Pennsic Prep Post — Mundane Side
I joined the SCA in 2015. Pennsic 44 was my third event. I have been twice and will be attending again this summer; I missed last summer due to the eclipse.
I have several friends attending Pennsic for the first time and thought this would be a good opportunity to put together a couple of lists. One is a general camping gear list and the other is a garb list.
Of course, these are all only suggestions; you can camp rough or glamp it up as much as you’d like. This list is meant as a starting point and assumes you will be going for the full two weeks.
- something to sleep in
- A tent. It can be mundane. You can get one off of Craigslist and waterproof/seam seal it yourself if needed. Early summer is a good time to do this, as a lot of folks are replacing their old gear.
- If you can get a canvas tent, do. They’re SO much more comfortable. (On the flip side, mundane tents are usually SUPER-fast to put up and pretty light. So, whatever works for you.)
- a tarp to put under your tent
- tent stakes
- If you don’t want to hassle with that, there are companies that will rent a tent/yurt to you for Pennsic — they’ll set it up, tear it down, and it’s a fun way of testing out one to see if you like it. It’s not the cheapest option, but may be worth exploring. Personal recommendation: Traders of Tamerlane. The owner is a campmate and friend and I think his yurts are awesome. He and his people are always professional, courteous, and helpful. While I’ll fully admit bias on that rec, you can also check out their reviews (5 stars on FB as of this writing!). There are plenty of other rental companies out there, too.
- Something to sleep on
- air mattress + pump, a cot, sheets, a pile of furs
- something to sleep under
- Sleeping bag, comforter, sheets, a pile of furs
- It can get down to freezing at night. It’s usually in the low 50s, but… it can get cold. Be prepared.
- rest your weary head
- pillow(s). I use old pillows that have been cycled off my bed so that if they get ruined, I’m not sad.
- I do recommend getting one, though. Even a cheap, $7 mat will make a huge difference. Put it outside your door, use it to get dirt and mud off your feet. It also makes it feel more “homey.”
- Interior doormat
- I use a beat up, old towel for this.
- Basically, it’s where you step right after you come in. Use it as the spot where you take your shoes off so you don’t track dirt/mud all over your tent
- Interior rug
- I have a plastic RV “rug” that I lay out on the floor of my tent. It lets sand, dust, etc. drain through and leaves the top looking nice.
- ways to store things
- If it floods or we have a microburst, you’ll want all your stuff in containers. Trust me on this. I use a couple of medium Rubbermaid bins and toss a light blanket or shawl over top. If you have a cot, get bins that will fit underneath.
- I also use a set of plastic drawers (like you’d use for craft storage). Doubles as a bedside table.
- camp chair
- folding is best, but even just a little stool you can perch on is good. But bring something you’d be comfortable sitting on for a couple of hours around your encampment’s fire.
- if you want to conceal obvious mundanity, bring some muslin or a cheap sheet from Goodwill and toss it over your chair.
- rolling cart
- A lot of folks use drag-behind carts for shopping, gear toting (esp if you’re a fighter), and ice runs.
- I did not have one my first year but brought one my second, which was handy for toting my class materials to and from Pennsic University.
- Most camps will have multiple carts and all you have to do is ask their owner if you can borrow the cart for an ice run if you need it (please only borrow within your own camp!)
- Clothes rack + hangers
- Great to hang your garb from when wet/freshly washed
- Also nice to let things hang out so they de-wrinkle before wearing
- Lantern (please, no flashlights!!)
- Either get a cheap candle lantern from IKEA or…
- Find a way to disguise your modern lantern, whether that’s painting the light bulb orange, wrapping rice paper around the clear part, or something else. It’s one of the easiest ways to pull someone out of a magic moment and also one of the easiest things to handle.
- a *small* flashlight to take with you to the privy castles at night, preferably with a loop so you can hang it on a hook
- I took IKEA lanterns, re-finished the windows with rawhide, and put electronic candles inside them. They look awesome and are not a fire hazard at all.
