The Two Most Important Winter Camping Accessories

Winter camping is awesome. The stillness and starkness of the world around you during the cold months can lead you to a deep sense of awe and inspiration. There’s just something so profound about sitting on the shore of your favorite lake while nature has wound-down to a slow creep.

There are some other benefits as well. Like being able to build a roaring fire and sit close beside the flames. Or feeling the warm companionship of your wife while snuggling inside your tent.

There’s also one very significant drawback to winter camping… it’s so damn cold!

For me, camping in the cold is all about finding ways to moderate the chill to a tolerable level so I can enjoy the experience. There are two little accessories that help.

Socks

Yes, believe it or not, many a camper has forgotten to bring along a nice clean, dry, pair of socks to wear inside the sleeping bag. I’m not a socks to bed kind of guy, but when it’s 30 degrees outside they make a big difference.

It doesn’t really matter what type of socks you wear as long as they’re dry. Even the slightest dampness will reduce the benefit greatly.

Knit Hat

Carheart Knit Hat You loose a massive amount of body heat through your head so keeping a lid on your noggin is a really good idea. I’ve got this old Carheart knit cap that I picked up years ago that works perfectly.
When choosing your hat look for one that has a tight weave that that is elastic. The tight weave helps retain body heat better and the elastic guarantees you’ll be able to pull it down over those ears.

Choose a hat that has no ribs or ridges woven in for decoration. Those will just annoy you while your head is on your pillow.

Summer Protection from Cutter Insect Repellants

This giveaway is sponsored by Cutter. They provided a bundle of products for us to use and review and are providing one of our readers with a fabulous bundle too!

bite-freeEverything is bigger in Texas. Really. Even the bugs.

And, every year I spend most of the summer covered in itchy welts thanks to blood thirsty mosquitoes and chiggers. But, not this year!

Cutter insect repellants to the rescue!

Thanks to Cutter I got a huge box of insect repellants to try out. There are sprays for the lawn, candles for the patio and picnic table, a backwoods spray for those tick infested woods we like to camp and hike in, an all natural spray for the kids and anywhere we need to spray directly on our skin and even a tiny to-go spray I can toss in my purse for when we go to the park.

Cutter Natural Insect Repellant
I’m most excited about the Natural spray. We’re pretty cautious about what goes into our bodies and this includes the products we may put on our skin and absorb through our bloodstream. I’ve never been a fan of deet, and while I have no problem spraying some heavy duty chemicals on my boots and pant legs before a hike in the woods, I won’t spray that stuff on my little ones’ skin, or my own skin for that matter.

cookoutgoodies

Since Cutter not only supplied us with a generous sampling of their products, but also a stipend to create a fun outdoor experience, I thought we’d all go camping. Thanks to four graduations and two weddings over the past couple of weekends that just didn’t happen. So, we had a great cookout in the backyard! I grabbed everything we needed for chili dogs and s’mores, we built a fire in the fire pit and set out our lawn chairs just like we would have done at the campground. The kids loved it. Oh, who am I kidding? We all enjoyed it! And, we did it bug-free thanks to Cutter. I burnt our Cutter Scented Citronella Vanilla & Lavender candle on the little table and sprayed the kids and I with the Natural Insect Repellant. Even tho the grass was wet from a recent rain and there were bugs everywhere we remained bite-free. For me and the baby that is almost a miracle… we’re both mosquito magnets.

The natural repellants contain no deet and use the following ingredients to repel nasty biting insects:

  • Lemon Eucalyptus: Plant-based protection with natural active ingredient
  • Oil derived from Geraniums

Cutter Insect Repellants for Camping
backwoodsSince I’m still eager to pack everyone up and go camping before the summer gets too hot, I’ve got a little pile of Cutter goods set aside to take with us:

  • Cutter CitroGuard Candles – three-wick candles in metal pails with handles, perfect for on the picnic table or beside the campfire.
  • Cutter Unscented Backwoods – Extra strong, deet based spray we can put on our pant legs and boots before hiking through the woods.
  • Cutter Natural Personal Insect Repellent – Great for the kids and direct spray-on-skin.

