Who doesn’t love a trip to REI? When I walk in the store I get this invincible, adventurous, go out and get’em feelin that makes me want to do crazy things like hike the PCT or climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. First they seduce you with a pitched tent right at the door then the rest of the store bamboozles you into purchasing a new water filtration system, special breathable underwear or an artisanal bag of dehydrated camp food.
Don’t get me wrong I LOVE going there…but my bank account lets out a tiny scream when I enter the store. The thing that keeps bringing me back again and again is the knowledgeable staff. During my most recent visit I eavesdropped on an associate teaching a family about camp stoves. Then I tried on some hiking pants. And I rounded things out with a solid lesson on the various types of water filters and purification systems they currently sell. Everytime I walk out of the store I feel a tiny bit smarter.
As I made my way to the register I had the pleasure of being helped by a gentleman who we’ll call Mark. As Mark was scanning my purchases he asked me if I had a trip coming up. I said I was working up to backpacking, but wasn’t quite sure where my first trip would take me yet.
In response he leaned in and whispered, “don’t tell anyone, but I’ve actually never been camping or backpacking”.
We laughed about it and then he let me know my total. My face must have given away my shock because he followed his comment up by saying that he hasn’t gone camping because getting the gear is so expensive.
This comment struck me as true and really sad.
If I could say one thing to the people who aren’t getting outside because of cost I would say, start small and just go. You don’t need special shoes, high-tech clothing or a fancy pair of trekking poles to hike. All of that gear can wait.
The first step to getting outside is to GO OUTSIDE. The outdoors are all around us. There’s no need to drive for hours to a national or state park to be outdoors. Take a walk around your neighborhood or in a city park. Even when you live in a densely populated urban area you can get outside.
The key is to open your mind to what “outside” means. If you want to be technical about it, outside is simply a space beyond an enclosure. The moment you step out of your house, your car, work or school you are in the outdoors. Once you start paying greater attention to the world around you and you will start to notice new pathways, plants, bugs and animals.
This is pretty much how I started getting outside. Before moving to California I lived in Massachusetts. Back then I was mostly a gym rat, but occasionally on a crisp fall day I would take a walk. These walks were mostly around the streets near my apartment….I wouldn’t want to stray too far, I was indoorsy, what if I got lost?! So I walked. I slowly increased my distance. I enjoyed looking at all of the New England houses (as someone who grew up in Texas the colonials and Cape Cods were new and exciting). I listened to the leaves blow in the wind and the birds singing. Yes, there were car noises, lawn mowers and the occasional leaf blower, but I enjoyed my time outside.
Once I’d exhausted all of my nearby streets I asked a coworker about local trails and she mentioned one just steps from my house. It was a pretty tame loop that amounted to roughly 3 miles from door to door. I started walking that loop in my sneakers and gym wear. No new equipment necessary. I jumped when twigs cracked, moved away from rustling bushes, and occasionally cursed at the bugs who refused to fly anywhere but in front of my face. I bought bug repellent. And I sprayed it on my hat.
Over the next several years I started hiking more. I got a little braver and a lot stronger. I bought a backpack and went on longer hikes. I made travel plans and visited state and national parks. Now I end up hiking several times a month, but until a few weeks ago I didn’t even own a proper pair of hiking shoes. And so I’ll say it again, all of the gear can wait. I’m a testament to this fact. I hiked for many years in my runners, jeans and a t-shirt. I hiked with my phone in my pocket and my water bottle in hand. And it was great!
I got to go outside, appreciate nature, figure out how much I loved it and start saving for the gear I needed and the trips I was dreaming about. You don’t need to go broke to go outside, you just need to open your eyes to the beauty and be brave enough to start a new adventure.
Certainly, you realize that you aren’t a Chia Pet. You cannot, simply by will, sprout new appendages. However, I do have compassion for your plight. This is a question as old as mankind: “How can I load as much stuff onto my person at one time without becoming a moving garbage pile and/or compromising my stability and injuring myself?” Of course, back in olden times, our ancestors were carrying, like, jaguar skulls and misshapen root vegetables. You, nowadays, carry several tiny computers and a wad of high-tech water repellent gym clothes. Same-same.
Anyway, I found a genius solution to this dilemma: The Brooks England line of bicycle bags. First off, even their company name sounds sophisticated, doesn’t it? I imagined a bag that smelled of rich leather, displayed in a mahogany-panelled library of a shop, peddled by a man wearing a tuxedo and a monocle – wait! Or maybe this fellow!
Brooks also offers high-quality bicycle saddles (which come with a decade-long warranty!), apparel, replacement parts, helmets, and other bicycle accessories. They even put out an annual magazine called “The Bugle.”
Let me back up a minute. I used the phrase “genius solution” above to compensate for a mighty large oversight on my part. You see, when the kind folks at Brooks contacted us, I studied their line of well-made, fashionable bags for bicycle commuters. I focused in on the prettiness. My eyes filled with covetousness. Tiny, shiny messenger bag emojis began dancing in my irises.
I overlooked a key detail, that Brooks has created “the best [bags] for riding [bicycles] since 1866.” Yeah, right, and uh, I live in the middle of rural bumble-dump mountain country. And, uh, like, I don’t ride bicycles. But whatever! When the bag arrived, I was determined to offer a proper review despite my lack of bicycle savvy. “Where there is a will, there is a way!” I exclaimed aloud, and I might have peppered that with a few motivational curse words, you know, to get hyped up and stuff.
