Nab Campsite Cancellations With This App

Eric Shelkie and Family at Kettle Valley
Eric Shelkie and his family (pictured here at Kettle Valley) love camping. Frustration with camping reservations led to Campnab, a camping app that lets you snag cancellations at sold-out campsites.

There is nothing more frustrating than deciding to go on a camping trip for the long weekend, only to find that all the sites have been taken already.  Everywhere.  You then find yourself faced with two choices—forget camping at a proper campsite, or sit in front of your computer refreshing the page of your campsite’s reservation page over and over again in the hopes that there will be a cancellation you can jump on. It’s a good idea—many people have found a site at the last minute because of a cancellation.  But what a colossal time-consuming effort that can be!

Fortunately, there is an app for that.

Enter Campnab.

Campnab is an app that does the scanning of all your favorite campsites for you.  When an opening pops up, Campnab notifies you so you can go to the campsite’s reservation page and make the reservation.

The app is the brainchild of two Erics—Eric Karjualoto and Eric Shelkie, Vancouverites who also happen to be partners in SmashLAB, a creative design agency that deals in digital services. ( http://www.smashlab.com/) They design and build web applications, platforms and communities for businesses.

Campnab coding
When Erik Shelkie needed a camping app for snagging cancelled reservations on campsites, he wasted no time. Here is some of his coding that he created at a pub, while camping!

Shelkie wanted to use a camper van he bought, to go camping with his family. That’s when he discovered just how hard it was to book a campsite unless it’s done months in advance. He decided to create an app to help ease the frustration. With help from partner Eric Karjualoto, they created an app and designed a website interface and presented Campnab to an eager public.

How it Works.

The public embraced the idea of being notified when a camping reservation opening showed up, instead of sitting at a computer on the Discover Camping website, hitting the refresh button over and over again and hoping a cancellation appeared. The app takes advantage of the fact that a large number of camp grounds usually have last-minute cancellations. Campnab then sends the would-be camper a notification that lets them know a site has opened up for where and when they have specified. The camper can then reserve online at the campsite’s website.

Depending on the type of search you want and the frequency you choose for the Campnab app to scan the chosen spots and dates, the search will cost you between $10 to $20 dollars. Campgrounds seem happy with the idea, too–no more campsites sitting empty due to last minute cancellations.

The Camping App is Growing Fast.

The popularity of the app can be seen in its growth. Campnab started in B.C., but can now also scan parks in Ontario, Canadian and U.S. National Parks, Washington State, Oregon, and California; as well as those managed by recreation.gov (America).

Campnab has a really great Q & A that answers any questions you may have about the app. You can access the site, and the Q & A, here.

And now for the really, really fabulous news:

Want to try the app for free?  Camping and Hiking Ideas has a free giveaway! Click here for details.

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Top Ten Camping Blogs 2018

Top 10 Camping Blogs 2018
Which blogs are best for you? Check out our Top 10 Camping Blogs 2018 List to help you decide.

(If you just want the Top Ten Camping Blogs 2018 list, click here.)

Our last top camping blogs list, compiled about six months back in October of 2017, was so successful we decided to make it an annual event.  Plus we pushed it to April, since for us that is the start of good weather camping season. It benefits you because it gives you time to check out the sites, maybe file some recommendations away for use on your upcoming camping trip, and if you’re in the market for some gear, you can read the reviews of whatever it is you’re thinking of getting.

Why do we do a top ten camping website list? Because we love all things camping–including websites! However, many blogs and websites start with the best of intentions and then don’t continue. Others are really just online stores, with no content you can learn from. And one or two are just…well, you have to give them credit for trying.

The criteria for making our top ten list is pretty simple. Some content fueled by personal experience, some articles with info the average camper will find helpful, and accurate and coherent writing.

Top 10 Camping Blogs 2018 looked for certain qualities in a website.

Our criteria is simple, really:

Personal Experience Content.

There has to be some content that is from the website owner’s, or writer’s, personal experience. We look for articles that tell the reader “This is what I did. It doesn’t have to be all that way, but we need to find at least one or two articles that speak directly from the writer to the reader.

Helpful to the Average Camper.

Some websites out there are gorgeous and full of information, but they are for the “professional” camper or hiker; that is, those who travel the world and get to the tops of mountains and cliff sides. That’s great; but when there is no information for the family that wants to go bush camping for the long weekend or the hiker that only has an overnight hike in mind near his town, it isn’t relevant for most of the campers out there. If there’s nothing for the average camper/hiker, it belongs on another type of list.

