Offroad Campers

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Camping can take many forms, and more often than not, our camping style doesn’t include full service campgrounds.  We hike in with everything on our backs, or we drive down forest service roads, to a private oasis and build a basecamp.  Away from the crowds and the noise we enjoy the nature around us, going out on hikes and coming back to camp for lounging and dinner.

For our style of camping tents fit the bill.  If you camp like us and are looking to upgrade off the ground to an RV or trailer, or even if you just like to venture out of full service campgrounds every now and then but are looking to upgrade from a tent, there are many options.

When you’re ready for a basecamp a little bigger than your tent, or if you’re thinking that every once in a while hard walls between you and the outdoors wouldn’t be so bad, or maybe when you’re tired of camping on wet ground one too many times, you may start to look into options.  

Rooftop Tents

rooftop tent

Rooftop tents sit onto your existing vehicle, or a cargo trailer.  They’re the easiest upgrade form a standard tent.  Unlike traditional RVs, any vehicle you currently drive can work with a rooftop tent.  They get you up off the ground, away from standing water, critters that may crawl or walk through your campsite, and they’re relatively easy to set up.  Maggiolina, Cascadia, Tepui, Treeline, ARB, and James Baroud are some of the popular manufacturers.

Teardrop Trailers

offroad teardrop trailer

If rooftop tents don’t fit the bill, there are always teardrop trailers.  This small trailers can be towed by most vehicles, and offer hard sided walls and a great sleeping area.  Beyond the sleeping area they offer a simple galley at the back of the trailer.  SoCal and AT Trailer offer offroading models for the adventurous.

teardrop

Mini Trailers

If the size and practicality of teardrops appeal to you, but you aren’t set on the teardrop shape you can look into mini trailers.  Like teardrops, these offer a great sleeping space indoors, and often (though not always) a galley in the back.  Without the teardrop shape there is often additional headroom.  Leaddog and Hiker Trailers are two that offer mini trailers.

offroad trailer

Pop Up Trailers

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A more traditional RV-like option is the pop-up trailer.  Easier to tow than a standard RV, the pop-up is the tried and true entry-level camper.  A hard base, with fabric pop-up walls this is the best of both worlds for many.  An indoor bed, available indoor kitchen and sometimes even an indoor bathroom.

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A-Frame Trailers

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Along the lines of pop-up trailers are the harsided a-frame trailers.  They fold down for easy towing just like pop-up trailers, though have all hard sides when assembled.  Just like pop-up trailers these are often considered entry level campers.  They are available with indoor kitchen and bathrooms, though more often than not they include indoor sleeping and lounging.

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Small Trailers

Beyond the niche teardrops, minis, pop-ups and a-frame trailers there are a myriad of various other trailer options such as R-pods and Kalispell that offer small size and ‘offroad’ capability.

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No matter the form you take, RV or backpacking tent, get out there and enjoy the great outdoors!

Hiking in Pop Culture

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Two popular best-selling books became movies in the past year.

A Walk in the Woods and Wild.

DF-06533_R (l to r) Nick Nolte stars as Stephen Katz and Robert Redford as Bill Bryson in Broad Green Pictures upcoming release, A WALK IN THE WOODS. Credit: Frank Masi, SMPSP / Broad Green Pictures

For those of us that enjoy spending time in the outdoors, and are familiar with tents and hiking boots, these movies had a lot of potential. Friends and family probably told you about these movies and wondered what you thought.

Personally, I read both books before they were movies.  As is almost always the case, the books are better than the movies.  Though, opinions aside, it is quite interesting that the two best-selling hiking books of late tell the tales of people who never completed the hike that they imply or intended to complete.

Of course, the reality is that hiking in and of itself doesn’t often leave a lot of story to tell (though Muir would disagree).  Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods is lighthearted, entertaining and full of comedy with a bit of history for good measure.  Though the book’s cover (before the movie) did portray a bear, even though not one bear was encountered in the book.

Bryson never completed the entire AT, though did make an admirable effort.

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Strayed’s Wild, tells the tale of a women’s hike along a part of the PCT.  Though, surprisingly for those looking for a book about hiking, the book’s real focus is the sorted past and sex life of a worn woman.  A woman who didn’t actually hike much of the PCT.  The hike is used as a writer’s crutch to string together stories of her past. Some even question the validity of her PCT experience.

