Posts Tagged With: camping

A Camping Epiphany

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that my family probably spends more time outdoors than indoors, but I have to admit something in the interest of full disclosure. We have a teenaged daughter who has betrayed us by turning into…well…a teenager. That means she begrudgingly goes along with our outdoors fun–even if she’s awoken and given the option to stay in her sleeping bag or come explore the cave with us, then groggily chooses the cave–and tries her hardest to pretend she’s “glamping.”

But we’ve been camping just south of Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the past week, and an epiphany occurred. She picked up her phone and got a text message about a play she’s really wanted to see. She gave me the details and I had to cringe a little. I explained that with the cost of gas to get to the city where it was being performed, plus the cost of tickets, plus the fact that it would get out so late that we’d need to get a hotel room, it wasn’t very likely we could pull it off.

“What if we camped instead?” she asked hopefully.

And I laughed, and I laughed, and I laughed… until finally she was laughing because she knew that camping wasn’t so bad when it’s something SHE wants to do (like seeing a play or exploring a cave!), but it was just something to complain about when it was just a fun family activity.

And hence the epiphany: HER epiphany is that this kind of activity really does serve a purpose. It’s basically cheap vacation fun, if you already own the gear I suppose. HER other epiphany hasn’t happened yet, but when she’s older she’s going to remember the family hikes and camp outs and other fun activities that put us together in a remote place, but that didn’t have to break that bank. She’ll remember that someday when she’s a mom and the money’s tight (I remember a week-long trip to Disney World with my parents when I was twelve; if we hadn’t tent camped at Disney’s Fort Wilderness, there was absolutely no way my parents could have afforded to take us), and camping is the only way she can take her kids to something they really wanted to do.

But my epiphany at that moment was this: so what if camping isn’t her thing? It’s my thing, and in many ways it is our family’s thing. It’s not killing her to go and she’s not allowed to complain, and every once in a while she has a really great time doing it. I’m not only giving my kids a vacation or a fond memory, I’m equipping them for the future. No, it doesn’t have to be the zombie apocalypse or a dystopian survival situation. I’m teaching them to think of others and make the best of a situation, and I’m teaching them to problem-solve (when there’s a play you want to see and the tickets are expensive, sleep in the woods after it’s over!).

This lifestyle might not be her cup of tea right now, but it’s good for her on so many levels. Plus, I get to look her dead in the eye and confidently say those fateful words every parent wants to say: “Someday you’ll thank me for this!”

The cave more than made up for the camping, she told me so!

The cave more than made up for the camping, she told me so!

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

PRODUCT REVIEW: Stanley Adventure Cooler

If you read the recent post about Essential Gear, you already know how much I love this cooler. It’s really sturdy, contains some handy features that many cooler users might not have thought of, and still comes in at a price point that won’t keep you from actually using it (looking at you, $900 cooler that is all the rage right now… I know how much abuse and neglect I dish out to my gear while outside, and I can’t imagine owning a cooler that costs as much as my first car).

Before expounding on the greatness of the Stanley Adventure Cooler, this is a good time to go into more detail on how much you should spend on your gear. Now, I’m a firm believer in NOT spending money. Even if it’s something great that will last me for a long time, I just can’t justify spending the big bucks for a “quality” item because there’s a good chance I’m going to lose it or give it away. When I ran marathons I did splurge on the $150 shoes, but that’s because everything else I was wearing was either a free gift or had come from Walmart.

When it comes to something like your cooler, though, you’re taking an actual risk by buying junk. Why? Because unless you’re a vegetarian, your meat and eggs could very well be in that cooler. It’s all well and good to buy a lesser expensive model, but I wouldn’t take the risk on anything less than a nationally-known brand. If you ever reach into your cooler for a meat product while camping or hiking and find that all your ice has melted, you just can’t risk eating that meat.

If your cheapo flashlight craps out on you, the worst that can happen is you have to wait ’til sun up to see again. You might even have to sit in that same spot ’til morning, but that’s a problem you can overcome. If your cooler fails you, though, you just might get your own chauffeured ride to the emergency room.

Buy a good cooler. There, I said it.