Accurate and Coherent Writing.

Every website and blog struggles with spelling errors and mistakes.  We struggle with it, too (as I am sure some of you regulars have noticed from time to time). But there needs to be a reasonable effort at proof reading to keep the spelling mistakes and grammatical errors to a minimum.

Most importantly, the information has to be accurate.  Campers rely on two things when preparing to camp–what they have learned through personal experience and what they have learned by doing research.  If the information presented isn’t accurate or if it is obviously generic articles cobbled together from other online sources, it is doing a great disfavor to the reader. No real camper wants to read such stuff. No real camper writes it.

I can hear you saying, “I thought your list was in October…….

Our Annual Top Ten Camping Blog List Is Now In April.

We love October, we really do. Fall and winter camping is among our favorite times of the year to camp. (See our article “Ten Reasons For Fall Camping” And 50 Campfires has a great article about winter hammock camping!) But the fact of the matter is, spring and summer are when most people camp, and that is when they need the information in our top ten list the most. So we’ve pushed it up to April, and it will be an annual April entry from now on.

We do, however, accept requests throughout the year if you have a camping website or blog and want us to check it out to see if you can be in our top ten.  We’ll look at your site, and if you fulfill the above criteria, you might make it into our top ten! With the response we’ve been getting we’re seriously considering an honorable mention list, as well, so drop us a line at campingandhikingideas@yahoo.ca and provide us with a link to your website.  We love blogs and sites about camping, we just love them!  And newbies are more than welcome.  In fact, we have a fairly new website in our top ten list for this year.

And Now, Without Further Ado:

…Aaaand the post has gone on way too long, as usual.  Tell you what. Click here and it will take you to the list.

May the smoke stay out of your eyes, the weather be dry and sunny, and your campsite free of mosquitoes!

 

10 Unusual Tools To Take Camping (And Why)

Campers have their favorite things to take with them, to make setup and break down of the camp site easier. These 10 unusual tools to take camping,  and why, will give you some options for your campsite that you may have never considered before.

1. A pick mattock.

a mattock
A mattock comes in handy for all sorts of things when you’re camping.

You would be surprised how often you use a pick mattock when you’re out camping–especially when you want to make your own outdoor toilet. A mattock breaks down through heavy root and rocks.  You can use it to make a fire pit and to pry big rocks out of the way when you want to set up your tent on level ground.

2. a 2×4.

Several shorter pieces, in fact.  You can use them side-by-side as walkways over mud puddles, lay them on ledges and rocks for use as narrow shelves, and in a pinch they make great firewood. But the very best use I ever saw was this one:

3. a pool noodle.

pool noodle
pool noodles come in handy when camping

It seems that the world has looked at the pool noodle and seen something other than what it was intended for. You can slit them lengthwise and string them on your tent lines to keep yourself from tripping over them, place them around a laundry basket and stick them in the water as a kind of floating drink cooler, bend them into circles, fasten them with duct tape and make a giant ring toss; the ideas are endless.

4. toilet seat.

camping toilet
We thought we’d take a picture before disassembling. Note the duct tape hanging from the edge. Don’t forget the duct tape when camping.

Go to the store. Buy the cheapest toilet seat you can find. Then make the world’s greatest camping toilet by following these instructions. Makes for a shockingly comfortable camping biffy.

5. grocery bags.

plastic bags
they’re also great for picking up litter left by other, less responsible campers.

Grocery bags make wonderful tools!  You can stuff wet towels in them so the rest of your stuff stays dry, keep your clean and dirty clothes separated in your duffel bag, use them as emergency garbage bags, open them to make a temporary rain hat, gather foraged items, wear them over dry socks and inside wet shoes to keep your feet dry, stuff your pillow into them on rainy nights just in case your tent leaks–the list is truly endless. Just don’t leave any behind when you leave. That would be horrible.

6. fireplace logs.

For years I would take one fireplace log for every day I camped.  It was just so nice to go and get one the next morning to start the fire–you could take you time laying wood on it and even if the wood was slightly damp it would dry out and begin to burn because fire logs last 1-3 hours depending on what kind you buy. Stupid-simple to start a fire with them.

7. a 6′ folding banquet table.

