On our quest to save money and live with less, my girlfriend and I decided to move outdoors and set up a camp in our friend’s back yard last summer.  This turned out to be an awesome adventure and an excellent lesson in how much frivolous stuff we had.

As it happened our friends had this perfect little spot right on the river, in a nice ceder forest.  There was a nice flat clearing just waiting to have some tents. set up in it.  Below is a view of the river from where the tents are set up.

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Here is a shot from the field showing the density of the forest.  A perfectly private little site to enjoy the summer.


From my extensive camping experience, I knew all to well about having a damp bed from sleeping on the ground and having the rain get in under your tent.  I absolutely wanted to avoid this if we were going to be staying out there all summer, so I thought we had better build some sort of platform to get the tent up off the ground.

As it turns out there is a sizable Amish population nearby and some of them run saw mills.  When cutting up logs at a saw mill, they must cut the rounded outer part of the log off in order to get nice boards from the inner part.  These outer parts that are cut off are called ‘slabs’.

My dad and I had been getting one Amish guy who cuts ceder lumber, to set aside the nice slabs that have been cut on three sides for us.  These slabs can be bought super cheap and are almost as good as regular boards.  So we had a large pile of these ceder slabs to frame up a nice deck with.

We still needed something to cover the deck in though, as the slabs aren’t quite suitable for making nice flat surfaces with.  So we headed back over to the Amish guy and sorted through his pile of cut boards that weren’t quite good enough to sell at full price.  These he called the seconds.  It didn’t take much searching until we found enough boards that were plenty good enough for our camping platform.

All said and done we spent less than $200 on wood for this 15′ x 20′ deck to keep our tent high and dry.  Here is what it looked like upon completion.


We then set about erecting our bedroom tent on the deck and hanging the super massive tarp that would cover our entire living area.

Getting the tarp up was a job and a half…  It took three of us at least a couple hours to just get the tarp hanging in one place and not blowing away!

We took a large rope and spanned it between two trees that flanked our camp area.  We then proceeded to struggle getting the tarp up and over the rope.  It just so happened to work out that the two trees we had spanned the rope between, where just far enough apart to allow the tarp to fit perfectly.  After lots of effort the tarp was finally staying up. 🙂

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It was now time to set up the living room tent.  This is a huge tent we got a sweet deal on and it was where we had our hangout spot set up.

My dad had a bunch of plywood available to use, so I put down a nice plywood floor in this tent.  This way we could set up our shelf, couch, table, and chairs on a nice flat surface.  It also helped to keep things up off the ground and dry.  This plywood floor worked out very nicely and was a sweet luxury. 🙂

Here is a view in the living room tent with our couch, table, and shelf on the plywood floor.

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Next thing on the to do list was a toilet setup.  I did some research over at permies.com on composting toilets and came up with a pretty good design using garbage pails.  Composting toilets use sawdust to cover the poop, which eliminates the smell, absorbs the liquid, and supplies the carbon element necessary for the composting process to take place.

We built the toilet out of scrap wood we had lying around.  Basically we framed up a nice little outhouse with walls, a roof, and a door.  We then made it so you could stick an 80 liter garbage pail under the seat, which would hold all the poop.

The garbage pail is superior to most bucket designs because of it’s size.  It takes quite some time for it to fill up, so you don’t need to change it very often, and when it is full, you just take it out, put the lid on and let it sit to compost for about two years.  This composting process kills any pathogens present, turning your poop into nice, pathogen free compost, which can then be spread around some trees, which will take up the nutrients and turn it into wood.

Here is what it looks like.

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Now that we had a place to sleep, a place to hang out, and a place to poop, it was time to set up a place to prepare food.  Lucky for us there was already a picnic table where we were setting up camp.  With a little modification I turned it into an excellent kitchen area.

I took another piece of my dad’s plywood and set it up on the picnic table, raising it about six inches to a more comfortable counter height.  We were lucky enough to also have a nice eight foot piece of counter top lying around just waiting to be used.  So I simply set this on one side of the plywood and had an instant bar height counter top, perfect for all routine kitchen activities.  We had a small two burner propane stove, which we set up on the plywood table, next to the new counter top.

This setup worked out to be a perfect kitchen.

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With all this hard work of setting things up, it was time to implement a shower feature into our camp.  So we did just that, using a small tarp, a shower curtain, a pulley system, a pallet base, and a solar bag shower.

The solar bag shower worked out very nicely.  We just filled it up in the river and set it out in the sun for a couple hours to warm up.  The water easily got warm enough to shower with and even became too hot on occasion.  If it wasn’t nice and sunny out to warm the shower, but we still wanted to have one, we would simply warm some water up on the stove and add it to the bag.

I hung a pulley up in a tree so we could easily hoist the bag up high enough to comfortably stand under.  The tarp we hung up for privacy and then strung the shower curtain up as you would.

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The last thing on the list was some sort of refrigeration.

To take care of that, I framed up a box, slightly bigger than our cooler, and covered the sides with ridged board insulation, creating an insulated box.  I then dug a hole in the ground, buried this insulated box and put the cooler in there.  By burying the box I was taking advantage of the cooler temperature of the earth and protecting the box from the hot sun.

This system worked out very nicely.  A key feature was that it allowed the removal of the cooler from the buried box at any time for cleaning.  We were able to keep all kinds of things cool in there.  We would freeze bottles of water up in our friend’s freezer and switch them out when necessary, but they would last for a considerably long time in there keeping things cool.

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Setting up this system allowed us to move our entire apartment out doors, but we quickly realized that we had waaay to much stuff.  A lot of things just sat in boxes never being used.  As the months went on and it came closer to being time to move back indoors, we started to get rid of things.  Basically all the stuff we didn’t use over the summer went to the good will.  We downsized on nearly all fronts.  Our dishes, pots and pans, cutlery, clothes, sheets, towels, furniture, and random stuff all got a ruthless sorting through.  No mercy! 🙂

This was an excellent learning experience on our journey towards mortgage free land and home ownership.  Many skills applied in setting up and living in this system can be used in the future, when the time comes to begin building a home and we have to live out doors again.