It seems that much like the photos that often appear on Instagram, the gritty details of hiking don’t make for a best-selling book.  What works are the highlights, the summit views, the comically large pack and the story of that time you almost got killed.

10 Ways To Waste the Day Away When You’re Snowed In

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Now, ideally if you’re snowed in you’ve still got power and you’re stocked with plenty of food (yep planning ahead pays off again).  But. if the weather has got you thinking that it’s safer (or just better) to stay inside for a while and let the snow plows and sun have their way with the piles of snow read on for ten ways to spend your time when you’re snowed in.

Snowed In

Play Cards, Board games, or Do a Puzzle

Yep, you knew it was coming, but what better excuse do you have to make your husband play Monopoly with you?  Break out the Uno deck, or find that weird puzzle your cousin got you for Christmas that you stuck on the back shelf of your closet.  Buying Cards Against Humanity in preparation for any potential upcoming blizzards is completely acceptable.

Read a Book

You’ve got nowhere else to be, but you’ve got a shelf or pile full of books that you’ve been meaning to read ‘when you get around to it’.  Now’s the time!  Nock through a novel or learn how to dominate the world, and you’ll have actually accomplished something when you’re friends just sat around being bored.

Plan Your Dream Vacation

Whether or not you’ve got internet, take some time and flesh out your dream vacation.  What time of year?  Where would you go?  What type of transportation would you take?  How long would you go for?  Make the details so clear you  can see them, and enjoy the process.  Even if you couldn’t make the trip a reality, delve deep into the suspended disbelief and enjoy the trip in your imagination.

Watch a Movie or Binge on Netflix

Whether it’s an old dvd you haven’t watched in ages, or your Netflix streaming, if you’ve got power and internet go for it.  Watch the entire series of Breaking Bad all over again or watch a classic like The Wizard of Oz.  You’ve got nothing better to do, so just kick back and enjoy.

Take a Nap

A nap is a bit of an indulgence if you live a standard corporate life during the week.  Indulge!  Cuddle up on the couch with an electric blanket and a pile of pillow, or crawl in bed with your down comforter and fall asleep until you wake up.  Waking up without an alarm is a beautiful thing.

Cook

If you fill up your pantry and fridge ahead of time, you can use the weather as an excuse to cook up a storm.  Those tricky complicated recipes that would be torture after work, can be a relaxing afternoon followed by a gourmet event.

Enjoy the Music

Pull out the harmonica, the acoustic guitar or just your long-forgotten mp3 collection and jam out.

Cut Your Hair

This one may sound odd, but hear me out.  Trimming your hair or cutting some bangs is totally do-able and should disaster strike you can always blame it on a tragic snow blower accident.

Knit a Scarf or Crochet a Hat

Use the down time to pick up your long-forgotten hobbies, such as knitting or crocheting.  a lazy day at home is the perfect time to knock out a simple scarf or hat to rock once you do head out in the cold.

Exercise

To fend of the cabin fever feeling, rock out a workout.  Whether a youtube video, a great dvd workout or just a simple bodyweight exercise routine, exercise is just the thing to fend off that couped-in feeling.

Lake Tahoe Chain Controls 101

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Visiting or living in the Lake Tahoe region in the winter means coping with chain controls.

If you haven’t ventured to the mountains in the winter, or if you’re used to east coast style winter driving, you may be surprised or confused by chain controls in the Sierras.

Tahoe Chain Controls

CalTrans is the state agency that enforces and implements chain controls during inclement weather.  CalTrans issues three levels of chain controls.

R1 is the first level of chain control, usually issued when the snow starts to stick and those with lesser equipped vehicles will begin having traction control problems.  R1 indicates that vehicles are required to have chains, traction devices or snow tires on the drive axle unless your vehicle has four wheel or all wheel drive.

This is why if you are renting a vehicle for a Tahoe trip it can be worth it to pay extra for 4WD or AWD.  A small snow storm may never progress beyond R1 controls, and unless you are driving over one of the many mountain summits, you may never pass through a chain control area.