First, I approached a colleague who commutes several dozen miles (er, 40-ish kilometres), by bike, to work each day. “Listen, bike guy,” I said. “I have to review this messenger bag, and it’s geared toward other bike guys.”
He looked at me wryly. “You’re not a bike guy.”
“I’m not even a guy, guy,” I replied. “I need you to give me your thoughts on this baby.”
He gingerly picked up the bag. “It’s sharp looking,” he said, turning it around in his hands, unzipping it and peeking inside. “Nice amount of room.” He tugged on the straps, saying, “It’s nice they have this waist attachment belt; sometimes just a shoulder strap makes things feel unbalanced.” Bike Guy then opened the front compartment and rammed his fist in it. “This part stretches out. You could shove a lot of stuff in there.” I nodded, thinking of the jaguar skulls and yams.
“Wanna test drive it for me?” I asked. He immediately shook his head no and apologetically shrugged his shoulders. He explained, “I prefer backpacks.”
“Yeah, well I prefer Truck Guys,” I spat out angrily. Okay, that literally did not happen. I actually patted his shoulder and meekly said, “Thanks anyway for your thoughts,” and then walked down the hallway, silently sobbing (that didn’t happen either – I mean the crying part. I didn’t cry about it. I’m not some kind of Cry Guy).
“Well, it’s on to Plan B,” I decided, and one weekend, I escorted myself to the local bike rental rack. You might not have these where you live, so let me explain. At several key spots throughout my small city, there are stands full of brightly colored bicycles available for rental. Each bike has a credit card reader attached, and upon swiping your card, the bike breaks free of its rack-prison. You are then able to ride around town on a neon kaleidoscope-mobile, attracting gawkers, curious children, and a few hippies who might have taken too much LSD.
Anyway, that phrase “it’s like riding a bike!” is true. You do not forget how to ride a bike. I rode a bike with the Brooks Strand Bag for you all, and here’s what I learned.
This bag is big. Or I am small. Either way, I ran into the size issue again – a challenge I had with other products I reviewed. In the cute graphic illustrating how to wear the bag, the bicyclist has the bag resting squarely on his lower back. In my experience, the bag hung below my lower back, even after shortening the straps as much as possible. Standing, the bag covered my bum. Riding, I needed to hang the bag to the side. It was perfectly comfortable, but I can see how it could become problematic if I had really filled up the bag.
I wish there were little compartments or holders on the inside, for pens (or lipstick – what?).
Price! Disclaimer: I purchase on a weak American dollar. Everything European seems expensive to me. This bag runs €170.00 / £145.00. That said, for a regular bicycle commuter, who can experience real physical problems from a poorly designed bag, this would be money well-spent. Plus, it qualifies for free shipping!
It is very stylish and professional looking, and more importantly, it is well made. The material is weatherproof, and there are reflective strips – super important while you’re commuting.
It is roomy! The interior offers plenty of storage space. Even though I lived on the wild side and rode helmet-less, I estimate a standard helmet could easily slip in the front compartment. The laptop sleeve is well-padded.
The straps are comfortable. The back of the bag offers padding without looking like rugby protective equipment.
There is a little teensy pocket, perfect for credit cards or keys. For some reason, I found this little detail very cute.
Overall: Quite worthy of purchase! If I were to travel back in time, I would pay more attention to the dimensions of the bag, and I’d likely pick one that was more multi-purpose. Although Brooks specializes in biking, they offer a wide array of bags that could also serve well as airplane carry-ons, work cases, travel bags, and general carry-alls. And for what it’s worth, I’m recommending their backpacks to the Bike Guy.
I grew up in the suburbs, surrounded by paved roads, city parks, the occasional stream and plenty of Target stores. I’m a knitter, a reader and a Netflix binger among many other things. I’ve NEVER thought of myself as an outdoorsy person. Sure, I had some tennis shoes and plenty of workout gear, but all of it was pristine thanks to my local sparkly gym…no dirt please, and thank you.
The Big Move
Two and a half years ago my wife Catherine and I moved from Massachusetts to Los Angeles for work. To say this was a bit of a culture shock would be a gross understatement!
In my mind LA was one overpriced green juice bar after the other, surrounded by the nipped, tucked and Botoxed who were most likely lounging beside an infinity pool or pointing at me and telling me to get off their private beach.
While this might be the case in certain zip codes, thankfully this has not been the LA I’ve lived in at all. Sure, some of the Californians I’ve met may have gone under the knife, but they spend their spare time hiking, surfing, camping or at the beach (the public ones).
As I started to get comfortable in my new home I began noticing a large number of people heading off on the weekends with camping gear in tow. Several of my co-workers would return on Monday with tales of hikes, river crossings, Joshua Tree pictures and a glow of renewal. A little niggle of jealousy popped up in me and got me wondering if I could be a camper?
I’ve always been what Jim Gaffigan would call “indoorsy”. You’re probably indoorsy too if you’ve:
Jumped in your own house because you think you saw a bug (which turns out to be a chocolate covered raisin).
You insist on showering daily….because if you don’t the world could end…I mean not end, but come pretty damn close.
You place a high value on cool dry air conditioned air (and not the crappy kind of A/C….the good stuff…what I sometimes refer to as “Texas air conditioning”) because it’s big, bold, and hits you with a cold slap in the face when you enter the room.
As of the beginning of 2018 I had officially gone camping 8 times in my life. I slept in a tent only one of those times (and it was terrible!). Truth be told there were two camping trips in there where I was in an air conditioned cabin (does that even count as camping?). So number of camping trips few….number of hotel stays many.