These are starting to get expensive, but as soon as you can afford one, or if you see them on sale get yourself a six-foot folding banquet table. Invest in at least one, depending on how many people you camp with (we have three). They are easy to fold and store away at home, easy to pack and take with you, and all that surface space to work on almost brings tears of gratitude to my eyes thinking about it. Plus, they last forever.

8. door mats.

A couple of door mats, one inside and one outside your tent, will go a long way to keeping the woodsy stuff outside where it belongs.  Makes it so much easier when it comes time to pack up your tent and go home. I’m a huge fan of avoiding mess in the first place.

9. gardening gloves.

Heavy duty ones. They protect your hands when you’re adjusting the logs on the fire, grabbing the Dutch oven, clearing out the devil’s weed right beside your tent, etc.

10. duct tape.

duct tape
It may be the handyman’s secret weapon, but it’s also the campers best friend.

Granted, this is becoming less and less of an oddity when it comes tocamping and hiking, but there are many people out there who don’t realize just how handy this stuff is when you’re camping. It fixes everything from a leak in that air mattress to an emergency bandage for a really, really bad cut. Don’t waste time with that itty bitty bit they say to wrap around a water bottle.  Take the whole roll. It doesn’t take up that much room in the car, really. Stuff it in the glove compartment.

11. bonus item: large cup hooks.

Large cup hooks can be screwed directly into a tree trunk to hang your first aid kit on, string a clothes line between two trees, and generally act as useful hangy things. Plus, they’re easy to remove from the trunk and take back home with you, with minimal damage to the tree. And nothing left behind.

Setting Up The Cooking Area Of Your Camp Kitchen

camp kitchen
Notice all the cooking gear to the left–pots, pans and utensils are hung above the stove, propane tank and tree. The picture has been taken standing beside the camp fire; the cooking areas are close enough together that it’s easy to put food on a rack by the fire to keep warm.

When you go camping you quickly discover that when it comes to preparing meals, you need an organized area.  If you’re trying to fry eggs and bacon and the pans, prep space and stove are far apart from one another, the food is going to get cold and you are going to keep bumping into people who follow you in to the tent to grab a glass of juice, steal a piece of bacon, or just see “what you are doing”.

We have a 10′ X 10′ instant-up gazebo that has removable walls and mosquito netting. This keeps the bugs out and also lets the heat out on hot days. When it rains, everything food-related stays dry and you can make meals in comfort. You can see how we set up our kitchen tent and what you need in order to do the same. Just click here for full instructions.

Whether you use our set-up, or just want an area where you can cook, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Keep the camp stove(s), propane tank, and propane tree all together.

A propane distribution tree is a long pole that attaches to the tank, with a propane lamp at the top.  If you have one of these setups you can have a nice bright cooking area if it falls dark quickly.  Your stove can also stay attached to the tank.  Any time you need to cook or heat something on the camp stove, it just becomes a matter of turning the stove on. So much easier!

Have a separate stand for the stove, and a prep table beside it.

The propane tank and tree should be on one side of the camp stove, and the prep table on the other.  Have a stand for the camp stove to sit on. You save your back because you can stand and cook instead of being bent over all the time. A stand also keeps the stove from taking up all the space on the table. It’s light and easy to fold and pack away, too.

We usually have a large group with us, so we have invested in three of those folding banquet tables. They last forever and are great for food prep. We stick all the cooking gear bins underneath and lay out one end for washing up. The corner is for drinks and snacks. Because they fold away, we just stick them up against a wall in the garage when we go home.

Your tent cooking area should be close to the camp fire.

We set up our kitchen tent so it’s just a few feet from the camp fire.  That way, if we decide we want to do some Dutch oven cooking or set up a BBQ grill, everything is in the same general area. You can also put grill racks across hot coals at the camp fire to act as a food warming area.  Just wrap it in tin foil and lay it on the rack.

go vertical.

Invest in some “S” hooks and hang your pots and pans and cooking utensils from the frame of your tent inside; then you just have to reach up and grab instead of digging around in the bins. It’s amazing how much easier cooking becomes at camp when you can see where everything is! Some people suggest getting a belt and adjusting it around a nearby tree; that works, I suppose.  But then you have to go get the cooking utensils. If you hang it from the tent frame it’s right there. We like to use the trees for makeshift clotheslines and for hanging the first aid kit in plain sight.

You can also use a bungee cord, thread it through the center of your roll of paper towel, and hang that from the tent frame too.  It’s always at hand and won’t get knocked off the table.

final thoughts.