You may be looking to utilize your non-4WD/AWD vehicle for mountain travel, and be wondering what will qualify as a “traction device”.  CalTrans has a lovely definition ready for you:

Tire Traction Devices are devices or mechanisms having a composition and design capable of improving vehicle traction, braking and cornering ability upon snow or ice-covered surfaces. Tire traction devices shall be constructed and assembled to provide sufficient structural integrity and to prevent accidental detachment from vehicles. Tire traction devices shall, at the time of manufacture or final assembly, bear a permanent impression indicating the name, initials or trademark of the assembling company or primary manufacturer, and the country in which the devices were manufactured or assembled in final form.”

Generally speaking, unless you are looking to make winter mountain travel a frequent activity, head to your local auto parts store and buy a decent pair of chains that fit your drive axle vehicle’s tires.  This will suffice should chain controls be enforced, and it shouldn’t cost you more than $50.

Now, should the snow really start coming down or if the ice has formed particularly sketchy spots on the roadways, R2 level chain controls may be enforced.  R2 level chain controls essentially still mean chains are needed on basic vehicles, though now if you have a 4 wheel drive or all wheel drive vehicle you have to put on the chains unless you have snow tires on all four wheels.  Meaning: even in that nice 4WD or AWD SUV your buddy let you borrow, if you don’t have snow tires you are SOL and need to get out and chain up.  Also note, even if you have snow tires you are supposed to be carrying chains in your car ‘just in case’ at this point. 

I do have to say, that if you don’t have 4WD or AWD with snow tires I would really caution against travel of any distance during R2 level controls.  The roads are treacherous at this point and unless it’s dire the roads are really best left to those with snow tires and AWD/4WD.

You may be wondering what “counts” as a snow tire.  CalTrans definition is:

“A ‘Snow-tread tire’ is a tire which has a relatively deep and aggressive tread pattern compared with conventional passenger tread pattern”. Snow-tread tires can be identified by examining the sidewall of the tire where the letters MS, M/S, M+S or the words MUD AND SNOW have been stamped into the sidewall.”

Remember that these chain controls are not a blanket enforcement.  If I-80 has chain controls, once you exit into town there may not be chain controls.  Listen to the local radio, read the traffic signs and checks the CalTrans Quick Map for details. Things can and do change quickly.

Now, the third level of chain control, R3, is chain or traction controls for everyone – no matter what awesome vehicle or what supped-up tires you may have.  From experience I can say, this level of chain control is extremely rare.  Locals often say that the roads will be shut down before this will happen.  Meaning: should you head out in a 4WD or AWD vehicle with snow tires, you should be all set for mountain travel in California.

Chain controls are real, and they happen frequently in the winter on Tahoe area roads.  CalTrans will set up chain control stations, where each car is checked before allowing vehicles to proceed.  They can and will turn you around should your vehicle not meet the stated controls.

Being prepared and aware of what the CalTrans requirements are can be beneficial before your Tahoe trip or move.  

5 Awesome Lake Tahoe Airbnb Rentals

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Whether you’re looking for an epic ski getaway, a retreat in a story book cabin, or a relaxing holiday with a breathtaking view you can find it on Airbnb.  Awesome Lake Tahoe area Airbnb rentals abound, here are ten the run the gamut from cozy to ski-bound.

If you’re looking for a unique experience, tucked away into what feels like the middle of nowhere, this is the AirBnb rental for you.

The entrance is tucked away between the massive granite boulders.

Airbnb Tahoe

Even the indoors are built around the massive boulders.

Stonehenge Tahoe

But it’s the outdoor living that takes the cake.

Tahoe Airbnb

Check out the full listing here.

If storybook cabin with all the modern touches are what you are after, here’s the rental for you:

storybook tahoe cabin

Modern design touches are found inside:

storybook tahoe

The bedrooms has modern Tahoe style down pat.

storybook tahoe

Book the storybook cabin here.

If panoramic views are the key to a great vacation, look no further then this AirBnb offering:

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Even the bedroom has a view.

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Check it out here.

Modern Tahoe style can be found here.

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Even modern styling comes with views.

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The full listing for this modern Tahoe getaway can be found here.

Instead of something cute and cabin-like, and you looking to have a family retreat or enjoy a weekend with 15 of your closest friends?  This Tahoe mansion may fit the bill:

tahoe mansion airbnb

Nine bedrooms, eight bathrooms, hot tub, fire pit, sauna, decks for days and more!