If you asked me two and a half years ago if I wanted to go camping I would have laughed and then politely said, “no thank you”.
Why would I spend my hard earned money on a sleeping bag and a tent so I could lay on the ground in the cold and have bugs crawl all over me? When I say it like that the answer is crystal clear.
BUT here’s the thing. I’m totally wrong. Camping doesn’t have to be expensive, if you bring the right gear you won’t be cold, the ground won’t be uncomfortable and at least where I’ve been camping bugs aren’t even a problem…plus, bug spray.
How to make the leap from indoorsy to indoorsy camper:
Camping can seem pretty intimidating. There’s all the gear you need, deciding where to go and if you’re in California, bears.
Here are some easy steps indoorsy campers can take to get outside and enjoy their first camping trip:
Ask for advice, whether it’s through the Camping for Women community, friends, family or a helpful sales associate at REI.
Rent or borrow gear before you buy. We did this for our first camping trip. Renting takes some of the financial pressure off and helps you decide if this whole camping thing is for you.
Two words, Car Camping. I highly recommend car camping for the indoorsy camper. It means you can bring most of your comforts from home and not be literally dragged down by their weight. If it fits in your car you can bring it, you have plenty of time to pair down your camping necessities later.
Bring food you love. Camp cooking might seem difficult, but I’ve found the easiest way to make awesome camp meals is to cook them before you even get there. Catherine and I spent Easter in Joshua Tree eating lamb tagine….not because we’re bougie, but because I made it the weekend before, froze half and threw it in the cooler before we left.
Taking pictures and video while camping is pretty irresistible…I know I’m guilty. But remember you’re camping to be outside in nature so turn off your phone, open your eyes, listen and breathe in the fresh air.
There’s no reason “indoorsy” folks can’t take the leap and go camping. Prepare a little, have an open mind, go with the flow and see where your adventure takes you.
By now, it’s probably evident that I try to give well-rounded reviews. It’s important to me that I present all the sides of a product, so you can make an informed decision about its usefulness in your life. And now that I’ve offered you that reminder of my intentions, let me say this about Sunski recycled frame sunglasses:
These are the best freakin’ pair of sunglasses I’ve ever worn, ever.
My friend saw them in a special compartment in my car. She reached for them, vulgarly prying open the microfiber pouch they come in. “Oh!” she exclaimed. “Let me see—”
“You shall not!” I bellowed, ripping the glasses from her dirty, thieving, probably super bacterial hands. “Go online! Look at them there! Don’t bend the frames! Stop breathing on my Sunskis!”
When I love, I love intensely, okay? But before I share what inspires such ardor for an inanimate object, I will offer some background info.
Sunski was founded by two college friends, whose initial dream of creating the world’s best salsa-and-chip bowl morphed, by the grace of the gods, into making dope sunglasses. This journey involved totally tubular Aussie frames from the radical ‘80s; a fire hazard air mattress; a failed Kickstarter campaign; and a healthy dose of resilience and ingenuity. Today, the San Francisco-based company is small but mighty. In addition to making My New Favorite Sunglasses™, they also participate in the “1% for the Planet” initiative. This cooperative of businesses, individuals, and non-profits supports key efforts in helping the environment.
With such a dedication to healing Mother Earth, it’s not surprising that Sunski sent me a pair of sunnies made from recycle post-industrial, scrap plastic. I am legit wearing something that could be clogging an Illinois landfill right now. You’re welcome, citizens of the Prairie State.
My “tortoise fade” Chalet frames with “forest” polarized lenses arrived in a cute, detail oriented box. Inside, I found a wonderfully designed information pamphlet, a useful microfiber cleaning pouch, a rad little sticker – and even the little baggie of desiccant bore a cute message. (And it didn’t tell me not to eat it, which, like, do people still try to eat that stuff? How hungry are you?)
The box also contained, of course, the main event: Sunglasses!
Little known fact: I worked at a high end sunglass shop as a high schooler. The frames we sold cost hundreds of dollars. While I convinced at least three whole people to shell out money on these expensive frames, my barely-above-minimum-wage certainly did not put me in the “consumer” category. However, I tried on hundreds of fancy glasses, and once, I won a sales competition and earned a free pair of Oakleys. At the time, they were the height of performance eyewear, and I picked a delicate, feminine frame – not the massive goggles worn by baseballers. These set my gold standard for sunglasses, one that has remained for *mumble mumble number mumble* years.
Sunskis are my new gold standard!
After my Oakleys died, I settled on buying cheap sunglasses. Those of you with light eyes know that our sensitive irises melt in the sun (basically); I couldn’t go without sunglasses for long, but my heart couldn’t bear to lose another expensive pair. Of course, none of my cheapo glasses worked very well. Anyway, if you wince at the idea of paying US$60 for a pair of glasses, Sunski glasses might feel a bit too pricey for you.
They do not come with a salsa bowl.
They’re super comfortable. The fit is absolutely perfect. No sliding off my face; no falling down my nose; no weird bowing of the arms after days of wear.
They’re stylish! I loved the color and shape of my pair, but then I found about a half-dozen other styles and colors I’d probably also love just as well.
The lenses are polarized. This helps reduce that glare that can bounce off snow, water, or the chains precariously holding timber on the back of the logging truck you’re stuck behind on the highway.
