The Big Epic

Connect with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Gear

The Best Things about Car Camping

As you know, Daughter and I spend much of our outdoor adventure time backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. This involves sleeping in the woods—either in a small tent or in a primitive 3-walled shelter. (Read more about it HERE ) But occasionally, when we go on road trips, we are reminded of the glorious benefits of car camping.

“Car Camping”: driving to a place where you camp close to your car so loading and unloading is easy

Here are some of the best things  about driving to a campgrounds to spend a night outside:

COMFORT:

With no need to count every ounce that we must carry on our backs, we can enjoy the comfort of lounging in lawn chairs. To fight the bugs, we can easily bring a mosquito coil or even an entire screen house.

Macedon NY City park, mosquito coil and lawn chairs

Most campgrounds provide each site with a fire ring, wood for purchase, and a picnic table. No balancing on a log with dinner on our knees? Ahhhh…luxury!

Relaxing at Ohio Pyle State Park

A CAR IS HANDY:

When we head to a campsite with our car, we can bring a cooler filled with fresh food and cold drinks. We don’t have to worry about weight, so fruit and salad can be included along with hotdogs and buns, condiments, and, of course, ingredients for s’mores. Backpacking food gives us the fuel we need to hike; Car Camping food fills our bellies and our souls!

yummy, juicy food is possible when car camping

Having a car handy makes it easy to run to a nearby town for food, for entertainment, and for more ice for the cooler. The car becomes a huge locker to store all of the extra “stuff” we might need or want on our adventure. It also means we don’t have to hang a “bear bag” to keep critters away from our goodies. Hallelujah! (Read about the trials and tribulations of hanging a bear bag while backpacking HERE and HERE)

The back of the car is filled with stuff, including hikers who need a ride!

EXTRA FUN:

When we go on a backpacking adventure, the hiking itself is the primary “fun” of the trip. With car camping, we still have walking trails right outside our tent door. We can leisurely wander those paths for a few hours without the stress of pushing to get to the next flat ground to set up camp for the night.

National Parks have many locations for car camping 

With easy access to our car, we can also take advantage of entertainment in the surrounding area. We might take a canoe trip, explore a cave, do some antique shopping, or just go have dinner in a quirky restaurant. Having options is delightful!

Lots of opportunities for fun when car camping

BETTER SLEEP:

It is usually more comfortable to camp near our vehicle. We aren’t exhausted from a day of hiking up and down mountains, but we often sleep better with a few “luxuries.” We can bring our favorite pillows and blankets…

We can bring blankets and pillows from home when we car camp, Acadia NP

Sometimes we choose to bring our large tent which has space for … COTS! Not as comfy as a bed, but surely less hard than sleeping on the ground.

Sleeping on a cot when car camping is much more comfortable than sleeping on the ground

Car Camping Comparison:

We prefer to spend extended time in the mountains and woods. That means we will continue backpacking and sleeping far from our vehicle. But occasional trips to a campground are still enjoyable. Some of our favorite parts of camping are available in both settings. We will never grow tired of waking up to bird-song and watching trees sway in the breeze from our tent “windows.”

We can still see trees from our tent when we are car camping

Sitting around a campfire is a perfect end to a day spent outdoors. When backpacking, we rarely have the energy to start a fire, plus most hikers are asleep by the time the sun sets. But sharing stories and laughing with friends around a crackling fire is a special treat whenever it happens.

Chairs, Tripod, and lots of food are possible at a campfire when car camping.

ALTERNATIVES:

Not sure if you want to “rough it” in a tent? Remember, many places have cozy alternatives. Consider renting a cabin at a state park. Or try more unusual options such as a caboose or a tepee. (Read about our Tepee Dreaming HERE ) On your next vacation, plan to sleep a night or two in NATURE!

Car camping is not only sleeping in tents, it includes alternate lodging as well.