But back to this cooler of greatness. The first word that came to mind when I saw it was “rugged.” I’m sure the great folks at Stanley don’t want you standing or sitting on it for legal reasons, but I’ve had to do both, and I’m not what we call a small person. The bungee straps on the top are meant to hold one of their vacuum bottles, but can hold anything that can be tied down. One of the more interesting features of this cooler was really annoying at first, only because I didn’t factor it in as one of the “adventure” features: you can’t open the lid more than an inch if the handle is up. I found it annoying to have to lay the handle back to open the cooler, but the first time the cooler turned upside down and DIDN’T dump the contents on the ground, I realized what it was for! Finally, this cooler is innocuous-looking enough that you can take it to the beach and the waterpark and people aren’t likely to grab it. It looks like a nice, standard cooler but doesn’t look flashy or boldly display a high-dollar name brand.

But how well does it work? Good question.

This summer’s activities have all taken place in the southeastern US, and guess what one thing every spot in that region has in common? It’s HOT. As in, 105+ hot. And this cooler has gone everywhere. It’s kept its cool in every place we’ve gone, and I’ve yet to open the cooler and find melted ice waiting for me. It works as well as the $900 coolers are rumored to work, but without the price tag and without the fear of something happening to it.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

RECIPE: Steak Roll Ups with Veggies

Everybody loves a good campfire meal, and this one’s easy enough that you can take it camping, hiking, on a day trip, a picnic, or basically any other outdoors excursion. The easy part of this is that you pre-cook the hard part, and then flash cook the rest of it.

This is a fine time for me to complain a little bit about all those ridiculous recipes for foil-packet cooking. Sure, they’re awesome…if you start your campfire early and leave the packet in the coals for a few hours, and if you don’t mind all the food on the bottom being charred while the food towards the top is still barely room temperature. Throw in the fun of eating while holding something that’s going to leave soot all over your hands, and you’ve got yourself a winner.

Instead, the trick to this recipe (and all foil-packet recipes, if you’re just determined to do it that way) is to precook the things that won’t get soft over a campfire. What am I talking about? Take a look.


Some of them are a darker red because they're venison...the abundance of deer in our freezer is a story for a whole other post.

Some of them are a darker red because they’re venison…the abundance of deer in our freezer is a story for a whole other post.

These are just your basic cube steaks, marinated in either a liquid enhancer or a dry rub. In the middle, or the roll-up part, are some pre-cooked veggies. The whole thing is tied up with strips of green onion, but that’s only because I happened to have some on hand. Toothpicks would have worked just as well.

Lay out your cube steaks on a cutting board at home. I like to beat mine up a little bit with the rim of a coffee mug, just to make sure they behave.

Meanwhile, in a skillet on the stove top, saute some veggie strips. I happened to use squash and banana peppers in these rolls, but again, that’s because I had those handy in the garden.

Once the veggies are soft and a little bit charred, lay a few pieces of each on the edge of a steak, the roll it up. I tied mine with softened strips of green onion, as you can see.

The best part is you can easily make everyone’s day by mixing up the veggies. These trips are about family fun, aren’t they? Then it can’t be that fun if your kids are told, “Tough luck, I used zucchini.” If you know you have some particular food tastes, there’s no reason you can’t throw all the different veggies in that skillet to saute then make each person one or two steak rolls with just his favorites in it. Just separate them in the storage compartments so you can dish them out to the right family members at cook time.

NOW… you have to transport them. I love these Stanley containers (yes, the people who make the thermoses) because they’re going to hold up, and then they nest when you’re done. They’re easy to wash, and then they stack right inside each other for easy transport back home. That’s important if you’re just out on a hike and don’t want to carry a lot. If you have a food allergy in your family, you can even separate out the allergic kid’s food in one container and then pack it inside the largest container alongside your other family members’ foods. You can also place these containers next to a freezable ice pack to keep the meat cold while you move.

These great containers are very sturdy and nest together when you're not carrying stuff in them.

These great containers are very sturdy and nest together when you’re not carrying stuff in them.

Once you get to your destination, you’ve got to cook them. Whatever heat source you’re using–campfire, portable stove, portable grill, whatever–you can cook these either directly over the flame on a stick or by settling them in a mess kit skillet and turning them once. If you’ll be using the skillet method, you can even rub the outside with margarine or spray them with cooking spray before placing them in the storage container, eliminating the need to grease your skillet.


The trick to getting these carrots soft enough is to sprinkle them with salt while they're still raw, then let that cause them to soften while you travel.

The trick to getting these carrots soft enough is to sprinkle them with salt while they’re still raw, then let that cause them to soften while you travel.