- Bottle opener
- Always carry a bottle opener/corkscrew combo on you. Even if you don’t drink, others will thank you for being prepared.
- Trash bags
- one per week for your tent. You can use a half-dozen small plastic bags instead, if needed. You’ll want to have them on-hand in case you don’t want to get up to walk halfway across camp to your communal trash can in the middle of a meal/the middle of the night/right after waking up/whatever.
- Laundry basket
- I have a flat-pack mesh laundry basket. It’s not much, but it keeps my dirty clothes in one place. And since I have to do laundry at least every four days, it’s handy.
- same category as the bottle opener. It’s handy to be able to relight someone’s lantern, get a taper going, or even start a campfire.
- Paper towels
- you don’t need a huge roll, but they’re handy to have around. Whether it’s cleaning up a spill, using as a napkin, or whatever, I like to have a half-roll with me
- I only ever bring one roll, but it’s nice to have in case your privy castle runs out.
- One of the best tips I got was to carry my cutlery in my bag with me, because it’s not uncommon to be pulled off the road into a stranger’s camp to help them finish off a huge meal. I thought that sounded silly but it actually happened to me my very first Pennsic! I recommend getting a bamboo set with a carrying case; as a bonus, mine came with chopsticks. Chopsticks are CRITICAL at an event like Pennsic — they help keep you from touching your dirty hands to your food and reduce the risk of getting the plague.
- Preferably in a medieval style, but even just a pair of embroidery scissors would serve you well. Infinitely useful.
- Protect your eyes. We all ignore sunglasses as a rule, as they are a disability aid and a way to protect your eyes from the sun. Use them.
- Don’t forget the case.
- If you have a choice and are so inclined, get some round, wire-rim or tortoise-shell sunglasses. They look more period.
- Portable, battery-powered fan
- I don’t take mine around, but I do leave two in my tent. They basically run all night and keep the air circulating, which is particularly important for me when it’s hot.
- A way to take notes in classes.
- Hand warmers
- On the flip side of the fans, it can get cold at night. A couple of biodegradable, single-use handwarmers are GREAT to have. I’ll activate one and toss it into the footbox of my sleeping bag about an hour before I go to bed and it keeps things nice and toasty for me.
- Washtub + scrubboard
- I have a Japanese 2-in-1 I ADORE. Most camps do NOT have a clothing-washing area (mine does, but we’re one of the oldest, most established camps at Pennsic). You’ll want to be able to scrub your clothes and hang them up
- I also bring a small tub juuuust big enough to soak my feet in. Really nice to drain ice-cold cooler water into it at the end of a hot day of walking and stick your feet in. I originally used this as my washtub.
- DO NOT PLAN ON USING THE WASHING MACHINES AT PENNSIC. No no no. There are so few and they’re almost always busy. And once the woods battle happens, you definitely do not want to use the machines. There is a lot of poison ivy in the woods and peoples’ stuff gets coated in it. That oil gets all over the inside of the machines and into the clothes of whomever uses it next. Just plan to do laundry in-camp.
- Some folks wash their clothes with them in the shower. I wouldn’t, but you do you.
- I have a special line with built-in clothespins that I use to hang my clothes up to dry. This is not strictly necessary; a bit of rope and open space will do it, too.
- Please do not attend Pennsic without some kind of deodorant. People didn’t like B.O. in the middle ages, either. I don’t care if you bring something modern or use an in-period recipe — just do what you need to to reduce your stink. (This also means showering at least every few days; more, if you’re a fighter or sweat a lot. Please don’t be That Person.)
- Several pairs, because you’ll inevitably drop at least one.
- I don’t bring a brush with me, nor did I even when I had long hair. I brought a fine-tooth comb (sometimes called a beard comb or a lice comb) and combed out my hair in the morning and evening before re-braiding it and covering it up. I don’t bring shampoo, either, and my hair actually does fine. With super-short hair, I still bring a comb, but skip braiding.
