Pennsic War  


Creature Comforts at War

©2000-2007 Alexander. All Rights Reserved.

...Or, how to enhance your Pennsic War comfort with the use of modern devices, without getting caught!


Personal Comforts

No one says you have to suffer in silence. I say, if it makes your life easier and it doesn't bother others (or if they don't even know), use it!

Miniature Flashlights: You're at a party in the Bog, it's 2 AM. Suddenly, the call to nature becomes apparent and you're FAR from the lighted bathhouse. The trick to dealing with Porta-Johns is to have a miniature flashlight hanging from your medallion cord! Last year I tried an INOVA Microlight and it made all the difference. Small enough to wear all the time unseen, bright enough to use for almost anything, even reading a book in your tent. Treat yourself and get one of these before you leave for War.

Internet Access Yes! Believe it or not, there is a cyber cafe at Pennsic War, called Mystic Mail. Not only are there terminals to rent, but those who need virtual office access can bring their own computers and hook in. Totally discreet, totally cool.

Hand-crank Blenders It's 92°F out and you're roasting. You've got that craving for a smoothie or daiquiri or margarita, but... need a blender? You're in luck! Recently a hand-crank blender appeared on the market at specialty and camping stores. You attach the base to a table, set the speed (the one I saw had two) mix your ingredients and then crank away. BE AWARE that prices on the Vortex 73365 vary widely. I've seen them on-line as low as $30 and in a mall store for as little as $40.


Yes, some of the campsites at Pennsic have 120v power. However if you've never been to Pennsic War then don't even begin to think you'll get a hookup. The people who have these sites have been there forever and won't easily relinquish them. Those sites that do have hookups will pay $25 or more per plug for the priviledge.

I'd like to think I am a true recreationist and can live without electricity for two weeks each year, but I sheepishly admit that electric fans make all the difference on nights when the temperature doesn't fall below 80°F and humidity stays at 100%. Here are some notes on power alternatives:


If you've never camped out before, you may be amazed how many of the conveniences you use at home can be bought in battery-power form. Modern day electronics and improvements in battery technology are making these devices last longer and cost less.

If you have a little knowledge of electronics and a bit of money to spend, you may consider getting a deep cycle battery (i.e. those used for boat trolling motors, $60-80) and a power inverter ($20-100) which boosts 12V DC to 120V AC. This setup will be good for low-demand and intermittent uses. Be careful when selecting the inverter, there are many varieties. The cheaper ones are good only for electronics such as radios and computers. Better ones can run small motors such as drills or blenders.

Battery systems will not have the endurance to run appliances such as refrigerators, so forget it. Even though there are cooler-sized refrigerators made for car travel, these will not work on a deep-cycle battery for more than a day before the battery requires a full recharge.

When storing deep-cycle batteries for months without use, be sure to fully charge them first. Use only a good quality charger and follow all manufacturer's directions. Remember that lead-acid batteries emit flammable gases and may leak. Finally, keep these and all electronics absolutely dry -- they cannot be exposed to rain.

Pennsic 36 (2007): Mystic Mail will have facilities for charging batteries for your camera, cell phone and other small devices. Inquire at the booth if you have a large deep-cycle battery.


Photovoltaic solar cells are the space-age solution to remote power. However they require considerably more knowledge of electronics to use them safely and effectively. I have never seen anyone using solar panels at Pennsic War but it is an ideal place for such things, if it can be done discreetly.

Photovoltaic power builds on all the concepts of Battery power described above, however the batteries are continually recharged by sun power, allowing you the freedom to have electric power on-hand around the clock for your entire stay at the War. You will need at least one panel ($200-1000), a deep-cycle battery ($60-80), a charge control module ($75) and a power inverter ($20-100). I recommend at least a 40 watt photovoltaic panel to start. Add more as your needs grow. Remember that although this is a big investment you can use all these things on other camping trips and maybe even at home.

For most of the equipment above, I recommend Alternative Energy Sources as a mail-order supplier. They also feature wind turbines which, although useless for Pennsic, may be fun to play with at home.

Note that even though you are creating a renewable energy source, this still will not be enough to handle appliances such as refrigerators which require enormous amounts of power 24 hours a day.

Gasoline Powered Generators

I'll start by saying this: Don't Bring One. Gas engines are noisy, smelly, and overall very unpleasant to your camp and your neighbors. They may also be prohibited by the bylaws of Pennsic.

I will relate this one short story that happened around Pennsic 23: One large group used a 4,000 watt generator to keep a beer truck cold and ran it 16 hours a day. Because they couldn't be bothered with their own noise, they placed the generator down the hill in the woods on a long extension cord. The constant drone grated on the nerves of everyone who camped around the lake, and finally on Thursday night someone finally got fed up with it. They sabotaged the generator by cutting every wire, every hose, and sugaring the gas tank.

Water Heaters

Over the years I have seen many ingenious ideas for making hot water, especially at Pennsic War. In my humble opinion hot running water has to be the #1 greatest luxury of the civilized world. This year I will try to take some pictures of set-ups used by larger camps to share on this website. If you have a set-up you wouldn't mind me photographing, please drop me a message using the comment form. Here are three general water heating methods:

Solar shower bags

These are specially designed plastic water bags with an insulating surface, a solar collecting surface, a spigot on one end and a handle on another. They cost $5 to $20 and hold between 1/2 and 2 gallons of water at a time. 1/2 gallon is enough for one person to shower head to toe comfortably as long as the water isn't left running all the time. Several people can share larger bags. Their big disadvantage: useless on cold, cloudy days when you'd want a hot shower the most.