Their warranty. Holy moly, you all. Sunski offers a lifetime warranty that covers “frame damage that occurs under ‘normal use’ that prevents you from wearing your shades: broken hinges, cracked frames, damage from running into a tree… this is all normal use and fair game to be replaced.” Obviously I immediately thought of that time earlier this year when I, ya know, slipped down a mountain and cracked my arm. While Sunski couldn’t replace my arm, if I’d cracked my glasses, it sounds like they’d be covered!
These glasses are earth-friendly. Not only do they utilize scrap plastic, they also support environmentalist non-profits.
There’s a good feeling attached to supporting a small business! These guys aren’t corporate fat cats; they’re two dudes who like surfing.
I can’t compliment these glasses enough. I hope you enjoy yours!
Dear Someone – wait a second. Who lets their phone get to 2%? Seriously, man. That’s just negligent.
Anyway, yes, Outxe kindly sent me their rugged power bank – actually, the 9,622nd rugged power bank they’ve shipped this year (a cute little thank you card came inside the box informing me of this fun fact!). Maybe you should receive number 9,623, since you seem to treat your phone’s charge with such brazen disregard.
But seriously – if you’re as hypervigilant about maintaining a charge as I am, you will adore this power bank. Given how rugged and useful Outxe’s line is, I’m not surprised so many of these bad boys have been shipped across the world. They’re popular – and photogenic! Okay, maybe they haven’t made the cover of Vogue just yet, but they are huge on Instagram! Outxe sponsors a monthly photo contest. Folks snap a pic of their Outxe product in the great outdoors and post it on Instagram with the hashtag #RealPowerSurvives. Once a month, one lucky winner scores a prize worth $100, and twice a year, a super-lucky person draws a $500 prize.
I’m excited to enter the contest. I just need to find the perfect outdoorsy scene….
The Outxe Rugged Solar Power Bank arrived in a sleek black box with an instruction manual in several languages (more proof that keeping your phone charged appeals to people of all linguistic backgrounds!). Given my confusion with Outxe’s last product about water resistance, my eye immediately noticed that the Rugged Solar Power Bank is – get this – waterproof! I have evidence. Are you ready?
Yes, that’s my power bank in my bathroom sink. As you can see, an indicator light was still on after I pulled it out of the water. (Also – I didn’t get electrocuted!)
If you’re a spec person, allow me to offer you this:
Lithium-Polymer battery type
IP67 waterproof level
Input: Micro-USB at DC 5V/2A (max); Type-C at DC 5V/3A (max); Solar charging at 5V/400mA/2W (max). You can double-charge via Micro-USB and Type-C at the same time, shortening the recharge time to under 7 hours.
Output: One is DC 5V/3A, 9V/2A, 12V/1.5A (max), and compatible with QC2.0, 3.0, and other quick charge protocols with 9V output. The other is DC 5V/2.4A (max). The power bank self-regulates to 24W when you use both outputs simultaneously to charge two devices; this avoids overheating.
170 x 86 x 30 mm in size and 525 grams in weight
So what do I think? In a nutshell, it’s awesome.
It is a bit heavy. It’s worth noting that “heavy” is relative; in the hiking and backpacking world, where weight is carried directly on one’s back, just a gram or two can make the difference between “heavy” and “not that heavy at all.” For car camping, kayaking or boating, or any other activity where space and weight aren’t so pressing an issue, I think this unit will be perfect.
It can charge two devices at once! Seriously!
This power bank can be reloaded a few ways: Micro-USB, Type-C, or via solar panel! The Micro-USB and Type-C inputs take about half a day to fully restock the power bank, which is really reasonable in terms of charge time. The solar panel, of course, takes longer – about 70 hours under ideal conditions. Still, not too shabby, particularly when you consider…
…you will not deplete this power bank right away! I charged two devices off it simultaneously for about two hours, and they barely made a dent in the bank’s reserves. It’s been well over a week and my bank is just now indicating that it needs to be repowered.
It’s waterproof! The outlets are perfectly covered by little rubber caps. I wouldn’t recommend randomly throwing electrical devices into the ocean (or your sink) for fun, of course. Still, it’s nice to have the peace of mind that a splash or some rain won’t ruin your power source.
If you’d like to check out this or other Outxe products, head on over to Outxe’s website.
Sharpen your dinner duty skills with this easy guide.
When I first started camping and backpacking, I’d strategically avoid dinner duty. I’d offer to set up the tent or get water, but I never helped cook because I didn’t know how to use a stove. I felt embarrassed, like I wasn’t “outdoorsy” enough. I didn’t want to ask how to use a stove because it would reveal what I thought was a gaping incompetency, and I didn’t want to be mansplained about how to use one. So I’d peek over my friends’ shoulders, trying to figure out how it worked.
When I finally learned how to use my first camp stove, I felt relieved. Finally I could help make dinner. I went on to teach student trip leaders how to operate and clean stoves, always assuring them it was ok that they were still learning.
This guide will help you choose and operate various types of stoves so you can confidently approach dinner duty. It might take a while to get the hang of it, and that’s ok. Practice makes perfect.
Two-burner propane stove
This stove is great for car camping. The double burner allows you to cook two things at once, and the built-in windscreen keeps the flame from going out. The downside is that it’s heavy (around 10 pounds).
Here’s how it works:
Liquid fuel stove
This stove is great for cold alpine trips because unlike gas, liquid fuel can be manually pressurized in cold or high altitude conditions. It usually weighs about 1 pound, and the refillable fuel bottle cuts down on waste.
Here’s how it works:
Integrated canister stove
This stove is great for backpacking. It’s lightweight (less than 1 pound) and packable, but can be hard to repair. If you’re prone to knocking things over, this is the stove for you: the whole thing fits together so your pot doesn’t slide off the burner.
