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!

An Organized Tent

It can be difficult to stay organized even in a small tent like this one.
This is what my first tent looked like, only mine was bright orange. Barely fit a single sleeping bag. I loved it.

Do you need help to organize your tent? The first time I went camping, I had no problem with keeping an organized tent. I slept in one of those tiny, orange pup-tents that barely fit a twin-sized mattress and sleeping bag. All my clothing and toiletries fit into a backpack. The only shoes I had were the ones on my feet. It was high summer, so I didn’t take a jacket. There was a space at one end of the air mattress that the backpack fit into, with no room for anything else. Perfect.

Now, decades later, I sleep in an instant-up tent they say is made for ten but is merely comfortable for me. I have a queen-sized mattress and sleeping bag, a folding table and chair, and a Luggable Loo in one corner for the middle of the night. My tent has enough room for my iPad, my camera bag, my gym bag and my backpack, both full; it also has a place for me to put my shoes, hiking boots and laundry bag. With all this space, you would think staying organized wouldn’t be a problem. But it is, unless I follow these rules:

1.  Contain, contain, contain.

Especially your clothes!  When you’re out camping, it’s easy to just throw your stuff anywhere because you’re not sure where to put it or can’t be bothered to stuff it back in your duffle bag, but that is disastrous.  I carry, now, a cheapo tote that has plastic grocery bags in it–the ones they pack your groceries in at the store. Don’t get a new tote or gym bag, even–go to the second-hand store and buy one with a working zipper that doesn’t look too beat up. Wet clothes goes in one plastic grocery bag, dirty clothes another, maybe  muddy shoes in another. It all goes into the cheapo tote bag. This keeps your tent clear of clothing, and makes it easier to pack up when you’re ready to go home.

2. A side table.

Depending on the tent you’re in, this could be a folding storage box you brought camping supplies in, your folding chair if you don’t have room for a table and chair both, or an actual table. It doesn’t matter what you choose, as long as it’s a stable, flat surface to lay your glasses, reading material, camera, etc. on and that it’s about the same height as your sleeping area. If your tent has gear pockets use them too, but a side table will enable you to put small items within easy reach, and they won’t get lost, kicked aside or stepped on. You would be amazed how hard it can be to find your keys when they are mixed up in a sleeping bag/liner/deflating mattress (this is experience speaking here).

3. Organize by use.

Keep items organized by their use. Toiletries get packed in with towels, face cloth, mirror and makeup. Underwear, socks and long underwear are put together in the same spot in your tote. Depending on how long you are staying at the camp site, keep your jeans, tee shirts, over shirts, etc. packed and stacked together in your tote. Larger gym totes generally have outside pockets. Use these for extraneous gear–flashlight, small personal medicine kit (in case you need anti-heartburn liquid or analgesics at midnight), an unbreakable eyeglasses case, etc. If you like to write or text, you can keep your writing or electronic supplies there too. When you know all your stuff for a particular activity is in one place, you won’t tear your gear apart looking for it.

4. bags in bags in bags.

Ziploc bags, all sizes, is the best tip I can give you. Place your makeup in a ziploc bag and pack it. Place your toothbrush, toothpaste and mouthwash in a ziploc bag and pack it. Put your solar charger, phone and iPad in one. Your socks in one. Your hairbrush, comb, and hair accessories in one. Put your soap, shampoo, cloth and towel in one. Ad infinitum. If you have them packed like that, you can just reach in and grab a bag before you head for the river, lake or camp showers. Not only that, but if a wet disaster happens, like rain or flooding, your important stuff stays dry. And as was mentioned before, you’re not rummaging around in your bigger bags looking for certain items, and messing everything up in the process.