These carrots are so easy, they’re not to be believed. Why is that? There’s a secret to softening them before you cook them… salt! Since you were probably going to salt these before serving anyway, why not put the salt on them before they’re cooked? As you hike/travel/etc., they’ll soften naturally as the salt breaks down the cell walls inside the flesh and lets the water leak out. By the time you’re ready to cook them, they’ll be mildly al dente. Just throw them in your skillet (you can even cook them at the same time as the Steak Roll-Ups, if you want) and serve! Mine have dill on them because it gives them a nice pickle-y flavor and yes, because we had some in the garden.

There are lots of different ways you can cook these steak roll-ups.

There are lots of different ways you can cook these steak roll-ups.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

DIY Gear: The Bug-Off Jar

There are a lot of great products out there to make any outdoors experience even better, but there are also a lot of things you can make yourself that will enhance the trip. This one, though, is a great item to have anytime you are doing something outside, whether it’s camping, picnicking, or even sitting at a ball park watching your child play any given sport.

Now, with my family’s history of skin cancer, I’m a sunscreen addict. We keep it in the car, we keep a face stick in my purse for emergencies or touch-ups, both of my daughters already wear a daily moisturizer with sunscreen, and I even subscribe to sunscreen on (yes, once a month a new bottle of sunscreen shows up at our house!). I realize that’s a lot of sunscreen, but a) we live in the South where summer lasts from April through November and b) we’re outside a lot!

What does sunscreen have to do with bugs? Not much.

But as much as I slather commercial chemicals on myself and on my kids’ skin, I can’t stand to spray them with bug spray. It’s a chemical with toxic properties (at least if you’re a bug), and I’ve already coated them from scalp to pinkie toe with a different cocktail of chemicals to protect them from the sun. I certainly don’t want them to get a bug-borne disease or just have their trip ruined by itchy bug bites, so we do what we have to do. I spray their shoes, their shorts, and the back of their shirts with as little bug spray as I can get by with, and I choose my brands very carefully.

In order to add an extra layer of protection–and quite frankly, just to make being outside more pleasant–I carry these with us.


I call them Bug Off Jars. All you need is a good-sized container with an attachable lid. This one happens to be recycled from an organic rice container (more on why you must buy organic rice some other time!), and the lid screws on well.

Many of the annoying insects that we don’t like, including mosquitoes and regular old flies, have certain plants they don’t like. You probably know this, since that’s why bug products contain citronella. Other plants they don’t like include basil, mint, lavender, lemon grass, lemon balm, bee balm, and other great, easy to grow plants. So what do we do? Plant them! (Another hint: plant these around your property to keep down on bugs…they’re natural and pretty, they smell great, and they’re great to cook with!)

Of course, our backyard garden already includes many of those plants because we cook with them. So whenever we’re going on an outdoors trip, I grab this jar out of my stuff and pack it full of basil, mint, and lavender. I mean, I really stuff it down in there. I just fill it as I high as I can and put the lid on, then throw it in our kit.

When we’re out there (camping, picnicking, hiking, whatever) I grab some of the leaves out of the jar and we rub them on our arms and necks. They don’t leave a green tinge or anything, but they leave the smell on our skin through the oil. The rest of the jar sits on our table wherever we’re going to be eating; whenever we sit down to eat, I just take the lid off to keep flies away from our food. It actually works, and it makes even a simple picnic much more pleasant since you won’t be swatting at flies the whole time. Just be sure to put the lid back on whenever your not using it so the scent doesn’t dissipate.

It’s easy, environmentally friendly, skin friendly, and good smelling. When you get home, discard or compost the old leaves and just grab some fresh ones the next time you head out!

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Essential Gear

No matter what kind of adventure you and your family plan on having, there are always a few pieces of essential gear. If you’re camping, you must have some kind of cover over your head. If you’re kayaking, you must have some kind of float under your butt. Hiking? You’ll need shoes. Spelunking? You’ll need a light source. Snorkeling? An air tube of some kind. Geocaching? Some kind of GPS.

One thing you’ll discover after doing enough fun activities is that there’s also gear you’ll need any time you’re headed outdoors. These few items will become the basis of your gear kit no matter what you’ll be doing. Take a look at the photos below and see if you can spot the essential item that comes with us, no matter what we’re doing.





