Category: Gear

new project: 1975 Argosy Airstream 

Camping, Gear, lifestyle, Outdoors, travel November 17, 2015

We had to rent a uhaul to get it home, and it will likely be years before we have it ready for road travel (or can afford a row vehicle!), but we love it. We bought a partially gutted, partially restored 24′ 1975 Argosy trailer.  We want it to be fully off grid and efficient, solar powered with a composting toilet. We want it to sleep four comfortably.  We want it to be light and open minimal and clean. We want to travel the continent in it with the boys. Let the games begin! 

   
What it does have:

A new sub floor with insulation and a redone bamboo floor.  New wheels, tires, brakes, and shocks. All the original components carefully removed and broken down. (Except furniture) Water tank and plumbing components intact. Electric partially re-done and intact and functioning. Air conditioner blows cold! Gas components in need of testing for safety and function.  No more furnace. 

What it needs:

Everything else! 

road trip: 966 miles and back again 

Camping, Gear, lifestyle, Outdoors, parenting, travel October 14, 2015

  

Does the U.S. love road trips?  Yes it does! Our country is large. Our terrain and culture is varied. Our parks are many. We love automobiles. And it is the ultimate in democratic travel. Everyone with a road worthy vehicle can partake. Gas is currently way more affordable than plane tickets for a family of four. And I like to think that some of the mythological American still exists. The rugged individualism, the ‘go west and find prosperity and adventure’ the fierce independence of what we thought we once were. But I digress.

Trailer packed. Roof top tent mounted on trailer. Futon in Subaru. Our two-bedroom-road-trip-camparu was ready. Both kids had runny noses, one had a cough. Just under 1,000 miles of road, most of it the long dry desolate desert of Arizona lay ahead of us. We would be enjoying many climates, from cold mountain air, to desert heat, to sandy beach humidity. And we set off on the adventure. 

Things I have learned since leaving three days ago:

1.  Yes. It is a long haul with small children. 

2.  Yes. It is worth it. 

3.  KOA campsites are your friend.  They are everywhere. (Middle of nowhere, middle of city). They are easy to access from the highway. They are cheap. They are quiet. They have bathrooms and playgrounds. 

4.  Do not try to make good time on such a road trip. Plan for many stops and long stays so the kids enjoy themselves and don’t make you pay from their car seats. 

5.  Whatever your set up, if you decide the next campground you see is the one you want to sleep at, and your kids are asleep in their car seats- you will want to be able to set up beds quickly.  Lightning fast.  Our first night, we stopped driving around 9:30.  By 9:45, both boys were asleep in their respective beds and J and I were enjoying a beer under the starry desert night of AZ.  (This involved futon in the Outback and a roof top tent on a trailer). An airstream would be easier. But we can’t tow one with our 4 cylinder outback and we can’t afford one/ don’t have time to renovate one we can afford. 

5.  Absolutely indespensable items:

  • A good attitude and flexibility. 
  • Organizational skills. Do not bring anything that you can’t keep organized. Three camp meals a day with two little ones, and getting everyone dressed will make you crazy unless you run a tight ship. (Or it does me). 

6. Things I didn’t think I really needed until I used them on this trip:

  • An awning.  We have th REI Alcove and it is great. Shade is obviously important.  The optional side wall gave us privacy in the crowded campground. We backed the car right up to it, shading the car and providing a living room of sorts for the car bed.  I stretched the sidewall over our car windows at night for added privacy.    
  • Our berkey go water filter. We can fill our plastic 3 gallon water can up at any campground faucet and have plenty of  clean and safe water to drink. Keeping hydrated is so important, this keeps the cost and waste down of endless plastic water bottles 
  • The out sunny aluminum folding table. (Pictured above) It is tiny, and it is a tad shaky at times, but we ate every meal there.  It’s big enough for my 6’1″ husband and small enough for our one year old.  It folds in a flash and is lightweight. We actually never even brought our camp chairs out.
  • A fan.  Yes we froze in the high desert at night, but once we reached the coast, California was in the middle of a heatwave. A car at night can get stuffy under the best of circumstances. Our little fan powered by an incredible 8 D batteries kept the air moving just enough to make the paltry breeze moving through the two  open windows feel good. 

