Pennsic War Guide and Checklist
subject: Pennsic War Guide and Checklist
date: June 18, 1997
from: Bart the Bewildered,
(mka Paul S. Kay©)
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.
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
things to be wary and aware of,
thoughts on dealing with food
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.
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
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 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.
unpleasant, but need not be a disaster.
Some things to
Do not panic.
If you are truly terrified, tell someone
so they can keep an eye on you, keep busy so you will not
have time to panic until the camp is secured, and then
find company and cuddle or sing or give back rubs or
whatever it takes to get through the storm (this can make
Storms usually come from the west.
Avoid setting up your
tent with the door facing due west.
A slight cant to the
north or south will keep things drier and lessen the
chance of having the tent blow down or tear.
Make sure that your tent is set up with all of its pegs
and tie downs (dome tents may need extra guy lines; once
they start rolling, they are hard to catch). If you do
this in the first place, you will spend less time in the
rain doing it after the storm hits.
If you are camped on an incline (probable), then you
might consider a small drainage ditch on the uphill side
of the tent.
This channels water around rather than
through your tent.
Do not use heroic measures to save a dining fly or
Some things were not meant to stand high winds.
A flapping piece of plastic with a pole attached to it
can do a lot of damage, both to people and to property.
If the wind gets high and the fly starts to take off,
drop it down over what you want covered and weight the
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
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.
injuries at the War are probably related to these
Watch your friends and yourself.
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
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
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
Other symptoms of heat disorders include flushed
and dry skin, lethargy, no sweat, and, as I said, acting
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
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.
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
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.
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
Horse and deer flies - While you can go the whole war
without seeing them, these beauties are not uncommon in
They both bite and leave a welt.
Horse flies are slightly larger than house 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.
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.
disturb the nest.
Contact site security (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.
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 last
It was appalling that that large a minority did not think of things I took
First let me address the esthetics and fairness issues.
I think we all agree that, well, the camp just looks better
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:
When setting up an encampment, plan for unloading vehicles.
People are coming to camp for a while, right?
Do not encroach on roads used by busses, hay wagons, or service vehicles
with your encampment.
Just because it is still wide enough to pass 2 small cars does not mean it
is wide enough for the person in the Ryder truck who is unsure of where
their corners are.
This is especially true when lord Generic parks opposite this spot to
Also remember that if the service truck cannot make it through due to a
choke point, someone's privies do not get cleaned or the dumpster is not
Do not encroach on intersections.
Just because it is still wide enough to pass cars does not mean that the
long pick-up or the car with the trailer can negotiate the turn.
They will probably take out a tent, maybe your tent.
Park in close if you must park on a main road.
Try to leave room for 2 cars if at all possible (it's not, but you get the
If you cannot and you are on the hay wagon route, expect to get grief and be
quick about what you are doing.
Those tractors and wagons are wider and longer than you think, and some of the
tractors cost more than your car (unless you drive a Lambourghini - and
if you do, how do you pack for the war???).
The owners are not going to try to squeeze by, for which we should all be
(Ever wonder where the wagons are? They are probably down by the lake
waiting for somebody to move their car that is blocking a bit too much
of the road.)
Do not abandon your car "for just a minute" in a high traffic area.
Aside from being rude, if it becomes a problem, it might be gone when you
Always assume that you will be talking for a while at the war (it always
takes me a lot more time there) and park that way.
Please do not dump water in the road.
If it is dry out, it makes a mess and if it has rained, it makes the road
If you have an oversized truck or bus or a trailer, please use the oversized
lot for parking them.
They have had one for years.
It is usually flatter than the main lot and planned with wider aisles.
If you do not have an oversized vehicle, please do not park there,
especially in front of someone else's trailer.
The former might mean that an oversized vehicle ends up parked in the main
lot, risking it and the cars around it.
The latter might get you a stern talking to by someone with a trailer that
costs about what your car does and is not amused with the options for
hooking back up to it.
("...So I hooked up the come-along and dragged that Escort....")
Park as if you knew the folks around you.
Try not to take up too much more space than you need and try to avoid
parking too close.
Yes, the parking moves around as folks come and go, but there are limits.
Use some sense, less than 6 inches is probably not enough when trying to
pull out on wet grass, and the rude folks who scraped their trailer
in between 2 new cars were lucky that they were not caught.