Mosquitoes Are More than Just Annoying
Last year’s West Nile outbreaks had everyone a little scared. This year the city is already driving by at night and spraying our lawns to help keep the virus from becoming an issue again. West Nile is often spread by infected mosquitoes biting humans, so taking measures to protect yourself does more than save you from some itchy welts… it could keep you from getting sick.

Cutter Insect Repellent: Useful Tips & Facts
The CDC cites PERSONAL REPELLENT USE as the single most effective way to reduce your risk. And, most people don’t used one.

Useful tips on how to best protect yourself from insects:
• Spray repellent on exposed skin, spreading the product with your hand to improve protection (mosquitoes can detect an unprotected area the size of a dime!).
• Pay special attention to protection during prime mosquito-biting hours (usually dusk to dawn).
• Eliminate standing water around your home/in outdoor areas you are spending time in. It is a huge attractor for mosquitoes! Get rid of containers that aren’t being used, empty water from flower pots, change water in bird baths and maintain clean gutters.
• Make sure window and door screens are in good condition — install or repair where necessary.

armspray

Want to learn more about Cutter products?
Follow Cutter on Facebook
Follow Cutter on Pinterest
Follow Cutter on YouTube

Win some Cutter Products This Weekend!
In case you hadn’t noticed, this post is sponsored by Cutter. We’re grateful for their support of our site and we’re excited to tell you we’ll be posting again on Friday with a great giveaway where you can win some Cutter products of your own!

Best Android Apps for Campers

5 Best Android Apps for Camping

Best Android Apps for CampersCamping under the stars may seem a bit primitive, and while we try to leave behind more of the electronics and luxuries at home when we’re roughing it, smartphones can actually bring a lot of fun to a camping trip and with the right apps, could help save a life. We all know about the compass apps and flashlight apps. They’re pretty cool. But what about a directory of first aid help or a map of the stars? These camping apps for Android have been rated some of the best available.

Location, location and safety – The Best Camping Apps for Android

Camp Finder – Campgrounds by CampingRoadTrip.com
Touted as the #1 app for campers and RV’ers this app will help you locate campgrounds and RV resorts across the USA. With great search capabilities and info on each campground, park and resort this app will make choosing a campsite fun and easy

My Tracks by Google Inc.
Knowing where you’ve been sure makes it easier to find your way home! But no one needs to know that’s why you’re using this app. My Tracks is a great way to show off where you’ve gone and how far you’ve hiked. This app using location based services to track your moves on the go, creating a map of your hike.

First aid by British Red Cross
Created by the British Red Cross, this app covers basic first aid. All the information is stored in the app itself meaning you don’t need cell service or an internet connection to access it. And, it’s free!

Android Apps and Games for Family Camping Trips

Sky Map – Sky Map Devs
Turn your smartphone into a star map with this app then lay down under the night sky and be amazed at all the constellations and planets and learn the names of the stars. Even the kids will enjoy this app!

Campfire Games by brew82
Once the sun has set and you’re all seated around the campfire you can pretty much count to ten and the small children will be bored. This app is full of rules to fun campfire games you can all play. Then rate the games you’ve tried and see what everyone else is playing and what their favorites are!

Not an Android user?

Fear not! We have a great post on camping apps for iPhones too!

Thomas Hiram Holding: Father of Modern Camping

Thomas Hiram HoldingThomas Hiram Holding was, in 1908, the worlds leading proponent and practitioner of camping. It seams strange to me now to think that there was a time when humans didn’t camp for enjoyment. But up until the late 1800s people camped out of necessity not sport.

Oh sure there were folks who camped while undertaking a sport, say hunting, but camping was a given for the long distance traveler and so not something one did for enjoyment.

Travel was in fact the reason for Holding’s first experiences camping. In 1853 the British tailor was only 9 years old and in the process of crossing the vast American plains with his parents. At the start of their 1,200 mile journey they camped along the banks of the Mississippi river for 5 weeks, the longest encampment of his life. Subsequently, they camped every night on their journey west upon finally leaving in the spring of 1853 until the end of their journey in August of that same year.