The nice thing about setting up your cooking area like this is that it’s so easy to set up and break down.  There’s no wondering where what goes. All the stuff you need to cook with is in one area and it’s good for two or three people, or a crowd. (If you do want to set up a camp kitchen for a crowd, we have how to’s and more hints here.) You can adapt it to your circumstances, whether it’s a camping trip for a few weeks, a long weekend, or even an ambitious tail-gate party.  No matter what, you’re prepared. Happy cooking!

Rekindling Your Campfire The Next Day

campfire in a fire pit
Rekindle that campfire the next day using the tips and ideas in this post.

Rekindling your campfire the next day will never be a huge problem for some people. They have the skills/supplies/money to get the job done.  For the rest of us, though, starting up the campfire the next day can be like rolling the dice. Sometimes it works like a dream, sometimes it doesn’t. It rained overnight, or all the wood was used up, or the wind keeps blowing the little bit of flame we create, out!

Maddening.

So here are a few hints, tips, ideas, and gear you can think about for starting up your campfire again.

think ahead.

Many times you want to get that campfire going in the very early morning.  It’s kind of dark out still–okay, it’s day two, you’re all excited to be camping, probably it’s still full dark but you’re raring to go–but everyone else is asleep.  If you’re in an area that has several camp sites, the last think you’re going to want to do is alienate everyone and maybe cause a lynch mob because you’ve fired up the chainsaw or started chopping wood with an axe.

So prepare ahead of time–set some wood aside for the next morning. Some kindling, small pieces, and a few larger pieces.  Doesn’t have to be a lot–just enough to get you through the first few very cold hours. By that time you’ve had breakfast and toasted your feet and you actually might feel like going to gather some wood. And if the campfire is dying again and everyone else is just getting up, so be it.  They should have woken up early like you did. Now they have to wait.

(for the millionth time on this website) Tarp.

Make sure any wood that has been gathered for your fire, both for that day and for when you go to rekindle it, is tarped over.  It rains without warning when you camp.  If you try and rekindle your fire with wet wood–well; do I even need to finish the sentence. One tip:  Set tomorrow morning’s wood aside or behind the main pile, separate and further away from the fire than the wood you are using that day.  People are less likely to feed the fire with the stuff you are saving.

bank your fire.

When you make your fire pit, dig a small depression in the ground, and then circle the top of it with rocks.  The bigger, the better. Banking your fire in this way will keep the embers out of the wind, and they are more likely to still be hot the next morning. Caution: Make certain you are allowed to do this in the area in which you are camping.  Many areas and camp grounds want the fire put completely out each night. If you are allowed to let the embers remain, be sure your fire is in an area that won’t carry embers to nearby trees. If you are at a paying campsite, you probably have one of those fire pit rings to build your fire in.  That works on the same principle as the rocks; it acts as a protective bank for your fire. 

Cover those coals.

When the fire has burnt out and there is nothing left but coals and embers, you can save them by shovelling some ash over them and then using additional cover to protect them.  If the fire is small (and most state and province regulations demand this), then place some heavy-duty tinfoil over the ashes covering the embers, and weight them down with some stones.  This needs to be done with a little caution. If the embers and coals are too hot, the tinfoil can catch fire. The next morning there should be enough warmth and ember left to make rekindling easy.

An awesome solution is an item called the Campfire Defender. It’s a kind of pricey “blanket” for your fire. At the end of the evening, you throw this over your coals and embers, and it keeps them hot for up to eight hours. It protects them against wind, rain and snow and also contains the embers so they don’t fly around and possibly cause a forest fire. The cover is 68″ X 60″–plenty big enough for even a good-sized fire. They have a smaller, lighter version for hikers who camp, as well.

Get this toy.

A propane fire starter is a long wand you can screw on to the top of a small propane tank.  It gives you a continuously burning flame as long as you keep the trigger depressed.  If you have this handy little item, you can start a campfire up again with little trouble. Even if the wood is slightly damp you can keep the flame on it until it catches.  Just make sure your kindling isn’t. I have an article about it, and how handy I find it when I’m camping.  You can find the article here.

final thoughts and suggestions.

If you have the room in your vehicle to pack it, invest in some fireplace logs.  Those burn for three hours. You can take your time placing kindling and wood on top of it to get the fire started with ease.  When I have to room to pack them, I always take one for each morning.

