Posts Tagged With: outdoor moms

GEAR REVIEW: OuterEQ Parachute Nylon Hammock

Before we can talk about this hammock, we have to back up and figure out why you’re considering buying a hammock in the first place. Oh, because you thought camping in a hammock would make you look cool? Owning a portable hammock is your way of showing the world you can live off the grid and go hike up Machu Picchu at a moment’s notice, sleeping in trees along the way?

Yeah, I didn’t think so! But isn’t it weird how a) hammock companies market that way, with glossy pictures of some guy drink a camp mug full of coffee in his hammock while staring out at Kilimanjaro, and b) how the price of some of these over-glorified tarps makes you think it should be part of an Everest expedition’s gear?

Let’s talk about a real reason to buy a hammock: because they’re freakin’ awesome! (Says the lady who has a hammock in her office…yes, hanging, in her office.)

Yup, in my office. You've arrived in the world of employment when you have a hammock behind your desk.

Yup, in my office. You’ve arrived in the world of employment when you have a hammock behind your desk.

Hammock camping really is a viable option, if you have a few considerations in place. It eliminates sleeping on the ground and gets rid of the need for lugging an airbed and a pump with you if you’re not a sleep on the ground kinda person. They’re actually really comfortable, if you do it right.

That’s a HUGE if, by the way.

Think about the last hammock you tried out. It was possibly made of woven rope and was stretched wide by a wooden bar across the top and the feet. You know, the kind of hammock that Goofy gets tangled up in and flips out of on TV. That’s not the right kind of hammock for camping, which is why the gear companies developed these “nest” style hammocks.

These hammocks, which are giant swaths of parachute nylon gathered at each end, are a lot more like a cocoon. In fact, the first time you get in one and you lose your peripheral vision because of all the extra fabric, it’s a little disorienting. But once you learn how to stretch out in your hammock, you’ll see why I’m in love with it.

For the purposes of this post, I learned it's impossible to set the timer on the camera and get in a hammock in under ten seconds.

For the purposes of this post, I learned it’s impossible to set the timer on the camera and get in a hammock in under ten seconds.

The design of the nest hammock means you can sleep in the traditional bent V shape with your head and your feet pointed up, OR you can lie on the diagonal using the extra fabric to support your head and your feet. You can lie on your side or even sleep on your stomach in this style of hammock.

Just be warned: the one in my office? We call it the coma hammock. People seriously get in it just to “try it out,” and end up passing out and waking up two hours later, very disoriented.

Instant coma. I swear.

Instant coma. I swear.

Now… once you have a hammock, how do you make sure you can take it camping and that you’ll find adequate tree coverage to hang it? You can’t. You can hope your campsite has enough trees spaced the adequate distance apart, OR you can purchase a portable hammock stand. Mine was about $50 on eBay and is literally five poles that snap together using a push-button mechanism (no tools). The poles fit in their own carry bag and end up being about the size of a portable camping chair from a discount store. It’s awesome… after all, it’s how I have a hammock hanging in my office! The poles are quite sturdy and two of the poles are the foot braces that keep you from flipping. (See the first photo to get a better idea of the hammock stand.) If you are using trees, make sure you have adequate straps to hang the hammock, and that you hang it high enough so that you don’t land on your butt when you get in it. The typical amount of give means that your hammock should be suspended at slightly higher than your waist height. Once you push on it and get in, it will drop dramatically.

While you’re hammock camping, you’ll also need a way to keep bugs off and stay dry. Mosquito netting is pretty common over hammocks, and a tarp or tent fly strung between your trees and anchored to the ground at the corners is the typical way to keep dry during the night. Be warned, if the weather is the least bit chilly, your butt and back will freeze during the night as air circulates beneath you, so you’ll need some kind of thick blanket to sleep on as well one to sleep under. The nest hammocks are actually designed to be used with your sleeping bag without fear of falling out.

So here’s the gear review part: I was disgusted by the $70 to $100 price tag of some brand-name nylon hammocks. Folks, I promise you’re just paying for the fancy label. Instead, I bought the OuterEQ Hammock on Amazon and could not be happier with it. Check it out, I promise you won’t be sorry. It comes in two sizes, so make sure you get the one you need. The smaller single is plenty big–even for my husband/guinea pig who tested it out for me–although they sell a “double nesting.” The double nesting is NOT intended for two people to sleep comfortably! Think of it more like having a couch in the woods with you, where two people could recline in it and drink coffee. They are not going to be comfortable sleeping together in it!

Guinea pig husband got in the hammock just to prove it would hold him.

Guinea pig husband got in the hammock just to prove it would hold him.

The OuterEQ comes in a ton of fun colors (so each kid can pick his own!) and folds right back up into its sewn on pouch. The pouch doubles as a place to store things while you sleep, like your car keys, glasses, or a flash light. At just under $20, it was the best one I’ve come across. I put them up inside a screen canopy at our campsite and we can all sleep comfortably.

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Zip Line Adventure!

One of the increasingly popular family activities is zip lining, or the practiced art of falling off a high place while wearing a harness. And while I can promise you that it is both really thrilling and very safe, it is one of those activities where you really must do your homework before you set out.

What kind of homework? READ THOSE REVIEWS!

There is an unfortunately huge discrepancy in what constitutes zip lining. You can pay $30 a person to stand in a long line at a beachfront adventure park and ride down one cable, or you can make a day of it and zip through acre after acre of gorgeous forest land. You can pay a little bit of money to have a surly teenager whose summer job involves reminding you to tuck your feet before he shoves you off that one cable, or you can pay more to have a guided tour with two professionals who take you through a two-hour zip adventure.