I would love to know how YOU choose to spend time outdoors—whether you take a day-trip or spend a weekend sleeping in the woods. Let me know in the comments…

Trying a Rain Skirt

Andowen prefers to hike in a skirt–with shorts or leggings underneath. Unfortunately, the pretty skirt she used to hike in fell apart–so many mended tears it can’t be fixed any further!

We talked about it, and decided to design our own skirt–wanting a a knee-high length and water-repellent material. Hopefully, this skirt will be more sturdy when sitting on rocks and climbing over fallen tree trunks. Ideally, it will also help keep her legs and butt dry when we hike in the rain.

We bought rip stop nylon and copied a wrap skirt she already wears at home.

We chose contrasting colors of thread to make it more fun.

I even figured out how to make buttonholes with my sewing machine–followed by snipping the hole open with scissors. (The ribbon waistband pushes through the buttonhole to complete the wrap of the skirt and allow both ends of the ribbon to be tied.)

Andowen tried the skirt under the hip-belt of her pack. At first, it kept sliding up–just like the old skirt did. Pulling her t-shirt over the skirt waistband took care of that problem.

After a few weeks of hiking, we can report she is highly satisfied with this skirt. In drizzling rain and when sitting on wet logs or mossy rocks, it has kept her dry as hoped. It shows some scuffing, but has not ripped like the previous town-wear skirt kept doing. Plus she appreciates the ease of movement this skirt provides. She can even practice “sword”-fighting with full freedom when we are in camp for the night!

She likes it well enough that I’m planning to make my own wrap skirt when we get home–ready for our next hiking adventure in the summer.

(Read about rainy days on the trail HERE.)

WATER…we need water…

Hikers have to think about water all day long. Out in the woods there is no magic tap to turn for water to come pouring out whenever we want it. We have to find a water source, filter the water, carry water back to camp, and carry water in our packs for while we are hiking. (Read more about this process HERE.)

It felt weird at first, but we have gotten comfortable with using a “bite-valve” to have water at the ready the moment we are thirsty. We have been happy with the water reservoirs we have carried in the past. BUT…sometimes they leak when we don’t get them tightly closed. This means we run short of water when we need it…and it means the stuff in our packs get wet. Blergh! There is a nifty interior pocket for a water reservoir in our packs. BUT…the full bladder must be put in the pack before our other stuff and it is impossible to refill the reservoir without pulling it back out of the pack. That’s hard to do when the pack is filled to the top! And carrying a full day’s supply of water gets heavy. 2-4 pounds may not sound like much but it’s HEAVY to a backpacker! So…this trip we are trying a new method of carrying water. We bought a “Blue Desert Smartube” kit for each of us. This has an adapter to connect with any water bottle.

This solves the above problems with a reservoir: Bottles are easier to tightly close. They fit in exterior pockets, so no leaking inside the pack. In addition, we can carry less water and stop to filter more at water sources we pass during the day. This lessens the weight we have to carry–which always makes us happy! 

Now that we are a few weeks down the trail, we can report that we LOVE our new system! We have made only one change to it which is to carry an extra bottle cap to use (rather than the tubing) when carrying both bottles back to the shelter from a water source. 

Bear Food…

When we are in the woods, it is important to protect our food from bears…and protect bears from our people food!

The most common way to do this is by hanging a “bear bag.” This involves putting all food (and other smelly things such as ointments or wipes) in a bag, slinging a rope over a tree branch, and hauling the bag high enough in the air that a bear can’t reach it. (I’ve written about the challenges of this process HERE.)

This can be a very frustrating process. There might be no appropriate branches (trees too tall or branches broken off from overuse by so many hikers near shelters). The rope might get stuck in the tree. Last time we tried, we had to cut off the rope and leave part of it dangling (bad for the woods and worse for my temper)!

Enough is enough! Bears are getting bolder in some areas. And we are getting tired of hanging a bear bag.