Here’s how it works:
Traditional canister stove
This stove is also great for backpacking. It’s just about as light as it gets (3 ounces) and it packs down small. Similar to other gas-powered stoves, though, the fuel canisters can be a pain to recycle and aren’t great in cold temperatures.
Here’s how it works:
This stove is neat because it uses scavenged wood instead of petroleum-based fuel. But while it might be more environmentally friendly, it’s hard to use if the wood is wet or you’re in an area without wood at all.
Here’s how it works:
Before you go camping, practice using your stove at home. This will help work out the kinks and get your system down. And if I’ve learned anything, it’s this: don’t forget a lighter.
About the author:
Krista Karlson is a freelance writer and curiosity follower based in Connecticut. Her latest adventures involve learning to camp with a dog. She is also a contributor at Peak Explorations/Brown Gal Trekker.
I’m going to be honest with you: Getting gifts in the mail is really, really great. I mean, it exceeds the typical daily level of greatness; it is a special degree of great. And since I’m pretty excitable anyway, you can imagine my joy when a gift box arrived on my doorstep, all the way from the Canadian Frontier, where bear rugs still growl and the winters make girls into women. Inside the box were two caps from Urban Canairie, an outfitter specializing in outdoor headgear.
Mark Freeman, the company founder, sent me two of his specially vented caps, along with a kind, personalized note. One of the caps was the Arctic Stone color, a nice grey shade; the other, which came with a removable, vented neck-shade, was a creamy Wintery White color.
(Note briefly: As a child, I was taught a serious fashion rule. That rule dictated that beyond her wedding day, a lady must only wear white during the summer season between the end of May and the first week of September. Obviously, I had to take pause and wonder, “Should I wear a white cap when it’s only the first week of May?” Since this cap was a ‘wintery white,’ I figured I could break the rule. Rest assured that no fashion gods smote me.)
I want you to trust my reviews, so let me speak frankly. I had two remarks immediately upon opening this box of hats:
“Oh wow, look at the vents on the top of these caps! Bye bye head sweat!”
“Oh gosh, these… are not… my style.”
Now style is subjective, of course, and my opinion is just one in a sea of bajillions. I figured I’d gather others’ opinions, so I put on the Wintery White cap and snapped a selfie. First, I emailed my picture to Nicole. “I don’t know what to think about this, Nicole,” I said. Next, I texted my friend: “Do I look like a dweeb?” (She responded, “Always.” Gee, thanks a lot!) Regardless, style is fleeting; substance is the real deal. I decided that even if I looked like a dweeb, I’d take these caps for a test drive on a couple hikes, and I’d make a fully informed assessment.
It really wasn’t my style after all. “I feel like I’m in an old timey Army,” I said to my friend as we set off on our hike. She encouraged me to march stiff-kneed with a long water bottle cradled against my chest. I tried it for a while, and it actually felt appropriate. Turns out my military vibe was spot-on! On the Urban Canairie website, Mark remarks that the hat design was inspired by “the cylindrical shaped, flat topped military ‘kepi’ hats from the French Foreign Legion and U.S. Civil War.” I found this a bit too masculine for my tastes, but my friend – who, like me, dresses femininely – said she thought the hats were neat looking. It really is a “to-may-to, to-mah-to” thing. As the company website mentions, “The hat may be a little ‘different’ looking, however we now live in a world where uniqueness is accepted.”
I felt the fit was a bit “iffy,” but this was also a benefit (see below). The hat band fell above my ears, so even when I tightened it, it still felt as though it were resting on the top of my head. I was paranoid that it would fall off throughout the day, and I remedied this by putting my ponytail through the hole in the back of the band.
I found the neck shade awkward to wear. I’m not always the best at applying sunscreen to the back of my neck, so I appreciated how the shade protected that area. However, I’m on the petite side (worded less delicately: I’m really freakin’ short; my backpack frames are either child length or women’s XS). Thus, I found the shade a bit too long for me. I imagine adult-sized adults would be perfectly fine with the neck shade’s length.
One of Urban Canairie’s mottos is “Our Hats Keep You Cool.” This is a true statement. Despite my feelings that the hat fit precariously, the lack of weight and fabric around my ears really did cool off my head. The vented design at the top of the hat significantly cooled things off, too.
The bill of the hat is a great size. I’ve found many of the ball caps I wear while hiking have bills made for larger faces; I sometimes feel like I’m hiking beneath an awning. The front of the Urban Canairie hat was large enough to shade my face, but not so big that my line of sight was obscured.
In his letter, Mark informed me that others—perhaps those with lots of hair, like me!—have remarked on how these hats do not cause “hat head.” I can vouch for this! Although I certainly don’t put a lot of effort into my hairdo while hiking, I was pleased to see that I did not have a weird dent in my hair at the end of the day.
The hats are manufactured in Canada from 65% recycled plastic and 35% American-supplied, certified organic cotton. This results in an ecologically minded product made in fair work conditions!
These hats are built tough. I rolled them up, dropped them in dirt, crunched them into my backpack, and accidentally stepped on one, and they came out looking fresh as a daisy. These are meticulously crafted hats.
My final thoughts? Urban Canairie’s hats are worth a look-see. I can see myself wearing them again, without the neck shade, during a hiking or camping trip. You might opt to wear them everywhere! Let’s focus on function: These hats are, literally, cool. If you tend to run warm, like I do, you’ll be pleased with how breezy you feel wearing these caps.