5. A couple of little tools make it easier.

Pack with your stuff the following things to stay organized:

  • A small dustpan and whisk
  • A damp, bleachy cleaning cloth in a (yes) ziploc bag, or wipes
  • Extra grocery bags for garbage or miscellaneous things
  • Some extra, smaller bungee cords (sometimes that tent or sleeping bag or air mattress just won’t fold up as tight as it should)
  • A small emergency repair kit for your air mattress. Include duct tape for other emergencies.

one last list of tips to stay organized:

  1. A large mat outside your tent entrance helps to keep the dirt, leaves, pine needles etc. outside where they belong. Shake it out every day.
  2. If you have a luggable loo in your tent, carry all the supplies for it in the bucket part for transport. Pack toilet paper, hand sanitizer, biodegradable deoderizer that also helps break down sewage, and a small bottle of earth-friendly disinfectant for cleaning it out at the end of the trip. Place it all in the bucket. Take it out of the bucket when you set it up for use in your tent. If you put it all in a (yes again) large ziploc bag before stuffing it in the bucket, it will make it easier to take out and put in, and contain in the tent.
  3. Some people have found a hanging organizer to be handy for inside their tent; I never could see the sense in it.  For me it was just one extra thing to pack. It never held what I wanted it to hold without it looking messy in and of itself. Depending on your gear and tent, though, it may be just the thing for you. You can get them at second-hand stores or dollar stores if you want to give them a try.
  4. Make your bed in the morning. Shocking how tidy this makes a tent, and how good you feel about going inside your tent when you do. Not kidding. Plus it is then a handy surface to lay things out on when you’re packing for a hike or whatever.

Any organization tips you have that you want to share for keeping your tent clear of clutter or mess?  Share them in the comments below!

 

Camping Comfort Food–5 Chocolate Cheesecake Pie

Chocolate cheesecake pie
5-Chocolate Cheesecake Pie! You can have a decadent chocolate pie, made at the camp site, with very little fuss.

Of all the comfort foods out there, chocolate consistently figures in the top ten. This is hardly surprising, considering the variety of things you can make with it. So Chocolate Cheesecake Pie was something we wanted to share with you for your next camping trip.

Why “5 Chocolate Cheesecake Pie”? Because you start with a chocolate crumb crust, pour in a layer of chocolate cheese cake, top it with another layer of dark chocolate pie filling, top it with chocolate whipped topping, and finish it all off with shavings of very good 60% dark chocolate. This pie is delicious, rich, satisfying, and easy to make! You can make it at home and take it with you, or make it at the camp site.  It’s up to you. This is the third recipe in our Camping Comfort Food series; Camping Mac n’ Cheese was our first one (you make it all in one pot), and last month’s was Low-Carb Zucchini Enchiladas (you would be shocked at how easy they are to make!)

5-Chocolate Cheesecake Pie
chocolate pie ingredients
It doesn’t take many ingredients to make a chocolate pie at the camp site.

Cook first package of pie filling according to directions. Set aside for 15 minutes, or until no longer hot (can be warm). Mix in softened cream cheese. (If cream cheese seems a bit hard, place in a ziploc bag, seal it, and put in water that is hot not boiling, for about ten minutes.) Blend with a spoon or wire whisk.  When it’s well blended, pour into graham cracker crust. Set aside.

In a clean pot, make the dark chocolate pie filling. (You can use chocolate pudding and melt a dark chocolate chocolate bar in it when cooking, if you like). When filling is done, pour over chocolate cream cheese layer. Cover, cool and then chill by placing in a cooler for a few hours or overnight. When ready to serve, take 2 cups of whipped topping and mix in 2 tablespoons sifted cocoa. Once well mixed, top pie with it. Take your good dark chocolate and shave chocolate over pie with a vegetable peeler. Serve.

Camping Comfort Food–Low-Carb Zucchini Chicken Enchiladas

zucchini enchiladas
You want to eat these incredible zucchini enchiladas, I’m promising you.

Hi! Welcome to the second entry in Camping Comfort Food. You can find the first one, One Pot Camping Mac n’ Cheese, by clicking here. This week’s recipe is amazing! It’s extremely low-carb, because it uses zucchini strips instead of tortillas. Generally to my way of thinking, you can’t put “low-carb” and “comfort food” in the same sentence unless you’re talking about total opposites, but this one’s different. It’s simple enough to prepare (though messy but we’ll get to that) and loaded with yummy flavor! The chicken enchilada filling is rolled up in overlapping zucchini strips, and topped with cheese, then baked. We also give an alternate recipe, using the same ingredients as a casserole.  Make it at home and take it to the camp site, or make it and bake it in a Dutch oven. Either way, the moment you taste it, you’ll see why it’s listed under comfort food. Not even kidding a little bit.