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Why drive the the movies when it’s snowing out, you have your own theater room!

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If that wasn’t enough, there is a pool as well.

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Airbnb is a great resource to have an out of the box vacation, whether in Tahoe or anywhere else.

How To Test Out Your Dream Life

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Do you dream of living in the mountains?  Would you like to wake up in a cozy cabin, and drink your morning coffee while looking out over a snow-crested peaks from your dining room?  Trails and slopes just a short drive from your front door, beauty around every corner, and adventure begging to be taken.

Live Your Dream

If you aren’t ready (or aren’t sure enough) to pull the trigger, then plan a long vacation that mimics your dream lifestyle.  Save up, and plan for a week or more.  Schedule during a slow time of year.  As an example, don’t plan this type of vacation during a holiday weekend.  You aren’t looking for the tourist experience, you’re looking for the resident experience.

Rent a cabin on Airbnb. Pick something out of your fantasy: a-frame with an epic view or ski-in access at the resort.  You want to be able to pretend you live there: no hotel rooms, no room service, and no conglomerate cookie cutter style.

Go grocery shopping.  It sounds funny, but I really think you can tell a lot about a community by their grocery store.  It’s in the details: how do the staff at the deli counter treat you?  What kind of foods do they stock?  Maybe they don’t carry your favorite coffee, but they have what will become your new favorite.

Drive to the local trailhead and hang out at your car for a bit before heading down the trail.  Checkout the vibe, and see what people there are like.  You may even make some friends to head out on the trail with.

Craigslist: troll craigslist for local rentals as if you were trying to find a place to live.  Get a sense for costs, neighborhoods and availability.  Stop by an open house or two just to see whats on the market.  Who cares if its beyond your budget, you’re just getting a sense for the area.

Enjoy your leisure time as you would at home, or if this were your home.  Read books, stop at coffee shops, and learn what your life feels like within these surroundings.

Look at local job boards and see what type of places are hiring,  Are there jobs nearby or companies that would fit in with your background?  Call them up and see if someone will spend a few minutes talking to you while you’re in town.  We’ve done this a few times before moving with great success.  You may even end up with a job offer you can’t refuse!

During your vacation, if you really are considering a move to this town it’s a good idea to reflect.  Do you get along with the type of people you are interacting with?  Do you find yourself inspired, at ease or happier than normal?  Would you be happy to lead this lifestyle on a daily basis?  When you get home, you may have some choices to make.  Once the decision is made, you may be surprised at how things unfold to move you toward your new town.

Preparing for a Winter Drive to the Mountains

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Are you taking a vacation to the mountains?

Many people throughout the country live within a day’s drive of a great winter mountain vacation.  A family ski vacation or a weekend with friends in a cozy cabin all make for great holiday.

Sure, the planning includes fun activities: snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding, hot tubbing, cross country skiing, dog sledding or snowmobiling. But the reality of getting to these activities could be daunting.  If it’s snowing during your drive, are your prepared for the weather?  Can your car make it?  What can you do to make the drive in as uneventful as possible?  Living in a resort mountain town, we’ve seen plenty of people who never thought through the details of their travel.  Read on for a few simple tips to make sure the vacation is the focus of your weekend, and not the disaster of your drive.  

Driving in Snow

Check the weather:

Check the weather along your route, not just at your starting point and destination.  Are you driving over a mountain pass?  If so, that is most likely going to be the toughest part of your drive.  Often rain through a valley can be dangerous snow and ice along mountain peaks.

Check the traffic:

If there is any chance of bad weather, or even if there isn’t, traffic is a bummer of a way to start out your vacation.  Is a storm predicted to move in during your drive?  Leave earlier to outpace the weather.  Do the ski resorts along your route all open at 9am?  Make sure to not time your route past the resorts near 9am.  Waze and google maps have always done me well.

Check the local authorities:

Do the local authorities offer a service to watch traffic incidents?  In California the CalTrans QuickMap offers webcams, traffic and realtime accident information all on one google mashup.  Many local authorities offer comparable offerings.

Mountain Winter Driving

Plan to keep your windshield clear:

Keeping your windshield clear can be a real challenge in bad weather.  Check your windshield wipers before your trip.  Be sure to replace them if the rubber is dry or cracking.  Replace your windshield wiper fluid with something that won’t freeze.  Driving through snow with frozen windshield wiper fluid is down right dangerous.  Parking at a rest stop or stopping by a convenience store along your route?  Be sure to pack along a snow and ice scraper to clear your windshield before you drive away.

