UPDATED FOR PENNSIC 50! About to attend her 43rd Pennsic, Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope has compiled an array of tips and ideas on how to have the best possible experience at the War. In part one, she’ll list some things you can do now to prepare for Pennsic, including what to bring along and how to ensure that you’re ready.
Pre-Pennsic Things to Do
- Walk. Get used to it beforehand because you’ll do a lot of walking at Pennsic. A WHOLE lot. Walk at lunch or before/after work, and wear the shoes (you do have at least 2 pair, right?) that you’ll be wearing at Pennsic so you get them well broken in. Blisters do not a happy camper make.
- Make lists. Keep a running list of the things you need to do, make, and pack. You’d be surprised at the things you forget at first that pop up later, and you’ll need those lists to ensure that you have everything at packing time.
- Sew. Concentrate on light-weight simple underclothes (shirts, shifts) of breathable, natural fabric, preferably linen or lightweight wool, though cotton will do. Silk is also a natural fiber but tends to be warm. Make as many as you can (one for every day you’ll be at Pennsic, if you don’t want/plan to do laundry). Overtunics/gowns can be worn more than once if you have underclothes to soak up the perspiration. You can get cheap cotton at those Wal-Marts that still sell fabric or from the bargain racks at JoAnn Fabrics. In general, you want solid colors in non-neon shades.
- New fighters and fencers: it’s better to get your first authorization before Pennsic. At this writing, we do not know if you will be able to authorize AT Pennsic. Authorizations were permitted at Pennsic 49, but that was not the case in previous years. In Æthelmearc, authorizations submitted after 10:59 pm on July 15 will not be processed until after Pennsic per the Authorizations Clerk. That said, it’s smart to practice ahead of the war and get comfortable fighting before jumping straight into the chaos of melees with hundreds of fighters all buzzed on adrenaline and too little sleep.
- Repair any damaged gear. If you’ve been in the SCA long enough for your armor, weapons, clothing, or other equipment to have some wear, check it for any needed repairs and then make them. Don’t wait until you get to Pennsic to discover that the buckle on your cuisses needs to be replaced or there’s a seam coming apart in your favorite gown. While you’re at it, set your tent up in the back yard and check it for any issues. If you’ve just bought a new tent, set it up at home in daylight and good weather so you know how it goes together. This will make it far easier if (when) you have to set it up in the dark and/or rain when you get to Pennsic.
- Shop wisely. To avoid spending a fortune, keep an eye out for sales and/or shop at thrift stores and dollar stores.
Thrift stores: candles, goblets/tankards and other feast gear, baskets, bedding, sometimes even camp stoves, bota bags, candle lanterns and hats.
- Dollar stores: plastic totes, candles, sunscreen, toiletries, flashlights, canned and vacuum-sealed food items, small plastic tables for your tent, towel racks and sometimes folding chairs.
- Some items become cheaper in late July, like folding camp chairs, while others become hard to find, like small propane canisters or inflatable wading pools.
- Some things should not be economized on:
- Buy a good sleeping bag or you may freeze if (when!) it gets really cold at night.
- Get heavy tent stakes – not those rinky-dink little plastic ones, but 12-18″ long ones, preferably metal, so your tent doesn’t go rolling across the field in a strong wind.
- Buy sturdy leather shoes and break them in before Pennsic, though flip-flops or crocs for midnight porta-john runs or showering are useful too.
- Get a wool cloak. It will stay warm even when it’s wet. To economize, you can buy a big wool blanket or two at the thrift store to make into a cloak.
- Heat train. Not everyone likes this idea, but many people turn their AC down or even off a few weeks before Pennsic so they’re used to the heat when they get there. Bonus: you’ll save money on your energy bill.
- Pack as much as you can as far in advance as you can. Don’t make yourself crazy packing at the last minute. As soon as you’ve attended your last pre-Pennsic event, pack the items you won’t use again until Pennsic in a tote and stick it in a corner until it’s time to load the car. Then check those items off your list. That way you won’t be wondering later whether you packed something or not.
