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.


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


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.


A-Frame Trailers


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:

airbnb tahoe views

Even the bedroom has a view.


Check it out here.

Modern Tahoe style can be found here.



Even modern styling comes with views.


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!

tahoe mansion airbnb 2

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

tahoe mansion airbnb 3

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

tahoe mansion airbnb 4

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 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 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.

Happy New Year

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New Year’s day is quickly approaching, and many are making plans for their resolutions.  Resolutions traditionally include things like weight loss, healthier diets and other extreme lifestyle plans.

This year, what about putting that motivation toward the lifestyle you really want?  Resolve to spend more days outside, resolve to go camping at least 20 times this year, resolve to learn a new sport.

Here’s to a Happy 2016!

Happy New Year

Everything You Want

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Everything You Want


“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” – Jack Canfield


It’s easy to let fear get in the way of our dreams, our adventures and our potential.  Learning to acknowledge the fear, the procrastination and the doubt, push past it and follow your dreams is hard work.  Like a muscle, flexing the power to push past your fears grows easier over time.  Kill your fear, and follow your passions.

Simplify Your Life To Find More Time for Adventure

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As a busy couple with plenty on our plates, we still find time to take at least one big adventure day a week (think a day-long hike, snowshoe or camping adventure).

We are often asked how we find the time.  The answer: simplicity and efficiency.  We pair down our obligations, our possessions and our expenses.

Find Time for Adventure


Being smart with the money we have means we don’t need to dedicate our time to extra hours, additional part-time jobs or hectic corporate ladders as if often the case in mountain towns.


We have a routine for our household consumables.  We check in on them about once a month, and order or buy more as necessary.  We never wait until we’re down to the last tube of toothpaste before buying more.  This avoids last minute store runs that could otherwise take up our time.  This is also good practice in a mountain town, where one bad snow storm could potentially shut down interstate access of supplies into town.


We eat at home, saving time and money.  We pick out a few recipes for dinners, reviewing what we have on hand and looking at the calendar to see how long one grocery trip should realistically last.  Adding snacks and breakfast to the shopping list ,we then make one efficient shopping trip, sticking to the list.  This saves time and money throughout the week as we know what we can make, and we have all of the necessary ingredients.  We also keep a stock of trail-friendly snacks on hand at all times, making it easy to grab and go.


If you want to spend more time outside but you don’t know where to find the time, something has to give.  Letting go of commitments, clubs, social obligations is real.  We prioritize our outdoor adventures over most things on days off.


The more ‘stuff’ you have, the more rent or mortgage you will pay and the more time you will spend maintaining your possessions.  We choose to live in a small efficient apartment instead of a large palatial home, saving money on heat and reducing the amount of ‘stuff’ we can possess.

Ironically enough, taking the time to setup the systems to be more efficient can be time consuming in itself.  But taking the time to do so can be rewarding, leading to more time for adventures.

10 Reasons to Try Snowshoeing

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Snowshoeing is an often overlooked winter recreation activity.  While the skiing, snowboarding and even sledding get all the attention those in the know head out snowshoeing when the snow begins to fall.  Read on for 10 reasons to go snowshoeing this winter.

1.  The views

Just like hiking, the best snowshoe adventures have incredible views.  Even without a vista point, just walking through a snow covered forest or meadow is an experience like no other.  If you are lucky enough to find a trail with a view, it’s an amazing thing to look out over a snow covered landscape.

Try Snowshoeing

2. Blaze your own trail

Once snow covers the trails, you can make your own way.  Want to head off route to check things out, or head the easy flat way through the valley?  Go for it.  The snow creates a blank canvas, letting you blaze your own trail and pick your own hike.

3.  The silence

The silence found in a snow blanketed forest in incredible.  The sound underfoot is likely the only sound you will hear: the crunching of the soft snow under the weight of your snowshoes.

Beginner Snowshoe

4.  Human Powered Adventure

Unlike the ski resorts’ chair lifts, partaking on a human powered adventure is rewarding in a whole new way.  Partaking in an adventure powered by your own two feet, feeling the strength of your own power is a great feeling.

5.  Budget Friendly

There are no lift tickets to buy, no fancy boots needed, and no limitations to snow shoeing.  Rent a simple snowshoe setup and get going.

6.  Easy to Learn, Beginner Friendly

As the saying goes, “If you can walk, you can snowshoe.”  There are no lessons needed, no time-consuming learning curve to master.  Strap them on, and off you go.

Try Snowshoeing

7.  Adventure

Snowshoeing is an adventure around every corner.  Any trail, and snow covered field is your’s for enjoying.  Snowshoes once you make the one-time investment, allow any park or wilderness to become your playground.

8.  Get away from the crowds

Without question, every big weekend is going to be crowded on the slopes.  The lodges will be packed, and that’s not even to mention the roads to get to the resorts.  With snowshoes, you can head the opposite direction of the masses and avoid the crowds.  Pick that little-known trailhead you found last summer and explore it in a whole new way, under snow-covered trees.  Find a well-known summer hiking spot and realize you’ve got it all to yourself now that snow is covering the entire trail.

9.  Get outside in the winter

Once the temperatures drop it’s easy to stay inside, using the lack of recreation opportunities as an excuse.  Strap on this snowshoes and get to know the nature around you.  Snowshoeing is a great, low-impact way to get outside instead of staying behind doors.

10 Reasons to Try Snowshoeing

10.  Fun for the whole family

As mentioned above in number six, “If you can walk, you can snowshoe.”  Unlike other winter sports, family member of all ages can participate.  Grandma can make it out, as can her grandson.

Rent or buy a pair of snowshoes and poles, and you’ve got a whole new world at your fingertips.  Avoid cabin fever, save money and have fun enjoying a family friendly activity this winer.


Am I in the Backcountry Yet?

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Backcountry, Wilderness

Backcountry, wilderness, the bush.  Wherever it is you may venture, if you’re heading away from the masses, chances are you are heading there.

If you step beyond the boundaries of a state park, spent an overnight in a non-developed campground of a national park, or duck underneath the ropes at a ski resort you may have entered the backcountry.

Generally speaking, backcountry refers to areas not easily accessible by car or an easy stroll.  Though, given the nature of the english language the term backcountry has evolved to mean many things.

For winter and avalanche purposes if you are out of bounds of a ski resort, you are in the backcountry and need to be aware of avalanche safety protocols.  Outside of ski resort boundaries snow packs are not mainteined or managed to reduce the chance of avalanche danger.  Outside of ski resort boundaries the ski patrol isn’t responsible for getting you to safety (though if they do rescue you, you may receive a hefty bill for the ordeal).

In National Parks, such as Yosemite, spending a night camping outside of an established campsite is considered spending time in the backcountry.  You can hike all day, and spend time on many of the established hiking trails, but to spend the night there you’ll need a backcountry wilderness permit.

Much like Alexander Supertramp, many of us seek the ubiquitous backcountry experience.  Walk a little farther, venture a little deeper, and you’ll find it.

What is Pitch?

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Pitch, as it is infamously known on the trail, can cause lots of problems for hikers and campers.  Pitch is an ultra-sticky form of tree sap or resin. Pitch is a social term for the sticky material.  

Tree Pitch

Take a seat off the side of the trail during a hike, pitch your tent under some nice looking pine trees, reach out to touch a tree at the wrong time, and you may find yourself a victim of pitch.  It’s often stickier than imaginable, and will quickly become covered with dirt, pine needles, etc.   

Attempting to remove pitch can be an exercise in frustration.  It sticks to anything and everything and will spread itself more as you attempt to wipe it away.  Luckily, to the best of my knowledge, it is not truly harmful in any way – just troublesome.  

On a recent hike we both ended up with pitch all over ourselves after stopping for lunch.  We used a handful of snow to scrape off what we could, then cleaned our pants thoroughly upon arriving back home.

While on the trail it is best to use anything you can to create a barrier between your hands and the pitch.  We’ve used snow and sticks before, but you can only do so much before you get off the trail.

How To Remove Pitch

91% isopropyl alcohol has been what we’ve discovered to remove pitch the best.  Spray it, douse it, just get it between the pitch and your pants, tent or hands and you’ll be cleaned up in no time.

The one benefit to pitch: it can be used as a fire starter.  Collect pitch on a stick, toss it in with your kindling and watch your fire grow.

While out in the woods, keep an eye out for pitch.  Watch the trees around your campsite, and check the ground before you take a seat.  Stock a bottle of 91% isopropyl alcohol at home to clean up what may happen.  Happy trails!


Time Flies When You’re Having Fun In the Mountains

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Have you ever spent a weekend on the slopes when time flew by in the blink of an eye?  Do you ever get the feeling that time moves faster when you’re in the mountains?

Time Moves Fast in the Mountains

Einstein has an explanation: gravitational time dilation.

It’s all part of a theory you may have heard of: the Theory of Relativity. My layman interpretation of this part of the theory is that time, along with gravity, weakens as you get farther from the earth’s surface.

Scientist proved the theory by separating two synced atomic clocks at different altitudes.  Sure enough, the clock at the higher elevation came back with a faster time.

Now, in the big scheme of things the time difference is negligible (think nanoseconds), but it’s there.

The depths of the science that explains the natural world around us are limitless. The more we learn, the more respect grows for the intricacies of our world.

So the next time you head up the hill, think about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and know that gravitational time dilation is at play.


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This week in the US is Thanksgiving, a holiday to slow down, spend time with friends and family and enjoy great food and drink.

Thanksgiving Tahoe

It’s also a time to for us to reflect upon what we are grateful for.

We are very lucky to have the means and opportunity to live in an amazing mountain town in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  Endless hiking trails, wilderness, forest roads and parks surround us.

Tahoe Kayak

We are also grateful that our lives allow us to spend time in the outdoors.  It wasn’t long ago that daylight hours away from work were unheard of.  A shift in priorities and a career change have allowed us to devote our days to the outdoors, and for the we are grateful.

The outdoor community around us, both in person and online that supports and inspires us everyday are something else we are grateful for.

Tahoe Truckee

This Holiday week, let us know what you are thankful for.

Trailside Tavern: Beer

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It’s a time-honored tradition to enjoy a sip of whiskey around the campfire, or a beer at the trail head after a long trail ride.  Alcohol, when consumed in moderation, can provide a welcomed reward at the end of a long day.

Trailside Tavern, Chris Binkley

This is the first in an on-going series, Trailside Tavern, where we will discuss the best backcountry bartender mixes, beers and spirits to reward yourself after a day in the woods.

Beer is most certainly one of the de facto choices for those pushing themselves in the outdoors.  Great after a day of snowboarding, and perfect after a hot day spent hiking.  The natural carbonation is uplifting, refreshing after the water drank all day in the trail.

Some even say the nutritional benefits help with recovery by providing magnesium, selenium, potassium, phosphorus, biotin, chromium and B vitamins.  Not to mention, the high carb content “liquid bread” provides.

The beauty of packable shatterproof canned beer, allowing us to carry it in, and crush the container once the contents have been consumed, is hard to beat.  (To learn more about the ingenious design of the aluminum can, check out this video.)


On a warm day we like to freeze one of our water bottles and nestle it deep in a pack, sticking the beer cans nearby to stay chilled.

With the craft beer boom in full swing it’s easy to find a can of beer for everyone in your party.  From a light watermelon beer to rootbeer flavored beer, to strong bitter IPAs, there’s something for everyone.

To top it off, the number of beers named after outdoor activities seems to never end.  Try a Sierra Nevada Torpedo, Bell’s Winter White, Mammoth Brewing’s High Country Pilsner, or the Base Camp In-Tents I.P. L.

Fireside Chat

Outdoor meccas like North Lake Tahoe are  even using beer as an enticement for getting out on the trail.  They’ve created the Ale Trail, connecting recreationists with pubs, bars and brew houses along or nearby popular trails.

Toss a can or two in your pack for your next adventure, and let us know what your favorite beer is to enjoy after a day in the outdoors.

Winter Trip Report: Donner Lake Rim Trail to Drifter Hut

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Donner Lake Rim Trail

We headed up Tahoe Donner to the Glacier Way trail head late Sunday morning, just as the snow storm was beginning to bear down. 

We don’t always get to pick the timing or weather of our trips, and we’ve learned to kit up and make do to make the most of our time available. 

We know this trail well, having taken it many times this past summer.

Parking at the Glacier Way Trail Head, we realized we wouldn’t be alone on the trail as two other cars were already there.  Gotta love dedicated Tahoe residents!

We began to make our way down the access trail, over light snowfall on the ground.  As we made our way up the first incline we felt the brunt of the wind beginning to pick up, knowing that the wind would be in our face until the first bend in the trail.  We swapped our sunglasses for goggles, zipped up our jackets and continued on.

Reaching our first breaking point, the picnic bench at Negro Canyon Overlook, we could barely make out Donner Lake below and I-80’s traffic moving up Donner Summit through the snow and clouds.

The wind was strongest at this point, and we briefly hesitated before deciding to move on towards the Drifter Hut.  Knowing we would be heading toward an indoor location (no matter how basic) made it easier to push through the steady strong wind and stronger gusts.

On we went, stepping through the shallow snow accumulation, which became snow drifts every so often.  We each pulled up our wool buffs to cover our faces, tucking under our goggles. 

While the wind was intense, my shell protected me, and the air temperature hovered in the low 30s.  Stopping behind a large tree I de-layered, removing my insulating puffy and moving forward with my base layer underneath my shell.

Being familiar with the trail, we knew where we were headed and knowing made us more confidant along the trail through the intense wind and snow.  We knew as soon as the trail began to drop and lead away from the mountain’s edge that we were close.  One hundred yards through a meadow, the first area we questioned if we should break out the snow shoes, and we were at the hut.

It’s funny how uplifting a simple little hut can be in intense cold, driving wind and snow.  Stepping inside, as the wind ceased, I was struck by the realization of how loud the wind had been in my ears.  I removed my shell, while Chris stayed bundled up.  We took off our packs, laid down our poles and took a seat on the benches.  The three large windows overlooking the Johnson Canyon helped to make the small room feel giant.  We turned on our radio, and listened to the local station for a bit before checking the weather to ensure no major updates.

Drifter Hut

We hung out in the hut for almost two hours, watching the snow pile up and the wind blow ever stronger, before deciding to head back.  Our little mountain oasis, as no one else ventured out as far on this day.

Drifter Hut

We packed back up our packs, opened some new chemical hand warmers and suited up to head back into it.

Snowshoe Donner Lake Rim TrailHaving carried in our brand new snowshoes, we knew we wanted to give them a try on the way out.  On the way in there hadn’t been sufficient snow to avoid damaging the snowshoes along most of the route, aside from the meadow just outside of the hut.  We expected to snowshoe through the meadow and then pack back up the shoes.  However, we were pleasantly surprised to find the snow piles didn’t end after the meadow.  We continued along the trail’s ledge, snowshoeing our way back.  It felt great to feel so stable and firm in piles of powdery snow.  We were making tracks, thinking of how miffed those who might head out early tomorrow morning may be to find our tracks in the ‘fresh’ snow.

Never having snowshoed before, it was a surprisingly easy feat.  Stepping just a touch wider than usually ensured I didn’t step over myself.  Powdery snow ensured any falls that may come would be softened by pillows.

Snowshoe Donner Lake Rim Trail

The picnic bench at the overlook came faster than expected. The snowshoeing lent a new sense of adventure to an activity my mind and body know well: hiking down a trail.

Turning the bend onto the access trail toward the trailhead saw the wind die down, and the snow rate slow.  With still plenty of snow on the ground below, we continued with our snowshoes. 

With the trail now as wide as a road, we were able to snowshoe side by side.  With the wind having let up, we were able to take off our goggles and pull down the buffs off of our faces.


Suddenly it felt downright spring-like, compared to what we had trekked through.

As we approached the parking lot, we were greeted by two very happy huskies whose owner decided the break in the storm was as good a time as any to get his dogs outside.  After playing with our trail greeters for a few moments we made it to the car, feeling happy and accomplished.

After the extra-day winters we’ve seen over the past few years we’ve been in the Tahoe area, it was great to break out the snowshoes so early in the season.


Winter Hiking Tips

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With temperatures dropping, daylight hours dwindling and the ground covered in snow and ice, many shun the hiking trails in favor of the ski slopes.  Winter hiking is an awesome way to hit the trail, get out the door and find some amazing winer wonderland views.  Here are some great tips to continue enjoying hiking all winter long.


Start off easy.

Depending upon the conditions, your winter hiking rate may be slower than on a warm summer day.  Plan a shorter hike, test out your winter setup and learn what is enough on a snow covered trail.

Plan for an early sunset.

With shorter daylight hours it’s a good idea to start your hike earlier in the day than you might normally in the summer.  Plan to be back to the trail head before sun down, though just in case, bring a flashlight or headlamp.  Even if you make it out before sundown, many canyons will put you into shadows long before official sundown time.

Check the weather.

Check the weather forecast, avalanche forecast, and road conditions before heading out.  Be prepared for the conditions forecasted, and know that in the mountains conditions can change quickly.

Layer up.  

Layer your clothing appropriately.  A wicking base layer, insulating mid layer and hardshell outer layer are key to successful winter hiking.  Remember that the term “cotton kills” is never more true than in the winter. De-layer as you heat up, and layer back up as you get chilled.

Use hand warmers.

Chemical, electric or catalytic hand warmers are a great stand-by to ensure your fingers and toes stay warm.  Also a great way to ensure your water bottles don’t freeze.


Pack it up.  

Carry a bigger pack.  You’ll need a bigger pack to ensure you can carry your layers as you de-layer while warming up.  Toss in some freezer bags to store your phone and other things that need to stay dry should the snow get deep  or wet.

Stay Hydrated.

Drink plenty of water, and stay hydrated.  It’s easy to forget to stay hydrated when the weather is cooler.  Keep your water bottles insulated in your pack, stored upside down to avoid freezing, and drink up often.

Wear the right footware.  

Don tall waterproof hiking boots.  A pair of nice mesh trail runners may cut it in the summer, though in the winter you never know what conditions you’ll find on the trail.  Ice, deep snow and puddles are all handled better by tall waterproof hiking boots.  Microspikes, Yakthax, gaiters and snowshoes are all tools that work best when combined with a pair of tall waterproof boots.

How Hiking, Biking and Camping Helped Me Win at Life

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Hiking, biking and camping aren’t just hobbies to waste my time with on the weekends.  These activities aren’t just an excuse to spend more time outdoors.  Hiking, biking, and camping all have taught me valuable lessons that I use in my everyday life.

Pick Your Line

While out on a trail, there is a concept known as “pick your line”.  Each step on a rocky dirt path, each pedal over a muddy trail is a choice.  Do you head toward that sloped embankment, or do you balance over the stacked rocks?  Pick your line, in that split second before your heal strikes the ground.  One wrong move, and you’re over your handle bars.  One wrong step and you’ve twisted your ankle.
Learning to make quick decisions on sketchy trails over and over again, puts you in a mental state to trust yourself.  You begin to feel comfortable making important decisions quickly.  You feel adept and quick on your feet.  You learn to trust.
Pick your line, and everything else falls in to place.

Where You Focus, Is Where You Will Head

When mountain biking, one of the first lessons learned is to focus where you want to go.  That advanced technical section up ahead that is beyond your ability? Don’t stare at it.  Don’t tense up about it.  Focus on that alternate section to the right.  Focus on where you are heading.  Where you focus is where you will head toward.
Off the trail the same rule applies.  What you focus on, what you spend your time on is where you will go.  Be careful where you focus your energy.

Always Be Prepared

We pack the essentials: a map, a compass, a headlamp, a warm layer, plenty of water.  We are always prepared.
Off the trail the same rule always applies.  Keep your cell phone battery topped off, dress for the weather, carry cash.  The little details of always being prepared often pay off.

Think it Through

When prepping for a camping trip we always think through the details: what will we eat, where will we sleep, what will we do?
Off the trail, thinking through the details sets us up for success.  What will we eat for dinner this week?  What do we need to buy to enjoy this dinner?  Does anything need to be prepped for the week?  The devil is in the details, and the details are realized when you think it through.

Plan For the Worst, Expect the Best

Our day hiking setup includes plans for the worst.  We don’t head out without enough supplies for worst case: to survive a night out in the cold. Though, we expect to have a gloriously photogenic hike in the sierras and be home in time to do laundry before work the next day.
Off the trail planning for the worst is a good m.o. to have.  Emergency fund in the bank account, shelf stable food in the pantry and backup generator in the garage.  I don’t plan to use these items, though should I need to, I’ll be a happy camper.

Keep Your Feet Happy

Dry non-blistered feet make for a happy day on the trail.  A day with blisters or cold wet feet make for a needless adventure.
Off the trail feet are still an important factor.  Making your way to an important interview with uncomfortable shoes on your feet is a recipe for disaster.  Always wear shoes that make your feet happy, and be ready for anything.

Become Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

I’ve learned that the days I push myself, a little farther than I was comfortable on a day hike or complete a sketchier climb than I thought I could handle, those are the days I feel accomplished.  I sleep well at night, and my confidence in my capabilities grows.
Off the trail pushing myself only helps me create the life I crave.  Moving across the country, riding my bike to work, seeking a new career.  These are the things that have set my life forward, toward the life I want.  These are also the things that made me uncomfortable, that forced me outside my comfort zone.

The Best Things in Life are Free

I can spend hundreds on the latest lightweight pack or hiking boots.  Yet, the best part of any day outside is the view, the smell of the pine trees or the new ability I found in myself.
Off the trail: it’s all too easy to spend money as a hobby.  To buy the latest jeans, or the better car.  Remembering that the best things are free: a walk in the park, a great homemade dinner, makes life all the better.

Know Your Tools

You don’t take anything hiking that you don’t know how to use.  A compass and a map are useless on the trail if you don’t know how to use them.  A camping stove won’t help you make dinner if you don’t know how it works.
Off the trail learning the keyboard shortcuts to the software program you spend eight hours a day in only makes you more efficient.  Learning how to maintain the vehicle you drive each day, only makes you a better driver.

Buy the Best You Can Afford

A poorly constructed tent will make for a very sad camping trip.  A leaking tent floor, and snapped tent poles are common failures for budget tents.  When you plan to use something frequently, it makes sense to buy the best you can afford.
Off the trail the same rule applies.  Buying the best skillet you can afford makes sense when you cook at home seven nights a week.  Buying the best comforter you can afford, that will last years, is better than buying a new cheap comforter every year.


“In every area of nature, efficiency is the law of the land. Efficiency just makes sense.The only thing I know of that doesn’t abide by efficiency is the human ego.” – Jay Schaffer
Efficiency is the law of nature.  Water flows downstream, plants grow toward the sun.  
Off the trail efficiency makes for a simple life.  Instead of piles of junk mail, unsubscribe and only deal with the necessary.  Instead of thousands of square feet of living space to clean, pair down to a smaller space for more efficient living.  

Live in the Moment

The biggest lesson of trail life is to learn to live in the moment.  Living solidly in the moment will allow you to appreciate the beauty around you, respond appropriately to potential disasters, and most importantly will bring joy to every movement.
Off the trial, living in the moment is more of a challenge though one worth rising to.  Finding the joy in a warm summer day, or the beauty in a new snowfall mean remembering to live in the moment.

El Niño: The Hype and The Reality

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El Nino is the topic de jour for those living in or obsessed with mountain life.  You can hardly scroll through instagram or listen to a weather report without hearing talk of El Niño.  Though, much of the El Niño hype ignores that facts behind what El Niño really is.

CA El Nino

Social media and morning weather personalities would have us believe that El Niño is a winter of epic storms along the west coast.

El Nino Sierra Nevada Drought

Yet, NOAA defines El Niño as a a periodic warming in sea surface temperatures across the central and east-central Equatorial Pacific.

If El Niño is warmer ocean water, why does everyone keep talking about El Niño?

El Niño can correlate with those epic winter storms we keep hearing about along the west coast.  However, that isn’t always the case.  NOAA has a great article that discusses past El Niño weather patterns, and shows that some years El Niño brings the epic winters and some years not so much.

Over the last few years, California has seen a growing drought develop.  The snowpack that the state depends upon for water throughout each year has been dwindling down to almost nothing.

El Nino California Drought

While drinking water resources are important, most are more interested in snow levels for riding and skiing which is why the imminent El Niño is a big deal in the Tahoe region.

Everyone is hoping that El Niño’s warm pacific temperatures will equate to piles and piles of snow throughout the west coast this year.  

The hype may just be optimistic outlook, manifestation, or wishful thinking, but heres hoping for a big winter!

How to Find Great Trails to Explore

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Our summer and fall have been focused on day hiking trails around the Tahoe area.  We’ve settled in to a routine of picking a trail, packing up our packs and choosing our layers the night before we take off on our exploration.

We’ve come up with a few tried and true tactics to choose great trails to explore.

How to Find Great Trails

  • Keep a trail “wish list”.  We use Evernote for this, though a simple word document would suffice.  As we come across tips from friends, or read an article about a promising local hike, onto the list it goes.  This list becomes a great reference point when picking out trails for the weekend.
  • Keep your eyes open.  Many times while hiking we find ourselves spotting other trails that we’d like to explore.  For example, from the top of KT-22’s peak you are looking down upon the Five Lakes Trail.  Once we get home we pull out our maps and find the trail, adding it to our list.
  • Use guidebooks.  We own one area trail guidebook, and use it as a quick reference for finding area trails.  Pick a book that suits your style (easy day hikes, backpacking, challenging hikes, etc.) and you can’t go wrong.  Its a great quick reference, complete with trail notes, maps and pictures.
  • Use your map.  As you become more experienced with your local trails and terrain use your map to scope out trails and destinations.  We will often pick a peak, pond or lake off of our map, and then research the best trail head or OHV road to access it.  This has lead to some great adventures, usually off the beaten path, so to speak.
  • Set your expectations and limitations appropriately.  Do you have to be back home before dinner?  Pick a trail nearby that isn’t too long.  Are you hiking with a friend new to outdoor adventures?  Pick a rewarding trail with plenty of views that won’t push her too far from her comfort zone.  Have you been pent up in the house for a week, and are itching to stretch your legs on a long challenging trail?  Pick a trail with some challenging elevation gains and great length.  Are scenery and views your big priority?  Use your guidebook to find the best views this time of year.  Decide what matters, then use your resources to find the right trail.  This past weekend we had plenty to get done around the house, but still wanted to get outside.  We picked a trail within a 15 minute drive of our home and took off.  We were back home by early afternoon, having clocked in 11 miles for the day.How to Find Great Trails to Explore

Our Love Affair with REI

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When we first began dipping our toe into the outdoor lifestyle, REI was our mothership.

We read Backpacker Magazine’s annual Gear Review edition and dutifully marched off to REI to purchase the basics: hiking boots, sleeping bag, tent, cooking set, etc.  All the latest and greatest.  We love to buy the best, and make it last.  REI was full of potential adventures around every corner.  REI

We loved their return policy, and it encouraged us to be impulsive with our purchases.  Interesting new shoes that you aren’t sure if you’ll like or use?  Go ahead and buy them, if at any point they don’t meet your satisfaction you can bring them back to REI, busted up, used, unused, with or without receipt, completely in need of washing, you name the condition they will take it back without an attitude.  It was amazing.  The first time that I took something back I was scared.  I thought they’d fight me on it, give me an attitude, but no; they cheerfully took my product back and gave me cash.  

Even better are the infamous REI Garage Sales, offering returned items at a steep discount, though at ‘final sale’ terms.  Reading the tags of Garage Sale items always make for great entertainment.  A tent returned because it wasn’t “cute enough” or a pair of well-worn boots on their last legs returned due to “reduced traction”.  Garage Sales provide the opportunity for deals, and great laughs.

As dutiful co-op members we were excited to receive our first REI dividend check, which was quite an eye opener.  While excited for our generous “free money” to spend, it was quite shocking to realize exactly how large a percentage of our take-home pay was going to REI.  We resolved to dial back the REI spending, and aim for sale items and Garage Sale purchases in lieu of whatever peaked our interest at the moment.

As our interest in outdoor activities grew, we began finding that the more niche products we were seeking were not carried at REI.  As an example, when we searched for a tent with an exoskeleton design, at the time, not one tent at REI fit the bill.  We began to realize that REI was no longer the defacto choice, and we began seeking other retailers.  Though, that famous no-restriction return policy always kept us coming back.  We were often willing to pay full retail at REI, knowing no matter what, if an item doesn’t work out we could bring it back.

tahoe tent camping

Then, REI made the decision that changed the game plan: they amended their return policy.  Restricting returns to items purchased within the past year only.  While this sounds reasonable, more than anything it spoke to the fact the REI was growing and now being marketed to the ‘everyman’ in lieu of the ‘outdoorman’.  When you aim to please the masses, the niche market often gets left behind.

Almost anyone who spends time outdoors can come up with an example of an item that failed after a year of use, that could justifiably be returned under REI’s former policy.

The new policy also came along with a whole new attitude from the return counter at REI.  While I haven’t experienced this myself, I’ve been witness to other customers being talked down to, belittled  and denied a return.  Of course, I made a mental note, and now know that should I need to return a purchase at REI I will need to come ready for a battle.

The REI return policy is still amazing for an outdoor retail store.  While claiming to be a co-op, in function they operate much more like a typical corporate box store and the shopping experience reflects that for good and bad.  I can walk into any REI and try on a dozen different hiking pants from various manufacturers, stocked in various colors and sizes.  Internet or local retailers aren’t able to provide that experience.  

To this day I still check REI when looking for new gear, though now weigh the price and return options against local and internet retailers.  My recent winter hiking boots came from REI, and I was willing to pay full price, knowing I could try them on in-store and return next year should they not meet my satisfaction this winter.  

As REI has grown to become a much larger company, and we’ve grown in our outdoor abilities, REI is no longer our retail mothership though does have a soft spot in our hearts as the store that started us on our adventures.

Trailside Treat: Fig Bars

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I’ve learned a few things over the years about myself.  I don’t like to eat a lot while hiking.  I like to eat ‘just enough’.  Just enough to keep me going, keep the miles under my boots, and the views before my eyes.

One of my recent favorite trail snacks: fig bars.

Mountainize Fig Bars Nature's Bakery

Let’s talk specifics about the fig bars.  I do not enjoy the standard Fig Newton variety.  I have learned that I love the Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars.  They are superior to the old standards in infinite ways. 

These fig bars come in what they call “Twin Packs”, with two small bars in each pack.  They are fresh tasting, but not too soft.  Filled with a variety of flavored fillings, including mango, pumpkin spice, peach apricot, blueberry, strawberry, and more.  (Even available in gluten free varieties.) These beauties are vegan and gmo-free with no scary ingredients.

I’ve learned that a twin pack on a trailside break is perfect, doesn’t sit heavy in my stomach, tastes great and I don’t have to choke them down, like most food while I’m on the trail.

Mountainize Nature's Bakery Fig Bar

These bars are just sturdy enough to hold their own in my pack.  Even if I bring one too many bars, and have a pack left after my hike, they are always in good enough condition to eat for breakfast the next day.   

Find a local supplier of these amazing treats here.  Or, often more convenient, find them on Amazon here.

10 Reasons to Quit Your Job and Move to the Mountains

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We all have priorities in our life, and more often than not, our careers and the daily grind get in the way of following our dreams.

Following your dreams, picking up and moving to the mountains really can happen.  Sure, there are logistics and details to figure out.  But, making the decision is 90% of the battle.

Here are ten reasons of inspiration to quit your job and move to the mountains:

1. Your life becomes a vacation

There is a phrase often seen on t-shirts and hoodies around town, “I live where you vacation.”  Locals proudly sport this phrase, because it feels like a dream.  Heading to the grocery store or out for a morning hike, knowing most of those around you took time off of work and saved money just to have the experiences you have on a daily basis, is unreal.

10 Reasons to Quit Your Job and Move to the Mountains

2. Because spending your spare moments dreaming of mountain lifestyles on Instagram and Pinterest won’t make your dreams come true.

It’s easy to accidentally waste too much time scrolling through campsite views on Instagram and beautiful mountain cabins on Pinterest.  Wouldn’t you rather see these things with your own eyes, as part of your own life?  Stop living your life looking at a screen, start living a life that is screen worthy.

3. Because following your dreams feels good.  

When you stop allowing “good enough” to be good enough for your life, it feels good.  Knowing that you have the ability to take control of your life, instead of allowing life to merely happen to you is true empowerment.  The sun shines brighter, foods taste better and life takes on a new meaning.

10 Reasons to Quit Your Job and Move to the Mountains


4. Experiences > Things

Living in a big city or suburb can provide a health economy and plenty of career opportunities.  When you’ve had enough of the carrot and stick scenario, pack it up and move to the mountains.  In the mountains you know after work that you can head to an epic trail on the way home, or spend every weekend paddling on a lake 15 minutes from home.

5.You’ll rid your life of the “someday” habit.

Telling yourself that you’ll take care of your dreams “someday” is a bad habit to have.  It builds distrust for yourself, and doesn’t help anyone.  Once you’ve accomplished something as big as moving to the mountains, the domino effect will build and you’ll be ready to tackle anything.

6.Because having beauty around you at all times, can turn around a bad day and make a good day epic.

10 Reasons to Quit Your Job and Move to the Mountains

7. For your health.

With opportunities for endless recreation you’ll find yourself hiking, biking, skiing, snowboarding, and paddling more often than you’ve ever imagined.  Living in a mountain town you don’t meet friends at the movies, you meet up on a mountain bike ride, or at the ski lift.  Gym memberships and feeling guilty for not getting enough exercise will be a thing of the past.

8. Because you want to be excited about your life.

When you live in an inspiring location, every day is something to look forward to.

10 Reasons to Quit Your Job and Move to the Mountains

9. You will grow your character in ways you’ve never imagined.

Such an epic goal will push you to the limits you thought you had, and then some.  But all of this will grow you and make you a better person.

10. Because living in the mountains is where you want to be.

Don’t ignore that little voice in your head, don’t let the jealousy of others on social media fill your head.  Make it happen, and love you life.


I Would Move There: Profile of a Mountain Town Park City, Utah

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Park City, Utah is a booming mountain town in the Wasatch Mountains just 32 miles above Salt Lake City.

Park City

Park City is a year round mountain playground, home to two ski resorts, miles of hiking and biking trails, shopping and dining not found in most mountain towns (including a Whole Foods, and a Walmart), and world-renown events such as the annual Sundance Film Festival and the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.  

Park City Sundance

Park City has won many  “Best Of” awards including Outside’s Best Town 2013, Conde Naste Traveler’s Friendliest City, IMBA’s Mountain Biking Gold Status, and Sunset Magazine’s Best Ski Destination.

Downtown Park City’s Main Street reflects it’s historic roots as a mining town, as well as the modern developments that have transformed the town.

Downtown Park City

Park City Mountain Resort, now America’s largest ski resort since Vail’s acquisition and combination with the former Canyons resort, includes a base right on Main Street in downtown Park City and summer activites such as mountain biking, zip lining and alpine coaster adventures.

Deer Valley resort, a ski only resort which restricts snowboarding, is just five minutes from downtown and offers terrain featured in Warren Miller’s film Chasing Shadows.

Park City

Though the official population is quite small at 7,873, the real picture is painted by realizing Park City houses more tourists than residents and that the tourists number 3,006,071 a year.

Park City

Throughout Park City a free bus service offers transportation with a generous schedule running early morning to late night during peak season.

Housing, like many resort towns, doesn’t always keep pace with wages and begins at $900 – $1300 for studios and one bedrooms.

Even the former Mayor of Park City, Dana Williams, worked as a barista and officiated weddings during his tenure to make ends meet.

The local economy, largely based upon tourism, does include a few corporations such as as well as Skull Candy headquarters.

Park City

 Park City is a resort mountain town just a short drive away from a major city, offering easy in-town mountain access and wonderful amenities and infrastructure not often found in mountain towns.

Welcome Back!

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After a three year hiatus Mountainize is back!

In the past three years we’ve realized our dream of living in a mountain town by moving to Truckee, a little town in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California.  



We’ve explored the beauty in our backyard, got married on a mountain top, and leaned in to our passion for the outdoors.



Our constant inspiration has motivated us to continue what we started with Mountainize, and share our passion with other like-minded adventurers.  


What you can expect from Mountainize:

Trip reports, gear reviews, mountain town profiles, adventure travel, skills, DIYs, Gear Organization and more.


Let us know what you’ve been up to in the past few years, and what you’d like to see from Mountainize.  Drop us a line at

Follow us on Instagram to stay up to date on our daily adventures!


Mountain Life on TV

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We’ve been watching a whole lot of mountain lifestyle on our TV lately.  Though we don’t subscribe to cable, we do watch Netflix, Hulu and DVDs from friends, the Library and redbox.

Mountain Life on TV

We find a series, a documentary or a movie and watch it through to completion.  Though, many don’t convey the exact lifestyle we’re after, many have components of such.

We’ve seen the sad story of how an energy company’s quest for easy bounty has led to the demise of the Appalachian mountains.  We’ve watched Les Stroud put himself in some difficult but beautiful situations.  We followed the story of three cowboy families as they struggle to keep their ranches afloat.

When we can’t get outside, it can be easier than you’d think to find inspiration.



How to Build a Functional Wardrobe Without Ever Paying Full Price

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The changing of the seasons brings warmer temperatures, rain and end of season sales.

Outdoor retailers, no matter their specialty, still abide by the same principles as every other retailer.  As the seasons change, so does their inventory.  They need to turnover their excess stock and they do this by reducing prices on perfectly wonderful products.

A great example is REI’s sale and clearance page, which is a treasure trove of highly rated winter gear.  Choosing to sort the page by customer rating lets the cream rise to the top.  The wool buff is here for $20North Face insulated pants, perfect for skiing and snowboarding, are 50% off at just under $80.

How to Build a Functional Wardrobe Without Ever Paying Full Price

Ibex’s outlet is also prime for the picking.  100% merino wool turtle neck, an ideal layering piece is half off at $42.50  A highly rated 21 micron wool hoodie is half off, at $77.50.

How To Build a Functional Wardrobe Without Ever Paying Full Price

Check out your favorite retailers now to stock up.  Frequenting end of season sales is exactly how I’ve been able to acquire a wardrobe of wool, and other high performance pieces without ever paying full price.

If You Build It, You Can Ride

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In Austin, TX there are several great pump track and mountain bike trails throughout the city.  We were lucky enough to live close to the Walnut Creek Park.  Walnut Creek is a city park.  Though, the trails are built and maintained by local riders.

Building Pump Tracks

There were regular, organized days where average everyday people who wanted to have a cool new trail to ride on would help make it happen.  What started out as hiking trails, were built in to mountain bike trails by the people who wanted to have mountain bike trails.  When there was a desire for more jumps, a pump track was built.  There was no fundraising effort, no large piles of bureaucratic paper work to be filed.  There was a bit of coordinating to be done to ensure that everything was on the up and up, but no pleading or finagling of any sort.

Walnut Creek Pump Track

I think it’s amazing when a community can come together like this.  I spent many many hours out at Walnut Creek while living in Austin. We rode the trails and helped to maintain them.

Maintain a bike park

It’s this type of experience that makes me leery of stories like that of the Marin County Bike Park.  First off let me say that I believe that everyone involved believes that they are doing the right thing.  It’s wonderful that the parks department and government are even considering allowing a bike park to be built.  On that note, lets look at the situation.

According to a story in the Marin Independent Journal, a grand sum of $850,000 is needed to build this park.  A park design and planning company, Hilride, has been hired to design the park.  Also, a fundraising consultant by the name of Tjiska Van Wykt is on board.  The MIJ article implies that the $850,000 is needed on top of the already funded $142,000 for design development and construction drawing work by Hilride.

While having a professionally built and groomed bike park is something worthwhile, I seriously questions wether a government organization should be placing their money in the coffers of the “park designers” and “fundraising consultants”.  If a community can’t come together to build their own trails with their own hands on their own time, the need isn’t strong enough.

Pump Track Community

If the county wants to do the right thing, and encourage the building of a bike park, they should save the professional trail designers for the private parks, and lower the bar of red tape that must be crossed before a group of riders can dig their own trails.  Without a sense of ownership from a community, a county bike park’s future is just a budget cut away from being shut down.

Pump Track Community

It is, and always should be, about the ride and about the community.




Simple Trail Etiquette

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I often ride my mountain bike down a local mountain trail.  This trail is multi-use, in that it is open to all: hikers, dog walkers, sometimes even horseback riders.

Mountain Bike Trail Etiquette

I see a lot of bad trail etiquette, and a lot of people who seem oblivious that there even is such a thing as trail etiquette.

The number one thing to remember is just common sense: those moving fastest yield to those moving slower.  Just as its true on the street: cars yield to bikes, bikes yield to pedestrians, runners yield to walkers, and so on.

When in doubt, communicate with your fellow trail user.  Say “Hi!”, let them know you’re approaching and when you are passing.

If you are hiking, and being passed by a mountain biker you may hear the term “one back” or “two back” from a biker which indicates that there are more riders in the group coming up behind the first rider.

Trail Etiquette

If you’re the one being passed, maintain your line and allow the other trail user to move along.

Good trail etiquette allows everyone to share the trail together with minimal drama and hassle.

Trail Etiquette

How To Avoid Turning on the Heat When It’s Cold Outside

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Some days are worth spending inside.  When you’ve got time to spend in your home, but want to avoid turning on the heat here are a few ways to avoid turning on the heat:

– Put on a sweater, socks, hat and fingerless gloves.  Yep, if you run cold like I tend to, layer up while at home.  I used to peel off my extra layers as soon as I got home.  Off came my socks, sweater, jacket and hat.  Now, I just change my layers to more casual ones: wool hoodie instead of cashmere pullover, comfy socks instead of wool dress socks.

Do The Dishes

– Do the dishes by hand: Living in San Francisco comes with some compromises, including not having a dishwasher in our kitchen.  I used to loathe hand-washing all of my dishes, but now that the temperatures have dropped I look forward to running the warm water over my hands.

– Cover up: find a stylish and cozy blanket to keep on your couch.  Keeping it nearby and readily available will encourage you to use it.

Cozy Blanket

– Take a hot shower or bath.

– Watch a movie or browse photos of warm locales.  Read a book set in Mexico.

Drink Warm

– Eat warming or spicy foods.

– Knit something beautiful out of wool or cashmere: it will keep your hands busy and warm, and as your projects progresses it will cover your lap to keep you warm as well.

Head to Bed Early

– Head to bed early.  In the winter the sun sets early, daylight is short.  Heading to bed, often the warmest place in the house, is a great way to stay warm.

How to Plan a Last Minute Snowboard Trip on the Cheap

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Lake Tahoe on the Cheap

This past week a hole opened up in our schedule, and we realized that if we played our cards right we may be able to take off in the middle of the week.  This realization occurred only three days out. We quickly hashed together a plan to head toward Lake Tahoe, where I could finally learn to snowboard and Chris could get back to the sport he loves.

Mountainize in Tahoe

We’ve lived in San Francisco for over a year, and I’ve yet to learn how to ski or snowboard.  We didn’t have a ton of money to spend, but we knew we wanted it to happen.  In the past when similar opportunities presented themselves we would quickly become overwhelmed with all the details involved, and resign ourselves to staying home – but not this time.  If you’ve ever found yourself in a similar situation, or just want to save a bit of money next time you head to the slopes read on.

Chris Binkley snowboarding

1.  Go doing the week, or any other off time.  We headed out Wednesday evening and practically had the mountain all to ourselves.  If week days are out of the question, look into other off-peak days such as during The Superbowl or when it hasn’t snowed in several weeks (they’ll still have snow on the mountains, even if it’s man-made).

2.  Don’t think you have to make a giant time commitment.  We would often put off such a trip due to the assumption that we’d need to take a long weekend or more off of work to make it worth it.  All-in our trip lasted about 36 hours, and it was still incredible.  Even if you don’t live within driving distance to a mountain you can head to the airport on a Friday afternoon, spend Saturday and Sunday on the slopes and fly back late Sunday.  Sure, it’s a whirlwind but sometimes those are the best kinds of vacations.Cloud Plane Photo

3.  Look around at the different resorts for deals, and don’t be afraid to check the so-called pricey resorts.  We thought we could only afford the bottom of the barrel of Tahoe resorts, until we did some price comparisons.  Sure, we still couldn’t afford Squaw’s $100 lift ticket, but we were able to find several great deals from many of the resorts.  If you do enough hunting around the resort’s website you’re bound to find a deal that applies to you, such as Squaw Valley’s “Fly & Ski Free”, if you fly in early that day they’ll hand you a free lift ticket for the rest of the afternoon.

Board on the cheap!4. Once we had it narrowed down to a few choice resorts, I did some googling.  I was able to find an even lower rate off the resort’s lift ticket on and are also worth looking into.

5. Lodging: You’ve got to sleep somewhere.  I’ve known folks who “camp” in their car outside the resort to avoid paying for a hotel.  While we weren’t going that extreme for this trip, we still didn’t want to pay out the nose for a place to sleep.  Though we had connections to a friends and family rate at Marriott, there were several other great options available.  Take 30 minutes to read the reviews and you’ll save yourself from a cheap room so dirty the floors turn your socks black.

Rent Your Gear

6.  Gear: Whatever you do, you’ll always save money getting your gear somewhere other than the resort.  If you don’t own your own, look into sports stores for rentals.  You can rent a board and boots from Sports Basement for $15 and save $30 off the resort price.

7.  Package Deals: Depending upon your needs there may be a package deal that works for you.  I found a beginner package that offered a 2.5 hour lesson, gear rental and lift ticket for around $50.  Sold!  Though, be leery of the package that seems to offer things you weren’t looking for in the first place.

Snowboard on the cheap

8.  What to wear?  If you know you want to go skiing or snowboarding, but you know you don’t have the pants or the jacket for it – start shopping for sales now.  I scored an end-of-season deal on insulated water-proof pants long before we began planning this specific trip.  Also, ask your friends if you can borrow their gear.  To the beginner: my advice would be to invest in the waterproof pants at first, as there isn’t much of a substitute there.  Whereas, you can get away with layering under almost any decent winter jacket.

9.  Food!  We packed along some cliff bars as backup fuel, but we knew we wanted to enjoy at least one meal out.  The night we got into town, we hit up a local brewery for pizza.  Our hotel room came equipped with a fridge which we were able to stash our leftovers in, allowing us to stretch the one meal into breakfast as well.  Look for rooms with fridges, bring along a cooler or stick the food outside if it’s cold enough, to pull this off for yourself.

Snowboard Cheap

10.  Gas.  If you’re driving to get to and fro, it’s definitely worth it to use an app like GasBuddy to track down the cheaper fuel along your route.  Nothing stings more than fueling up, getting back on the highway and passing a station offering gas for 15cents cheaper than what you just paid.

Those are our tips, based on our most recent experience.  What are you’re favorite ways to shave off a buck or two while still having a great time on a ski or snowboard trip?

I Would Move There: Profile of a Mountain Town Silverton, Colorado

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I Would Move There Silverton, Colorado

Silverton, Colorado is a very small (population: 638) mountain town in the San Juan mountains of southwest Colorado.  Located at 9,308ft its one of the highest mountain towns in the country.

I Would Move There Siverton, CO

We first heard of Silverton from the Outdoor Research Sidecountry Sessions video:

While summers can be mild, winters are extreme with average highs below 20.  Summer brings the outdoor tourists looking for camping, hiking and other recreation.  Winters are reserved for the most extreme of souls.  Temperatures regularly dip below zero, with winter highs averaging near 10 degrees.  With one highway into and out of town, when road closures occur they can bring the whole town to a halt.

I Would Move There Silverton Co

An old mining town founded in the late 1800s, Silverton has evolved into the hardcore mountain sport-oriented town it is today.  The Silverton Mountain Ski Area is open only to advanced and expert skiers and snowboarders (beginners need not show).  They market to the experienced adventurer, who wants an escape from the crowds and lines found at most mountain resorts.   They cap the number of people allowed up on the mountain per day, and offer extreme options such as heli-skiing.  Shaun White even chose Silverton as his secret Olympic snowboard training location.

Silverton, CO I Would Move There

For more laid back, beginner friendly mountain there is Kendall Mountain with their weekend only hours and $15 lift tickets.

The county is also littered with ghost towns, the remnants of mining towns from long ago.

Avoid the drive and take the train up to Silverton from Durango.

Silverton Co Train

While in town, pick up a board from Venture Snowboards.  They’re a boutique snowboard manufacturer designing, and manufacturing boards in Silverton, Co.

There’s beer available from local brewery, aptly named, Silverton Brewery.

Silverton is a breathtakingly gorgeous mountain town with unending recreational activities.  Long winters and small populations keep the town close-knit while the influx of tourists looking for an authentic adventure keep it fresh.


This is the second in an ongoing series: I Would Move There, which features profiles of mountain towns.  Sign up here to receive updates from Mountainze via email and be sure not to miss out.


The Secret of Hiking

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I’ve got a secret to share with you:

Hiking is really just walking.

Sure, sometimes hiking is a strenuous off-road activity over large rocks and harsh terrain.

Hiking Chris Binkley


And sometimes hiking is walking on a calm smooth path.


Map it Chris Binkley


Either way, in my opinion, hiking should always include majestic views.


Mountains Chris Binlkley


There are hikes in every part of the country for every experience level.


Whether you plan to jump over boulders, or walk down a heavily populated packed dirt trail a stone’s throw from a vibrant downtown, hiking is a simple activity.


Jump Chris Binkley


Go for a walk (call it a hike if you must), keep it simple, and have fun.


Fireside Food: Make the Best of What You’ve Got

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We went camping this weekend on a spur of the moment decision.

We didn’t take too much time to decide where to go. (Mt. Tam State Park, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Complete with breathtaking views and a 20 minute drive away from home.)  We didn’t want to spend too much money to make the trip happen.

Camping at Mt. Tam

While camping I usually prefer to plan a fun and exciting menu full of all kinds of treats.

Camping at Mt. Tam

This time around we went the easy and cheap route.  We hadn’t been grocery shopping in two weeks, yet we were still able to find plenty of shelf-stable and camp-ready food on our shelves: ramen, dehydrated vegetarian curry, a chocolate bar and instant oatmeal comprised our lunch, dinner and breakfast.

It was rather refreshing to head out without needing to plan anything or make a special trip to the store.

I enjoyed getting out there, without the big production that camping can all too often turn into.

Farallon Islands from Mt. Tam

All told, our little get away cost less than $50 including firewood, campsite fees and gas.

Camping at Mt. Tam

What kind of fun did you find this weekend?


How to Prevent Bruised Toenails

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One of the very first times I went hiking I came home with a bruised toenail.

What does that even mean?  I didn’t even know that could happen.

But sure enough, once I got my boots and socks off there it was: a black toenail.

We had been hiking at a fairly moderate pace when I jumped down off of a tall rock.  I felt it right then, and wondered if I had hurt something.  It didn’t hurt to continue walking, so I marched on.  But I knew something had happened inside my boot.

I headed to the internet to figure out what a bruised toenail meant for the future health of my foot.  Luckily, my toe ended up just fine after I waited for the black portion of the nail to grow out.  (If you are of the female persuasion a little toenail polish can help the situation along.)


The medical term for this condition is Subungual hematoma.

My time researching the issue lead me to the following tips:

  • Keep your toenails clipped short.

  • Lace ’em up tight!  If your boots aren’t laced tightly enough, your foot can slide around inside the shoe and cause your toes to jam up toward the front of the boot.

  • Bruised toes are especially susceptible during long downhill hikes.  Make sure to re-tighten your laces often to prevent the sliding of your foot.

  • When you buy boots purposely try to make your toe-nails hit the front. They shouldn’t. If they do then those boots probably don’t fit you properly.

Where There’s a Will There’s a Badass

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I’ve come across a few videos lately that go to show that no matter what you’ve got holding you back, you are only limited by your own mental limitations.

One armed athlete:


The blind downhill mountain bike racer:


Mountains Without Barriers:


What’s holding you back?


I Would Move There: Profile of a Mountain Town Joseph, Oregon

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Joseph is a small mountain town in northeast Oregon. Situated six hours east of Portland at 4,150ft above sea level, and surrounded by the towering Wallowa and Seven Devils mountains, Joseph is a rather picturesque small mountain town.

Mountain Town: Joseph, OR


With a population hovering around 1,000 Joseph maintains a thriving main street (yes, they literally have a Main Street) equipped with local breweries, bank, library, cafes, and art galleries.

Mountain Town: Joseph, OR

The physical town of Joseph is less than one square mile.  Though, the community is often referred to as Wallowa County, as the surrounding unincroporated areas add to the recreation and other opportunities.  The county borders Idaho to the west and Washington to the north.

Joseph, OR Mountain Town

Enterprise, the closest larger town, is just five miles away with larger town comforts such as a Safeway grocery store and a BJs warehouse club.


For such a small town Joseph has plenty of events and celebrations packing the calendar.  From a classic car show, to traditional Fourth of July celebration, triathlons, Native American celebrations, sled dog races and more.  For the locals, a summer-long farmers market with accompanying concert series offers access to local fresh produce.

Joseph Or Bronze Bike Rally

While there isn’t exactly a dedicated bicycle shop in town, the local hardware store has kept up with local demand by expanding their bike offering to an entire room.  Several of their employees were even sent to the United Bicycle Institute in Ashland, OR to be schooled on the basics of bikes.

A beautifully pristine lake nestled between snow capped 9000′  mountains, nearby Wallowa Lake offers camping, hiking and boating.  There is even a tram that can be taken up to the top of the mountain.  Bring along your mountain bike, and you’ve got the equivalent of a shuttle-ready mountain biking nirvana.

Wallowa Lake

There is also a recreational train, the Eagle Cap Train, offering relaxing scenic rides through the local mountains.

There is a local ski run, void of the tourist drawing amenities it is a locally-run area.  With one t-bar and one rope tow up the mountain and a 640′ elevation gain its the perfect little mountain for kids, beginners or just drama-free fun.

Ski Wallowa Or

Local Business

For such a small town there is a shockingly long list of local storefronts:

Joseph OR Main Street

Joseph’s Sheep Shed is a local yarn shop and fiber gallery.

Bee Crow Bee is a local shop offering a line of carefully handmade bath & body products.

Mad Mary is a shop offering “everything fun & fattening”.  It’s a fun gift shop and soda fountain all in one.

Downtown Joseph Or


Lodging options are plentiful.  From B&Bs like Barking Mad Farm where you can stay in a turn of the century farm house with views of the mountains.  To the basic Indian Lodge Motel and the East Street Cottages.

Barking Mad Farm


Though they certainly feel all four seasons, the weather in and around Joseph is rather mild, as being in a valley surrounded by mountains shelters the area from many of the extreme weather fronts.


The local economy, while healthy, does rely on government jobs (being the largest area employer).  Average income hovers just below $30k, with the average two bedroom house priced around $100k.

Welcome to Joseph, OR


The lifestyle in Joseph, OR is summed up pretty well by the county chamber:

“When you are 65 miles from a McDonald’s or a Wal-Mart, and two and a half hours from a mall, you will find a whole new definition of the phrase for quality of life – It’s a “way of living”.  Here, the focus is definitely not on consumption.  It’s on family and community.  It’s on entrepreneurship.  And perhaps above all, it’s on outdoor beauty and recreation.”

Fish Trap at Wallowa Lake

We first heard of Joseph when Russ & Laura rolled through and interviewed Dan Price.  Then Tammy at Rowdy Kittens visited while on a writing retreat.  Joseph, by all accounts, is a delightful mountain town.


This is the first in a series of posts profiling mountain towns.  Let us know where your favorite mountain town is to see it featured in a upcoming post.  


Tiny House Interiors

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Tiny houses are small.  How the interior of a tiny home is finished is a very personal detail.

I think its the details of the interiors that amaze me the most.

There are about as many ways to furnish and design the interior of a tiny house, as there are tiny house owners.

Some keep it minimal, focusing on the views:
Tiny Home Office with a View


Tiny House Kitchen View Others go the opposite route:

A Tiny Victorian Cottage

Tiny House Den

Tiny House Living Room

Tiny House Bedroom Family

Sometimes the natural wood and natural light steal the show:

Hornby Island Caravans

Tiny House Interior

Tiny House Kitchen

Tiny House Kitchen

Tiny House Loft

A pop of color can add a whole lot to such a small space:

Colorful Tiny House

Tiny House Office

Colorful Tiny House

Colorful Tiny Home

For others, the rustic look seems to be a natural fit:

Rustic Tiny House

Tiny Bedroom Fireplace

Tiny House Tub

Mushroom Dome Cabin in Aptos




99 things to do while camping

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“What do you do while you’re camping?” ” Isn’t it boring?”

I get asked this every once in a while by friends who aren’t into camping.  Here, in no particular order, is our list of 99 things to do while camping.

1 – Catch lightning bugs in a jar.

2 – Make smores.

3 – Start a camp fire.

4 – Practice yoga.

Camping yoga Chris Binkley

5 – Look for big foot.

6 – Play hackysack.

7 – Use your flashlights to make shadow puppets.

8 – Tell scary stories around the fire.

9 – Go fishing.

10 – Play charades.

11 – Lay on your back in the grass and watch the clouds drift by.

12 – Read a good book by flashlight.

13 – Play horseshoes.

14 – Watch for shooting stars.

15 – Knit some socks.

16 – Pick wild berries.

17 – Go for a bike ride.

bike ride Carissa Earl

18 – Go on a photo walk.

19 – Practice geocaching.

20 – Pick a wildflower bouquet.

21 – Learn to play badminton.

22 – Learn to tie a new knot.  Use it while setting up camp.

23 – Take a nap in the middle of the day.

24 – Practice your axe throwing skills.

Throw an axe Chris Binkley

25 – Forgo the portapotty and poop in the woods.

26 – Explore.

27 – Craft a snare and see what you can catch.

28 – Make a lean-to tent just in case it rains.

29 – Take a bath in the lake.

30 – Play tic tac toe in the dirt using sticks to draw.

31 – Sing your favorite songs out loud.

32 – Mix up a batch of cocktails and imbibe.

33 – Play Uno.

34 – Learn to play a new song on the guitar.

35 – Make friends with the campers from the nearby campsites.

36 – Play hide and go seek.

37 – Climb a tree.

Climbing Chris Binkley

38 – Toss a frisbee.

39 – Draw a scene.

40 – Make friendship bracelets.

41 – Learn to skip a rock across a body of water.

42 – Go foraging for something to add to your dinner.

43 – Build a sandcastle.

44 – Use a compass to find your way on a map.

45 –  Make a situpon.

46 – Practice your cartwheels.

47 – Rent a boat and go boating.

48 – Make coffee.

49 – Play volleyball in the sand (or dirt).

50 – Go rock climbing.

51 – Create camp nicknames for everyone on your trip, and insist that only those names are used.

52 – See what kind of bugs you can collect.

53 – Go on a scavenger hunt.

54 – Stare up at the stars and try to point out the constellations.

55 – Reenact your favorite movie scene by scene.

56 – Try to make a fire by rubbing two sticks together.

57 – Sharpen your knife.

58 – Make a cup of tea.

59 – Go on a picnic.

60 – Hunt for buried treasure.

61 – Whittle.

62 – Play the harmonica.

63 – Make a sundial.

64 – Go for a run.

65 –  Set up a hammock and take a nap in the middle of the day.

66 –  Go tubing.

67 –  Practice your target shooting.

68 –  Hug a tree (you dirty hippie).

69 – Learn a new card game.

70 – Paint a picture.

71 – Fly a kite.

72 – Make a tree fort.

73 – Have a light saber fight.

74 – Dig a hole.

75 – Make old fashion jiffyy pop over the fire.

76 – Write a poem.  It doesn’t have to rhyme.

77 – Climb up something tall (tree, cliff, car roof) and jump off.Up a tree Chris Binkley

78 – Listen to music.

79 – Stay indoors.

80 – Play capture the flag.

81 – Create a checklist of what you packed for this trip that you don’t want to forget for the next trip

82 – Find a fallen log to use as a walking stick.

83 – Find a fresh water source and filter some water for drinking.Camping water Chris Binkley

84 – Sommersault down a hill.

85 – Sunbathe.

86 – Collect shells or rocks.

87 – Play hide and seek.

88 – Bird watch.

89 – Make a rope swing.

90 – Chop wood for a fire.

91 – Make boobie traps to protect your campsite.

92 – Build a dirt jump.  Practice jumping your bike off of it.

93 – Build a solar oven.

94 – Go horse back riding.

95 – Practice your leave no trace skills.

96 – Start a drum circle.

97 – Write a novel.

98 – Play kickball.

99 – Take a picture.


Spirits in the Woods

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No, not the ghost and goblins kind of spirits…

Ghosts in the woods

The kind you put in a mixed drink!

It seems that asking what type of alcohol should be brought along on a camping trip often brings up some strong opinions.

There are those who prefer a cold beer.  Though due to temperature and weight, beer is often reserved for car camping.

Wine can be a great choice once you remove the heavy glass bottle.  We usually opt to bring along our wine in a Platypus container designed for this very purpose.  I’ve had friends use bagged wine – though I’ve never found a variety I could stand to drink.  There is also the outdoor oriented Climber wine from Cliff Wineries (the same family behind Cliff Bars).

wine in Platypus 1L Water bottle

With an appropriate mixer, vodka can be a lovely camping companion.  Pre-mix a few cocktails, stick them in  the freezer and pull them out just before you leave home.  By the time dinner is done on the first night they should still be chilly enough to enjoy.

There is a new vodka on the shelfs of our neighborhood market that looks to be made especially for taking into the outdoors.  Kru vodka comes ready to go in a reusable stainless steel bottle complete with lanyard and carabiner.

KRU 82 Camping Vodka

I’ve known friends on especially chilly nights to bring along a flask of caramel or peppermint schnapps to mix with some powdered hot chocolate.

camping flask


What’s your favorite campsite beverage?


Your Mountain is Waiting: Our Favorite Outdoor Lifestyle Quotes

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We’ve been squirreling away quotes about camping, biking, mountains and outdoors for some time now.  We thought it would be fun to compile them all into one post.


Mountain Snow


There is an intense but simple thrill in setting off in the morning on a mountain trail, knowing that everything you need is on your back. It is a confidence in having left the inessentials behind and of entering a world of natural beauty that has not been violated, where money has no value, and possessions are a dead weight. The person with the fewest possessions is the freest. Thoreau was right.

– Paul Theroux


I love to be outdoors. I prefer being outdoors to, you know, being inside.

– Keith Carradine


The clearest way into the universe

is through a forest wilderness.

– John Muir


I became a loner. I became a mountain man. A lot of those things are very good qualities and they help you do your work, help you be singular and keep the artistic integrity of your work intact, but they don’t make it very easy to live your life.

– John Milius


The modern world is fast, complex, competitive, and always concerned with what happens next. There is always more to do than there is time. The landscape and even the light are mostly artificial. This can be exciting, but all too often it is frustrating, stressful, and exhausting. In contrast, hiking for weeks or months at a time in an unspoiled natural environment is a simple, repetitive activity that leads to calmness and psychological well-being, a feeling of wholeness, of being a complete person. Each day follows the same pattern, linking in with natural rhythms–walk in the light, sleep in the dark, eat when hungry, take shelter from storms. Only the details are different. I get a great pleasure from this simplicity, from the basic pattern of walk and camp, walk and camp. It is good to escape the rush of the modern world and for a period of time to live a quieter, more basic life. Problems and worries subside as the days go by; they are put into perspective by the elemental activity of putting one foot in front of the other hour after hour, day after day. And on returning from the wilds, restored and revitalized by the experience, I find civilization can be much easier to deal with; indeed, aspects of it can seem very desirable.

– Chris Townsend


There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same.

– Chinese Proverbs


A mountain has no need for people, but people do need mountains. We go to them for their beauty, for the exhilaration of standing closer to mysterious skies, for the feeling of triumph that comes from having labored to reach a summit.

– Earl Hamner, Jr.


Mountain Lake

Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.

– John Muir


I had daydreams and fantasies when I was growing up. I always wanted to live in a log cabin at the foot of a mountain. I would ride my horse to town and pick up provisions. Then return to the cabin, with a big open fire, a record player and peace.

– Linda McCartney


Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity…

– John Muir


I do not own an inch of land,

but all I see is mine.

– Lucy Larcom


There is no bad weather. You are not well equipped!

– Unknown


Men go back to the mountains, as they go back to sailing ships at sea, because in the mountains and on the sea they must face up, as did men of another age, to the challenge of nature. Modern man lives in a highly synthetic kind of existence. He specializes in this and that. Rarely does he test all his powers or find himself whole. But in the hills and on the water the character of a man comes out.

– Abram T. Collier


A simple equation exists between freedom and numbers: the more people, the less freedom.

– Royal Robbins


Look at the trees, look at the birds, look at the clouds, look at the stars… and if you have eyes you will be able to see that the whole existence is joyful.  Everything is simply happy.  Trees are happy for no reason; they are not going to become prime ministers or presidents and they are not going to become rich and they will never have any bank balance.  Look at the flowers – for no reason.  It is simply unbelievable how happy flowers are.

– Osho


Marry a mountain girl and you marry the whole mountain.

– Irish Saying


I’ve learned that everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you’re climbing it.

– Andy Rooney

Mountain Snow


I never had any other desire so strong, and so like covetousness, as that… I might be master at last of a small house and a large garden, with very moderate conveniences joined to them, and there dedicate the remainder of my life to the culture of them and the study of nature.

– Abraham Cowley



It is impossible to overestimate the value of wild mountains and mountain temples as places for people to grow in, recreation grounds for soul and body.

– John Muir


We’ve been swimming at nude beaches and I love to go skinny dipping, but I’m sorry, sitting on top of a mountain, that’s just, you’re trying to show off or something. That’s ridiculous.

– Andy Richter


You can never conquer the mountain. You can only conquer yourself.

– James Whittaker


The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.

– Galileo


It is one of the blessings of wilderness life that it shows us how few things we need in order to be perfectly happy.

–Horace Kephart


No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied – it speaks in silence to the very core of your being

– Ansel Adams


I was comin’ down the mountain.

– Jane’s Addiction


If you are faced with a mountain, you have several options.

You can climb it and cross to the other side.

You can go around it.

You can dig under it.

You can fly over it.

You can blow it up.

You can ignore it and pretend it’s not there.

You can turn around and go back the way you came.

Or you can stay on the mountain and make it your home.

– Vera Nazarian


There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same.

– Chinese Proverb


The mountains are calling and I must go.

– John Muir

Mountain Sunset


A man does not climb a mountain

without bringing some of it away with him,

and leaving something of himself upon it.

– Sir Martin Conway


Climb up on some hill at sunrise.  Everybody needs perspective once in a while, and you’ll find it there.

– Robb Sagendorph


We do not go to the green woods and crystal waters to rough it, we go to smooth it. We get it rough enough at home, in towns and cities.

– Nessmuk (G.W. Sears)


I got into an argument with a girlfriend inside of a tent.  That’s a bad place for an argument, because then I tried to walk out and slammed the flap.  How are you supposed to express your anger in this situation?  Zipper it up really quick?

– Mitch Hedberg


If you don’t let go, you can’t fall off!

– Jerry Moffat


Be master of your petty annoyances and conserve your energies for the big, worthwhile things. It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out – it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.

– Robert Service


Even in these mercifully emancipated decades, many people still seem quite seriously alarmed at the prospect of sleeping away from officially consecrated campsites, with no more equipment than they can carry on their backs. When pressed, they babble about snakes or bears or even, by God, bandits. But the real barrier, I’m sure, is the unknown.

– Colin Fletcher


The bicycle is its own best argument.

– Richard Ballantine


Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.

– Rachel Carson


No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied – it speaks in silence to the very core of your being.

– Ansel Adams


Always in big woods, when you leave familiar ground and step off alone to a new place, there will be, along with feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is the ancient fear of the unknown, and it is your bond with the wilderness you are going into. What you are doing is exploring. You are understanding the first experience, not of the place, but of yourself in that place. It is the experience of our essential loneliness, for nobody can discover the world for anybody else. It is only after we have discovered it for ourselves that it becomes common ground, and a common bond, and we cease to be alone.

– Wendell Berry


I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.

– John Muir


To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter; to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring – these are some of the rewards of the simple life.

– John Burroughs


Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So… get on your way.

– Dr. Seuss


Resoul, Repair, Revive

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Do you have an old pair of hiking boots that you love?  They’ve been everywhere with you, the tread is starting to go, they don’t sell anything like it anymore and you just can’t stand the thought of dealing with the ordeal that is shopping for new hiking boots?

Old Hiking Boots

It may be worth looking into resoling them.  Companies like Mountain Soles out of Portland, OR specialize in this type of repair to outdoor equipment.

Mountain Soles provides ‘Sewing and Repairs for Outdoor Adventurers’.

It’s not just old hiking boots that can be brought back to life.  A review gives an extreme example of a specialty item being repaired: “saw an unusual item, asked what it was and was told it was a several thousand dollar canopy/tent used to develop film onsite for natural photography.”

Often times it can be cheaper in the long run to resole or repair than to repurchase when it comes to gear that’s already stood the test of time.


Prepping: Why We Keep a Supply of Medicine On Hand

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We’ve got a medicine drawer where we keep a general supply of common medicines: pain relievers, cold/flu medicine, vitamin C & zinc supplements, indigestion aids, muscle relaxers, etc.

We regularly prune through this drawer to ensure we don’t have erroneous and expired products.

Keeping this medical supply drawer started innocently enough, someone got a cold and didn’t use up all the medicine.  Someone needed some Tums, and now we have half a bottle left.  But on many occasions we’ve purposely restocked these items before they ran out, and before we needed them again.

prepping medical kit


Recently Chris thought he was getting allergies, a day later he was sure that what he thought were allergies was most certainly a cold, and the day after thought it was evident that he had the flu.  The sickness progressed so quickly that if we didn’t have the medicine on-hand and in the house, he may not have had the medicine he needed to relieve his symptoms.

Should we get sick while in a worse situation: while we’re broke and out of money, during a natural disaster, or any other time, we know we’re safe with our medicine safely stashed away.

How do you prepare for unforeseen uncertainties?

Mountain Muse: Blue Ridge Parkway

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Blue Ridge Parkway Mountains

Sometimes it’s important to learn to use the tools on hand.

Blue Ridge Parkway Bridge

I ended up on a trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway without the batteries to my DSLR.

Blue Ridge Parkway Beauty

These photos were taken with my cell phone.

Blue Ridge Parkway Mountains & Sky

Two lessons learned:

1: Don’t forget to pack the batteries.

2: Often times the tools on hand are perfectly adequate.

Blue Ridge Parkway Mountains & Sky

The Critters of Camping

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There have been a few campsites over the years that have introduced me to animals I would never have had an experience with otherwise.  Every landscape has it’s own indigenous creatures.  Bears, mountain lions, alligators, and rattle snakes are among the animals we’ve been warned of at the entrance to various parks.  Though just because you are in their habitat doesn’t mean you’ll actually interact with or even see them.

In Puerto Rico the crickets sing at night so loudly that it can be hard to fall asleep.  I was happy to have never seen the actual crickets, as I have an aversion to them, but their songs we’re lovely to fall asleep to.  They even sell cds of the crickets various songs at the toursity gift shops.

At Pace Bend park just outside of Austin, TX there are ringtail cats.  I read about them before going camping (I always thoroughly research my campsites before heading out), though I didn’t think I’d actually run into any.  Our first night while sitting around the campfire, I saw something dart across the path.  Now, I have to say that their is something a bit more endearing about these animals being called ring tailed cats, as opposed to raccoons.  Then, sure enough, there they were just behind me heading for my food.  Luckily, just standing up was enough to scare them away.  I tried to take some pictures of these feisty cats, but they were too quick and it was too dark.

Most recently I had the pleasure of interacting with chipmunks:

camping chipmunk

We did some car camping at Wood’s Lake near Kirkwood, CA.  Aside from being one of the most beautiful campsites where I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching the sun set behind the mountains, it also has plenty of furry and cute chipmunks.

camping chipmunk

Now, there were signs at the camp entrance warning us not to touch or feed these critters.  Apparently they carry the plague.  Yes, that plague.  But really, I had no intentions of doing anything more than taking some photos and laughing at their antics.

camping chipmunk

It’s the little things, like interacting with a new animal that I’ve only ever seen in cartoons that make me head outdoors again and again.

What’s your favorite animal you’ve ever run into while spending time outdoors?


Infinite Use: Zip Ties

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There are items which seem to hold an infinite number of uses, that are worth carrying on any outing whether an outdoor adventure, a day at work or anywhere in between.

Zipties are one of these infinite use objects. They weigh almost nothing, take up almost no space at all, and are so simple a young child could use them.

Zip Tie Love

Zip Tie Heart

Zipties have the original intent of lashing together electronic cables. They are wonderful for this purpose, and can help to streamline and clean up a tangle of wires behind your computer or entertainment center.

Most often zipties are made from a hard nylon material. Their brilliance comes in their secure one-way ratcheting system. Once tightened down they do not let loose.  They can be tightened further but can not be loosened. This feature is what allows you to feel confident in their use.

Zip Ties

Depending on your intended use and amount of preparation time available, it can be a good idea to have several styles of zip ties around. They come in various lengths, thicknesses and colors. For outdoor use there are UV-resistant variety available. For weight bearing and truly heavy duty use I recommend the variety with a metal tab as part of it’s rachet system. There are also ziptiees made entirely of stainless steel.

Given their low per-piece cost, zip ties can be utilized without much concern.

I have zip ties holding my lights on the front of my basket.

Zip Ties on my Bike Basket

Lighting mount zip tied to the front of my bike basket.

Zipties also fasten my basket to my handlebars.Bike Basket Zip Ties

Bike Basket mount arms zip tied to my handlebars.

Zip ties can help secure luggage, bags or anything else with zippers, shut.  Before heading away from camp for a hike, ziptie your tent doors shut.  No, this isn’t the end-all be-all of security but it does provide a hindrance, and also a way for you to know if anyone went snooping when you where away from your bag or tent.  Clip them open with scissors or a pocket knife upon your return.

Zip Tie Zippers

Jason from Gear Talk uses zipties to hack his own Nalgene style bottle for his back country adventures.

Zip Tie Cap Keeper

Need to lash an extra piece of gear onto your pack while hiking? Zipties to the rescue!

The friendly folks at Dutch Bike Co. have documented their DIY snow tires using zipties.

Zip Tie Snow Tires

Did the pull to your zipper snap off? Throw a ziptie on there for easy zipping.

I’ve used a ziptie to secure a trash bag onto a picnic table while camping on a particularly windy night.

Simply Bike uses zip ties to decorate her bike.

Lovely Bicycle uses zip ties for a clean look to her after-market dynamo lighting installation.

Keep in mind that depending on the color of your zip ties, they can become an almost invisible helper.

Alternately, they can also become a style element:

Zip Tie Art

Then there are those who just enjoy the style of the zip tie and what it represents:

Zip Tie Ring

The best ways to utilize zip ties really are only limited to your particular situation and a little creative thinking.

Zip Tie Repair

Where have you used zipties before?


Lighting Options

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It’s good to have options when it comes to lighting.

When you use your bike for transportation, or year round mountain biking, lights become an important factor.  Whether to be seen by others, or to see the trail in front of you lights have become invaluable in our house.

The base of our lighting system is the Ay-Ups.

Ay-up lights


Ay-ups are a completely flexible lighting system.  I’ve used them on a daily basis for commuting through the city on my bike.  Each kit of Ay-Ups come with various rechargeable battery packs, lights and the attachments needed to mount the lights anywhere you can imagine.

Our complete Ayup Kit:

Ayup System

We’ve used these lights as headlamps, attached them to handlebars, to our helmets, almost anywhere you can imagine they can mount.

Ay-up Helmet

These lights are super bright.  Due to their design, I am able to focus one light on the road in front of me, and one outward to be seen by car drivers.  When I ride on a multi-use path and come up behind a pedestrian I am always given a wide berth as they see my light coming up before I am there.  I’ve even had a fellow cyclist choose to ride behind me just because my light lit things up so well on a dark street when compared to their puny lights.

Ayups mounted to a full-face helmet:

Ay-up Light Full Face Helmet

For camping we use the Ay-Ups as headlamps.  Our Ay-Up kit came with all the hardware needed to convert the lights to headlamps.  The only issue with this use is that the lights are almost too bright for this purpose.

Ayups as a headlamp:

Ay-up Headlamp

For mountain biking one set of the Ay-Ups mount to the front of the helmet and the other mounts on the handlebars.  With the combined lighting set even at night you can safely and clearly see the trail in front of you.

Ay-up bike lights


While the Ay-Ups are the backbone to our lighting system, we also keep a collection of other lights on hand.

Light Collection

The PlanetBike Superflash is my go-to rear light.  It comes complete with a seatpost mount.  This light is the brightest and best rear flasher I’ve seen.  Everytime I can see a fellow biker’s red light from many blocks away its always a Superflash.

I usually keep an extra light or two in my bag just in case.  There have been more than a handful of times where we’ve been caught out later than expected and having a stash of lights available allowed us to get home safely.

What lights do you depend on to get yourself home after dark?

Different Strokes for Different Folks

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Cycling, bike riding, bmx, urban assault, commuting, mountain biking, road riding, cyclocross.


There are plenty of styles of riding a bicycle. That is one of the millions of reasons I love bikes. However, the funny thing is, all too often it seems that riders don’t, won’t or can’t cross the line from one style to another.

Dutch Bike

A person who purchases a nice dutch style commuter bike, featuring fenders, internal hub, and chain guard can’t easily transition to cyclocross without the purchase of an additional bicycle and other equipment.

Even if it isn’t lack of resources, it seems that often one style of rider is all too ready to look down upon another style of rider. The decked-out commuters make fun of the fixie riders. The fixie riders look down upon the spandex-clad road riders. The stylish commuters look down upon those in the bike lane using their old bike from highschool just trying to get from point A to point B on their bike. It’s an inbred circle of resentment that I’ve never truly understood.

Fixed Gear

And then there is my personal experience: Take a boy who grew up on bmx and dirt riding, and put him on a road bike and he’s still going to ride it like he’s out on a trail (even if the biggest jump around is the sidewalk curb).

Mountain Biking

There are a handful of documented successful style transitions out there on various blogs. Though, even then it seems that it comes with controversy.

All of this is what made me smile at watching this recent video of trial rider Ryan Leech discuss why he uses a bike to take care of his errands.

Book Review: Let’s Get Primitive

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I like reading a lot.

When we started talking about going camping for the first time I knew I wanted a little perspective on it.  When I’m about to jump into something new I like to be prepared.  I like to be educated.

So I headed to the book section of my local outdoors store.  I browsed over books with nerdy & technical looking covers, big picture books of national forests, and cookbooks about crafting meals with solar cookers.  Then one book jumped out at me: Let’s Get Primitive: The Urban Girl’s Guide to Camping by Heather Menicucci.


Despite it’s cheesy title and cartoon cover, the book looked promising.  Written by a girl who looked like someone I’d met at a concert, not like the girls I see out on the hiking trails, I decided to buy it.

Once I began reading Let’s Get Primitive I was entirely sold on the concept of camping outdoors.  It’s written from such a fresh perspective, by someone who hasn’t drank the kool-aid of needing all the latest gear, or of doing something that’s mainstream in the camping culture just because.

She goes over everything from acquiring the right gear, to choosing a campsite to how to dig a cathole.  She makes it entirely accessible, and not at all intimidating.

Most importantly she shares her personal stories, including why it is she will deal with the downsides of camping.

Let’s Get Primitive is the book I handed over to a friend who wanted to convince his new girlfriend to go camping with him for the first time.  She read it, went camping and had a great time.

I wholeheartedly recommend Let’s Get Primitive to anyone new to the concept of camping.

Igloos are Cool

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Igloos are something out of a children’s cartoon to me.

Pretend Igloo

It blows my mind to think that they are real, and that I could build one with my own two hands.

Ice Igloo

I came across a post from Sam at Going Places Quietly about how to truly build a useful igloo.

His post addresses the truth that building an igloo is hard work, even with a crew of several guys. Building an igloo takes all day.

Ice Blocks

Building an igloo is much more involved than I ever imagined.


Though, at the end of it you’ve got a place to sleep for the night.

A place you built with you own two hands, that keeps you warm and out of the elements.

Plus, it’s just cool.

igloo entrance

Blissful Backyard Trail Ride

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This past weekend’s forecast here in Northern California was nothing but doom and gloom: rain, thunderstorms and wind storms.

You can imagine my surprise when heading out with a friend for a quick trail ride we were greeted with sunny skys and calm winds.

Trail Shot

Climbing up the hills we noticed that the rain earlier in the day made for a perfect tacky dirt.

Not too dry, and not wet enough to be muddy.

tacky trail

It’s good to go play in the woods when you get the chance.

Successful Day of Riding

A perfect day of laid back riding.

Chris’ Hack: DIY Bike Chain Brush or How to Clean the Gunk Out of Your Bike Chain

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It’s shocking how much dirt, grime and grease can collect in your bike chain .  I never really understood the concept when I would only occasionally ride my bike.  Now that I commute to work on my bike the chain gets pretty darn nasty all too quickly.

If you’ve got a dirty chain to clean and want an easy DIY way to make it happen, we’ve got the hack for you.

The tools at hand: two old tooth brushes, and some strong tape:

Tools to make your own chain brush.

Roll a small amount of the tape on itself to create the center stabilizer.

Then lay the two brushes out as so, ensuring that the bristles of the two brushes are touching – almost overlapping one another:

DIY Chain brush

Wrap the tape around the brushes:

DIY Chain brush

Ta-Da!  Your very own chain brush!

DIY Chain brush

Now put it to good use!

Hold the brush over the chain, and cycle your chain through the brushes by rotating the pedals of the bike.

DIY Chain brush

 Now you’ve got an easy and fuss-free way to clean and maintain your chain.


This is the second in an ongoing series of Chris’ Hacks.  Don’t miss out on these posts!  Sign up to receive free email updates from

Required Gear: Tent

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What’s the point of a tent?

For me, a tent is one of the greatest secrets to enjoying the outdoors.

I love scenery, fresh air, and spending time outdoors.  I don’t love the concept of the bugs and other critters who can come out undetected after dark.

Tent Camping

Tents provide protection.  Sure, in the traditional sense they provide protection from the elements: wind, rain, sun.  For me, they provide protection from the critters.

I have zippers to keep them out.  Inside my tent, I can sleep soundly knowing that nothing is crawling on me, nothing is biting me.

Tent Camping
I can deal without a sleeping bag (depending on the weather), I’ve dealt without a sleeping pad, and I regularly deal without a pillow.  But for me, a tent is where I draw the line.  For me, a tent is required gear when it comes to camping.

What gear is required for you to go camping?

Gear Worth Owning: Timbuk2 Hidden Messenger

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Timbuk2 Hidden Messenger Bag - Fully Loaded

I received the Timbuk2 Hidden Messenger as a door prize at a local Timbuk2 event here in SF.  I was happy to receive the bag, but to be honest I wasn’t sure what I received, as I had never heard of the hidden messenger before.  Timbuk2 is known for their traditional messenger bags, and their lifetime warranty.

When I got home and pulled the bag out, I was pleasantly surprised.  The hidden messenger is an extremely lightweight ( 0.39 lb.) bag, not too big and not too small.  It’s key design feature is that it can fold away into it’s own built-in pocket to be hidden away.  It’s made out of a nylon ripstop fabric.  Though, due to it’s lightweight construction it’s not going to be the best bag to weigh down and stuff full.

What fits in a Timbuk2 Hidden Messenger Bag:

What fits in a Timbuk2 Hidden Messenger Bag

In short time, it has become my daily carry bag.  I throw it in my bike basket for my commute in to work, 80% empty.  I can fill it up with library books or items from the drugstore on my way home, and still have room to spare.

I’ve spilled coffee on the inside of the bag, and was able to wash this bag in the sink with Dr. Bronner’s, and it was completely dry within a few hours.

Timbuk2 Hidden Messenger Bag Empty

I’ve even been caught in the rain with this bag, with important files inside.  Though this bag is certainly not considered waterproof, and the gap between the messenger flap and the main body of the bag is an easy spot for water to get it – my files stayed dry.

Timbuk2 Hidden Messenger Bag Folded Up

The small inner pocket (the same one that the bag folds up in to) is perfect for protecting smaller items, such as my house keys.

Though I don’t usually use the feature, I like knowing that the bag can collapse into itself and be stored or carried as a small zipped up pocket.

Ultimately, the Timbuk2 Hidden Messenger is a bag whose beauty is in its simplicity.

Timbuk2 Hidden Messenger Bag Fabric Detail

Timbuk2 Hidden Messenger Bag Logo Detail


  • Dimensions: 12.4 by 6.49 by 4.92 inches (W x H x D)
  • Weight: .39 pounds
  • Fabric blend of 90% Recycled PET and 10% Nylon.

Chris’ Hack: How to Grind Fresh Coffee While Camping

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Since moving to San Francisco we’ve picked up some snobby coffee habits:  We love our french press, we buy whole bean coffee and grind it fresh every morning.  It really isn’t that much effort, and it makes a world of difference.  Coffee used to be something I’d begrudgingly drink when I had to wake up extra early.  It’s now become a simple daily pleasure.

When we go camping we like to eat well, and enjoy some of the little pleasures from home.

When we would head out for a weekend camping we used to grind up enough coffee for the trip, and bring it along.  Now, due to Chris’ ingenuity we’ve got an even better method.

The Grinder to Use

This is the pepper we bought from Trader Joe’s a few months back.  It has a built-in pepper grinder.

Once the pepper was all used up, Chris had the idea to see if it would work for coffee.  I was skeptical, but we put it to the test.

The tools at hand: whole bean coffee, pepper grinders.

The tools to create hand ground coffee without power.

We filled the former peppercorn grinder up with the whole bean coffee:

The pepper grinder turned coffee grinder.

Grind it up, and this is what you get:

Hand Ground Coffee without power

A beautiful coarse ground coffee.

Whether camping or traveling this is a simple, compact, power-free method to have fresh ground coffee anytime, anywhere.

This is the first in an ongoing series of Chris’ Hacks. Don’t miss out on these posts! Sign up to receive free email updates from

The Beauty of the Tiny House

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The concept of a tinyhouse.

What is it about the tiny houses that draws people in?

I think it’s the same thing that draws me to bicycles: the sense of freedom, the sense of living life as if your still playing.

The concept that a tiny house is something that forces you to live a minimal, simplistic life is appealing. The concept that what could be a downpayment on a standard home, can pay for an entire tinyhouse is appealing. The concept that no one can ever take your home from you is appealing.

Whether modern:

Or Traditional:

Made of shipping container:

On a truck bed:

Or a foundation:

A little bigger:

Or teeny tiny:

It seems somehow similar to camping, or traveling or being free.

What I Carry When I Bike: The Essentials

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I like to be prepared.

But I also like to keep things simple.

If your going to have a problem while out on your bike, I’m the guy you want along for the ride.

Here’s what I carry on every bike ride to ensure I’m never stuck far from home:

A repurposed microphone bag stores my stash.  I believe in using what you have before buying something new.

My Bag

It all fits inside:

It all fits inside my bag.

And it’s all organized for quick access:

All organized inside.

Spread out for better viewing:

The contents of my bag:


The contents:

Inside the first baggie (From lower left, moving counter clockwise.):

  • 2 safety pins
  • super glue
  • 4 zip ties

Moving counterclockwise in the above photo:

Spare Tube

All this in a package that weighs only 1lb., and measures 12″x4″.



Final Choice

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Today while flattening a few cardboard boxes the cheap pair of scissors I was using finally gave out on me.  The plastic joint which held the two arms of the scissors together snapped apart.  Being plastic and cheap, it is irreparable.  This leads me on a search for a new pair of scissors.  Yet, I have no plan of heading to the dollar store or the local drugstore and buying whatever is cheapest just to save a few dollars.

“Anywhere I can make a buying choice that I, with proper care and maintenance, will never have to make again for the rest of my life, I do.” – Patrick Rhone

This final choice concept is one that I whole-heartedly subscribe to.

When I purchase a new pair of scissors I will do my research.  I will read the reviews, I will find the scissors that have a chance of lasting a very long time.

One of the reasons for this is that I don’t like shopping.  I find shopping exhausting and distracting from the life I want to be living.

I also enjoy being surrounded by well made objects.  We own a vintage chair that is a beautiful piece of sculpture.  It’s well made, its functional and its a joy to sit in.  It’s been around longer than I have, and I enjoy knowing that it will be around long after I have.  Purchasing that chair was a final choice.

Final Choice

Final choice purchases can have a higher price tag than the cheapest option available.  Our chair cost more than an Ikea chair.  However, by doing our research we were able to purchase this chair for far less than the price we were first presented with.  Instead of purchasing the chair at a retail antique store, we purchased – and haggled – at a flea market.

The final choice philosophy is one of quality over quantity.

What objects in your life, whether you previously realized it or not, are final choice objects?

Fireside Food: Boozy Campfire Cheese

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photo via wintersoul

One of the best things about going camping, is the chance to eat great food cooked over an open flame.  At home we can get lazy and compliant, opting for frozen pizzas or a bowl of cereal.  When heading outdoors we are forced to plan our meals, and I often plan for easy yet amazing meals.  I like a great meal to look forward to while camping.

Over the years we’ve discovered a few favorites that we always make sure to bring the ingredients for.  This is the first in an ongoing series, Fireside Food.  Sign up here to receive email updates and ensure you don’t miss a post.

Boozy campfire cheese is a recipe I originally discovered on is not a backpacking or outdoor oriented site, so I was originally a bit leery about the recipe.  But man am I glad I tried this one out.  Even if you don’t use the brandy, wrap up your cheese and throw it in the coals anyway.  Perfect as an appetizer (yes, when I camp I have appetizers) or a late night snack.


Boozy Campfire Cheese   

by Kate Ramos from


1 (7- to 8-ounce) wheel soft-ripened, bloomy-rind cheese, such as Camembert or Brie

1 tablespoon pear eau de vie or brandy

1 loaf crusty bread, such as pain au levain, baguette, or sourdough


1.  Unwrap cheese and set in the center of a large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil, about 12 by 12 inches. Perforate cheese by pricking it a few times with a fork, then sprinkle liquor over the holes.

 2.  Close the foil by wrapping the sides up around the cheese and sealing it at the top. Place wheel in the embers of the campfire, at the edge of the fire where the logs are smoldering and covered with a layer of gray ash (not in a direct flame). Cook, turning wheel occasionally with the tongs so all sides spend some time near the embers, until cheese is soft and melted, about 10 to 12 minutes.

3.  Remove from the fire and place on a plate. Open foil packet, and scoop out cheese with hunks of crusty bread.


This is the first in an ongoing series of camp-friendly recipes, Fireside Food.  Don’t miss out on these posts!  Sign up to receive free email updates from

Why wool?

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Wool is a magical fiber.

Why Wool

photo: slightly everything

I first dealt with wool when I began knitting.  I quickly learned that the wool, or wool blend yarn, would feel a whole lot nicer on my hands after hours upon hours of working on a knitting project.

I knew wool was a “nice” fabric, but I didn’t know why.  I knew it was natural, versus the synthetic acrylic wool that would squeak between my knitting needles.

why woolphoto: Artiii

When we began camping, hiking and shopping at the local outdoor supplier I learned that not only was wool yarn expensive, but wool shirt and sweaters seemed to be VERY expensive.  Again, I know that it was a “nice” material, but I didn’t truly understand why.

why woolphoto: sarahgb

Then one day I scored a nice black wool cardigan at a discount store for a steal.  It was a great cardigan and I began wearing it with everything.  Soon enough I donated my old acrylic and cotton cardigans to charity.  Soon enough I realized I didn’t need to wash this wool cardigan as often as I had to wash my cotton and acrylic cardigans.  It didn’t seem to wrinkle, it didn’t smell, when I got caught in the rain the water just beaded up and didn’t soak in.  Let me tell you I was sold on the qualities of a nice wool garment.

Given the cost associated with such garments, I’ve slowly been stalking the sales and hunting the clearance racks for wool garments.  At this point I own several pieces of wool: Swiftwick socks, a bright red peacoat, a Chrome hoodie, a merino cardigan from Banana Republic, and a handful of Icebreaker shirts I spotted on  Next up on my wool wishlist: wool underwear.

Lately I’ve been looking into the why and how of the magic behind the wool.  What I’ve learned:

  • Wool traps warm air against your body to keep you warm.
  • Wool has natural anti-bacterial properties.  The natural shape of the wool fiber repels bacteria, allowing you to wear the garment over and over again without a stink!
  • There are different qualities of wool, with Merino being one of the nicest.  That scratchy pokey wool is a lesser quality of wool that has shorter fibers.  The merino is a finer, thin long fiber that feels soft against the skin.
  • It’s breathable, due to the structure of the fibre.  It allows moisture (sweat) to escape, wicking it off of your skin.
  • Synthetic materials are petroleum based and melt when burned.  Wool is naturally anti-flammable. (Not that we ever plan to be on fire, but hey, things happen.)
  • Most modern wool these days can be washed in the machine on gentle cycle, and hung to dry.


Additional reading on the wonder of wool:


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The Simple Secret to Camping More Often

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Simple Secret To Camping More Often

It’s all too easy to get swept up in work, weekend chores and other priorities until you realize its been months since you’ve made it out on a camping trip.

S240 is a term that’s familiar to me.  Though, I’ve learned, many other campers, hikers and other friends react with a quizzical look.

It’s time that more people learn the beauty that is the S24O.  It stands for Sub-Twenty-Four Hour Overnight.  The concept: stop the excuses and take one night and just go.  Find the closest camp site, leave after work and be back home in less than a day.  When you go for just one night, it’s easier to carve out the time.  Everything doesn’t have to be perfect.  So what if you forgot the sleeping pad , the lantern, or the coffee?  You’ll be back home before tomorrow night.

Open up google maps and find the closest camp ground.  Throw what you need in a bag after work and head on out.

Though I’ve lived all over the country, I’ve never lived more than an hour’s drive from a great campsite.  Worst case, utilize your ‘leave no trace’ skills and head toward the closest open space for some stealth camping.

It’s even the perfect excuse to get that friend of yours to come who claims they don’t have the skills or the gear to head out with you on your longer trips.  When it’s only one night the excuses come few and far between.

The concept of the S240O was originally popularized in bike-touring circles by Grant Peterson of Rivendell Bicycle Works in an Adventure Cycling article.

So what’s your excuse to not go play in the woods this weekend?


More S24O Resources:

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