Gear and The Husband Guest Posts

Hey Everyone! I am so excited to let you know that my amazing husband has done this guest post for us. He’s amazing and I am excited to get to share just a piece of his genius with all of you. 

Look at that handsome guy! He has been camping since he was a child with his family, he can tie almost any knot, he is calm in the face of all things, and is my complement in all ways. Enjoy!

Like Claire wrote in the last post, you don’t need all the gear you think you need. However, you do need some. I like REI’s list of the Ten Essentials. They say you need navigation, light, sun protection, first aid, a knife/tool, fire, shelter, food, water, and clothing. I would tend to agree with them.

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Photo courtesy of rei.com

Once you figure out what you absolutely must have to go outdoors, you need to figure out which equipment you want and how to acquire that equipment. If you ask the internet what equipment is best for camping/hiking/outdoor activities, the internet will gladly point you to the most technical, researched, overdeveloped items you can buy. (I’ve gone to outdoorgearlab.com almost obsessively. Although I like sectionhiker.com too.) Those items come with a price tag that reflects all the development work that went into them. If you are going to summit Mount Everest, save your pennies and buy that gear. It will serve you well. If you are going outside overnight or to escape the suburbs, then don’t buy that gear.

 

So, where do you get all this stuff?

 

Some outdoors brands have brick-and-mortar stores. Hopefully, you’ll find helpful people there with experience who can direct you to the items that fit your needs and budget. Unfortunately, dedicated brick and mortar stores are only available in the largest cities.

My favorites: Patagonia, The North Face, Eddie Bauer

Then there are the outdoors stores that carry several of the blue-chip outdoor brands. There is usually more variety here with respect to use and budget. Usually, these stores will also have helpful people who can point you to things that will help you go outdoors successfully. I love going to REI because it gives me a chance to put my hands on things. It’s hard to tell online how heavy a base layer is or how thick a particular set of gloves are. Besides, there’s one close to my office and I like to wander around in it. (Claire’s note: This place is super dangerous for us because there are so many fun items that we love. Even our kids love walking around REI and Bass Pro Shops to look at all the gear. It’s infectious! But hey, if you don’t buy anything, it’s a cheap date.)

My favorites: REI, Bass Pro Shops, Sun & Ski, Field & Stream, MooseJaw

If all of those are out of your budget, many major sporting goods stores will have outdoors gear. Usually, the staff is helpful, but you’d have to get lucky to find someone with the same experience as someone who’s working for a dedicated outdoors company. But also there are more options. You don’t have to get something that’s designed specifically for backpacking if you’re not going backpacking. Plenty of sporting brands will make clothing that will keep you safe from the elements, but might not have the bells and whistles the internet says you “need”. You can (and I do) buy paracord from anywhere. Who doesn’t need more rope? (Claire’s note: This is literally his life mantra. “You can never have too much rope.” And, judging by the amount of rope and paracord we are in possession of, he means it.)

My favorites: Academy Sports, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Gander Mountain

If you are still not satisfied with those options, you can go to your favorite big box store. You’re not likely to get much help in identifying good equipment, but it sure is cheap. By the same token, you don’t need an avalanche-capable tent to spend a spring weekend in a southern state park. These stores will probably carry the Coleman brand. That brand has been a gateway drug for our gear. Our first tent is from Coleman and my Coleman camp stove has some nostalgia tied to it because an older version is what my dad cooked on when we went camping.

My favorites: Target and believe it or not, Costco

If you’re looking for ruggedness, military surplus stores can be a good place to find camping and survival gear. Here again, you need to know what you’re looking for to find something that will fit your needs.

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Once you’ve exhausted the places you can physically walk into, you can go online. Depending on where you go, you can find the top of the line peak-bagging gear or you can stumble into cheaply made junk. Amazon is a blessing and a curse here. There’s no helpful guide to say, “this item you’re about to buy has no guarantee that it will survive a stiff breeze.” Reviews are only so reliable. On the plus side, there are infinitely more options online. You can browse Amazon, eBay, or Craigslist if you like.