See the difference? Both of those things are zip lining, but they present very different experiences.

While I’m all about being budget conscious–after all, that’s why we got into camping in the first place–this is one of those rare times you’ll really want to splurge and pay a more top-dollar price. It’s also not something you should do at an amusement park, at least not if you want a real family adventure.

So what do you look for when you’re searching for nearby zip lining options?

1. Knowledgeable staff who are trained in rescue techniques.

2. A worthwhile trip, as in getting to experience this for more than just one shove from a platform to ground.

3. Scenic beauty, since the fun of this is in being outdoors.

4. A location that requires a brief training session before you’re allowed to begin.

Simply having a sign out front that says, “All riders must wear closed-toe shoes,” isn’t safety precautions. When my husband and I decided to give it a try, we were required to take a twenty-minute training class and demonstrate that we could hold the required positions, stop ourselves, and even hand-over-hand self-rescue in case we got stuck.

Now for a review of a specific company, North Georgia Canopy Tours. After a lot of internet searching, this is the company we went with. How specific were we? Let’s just say it was an all-day trip in honor of our anniversary. We drove three hours each way to use this exact company, largely for the criteria I listed above.

We were not disappointed. While our overall assessment was that the cost and the effort involved in getting there means this is a one-time thing (meaning we probably wouldn’t make the drive to do it again, at least not soon), we did come away feeling that the money and effort were certainly worth it in terms of the fun we had and the complete safety we felt the entire time.

We signed up for the Adventure Tour, which costs a pretty penny but gives you THREE HOURS of guided zip lining and a repel out of the final platform: “The Adventure Tour includes two sky bridges, three nature walks, the fastest zips on the course, zips over three ponds, two zips over the North Oconee River, and a rappel. Race a partner on the thrilling finale – a 695-foot dual zip over the Hilltop Pond in front of the Observation Deck.”

Again, NOT a quick shove from a metal platform at a beach attraction! This is definitely the kind of activity where you’ll want your camera, so make sure (especially if you’re taking videos with your smartphone) that you have a way to secure it while you move.

However you decide to give it a try, remember to check out all of the safety requirements and reviews online first. Be sure to bring the right clothes and shoes, and give the company a call first if there are any specific issues with anyone in your family. Then, be sure to have fun and thank them with a review!

Check out this video compilation I made during our trip!

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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!

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PRODUCT REVIEW: Stanley Adventure Cooler

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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.

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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.

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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.

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PRODUCT REVIEW: Leatherman Leap

When you get your stuff organized for any outdoors trip, are you the boss? I mean, are you the one in charge of planning and organizing and even packing the car? One way to make this trip more engaging for your kids is to get them in on it. Have a sit down strategy meeting at the kitchen table where you plan out what you’ll need to bring, what to eat on the trip, and more. One of the best ways to get the kids excited about an adventure of any kind is to make them know that they’re a part of the decision making process, even if it’s a small part.

What does any kid going on his first outdoors adventure want? His own gear! Why does Mom get to use the hatchet, and not him?! Unfortunately, so much of the gear aimed at younger adventurers is pre-printed with licensed cartoon characters or teddy bears, even the higher end stuff made by the top-notch gear companies. What’s a normal eight-year-old kid supposed to do with a Barbie or Spiderman sleeping bag and a mess kit with penguins on it? (I’m picking on Barbie and Spiderman because I went to a big box store yesterday to get a cheap, cheap fishing rod for my twelve-year-old since she’s never been fishing and we have a trip coming up…literally our only two choices for all-in-one kits were Barbie or Spiderman, and not only is that dumb, it was more expensive than some of the regular gear because it’s licensed!)

Instead, the folks at Leatherman (the really great multi-tool manufacturers) have created a line of tools called the Leap, and just as the name implies, it’s a great jumping off point for having a tool of your own, even if you’re not ready to lead the expedition (and you’re not even close to driving the vehicle).

This thing has tons of great tools, including a blade that YOU get to decide is onboard or off!

This thing has tons of great tools, including a blade that YOU get to decide is onboard or off!

The Leap is simply an awesome tool for kids. This is just the right tool to give to your kids before you take them on any adventure for the first time. I LOVED the fact that it comes with an actual blade, but that parents can decide when their kids are ready for the blade to be added to the tool. Otherwise, the same sturdy quality of other models of Leatherman tools shines through in this one.

I was really pleased with the fact that the tools weren’t annoying to deploy. I’ve used other models of competing products and opening up a tool can be so difficult that you either a) lose a thumbnail or b) need a tool to do it! These move quite easily without being so loose that they fly open when you don’t want them to.

If I had to find something to complain about, I’d venture this guess. The two sides of this tool are covered in plastic (you can select your color from their list) and it’s conceivable that the plastic could break if this tool is dropped, thrown, or otherwise used or abused. I have absolutely no proof of that possibility other than–like I said–having to find something to complain about.

Now, if you’ve never used a Leatherman tool yourself (or any other multi-tool), this might very well be the one you want to get for your gear, too. It’s easy to operate and comes with a ton of tools that could be helpful in any situation. It’s not so hefty or Special Ops-looking that you’re going to feel ridiculous carrying it around, and no, you don’t have to wear it on your belt like some of the die-hard multi-tool fans. It’s small enough to fit in the palm of your hand when closed, and is actually a great thing to have in the dash of your car or in your purse when you’re not outdoors. Check it out at this link HERE to see what it can do!

Doesn't it look like an alligator?

Doesn’t it look like an alligator?

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