Zucchini Enchiladas
  • 2 large zucchinis
  • 3 cups cooked, shredded chicken
  • 3 cups (375 ml or 24 oz.) red enchilada sauce (reserve 1 cup)
  • 1 cup finely chopped onions
  • 2 cups (8 oz. or 200 gr.) shredded Montery Jack cheese
  • 2 cups sour cream or Balkan-style plain yogurt (topping)
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro (topping)
  • 2 avocados, peeled and sliced (optional, for topping)

Before Starting:

  1. If you are making this at the campsite, splurge on a bag of pre-shredded cheese. It makes things so much easier, and you can use the rest of it to top baked potatoes or chili, mix into dips, or blend in with eggs. Try not to think of the price.
  2. If you are having trouble rolling up the three strips of overlapping
    Zucchini strips
    Overlap all three strips or lay two side-by-side and the third in the center. Makes rolling easier.

    zucchini, instead of overlapping one after the other, lay two strips side by side and the third strip over the center. This keeps the strips from separating quite as much, and you’re covering it with cheese anyway.

  3. Rolling the strips gives you the distinct impression you’re eating enchiladas. But if you use the casserole method mentioned below, you don’t suffer at all in the taste department!
A Brief Note About Enchiladas And Dutch Ovens:
  1. Enchiladas only use enchilada sauce, onions, Mexican cheese and corn tortillas.  But feel free to experiment, since you’re already changing the tortillas out for zucchini. A shredded cheese mix is wonderful, and I promise you, no matter how many people turn over in their graves, aged cheddar and/or mozzarella is spectacular on it.
  2. If you are making this at the camp site (enchiladas or casserole style), make sure your baking pan fits inside your Dutch oven. If you intend to cook it directly in the oven without a pan, make certain your oven
    zucchini enchilada mix in pan
    Lay zucchini in pan, then spread chicken enchilada mix over top.

    doesn’t have too much heat underneath. Have 24 briquettes–16 on top and 8 on the bottom, baking pan or no. This will give you an inside heat of about 375°F for about 15-45 minutes, depending on the outdoor temperature, wind, etc. Fifteen minutes is probably fine, since the enchiladas are cooked except for the zucchini, and that vegetable is lovely and mild even when it’s raw, so just heated through is nearly perfect. It cooks great, too, so cooking it longer won’t ruin it by any means.

  3. These are wonderful with avocado slices! Peel and slice the avocado, placing it on one side of the dish or directly on top of the enchiladas or casserole, just before serving.
Make it:

Fry finely chopped onion in some butter or coconut oil or other fat. Once the onion is translucent, add the cooked, shredded chicken. Stir until blended and then add all but the reserved cup of the enchilada sauce. Stir, simmering, for about 5 minutes. Turn off heat and set aside.

Wash zucchini thoroughly, then cut off ends. Slice lengthwise in half if zucchini is 6″ or more in diameter. Using a Y-vegetable peeler, a mandolin slicer, or vegetable peeler capable of peeling wide vegetables, peel long strips of zucchini until the zucchini is used up.

On a clean surface, overlap three strips of zucchini. Place a tablespoonful or so of chicken mixture on the end of the three overlapping strips, and carefully roll up. The mix has a tendency to fall out either side; just keep shoving it in and roll, then place the rolled zucchini enchilada in a pan or directly in your dutch oven. Place coals on top and on bottom, and wait at least 15 minutes before checking. When enchiladas or casserole is hot and steaming, remove, drizzle with sour cream or Balkan-style plain yogurt and cilantro, and serve.

Or You Can Make It This Way:
Enchilada casserole
Top enchilada chicken mix with another layer of zucchini, then pour enchilada sauce over all. Finish by adding a layer of shredded cheese and bake.

Casserole Style:  Take a 13″ x 9″ (or two 8×8″ pans if fitting into a Dutch oven) casserole dish, grease, and lay 1/4″ zucchini strips in the bottom. Spread chicken mixture evenly over strips. Top with more zucchini slices. Pour enchilada sauce over and finish by spreading a layer of shredded cheese on top. Bake in a 375°F oven or Dutch oven using instructions for enchilada style, for at least fifteen minutes. Top with sour cream or yogurt and fresh cilantro, and serve. Serves 4-8.