If you like the excitement of flash sale sites, theclymb.com and massdrop.com have you covered.

If you want the best new gear, go to the brand you want. Outdoor Research, Rab, North Face, Kelty, Columbia, Mountain Hardwear, Gregory, MSR, Arc’teryx, United by Blue and on and on.

If you don’t know the brand you want, go to REI, Backcountry.com, Cabela’s, Gander Mountain, Bass Pro, Gear Co-op, MooseJaw, you get it.

If you want to rent big ticket items before you buy them outdoorsgeek will rent gear as well as some REI stores.

All these sites have sale and clearance sections that can save your bacon if you get lucky (Claire’s note: Check out REI Outlet/Garage and consider becoming a member so you get access to their big sales.). We’ve benefited from putting outdoors gear on Christmas and birthday wish lists. But there are whole sites dedicated to selling stuff on the cheap. These sell items that are not the latest and greatest, but still good stuff. Think steepandcheap.com, sierratradingpost.com, campmor.com, campsaver.com, decathlon.com, and mountainsteals.com. Also if you plan things out far enough in advance, you can buy gear out of season. Winter clothing is the cheapest right as winter is ending. Same with summer items. Most big box stores consider camping and outdoors activities a “summer thing”. Use this to your advantage when fall rolls around.

It must be said here that the cheaper gear is, the less you know about how it’s made. Some companies are glad to source their materials from countries that have poor worker protection laws and poor conservation efforts. Outside online profiled the Decathlon brand here.

If you have a preference for sustainability and conservation, the internet has you covered here too. There are brands that clean up trash for every item you buy (United by Blue). There are brands that give back to help alleviate poverty (Cotopaxi). Patagonia is getting political with its conservation efforts. Clif Bars make sure all their ingredients are traceable and sustainable. Marmot uses fewer chemicals in their manufacturing and is incorporating recycled materials into its products. Many of the major brands are opening online stores that sell used and refurbished gear. There might be a patch on that jacket or there might be a seam that needed repairing, but preventing these items from going to a landfill or the Great Pacific garbage patch is a noble endeavor. These sorts of things can be found at rei.com/used, wornwear.patagonia.com, outdoorsgeek.com/product-category/buy-now-used, thenorthfacerenewed.com and renewalworkshop.com. There is a push currently for outdoors brands to care for the environments they want their customers to enjoy. If you can, support these efforts.

Let me know if you have tips or tricks that I’ve missed.

Otherwise, gear up and get outside!

Meal Prep, FODMAP, and the woes of eating in the forest

This last weekend I went camping and it had its ups and its downs. We took all the kids and lots of it was exactly what we needed. But there was one major hiccup.

Food.

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Do you remember that special new protocol I am on to keep me feeling like my best self? It’s called the FODMAP Diet, although I hate the word diet because it is in no way related to weight loss. Monash University describes FODMAP as this…

What are FODMAPs?

Put simply, FODMAPs are a collection of short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that aren’t absorbed properly in the gut, which can trigger symptoms in people with IBS. FODMAPs are found naturally in many foods and food additives.

It stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides Disaccharides Monosaccharides and Polyols. This cuts out gluten, dairy, legumes, fermented foods (I may have cried over kimchi), garlic, onions, honey, high fructose corn syrup, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. For more information go here.

This makes all food a challenge for me, but it makes eating while camping/hiking even more challenging. Many of my go-to foods have now been cut out of my life.

When I first started eating this way, I would literally open up my refrigerator, look at the contents, and cry.

I had no idea what to eat, how to make it, or if anything would taste good. When I go to events, most of the time I cannot eat anything there which makes me feel unsociable and isolated. It is a constant difficulty even now.