- Pre-register with a group. It’s too late to pre-register now, but keep it in mind for next year. Make sure to talk to your group’s Land Agent first to verify that they’re ok with you camping with them, and let them know your tent size. If you don’t pre-register, you can camp in single-camping space (it’s not for “single” (unmarried) people, it’s for people who did not pre-register with a group), but I strongly recommend camping with a group like a household, shire, or barony. Camping with a group often gives you access to amenities like an in-camp hot shower, a communal canopy, and a fire pit, as well as neighbors who can lend a hand when needed. Random Scadians usually help each other in emergencies or when they see a need, but when you’re not feeling well or need a small favor, it’s easier to get assistance when you’re part of a group.
- Pick your campmates very carefully. This is your vacation, do not spend it with people who will annoy you.
- Check the Pennsic website, www.pennsicwar.org. Look at it frequently, because its content changes all the time! Study the map of the campground. Read the schedules, event guide, Pennsic rules. and list of classes. Create your own schedule (or even day planner) listing the events and activities you want to attend. There will be too many things to do, and it will be easy to forget the ones you want most if you don’t write them down or add them to your phone’s calendar.
- Budget. Save ahead of time for Pennsic, remembering that you can apply grocery and entertainment money that you would have spent back home. Decide how much you are willing/able to spend on Pennsic, and stick to your budget or you will be paying for Pennsic until Christmas! Consider all the costs: entry fee, meals, drinks, gas, entertainment, and shopping. Decide what one or two big purchases you want to make AT Pennsic (A sword? Armor? A new gown or tunic? A particular book? A musical instrument?), and save up for them.
- Waterproof. This includes your tent, the hem of your cloak, and your shoes. Even in the unlikely event that it doesn’t rain, there’s always dew. Scotchguard and Mink Oil are your friends. Pack socks and undies in ziplock bags, line all suitcases with plastic bags or use those plastic totes. Leave a full change of clothing, both warm and cold, locked in your car in case of monsoons. That way, if you have to drag wet stuff to a laundromat off-site, at least you’ll do it in dry clothes.
- Protect yourself from your own stupidity. Almost every first-timer overspends. Leave enough money for gas/food to get you home locked in the glove compartment of your car, or make sure you have a credit card with room on it. And lock your car while it’s in the parking lot so your cash can’t be stolen!
- Trim your fingernails short immediately before leaving. They’ll probably get broken and dirty anyway, especially during set up/tear down of your camp. If you can’t bear the thought of trimming them, apply a thick coat of polish and/or acrylic nails to protect them.
- Refill your medications. Check that you have enough to last through the War and a little beyond. If you need refills sooner than you usually would be allowed to get them, ask your pharmacy for a “vacation refill” which lets you get them early and still be covered by your health insurance, if you have it. Also, check whether any of your meds cause issues like sun sensitivity, because you’ll be in the sun a LOT.
- Put a Hold on your Mail. Unless you have someone collecting your mail for you while you’re at Pennsic, you want to ensure that mail isn’t overflowing your mailbox, cluing strangers in that you are away. You can do this online by going to the USPS website and entering the start and end dates of the Hold period. You might want to have them deliver the held mail the day before you return, or if your mailbox won’t hold a large volume of mail, you can choose to pick it up at your local post office.
- Bring some masks. This is NOT about Covid (Covid vaccination/tests and indoor masks are not required this year). But Western PA has been subject to smoke from the wildfires in Canada twice as of June 30th, and there are no guarantees it won’t happen during Pennsic. The Air Quality Index has been as high as the upper 200s (i.e. the purple zone, which means Very Unhealthy), and unlike at home, you can’t sequester yourself indoors. Masks won’t filter out all of it, but they can help. N95/KN95 masks will provide the best protection. You can monitor the air quality with the EPA’s “AirNow” app, free on GooglePlay.
- Stop your mail. If no one will be home while you’re at Pennsic, make sure to stop your mail so it doesn’t pile up in your mailbox or on your doorstep, making it obvious to others that you aren’t home. You can put a hole on your mail using the USPS website.
What Amenities are Available On Site?