All in all the trip has been wonderful. We are already planning another even longer trip next summer. The kids are absolute troopers and watching them experience the ocean for the first time has been amazing. We our leaving our beach campsite and heading to the city next.  The world is wide and time is short. I’m so pleased to be able to introduce the joys of travel to these boys and not have to wait until we can afford it. 

the roof top tent: james baroud horizon

Camping, Gear, lifestyle, Outdoors, parenting, travel August 31, 2015

After much anticipation, we finally got to try out the new tent this weekend.  First of all, the boys loved it.  What three year old doesn’t love ladders and forts?  It is essentially a treehouse that we take with us. Indeed, my son would climb ceaselessly up and down the ladder if we did not put it away.  Being a source of excitement to the children aside, (but not to be underestimated in terms of importance) the tent has many things we  enjoy:

  1.  Easy set up and take down.   This is one of the chief conveniences and reason for our purchase of this tent. J has it down to 7 minutes to break down, and far less than that for set up.  Our bedding is in it, park the car and we are haflway there.  This tent is supposed to facilitate easy road tripping and quick weekend trips. I am confident that it will serve these purposes nicely. 
  2. It is comfortable.  We are using full size pillows, plus camp pillows, a sheet set, and a comforter.  It is every bit as comfortable as the shikibutons we sleep on at home.  Perhaps more so.  There are many windows and the tent feels quite spacious for one adult plus one child (with one more of each inside the van). 
  3. The novelty and aesthetics for us adults is not to be underestimated either.  It is fun to lounge around up high.  We parked by the stream and amongst the trees and it was all really lovely. The interior is airy with many windows, and the silver color is pleasing compared to the often garish oranges or cave- like greens and browns that often grace similar tents. 
  4. Amazingly, it hasn’t touched our gas mileage. This tent is somewhere around 100lbs, and it’s light weight is one of the chief reasons we chose it. The Yakima roof rack itself bumped us down a couple miles per gallon, but not the tent itself.
  5. More room in the car! So much so that we are now fantasizing about trading in the minivan for a less thirsty, more off-road capable Subaru Outback or 4 door Toyota Tacoma once the boys are out of their gargantuan car seats.  (Though I have to say, the awd minivan gets us down some fairly ugly forest service roads to some beautiful and private spots)
  6. The fold over design creates a small ‘porch’ outside the door to our van. Next time, I’m going to rig up a sheet or shower curtain to enclose it, giving us a small changing room. 

 

Now for the short list of cons:

  1. We don’t have a dedicated camping/ travel vehicle, which means it sits on top of my daily driver.  We like to do quick weekend trips on a whim, so it must stay there to minimize the work needed to satisfy these whims. However since our gas mileage isn’t really touched, this is  more of a cosmetic issue as well as perhaps likely to shorten the life of the cover.  
  2. We sleep two in the van and two in the roof top tent. This led to some serious jostling throughout the night. This wasn’t really an issue for anyone but me, the super light sleeper that I am. 

After some thought both of these issues will be solved with a trailer, like these from Dinoot.  When it comes time to trade in the minivan, we will buy a lightweight, off-road capable trailer to install the tent on. Then we will leave that packed full of our gear and toys in the carport. Our sleeping platform will be unencumbered by gear and jostling in the back of the Outback/Tacoma, and the effort needed to get outside and get set up will be decreased even more.  This is all in the 5 year plan. Le sigh. 

All in all, the whole family is thrilled with the tent, and our next weekend getaway is already in the works as is a long trip to the coast for some fall beach camping.  Both Craig  Davidson at  James Baroud USA, and our local distributor, owner Walt WagnerTAV Expedition Outfitters were awesome and communicative. And we got free shipping.   

    camp coffee: biolite + aeropress

    Gear, travel May 2, 2015

    Camping is not just about being outside, it is about recapturing the joy in simplicity. To that end I present: coffee.

    It is warm in your sleeping bag, chilly outside and the day is starting with sharp slants of sunlight through the shadows of trees on the tent. Nothing helps bring the sun up to warming heights like a good cup of coffee.

