The Pennsic Survival Guide
Erich von Kleinfeld
Self: VPW since Pennsic X; Fighter; Marshall; Chirurgeon; Gunner; Teacher; Party Animal.
Class: Campers? SCA novices / veterans? Plans for War?
Philosophy and Principles
Planning vs Expectations: First, realize that hanging the quality or your War on a set of expectations probably won't work. This is, to some extent, a chaotic environment. That said, PLANNING is a good thing.
Self-sufficiency vs Having Friends: Come prepared. Figure out what you need, to take care of yourself. Then, don't be afraid to ask for help when, not if, stuff happens. Also, if you camp with a group, pull your weight – find out their expectations of group members.
Participate: Think about what you want to do, before War. You probably can't do everything. Pick what looks interesting.
Contribute: Volunteer a shift at Troll, Pennsic Watch, Chirurgeon Point, University, somewhere. It will enhance your Pennsic experience.
The two objects are: Have fun, and make it home in one piece (subject to dings and errors of Pennsic fortune).
Garb, for length of stay. There's laundry, but crowded except at 0300AM.
Pennsic is dusty, dirty, grubby, and you may not want to bring the multi-thousand-dollar hand-stitched Elizabethan.
Bring COMFORTABLE, BROKEN-IN, footgear. You'll want a set of boots, and probably a pair of sandals for late-night porta-castle runs.
Layers are your friend. Pennsic can bounce between 105+ heat indices and 40- wind chills, sometimes in the space of hours. Plan for lots of lightweight hot-weather garb, then bring cloaks, sweats, extra socks, etcetera for the chill. Then bring MORE socks.
The minimum for SCA is “some attempt at pre-17th C clothing”. Suit the garb to the activity.
Haversack, bag, pack-basket, something for lugging stuff. I have an oilcloth haversack from Panther. And, always have a Ziploc bag that fits your phone. And a plastic emergency poncho.
Food, and Cooking
How period do you want to be? Gourmet vs canned? Does your group have a meal plan? Does your schedule permit participation in said meal plan?
All Food Court, All the Time: SERIOUSLY expensive, and not recommended.
LOTS of firewood
Iron and ceramic cookware, firepit tools, etcetera
Period, or peri-oid recipes. Non-perishable, fresh, discreetly frozen.
Allow a substantial amount of time for cooking.
Everything non-perishable and/or instant. Requires a couple of pots and pans, a Coleman stove, cooler for drinkies and a bit of fresh stuff.
bread and cheese, sausage, fruit, instant cereal, and so forth.
How I do it:
Similar to Minimalist but with a few wrinkles. Note that we're not talking balanced diet, either, but I'm a carnivore.
Gear: Gas stove and gas grill; Coffee pot for hot water; French press; Stewpot; Frying pan that gets occasional use; Spatula, chopsticks, spoons large and small, etc.
Couple of coolers
Food: Whole-grain tortillas for wraps; Smoked Sausage, etc, for breakfast; Coffee / hot drinks. Lunches, grab-and-go – individually wrapped string cheese, snack packs of peanut butter crackers, beef n cheese sticks, packs of mixed nuts, and whatnot. Non-perishable and if the cheese melts in your haversack, squeeze it out of the plastic wrapper like toothpaste. Dinner, slap a chunk of marinated beef on the grill. Wrap in tortilla, snag some fruit, and then off to the evening's activities.
Pluses: Convenient, food can be arranged not to spoil, minimal cooking effort
Minuses: Can get monotonous. An occasional food court indulgence can help with this. I've bounced back and forth between refueling, and dining. I'm currently in a refueling phase.
Shelter and Living Space
Typically at Pennsic, it's 225 to 250 square feet per person. So, a 10x12 tent and a 10x10 EZ-Up can pretty much use that up. See if your group has a “land tax” – how much do they want you to contribute to common areas? See also, “Registering a ghost”.
Remember that stakes and ropes contribute to your footprint. Also, there's a 3-foot buffer between structures, enforced for fire safety.
Pennsic gets interesting weather, to say the least. Blistering hot, Howling thunderstorms, Cold snaps, Floods, Dust- and Sand-storms, you name it.