The following year, he took another wagon train East, from Salt Lake City, through the Rockies and back to civilization.

Jump forward another 24 years and the now 33 year old Holding found himself with a canoe. He wrote that the canoe led to camping, then to a multi-day canoe cruise and camping through the Highlands of Scotland.

He continued to camp, canoe and added in cycling as well. He was quote proud of the Cycle-Camping epidemic which spread through the British country side. In 1878 Holding, and others, formed the Bicycle Touring Club, and some few years later he and four friends managed a cycle-camping expedition through Ireland.

Cycle and Camp in  Connemara_smlAfter the Ireland adventure, Holding published the book, “Cycle and Camp in Connemara” in which he described his trek through the Irish country side and invited readers to contact him. There was enough interest in the endeavor that a new community formed as the Association of Cycle Campers in 1901. This organization later became the Camping a Caravaning Club, the largest camping enthusiast club in Briton today.

In 1906, he found himself declared the “greatest known authority on Camping” which started him down a path towards authoring the “Campers Handbook” which was published in 1908. You can still find a copy of the Campers’ Handbook for your own reading pleasure. Many of the tips and tricks still apply today, and the author’s humor make the read quite enjoyable.

Further Reading

Camping Etiquette 101

By Rick McCharles

photo by Rick McCharles

There is more to camping than simply packing up some gear and building a fire in the country. Most campgrounds have both written and non-written rules and regulations that make camping more fun for everyone. Make sure you follow these basic camping rules next time you head into the wilderness!

Obey ground rules

This is the first rule of camping etiquette. If your established campground has official rules, make sure you follow them. Many sites have rules about quiet hours, trash and waste disposal, permitted activities, pet control, and more. Always follow these rules above all.

Think like a Boy Scout

One of the goals of the Boy Scouts is to leave an area cleaner than how they found it. This should be your camping policy as well. Try to improve every campsite you visit by cleaning up trash and leaving wood for the next visitors.

 Protect the water

A campground water source is important. Never dump any chemicals or waste products into the water, and if you use the water for bathing or cleaning, only use bio-degradable cleaners to keep water and wildlife healthy.

 Dispose of trash properly

Nothing is uglier than bits of trash strewn all over a campsite. Secure all trash carefully away from pets, wild animals, and wind. Take all non bio-degradable trash with you, or dispose of it into designated receptacles. Bury all other trash several inches below the ground, unless otherwise specified by campground rules.

 Keep fires safe

Fire can spread faster than many people realize, especially during dry weather. It is extremely important to follow fire safety rules to avoid creating wildfires. Always fence in your fire with rocks. Remove all grass and other flammable materials within a 12 to 24-inch diameter around the perimeter of the fire. Never leave a fire unattended, even at night. Ensure the fire is extinguished when you leave by dousing it with water and spreading the coals.

 Respect the environment

Leave as little impact on the campsite as possible when you camp. Try not to disturb nature or the surrounding wildlife. Leave plants and animals alone, and if you bring your own pet, keep it on a leash to protect the surrounding wildlife.

If you follow these basic camping rules, you will show respect for the campsite, environment, and yourself. Camping is an enjoyable activity for many, and following the rules makes it more enjoyable for everyone involved.

What are your favorite camping etiquette tips?

MSR MiniWorks EX Microfilter

I’m doing some research on micro filters in preparation for some hiking / camping trips planed for 2013. If funds allow, the MSR® MiniWorks® EX is one I intended to pickup and field test — I’ll update this post with my experiences. In the mean time, here are some reviews that have convinced me this model is one to try. If you’ve used the MiniWorks EX, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Made in the USAThe founders of Cascade Designs® setup shop in 1972 to produce Therm-A-Rest® sleeping pads. By 1991 they had released the first MSR® water filter, the WaterWorks®. Today we’re looking at the WaterWorks grandkid, the MiniWorks® EX Microfilter.