- Shampoo and conditioner
- I don’t bring it, but I know others do. Bring the travel bottles. You do NOT need to wash your hair every day. 2x/week is ample, short of some medical condition.
- I bring bar soap. If you want to be clever, use a cheese slicer and cut off slivers, then pack them in layers of wax paper and put all of it inside a ziploc bag. Take one out and wrap a washcloth around it, then lather up in the shower. You’re not likely to go through a whole bar of soap at war, so this is an economical solution.
- I bring two; one for my face and one for my body.
- a light towel is best so it doesn’t take up a lot of room. I have two quick-dry, thin, microfiber towels.
- If you want to get “fancy,” get two large, cheap bath sheets (I got some from IKEA) and make a bath bog dress. If you want to add pockets, two washcloths sewn to the front will do the job nicely.
- shower shoes
- Old Navy flipflops or similar will do. If you don’t already have a pair, try to get black or brown or something else equally unobtrusive.
- most encampments have their own showers; please check with them to confirm. There are solar showers dotted around Pennsic, as well. I’ve never needed to use them, but by all accounts, they are reasonably nice and usable.
- lip balm with SPF
- It’s gonna be dry and dusty. You’ll want this, trust me. Make sure it’s unscented or else it will attract bees. I use blistex.
- unscented, or else you’ll attract bees. I like Aveeno, but bring whatever you prefer.
- small mirror
- I have a little hanging mirror that I use to check my visage before leaving for the day. Handy to make sure you’ve put on sunscreen evenly, too.
- whatever medicines you’re on, make sure you’ve got enough for the duration and then some. I store mine in an Altoids tin.
- This includes an inhaler if you need one.
- they make travel-size febreeze. Get you some. It can freshen up your tent and make your clothes smell SO much better, even without washing them.
- BRING A LOT. Do not bring any with avobenzone, oxybenzone, or any other -zone in it. Kids’ sunscreen is usually best for this (I use Banana Boat kids!). The -zones interact with the hard water found on-site at Pennsic and will instantly rust-stain any clothing that happens to have it on it. -zones also interact with linen and stain them an ugly yellow. Don’t ruin your garb! Use stuff that only has zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide
- Related: the BEST way to avoid a sunburn is to cover up! Wear long, loose linen. Wear a wide-brimmed straw hat. Carry a parasol. You can minimize your sunscreen use if you’re clever and careful.
- I went to Pennsic for two weeks in 2016. I wore sunscreen just a handful of times, and only on my face and hands. I did not tan or get a sunburn.
- Also, bring aloe. If you do get burned, you’ll want to treat it quickly. Staying hydrated will help you heal.
- Bug repellant
- Don’t spray it anywhere near a synthetic tent; it’ll melt it. Anything with DEET can melt plastic, too — including sunglasses. But you’ll want it; mosquitoes and ticks are both plentiful at Pennsic
- Tick removal tool
- It’s worth it. Find a buddy and do tick checks every day. (Which, remember what I said about long clothes and covering your head being good protection against a sunburn? It’s also true for ticks.)
- Lyme disease is a real risk. If you find you’ve been bitten by a tick, get tested for Lyme as soon as Pennsic is over; it can be cured with antibiotics if caught early.
- While tweezers are nice for splinters, I’m talking about specific tick removal tools.
- Wet wipes
- first of all, do NOT throw these in the privy castles. Put them in a plastic bag and throw them in the trash
- great for “sponge baths” at the end of a day. Wipe down your body and feel fresher. (Also achievable with a washcloth and bit of water, or even a square of linen!)
- HAND SANITIZER
- I cannot emphasize enough the importance of hand sanitizer at war. Soap and water is BY FAR the most effective tool (please wash your hands properly whenever possible!!) but hand sanitizer is a good second choice to slow the spread of whatever this year’s Pennsic Plague is going to be.