I’ve written a few pieces on bear safety for Camping for Women, but I’ve never really covered how to avoid them when you are on the trail, or what to do when you come face to face with them.
Now before I get started, I want to attempt to alleviate any bear fears you may have. In 2017 Conservation officers in my home province of British Columbia killed 373 bears because of humans encroaching into its habitat. Hundreds more were killed by cars, trains, hunters, or people defending themselves or their property. In the same years only two humans were killed by bears across all of North America. Humans kill bears much, much more often than they kill us. The thought of being in the presence of a large predator may get us antsy, but I want to encourage you not to spend your time on the trail fretting about predators. Bears and other large animals desperately want to avoid us. Attacks are the rare exception, not the norm.
I also thought I’d touch on a few other potentially dangerous animals in North America. I’ll get to them at the end.
Regardless of the animal you’d like to avoid, there are a few precautions you should take when hiking in these creatures’ habitat.
Avoidance and Being Prepared
Regardless of the animal you are trying to avoid, it’s always a good idea to make noise as you travel. If you surprise an animal, it’s going to have a fight or flight response. The closer you are and the bigger the animal, the more likely it is that it will be a fight response. Lots of warning will allow the creature to move out of the way. They generally want to avoid you more than you want to avoid them. If I’m not chatting with a friend, I periodically shout out “Hey Bear” or “Way-Oh.” Some people opt for wearing a bell or clapping, but human voice allows animals to identify you as human. Make extra noise when it’s windy, or if you are hiking near a stream or through dense underbrush. Hiking in groups is a great way to make noise, but as a person who loves solo hiking, I can’t really condemn hiking alone. If you hike alone, be extra vigilant and make sure that you are making lots of noise.
Always stay aware the you are hiking. Watch for tracks, scat (poop), and scratch marks on trees. Cougars and other cats usually bury their scat, but bears will often poop on the trail. Its appearance differs depending on what it’s been eating. If it’s berry season, it will have a lot of seeds in it and will often be purple or red. Anything with hair is going to belong a wild predator. Also, if you find a dead animal, leave the area immediately, especially in grizzly country. Grizzlies are extremely protective of their food.
Also, put the iPod away when you are hiking. Not only are the sounds of nature amazing, but you also want to be listening for any big animal that may be nearby.
Keep your Dog on a Leash
There are a number of reasons to keep you dog on a leash, and predators are certainly one of them. Imagine this scenario:
Your dog catches the scent of a bear and decides to investigate. Once it finds the bear and starts baking at it, it realizes it’s in over its head and runs back to the safety of its owner with the bear following close behind. Not a situation you want to be in.
If you dog doesn’t bring a bear chasing towards you, it could also get attacked and seriously hurt or killed.
Don’t leave garbage or food behind
That includes that apple core that you think is just going to decompose. To a bear, that apple is food, which makes you, or another human, the food provider. When bears get used to human food, they start hanging around places like picnic sites and campgrounds and lose their fear of humans. These habituated bears often get killed by park rangers or game wardens. Also, many bears die or get very sick from eating food packaging. Leaving food and garbage behind not only endangers you, but the bears themselves, and everyone who visits the area in the future.
I have written about keeping your camp food and smell free here.
Keep children nearby and talk to them about bear safety
A good practice is to have children come to you whenever they see a large animal, even if it’s just a deer. It’s a good habit to get into, so children don’t panic when they see something more threatening. Besides, deer can be dangerous if provoked.
Bring Bear Spray
Bear spray is a pepper spray that can be sprayed at an approaching bear. They have extremely sensitive noses, so it is extremely effective at stopping an attack. I’ve written about my take on bear spray here. Bear spray can also be used on other aggressive animals. Make sure you look up how to use it before heading out on the trail.
If You See a Bear
Do not run!
A bear might see that as a sign that you are a prey animal. They are very fast runners, even downhill. Black bears are excellent climbers, and many grizzlies can climb as well. Instead, take a moment to assess the situation.
Identify its Species
Grizzly (or brown) bears behave a lot differently than black bears, so it’s important to know what you are dealing with.
A common mistake people make when identifying bears is to go just by colour. Black bears (Ursus americanus) can be brown, blonde, or even white. A grizzly (Ursus arctos) is usually brown with “grizzled experience,” but can be very dark brown or even black.
The first clue is the where you are. In continental United States, grizzly range is limited to Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and northern Washington. They need large wilderness areas, so you are less likely to run into them near busy trails or campgrounds.
Black bears are smaller than grizzlies (130-315 lbs), with little or no hump on the shoulders. Their rumps will typically be either the same height or higher than its shoulders. Its face has a flat profile, and its ears tend to be taller and more pointed.
Grizzly bears are much larger (200-700 lbs). They have a large shoulder hump that sets their shoulder higher than their rump. Their faces are dish shaped face, and their ears shorter rounder ears. Their claws are longer and straighter than a black bear’s. They will also often have a ruff on hair on their throat.
Black bears are more prone to getting habituated, meaning that they get used to humans and learn to associate them with food. They are less aggressive than a grizzly but are more likely to approach a human out of curiosity. They are excellent climbers so they will often tree their cubs rather than attack. When they do attack, it’s usually predatory. This, however, is quite rare.
Grizzly bears will attack to defend their young or their food cache. They will often attack until their subject is dead or not moving.
Assess what its doing
If it doesn’t see you, and it’s fairly far away, enjoy the moment, but keep your distance. Various national parks recommend giving a bear a distance of 200-300 feet. This is a good guideline to follow.