Cut to this weekend and my amazing husband went to buy all the food for our camping adventure. He worked so hard to find food I could eat, many things still ended up being non-compliant for me. Part of it is that, even after 8 months or more of doing this, it’s still hard to remember all the items I cannot have! I have an app that I can search in to help me because even I have trouble sometimes, especially with food I do not eat often.

So get to camp and guess who does not have enough food? It’s me in case you missed that.

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Praise the Lord for eggs or I would have just been hungry (on top of freezing).

So I am going to begin sharing new and improved recipes on here for how to take your dietary needs camping. Here’s just a first look at one recipe:

Camp Chili

1lb beef
1lb spicy ground pork (because sausage is out now)
No beans
Cumin, Chili Powder, Paprika, Parsley, Basil (let’s be honest I do this by feel/smell)
1 Tbsp Cocoa Powder
2 cans Tomato Sauce
1 can Tomato Paste
Water
1 Carrot (ground to a pulp and tossed in – you can’t taste it)
1 handful of Spinach (ground to a pulp and tossed in – you can’t taste it)
1 Baked Potato (to pour it on)

Directions:
Brown the meat and add a small portion of the spices until it is fragrant and slightly colorful. Add cocoa powder and stir. Add all the tomato products at once. You can also use Rotel here if there is nothing it that bothers you. I like the chunks but it says “spice” and since I do not know what that means, I steer clear.
Now I fill up 1 can of tomato sauce (now that it’s empty) with water and pour that in. You can always add more later if needed.
Grind up the vegetables in the food processor, blender, or chop it up if you want and throw it in.
Bring everything to a boil then let it simmer, covered, for 1-2 hours. (after about 30-40 minutes, test it and adjust seasonings as needed)

You can box this and take it camping, or you can make this in a cast iron dutch oven over a fire which will mean maneuvering it reduce the heat when needed.

Only YOU can decide when you’re chilly is done. I prefer mine pretty thick and very fragrant. Stir it every now and then until it is the consistency you want.

Are you vegan? Take out the meat (obviously) and add in any beans you want! I used to love making this with kidney beans and pinto beans, but black beans are tasty here as well despite being less common in this variety of chili. Consider pouring your chili over rice instead of potatoes if you are worried about getting that complete protein here, but you know yourself and what you need. Also, consider sprinkling nutritional yeast over the top instead of the cheese others prefer to get a similar flavor. I love the stuff! (if only it was cheaper! Do you hear me, Sprouts??)

Enjoy and See You Outside!

What do you NEED to go camping?

A huge part of planning a large scale trip, and one of the biggest drawbacks for people who want to start camping, is gear.

So what do you even need for your basic campout?

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Need:

  • Campsite
  • Ground Pad (or air mattress if you’re glamping)
  • Tent (optional)
  • Cooking method
  • Cooking utensils
  • Food

Okay, so a lot of times people have this mental list of all thing things they “need” to go camping. They have decided that it requires a tent, ground pad, sleeping bag, specialty pillow, specialty stove, special utensils, special clothes, special coolers, and on and on it goes. People end up racking up hundreds of dollars in things they supposedly “need” to go camping.

But it’s not all that.

If you go to a nearby state park or check out hipcamp.com to use someone’s property, there are really only a few things you need. You could even camp under the stars without a tent if you are up for it, or make a rain fly out of a tarp for some protection. I prefer a tent, so this is how it looked for us before we had gear.

We got a tent with gift cards from our wedding so we lucked out there, but we got it from Target. If you’re just starting out, you don’t need a to head to REI and get an ultralight tent. A Coleman tent from Target will do just fine.

Tent

Here’s my Target tent! We’ve had it for 9 years and it is still going strong.

We bought some cheap ground pads although honestly, some of those egg crates or even a mattress pad would have been just as good because the ones we bought were barely a step up from the ground. My kids actually don’t mind sleeping directly on the ground as long as there aren’t rocks, so you have that option too.

So did we buy fancy sleeping bags or…. no. No, we didn’t. The husband had an old sleeping bag from high school and we had a lot of blankets that we took of our bed. We also brought our regular pillows from our house. Ta-da, your accommodations are taken care of!