Start your fire with softwood, such as pine, fir or spruce. Then keep it hot and sustained with hardwood, such as hickory, oak, beech or alder, if you can.  Softwoods burn easy and fast; hardwoods burn slow and hot.

A campfire at night is a wonderful thing.  It is rivaled only by a campfire first thing on a cold morning, as you sit in front of it with a coffee mug in your hands, listening to the world wake up.

 

 

Camp Comfort Foods #4–Fried Chicken

fried chicken
One of the most perfect camp comfort foods is fried chicken!

One of the greatest comfort foods of all time, fried chicken is a meal that many home cooks–and most campers–shy away from. They feel it’s too complicated to make, takes too much time, and is a dish best obtained by bringing it home in a big red-and-white cardboard container.

While this may indeed be the most convenient, fried chicken can be made at home and at the campsite without too much trouble. Just follow the directions, step-by-step.  All of the steps are easy, and you won’t believe what a hit it is at the campsite! The recipe and instructions below are for 10-12 pieces of chicken, enough for three or four people. (If you’re looking for our other Camping Comfort Food Recipes, click here.)

at home prep for camping.

Cut your chicken into ten pieces or buy 10-12 pieces from the store.  Budget-friendly legs and thighs with just a couple of breast pieces are great if you are doubling the recipe or want to save time and money. You can also purchase a whole chicken pre-cut in larger grocery stores.

In a large Ziploc bag, place the chicken pieces along with 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoon each of garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, rosemary, and one teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Seal the bag, mush it all around until the rub coats the chicken pieces evenly, and stick the chicken in the freezer until you go camping.

at the campsite.

Remove the frozen meat from the cooler and allow to thaw. In bowl, mix 1 cup yogurt and 2 eggs. Once well blended pour the mixture into the large Ziploc bag that contains your thawed chicken pieces. Mush around a bit to make sure all the chicken is coated in the yogurt-egg mix. Set aside. If chicken is thawed, place in cooler to prevent spoilage. You can do this 15 minutes to several hours before getting ready to fry it. The yogurt helps the chicken absorb the flavors of the rub and makes it more tender and juicy.

When you are ready to fry your chicken, heat an inch of vegetable oil in a cast-iron frying pan over a camp stove burner over high or medium-high heat. Two frying pans are recommended here, because you don’t want to crowd the chicken pieces, and this will help get it all cooked faster. Of course, it goes without saying that you need a 2-burner camps stove! This Coleman stove is the one we have and use; the electric starter makes things so much easier. Get a wire rack ready over a tray to lay the cooked chicken on. (A camping grill rack over aluminum foil simplifies things for camping.) While the oil heats up, do the following:

Get ready to coat and fry

On a flat surface near the camp stove (and if you have set up your camp kitchen the way we do, you’ll have a great table to work from) mix in a medium bowl 2 cups flour mixed with 1/4 cup cornstarch and 2 tablespoons each salt and pepper. You can mix this up at home or at the site. If at home, place in a lidded plastic container. Make it large enough to place a piece or two of chicken in. That way, all you have to do at the camp site is take off the lid and you’re good to go!

Check the oil in the frying pan. It should be hot enough to brown a small piece of bread (about 1″ square) in about 60 seconds. If it is ready, put your chicken in:

Take pieces of chicken from the yogurt-egg mix in the bag and shake off the excess, then place into the bowl of flour, covering each piece of chicken thoroughly. Then place the chicken in the hot fat carefully. Only do 3 or 4 pieces at a time; crowding the pan makes for soggy chicken. Fry for about 6-10 minutes or until golden brown, turn with tongs and repeat on the other side.  If you have an instant-read thermometer (and I always have one in the camping gear now and I love it), insert it in the meatiest part of the chicken to make sure it reads 165° F (to insure meat is cooked through) If it isn’t, lower heat and continue to cook until it does. Under-cooked chicken is something you don’t want to mess with! Remove to the wire rack and repeat until all the chicken is cooked.

Serve with our fabulous Grand Potato Salad and you’re good to go!

Things You Don’t Need To Pack In Your Cooler

collage of items you don't need to refridgerate
There are a lot of things you can keep out of your cooler that you might not have thought of.

Things you don’t need to pack in your cooler is something I wish I’d had when I started camping in earnest.  I had started doing most, if not all, of the cooking for our family and friends. The number of people I cooked for on a long weekend camping trip ranged from five to fifteen people on a regular basis. We had three coolers, and no matter how I tried I could never get everything packed in!

