Posts Tagged With: Stanley

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: 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!

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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!

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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.

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