So now for the next most important part – eating. You have to eat. As you can see here I brought a cooler and a large tub for this campout but before that, we used cardboard boxes that were leftover from having items shipped to our house or wedding presents. If you don’t want to worry about cooking (I have done a no-cook campout before), you can just bring granola bars, cereal, dried fruit, apples, and anything that does not need to be refrigerated. And for the first night, you could pack yourself a sandwich or something that can last outside the fridge for a short time.

But if you do want to cook, you have two options. You can buy a camp stove or you can learn to cook over a fire. The good news is that you’ll probably want a fire either way because campouts feel sad without a fire. Wood is cheaper than a stove and often times can be purchased (or even must be purchased) at your campground. Make sure that the wood is good and dry or it won’t do much good. I’ll talk in another post about the best ways to get a fire started, but for now, let’s just assume you can start a fire (bring some newspaper or something to help you out). Ta-da, stove.

When we first started out, guess where we got our cooking pans and utensils? If you guessed our house, you are on the money. We just brought our own pots/pans and spatulas or whatever we needed. We stored food in the cooler with two bags of ice and ate on paper plates. (note: make sure to bring trash bags and properly dispose of your trash) We actually ate canned chili with our first kid campout and had to open the chili with a Swiss Army Knife because I forgot a can opener. You live, you learn, you never bring canned goods on a campout again (if you’re me).

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Most campsites have a fire ring – this is the safe place for your fire

So now you have no excuse. It’s so clear that you need very little to start camping and the cost of a campsite is often times under $10.

So, where will you go?!

See you Outside!

 

Getting Out

So after a week and change of Christmas and having a blast with my families, I need to get out of the house. We had seen movies and my sister had saved me one day by agreeing to walk with me, but for the most part, we’ve been indoors. Then all the rain this week. Goodness.

I have discovered over the years that I cannot function if I don’t get outside enough. We had plans to go camping and I was sick, but I am well now and I needed to be free. Outside. Alone.

I took my Canon with me because I am working on learning to use it without any presets – Manual here I come – so I wanted to play with it. We are so blessed that behind our neighborhood there is a series of paths around the bayou. There are benches, trees, and tons of birds, ducks, etc that hang out back there. So even though I could not go very far, I can head to those paths and pretend I am not in the city just for a little bit.

Here’s what I saw:

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I will admit that I did not get nearly enough good pictures of all the birds. When I would get close, they would fly away and my white balance was off in a lot of them. But it was so peaceful. It smelled like trees and grass and water. Just like everything should.

Here are my absolute favorites, a couple of which are in my own front yard.

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I am currently stuck inside, but at least I can look at these lovely pictures and I am contemplating going to get the hammock. I’m also petitioning my HOA to let me plant raised beds on the sides of my house so that I can plant food. My backyard is so shaded that most things won’t grow and when I tried potatoes something in the ground ate them all! But the sides of my house get tons of great sunshine. I need to get my hands in the dirt and grow something for my family. The old house gave that to me and I miss it in the new place.

I also feel like this will help with me trying to lower our budget and our footprint.

Today was also “no car day”. I have to pick up my oldest by car because, despite my requests, they won’t let me pick her up on foot or bike. Anyway, we walked her to school and I told the others that if we had to do anything else today, we would walk or bike. Today, we are not using the car. Low footprint.

For now, I’m working, I’m watching Gilmore Girls, I’m eating a Mallomar (because if you already feel nauseated, why not eat something that is normally contraband for your protocol), I’m wishing I were hiking, and I’m looking at these beautiful photos.

Scratch that. I’m going to get my hammock.

Here we go again

So, I know, I know, I have been gone for ages. Can I just saw that life got the better of me for a bit? I thought the summer was full and difficult to write about because it seemed to hot to camp and we were too broke for adventure in July. But I had no idea that the fall would turn out to be one of the hardest semesters. Why?

