Non-Minimalist Camping and the Vacation Plastic Blues

I’ve just returned from Vacation.  Nearly every year for the past 6 years I’ve gone to Pennsic, an annual event for the Society for Creative Anachronism.  It’s held Northwest of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and draws over 10,000 people from around the globe to share in an event for lovers of medieval history.  For me, it’s a place to learn new crafts and history via the classes at Pennsic University, to hang out with wonderful like-minded people (a.k.a. Historic Ubergeeks) and to buy shiny things I don’t see any other time of year.  We relax in camp and read or chat, and I had a great time joining in the spinning circle in our camp every day, spinning yarn and helping to teach newcomers to spinning.  At night after the camp kids are asleep we hang out around the fire drinking mead and cider and anything else that gets passed around to try, then we tuck in to bed at night.

Camping at Pennsic can be as simple as a tent and a sleeping bag, or as elaborate as a Roman feast hall that’s erected and taken down over the course of the two week event.  My form of camping at Pennsic isn’t minimalist camping by any means.  It’s hardly even minimalist living by studio apartment means, considering all the decorations and lanterns.  For the 8 days we go, we live with what we bring and manage to make it work.  Of course the market is at the top of the hill (we’re at the bottom) and there are plenty of friendly neighbors in our camp to help out so it’s not like trying to make it in the middle of nowhere.

My husband is very keen on bringing lots of decoration and stuff for our tent, and I constantly try to minimize what we bring to essential things that are easy to pack and carry.  Our 12’x15’ pavilion is made by Panther Primatives, and can be set up by 2 people.  It takes 8-10 hours to set up our tent and move in/set up all our belongings, and 8-10 hours to knock it down at the end and pack it up, but I think it’s quite impressive to live in.  Every year we try to add something new or improve on something.  This year’s addition is the dresser.  I think next years will be a laundry facility I can share with the camp, now that our camp has excellent filtered/softened water that won’t stain the clothing.

Pennsic 2011 Bed

The bedroom. That’s a $50 bed from Ikea, with an air mattress on top of which is a futon (for stability/warmth) on top of which is a memory foam pad (for comfort). There’s a coat-weight wool quilt under the bedspread, it keeps us nice and toasty at night.

Bed & Bath 2

The bed & bath area. The washstand was an addition last year. The fabric “dresser” covers modular plastic drawers that we used both for packing and storage. The vintage record box on the floor contains our “liquor cabinet”.


Kitchen 2

The kitchen. The camp kitchen is an old one my husband used as a child going camping with his family. It contains all our dry goods and such.

Living Room 1

The living/dining room. Basic folding camp tables an chairs. You can see the various iron hooks and shelves we use to organize stuff and keep it off the ground.


Chandeliers 1

Our hand-made “chandeliers”. The candle holders are pipe fittings. Yes, they are actual candles used in a canvas tent. They are also about 5 feet from the ceiling, and we don’t use them if it’s at all windy. Other lighting includes various turkish lanterns, both candle and oil powered, as well as basic camping battery lanterns for when the flames should be out.

Grasshopper 2

A rather large grasshopper decided to pay us a visit. We keep the tent open during the sunny day, and have no netting up. Mosquitoes thankfully aren’t an issue, and we’re not particularly scared of spiders and other critters. Canvas tenting isn’t for everyone, but it’s nicer in the heat of the day than a nylon tent.


Plastic on Vacation

We minimize waste by bringing lots of reusables (washcloths, reusable water jugs, real dishes, etc).  Even with all the plastic bags of ice we needed to buy to keep our food cool, our garbage/recycling was minimal.  The biggest use we had for the garbage can in our tent was to catch water from a drip.  The biggest waste I really had in camp was the vacuum seal bags I used to pack our premade-at-home and then frozen dinners, of which there were 5.  The method works so well I don’t really want to mess with it.  It lets me cook large amounts of food at home and keep them frozen/cool in the cooler for the week before heating them up to serve.