Okay, that last one was a gimme. Yes, no matter where we’re going or what we’ll be doing, we have a cooler with us. This one, made by Stanley, carries drinks, of course, but also carries ice packs for injuries, stores meat if we’re going to be camping, and more. This particular cooler has been thrown overboard to someone who’d fallen off a boat (seriously!) and has bailed out more than one leaky kayak. It’s bounced off the back of a truck and kept all our food safe inside, it’s been used as a chair by more than one person, and it even pulled double-duty as a step stool to hang our food bag from a tree branch overnight.

It does it all.

When it comes to selecting gear, though, you have to make a crucial decision. Do I buy one expensive item that might last for a long time and do a great job, or do I buy a cheapo version and not be upset when something happens to it? That is a tough call. You have to decide on the likelihood of the item getting lost, broken, or otherwise made unusable (and there I’m referring to the flashlight that one of my kids dropped while peeing, and yes, peed on it…it was cheap, and it went in the trash because it’s not possible to wash that kind of flashlight well enough to make it hygienic again!).

Flashlights are a prime example. I have a handful of really expensive but really awesome rechargeable LED lanterns, and now that my kids are older, they’re actually allowed to touch them. The funny thing is they usually won’t touch them until Mom says to, all because of the years of training that was threatened into them regarding children and expensive lighting. They knew the Walmart flashlights with their names on them were theirs, and the fancy (re: heavy) lights belonged to Mom. But until my kids got to be a certain age, even I didn’t have expensive lights because there was no point. They were going to get lost, dropped, used to retrieve a Lego from behind the bookshelf and never put back, and more.

This rule could apply to just about any gear you’ve got, depending on the type of adventure you’re going on. If you’re car camping, do you really need a $500 sleeping bag? Hint: no, you don’t. If you get that cold, get in the car and drive away with the heat on. Now, if you’re backpacking through Nepal for three months, yeah…there’s an excellent chance that sleeping bag will save your life and that a cheap discount store sleeping bag will kill you.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is planning their first camping trip and running to Walmart to outfit themselves. The second biggest mistake is planning your first camping trip and running to an expensive outfitter to buy everything. Both of those are a great way to end up with a closet full of stuff you’re not going to use. If you’re new to any kind of great outdoors lifestyle, don’t decide on anything just yet. Get the cheapest stuff you can get away with (borrowed is even better) and then decide what you really need to make it work after you know what gear you’ll really use. I happily loan out my stuff, and you probably have other friends with top-notch gear stowed in a closet somewhere. Just don’t ask to borrow my lanterns.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

TRAVEL REVIEW: Lake Lurleen State Park


As camping goes, state parks can be hit or miss. You can find some that have all the natural appeal of a Walmart parking lot, and then you can find some that are such geological wonders that you forget you’re even in a US park, let alone that you’re camping in one.

So when we had the chance to visit Lake Lurleen State Park in Coker, Alabama, it was a toss up as to what would be waiting for us. Named after Lurleen Wallace, the state’s first and only female governor–who by all accounts has done more for conservation in the state than any other governor before or since–it is a real treasure of picturesque and scenic beauty.


The amenities are pretty standard for a state-funded park. The campsites are tucked away among the trees and are very private, meaning your fellow campers would have to be real jerks to interfere with your fun. The bathhouses are (again) what you might expect from a state budget. They’re nice enough and kept clean, but they’re no Hilton. Be aware that actual shower houses are scattered around the park and you might need to drive to one, depending on where your camp site is located. Bathroom buildings, though, are far more common so you won’t be too far from one no matter where you stay.

About as common as the bathroom buildings are the playgrounds. They’re old-fashioned but sturdy and plentiful. Of course, the swimming beach with its roped off water access will be far more fun to most kids. The park rents pedal boats and john boats (aluminum fishing boats), as well as floats for enjoying the lake.

There’s a camp store at check in, but it’s tiny so don’t expect to browse the aisles looking for something for dinner.


But the real problem (or the real bonus, depending on why you’re getting away from it all!) is that there is no cell phone service.

I don’t mean spotty or unreliable, I mean your phone screen will say No Service. We tried it on two different phone carriers and had nothing. The trick is to make sure you inform someone of where you’ll be staying and how to reach the park office in an emergency, but remember that the rangers are not personal assistants. Luckily I had no reason to test out my theory that they’d come inform me if there was an emergency, but I’m sure they’d oblige.