Specs

Weight 1 lb / 456 g
Width 2.75 in / 7 cm
Length 7.5 in / 19 cm
Filter media Ceramic Plus Carbon
Filter pore size 0.2 microns
Flow (L/min) 1 liters per min
Flow (strokes per liter) 85
Cartridge life ~2000 liters
Cartridge replacement indicator Yes

More Info

Reviews

Worth every penny!

November 8, 2009 By R. Zamudio from Amazon.com

[editor’s note: Corrected some spelling errors. Possibly the best review I’ve ever seen on Amazon and a major factor in my decision to try this filter.]

I researched filtration systems for almost a month before settling on the MSR miniworks. I figured I could just go pick one up at the local Cabela’s or REI, but BOTH retail stores were sold out of these, while there was still a good supply of the other MSR and Katadyn filter systems on the shelf. I took this as a sign that this is the filter to have and ordered it from Amazon, and it has been worth every penny. Read on….

 

MSR MiniWorks EX

 

In Camp:
The filter is very simple to use and has a good output-per-pump ratio. You never really feel like you are doing more work than you should for the amount of water you are pushing through, especially if you take into account the fact that every pump is worth about one gulp of nasty water that you WON’T have to drink. If you do see a diminished output, simply unscrew the filter housing and give the element a light scrubbing. We were taking water from a brown lake that is loaded with tannins and we would get about 2 liters through (about 2 full-size nalgene bottles worth) before we noticed the filter could use a cleaning. Tannin-loaded water is supposedly some of the worst for clogging these ceramic filters, so if you have cleaner water sources at your site than we do, your element-cleaning cycles should be farther apart. The water came out crystal-clear and almost tasteless. It didn’t taste like Dasani bottled water, but it definitely didn’t taste like tea-colored lake water either. Pretty much neutral. More importantly, it tasted CLEAN and nobody got sick. Also, the MSR Miniworks requires no chemical additives but still claims to filter everything but viruses. The chance of contracting a waterborne virus from a U.S. lake or stream (think Polio, Hep-A, SARS, and a few others which you have probably had vaccinations for) is far lower than getting sick from bacteria or parasites. If this still bothers you, you can still boil your clear, clean-tasting water just to be sure.

Out of Camp:
The maintenance on this filter is very simple. The unit breaks down into 4 major parts, and the wrist pins on the pump assembly are quick-release squeeze-and-push types. You can literally have this thing stripped down and cleaned completely in about 5 minutes, and that includes the sterilization of the filter element. A couple dabs of silicone grease or chap stick is all you need to lube it up when you are reassembling the unit.

The Hidden Bonus:
$80 may seem like a lot for a water filter, but the MSR miniworks pays you back exponentially…
Prior to buying a filtration system, everyone in our backpacking party hauled their own water needed for the entire trip. We would calculate what we needed for hydration and cooking each day, plus a bit more just in case, and we strictly stuck to these rations. We would have enough water, but never enough to truly quench one’s thirst. Having this filter in our party allowed us to drop about 15 lbs carried, per person! Plus, we didn’t have to pack out a bunch of empty water bottles anymore. One filter supports 4 of us and we now drink as much as we want. When you think about how important hydration is to your body’s systems (Read Cody Lundin’s “98.6 Degrees” book and you will know more about the subject than you ever wanted to), shelling out $80 to have clean, safe water on-demand anywhere you can find a water source is a small price to pay.

Tips:
-Put a coffee filter over the hose inlet and secure it with a twist-tie, rubber band, or fishing line. This will make your MSR filter pump more efficiently for longer without as-frequent element cleaning. Every time you clean the element, you are scrubbing away some of the element’s overall diameter. When it gets too thin, you have to get a new element. Fewer cleaning cycles = prolonged filter life and more money remains in your pocket. Filter element, $40. Coffee filter, 3 to 4 cents.

-Bring a spare filter element if you are going on an extended trip or are going to be absolutely dependent on this filter for your drinking water while you are out! Meaning: hiking back to your vehicle and driving like a madman to the nearest 7-11 for a drink before you go into a coma from dehydration is not going to be an option! The word is, these ceramic elements are fragile. Finding this out at the wrong time and being caught without a spare would be a very bad thing. If you spent the cash for the filter and other people in your party use it, have them pony up the $40 and buy the spare element for you. It’s only fair…. right?

