For those who have never been to War before, well, it is everything you think it could be... and more! I firmly believe that the more prepared you are, the better your adventure will be. Below are some tips that I share with newcomers to my group who are planning to attend their first Pennsic.
- When planning for your garb, plan to take as much with you as you can, especially your cooler, lightweight items. These will come in handy for the potential heat and humidity that often comes with Pennsic. Natural fibres are your friends! Linen is my fabric of choice, but if you are just starting out or are on a tight budget, opt for 100% cotton whenever possible. Polyester and acetate can be miserable on a hot humid day (sometimes rayon can work though, just make sure the weave feels as though it it will breathe).
- I also take with me to war what I call "Camp Dresses" - these are loose t-tunics of light-weight gauze. I tend to wear them only in camp when most of my group is lounging around during the hottest part of the day. They can be rinsed out as often as needed and dry quickly.
- Make sure that you or someone else in your camp has a laundry rack. If you are just starting out you might not be going to Pennsic with bins and bins of garb and may need to do laundry. Some individuals opt to leave site and visit a laundrymat, but so many more prefer to just wash the garb in-camp and hang it to dry (don't forget to bring it in at night so the dew does not re-soak your clothes). If you pack your supplies in plastic Rubbermaid tubs one of those can double as a wash bin for your garb and if you do not have detergent with you most shampoos will work just as well.
- Make sure you have at least one set of warm garb and a warm cloak. Occasionally there will be a night at Pennsic when the temperature can drop down in the 50s or even the 40s. The cloak can also double as an extra blanket if needed! (Coat-weight wool is the best choice for cloaks but if you want fast and easy you can make a quick no-sew half circle cloak from polar fleece. All you will need is the fleece and a brooch to pin it!)
- For the reasons mentioned above, bring every blanket you own. I know that sounds as though it is going a bit nuts, but I get cold easily and despite that I have cold-weather sleeping bags there have been several nights where I still needed to pile on many extra blankets.
- If Pennsic is one of your first events, and you are rushing to make enough garb to get through a week, opt for simple. You will see a bit of everything when there and the garb you think you want may not be what you decide you actually want after seeing the spectrum of garb fabulosity that comes with the larger SCA events. Having 5 simple tunics or gowns will make you a happier camper than one stiflingly hot, but lovely, high Renn costume!
- If you do already have a few nice pieces of garb, bring those with you! You might want to go to Court or out for Midnight Madness and want to dress your finest. Or you might even get lucky and have a non-sweltering Pennsic that allows you to wear your finery at all times (it doesn't happen often, but it can happen).
- Make sure you have supportive, comfortable shoes that are broken-in prior to war. And have more than one pair. And while you are packing those, bring a pair you don't mind getting muddy and wet. I know someone who had to duct tape her feet for the duration of Pennsic because she got so many blisters from a pair of new sandals that it was impossible to put bandaids on them all. Don't be that person!
- Bring lots of sunblock and use it. NOTE, most of the spray and sports sunblocks have ingredients that will stain light-colored garb. The best ones I have found that do not stain are those by Nutrogena (the non-spray type). If your garb does get stained, it can take a dozen washes to get it back out and sometimes it never comes out.
- Bring lots of towels, because if we all prepare for lots of rain, we wont have any! ;-) If you are there more than a few days and its humid, a towel can actually start to funkify even if you hang it to dry after each use. I plan to have a towel for every 2-3 days I will be there. I also buy cheap washcloths in bulk at Walmart. I can use them once or twice and toss them if need be rather than bringing soppy facecloths home.
- Bring heavy-duty trashbags (I use contractor bags). If the weather gets really bad and your tent springs a leak, you can cram your belongings into them to prevent total saturation of your wardrobe and gear.
- Drink extra fluids the day before you go to set up, and make sure you drink a lot of water while there! Take drinking water with you to keep in your camp and make sure that you stay hydrated. Drink extra water if you plan to drink in the evenings are are doing activities (such as fighting or dancing) that will further dehydrate you.
- I know the delicate subject of "chafing" comes up on occasion. Many people wear shorts or bloomers under their gowns to prevent that. Another option (or if it's too hot to layer bloomers under your garb) is use an anti chafing gel. This stuff is carried under many of brands and can be found in sports supply stores, at make-up counters as a primer (though that's a pricey way to get it) and just at the pharmacy as a product called Soothing Care (warning, this one is in the women's section...)
- Make sure you have all of your regular medications well supplied before you go. If you need something like a rescue inhaler or epi-pen, make sure that you carry it with you at all times.
- Speaking of things you should carry with you at all times, please make sure that you have your Pennsic medallion (given to you when you arrive and check-in to the site) and your ID with you at all times. I typically have a small pouch I can attach to a belt in the event I choose to go out at night without a purse. You do not want to be turned away at night from a party because you forgot your ID and you really do not want to risk having an emergency situation and have no one know who you are.
- If you have a period tent it does not suck to purchase latex baby bottle nipples to put over the spike on your tent pole. These form a great seal between the pole and the grommet in the event it does rain - no water inside!
- Whatever your tent, make sure it is in working condition before you leave. Double check your packing list to make sure you have all necessary parts (stakes, poles, canvas, drop-cloth...). Yes, I know someone who arrived at an event and had to go home again to get the tent poles.
- If you decide that Pennsic is for you and plan to go back, I strongly recommend looking at styles of period tents while there (and stop by to visit the folks at Panther Primitives while at the market). Canvas and tall ceilings are more comfortable in the heat then nylon. If you do not have the budget or means of transporting a cumbersome period tent, I cannot recommend Springbar tents enough. They are canvas rather than nylon, but fold compactly as most modern tents do.
I think that is is for now. I will post some additional thoughts later on things-to-do and how to enjoy your first (or tenth!) Pennsic :-)