That brings me to one of the best parts about this park, at least as far as a mom camping in the woods with her two daughters is concerned: I can’t remember ever staying at a park where the rangers patrolled as much as they do. The truck makes the rounds throughout the day and evening, whether it’s a garbage run or just to check up on things. After seeing the truck go by for the third time on our first day there, it was nice to know someone was watching out for the guests.

This is going to sound a little weird, but there was one feature about this park that made it stand out: the darkness. I can’t recall ever having stayed at a park with so much black sky, which would be awesome for watching meteors! I’m already planning a return trip in August for the Perseid meteor shower since there’s very little threat of light pollution washing out the show.

Check out the park for yourself by visiting the AlaPark website at, and plan a meteor campout of your own!

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

PRODUCT REVIEW: K-Tor Power Box Generator

Yesterday’s post had a really great purpose, other that just sticking it to you for planning a boring old bird watching excursion and trying to drag your kids into your idea of fun. I promise.

It was really about leading up to the review of this great product!

K Tor

First of all, I despise objects or appliances that only do one thing. Whether it’s outdoor gear or regular household items, I hate buying things that only serve one purpose. Looking at you, countertop apple peeler. So when this object crossed my radar, I was super excited. Not only is it something you can really use in the outdoors, it’s great to have in the house for emergency situations (I’m all about being prepared for emergencies). Heck, it’s great to use it in place of a wall outlet anytime you can since it will save on energy costs and usage, and will double as exercise!

What is this wonderful device? The K-Tor Power Box Pedal Generator. Yes, you plug your item into the outlet and pedal to make it run. There’s no internal battery, so yes, it’s all you. Or if you read yesterday’s post, it’s all on your kids to power their devices.

At the risk of sounding like I support lying and trickery, here’s what I envision happening when you put this generator in front of your kids: they’re going to be super excited…for about a minute and a half. I’m willing to bet they’ll get up and find something else to do if they don’t want to power their devices. You get to be the parent who said, “Sure you can bring your iPad!” while knowing that they’re probably going to find something else to do instead.

In all seriousness, this device does have important ramifications for other things besides making your kids pedal for their screen time. Like I said, I’m really excited that it’s sitting downstairs right now just because we’re expecting storms later on today. I still remember the images of people huddled over some Good Samaritan’s power strip outside of an apartment following Hurricane Sandy, waiting for their cell phones to charge so they could even speak to their loved ones. Of course, this would also be the ideal unit to keep under your desk at work to pedal while you ran a radio or charged your cell phone. It would provide some calorie burn and keep your legs and back from being in the same position for too long.

As for how it operates, there are a few things you should know. It folds up nicely into a unit that takes up less space than a normal shoe box, but since the generator is inside the unit, it’s a little hefty at just over five pounds. It’s very important that you understand the unit will work directly out of the box, but it will work more efficiently and with less frustration if you bolt it to a board to keep it from toppling over while you pedal. Finally, you need to get a real feel for how much effort it takes to use this generator to power a device: it’s no lazy picnic. It will take actual effort, and any slacking off will result in a loss of output. Luckily, you can easily switch to using it as a hand-crank generator by standing it up in front of you and pedaling with your hands.

Don’t let the $195-or-so price tag put a damper on your interest in this. It’s a small price to pay for this much functionality, and it can make itself useful in a wide variety of ways. All in all, it’s definitely worth having, even if it’s something you hope you never need.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Let Me Tell You Why Your Kids Hate the Outdoors

If I could get up from my desk right now and go anywhere at all, it would be to the beach. I don’t even care which one. I do want it to have trees on the shoreline, and no one else around. I’ll settle for the lake or a nice river, but same features: trees and solitude. Of course, if you told me my mini-me-vacation was to the mountains, I’m still not gonna complain. The mountains are great, especially if there’s any kind of view. Oh, wait! Throw in some fog! Foggy mountain mornings that dry up and reveal the scenery are awesome! Whether it’s beach or lake or mountains, I could just put up my hammock and my chair and sit there in the quiet, enjoying whatever nature has to offer.


Why am I sharing this? Because the purpose of this blog is to speak to parents about getting their kids outdoors more. And let me tell you what your kids hate about being outside… doing nothing!

When we grown-ups plan a camping trip or a hiking excursion, we’re looking forward to getting away from it all. We want peace and quiet, we want solitude, we want nature, we want to unplug and unwind. Basically, we want to forget about the mortgage and our jobs and Netflix and just relax.

I’ve just described literal hell for most kids.