Cooper’s Lake has been hosting Pennsic for decades, and has a lot of infrastructure that makes things comfortable. Here are some of the amenities you can expect to find:
- The Coopers’ Store is open from 8am to 9pm and has everything from camping supplies, lumber, firewood, and souvenirs to snacks, fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, soft drinks, baked goods, and meat. They even charge reasonable prices instead of gouging like a tourist trap. There are also vending machines with water and soft drinks in the area near the bathhouse, the food court, and the square near Information Point. If you don’t find what you need on-site, there are shopping plazas 20 minutes away with Wal-Mart, grocery stores, and liquor stores in New Castle (west on Rt. 422), Butler (east on Rt. 422), and Slippery Rock (north on I-79).
- Most blocks have a water spigot somewhere on them, but it could be many yards from your camp. If you intend to set up an in-camp shower or sink, bring a hose with a Y-splitter and backflow preventer to run water to your camp. Hoses that cross roads must be buried to avoid being a tripping hazard or getting damaged by cars. You must leave at least one faucet open on all spigots so others can access the water.
- Electrical outlets are available in a few select areas around the camp but these are only really available to the people camping in that block. Outlets in the bathhouse, Great Hall, and other buildings may not be used for cell phone charging, though it’s fine to use a hair dryer at the bathhouse. However, some venues with electric service will allow people volunteering for shifts working there to charge their cell phones, including Performing Arts, Information Point, Newcomers’ Point, and Heralds’ Point.
- Need charging, printing, or an Internet connection to check in with work, keep up with family or customers, or just get an occasional modern world fix? The Coopers’ Lake Internet Cafe (CLIC) located next to the store has computers, printers, Wi-Fi, spots to hook up your own laptop, and charging services for a fee. It’s open 8 am to 7 pm but it’s small, so there may be a wait during busy times. Wi-Fi connections are available for a fee; the signal extends around the barn and into the battlefield and Serengetti.
- Coin-operated washers and dryers are available in the basement of the bathhouse, but there are only a few machines and they are in constant demand so you may have a long wait. The best time to use them is in the wee hours of the night or very early in the morning, typically before 7 am. Bring lots of quarters, as well as laundry detergent (though you can buy that at the Coopers’ store, there are no vending machines with it in the laundromat). Many people either hand wash and line dry clothing in their camps, or go off-site. There’s a laundromat off Rt. 422 in Prospect, PA about 9 miles east of Pennsic.
- Flush toilets are located in the bathhouses near the Coopers’ store and at the bottom of Runestone Hill. Portajohns with hand sanitizer are available throughout the site and are generally pretty well maintained, but in areas where camps hold parties that involve a lot of heavy drinking, the portajohns can become a little… ripe… overnight. The “honey wagon” services the portajohns twice a day during war week, and once a day during peace week.
- The Food Court across from the troll offers everything from Italian, Greek, and Chinese to burgers or meat and potatoes. One popular eatery, the Beast and Boar, also does breakfast. On hot days, the ice cream stand does brisk business. There are picnic tables in the main areas and a few smaller seating areas under tents for individual restaurants. There’s also a small cafe and ice cream stand in the barn next to the Coopers’ store.
- ATMs are available at the Coopers’ store and in the food court.
- Propane, ice, and bottled water are sold at the Coopers’ store on the east side of the building. There’s usually a semi-trailer there since they bring in a LOT of water and ice.
- Dumpsters are available on the battlefield, across from Security near the Troll, at the north end of the Serengetti, and other spots around the site. There are recycling bins available as well including one on the southeast corner of the battlefield by Currie Rd.
- The First Aid Station is located on Brewer just north of the Watch (Security) and Troll, and is open 24/7. It is staffed by a nearby professional EMS station and provide basic First Aid as well as evaluations for more serious conditions, though they will send you off-site to Butler Hospital for any major health issues. There’s a misting tent outside the station where you can cool off when it’s hot.
- Buses. There are two bus routes around the camp, but only one or two buses, which follow all three routes sequentially. The buses do not have a specific schedule because there are too many factors that can cause delays, like bad weather making certain roads impassible. Just find a spot on the route and wait for a bus to come by. Information on routes is available here.
- Disability services. Pennsic has a variety of disability services, but many of them must be requested in advance and reservations for things like charging time can go quickly. A special camp is available for people with disabilities and their family, but you must sign up early (this year’s date is already past) and space is limited. Other disability services include:
- Handicapped parking with a state-issued handicapped sign on your vehicle
- Accessible portajohns
- Signing services on request
- Charging stations for electric wheelchairs, scooters, CPAP machines, etc.