I knew canned goods were fine outside the coolers, and stuff like sugar, teabags and flour.  But it took a good many camping trips before I had all the unnecessaries out, and just the stuff that really needs to be in the cooler, in. For a long weekend, not very much needs to go into a cooler:

 

 

other items you don’t need to put in the cooler for a long weekend:

  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Other salty condiments, such as soy sauce and fish sauce
  • Other vegetables such as tomatoes, avocados, eggplants, bell peppers, squash, pumpkins and green beans
  • Honey, maple syrup, molasses (maple syrup should be refridgerated for long-term storage, but a long weekend is fine)
  • Coffee
  • Other fruits such as bananas, pineapple, melons and quinces
  • Vinegars, steak sauce, hot sauce
  • Olive oil and other vegetable oils
  • Nuts
  • Peanut butter, jams and jellies
  • Relishes and pickles

what to pack in your cooler:

  • Fresh milk
  • Other dairies such as sour cream, yogurt and cheeses
  • Meats
  • Mayonnaise
  • Ice
  • Sliced tomatoes
  • Leafy greens (to keep them crisp)

Even in summer, you will find that the majority of items you take don’t need a cooler for the long weekend.  And in fall and winter, that time extends to a week, or indefinitely if it’s freezing out!

Happy camping!

 

Wilderness Survival–Increasing Your Chances If You Get Lost

Hiker in wilderness
Do you know what to do to increase your odds of survival if lost in the wilderness?

Wilderness survival is a mandatory thing in our family.  We don’t go overboard, but we all know–even the kids–what to do if we find ourselves lost in the woods. Most of the time, this is information that never needs to be used. We’re all pretty vigilant about staying together and within earshot.

But what about the few cases where it might become necessary? What if you discover you’re lost? Do you know how to increase your odds of survival? Remember these tips:

the very first thing is to sit down.

  1. Stop. Control your breathing. Sit down.
  2. Think. Are you really lost? Where did you come from? How much daylight is left? What can you do in the next ten or fifteen minutes that will help you survive?
  3. Have a drink of water and/or a snack bar. Calm, calm.
  4. Once you are calm and have had a drink of water and/or a snack, check to see what you have on you that will help you survive your situation. Make plans.

three. three. the rule of three.

  1. Three fires, either in a row or a triangle, is the international sign for help.
  2. Three minutes without air, three hours without shelter in an extreme environment (such as winter conditions in the wilderness), three days without water. You can also survive three weeks without food if you have the other three.
  3. Three minutes of severe bleeding before loss of consciousness and death. Stop that blood flow.

try these emergency shelters.

  1. Look for shelter from wind, rain and snow.  Underneath a large fallen log, rock outcropping, or cave (though they may not be empty). Underneath a huge pine or spruce tree is an option if there is nothing else; usually the ground is springy and thick with pine or spruce needles, which also insulates to some extent.
  2. Try building a debris hut; make a depression in the snow or clear to the ground, depending on what there is in the way of snow. Make a teepee out of longer branches. Shore up the sides with shorter ones. Pile branches, shrubbery and debris over it.  The hut should be just big enough for you to fit into. This will conserve body heat. Make a bed of debris to insulate you from the ground.  An excellent article that actually argues against a debris hut for a shorter term emergency shelter is written by Wolf Camp and the Conservation College. It makes for informative reading. You can access it here. 

Warmth.

  1. If nothing is available for a shelter and it’s cold at night, walk in small circles, do jumping jacks, do push-ups–anything to keep moving and stay as warm as possible. It will be a long, miserable night, but you won’t freeze to death.
  2. If you can build a fire, create a firewall behind it to reflect the heat back to you in front of your shelter.
  3. Many survivalists recommend the best way of starting a fire is a magnesium-and-steel firestarter.  It is the most reliable way of starting a fire in the cold, even more reliable than matches or a lighter, because you can get a ton of spark to start a fire even in windy or wet conditions. Carry some waxed cotton balls with you as tinder and you’re good to go in nearly every situation. If you have a knife with you, peel the inside of tree branches for dry shavings for tinder.  Cut kindling.  All these things will help you build a fire in adverse conditions.
  4. Get as much firewood as you think you’ll need to get through the night, then double the amount, at least.  Campers will tell you–it takes a lot of wood to keep a fire continuously burning for hours.

water.