There is a lot of parking lot and the bus runs all the way, try to remember
that rather than making someone else's life miserable.
For many folks, Pennsic is their first and/or only camping
When camping, the standard rules of hygieneapply.
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
Many of the of the causes for discomfort can be
linked to disregarding some sensible rules.
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
If these precautions seem trivial and
unnecessary, think again.
The heralds have cried these
through the camp for at least 6 Pennsics and published them at several more.
Wash your hands after using the privy.
Wash your hands before handling food, especially if you
are preparing it for more than yourself.
Use clean surfaces for food preparation.
Store food correctly.
This means meats and milk products
in a cooler, bread in plastic in the shade, et cetera.
All meat should be kept in a cool place, even sausages.
Sausages with a high fat content, even if smoked, can go
Cover or close your garbage container.
This makes it
harder for flies to spread diseases.
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
I was also reminded of some safety and courtesy
rules that make camping more pleasant.
Some of these are:
Keep your cooler(s) closed tightly.
The ice lasts
longer, the food stays cooler, and the chances of an
insect invasion go way down.
Another good thought is to
keep drinks in a separate cooler than food.
Check yourself occasionally for ticks and rashes.
ivy is no fun, but can be contained if you catch it
early, as can Lymes Disease (which has been reported in
Wash dishes completely and carefully.
Get them clean!
Dispose of waste water carefully.
circumstances, this means keep it away from the fresh
water supply, but it also applies to not dumping dirty
water around the spigots.
After a day or so, the area
around the water spigots becomes a quagmire from people
washing dishes and performing their personal ablutions
Put the water in a bucket and do your washing
Use a sump hole or grease pit to dispose of waste water
and liquid waste (e.g grease). This is your home for a
while; would you pour out dish water on the kitchen
floor? This hole can be sited either near the fire pit
or in some area that will not be used as a walk way.
Mark it to keep people from stepping in it in the dark.
Use a fire pit.
Cut away (and save) the sod and dig a
pit larger than your fire and surround the outer edge
with stones or piled dirt from the hole.
This non-green barrier reduces the chance of grass fires.
Never leave a fire untended.
If you are leaving the area
for a while, or going to bed, bank the fire carefully.
If you do not know how to bank a fire, put it out.
(Actually, Security will probably put it out any way and,
considering the way some encampments were set up, I don't
Do not throw refuse in the fire.
Most common plastics
release toxic fumes when burned, glass bottles can
shatter (explode), and cans will still need to be
disposed of after the fire is out.
Leave the campsite cleaner than you found it.
as you go (this really makes the whole trip more
pleasant). When you are leaving, cover your fire pit and
refill any other holes you have dug (replacing the sod is
a nice touch).
Eating during the War is a problem with several solutions.
If the weather is typical (hot), you may not feel like
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.
Bring some or most of the food you need.
It can either be
pre-prepared and frozen or brought as ingredients if they are
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,
The front blew right off.
I have witnesses.)
Join or Form a Food Plan
Many groups and households do their cooking
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.
someone who appears to be free-loading.
Catch as Catch Can
There are taverns open for general business usually grouped into the "food
One is run by the local first-aid squad, so part of the proceeds go to
training them to support our needs during the war.
There are sometimes people wandering around selling food ("Bagels and cream
cheese!" "Here, over here, my good man.").
There are even some folks willing to feed a waif who wanders by at meal time.
The latter may be the most expensive choice of this
most expensive method.
(You could wind up doing dishes for the rest of the War!)
WHAT TO TAKE
This is the real reason I started writing this, to give a
For ease of reference, the list is broken
into two Sections: that which you need and that which might
come in handy.
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.
Enough of any medication that you need for the length of
It can ruin your trip if you run out, and
convincing a local Doctor to write a new prescription can
be difficult, if not impossible.
Sleeping bag and pad.
You can always bum a place to
sleep, but you ought to have something to sleep in, even
if it is just a couple of blankets.
This area can get
down into the 50's on warm nights.
This is no joke.
The pad can just be something to keep you off of the cold
ground; a thicker pad adds to comfort immensely.
Rain coat or poncho, boots for mucking about,
wool socks, plastic tarps.
While a heavy, somber toned
poncho most resembles an oil skin cloak (period rain
wear), use what you have.
Better safe than soaked; I
have found mundanity is accepted when it is bucketing
rain and you are holding down a tent (especially someone
This gets a separate item because it is important.
