pouch and knife are good things to have around.
- Change of other clothes for the time spent plus two that is wrapped in
plastic to keep dry. If you do not have extra socks, you will need them, and
there is nothing worse than getting clean and then having to climb back into
dirty, sweaty clothes. While washers are available, it is best not to rely on
them, unless you like hanging out in laundromats. It is a good idea to
have at least one change of clothes in your vehicle in case all of your clothes
on site get soaked.
- Portable light sources, both for camp and the port-a-castle. Authentic if
possible, but a hand flash is sometimes more convenient. If you use propane
lanterns, be aware that they are bright. They can hurt the eyes of those of us
who adjust well to the dark and provide quite a show if used as out-house
illumination in a plastic port-a-castle.
- Toiletries. The usual stuff (soap, towel, toothbrush, etc.), and do not
forget the shower gear.
- Money to buy fresh food, firewood, drink, trinkets, instruments, garb,
armour, art, or whatever else you cannot live without.
- Sunscreen. If you are a typical S.C.A. member, this is the most sun you
will see all year. Getting severe sunburn can take a lot of the fun out of the
War; armor chafes in new places, tunics rub, and you feel crummy. If you are
fair skinned and/or do not get much sun, take precautions.
- A bottle opener, can opener, and/or corkscrew. I have seen people offered
peerages for these things.
What follows is a list of things that are handy but may be left out if you do
not want (or cannot afford) to overburden yourself.
- Armour. This is not mandatory, unless you want to fight or scout. There is
still lots to do without fighting. I know a couple of knights who have just left
their harness at home and relaxed at a War (O.K., so one marshaled a couple of
times and the other was doing his thing as a Laurel).
- Instruments. Whether to just use at bardic circles or for more serious
music, instruments can add to the fun. If you are a serious musician, or would
like to be, this is about the best place you will find for S.C.A. jam sessions.
- Song books. Bardic circles, or a large tent during a storm, are a great
place to sing old favorites and learn new songs.
- Eating utensils. What type depends on how you plan to eat. If you are taking
care of yourself, you will also need cooking and clean up gear.
- Grill, spit, tripod, camps stove, or some other way to tame fire and hold
cooking pots. Which of these you use depends on preference, experience, and
level of authenticity.
- Swim suit and towel.
While there is no swimming permitted at Cooper's Lake,
nearby Moraine State Park has lakeside beaches and public swimming facilities.
- A tent or tents. An extra tent allows more room for storage and hospitality.
While pavilions are nice, modern tents are acceptable.
- Coolers are always welcome. They also can be packed with gear during travel.
- Plastic jugs of any size for water and mixed soft drinks. Canned and bottled
drinks are good, but powdered Gator- Aid and Kool-Aid are cheaper and easier to
- Extra and/or fancy garb.
- Camp lights. Kerosene torches, candles with chimneys, hurricane lamps, or
what ever. They give a campsite a nice look and keep people from literally
- Hand Fan. It may not be 100 degrees in the shade, but a fan is still "a good
- Books and games in case things get slow (or hot).
- Bandannas, Band-Aids, bug spray (Avon Skin-So-Soft skin lotion is an
effective and pleasant smelling substitute), hatchet, jack knife, matches (or
flint and steel), rope, string, sewing kit, safety pins, and anything else that
is handy in camp.
This is not a complete list, nor should it be taken as one. It is a
start based on more than 20 years of War experience and more general camping
experience. I still tend to use my old Boy Scout manual checklist, I just
substitute "garb" for "uniform" and go from there. If you forget, or do not have
an item, you can probably obtain it on site or near by. The main thing to
remember is to have fun. See you there!
Copyright Paul S. Kay, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1994, 1997, 2002, 2003
This document may be freely reproduced as long as the author's name and this
copyright notice are included.
If you are not used to eating lots of fruit, you may
experience some intestinal changes. Some fruits can cause constipation, others
make you watery. Heat illnesses and water change can have similar effects,
especially diarrhea. Just another warning.