How the Trail Cam is Done

There has been lots of questions asked of me on how I set up the trail cam.  The purpose of this page will be to describe the methods and equipment used to allow a live web cam to be setup at the trail side.

The first thing I had to do was find a suitable location.  My plan was to have all the equipment (PC, monitor, cam) right at the trail and run power and a phone line to the equipment.  There is technology out there that allows just the cam to be there, but those cams are a bit pricey (about $500+) and are also better suited for a computer that is on a high speed internet connection.  I was fortunate enough to have a friend who's back yard backs up to one of the main trails up here, so after a little deal making, I got his permission to have all the equipment out there.  

Once the site was obtained, then I needed to figure out a way to secure the equipment from the weather and any vandals.  I realized that there was no way to make the equipment completely secure from vandals, but it needed to at least deter someone from wanting to mess with it.  My main concern with the weather was to keep the equipment dry.  I figured the cold would not be as much an issue, as the computer would generate it's own heat and most computer equipment works better under cold conditions that hot anyway.  Therefore, the box is not insulated and everything worked just fine, even with temps of -26 degrees F last year.  What I came up with is a box made of OSB plywood to hold the computer and monitor.  The box is elevated off the ground to allow easier access to and also to keep it from getting completely buried under the snow in the winter.  I still have to dig out around the computer in the winter, but I am afraid that if I elevate the box too much, then the strong winds that we get up here could topple it.  I actually use metal fence posts to elevate the box.  They are attached to the box and then the posts are driven into the ground.  I painted the outside of the box to help protect it from the moisture and attached aluminum roof flashing to the top to help protect it even further from the elements.  The roof was painted before the flashing was applied.  There is power and phone running to the box.  I had a second phone line setup and pay for it, so that it will not conflict with my friends phone line usage.  The box is only about 50 feet from the back of the house, so there was no meaningful voltage drop to the machine.  I do not know how far I could run power through extension cords before the power drop became too large to be able to run the computer, but a previous setup had a power cord run of about 100 feet and there was no problems.

To secure the camera and also get it closer to the trail, I used two 10 foot pieces of PVC electrical conduit.  I did not use all 10 feet of one of the pieces of PVC conduit.  Once end of the conduit is supported by the computers box and the other is supported by a 2x4.  I took metal strapping and helped to secure the camera end of the PVC to the 2x4.  I made sure to have the cam and it's 2x4 support 6-7 feet off the trail and it actually sits amongst several small trees.  That way I am not putting any snowmobiler at an adverse risk.  They would hit the trees before they hit the 2x4 and the 2x4 would also give quite easily and pull out of the ground.  The cam is about 100 feet from a road crossing in the trail, so speeds at that location are typically under 20 mph anyway.  To secure the cam, I used a PVC electrical junction box.  The box is normally used for connecting 2 separate lengths of the PVC tubing and forming a 90 degree angle.  I used one of the connection openings to allow the camera to look out of.  I removed the lower 1/2 of the connection receiver on the junction box because snow has a way of accumulating everywhere up here and would pile up in front of the camera and block the view.  I also placed a piece of 1/8" clear plastic in the opening that the camera looks through to help protect the camera from the elements.  The camera generates it's own little bit of heat and I did not have any problems with it functioning in temps as cold as -26 degrees.

As far as the camera to use, I have had success with the USB webcams from Logitech. The Logitech cams seem to be better in quality, reliability and durability than those from Microsoft, Intel, etc... You can find Logitech USB cams for $65-$100. 

If you want to go higher end and not have to have a computer on site to connect the cam to, you can pick up a netcam from Stardot Technologies. They are much more expensive, but are a stand alone unit and purpose built for outdoor monitoring (when used with a weatherproof housing).

Many of the cams come with their own software to run the cam, take a picture and then upload to the web.  However, I have found some of these software programs to be less than friendly to work with and they will not support other cams.  For those reasons, I use a cam software called WebcamXP.  The software can be downloaded for free from their website.  The free copy does not have an expiration date, but will put a watermark on all the images.  

I think that about covers the things.  Hope this helps anyone who is interested in having their own cam.

-John