We considered a “bear canister” — a plastic bin that supposedly prevents bears from getting to the food inside. This sounded like a great idea–and I was willing to carry the extra weight for the convenience of not hanging a bear bag each night. BUT…it took up most of the room in my pack. I stoved my finger when I was trying to jimmy it out of the pack before we left. I wasn’t about to figure out how to strap it on the outside of the pack. Three strikes, you’re out! So back to the store that canister went…

This trip we are trying out an “ursack.” It is made of kevlar–claw and fang resistant. There have been cases of a bear slobbering all over the sack and pulverizing the food inside, but by morning the bear will still be hungry and there will still be at least crumbly food for us to eat!

Because it protects the bear from getting to the food, it does not need to be hung from a branch. It can be tied to a tree trunk.

A few weeks into our trip, I have only one regret about switching to Ursacks to protect our food. I only wish we had done so sooner!

Trail Food

We’ve taken many backpacking trips at this point. Our food plans are laid out and basically automatic at this point. We carry 5-7 days of food in our packs as we hike between towns where we can resupply.

After shopping, we repackage the food.

All the excess packaging goes in the trash–saving lots of weight in our packs!

This is breakfast (Daughter has carnation instant breakfast mixed with powdered milk plus a bag of dry cereal. I have strong black tea and belvita breakfast crackers with peanut butter.)

This is lunch and snacks–eaten while hiking. (Lunch is a Luna/Protein bar. Snacks are eaten hourly while hiking and include dried fruit, trail mix, chocolate, and protein such as jerky or nuts.)

This is supper and evening snack. (We have either Lipton Rice Sides or Instant Mashed Potatoes with a foil pack of tuna stirred in for supper.  Before bed, we finish any snacks not eaten earlier in the day, plus Daughter has hot chocolate while I have a nice cup of hot herbal tea that helps joints work smoothly.)

(Read about Resuppply HERE. Read about keeping food safe from bears HERE. )

Save

(please don’t) Kick the Tires

Envision the stereotypical scene in the movies: gullible buyer steps onto a used-car lot, looking for a bargain. He haggles with the sleazy salesman and kicks the tires of the cars he is considering. What? Why kick the tires? 

Kick the tires

Theoretically, this was a way to figure out if the salesman’s story was true and the little old lady who only drove to church on Sundays really did take good care of the car. Checking the tires could show if they were properly inflated, had even wear (indicating good alignment and regular tire-rotation), and were replaced before the tread was totally bald.

Why talk about this on a blog about adventures? In the same way that taking proper care of tires hints at a well-cared-for vehicle, taking proper care of one’s feet increases the probability of completing a successful long-distance hike.

At home, I rarely ever think about my feet. On the trail, they are often in my thoughts…

At the first hint of a “hot spot” it is important to stop and cover that area. (A “hot spot” is any bit of skin that feels irritated, tingly, or “on fire.”) Many things can be used to lessen friction: moleskin, bandaids, cloth tape, duct tape. This simple step is the most effective way to prevent blisters.

Tape the hotspots

Next, get the right socks for YOUR boots and YOUR feet. Most hikers have a favorite combination they swear by. For many, a thin liner sock and thicker outer sock work well to lessen friction on skin. I usually carry a second set of dry socks to switch into if needed on wet days. My little toes normally curl under the next toes, which caused huge blisters last fall. Using injinji toe sock liners this trip have solved that problem.

Socks and liners

Of course, it is important to choose boots that fit comfortably. Getting input from others is fine…but you MUST have the right fit for YOU! With wide feet and a need to wiggle my toes, plus a desire for strong ankle support, I love my Salomons.

Hiking boots

As a hiker, I won’t get far if my feet are uncomfortable or injured. Good foot care is critically important to success. When buying a used car, go ahead and kick the tires if you want to. But when backpacking, protect those feet and please don’t kick the tires…or anything else!

(Read about hiking with a broken foot HERE. Plus another post which mentions taking care of feet is HERE)

Be Prepared…Pull Out Your Hiking Gear!

