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(Note - the Guide was updated in 2017 by the Pennsic War webmaster, to correct out-of-date information about the War)
Copyright Paul S. Kay, 2023 This document may be freely reproduced as long as the author's name and this copyright notice are included.
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.
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!
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 pungent).
- 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 (and 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.
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.
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 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. Most Pennsic campers set up their tents with at least 3 feet between tent walls, in the hopes that if there is a fire, it will keep it from spreading. 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 end up having their walls three to four feet apart.
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 was stiff competition 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.
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.