If it’s on the trail, consider rerouting or detouring around it. If it is close, or you can’t re-route, try backing away quietly and approaching again, this time making lots of noise. Carry any small children and have your bear spray ready just in case the bear doesn’t like this idea.
If it sees you, identify yourself as human by talking calmly and firmly to it. Pick up any small children and get your bear spray ready. Chances are it will run away before you even utter a word.
If it doesn’t run away, continue to talk to it and back away slowly. It may be habituated, and has lost it’s fear of people. DO NOT RUN! Stay close to your group. Make sure the bear has an escape route. Turn around or detour around the bear if you can.
If it approaches, stay calm and assess it’s behaviour. There are three main reasons a bear will approach a human. It’s either curious, defensive, or predatory.
If it’s curious, it might sniff the air or stand up to get a better look at you. It’s probably trying to decide whether you are food or a threat. Use a calm, firm voice to talk to it and slowly back away. It might want to use the trail you are on, so try moving away from it.
If it’s defensive, it’ll be pretty darn scary. A defensive bear will make a lot of noise, woofing, huffing, and snapping its jaws. It will also salivate and put its ears back. It may bluff charge, and turn away at the last minute. If the bear charges, spray you bear spray at around 50 feet (about the length of a bus). The spray will only reach 20 feet, but it will force the bear to run through a cloud to reach you. If the charge starts closer than that, spray it whenever you can. Most defensive attacks are from grizzlies defending cubs or food. If a bear starts to eat you, it has become a predatory attack. Fight with everything you have.
If a defensive bear attacks, play dead. Lay on your stomach with your hands protecting your neck. Spread your legs out so the bear can’t turn you over. Continue to play dead until the bear has left the area.
If it’s predatory, it will continue to move closer, with its attention focused on you. It’s time to stand up for yourself. Make yourself look big, yell, wave your hiking poles, and throw things at it. You can drop a sweater or something to distract it, but do not give it food. Keep your pack on; it can protect your back if the bear attacks. If it gets to within 15 feet and is moving slowly, spray it in the face with bear spray. If it charges from any distance smaller than 50 ft, spray a cloud for it to run through. Predatory bears are almost always black bears. Thankfully, it is also a very rare occurrence.
If a predatory bear attacks, fight back with everything you have. Use rocks, sticks, or whatever you can get a hold of and aim for the bear’s muzzle. If you have bear spray and you haven’t used it yet, definitely use it now. Don’t worry about spraying yourself by accident. It’s worth the risk.
If a bear attacks from behind, it has almost definitely predatory. Fight!
Some Notes on Other Animals
Cougars are solitary hunters. They are excellent stalkers. If you have hiked in cougar country, you have probably been spotted by at least one. While they are skilled hunters they are also very keen to avoid humans. In fact, there have been only two known fatal cougar attacks on humans this millennia. Assume an approaching cougar is predatory. Look big, throw ricks, shout, and use your bear spray. If it attacks fight like crazy.
Deadly wolf attacks are very rare, but when they do they are often predatory. Treat it like you would a predatory bear encounter, or a cougar encounter. Be aggressive and fight back if they attack. Use your bear spray if you have it.
Moose (and other ungulates)
Yes, moose. Believe it or not, they scare me more than bears. Twice I have encountered one on a run and had to reroute because it wouldn’t get off the trail. A moose attack will always be defensive. Moose can attack at any time of year, but there are a few times of year to be extra vigilant. Males will defend their territory during the fall rut and females will attack to protect their calves in spring and fall. If a moose approaches you, it is probably trying to warn you that you are too close, especially if its head is down and its ears are back. If a moose charges, it’s okay to run. They will not mistake you for food. Get behind something solid like a tree as fast as you can. If you can’t make it curl up into a ball and cover your neck. Don’t move until the moose is gone.
Bighorn sheep, deer, elk, bison, and mountain goats have all attacked humans. Treat them the same as a moose. It should go without saying, but the bigger the animal, the more wary you should be.
Can you Remember all that?
Okay, this is a lot to remember, and you probably aren’t going to break out a flow chart when you find yourself face to face with a bear. So here are a few bare bones (or bear bones, rather) tips:
Make noise when you hike
Never, ever, ever run from a bear or other predator.
If you come across one on the trail talk to it calmly yet firmly and slowly back away. Get your bear spray out and be ready.
If it is a grizzly, it will probably act defensively. Do everything to make yourself non threatening. Speak calmly to it and back away.
If it’s black bear, and it’s approaching or following you, assume it is predatory. Be aggressive and fight back if it attacks.
Other Animal Attack Facts
Mosquitos are the deadliest animals in the world, killing 725,000 people per year through mosquito borne diseases such as malaria.
Humans take second place, killing 475,000 other humans each year.
In 2013 a man in Belarus died from a beaver attack after he got to close trying to take a photo. The beaver bit him and severed a major artery, causing him to bleed to death.
Please note, all photos taken by me were taken with a lot of camera zoom from a guarded grizzly viewing platform in Hyder, Alaska.
Please never attempt to get close to bear or other wildlife to get a photo. It’s not worth the risk.
I have to admit something: I am not dainty. I know that’s probably shocking, so I’ll give you a minute to recompose yourselves.
Okay. Now that we’ve established that, I’ll continue. Moving about the world like an ox means that I need gear that doesn’t require kid gloves and raised pinky fingers. Enter Outxe’s Rugged 3-in-1 Lantern. The folks at Outxe sent me a lantern to honestly review for you all, and I’m happy to report that it has, thus far, withstood my Sasquatch-like rough handling in the outdoors.
