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Getting Involved
The Necessities
Your First Event
Beyond the Basics
Pennsic Guide

Pennsic Preparation

(or why is everyone panicking in January)

Before I begin, I would like to give credit to a gracious Lord, Gunnbjorn Gunnarsson, who nicely gave me permission to adapt one of his articles for my own purposes.

I have included a section for getting ready for Pennsic, in its own seperate section for a very good reason. This is the one event that preparations for, will consume you for months ahead of time. You will probably be hearing people worry already that they have put off preparations for Pennsic (in August) too late.If is February, that may seem like a bit of exaggeration. But actually its really not.In fact it's never too early to start getting ready for Pennsic.

What is Pennsic

At any point, topic of conversation will eventually turn to Pennsic. If you're in the SCA and live within a thousand miles of Cooper's Lake, you probably know a lot of people who've been there. In fact, if you live anywhere and are in the SCA, you almost certainly know someone who's been there.

Pennsic War is the annual inter-kingdom "war" between the Middle Kingdom and the East Kingdom, held in Western Pennsylvania. The site for the War is Copper's Lake Campground off I-79 and 422 between Butler and Newcastle, near Slippery Rock. (For more details visit the web sites at the end of this article.) Pennsic is the oldest and biggest (10,000 or so people!) of the inter-kingdom wars.

Getting Ready

Pennsic is a two week long camping event. Most people tend to go for the second week, though many go for both. What that means is that you'll need to pack as you would for any week-long camping trip, PLUS all of your SCA stuff. It means you'll need all of the normal camping gear (tent, cooking equipment, bedding, and so on) as well as enough SCA-related gear (garb and so on) for a week (or however long you intend to stay).

If you never been camping, this is NOT the event to try it out. It is overwhelming for people whohave done it for years and years, neverless a newcomer. Start with one of the smaller events like Alles Faire, get used to the type of gear you will need, do test runs on tents and the like and slowly add to the ever growing piles of equipmentin your garage. ( I set my tent up 3 times in my backyard to make sure I knew how to put it up quickly and easily and trust meat 1 am, this is a good thing~ R)

Making Lists

Start out by making a list of stuff for Pennsic. If you are going to camp with the Shire Encampment this shortens your list tremendously. If you are camping with another group, talk to the members of that group and cross off anythingthat they say you won't need to bring. Then, list everything else you absolutely need, then add everything you think you might want, then again start crossing stuff off. Be aware of how you're going to get this stuff out there!!

Pennsic Camping List for Shire Camping

Basic Considerations

The Weather - Be prepared for anything. And I do mean anything. 40 degree nights and 100 degree days. Rain. High wind. Hail. Sun. Mud. Drought. Humidity. Make sure that you have garb for all conditions, and don't forget the sunblock. Make sure your camping gear can stand up to a monsoon. Be aware of how any of these weather conditions may effect your health, and be prepared.

Obviously, being prepared for any kind of weather applies to ALL of your gear; garb, shelter and bedding. A tent that lets water in can be a miserable place in a driving rain; a cold night can be hell without a blanket; wearing a garbage bag like a tunic is a poor substitute for a poncho or a waterproof cloak and will get you laughed at; if all your tunics are heavy wool you won't be happy when the temperature reached 90.

Clothing - Bring clothing that is relatively period to wear in all weather conditions. In fact, most people tend to bring every piece of garb they own or have room to pack. Keep a change of mundane cloths locked in your car in case everything you have in camp gets washed into the river or blown across I-79. Keep a dry pair of mundane shoes in the car as well.