While I bring lots of dinners and breakfast food and snacks, I don’t usually bring lunches.  We are usually up wandering the shops, going to classes, or otherwise in the area of where the food court is.  And if we’re not then we soon will be.  Since it doesn’t make sense to hike down to our campsite for a sandwich and hike back up, I’ve learned to just figure that we’re going to eat out for lunch.  In years past this really has been the best choice so we didn’t bring food we didn’t eat and would have had to throw out, but this year I was struck by the sheer waste that comes out of the food court.  Nearly every dish and cup is Styrofoam.  Plastic knives and forks are the norm.  Considering that most SCAdians are used to going to feast events bringing our own dishes and dining without using disposable anything, the food court at Pennsic seems very out of place for it’s distance from our usual behaviors.  Since I’ve become so much more aware of the amount of disposable plastics I use, especially those that aren’t recyclable, it was hard not to notice how much waste I was creating on my vacation.  We adjusted our habits slightly to compensate:

1. We went to food vendors who allowed us to fill our own mugs.  Thanks Beast and Boar and Medieval Munchies!  Unfortunately both those places sell only sweetened beverages, which I would rather not drink to minimize sugar intake, but I’ll take what I can get.  Two vendors sold unsweetened iced tea.  One was at least in #1 recycleable cups that I could bring back to our camp and throw into the recycling.  Thanks Bread Boule Place!  The asian food place refused to fill our cups and only had styrofoam cups available, so we didn’t eat there again after the first time.

2. I brought my To-Go Ware bamboo utensils with me (when I remembered) to minimize plasticware usage.  I’ll need to be better about that next year, I forgot a few times though I didn’t need them for every meal.

For next year, I would like to avoid Styrofoam plates if I can.  Some vendors like Bread Boule serve their stuff with a piece of foil as a plate, which was great and recyclable.  Most others rely on Styrofoam.  I think this year I will finally invest in a portable setup with metal plates that can be packed up at the end of the meal to wash later when I get “home”, like a Tiffin Box.  Then I can stick to the vendors who will let me use my own plates.

  10 comments for “Non-Minimalist Camping and the Vacation Plastic Blues

  1. Sara
    July 6, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    Hi Marie. Love the dresser. What modular storage drawers did you find suitable? The sterlite ones I’ve seen we’re flimsy. I am tired of piling and unpiling tubs to get to my garb though! I dream of dresser drawers…..

    • July 6, 2012 at 7:30 pm

      The drawers I have are sterilite, from Walmart: I found these modular ones to be less flimsy than the 3-drawer ready-made, because they are individually self-supporting. We used a combination of small, medium, and large drawers in a sort of brick pattern with large/small drawers, which made them relatively sturdy.

      • Sara
        July 6, 2012 at 8:34 pm

        Perfect!!! The ones I was just looking at would have been (gulp) close to $150 for 6. Thank you for the beautiful photos and good ideas. I will be so happy not to keep stacking and unstacking Rubbermaid tubs.

  2. September 2, 2012 at 3:07 am

    Lovely camp! I haven’t gotten my pics from this year up yet, life does that sometimes. Where do you camp? I have been at Ostgardr for years, and love to meet new friends. Only 320 more days till next year! Can’t wait.

    • September 5, 2012 at 1:31 pm

      Thank you! We camp down in the bog, with the loonies…I mean our lovely second family…at Regnesfolke-Myrkfaelinn, a.k.a “Camp Eh, Good Enough”.

      This year we did a very short pennsic with a modern tent. Now I totally remember why putting up all the stuff we show here is worth it. Next year, it’s all coming back.

  3. Eric Finlayson
    September 5, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    Just remember that my wood shop is available to build out those pieces for next year.

  4. Christa Bryant
    December 7, 2012 at 1:55 am

    Did you build the washstand or buy it from someone? I am looking desperately for a camp washstand for my SCAdian daughter.

    • December 7, 2012 at 2:56 am

      We bought the washstand at Pennsic in 2011, from a vendor across from Your Inner Vagabond, on the barn side. He wasn’t there this past year (I have heard rumors of his possible passing). He also sold mirror stands and other small furnishings.

  5. Christa Bryant
    December 12, 2012 at 2:35 am

    I have looked everywhere, but can find nothing like your washstand. My husband thinks he can build one for our daughter if he has a photo to guide him. Would it be possible for you to e-mail the photo of the bed and bath area to me? I tried to print it off, but it didn’t work. I would be so grateful for your help. My email is

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