    For us, my stepmother’s old aluminum percolator that I inherited has become a toy for our oldest child. We took our French press along last time and that is ok, it’s portable, easy to use, and produces decent coffee. But it is hard to clean and our glass carafe is just begging to be broken. So when our stove melted and we opted for a biolite replacement, we decided to try something new for coffee as well, an aeropress.

    On the first go it took twenty minutes to get a cup of coffee. This involved leisurely setting up the stove on our porch, getting shoes, starting the fire, etc. It also took 5 extra minutes because my husband didn’t grind the coffee and get the aeropress set up until after I had the water heated up. I assume that we will get this time down and you can supposedly get water boiled in under 5 minutes with the biolite. I feel like 10 minutes or so is an acceptable wait for coffee.

    A few thoughts on the setup:

    1. The coffee is exceptionally smooth. The aeropress really reduces the acidity.

    2. There is something very satisfying about using a wood fire to make your coffee. It is not for nothing that Prometheus was punished for eternity for stealing fire from the gods. Also, see above comment on recapturing joy in simplicity.

    3. The whole setup is pretty compact. We have the biolite and the biolite kettle that you can store the stove inside. (Thanks again REI for your amazing return policy). The aeropress is tiny, way smaller than a French press or percolator.

    4. The only fuel you need is some kindling. I really like the idea of not having to buy and pack fuel for the stove.

    5. The biolite has been criticized as being merely a novelty item. But it is a very efficient rocket stove that streamlines a process that man has been using since Prometheus. I like it. I like simple good food and drink and I don’t need to be making soufflé while in the woods. We will see how the food preparation works and I will do an update.

    6. The aeropress is quite affordable at $25. The biolite and accessories however is not. Ours was essentially free, but if you want a small stove that can quickly boil water and save on fuel it seems to be a good choice. Taking time to prepare food has its own rewards. The grill attachment seems to be well liked as well. If you just want to be able turn the stove on, throw a kettle on it do other things, look elsewhere.

    All in all, I am very satisfied with our new coffee procurement system. I think I’ll even take the aeropress along to use in hotel rooms on an upcoming trip.

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    Have a good morning.

    Day two:

    Getting a cup of coffee still takes a bit of time, but it is evolving into a family event. We ate breakfast outside this morning. Birds singing, apple tree blooming, fire crackling. My husband declared that he wished it could be a daily event, moments later we realized that it could.

    Also, we ran out of cream, but the coffee is so smooth that I’m considering drinking it black for the first time since I was in college drinking black americanos from Seattle coffee shops.

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    babies love tents

    Gear, parenting, travel April 27, 2015

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    Alright, we did it. We survived our first camping trip with a 7 month old baby and a two and a half year old toddler. Here are some thoughts on what worked and what didn’t work.

    sleep

    First and foremost, I was concerned about sleep (as are most parents of infants in general, most likely). Let me just say right off the bat that it was completely painless. In fact, the little one slept better than he had been at home recently and the toddler slept in until 7am (usually a 5:30, 6 am type of a guy). Both inspite of loud music from the neighboring camp until around 2am! Yes, I was the one who called the ranger. That’s just rude.

    I fretted all winter over what type of baby bed system would be best. Pack n play, travel crib, cot, baby sleeping bag, bunting suit. I just couldn’t figure it out and didn’t want to experiment with hundreds of dollars of equipment. As it happens, we ended up using a leaky sleeping pad folded in half with a crib sheet and topped with a sheep skin. I just put that next to my sleeping pad and we slept together under my unzipped down bag. The baby had warm pajamas and a wool sleep sack and a hat. He was cozy and barely stirred. Amazing. All that worry for nothing.

    The toddler slept in one of our full sized mummy sleeping bags on a full size pad. (A thin backpacking one was sufficient for his tiny self). We didn’t want to spend more money on kid sized stuff, and I can’t see a reason why. He slept great, slid around a little but we just scooted him right back into the pad. We also brought a battery powered sound machine from home to bring in a familiar element to bed time and just followed our routine as usual. The scary specter of sleepless nights in a tent vanished and I couldn’t be happier. I am buying a portable fan for naptime since it is during the hottest part of the day.