Traction:

Traction is everything when driving down a snowy mountain pass.  Check your tire tread, and know that bald tires are a recipe for disaster.  Depending on your local law enforcement standards, it may be a good idea to bring along tire chains if you don’t have snow tires on your vehicle.  In California the Highway Patrol enforces chain controls, often including R2 level controls: chains required unless your vehicle has 4WD or AWD with snow tires on all 4 tires.  If your vehicle isn’t up to it, or you’d rather put the risk on someone else’s car go ahead and rent a 4WD vehicle with snow tires.

Take It Easy:

Being in a rush, speeding through icy roads or not giving enough room between you and the vehicle in front of you are all great ways to start your vacation out with an accident.  If you aren’t used to ice and snow, or if you don’t know the area roads well enough just take it easy.  As long as you let others pass, and don’t hold up traffic (it’s always ok to pull over to let other’s pass) just enjoy your drive without stress.

Winter Vacation Drive

Pack For the Worst:

Whenever driving in inclement weather its a good idea to pack for the worst.  Bring food, water, blankets, waterproof gloves and shovel along with reasonable snow boots.  Just imagine what you’d like to have with you if you get stuck in hours of traffic in the cold because they shut down the highway.  Miles form any exit or restaurant food and snacks can keep you sane.  Blankets can keep you warm should you need to hunker down without running the car continuously for heat, and sensible snow boots and gloves are a better idea than some high heels should you need to get out of the car.

Gas Up:

Before heading for the mountain summit or driving through the ski resort’s main strip be sure to gas up.  Trying to eek by on less than a quarter tank when traffic backs up for hours isn’t the best way to start out a trip.

Take some time to plan and prepare can make for a great winter vacation in the mountains.

Embrace the Unknown

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There are many things you can control and plan in your daily life.  But, if you’re looking to get outside more often it’s best to embrace the unknown.  Use it as a lesson to be applied to your type-a life if you must, but it is best to accept that unknown circumstance and events will be part of the adventure, and not what is in the way of your adventure.

Embrace the Unknown

You can plan your route, print maps and read trip reports until your blue in the face only to show up at the trailhead to find there are no parking spots and no nearby parking areas.

You can plan to reach a summit point, only to have to turn around due to unexpected dangerously impassible snow and ice in the late spring.

Having a plan, and being flexible are the difference between an outing ruined and an awesome adventure.

Keep an area map with you, and be ready to call an audible.  Forest service gate closed blocking your route to the trailhead?  Pull out the map and pick a new access point.  Often trails will have more than one trailhead access.

If the trailhead is packed, picking a new trail to head toward can often be the key to solitude in the forest.

Did you plan to have macaroni and cheese for dinner while camping, but forgot the pot to boil the pasta in at home?  Review your resources.  What food do you have, what containers do you have?  Can that old metal water bottle be put over your camp stove to heat up water for the macaroni?  Or, would you rather have granola bars and snickers for dinner?

When you embrace the unknown, and know that you will not know every detail and you will not be able to plan for every circumstance you are ready for adventure.

What unknowns have your adventures led you toward?

Learn to Ski or Ride This January

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Have you been wanting to learn to ski or ride, but have been putting it off?  Are you tired of tagging along on ski trips, just to sit in the lodge drinking hot chocolate?  January is the month to change all of that!

Learn to Snowboard

The month of January is Learn to Ski & Snowboard month throughout the country!  Often a lesson, gear rental and beginner pass can be had for around $50 this month.

A lesson from a professional is the right way to start your snow adventure off right.  With a proper lesson you can start off on the right foot, and get to enjoying your winter vacations sooner than if you waste hours on the bunny hill trying to get the hang of it all by yourself.

Buy your lesson package online and show up early to allow plenty of time to pickup your rental gear: boots, board or skis, and helmet.  Wear some warm base layers, a pair of snow pants, waterproof jacket and gloves.  Clothing can often be rented at local rental shops if you’re starting form scratch.  Come with a beginner mindset, and be ready to learn.  Staying well hydrated and tucking some ibuprofen in a pocket for when you get sore (yes, when, not if) isn’t a bad idea either.  Starting off in a good shape (even a few trips to the gym when you know your mountain trip is forthcoming) can make a big difference in how far you can push yourself, and ultimately how much fun you can have.