Public School.

Ha! I thought that having my kids in school was going to make all this space for me and for writing. But life had other plans. The transition to school was very hard on everyone, especially my kiddos. I started teaching an ESL class which was such a lovely addition but took more time than I realized. I ended up, despite all the “time” I was supposed to have, with about 3 hours a week to myself. 3 hours to do chores, write, read, exercise, work (because I also got two new jobs), plan, shop, etc. As you might gather, three hours is not quite enough to do all that.

So I spent the entire semester surviving and trying to refigure out my life and schedule.

And I’m not done! I don’t have it all down perfectly yet.

But Christmas break has done our family so much good. We have seen family, we have slowed down, we have stayed home, and we have loved each other well.

We planned to start off this year with a camping trip because that always makes us feel renewed and refreshed, but I got sick with a stomach bug and that did not feel like ideal camping circumstances. Alas. We are hoping for a redo here soon.

For now, we are settling with playing outside, getting muddy, listening to records while lying on the floor of my room, and lazy times in the hammock when we need a little renewal.

We are also doing some work for renewal. We are cleaning, we are purging, we are starting fresh with less.

We are also beginning the process of lessening our footprint and getting rid of waste. I know that’s what we wanted to start doing in the fall but all the things took all the money and nothing happened. The good news is, you don’t have to do it all at once. In the fall, I switched from disposable cotton balls to washable cotton rounds and attempted making my own laundry detergent. Bad news, making it costs significantly more than buying it so I am still looking for a different solution. We also transitioned some of our plastic wear to glass and changed out my shampoo/conditioner for a more natural option with an earth-friendly bottle. I’m not done figuring out perfect ways for these areas, but it’s a start.

In the new year, we have made the switch from dryer sheets to wool dryer balls and have a system in place for how some things are going to get purchased. We have set an end date for some items. When we run out of X, we will buy an eco-friendly, reusable version next. I think this also allows for some grace. I have been reading Zero Waste Home, which is so good, but even she says you have to find a way to make this work for you without overwhelming your day-to-day.

Also this fall, I was diagnosed with a GI problem that has led to severe dietary limitations. The worst part is that it’s working, so I have to keep doing it – ha. I never realized how emotional it would feel to have to give up so many foods or to feel so isolated at parties. I absolutely dreaded the holidays. I cried off and on heading into Thanksgiving. But, gift of all gifts, people saw me and made space for me.

At Thanksgiving, we headed to my in-law’s house and I was prepared to smile through eating very little and living off deli meat and grapes. But, they prepared for me! There was gluten-free bread, dairy-free butter, and so so many options. The big meal itself was almost entirely gluten and dairy free (FODMAP approved) except for 1 thing (mac n cheese) for which they made me an alternative (Daiya is my happy place). I cannot even express to you in words how loved I felt. I helped cook and clean and really anything I thought I could do because I wanted to show them in return how deeply loved I felt by such a gesture. I was ready to felt isolated and forgotten. Even my brother-in-law, who got special cupcakes for his upcoming birthday, had them made where I could also partake. It was truly overwhelming. We hung out, we did the largest crossword ever, we played with the kids, we talked, and through it all I felt so loved and a big weight of stress was taken away.

I had not realized how stressful food had become for me when I have to leave my house. Such a weight was lifted.

At Christmas, I was so blessed again. My sister and niece have been dealing with food restrictions for years so they were ready to help me. My sister came to Christmas loaded with food I could eat and my mom made efforts to make the meal feel friendly for me. I am a blessed woman.

So here we are in a New Year and I’m hoping it will not just feel different, but be different. We picked our word Retreat in an effort to change the outlook of this year and are already beginning that process. I’ll write more on our word specifically later. With all the craziness of the last few months, we want to stop, slow down, rest, and recharge. We want to get back to what matters. We want less stuff. We want to care for people and the earth. It’ll be less, but also more.

Thanks for reading this novel and for catching up with me.

Happy New Year!