How Dangerous is Your Holiday – 2. Camping

Got your tent? Got your provisions? Here are three activities you can try for yourself that demonstrate how science can improve your camping experience...

Dick and Dom explore where to pitch your tent, and how to stay warm and dry once you’re in it.

1: How to tell where the wind is coming from

When you’re pitching your tent, it’s important to pick an area that’s level, not rocky, and not directly under trees. Your main danger after that is the wind. If your tent faces into the wind, it could cause it to lift up or even blow away.

Here are two easy ways to discover which way the wind is blowing.

  1. Stand out in the open, and close your eyes. Turn your face until you can feel the wind blowing equally on your cheeks. You’re now facing where the wind is coming from.
  2. If you don’t have time to stand around, make a windsock out of a light plastic bag, like the ones you get in a supermarket. All you need to do is make a small hole in the bottom of the bag, tie string to the handles, and hold it up (or tie it to something upright) so the wind can blow into it and out of the hole at the end. You now have windsock that works in just the same way as the ones you get at an airfield.

Now pitch your tent so that the door is facing away from the direction of the wind.

2: How to sleep warm

You’ve got your tent in the right position, but now you’ve got to sleep in it. Even in summer the ground is cold, but you can apply science to help keep yourself warm. Air is a great insulator, as you’ll see.

Find a foam mattress, and you’ll be able to test this for yourself.

  1. Lie directly on top of the ground for a few minutes. How do you feel, how warm is your back?
  2. Now try putting the foam mattress between you and the ground. Do you feel a difference?

What’s happening?

Even a thin foam mattress will make a big difference to how warm you are. The foam contains lots of tiny air pockets that act as thermal insulators. This means that they don’t let heat move through them easily, so you stay warm and the ground stays cold.

3: Investigating waterproofness

Tent fabric has to be waterproof, so that you’ll stay comfortable inside. Here’s an activity that allows you to explore how waterproof different types of fabric are.

You will need:

  • Several clear plastic containers
  • a waterspray
  • a variety of different types of fabric, including any raingear you can lay your hands on.
  • elastic bands that fit round the tops of the containers

Stretch an area of each fabric over the top of a container, and secure it with an elastic band. Now make your predictions as to which fabrics will let water through and which won’t. Use the waterspray to give each piece a light soaking . Has the water pooled on top of the fabric, or has it dropped through into the container?

What’s happening?

There are two things that affect how waterproof a fabric is. First, the fabric can made waterproof by coating it with some sort of waxy or oily substance . Oil doesn’t mix with water, so if you were to coat a fabric with an oily substance, the rain would just roll off it. The other thing that affects the waterproofness is the size of the holes of the material, the smaller they are, the less water will be able to pass through it. Examine each piece of fabric closely and look at how much water has got through into the container.

As Dick and Dom discovered – tents are designed to be highly waterproof. If you chuck a bucket of water over a tent, it creates a big splash on the outside … but you’ll be dry inside (hopefully!).

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