Tank/cistern heated water

Good for large groups. The cistern method uses a water container supported on a tower. Some groups use a propane stove under the cistern to heat it. This can be made more efficient if the hot gasses flow through copper tubing which is wound inside the cistern.

By far the most popular tank-style water heater in use at Pennsic is the 5 gallon mobile home unit. These are expensive (around $400) but are really compact, durable, and heat water very fast. One heater will serve a camp of up to 30 people relatively well for both shower water and kitchen cleaning. Each heater will go through roughly two to three 20 lb propane tanks for the two weeks of War.

For those groups who have extra packing room or store their goods at Cooper's Lake over the winter, a full-sized gas fired hot water heater is economical and efficient. A one-time purchase price of about $150 can buy a real propane powered water heater and happiness for your whole campsite. Basic knowledge of plumbing and managing gas fittings is essential.

Purchasing bulk propane is ideal for either application.

Flash water heaters

These are rapidly gaining in popularity and are ideal for large groups who desire a portable unit. The most common of these units is what's called a "tankless water heater" and is an advanced propane water heater that only fires up when hot water is in demand. I assume they are pretty efficient because you aren't trying to keep 30-50 gallons of water heated all the time. They cost around $500 each and are by far the most expensive of the hot water options.

To do research on who makes and sells them, do a web search on "portable water heater" using Google.

While perusing these listings myself, I came across one outfit called Hot Camp Showers and in their catalog is a very portable unit for $300 called the "Hot Tap SC Plus self contained". It is expensive but the ratings look very good. If anyone has tried these I would be interested to hear of your experience.

Bulk Cooking

When cooking for more than 20 people, you probably want to start looking at industrial grade outdoor cooking gear. Two devices come to mind that I've had first-hand experience with, both available at Costco and Sam's Club, and both for less-than industrial prices.

Shrimp Cookers

This is a 30,000 BTU stand-alone propane burner that can boil 10 gallons of water in about 4 minutes. Very, very powerful. They are excellent for use with large pots but do not use them underneath flammable coverings such as screen tents. I also don't advise they be used for any kind of grilling. Their power comes at a price: they will drain your 20lb propane cylinders quickly. Cost: $50-70.

3-burner stoves w/grill top

This wonderful toy showed up on the market about 5 years ago and has been the workhorse of my group's kitchen, easily replacing all the Coleman stoves used in the past. It is a triple-burner propane stove with independent controls. Some models may have electronic ignition which I would strongly recommend. Ours came with a sheet steel grill top which has been perfect for every task from burgers to pancakes. Cost: approx. $100

Bulk Propane

Well if you haven't guessed by now, propane is the key to many creature comforts as well as most cooking needs. If your campsite will use considerable amounts of propane, you are really talking about a bulk supply. Disposable 16 oz propane cylinders are expensive and wasteful. Virtually any device that runs on a disposable cylinder can be converted to a 20 lb propane tank using a $10 adapter.


The key is really the adapters, 2 to 4 foot long high-pressure hoses with specialised brass fittings on each end. They usually sell for $16 at most department stores but you might find them for as low as $10. Be aware that there are now two fittings commonly in use for refillable tanks. The older style is called "POL" and it has a reverse thread and usually requires a crescent wrench to attach to the tank. The newer style is larger and uses a normal thread direction. I am pointing this out so you will know to check the fitting before you buy your adapter.

100 lb tanks

Years ago when I took part in running a food service at Pennsic, we rented two 100 lb propane cylinders from Agway Energy Products. Their price was very reasonable and they both dropped off and picked up the tanks at no additional cost (this was 12 years ago, terms may have changed). You can also arrange to have them "top off" your tanks mid-War if you expect a high usage. To get their services you will probably be required to open a commercial account with Agway prior to Pennsic. Several campsites and food merchants use Agway every year and their truck can be seen wandering Pennsic from time to time.


Okay, so you're one of those lucky ones in E05, E06 or the merchant area who has a real 120v hookup. Congratulations! Did you know that you can rent *real* refrigerators for the whole two weeks of Pennsic War for about $40, delivered? There's an outfit in New Castle called Allhouse Appliances (3457 Wilmington Rd, New Castle, PA, Tel: 724-654-4334) that may have older model refrigerators for rent. (Thanks very much to Phoenix for this info tidbit!)

If you don't want to rent, you may want to consider one of the larger dormitory-sized refrigerators you can buy at K-Mart or Home Depot for only about $100. They come in sizes up to about 5 cu.ft. which is large enough to store a few days worth of produce and meats for you and a small family.

Important Tip: If you do get a refrigerator, keep it out of sunlight at all times. Most refrigerators, especially the smaller ones, will not be able to keep up with the heat of the sun on them and you'll find you have an oven instead of a freezer. Refrigerators also don't do well when water is poured on them so keep them out of the rain.

Last modified: 11-June-2007

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