Make sure that you have appropriate footwear for all conditions. At Pennsic, it's a good idea to sacrifice "periodicity" for practicality in this area. You will do a lot of walking at Pennsic ( miles and miles and miles). Even though many of the main roads in the campground are paved now, most of them still aren't. The stones on the unpaved roads will eat your moccasins in short order. Sandals, while period, probably aren't the best choice for Pennsic shoes either. You are going to do a lot of walking at Pennsic. A LOT of walking. If you aren't sure you can walk about a mile a day for a week (minimum), get out on the road this summer and take a hike. Lots of hikes, actually. Make sure that any footwear you bring is up to the challenge, and well broken in. Pennsic is decidedly NOT the place to break in a pair of new shoes.

A cloak of some kind is almost a necessity, even if it's just a rectangle of wool the size of a beach towel pinned at one shoulder (Viking style). Wool sheds water pretty well, by the way.

If you are short on cold-weather garb, have a sweater handy to wear under a tunic. A plain one will do nicely, and is relatively period.


They used to say that Cleanliness was next to Godliness. At Pennsic it's next to impossible, but you need to do your best. Every year there are stories about "Pennsic Plague," a generic term covering any number of bacteria-caused complaints. There seems to be somethingnew each year, depending on what the weather conditions bring you.The best thing to do is know what you are up against and prepare for it properly.

There are Sanitary facilities in the campground, but they tend to be inadequate for the number of people who show up every year. Hot showers are fairly rare unless you manage to grab themlate at night or early early morning. The shire has in past years set up washing facilities in the encampment,and many other camps do the same thing. This makes it alot easier to keep clean, and if you are likesome of us, showering is often twice a day, to get the grunge and dust off. There are porta toilets that are some of the cleanest I have ever seen ( they are cleaned daily ) but it its stilla good idea to keep anti bacterial soaps and hand washes with you . This and doing things like washing dishes in HOT water (and a drop or two of bleach in the rinse water will help), washing your hands frequently and your whole self daily, and wearing clean clothes will help stave off the Pennsic Plague(s).

A few general health rules to remember : ul>
  • Sunburn is a bad thing. Take a good sunblock and remember to use it when the sun threatens to shine. You can get very bad sunburns at Pennsic through forgetting this rule.
  • Dehydration is a bad thing. Drink LOTS of water. Not Coke, not Gatorade, not Snapple, but drinkable water. You may find yourself drinking lots of beer in the evening; if so then before bed drink lots and LOTS of water.
  • Infection is a bad thing. Treat all cuts as soon as is practical. Wash them in clean water, use some solution of Hydrogen Peroxide if you have it, use an antibacterial ointment if you have it, and use a bandage.
  • Hangovers are a REAL BAD bad thing. The easy answer is don't overdo the drinking. There are a tonof parties at Pennsic, and drinking is naturally one of them. After drinking too much alcohol drink lots of water and eat some enriched white bread (it has a lot of B-1, which you will really want in a few hours) and keep the aspirin handy.
  • Wash your hands frequently, preferably with an antibacterial soap.

    Laundry- While we're on the subject of washing, don't go to War without some idea of how you're going to wash (and dry) your clothes, and pack accordingly. There IS a small laundry in the campground; two washers and two dryers. Don't even bother assuming you willmanage to fight off the crowds and use them. It's almost impossible. Chemises and similar undergarments are easy to rinse out and dry by hanging them up ( unless its raining of course ), but dont forget to consider the reactionof people you are camping with, to your undies hanging around

    What many people do, if they have to dolaundry is to drive into Butler or Newcastle ( nearby towns) and use a Laundromat there .

    Cooking and Food This is another area that you need to check with the group you are camping with about. Chances are you will be doing one of two things, fending for yourself, and possibly sharing communal equipment, or sharing in a meal plan. The Shire generally has one or two communal meals, and otherwise everyone is ontheir own for meals, but do share kitchen facilities. Make sure you know which you are participating in before you go.

    As far as food goes, most people will tell you Dont bother to bring anything with you. There are a coupleof really nice grocery stores near the camp ( Giant Eagle) and they are used to people shopping in garb. They tendto try to cater to us for the two weeks of Pennsic. There is also a small store in camp itself for basics, ( BUY THE CHOCOLATE MILK), ice and nice treats like ice cream bars !!