A hat keeps the rain off, cuts body heat loss in the cold
or at night, and keeps the sun from boiling your brain as
Sun stroke and sun burn can be a drag.
The hat should be medieval looking, but that leaves a lot of lee way.
All oriental hats, many straw hats, and some leather cowboy hats look right.
A note on hat etiquette:
remove your hat in buildings, tents, or even shade.
As well as being polite, wearing a hat out of the sun is
almost bad for you as no hat in the sun.
A warm cloak (or a friend that has one) or a plain
blanket that can be worn as one and can be sat on.
Again, the nights can get cold and the dew falls heavily even
(especially) after the hottest days.
This is an S.C.A. event, and some attempt should
be made to dress in period as much of the time as
Mundane costumes are fine for under armour or
for going into town (but you might get complaints even
then). The following should suffice:
Change of other clothes for the time spent plus two that
is wrapped in plastic to keep dry.
If you do not have
extra socks, you will need them, and there is nothing
worse than getting clean and then having to climb back
into dirty, sweaty clothes.
While washers are available,
it is best not to rely on them, unless you like hanging
out in laundry-mats.
It is a good idea to have at least
one change of clothes in your vehicle in case all of
your clothes on site get soaked.
Portable light sources, both for camp and the port-a-
Authentic if possible, but a hand flash is
sometimes more convenient.
If you use propane lanterns,
be aware that they are bright.
They can hurt the eyes of
those of us who adjust well to the dark and provide quite
a show if used as out-house illumination in a plastic
The usual stuff (soap, towel, toothbrush,
etc.), and do not forget the shower gear.
Money to buy fresh food, fire wood, drink, trinkets,
instruments, garb, armour, art, or whatever else you
cannot live without.
If you are a typical S.C.A. member, this is the most sun you will
see all year.
Getting severe sunburn can take a lot of
the fun out of the War; armor chafes in new places,
tunics rub, and you feel crummy.
If you are fair skinned
and/or do not get much sun, take precautions.
A bottle opener, can opener, and/or cork screw.
seen people offered peerages for these things.
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
This is not mandatory, unless you want to fight
There is still lots to do without fighting.
I know a couple of knights who have just left their harness
at home and relaxed at a War (O.K., so one marshaled a
couple of times and the other was doing his thing as a
Whether to just use at bardic circles or
for more serious music, instruments can add to the fun.
If you are a serious musician, or would like to be, this
is about the best place you will find for S.C.A. jam
Bardic circles, or a large tent during a
storm, are a great place to sing old favorites and learn
What type depends on how you plan to
If you are taking care of yourself, you will also
need cooking and clean up gear.
Grill, spit, tripod, camps stove, or some other way to
tame fire and hold cooking pots.
Which of these you use
depends on preference, experience, and level of
Swim suit and towel.
There are 2 swimming holes at the stream.
Many folks skinny-dip at the original
swimming hole but, me, I am shy.
If you are more inclined to use the "family" swimming hole
or the state park next door to the Coopers, suits are needed.
A tent or tents.
An extra tent allows more room for
storage and hospitality.
While pavilions are nice,
modern tents are acceptable.
Coolers are always welcome.
They also can be packed with
gear during travel.
Plastic jugs of any size for water and mixed soft drinks.
Canned and bottled drinks are good, but powdered Gator-
Aid and Kool-Aid are cheaper and easier to pack.
Extra and/or fancy garb.
Kerosene torches, candles with chimneys,
hurricane lamps, or what ever.
They give a campsite a
nice look and keep people from literally tripping around.
It may not be 100 degrees in the shade, but a
fan is still "a good thing."
Books and games in case things get slow (or hot).
Bandannas, Band-Aids, bug spray (Avon Skin-So-Soft skin
lotion is an effective and pleasant smelling substitute),
hatchet, jack knife, matches (or flint and steel), rope,
string, sewing kit, safety pins, and anything else that
is handy in camp.
This is not a complete list, nor should it be taken as one.
It is a start based on more than 15 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.
thing to remember is to have fun.
See you there!
Bart the Bewildered|
If you are not used to eating lots of fruit, you may experience some
Some fruits can cause constipation, others make you watery.
Heat illnesses and water change can have similar effects,
Just another warning.
Copyright Paul S. Kay, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1994, 1997.
This document may be freely reproduced as long as the
author's name and this copyright notice are included.