Learn to Ski

A morning lesson with a mid-day break for lunch and refreshments before heading out for an afternoon to showoff what you’ve learned is a great first day on the hill.  If you can swing it, try to allow a week between trips to the hill to allow your muscles a bit of recovery.  Learning to ski and ride is harder than skiing and riding, and you will be sore in ways you didn’t know possible.

A lifetime of enjoyment on the mountains can all be started with your first day of lessons.  Log on to skiandsnowboardmonth.org or check your local ski hill to find an area near you offering a great package deal.

How to Sleep Warmer While Camping and Backpacking

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For a few years now, we’ve both relied on a Big Agnes sleeping system.  This worked great in the beginning, particularly as we began camping in Texas’ warmer weather.

A 15 degree Big Agnes Bag, and an insulated Big Agnes Air Core pad was our system.  

Upon moving to California, we began noticing several chilly nights where we shivered through the night and woke up exhausted the next morning despite our 15 degree bags and insulated air pads.

We’ve recently made several changes to allow us to sleep comfortably, no matter what style of camping our adventure includes. We will often backpack over a weekend, carrying all that we need on our backs for a self-propelled excursion.  Or, we might wander down an an old forest road in our 4×4 to find a remote secluded spot to basecamp out of, making day trips to explore the wilderness around us.  

We knew we weren’t ready to buy all new sleeping bags – as our bags were still nice and lofty.  So, we chose a system of options to mix and match depending upon our chosen style of adventure.  

How to Sleep Warm in the Backcountry

First things first – we made sure to use our bags properly.  This is effective for both backpacking and overlanding.  Whether comfortable or not, zipping up the bags all the way, using the draft collar around my face and keeping my face out of the bag has made a huge difference.  I used to keep my face in the bag, as I hate having a cold face through the night.  My solution has been to use a Buff Bandana over my face at night.  Keeping my face and breath out of the sleeping bag ensures that moisture from my breath doesn’t seep into the bag, and that the only air in my bag is the warm air heated from my body.  The sleeping bag stays dry, cold air doesn’t get a path into the bag, and I stay warm and comfortable.

Second, we added a second sleeping pad for trips where we can, and when we expect particularly chilly nights  Below our air pads, we now place closed-cell foam Z Lite Sol Thermarest pads and even sometimes wool blankets.  This has made the tent floor particularly comfy, while also aiding in our insulation from the cool ground.  When backpacking shorter distances, depending on the forecast, we’ve carried in the Z-lites.  Though, the Z-lites are a better fit for our overland ventures.  

Third, we added in sleeping bag liners.  We chose the Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme liners.  This was the step I was most leery of, though it really does make a difference.  Paying so much for such a small thin piece of fabric still makes me cringe, though waking up after sleeping sound through a 25 degree night sure made it seem worthwhile.  Given their small size and relatively light weight, this is the option we’re most likely to pack along on a longer backpacking trip.  

Sleep Warmer Outside Camping

And our biggest upgrade, reserved for our 4×4 pursuits, is our Mr. Buddy Heater.  I was very hesitant to use such a heater inside our tent, though we vent the tent liberally and pump the heat only before going to bed and when waking up in the morning.  When the outside temperature is down below freezing and you can crank up the interior heat to 70 before going to bed, it makes quite a toasty sleeping environment.

I’ve also made a few diet modifications that have made a world of difference.  I have learned to moderate my liquid intake in the evening to ensure I never need to leave the tent to empty my bladder at night.  I’m also sure to eat a protein-rich treat about 15 minutes before heading into the tent.  I’ve learned the Snickers fit this bill quite nicely.  The Snickers digestion ensures my ‘internal furnace’ so to speak, keeps pumping through the night.

While these items and tactics work for us now, we’ve certainly got our eyes on Magnolia or Tepui rooftop tents and may some day try out hammock style camping as Shug has schooled us on their cold weather potential.

Using these tactics together, or piecemeal as needed,  we’ve learned to enjoy comfortable nights out extending our camping season longer than we thought possible.

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