But let’s back up. Let me tell you a little more about this product. It is a flashlight, lantern, USB power bank, magnet, and emergency beacon, all packed into a unit just a tad bigger than my water purifier.
The package came with the lantern (fully charged!), a USB charging cable, and a lanyard. I found it too difficult to attach the lanyard with only my one nimble hand (yes, I’m still in a cast), but I’m sure you’d find it easy-peasy.
Beyond the lamp’s conveniently small size, the first thing I noticed was the nifty magnet on the bottom. I tested it out on my refrigerator, and sure enough, it stuck on there like a champ.
Then I realized the magnet is actually a water-tight cap that covers two USB outlets: one for an incoming charge, to power up the lamp, and the other for outgoing current – like to charge your phone or another device when you’re nowhere near an electrical outlet.
Using the lantern is rather straight forward. Press the large green button and the unit powers on in the “low light lantern” mode. Pressing the button again will take you through several other modes: high light lantern, flashlight, short red flashes, and a long red SOS. To power off, hold in the green button for a few seconds. Operation is user-friendly enough that I just guessed – and then confirmed with the user manual!
Here is a short demo of me going through these modes easily:
There is a lot to appreciate about this little lantern, with just a couple “meh…” factors.
I find it a bit too heavy and awkward for backpacking. Even on a day hike, if I needed illumination, I’d prefer my head lamp. That said, overall, it is not a heavy unit, and if you were boating, camping, canoeing, or fishing, it would be a useful and convenient item to bring along. I plan to put mine in my earthquake emergency kit, and I may get another to throw in with my car camping gear.
Exactly how waterproof is it? I’m a bit confused. The package says it is water resistant up to 30 meters. The website says it is water resistant up to 2 meters underwater – which is quite the difference in depth. To confuse matters more, the owner’s manual advises against throwing it into water to avoid explosions. Needless to say, I didn’t test out the water resistance; I thought, ya know, explosions aren’t great to experience. Clarification on that would be helpful!
I’ve found it to be rather rugged. It has withstood bangs, bumps, and drops with no decrease in function. I purposely drove up a mountain today and threw it on the ground, and if you just looked at the lantern, you’d have no idea it survived that trauma. Perhaps I have a touch of inanimate object-directed schadenfreude, but I was a little disappointed it didn’t sustain even a little scratch (which led me to wonder why I’m so weird).
I think it’s so cool that it can serve as a power bank for my phone and other devices. This will come in handy on my next camping trip!
It is the perfect size and shape to hang from your tent.
Despite the confusion on exact water resistance specs, I can tell you a splash of water or rain won’t cause this lantern to fritz out.
The magnet! That magnet is so convenient – who doesn’t appreciate hands-free lighting, especially outdoors?
Overall, I say this little lantern gets a thumbs-up. If you’d like to check out this or other Outxe products, head on over to Outxe’s website.
Camping is a fun and inexpensive activity that lets your kids spend time with you and the great outdoors. But as with all things when children are involved, there are some challenges that lay ahead when planning a family camping trip.
One of these is getting children to sleep well in their tents, especially when they aren’t so used to roughing it just yet. So whether you’re a pro-camper bringing your kids along for the very first time or just looking to try something new with your family, here are five great ways to get your children to sleep easily while camping.
Plan to sleep well
Invest in lightweight, durable, and comfortable sleeping pads for you and your family, and make sure to plan out sleeping arrangements. For families traveling with toddlers, the Travel Channel recommends bringing along a pack and play to serve as a familiar bed for sleeping and as a playpen during the day.
Stay close to your usual bedtime routine
Kids tend to eat and sleep on a schedule, so be sure to stay close to their routines whenever you are camping. If they brush their teeth, get into pajamas, and read books while cuddling with you in their room before sleeping, make the necessary preparations so they can do the same when you are in your tents. Let them bring their favorite stuffed animal and blanket along to give them a sense of familiarity and make it easier for them to fall asleep.
Use white noise
Although some campers enjoy letting the music of nature lull them to sleep, young children and first-timers might not be as open to the sounds of Mother Nature’s critters in the dark. ParentMap Magazine suggests solving this issue by using a white noise app or music player to drown out unpleasant sounds and comfort your children as they try to sleep at unfamiliar spots. If possible, choose a campsite that’s well away from campsite entrances, loud gathering spots, or main roads to minimize noise.
Wear them out
Sleeping in a tent can feel a lot more refreshing after a full day of hiking, swimming, and playing, as opposed to simply relaxing around the campsite all day. Enlist your children to help set up camp with easy tasks and give them fun activities to play and explore nature. Set up a rock tower activity or nature scavenger hunt like what Bryony Sumner did with her kids. These are a great way to get them to rest naturally in the evening after a fun-filled day.
Have a fireside story time
Let your children wind down after the aforementioned activities by treating them to a fun campfire. Singing songs, sharing stories, and spending time simply gazing at the fire at the end of the day can help them relax and set the mood for sleep. To make the most of the evening and get better sleep, Leesa recommends keeping away all smartphones and tablets. Not only will this get them to be fully present during your family bonding hour, it also keeps them away from blue light that can mess up their body clock and keep them from sleeping later on.
Although camping with children can be daunting, kids can surprise you by how well they can adapt to their environment. With proper planning and the right attitude, your outdoor trip will be a success. And while you’re here, be sure to go through Camping For Women’s checklists for camping with children as well so you won’t forget anything!