Your kids want stuff to do, activities to enjoy, and tons of people to hang out with or play with. They want to people watch, they want to shop, they want to go somewhere cool and tell their friends about it. If they’re like my kids, they even want an explosion or two.

We pretty much suck all the fun out of the things they like to do when we try to do the things we want to do. We drag them along, quite possibly kicking and screaming, only to have them hate it so much that the entire trip is ruined for everyone, never to be repeated or spoken of again.

So how do you avoid that? How do you keep from making your kids hate everything about the outdoors while still getting to enjoy it yourself, and with your family?

Stop being a wilderness dictator!

If I could throat punch every single person who declares a “no devices” rule when going outdoors, I swear I would do it. What is your kid supposed to do at your campsite without the very devices YOU bought for him? Throw rocks at a tree for three days? NO. He’s going to throw rocks at his brother for ten minutes, or until you get tired of it and make him go sit in the car. From there it’s going to be a battle of the wills to see who wins, the parent who wants to enjoy quiet nature or the kid who wants revenge for being forced to leave his iPad at home.

Instead, try this: no chargers. You bring the device fully charged and your child is responsible for using it wisely. Be sure to turn off the wi-fi since it will drain the battery in its futile attempt to find a signal over and over and over. I would personally say the car trip doesn’t count since there’s nothing worse than driving in heavy interstate traffic with a bored kid. Using it and charging it during the car trip is fine, but once you’re there, the chargers are gone. He can still use it, and you might even want to remind him that he’d better save it in case it rains and the hike/fishing/star gazing/whatever are cancelled. If he knows that his device is still available for him to play with but that he has to be careful with how much he uses it, he just might surprise you with his sudden sense of responsibility and his ability to find neat things to do outside. I can also promise you this: I’ve personally witnessed amazing acts of sharing, as in two kids happily playing a game or watching a video together to save the battery on the other kid’s device, knowing that they’ll share the other device later on.

Now here’s the real kick in the pants: don’t you dare enforce a no device or no charger rule, then violate it yourself. I don’t care that your job is important or your mom is getting on in years or the dog sitter might need to contact you. If your kids can’t have their devices, put yours away too. You’re not more important than they are, and this was all your idea in the first place.

Remember that your kids aren’t in the same place emotionally that you are. You might be blown away by bird watching, but he’s thinking, “I could be playing Angry Birds right now.” (Wait, is Angry Birds still a game? Or is it Flappy Bird? Dumb Bird? Whatever… you know what I meant.) The quiet that you crave in order to recharge is mind-numbing to him. If this is truly a family experience, then it’s your job to make sure every member of the family is thought of and has his needs met.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

PRODUCT REVIEW: Stanley Mountain Vacuum Coffee System

There are two major factors that (in my humble opinion) stop people from enjoying the outdoors. The first is a strong desire NOT to potty in nature, and the other is a crippling fear that there won’t be coffee. I know, I’m making that sound really simple and it does sound like I’m making fun here, but you can’t know how serious I am.

I’ll address pottying in another blog post because that one can take some explaining and maybe even a chart or diagram or two. So this post is about the other vital issue: coffee.

I went on a camping trip back in March with my good friend and adventure buddy Wendy. We’d brought our two-kids-apiece and were having a grand time until the second day when I woke up to find Wendy and her car were gone. Her kids were still asleep in their tent, so I knew it wasn’t something I’d done to offend her! Before I could even reach for my phone to text her, she pulled up to our campsite and got out of the car with a to-go carrier of coffee from a fast food place about twenty miles away. I thanked her (because I’m polite like that), but reminded her I’d brought instant coffee packets. She glared at me over the rim of her styrofoam cup, put out that I’d even use the words “instant” and “coffee” in the same sentence.

But then the great folks at Stanley (the awesome thermos and lunchbox people) sent me their answer to the camping coffee dilemma: the Mountain Vacuum Coffee System!


Basically, it’s a French press, except this one has no glass to worry about. In fact, the model they sent me to try out is actually built for two or more coffee drinkers. Here’s the breakdown:

Step One – heat your water in the handy bottom container with the flip up handle.

Step Two – when the water’s hot enough, add your coffee grounds which store in the vacuum bottle cap for easy and waterproof transport. I use the same measurements of water-to-coffee ratio that I do when making coffee in a regular coffee maker, basically one tablespoon per liquid serving.

