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Minimalist Camping Trip

If you were lost in the woods, would you know how to survive? That was the question a group of fourteen WSU Vancouver students and their friends tried to answer while enjoying the campus’ first minimalist campout.

The Sept. 22 outing was planned by Jonathan Rader, an intern with the campus recreation program and a senior in environmental science. Rader designed the experience to challenge each participant at their own individual level of “extreme.” The limits were left to the individual’s willingness and imagination.

“I wanted to give people the opportunity to learn some basic skills for spending a few nights in the woods, whether expected or unexpected,” Rader said. “I have had so much past experience and this was my chance to really share what I have learned.”

Rader drew on former Boy Scout experience to create a basic survival kit for each camper. The kits were a simple version of more elaborate packs that campers could make to survive in the wilderness. Each kit included a candle, pencil, fishing line, hook and weights, water purification tablets, garbage bags, matches, striker and bandages.

During the campout, particpants were taught the basics of how to tie knots, build a shelter, build a fire and leave a campsite without a trace.

When our group arrived at Tillicum Camp in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Rader and Recreation Coordinator Anthony Derringer taught three knots useful for building a shelter. The bowline, truckers hitch and taut line knots came in handy as we set out to build our shelters.

Rader and Derringer suggested several types of shelters for varying climates and conditions. Although the sky was clear during the day, we expected a chilly night. Most campers built low-flat or A-frame tarp shelters, but a few constructed shelters of brush and sticks they found in the woods.

Jon Exe, a senior majoring in Digital Technology and Culture, said the trip taught him which type of shelter would be most useful for the environment he faced when camping.
“I have always slept in a tent or trailer,” Exe said. “[On this trip] I learned how to sleep in nothing but a sleeping bag and a tarp. The more you do it, the better you get at it.”

Once our shelters were secure, we learned how to build and burn a pyramid or upside-down fire. Large logs are placed on the bottom layer with smaller pieces of wood on top. The fire burns from the top down through each subsequent layer. Derringer and others attempted to light the fire using a make-shift bow and drill in which two pieces of wood are rubbed together to generate friction heat. This method is challenging and unfortunately did not work, but many campers enjoyed creating smoke from the friction.

After dinner, campfire games and endless laughs, we faced the true test of surviving the night in our shelters. Matt Churchley, a junior majoring in electrical engineering, said he slept through the night in his A-frame tarp shelter.

“I learned it is possible to spend a night comfortably in the things I would normally bring in my daypack,” Churchley said. “Open your eyes and you find tons of possibilities to make a shelter that will keep you dry and as comfortable as possible out there.”

The minimalist campout gave students a safe opportunity to challenge their skills and learn new ones. By working together, we made it through the weekend and were taught useful life skills.

“Everyone who goes on these trips is friendly and well organized. They will help you with anything,” Churchley said.

Students interested in going on a WSU Vancouver recreation trip are encouraged to stop by the campus recreation office in Firstenburg Student Commons. Visit studentaffairs.vancouver.wsu.edu/student-involvement/recreation-schedule to see what the recreation office has scheduled next.

For more photos from the trip, check out the Minimalist Camping Gallery.
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