    I also think think that having a large tent made a difference. There was plenty of room for us all to spread out in. It is canvas, so pretty warm for a huge tent, and I was grateful for it when the wind picked up because it was quite quiet. So there it is. Sleep.

    eating and play

    As for the rest of the trip, our tent has a large door that essentially makes the tent an open shaded living area for daytime. The baby enjoyed army crawling about in there throughout the day, no pack n play needed. He tended to want to eat the sand so I had to watch him when he got off the blankets/ out of the tent.

    Instead of buying a portable highchair, we brought our baby back pack with stand and he chilled in there while we all sat in chairs. And as for the toddler, we use low to the ground camp chairs that also fit inside the tent. That way buying a special child sized chair isn’t necessary. He loves his camp chairs.

    This was primitive camping, so no picnic table, we just used a small GSI folding table. This was also good at night time to keep in the tent to keep our diaper changing items organized. It is also perfect for dining with the low chairs.

    Don’t forget an assortment of toys from home. I think I’ll be picking up a backpacking bocce ball set.

    organization

    Little kids require a lot of stuff and a lot of time and attention. Organization and streamlining packing makes this kind of venture so much easier to attempt. To that end, I’ll just go ahead and mention that a mountainsmith gear hauler is genius for families. We each get a ‘cube’ and it requires only one trip to load and unload for all four of us. It kept our tent organized, and the mesh bag that holds the folded up unit for storage doubled as a laundry bag. I keep trying to find an excuse to buy a second one, it is so useful.

    Also, those huge blue bags from ikea that cost a couple of bucks each are super useful. One had all of our bedding and another held all of our furniture. I want one more for odds and ends like the solar shower (pressurized by foot pump by Nemo, and excellent for rinsing dishes and sandy feet) and the portable potty (never thought I’d get one, but they are awesome, ours is from cleanwaste.)

    It is unrelated to children per se, but if you are looking to organize a camp kitchen, the Camp Chef Sherpa is great. Everything is in one place, it is compact, and no set up or take down. You can have pb and j made in a jiffy.

    Finally, I will be picking up a sand mat for the front of the tent. It turns out that toddlers run in and out of tents all day and don’t brush off their feet or remove their shoes. Lots of shaking sand out of everything.

    What else is there? Good clean family fun enjoying the great outdoors. It is such a great way to focus us on the basics and spend time as a family. Once your gear is put together, it is inexpensive as well. Happy camping.

    car camping road tripping the mountains are calling christmas wish list

    Gear, lifestyle, travel December 12, 2014

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    Ok. This is my third and final car camping gear post. I promise. Maybe.

    I have just realized that the last good trip I went on was three years ago, a combination of San Francisco (including running the marathon, ouch) and Alaska. It was our last hurrah before the kids came and we didn’t know it. It was a good one. Beer, friends, running, eating, travel and mountains. Some of my favorite things in no particular order. We covered a lot of ground, had zero itinerary, lots of time and were light on the luggage. Ahhh. I have been making a decent yearly trip for most of my adult life and this year as December closes in on me, I think I’m getting some major cabin fever. There was a time when I felt that 14 miles was the perfect distance for a run and that a trip didn’t count unless it lasted atleast a month. Now, I’m lucky if I can find 45 minutes to walk 1.5 miles with my double stroller up the hill by my house. My diaper bag is roughly the same size as the bag I lived out of for 6 months in Africa. The grass is growing tall under my feet. I am nursing a newborn constantly, buried in childrens’ naps and diapers, and have yet to figure out how to get my brood out the door within a reasonable time frame. I’m itching for an adventure. With this realization, my current and almost pathological obsession with camping and road trips makes some sense. At least that’s what I’m going with. In honor of those suffering from cabin fever and wander lust everywhere, here is my finalized wish list for the epic family road trip/ camping set up. Our current plan is to start with short jaunts to Colorado for beer festivals and go from there as our clan gains some finesse.IMG_3026.JPG

    1. Vehicle: we just traded in the very fuel efficient station wagon for a Nissan Xterra. Not efficient. Not at all. It does however, have 4wd and we do live in the mountains where there is (hopefully for the ski season) plenty of snow. It is also very offroad capable, came with a tow package, and holds both our car seats and our legs comfortably. It also has a rubber cargo area that will contain our muddy dogs beautifully. This is our ticket to freedom. And yes, we looked at more efficient crossovers, but most of the fibers of my being resisted such a practical mom choice. I wanted a car that I can drive up the side of a mountain.
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    *** update, Xterra was too small and too thirsty. Traded it in for a Toyota Siena minivan. Amazing. Never driving anything else on road or camping trips.