  1. Boil your water if you can. This will kill any pathogens in it and aid in keeping you warm.  If you have nothing to boil the water with, and you have the supplies, you can make a water filter with a plastic drinking bottle or bag. Instructions can be found here.
  2. Of course, the best thing to do is to be prepared. You can get something called a Life Straw, and that’s kind of what it is–a straw with a filter in it to drink directly from water sources. Keep it in your backpack or even a back pocket when you go running or on hikes.

signal for help.

  1. As mentioned before, three fires is the international call for help.
  2. If starting and keeping a fire going is difficult, consider building a smudge fire instead–a hot blaze with green branches to give off smoke.
  3. If lots of tree branches, logs or rocks are available, create an SOS in a clearing nearby your location.  Make it as large as possible.
  4. Use reflective surfaces to signal for help.  Glasses, a mirror, even a dead cell phone face, can all be used. Take a whistle with you.
  5. Stay put! In wilderness survival, you can worsen the chances of being found if you wander off.  It’s all too easy to go deeper into the bush, thinking you’re going the right way, putting you further and further away from the area searchers think you might be.

Of course, the best thing to do is to be prepared for getting lost in the woods, even if you’re sure you won’t. Take a cell phone with you. Tell someone where you’re going, or better yet, go with someone. Don’t veer off the trail or the route you said you would take. Pack a fire-starter, tinder, water, a Life Straw or purification tablets, snack bars, an emergency medical kit, a tarp or emergency bivvy (check out this one.) Take that whistle!

Take the time to build an emergency survival kit and take it with you, even if you’re just going out for a walk. You can get ideas for building a good one here.

Don’t be one of the hundreds of people that disappear in the wilderness and are never found alive, each and every year. It can happen even if you just go jogging one day. Don’t think so?  Check out this gripping–and sobering–true story by John Billman.

And then go and build your survival kit.

 

Urban Hiking–When You Can’t See The Forest Or The Trees

urban hiker

Urban hiking has always been around, more or less. People have been walking the city streets since there have been cities.  But it never really became a movement until author and columnist Dan Keoppel showed us it was possible to rethink our urban surroundings. He organized a two-day event in L.A. called The Big Parade in 2009, which encouraged neighborhood walks in and around the area. A few articles later and the concept of urban hiking became an actual thing to do. It’s hard to say if the event will occur this year, but they do have a Facebook page you can access to find out.

Urban hiking is hitting the concrete trails instead of the dirt paths, to explore the city or neighborhood you live in.  It is just as strenuous as hiking in the wilderness; one of the goals of an urban hiker is finding as many stairs as possible to climb. Ultimately, though, it’s just a way to get out and hike when regular hiking isn’t possible. And it has great side benefits.

you don’t need to pack your backpack full of stuff.

Urban hiking means that you are generally well within reach of a store or place where you can get food and drink.  An although you can’t pee outside like you can on a regular hike, you can make sure your route has public washrooms along the way. Which generally means you can wash your hands. Just saying.  Here’s a basic list of what you’ll need for a day hike in an urban setting:

  • An extra pair of shoes and socks–your feet will get tired and sweaty. Refresh them with a new pair of socks part way through and a change of walking shoes.
  • A bottle of water. Any more can be purchased during the hike, along with food.
  • A snack or two. Just to keep you going if you don’t want to stop.
  • A map with your route marked out.
  • Your camera!
  • A notepad and pen. You’re going to discover things! Stores, buildings and restaurants you want to check out, a library you didn’t know about, a little urban park you’ll want to revisit. Mark these things on your map and record the details in your notebook.
  • A rain jacket. (Rain always shows up at the least convenient time.)
  • A bank card or credit card. For that water and those snacks, and maybe even an impulse buy or two. Also, if something happens like a sprained ankle, you can call a cab and get home.
  • Your cell phone. For obvious reasons.
  • Small first-aid kit with aspirin and blister packs.

You don’t need to travel far to start your hike.

Out your front door. Literally. If you find it’s exciting and fun, you can make plans to travel to nearby cities and urban areas for new hiking adventures. But it’s not necessary, making urban hiking one of the most convenient adventures you can take up.

Exercise.

Ever wish you had the “oomph” to exercise regularly, maybe get in better shape that you are now? Urban hiking will do that for you. It’s absolutely free, and you can make it as long or as short as you want. Like any hiking adventure, it’s exercise you’re not really aware of doing, because you’re too busy enjoying the surroundings.

the joy of discovery.