We had a nasty windstorm last weekend. A friend and I enjoyed a late lunch together at a cozy restaurant in town; too busy talking to notice the weather. After she received a text that their barn was damaged by wind, we quickly said our goodbyes and headed to our homes. I should have seen trouble coming when I needed 4WD to keep from being blown off the road. Even the power lines were oscillating in a violent way I had never seen before.

So what does this little stormy tale have to do with hiking? Everything, of course!

When our power went out, hubby and I jumped in the car and headed to town for light and hot food, assuming things would be fixed by the time we got home. But we returned to a dark, cold house. Rather than stumbling around, trying to figure out where to find candles and a lighter, I headed straight upstairs to the storage closet. Voila! In our backpacking bins, I dug out headlamps to set beside the bed for the night. Hiker Gear_Headlamp

We were concerned that both of our cell phones had low batteries. But then I remembered that there was a fully charged “battery brick” in the hiking bin. Problem solved! battery brick_cell phone charger

In the middle of the night, hubby realized the power was still off. Concerned about all the food in the rapidly warming frig/freezer, he moved everything out to the back porch. Below freezing temps would keep things safe til morning. (The food filled a wheelbarrow. I was quite thankful we have no bears in our neighborhood—it was too much food to hang from the rafters in the bearbags!) wheelbarrow_no bear bag_food

I’m used to eating peanut butter and graham crackers for breakfast. Good thing since the power was still off in the morning so we had no way to fix hot food. I was desperately missing my morning mug of hot caffeine however. Then I dug through the gear bins one more time. Ahhh…my jetboil backpacking stove brings water to a boil in an instant! Savoring a mug of tea calmed my nerves and started my morning off right. backpacking gear_jetboil stove

We realized no power meant no hot water (darn all-electric house). We talked about driving to the YMCA to shower, or driving to family on the other side of town, but didn’t really want to bother. I considered using the hiker solution…but decided no one in town was ready to ignore unwashed hair and body odor. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that…

Eventually the power finally came on—15 hours after the storm knocked down wires all over the city. Some neighbors had noisy generators. But I’m glad we were fully prepared to “rough it” in peace and quiet. After all, we own backpacking gear!

(Wanna read about how we chose our backpacking gear? Check it out HERE.)

Getting from Point A to Point B; Without Getting Lost

(Trail Companion Guide + Phone app + White blazes = Navigation)

Some folks get lost when driving a route they have used for months. Others apparently have an internal map in their heads including compass directions and a marker of where they are at any given moment. I’m somewhere in the middle.

Fortunately, there’s no need for an internal compass when hiking the Appalachian Trail (although that obviously wouldn’t hurt!) During the planning stages of making a tentative itinerary, I studied the latest edition of “The Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers’ Companion.” This guide offers detailed information in chart and written form about shelters, water sources, road crossings, and re-supply points. It has elevation charts of each mile of the trail including icons for pertinent information. It also includes maps of towns near the trail. I’ve torn out the relevant pages to carry with us and refer to as needed. (Although I haven’t used it, another favorite navigation/info book on the trail is “AWOL’s Guide” found HERE.)

 

AT Guidebook

There are detailed topographical maps of the Appalachian Trail. Rather than buying paper sectional maps that need to be repurchased as they are updated, I’ve chosen to buy an app for my phone. Guthook’s AT Trail Guide allows us to zoom in to see close-up details of the route, including relevant photos. Although it can be used with the GPS feature on my phone, we will use it off-line as a more traditional map. Unlike paper versions, updates are free.

