While on a tour of Wind Cave National Park, the guide stopped us deep in the underground caves — caves we had reached via elevator — and shut off all of the lighting. I have never seen dark so dark as that. There was no light source whatsoever, so there was absolutely nothing for our eyes to adjust to. It was eerie and unsettling.
We city girls live in a world where nighttime isn’t anywhere near that dark. At night, streetlights and lights from buildings create a haze and glow that settles over the city, casting shadows but never really going full dark.
In the woods, it is a different story.
When the sun goes down, you’re father away from the ambient light of metropolis, and the darkness grows thicker, almost tangible. I have sat in a campground with my hand six inches from my face and not able to see it. Try setting up your tent after dark, or even at dusk — or worse, try eating in the dark. Not being able to see your plate is frightening to those of us who are slightly picky eaters.
The bottom line is that when you camp, you need a way to light your space. I recommend three forms of lighting:
- The lantern. Lanterns are good when you need a little ambient light, and don’t want to move a focused beam around. There are a variety of lanterns available, using different kinds of power. We’ll elaborate on this topic for Wednesday. For now, suffice it to say that there are lanterns that are powered by some form of fuel like kerosene or butane or propane, and there are those powered by batteries or electricity, some rechargeable. There are benefits and drawbacks to all kinds.
- The flashlight. Having a good, powerful flashlight is important. I like Maglites because they are durable and powerful — however, they also weigh a ton, so if you’re backpacking you may want a lighter choice. The Mini-Maglites are good for your day pack, because they weigh a lot less. Flashlights with LED bulbs instead of regular bulbs are more durable, last longer, and expand battery life. There are also flashlights that you shake or wind to produce power, but I haven’t tried these personally.
- The headlamp. This is key. The first time you arrive at a campsite after dark, you will understand why. Having to set up a tent or make dinner with a flashlight clutched between your teeth or under your chin so you can use both hands is extremely difficult and annoying. The solution? A light that straps to your head, so when you move your head the beam moves to where you need to look. Ingenious. Don’t skimp on the headlamp. Get one that is good quality and will last a long time, and that fits comfortably. It’ll be the light you use the most frequently whilst in the great outdoors.
© Her Side of the Mountain, 2010.