- Get several mini-bottles and their holders. Keep one on you at all times in your bag/sporran/knapsack/purse/whatever. Seriously. AND THEN USE IT. Offer it to others around you!
- USE HAND SANITIZER AFTER USING THE BATHROOM, touching yourself, anything. Refrain from touching your face.
- Seriously. We are not attempting to recreate THAT part of the middle ages.
- Box of tissues
- I keep one big one in my tent and have the little mini-packs that come with me in my purse.
- OTC meds
- antihistamines, cold remedies, anti-diarrheals, Pepto Bismol, Alka-seltzer, pain meds, etc.
- Rx meds
- If you need them, of course. Make sure you have a copy of your prescription. Also, make sure that someone in your camp knows (1) where to find them and (2) what you take and for what.
- For example, I carry an epi-pen with me because I am deathly allergic to bees, wasps, and other stinging insects. My friends all know I keep it in my bag that goes with me everywhere.
- For menstruators only:
- If you’re expecting your period during Pennsic, make sure you have enough supplies, whether pads, tampons, or a menstrual cup. Pads and tampons cannot go in the toilets or privy castles; you must throw them in a bag and take the bag to a trash bin. Menstrual cups can be emptied into privy castles. I personally do so, then use wet wipes to clean them out fully before reinserting. Remember: you want your nails clean before you go in to retrieve it. This means clean under your nails, and either wash your hands (preferred) or at the very least use some hand sanitizer. Then, obviously do the same after. Sometimes I go deal with this at the flushies (up in the building across from the main barn).
- While not applicable to everyone, it’s a good idea to have a pack of condoms on-hand. Whether you need them or a campmate does, they’re good to keep around. There are a lot of three-month-olds at Pennsic each year; if there’s even the slimmest chance you could sleep with someone where one of you ends up pregnant and you don’t want to be one of those people with a three-month-old, then bring some along.
- If you use a CPAP machine, please check out the SCA CPAP Support group on FB. They can give you tips and tricks for getting through Pennsic intact.
- solar charger + portable battery
- I use a small solar charger and use it to charge a portable battery.
- I charge the battery during the day and then recharge my electronics at night. Sometimes, I take the battery with me during the day in case I need to top off
- I bring a fully charged kindle paperwhite with me. I like relaxing by reading at night. If you don’t have an e-reader, bring a couple of books, whatever falls into your easy reading category.
- power cords
- make sure you have the right cords for your electronics. If you have a Fitbit, smartwatch, or another electronic item that has a special connector, you’ll want to bring that with you, too.
- Medieval phone case
- Smartphones are part of our modern lives. We all know and accept this. However, there are things you can do to reduce obvious mundanity!
- I use a leather wallet-and-phone case combo that looks like a little prayer book. It holds my cards, cash, ID, and phone, which is all I really need it to do. My phone stays protected, my wallet stays with me at all times, and it’s not obnoxiously obvious that it’s a phone.
- If you have a neon or brightly patterned phone case, you can do a couple of things to reduce the obvious mundanity:
- Get a black or grey phone case. It makes it less obtrusive.
- Some folks get specialty cases made and put their heraldry on the back. This way, if it gets lost, it can easily be returned to you (assuming your heraldry is registered). Related, some people just get a sticker printed up and slap it on the back of their phone case.
- There are wooden cases out there that would at least be less obnoxious than a neon pink and lime green phone case.
- Some folks hollow out a book to fit their phone. Some even carve out a hole for the camera.
- There are specialty leather phone cases that look like medieval leather belt books, if you have some cash to drop.
- A friend uses the phrase, “Hold on, I need to consult the oracle” whenever she uses her phone to look up something. It always gets a chuckle and I’ve started using it, myself.
Many camps have a fully decked-out kitchen. If yours does, ask them what you’re expected to bring (some folks bring their own spatulas or wooden spoons, for example, while others expect you to bring a pot or kettle to contribute to the camp collection). If your camp does NOT have a fully decked-out kitchen, you will want to decide ahead of time if you want to do any camp cooking (over heat) or go cold for the duration. I’m a cold person, myself, so I do a liquid breakfast smoothie, a sandwich for lunch, and some kind of no-heat dinner. I’m also a fan of Medieval Munchies and will often get their pierogies when by the food court.