    Bring with you, only enough food that you know you will need to get you through until you can get out to the store.

    Water The water at Pennsic has a very high iron content in it. This means it can be really interestingshades of orange at times. It does not mean its undrinkable, but most people will concede that bottled wateris the best solution. The shire encampment, and I will assume most encampments ) do request either money per head for water or donations of water itself on a per person basis. The same goes for ice.

    Bugs and other pests Always bring bug repellant. It's just a good idea. But on the other hand, the owners of Cooper's Lake, the week before Pennsic "bugbomb" the place. They do a damn good job. It really cuts down on the mosquitoand fly populations, just need to do something about the ants now.

    Other goodies to keep in a well stocked first aid kit are obviously special medicines if you have allergiesto insect bites or stings and the normal ointments and anti itch creams for those that are not.

    Other pests you may come across :
    Skunks. ( enought said ..take care of your garbage )
    Mice and voles ( interesting to watch as they crawl under your tarps and tent floors
    Spiders, ants and other normal crawly things

    First Aid There is an ambulance on site at all times. A nearby hospital, and an entire staff of people trained in first aid at Pennsic. Don't be a martyr, and don't be foolish. Take care of yourself, and makesure you have a good basic first aid kit with you.

    FireFires - Camping almost always means campfires, even if you're not cooking over an open fire. Here's another lesson to learn and remember; most "period" stuff BURNS REAL GOOD!Of course, modern stuff won't always burn; sometimes it melts and gives off toxic fumes. Your Pennsic handbook (you'll get one when you enter the campground) will have an excellent article on fire safety, but here are a few things to ponder until then.

    • Open flames in a tent, even just a candle, are a BAD idea and probably against the fire rules. A lot of people ignore this rule, and if you're in a period canvas tent it's probably less of a problem, but NEVER have so much as a candle in a modern Nylon tent. Use a flashlight, or a battery-operated "candle" in a candle lantern. Never use an oil lamp in a sealed nylon tent, as fumes tend to accumulate rather quickly.
    • Rules for the distance between a fire pit and any tents, the number and type of fire extinguishers in your camp, and any other fire safety issues will be published well before War, as well as the details worked out by whoever is setting up the camp layout.
    • Simple Boy Scout stuff: Never leave a fire unattended. Never make a bigger fire than you actually need. Never start a fire with flammable liquid. Always keep some tinder and dry wood covered in case of foul weather.

    Registering for Pennsic

    If you are camping with the Shire, watch the email list for announcements for registering. You will still have to register on your own, but you will need the formal name for the Shire encampment, in order to register as part of the group.

    If you are camping with another group. Contact someone in that group to find out what name to register under.

    You can now register online at

    You will get confirmation in the mail a few weeks after you have registered. Keep this..its what you need to get in.

    Once you get there the first thing you will need to do is register and pay extra fees still owing. There will be a tent set up for this purpose just inside the entrance to the campground. (It's called the Troll Tent, or simply Troll, for reasons various and silly.)

    When they have your money and your information, they will give you a Pennsic Handbook and a site medallion. Wear the medallion at ALL TIMES, and if you lose it go to Troll immediately for a replacement. Keep the receipt for your fees with you as well. Read the entire Pennsic Handbook at your earliest convenience.


    This is alot of information to throw at any new person. But, it truly seems more overwhelming than it really is.The best advice is to talk to people, read alot and just relax. There will always be people around to help you get ready for your first Pennsic.

    Disclaimer: This is the Newcomers Page for the Shire of Hartshorn-dale of the East Kingdom of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc.  The maintainer of this page is Lee Ann Posavad.  It is not a corporate publication of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc. and does not delineate SCA policies. In cases of conflict with printed versions of material presented on this page or its links, the dispute will be decided in favor of the printed version.
    This page last modified March 21, 2003.
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