Step Three – this one’s the only tough step since it requires knowing how long to brew your coffee based on how strong you want it to taste. I’m a medium roast kind of gal, and even then I’m going to add a good bit of creamer to it. I only let my grounds sit in the water for four minutes before halting the process.

Step Four – push the plastic plunger down into the pot GENTLY. Yes, if you push it down too fast it will splash out the sides and burn you. Even if it doesn’t burn you, it will force some of the ground up in the drinkable coffee part, and nobody wants that.

Step Five – with the plunger still in place to hold the coffee grounds, pour the hot coffee into the included vacuum bottle and put the lid on. That will keep it warm between servings.

Here’s a special hint if you’re making coffee for several people. Purposely heat TOO much water before you add the grounds. Once the water is the right temperature, go ahead and pour some of it in the vacuum bottle, then add the grounds to the pot like you’d planned. The hot water in the vacuum bottle will “activate” it for keeping the coffee hot, especially if you’re the early riser who got up and made coffee for everyone, and the others won’t be drinking theirs until they roll out of their sleeping bags later. Just remember to dump that water out of the thermos part before you pour in the coffee!


This is important! If you’re going backpacking (meaning camping involving hiking any great distances), this item is a little on the heavy side. If you can base many of your meals on heating water to warm up a pre-made pouch, then you’re fine since the coffee pot base will heat water for anything. Of course, if it’s just you or one other coffee drinker on this hiking trip, you could leave the vacuum bottle at home and pack other necessary items down in the pot/plunger set up, just to save on weight. That would just mean you have to drink the coffee as soon as it’s made instead of being able to keep some hot for a second cup.

This system–again, my humble opinion here–is superior to other camping French presses because the pot that actually makes the coffee is the same pot you’ll use to heat the water. Other systems are really just a non-breakable metal cylinder for pressing the coffee; you still have to have an additional pot to heat the water in the first place. While this system will cost a little more than those camping presses, its pot-base not only serves several cooking purposes, it comes backed by the Stanley name.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Don’t Be Afraid of Outside

There’s no shortage of outdoorsy blogs on the internet, and they’re probably much more exciting than this one. I’ve never climbed Mount Everest, I’ve never gone scuba diving in the big blue hole off Belize. There are a lot of really great adventure blogs and online magazines that can give you all the details of those places. That’s not what this one is about.

The whole idea for this blog happened because every single time I mention a camping trip or a day of kayaking or going snorkeling off the coast, the reaction is the same: “Aren’t you afraid to take those little girls camping/kayaking/hiking/cycling/snorkeling/rock climbing/etc.?”

Now, first of all, those “little girls” are now fifteen and twelve years old. True, they’ve been doing these things since before they could walk–my oldest used to stand on my water skis in front of me and ride up and down the river before she was big enough to get up on her own–but to somehow imply that I or them or both shouldn’t be doing these outdoorsy things because of fear is ridiculous.

Like I said, it’s not Mt. Everest.

The very thought of not taking kids on neutral-level adventures–camping in a state park, hiking on a well-groomed and maintained hiking trail, snorkeling in a part of the ocean with hundreds of other tourists within earshot–all because there is some flawed perception of danger was unacceptable.

What happened to all those people posting things on Facebook about how there were no video games or 500-channels on television when they were kids, posting about how they would leave the house after breakfast and they wouldn’t come back home until they were called for dinner? If that was such a great time in our history, what happened? Those people should be parents and grandparents right now, but they’re the very same people who can’t believe my girls and I take off on our very safe adventures.


The sad truth is, all those people who ask me that same question aren’t actually afraid of the outdoors. They’re afraid of embarking on a trip and not having it be the most magical vacation ever. What’s really happened is we’re losing our ability to see how we can make these experiences feasible when we live in a world with jacuzzi tubs and microwave popcorn and Netflix streaming. We’re not truly afraid of bears or sharks or serial killers in the woods, we’re afraid that we don’t know how to get there, have a good time, and get back, all in one piece. And I’m here to remind you that it doesn’t have to be perfect and it doesn’t have to be the best vacation ever. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be tons of “fun”… for now. Because I can promise you this: when your kids are grown and they’ve finished school and they’re working and starting families of their own, they’re going to remember with new eyes how much fun it was, and they’re going to be grateful for every minute you spent with them outside.

There's always at least one frown in any given outdoors pic, but it's never the same person!

There’s always at least one frown in any given outdoors pic, but it’s never the same person!

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: