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.
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