Service animals must be registered with Pennsic personnel and must meet certain criteria. Emotional support animals are not permitted. As always, please clean up after your animal and be courteous. There is a dog run down the hill from the bathhouse if your dog needs exercise.
More information on Disability Services is available here.
What to Bring
- Some cash. Yes, there are ATMs on site, but lines can be long and they charge a hefty fee. And while most merchants take credit cards, not all do, and you may need cash for things like paying your sump digger or tipping the newspaper carriers and ice delivery kids.
- Don’t stress too much about little stuff. The Coopers’ store carries most of the things you’re likely to forget, including toiletries, snacks, and camping supplies.
- Drinking water. Pennsic water is safe to drink (don’t believe people who tell you otherwise; it’s been tested) but it is filled with a lot of minerals, especially iron, so it doesn’t taste good, doesn’t look appetizing as it turns orange in the sun or when heated as the iron precipitates out, and could upset your stomach if you’re sensitive. You can buy bottled water on site, but to reduce costs, save up empty water jugs before Pennsic and fill them from the tap at home, making sure they’re tightly capped to prevent spillage en route. Don’t try to clean milk jugs – it’s almost impossible to get them clean enough to avoid the sour milk smell and taste. Note that the Coopers have added filtration to the water system but it hasn’t made it to all regions of the campground yet.
- Solar cell phone/tablet charger. If you rely on your cell phone or tablet, you’re going to need to charge it at some point. If your camp doesn’t have electricity and you don’t want to pay to charge your phone or volunteer at a venue that allows charging, then you probably want to pick up a solar charger or a charging brick. For solar chargers, make sure to get one with a battery so you can hang it from the south side of your tent or place it on a table in the sun during the day to charge, then plug your phone into it overnight. All that said, do try to be discreet about your cell phone or tablet use. Consider buying a leather or faux-wood case to make it look like a medieval book, and/or keeping it stowed in your pouch. When you must use it, try to be unobtrusive; please don’t walk around the merchants or through the camp yakking on your phone.
- Lots of people have packing lists, and they vary widely from person to person. There’s a pretty good one on the Pennsic website here.
- Group your packing list by type of object, to make it easier to avoid missing items. I use the following categories:
- Shelter (tent, tarp, dining fly, ropes, poles, stakes, hammer, etc.) It doesn’t need to be a pretty medieval pavilion; a modern nylon tent will do.
- Bedding (air mattress or cot, sleeping bag, pillow, blankets, sheets)
- Clothes (garb, modern clothes, hats, shoes, fans, and other accessories)
- Cooking equipment (pots, pans, camp stove, dish detergent and sponge, feast gear including a mug on a strap to hang from your belt)
- Food (cooler items including fruit, veggies and cold cuts, boxed/canned non-perishables, drinks including water and alcohol). The camp store has real food, so don’t bring a week’s worth – it’ll only spoil in the heat and rain anyway. And yes, you can eat at the food court instead of cooking, but it will cost a lot more than making it yourself.
- Toiletries (soap & shampoo, towels, medications, 1st aid kit, bug spray, sunscreen, earplugs for light sleepers, safety pins, plastic trash bags, clothes pins to hang wet clothes, tissues)
- Misc. (basket or tote bag, blank book or note book with a pen/pencil, folding table, candles, flashlight, batteries, phone charger, banner, book to read, plastic basin for washing your clothes, dishes, and feet!)
- “Toys” (armor & weapons, scribal supplies, musical instruments, embroidery, archery equipment, throwing weapons, board games, etc.)
- Leave room for the stuff you’ll buy at Pennsic to come home! If possible, come with your suitcases/totes about 1/4 empty – even if you don’t buy much, stuff never packs as tightly going home as it did getting there.
- People with female anatomy, expect your monthly cycle to get out of whack, so you may want to bring supplies even if you’re not expecting to need them, or plan on a quick trip to the Coopers’ store. It has feminine hygiene supplies but with limited options, so you may not find your preferred brand or type. Note: a friend who did the math told me that, if you are at Pennsic for two weeks, there is a 70% chance you will have your period while there.
In the next installment, we’ll discuss what you should do once you arrive at Pennsic.