If you DO have to bring your own kitchen:
- gas for the stove
- pots and pans
- something to set the stove on (camp kitchen, wooden table, something!)
- wooden spoon
Whether you bring your own kitchen or not, you’ll want:
- A cooler
- Something large enough to store what you need for several days.
- freeze gallons or 2L of water, then use them to keep your cooler cool. You can drink them once they melt.
- The Coopers (the folks who own the property we use for Pennsic) have ice available for purchase up by the barn. It comes in heavy bags of ice cubes OR you can get solid blocks. Solid blocks last longer.
- Drain your cooler water off daily. Water accelerates ice melting, so draining it off is a smart call. You may have a designated spot in your encampment for this — perhaps a sump by the shower, or a kiddie pool in the common area where everyone soaks their feet when it’s hot out. Ask your campmates.
- To minimize melting, stay out of your cooler as much as possible. One way to help with this is to have a smaller, secondary cooler that you use exclusively for drinks.
- Toss a blanket over your coolers during the day to help insulate them from the heat.
- There are dozens of ways to improve the R-value of your cooler that don’t involve dropping $500 on a specialty cooler with 8 inch-thick walls. Check out some of the SCA FB groups (Better SCA Camping, Cooler Camoflage (SCA)) for inspiration.
A note on reducing obvious mundanity: I get it, doing this stuff costs money. But some of the fixes are so cheap or free that it’s something to really consider. You may or may not have heard about “magic moments.” These are moments when you suddenly feel transported to another time. You can’t force them or chase them; you can only create opportunities for them to happen. I’ve had a handful so far and each time was at War. My first Pennsic, I found myself sitting outside the Cooper’s Barn, eating a spinach and cheese kolache while gazing out at the western half of the market. I was enjoying the sounds of a hurdy-gurdy busker and having a quiet moment. Then, I noticed that (completely by chance) everyone walking past me was wearing garb from the same century. The late afternoon light was golden and the hurdy-gurdy player started playing my favorite medieval song. It was magical for all of 30 seconds… and then a golf cart came whizzing through. But for half a minute, I felt completely transported to another time. It was marvelous.
My second magic moment was my next Pennsic. I went down to the bog to meet up with a friend. I never did find her encampment and ended up deciding to just go back up top to my camp and go to sleep. I took a shortcut back to the main road and found myself gazing up a hillside dotted with campfire and lanterns. There was no artificial light source in sight. It made me think of the old Scottish clan gatherings. It lifted my heart with joy and I just stood there, transfixed. A couple of people walked past with candle lanterns, no problem. But after about two minutes of admiring this beautiful scene, someone came around the corner with a blue LED flashlight. Something so small but so obviously mundane really drew me out of that moment. And while golf carts are a fact of life at Pennsic, flashlights do not need to be. My magic moment would have had to end eventually, but the flashlight ended it for me.
I try to approach reducing obvious mundanity with an eye towards, “If I go mundane on this, will it ruin someone else’s magic moment?” Obviously, cost becomes a consideration, but there is so much that can be done for little to no cost.
I hope you have found this guide useful. As a reminder, it is just a guide. Please use it as a jumping-off point, but do not feel you have to do/buy/use everything on this list. I realized after a couple of wars that I hate cooking hot food when it’s 90F out. You may find you enjoy a good gourmet, home-cooked, totally period meal. There are very few ways to do Pennsic “wrong.” Just breathe and enjoy yourself — and know that if you’re missing anything… you’ll likely have helpful campmates who can loan you gear, folks who’ll go with you on a town run to pick up stuff you forgot, or you’ll just make do without. It’s really not that bad. 🙂
A separate post will go up soon on clothing prep! Edit: Post is up!
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