    2. Sleeping: this has been the biggest challenge because it is the most expensive and biggest commitment. And for a lifelong insomniac like myself, the most important. I’ve got it narrowed down-ish.

    Least expensive: the good old fashioned tent. Coleman has some good cheap quick set up ones. Kelty has some neat inflatable camping palaces.

    Pros- affordable, roomy. Cons- more set up, more restrictive in terms of where you can sleep. (We’d love to be able to park in a friend’s driveway and sleep in our car).

    Middle road: Cartop tent, ranging from $1500-$3500 (for the size we would like). Pros- comfortable, quick setup, doesn’t take up cargo room. Cons- expensive, smaller, drag on fuel efficiency, and you have to schlep small children up and down a ladder and not let them fall out.

    In my dreams: a teardrop (Camp Inn, Little Guy) or other compact, lightweight camper trailer like the Cricket or Sylvan Go. Pros- easy, just hitch and go. They carry your gear. Home on wheels. Cons- expensive. We probably should not spend our children’s college fund on this. The Sylvan and the teardrops start around 8k, and you can go as high as you want from there. These also have the added benefit of including kitchens or dining areas, shaving more time off set up and take down as well as a little savings on gear.

    Last post, I had settled on the behemoth Tepui Kukenam XL. I’ve since decided that it is too heavy and make our already thirsty xterra even thirstier. I have finally decided on the Cascadia Mount Hood tent out of the following:

    A. James Baroud Nomad 160: 62×86, 95lbs, nice windows, looks airy on the inside, 30 seconds to set up. $2,199.95

    B. Cascadia Mount Hood: 72×96, 140lbs, $1,495. A few minutes to set up.

    C. James Baroud Grand XXL: 63.75x 89, weight unknown but hard shell so probably not much. Opens in 5 seconds. Fan and led lighting as well as exterior cargo bag. $3,510.95

    D. Autohome Maggiolina Airland Lg:63×85, 150 lbs. Hard shell opens with crank in a few seconds. $3,199.00

    E. Tepui Kukenam XL: 76×98, 205lbs, $1,925. Huge. Rugged. Would work well on a trailer if we could afford that.

    The hard shells are really nice with quick set up but they are smaller and more expensive. The middle road seems to be the nomad which is also smaller with a quick set up, but $1k+ cheaper than the hard shells. This one is also the lightest at less than 100 lbs. Then, there is the large, economical and slightly more involved set up of the Cascadia mount hood.

    Al we will need to complete our sleeping set up will be a couple of sleeping bags for the boys and some pillows for all of us from Sierra Designs.

    3. Eating: we have a back packing set up from GSI Outdoors. I really like it, efficient and useful and stores nice and small. I think we will go with another more expansive GSI system for car camping. They also sell nice classic enamelware table settings,
    Volcano three fuel grill for cooking and aeropress for coffee.

    Also, you need a place to store it, so the Camp Chef Camp Sherpa comes in at $100 to store and serve as a table for the stove.

    A collapsible sink or two from from Sea to Summit, coupled with a water bag for washing dishes and toiletries.

    GSI macro table and helinox chairs for dining

    Hydroflask insulated growler. Beer festivals.

    Yeti cooler- doubles as bear vault

    4. Power
    Goal zero generator kit to power lights, phones/tablets, and cooler.

    5. Misc.
    Nemo pressurized solar shower

    Small porta potty and pop up tent seems like it might be nice for late nights and showers. Never used one.

    Books! Books. And more books with maps.

    The gear without the tent adds up to a little over a grand, with my husband’s discount through his winter job at a ski/outdoor shop. By my estimate, we can be fully mobile with our dream gear for around $2,800. That can be shaved down considerably if we make do with things like a normal cooler, our backpacking stove and dishes, no table, no solar power etc. In any event, that is a budget I can work with. Bye bye airfare, cramped hotel rooms, and terrible road food. Hello national parks and lots of bathroom breaks for the kids. In the meantime, it looks like ski season has started:

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