-USE A NALGENE BOTTLE WITH THIS UNIT (or other similar one that will attach to the adapter). The motion created while you are pumping is far too violent for precision-aiming the output stream into any loose container, except for a bucket. You can also attach another length of rubber hose to the outlet and run that to your container, but we have not tried this yet. The Nalgene bottle seemed like the simple solution to use with the filter and we filled our other containers from this bottle.

{Product use update} – Our party of 3 did a 4-day back country hike in the Grand Canyon (search: Tanner Trail) this past winter. This is definitely NOT a tourist trail, and the first 2000-3000 ft of elevation is not much a trail at all. The noted only water source along this entire route is at the very bottom of the canyon, the Colorado River. We were able to augment our hike-in water supply by searching for pools of water trapped in depressions of the rocks near the places where we made camp, and pumping water from them using the MSR Miniworks. I don’t even want to think of what was in those water pools, but what came through the filter was clean and refreshing. We made notes of the larger water pools, which allowed us to lighten our water load on the hike-out and stop by the pools for a top-off when we needed it.

 

 

Your First Day and Night

Your First Day and Night

In my previous post I wrote that you should not plan your camping trip out in to much detail. That’s true, but conversely you don’t want to be totally unprepared either. There are some tasks that simply have to be done at every camp site. If you’re going with a group of folks, you’ll want to distribute tasks according to your camp-mates’ abilities. The goal with distributing the tasks is to have many tasks being accomplished in parallel so you can start relaxing as soon as possible.

  • Tent Setup
    When setting up a tent you first need to survey the campsite. Choose the smoothest plot you can find and walk over every bit of the land removing sticks and stones. Leaving this debris will give you a rough nights sleep and could possibly puncture your tent’s floor.Depending on your experience, personality and complexity of your tent, you should allow yourself 30 minutes to one hour to get your tent setup. Event the simplest of tents will seem complicated setting it up for the first time. Do not attempt a first setup in the dark. Having an assistant to help setup the tent can be helpful; but you’ll quickly find it takes communication and team work.Traditionally tent raising is the responsibility of the tent owner and possibly an assistant. You might however offer to put up the tent for the person in charge of the meals though.
  • Camp Fire and Meal Preparation
    You need one person in charge of the campfire and meal preparation. If you’ve taken my advice you’ve started with something small like charcoal fire with hot dogs and chips. In that situation you only need one person on this task. Once you’re more experienced and cooking over a wood fire, you might assign several assistants to assign with wood gathering, fire stoking, food prep. etc. But, even with assistance, there should be only one person in charge of meals.
  • Clean Up
    Having a clean camp site is critical for your enjoyment and safety. As you’re cooking keep utensils and dishes out of the dirt and covered. It’s traditional that everyone help clean up after a meal by cleaning their own dishes or assisting the cook in some other way.Left overs should be stored in air tight containers and stowed in your car or suspended high in a tree where wildlife can’t get at it. Extra caution should be taken in bear country, but that’s another post. If you need to dispose of excess food (burnt, leftovers, etc.) do so some distance from the camp site.If you’re at an established camp site there will probably be some restrooms available. Be a good neighbor and make use of these. If you are primitive camping, establish a latrine area at the outset of your camp setup and make sure everyone is aware of it’s location.

The Next Morning

You’ll be surprised at how early the sun comes up the next morning. Rule of thumb, whomever is in charge of breakfast is the first one up and out of the tent. Fire is the first priority since you’ll need it to make coffee and the meal; and possibly to stay warm.

By the time the meal is eaten you’ll find folks break up into work teams naturally. Someone will assist the cook with clean up and the others will move on to prepping the tents for take down.

When prepping your tent, make sure it’s as dry as possible before you start rolling it up. I’ve actually spread a tent out in a sunny spot and waited around for it to dry before rolling it up. If that’s not an option due to time limitation or weather, wring it out as you roll and remember to unpack it when you get home to dry it out. Leaving a tent rolled wet will guarantee mildew which will harm your tent and possibly you the next time you use it.