AT phone app

Finally, we will travel the AT by following the white blazes. These 2 by 6 inch vertical rectangles are painted in white on tree trunks, rocks, and signs. They are generally located within sight from one to the next. Blue blazes indicate side trails (to shelters, towns, roads, etc.) As explained by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy,  if we don’t see the next blaze down the trail: “If you have gone a quarter-mile without seeing a blaze, stop. Retrace your steps until you locate a blaze. Then, check to make sure you haven’t missed a turn. Often a glance backwards will reveal blazes meant for hikers traveling in the opposite direction. Volunteer trail maintainers regularly relocate small sections of the path around hazards or undesirable features or off private property. When your map or guidebook indicates one route, and the blazes show another, follow the blazes.” 

White Blazes

With three types of navigational aids and two pairs of eyes, we should do just fine in getting from Point A to Point B without getting lost!

Help! What Gear Do We Need?

We will be hiking in the woods for two months this fall. Everything we need will be carried on our backs, which means we must find light weight gear at the lowest possible price. That, of course, is always the dilemma: in the outdoor equipment world, the lighter the gear, the higher the price. In addition, there are a zillion gadgets and doodads available, to make life more comfortable while living outdoors. Well…more comfortable in camp, but every extra ounce makes the hiking more painful. HELP! How do we sort through all the options and find the best balance between weight and comfort and price?

We are among the lucky ones. We have not just one but two REI stores right here in town. What? You don’t recognize REI? It carries a wonderland of gear for every imaginable outdoor adventure. Don’t worry, the folks working here are friendly and full of information. Most of them will encourage your adventures (no matter how crazy) and will patiently answer a million questions. Let me introduce you:

 

Welcome to REI--doorway to adventure!

Welcome to REI–doorway to outdoor  adventures in every season!

We started our quest with the most important piece of gear: boots. For a long distance hike, we need footwear that is sturdy, gives good support, and is both breathable and waterproof. Most important of all, these boots must be comfortable. Unfortunately, the purple boots were too narrow for daughter to stuff her feet into. But she quickly found a comfy pair that at least has lavender laces and purple trim! Shoe shopping for me is usually a Goldilocks story: this pair is too tight, that pair rubs my anklebone, the other pair cramps my toes. Ahhh…but with the advice of an REI expert, the second pair of boots I tried on fit “just right.”

 

So many choices of boots

So many choices of boots

A few weeks later, we returned to the store to find a backpack for each of us. Our friendly REI worker measured our backs and explained the nuances of a proper fit. Again, daughter quickly found a pack that is comfortable. She loves that it is bright green with a big yellow (silk) flower attached. I love that the frame is adjustable, just in case she grows another inch or two in the future. It took me longer than finding boots, but eventually I found a pack that has a long enough hip belt, comfortable shoulder straps, and ventilation behind my back.

 

A Rainbow of Backpacks--in every size, style and color!

A Rainbow of Backpacks–in every size, style and color!

Finally, we had to choose a sleeping bag and tent. Who knew that there were so many options?! REI has a handy-dandy bench on which to lay out a pad and sleeping bag, then climb in to try it out. I was relieved to find a modified mummy bag: I hate being wrapped tightly at night! We also piled into a tent to check the space. Yep, it is worth the extra weight to gain a few extra inches of floor space since daughter is a restless sleeper.

 

Try out the gear--right on the sales floor at REI!

Try out the gear–right on the sales floor at REI!

In choosing gear, it is certainly possible to do online research and make online purchases to save pennies here and there. But I have become a loyal REI member: all products returnable for up to one year, generally competitive prices, and the ability to test out and try on everything in the store. Best of all, the staff is WONDERFUL! Check them out next time YOU are considering an Epic Outdoor Adventure!

 

THANKS for your patience in answering a zillion questions over a million visits, Mark!

THANKS for your patience in answering a zillion questions over a million visits, Mark!

(Details of our gear list can be found on Trail Journals HERE. Product reviews and specifications can be found at the REI website HERE. Note: I have no affiliation with REI…I just love the store, its products and its staff!)

(Just like every hiker, we continue to try new gear options each time we head to the woods. Read about new water systems HERE, new bear food protection HERE, and a different hiking skirt option HERE.)

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