Sturdy stakes are your friend. So are over-tarps. If you have a tent with cheesy wire or plastic stakes, ditch them. Go to a hardware store and get 10” to 12” landscaping-timber spikes. Dog screws are also good – buy 'em online for $2 or $3 each, NOT in the camping section for $8 each.
Nylon vs Canvas:
Nylon Pros & Cons:
Canvas Pros & Cons:
Heavier and bulkier
Easy to put up (dome easier than cabin)
More work to put up, easier with practice
Gets hot and humid during the day
Better shade and cooling
Can let rain through, in high-wind storms
Stronger and more rain-resistant
Detracts from period ambience
Can be period, or peri-oid at least
Domes: less usable space per footprint
Walls and pavilions, better
Cabins: Better on space than domes
Wedges and Vikings, less
Generally less expensive
More expensive, but worth it
EZ-Ups: The name says it all. However, frequently not totally waterproof.
Poly Tarps and Poles: They work. Big one can cover tent and “front yard”. UGLY.
Canvas: Again, bulky, takes setup skills. More spiff factor.
Folding tables, use some scrap fabric or a drop cloth to cover modern table, if so inclined.
Likewise, folding stools, bag chairs, and whatnot.
Bedding: Cot + air mattress for me. Rope beds and straw ticks are cool, but you gotta be an authenticity buff.
Bare ground is not good. Test air mattresses BEFORE Pennsic.
Again, layers are your friend. Nighttime conditions can range from baking to freezing. Lightweight bag plus blankets are versatile.
Coil-spring folding laundry hampers make great trash cans. And laundry hampers.
Start a pot of water to boil while cooking.
Wipe utensils and plates with paper towels or TP, then scrub in hot soapy water, then rinse in boiling water.
Air-dry, not towel / rag.
Antiseptic Wipes (Lysol, Clorox, etc) are your friend for kitchen cleanup.
Most large groups have showers. Camp with your Barony or Shire, and you're probably good.
There are 3-4 buildings around the campground that have showers.
Antibacterial WetWipes are useful. Castile soap is biodegradable, and works for everything from hair, to bodies, to dishes.
Powder is useful for parts of the anatomy subject to chafing.
Expect to need a first-aid kit. Sooner or later, you WILL ding yourself. If it happens and you're away from your kit, the nice folk at Chi point include Chirurgeons, EMTs, and (during business hours) doctors.
Wound cleaning / Bandages / Ace Wraps
Gadgets: EMT shears; splinter tweezers; tick-removers; Penlight; forceps / hemostats; thermometer(s).
Medicines: Think about pain / fever, allergies, colds, coughs, tummy issues, disinfecting / antibiotics for cuts, and, of course, PRESCRIPTIONS.
Skin stuff: Powder for feet, and, um, chafing; Sunscreen; Bug spray; Sunburn relief; Poison ivy relief (or just avoid the stuff); Bite and Sting relief.
Allergies, medical conditions, etc: Stop by Chi point and fill out an OMG form. You then get an OMG sticker for the back of your medallion.
NOTE: Chirurgeon Point does NOT carry over-the-counter medications. Ask them for a Tums, and they will direct you to the Cooper's Store.
What do you want to do?
Minimum Armor = Helm, Lower-Torso aka Kidney Armor, Gorget, Hand protection, Cup, Hard elbows, Hard Knees, and sturdy Shoes.
New fighter, bring a sword and shield. Or spear. Or bow and arrows.
Have, at minimum, stuff like duct tape and paracord, for repairs.
Checklist of your tools, and materials
Work up class handouts, if teaching, BEFORE Pennsic.
Generally don't need to BYO music
DO bring good shoes.
Facilities, and Amenities of the “Village”
Info Point / Newcomers
Bus Service – Early on, take a tour
Rules of Pennsic Drinking
If it's on fire / smoking / glows in the dark / from a trashcan, don't drink it.
If it has “Surprise” in the name, don't drink it.
If it looks like Windex / is green / tries to climb out of the jug, ….
Know what you're into, and NOT into.
Know your limits, with alcohol etc.
Know where your camp is. Scribbling your block # on the back of your medallion in Sharpie, may be a good idea.
BYO Drinkies, perhaps. I generally have a few Monsters in my haversack.