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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(Note - the Guide was updated in 2012 by the Pennsic War webmaster, to correct out-of-date information about the War)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

Campaigner's Notes

Introduction

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.

Warnings

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.

Storms

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:

Temperature Extremes

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.

Heat

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 easy. 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 sweating.

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 thing.

Other symptoms of heat disorders include flushed and dry skin, lethargy, no sweat, and, as I said, acting stupid.

Cold

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.

Fire

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 pertinent dangers.

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.

Invertebrates (Bugs)

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:

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 few.)

As for the safety and access concerns, some things to think about are:

Hygiene

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.

General Hygiene

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:

Camp Hygiene

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:

Food

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.

Supply Yourself

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.

Necessities

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.

Et Cetera

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.

Conclusion

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.

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