I really hope you like this recipe; I love it, and it has become a regular meal at my house. For me, it’s low on gluten and super healthy, for my family, it just plain tastes delicious. Let me know if you tried it, what changes you made if any, and if you liked it as much as we do!

 

 

 

10 Top Camping Blogs

campers
You can’t ever have too much information about camping

I write a camping blog because I love camping. I love it! It stands to reason, then, that I would love anything related to camping—including other camping blogs. There are tons of them out there, but it’s hard to distinguish between blogs that just want you to come to their site to buy products, blogs that are defunct, and blogs that actually have something concrete to say or teach.
Below are ten really good blogs about camping that I frequent. You might notice a conspicuous absence of hiking blogs. That will be an upcoming post. For now—blogs that focus on the camping experience:

#1—50 Campfires

50 Campfires is an online camping magazine. There is a good reason it has, as its tagline, “The Camping Authority”. This extremely interesting website has everything—camping tips, recipes, gear reviews and more. It focuses on camping throughout the U.S. and really should be checked out. Great resources.

#2—Roaming Miles For Smiles

This great little blog has wonderful information especially for RVers. Their tagline is “It’s the journey, not the destination”, and boy do they deliver. You learn about money management, different travel spots throughout the U.S., insights into the RV life. Extremely readable, this blog will inspire you and help you live a mobile life. Follow them on Twitter: @RoamingSmiles .

#3—Sue’s Outdoor Crew

Sue’s website has been around for a while, but this year she’s kicked it into high gear with her posts. Focusing on water adventure (canoeing/fishing) and the camping experiences that result, her subjects range from how to pack a food barrel to quinzee building (a pretty entertaining hands-on experience; once I finished reading it I wanted winter to be here so I could try it!). On Twitter, you can follow this blog at @sue_squared . 

#4—Camping For Women

What a great idea for a blog! Camping For Women is a global resource guide for women who love to camp. It addresses issues unique to a woman’s camping experience, from tips and trends to tricky things like camping alone, kids and hygiene when camping. Bookmark this page, I’m telling you.

#5—Man Camping

In a spirit of fairness (and also because it’s a great blog), we bring you the opposite side of the gender experience with Man Camping. I love its tagline—“Paddle far, push your limits, bring booze”. They deal with “The lost art of trekking through the wilderness like a man!”—Trust me, women will love this site as well.

#6—Camping For Foodies

This blog is on a mission to encourage people to live in the moment and enjoy nature. Their site is loaded, I mean loaded, with recipes and cooking techniques you can use when camping. They also have reviews and tips for tent and RV camping, and kid-oriented activities for families.

#7—Snowy’s Blog

Not many people in North America know of Snowy’s Blog, and they should. It’s a popular camping store in Australia, and the blog is loaded with over 300 articles of first-hand advice, ideas and reviews from the staff for hiking, camping and travel adventures. I tried to stay away from businesses that have blogs. I realize that you can find them without help. But this one bears looking into—it’s advice from personal experience.

#8—The Outdoor Adventure

The Outdoor Adventure is here because, in addition to being experience- and information-heavy, the blog is also located in British Columbia, a personal favorite camping land of mine (okay, okay—because I live here. But it’s really camping-oriented!) This family believes in getting out and adventuring, whether on a tight budget, have kids, or limited time. They focus on travelling light and on the experience.

#9—Beyond The Tent

What a great blog this is! It has a lot of info, well organized, for the camping family. How-to posts, recipes, gear and more, this blog is great for camping in the U.S. in state parks, national parks, and camp grounds. They even give you a free ebook for subscribing! (Yes, yes, I know; my freebie is coming, and I’ll send it to all my current subscribers as well so no one misses out.)

#10—Camping With Style

No proper camping blog list would be complete without this very professional and info-rich website. Its emphasis is on getting outdoors and having (or increasing) an active outdoor lifestyle. It’s loaded with news, reviews, festival and family camping, competitions and places you can stay in the U.K. So worth checking out!

Do You Have An Informative Camping Blog?

If so, just drop me a line and let me know—I give you a visit and leave a comment, and add you to this list! If you have a favorite camping blog I’ve missed, drop a line as well. When it comes to camping, you can’t have too many resources for getting outside and enjoying yourself in a tent!