Perhaps the coolest thing about urban hiking is the fact that you find areas and corners of your city or neighborhood that you had been completely unaware of.  You learn about the structure of it, become familiar with it in a way that intrigues and inspires you. My nephew and I urban hike while we geocache. We discovered that some of our neighborhoods have Little Free Libraries set up–and if you don’t know what they are, you really should find out about them here. Free books 24/7? Yes please! The point is, we never would have known had we not discovered them urban hiking. Parks we never knew about, too. Amazing ones. Some not so little!

you don’t have to depend on anyone to urban hike.

You can go with a group (just type in “urban hiking groups” and your area to find out where they are), or you can go with friends, or by yourself.  You’re not dependent on anyone else’s time schedule or fitness level unless you want to be.  Granted, this is also the case with standard hiking, but urban hiking gives a person the opportunity to hike safely when on their own; they just have to map their hike in busy, populated, well-lit areas, which is what most of urban hiking consists of.

a few things to remember.

  1. If your route takes you into areas where you may not feel safe, or if it takes you into even temporarily isolated areas, obey the rules of safety and common sense and take precautions. It may be going with others, taking your (big) dog, keeping pepper spray on your person, or talking on your cell phone with someone as you walk. And if it is a place that looks dangerous and isolated, don’t travel it alone. Ever. There are predators in the city and your neighborhoods, just like in the wilderness. They may walk on two feet instead of four, but they’re there. Don’t take chances.
  2. Tell someone your route, when you are going to leave and when you are going to be back, even if it’s just for a few hours.  You can never over-plan safety.
  3. Mark out rest stops and stores on your route, so if you get tired, you’ll know how far away you are from the nearest one.
  4. Check the weather before heading out.  Prepare for the weather that is, and that might be.
  5. Take lots of pictures!
  6. Plan a circular route, that is, a route that won’t have you back-tracking. That way the whole trip will be fresh.
  7. Start small and work your way up. If you rarely hike, or don’t hike at all, begin with a small route. Plan it as if it was a large one, but keep the overall distance easy to cover. That first trip will tell you if you can do a longer one, and you’ll gain confidence and experience as you go.

Although urban hiking isn’t as huge as other outdoor adventures, it is easy to find groups and you can find trails already mapped out in most urban areas. You can also find information about urban hiking gear and all sorts of advice to help you along.

So don’t feel down about being unable to get to the wilderness to go hiking.  It’s as near as the street you live on.

Camping Essentials–Fixed Blade Camping Knife

boot knife
Your camping knife should look like it’s for camping, not for a member of the Black Watch.

One of the most important camping essentials you can purchase is afixed-blade knife.  From whittling wood to field-dressing a deer, that knife on your belt can be a constant source of joy or a huge disappointment.

but how do you choose a camping knife, with the sheer volume of knives that are available? Here are some quick tips:

take a moment to decide what your knife will actually be doing.

Are you just going to do a little carving of sticks or grilled steaks? Or will your knife be a real worker, in use for hunting, fishing and camping?  Invest in a good knife no matter what, and invest more money if you want your knife to do more. Once you decide how hard-working your knife is going to be, follow these guidelines to narrow down the field.

Begin By taking a look at fixed blade knives that are, you know, carriable.

“Carriable” sounds odd but trust me, it’s a real word. Begin by looking at4″ blades.  Go to camping and hunting stores and actually feel the knife in your hand, how it balances, whether or not it’s something you’d be comfortable not only using but carrying on your belt. A huge knife like Crocodile Dundee (I know I’m dating myself) carries may be impressive, but it’s not going to be something the average camper can use or even want. Start with 4″ blades, the size most campers and hunters use. Go from there, if you want.  But a 4″ fixed blade will do everything you want it to. Promise. Here a few you can look at if you need a starting point.

Use online research as a starting point, but go further.

There is nothing like online research!  You can quickly get an idea of what you want, what you have to pay, and what others think about certain brands.  But if you possibly can, ask someone you know about their knife. What they like about it. What they don’t. What they would choose as a knife next.  Trust me, campers are eager to talk about their essential gear. They love their knives!  Once you get one for camping, you will too–if you do your homework.

Do you have a camping knife? What kind is it? Where did you get it? Share your expertise with our readers by commenting below!