Camping as a wheelchair user can present many unique challenges, but few that a little planning and common sense can’t overcome. Over many camping trips I have fine-tuned a low-on-luxury approach that allows me, a C7-8 quad, to enjoy the wilderness and find that mental refreshment that only nature can provide. Here are seven tried-and-true techniques and equipment solutions.
1. Tarps, Not Tents
Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on one of the few tents designed for accessibility, a simple tarp can keep you out of the elements, provide ample coverage and be set up in a variety of ways to optimize views or privacy. Correctly set up, tarps make it easy to roll in and out and remove concerns about damaging the lip of a tent. There is a learning curve to setup, and it’s critical to know the ground and tree conditions where you are camping and whether a tarp-based setup will work there.
2. Cots Change Everything
A sizeable cot will be an excellent upgrade to your sleeping setup, making transfers easier and more stable and helping protect your skin. A foam pad will further boost your sleeping comfort and warmth. I also use my extra travel ROHO cushion under my hips to ensure a good night’s rest. If space is no obstacle, a queen-sized cot will bring more comfort and mobility. Lastly, cots are more reliable and quicker to set up than an oversized air mattress.
3. Well Ac-Quilted
I can recall no more terrifying a moment in the woods then waking up stuck in a sleeping bag. Tiny zippers and thin nylon just don’t mix well, especially for those with limited dexterity.
A backcountry quilt is made of the same materials as a traditional sleeping bag, but it doesn’t have a zipper and does have a pocket for your feet. I have used a backcountry quilt for well over a thousand miles of backpacking and now use it in the front country as bedding. If I am hot, it is easy to vent. If I’m cold, I tuck the quilt around me. You can get a very high quality custom quilt for less than or the same amount as a high end sleeping bag, due to less material and labor.
4. Bucket Brigade
With a padded commode, a bucket and a privacy tent you can guarantee you will have a nice accessible bathroom to poop in style. A separate bucket for keeping yourself clean is another necessity; sponge baths are key to backcountry living.
5. Fun Food = Faster Fun
Planning meals ahead with easy-to-prep ingredients can really help maximize your independence around camp. My camp meals consist of boiling some water and mixing in dry ingredients. Choosing one or two ingredients from each category on this list can result in a fun, tasty choose-your-own-adventure meal.
Carbohydrates: Couscous, oatmeal, macaroni, instant rice.
Fats: olive oil, nuts, butter.
Protein: cheese, nuts, beans, dry meat.
Flavor: dried fruit, spices, powdered cheese, sugar.
Premixing all the dry ingredients and combining them with water in one pot will minimize prep and clean up time.
6. A Boiling Affair
Cooking during camping can entail large open flames. One safer alternative is the Jetboil all-in-one cannister stove. I have found it works well with my limited hand dexterity. The stove has a large wire control and an igniter, there is no need to prime or use a lighter. The included pot has a neoprene sleeve with a handle snap-on lid that makes handling a hot pot much easier. Additionally it has a heat indicator that changes colors to let the user to know when a boil has been reached without looking into it. The whole system locks together, providing excellent stability and moderate wind resistance. Building up the controls with heat resistant materials could increase safety of operation.
7. Other Must Haves
Caregiver: Including an enthusiastic caregiver to accompany you will open up the wilderness.
Freewheel: Makes getting around uneven terrain that much easier.
Extra Medical Supplies: An extra day of catheters and whatever else you need (in a waterproof container) keeps the doctor away.