A Packable Panini Press and Other Outdoor Gear You Never Knew You Needed

panini press

BuzzFeed’s list of 30 Insanely Useful Camping Products You’ll Wish You Knew About Sooner is an awesome assortment of good, bad and ugly outdoor equipment that you either need or need to avoid.

The Good

Water Filter. The MSR Miniworks water filter is fantastic. I’ve used it on numerous trips and it works great. Be aware that in the winter the ceramic will freeze and you won’t get any flow.

Inflatable Solar Lantern. My daughter got us a bunch of these blow-up solar lights. They are fun, lightweight and festive. Easy to pack but they do pop, so be careful.

Stormproof Matches. Seems like the only time I need to make a fire or light a stove is when it’s cold, drizzly, windy and my fingers barely work. Stormproof matches are like tiny highway flares that burn for a while even when the wind is blowing hard.

The Bad

Electronic Pest Repeller. Uh, yeah. And you also have a million dollars waiting for you in a Nigerian bank.

Poler Napsack. These things get great reviews. And yet… Maybe bring an emergency blanket just in case (mylar emergency blankets really work in a pinch.)

The Ugly

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EVA Poncho. They just look stupid.

Seriously though, most of the things on BuzzFeed’s list are worth a look, like the JetBoil backpacking stove – I wouldn’t get one ($$$) but they work as advertised and I’m always a little jealous of the folks that have these and are enjoying their hot freeze-dried Teriyaki chicken twenty minutes before I am.

How to Take Any Car Off-Roading [Insert Caveats Here]

off-roading in a sedan

Photo: VW Forum

So you want to venture into the wilderness but you don’t want to fork out the dough to build an ultimate adventure rig? No problemo. Outside Magazine tips you to what you need to venture off the beaten path no matter what kind of car you’re driving.

At the top of their list is traction because, well, it’s all about where the rubber meets the road. Or doesn’t as your case may be. So tires and tire repair are definite must-haves.

And if you have the derring-do to adventure into the outback in your Corolla, please read to the end of their article…which is all about recovery. Sand ladders, a tow strap and some kind strangers might be all it takes to make your trip something you can survive long enough to share with the grandkids.

Wide Open Spaces Are Going Fast – Map Shows How Fast

dwindling open spaces

You’ve heard of urban sprawl. Chances are you’re quite at home with it. But you might not be aware of how fast it spreads – an acre of land is lost to human development every 2-1/2 minutes according to the website Disappearing West.

An interactive map of disappearing open space gives a county-by-county view of land loss with an explanation of what is being lost and why development is taking place.

A team of scientists at the nonprofit Conservation Science Partners, or CSP, analyzed nearly three dozen datasets; a dozen types of human activities; and more than a decade of satellite imagery for 11 western states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

Here is what they found: Human development in the West now covers more than 165,000 square miles of land. That is roughly the size of 6 million superstore parking lots.

This development is growing fast. Between 2001 and 2011, natural areas in the West—including forests, wetlands, deserts, and grasslands—were disappearing at the rate of one football field every 2.5 minutes.

The aim of the site is to inform, inspire and motivate people to make an effort to protect open space before it is too late.

[Via Adventure Journal]

Giant List of the Best Off-Road Camping Trailers

off-road camping trailers

You like to get far off the beaten path but you hate sleeping on the ground. We get it. And so does the Adventure Portal with their buyers guide to off-road camping trailers. All in all they cover trailers from 32 different manufacturers, with a rundown of models, features and specs:

The styles of the off-road trailers covered in this article are:
(1) Teardrop.
(2) “Internal Living Space” trailers.
(3) Fully spec’d Box Frame/Expo.
(4) M416 Utility.
(5) Flatbed Toy Hauler.

Terrain capability of each off-road trailer is rated:
(a) Easy: graded fire roads where 4High is only used on occasions.
(b) Moderate: rough terrain where 4Low and high clearance is needed.
(c) Difficult: 4Low, lockers, high clearance required with careful wheel placement and spotters. Potential for trailer and rig damage.

The Adventure Portal’s guide has a great rundown of makes and models with prices and differences between models. With a wide range of trailers from off-grid capable teardrops to DIY project rigs, you’re bound to find something that works for you.

If that’s not enough, you can find even more camping trailers at:

6 Adventure-Going Off-Road Trailers from Gear Patrol
1001 Off-Road Trailers on Pinterest

UPDATED 5.25.2016: An incredibly comprehensive review of Turtleback trailers at Expedition Portal

UPDATED 5.27.2016: Gizmag lists the latest and greatest off-road camping trailers from Arizona’s Overland Expo.

And for the budget-minded? How about a roof rack and a two-person tent cot (available on Amazon)?

two person tent cot

True Grit is What Leads to Success…and Happiness

grit leads to success and happiness

John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit

If you need any more evidence about what it takes to find happiness, here it is – grit. Simply sticking to your master plan is a better indicator of success…and ultimately happiness…than brains or luck. This not-so-surprising news comes from a Time article about MacArthur genius Angela Duckworth and her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

Grit, when coupled with passion, purpose and a heaping spoonful of hope can help us go the extra mile and come out on top – even if you’re not well on your way to a “job you can love.”

David Yeager recommends reflecting on how the work you’re already doing can make a positive contribution to society… reflecting on purpose led students to double the amount of time they spent studying for an upcoming exam, work harder on tedious math problems when given the option to watch entertaining videos instead, and, in math and science classes, bring home better report card grades. Amy Wrzesniewski recommends thinking about how, in small but meaningful ways, you can change your current work to enhance its connection to your core values.

But before you go all in with the stiff upper lip and all that, just be warned that even Duckworth questions the hype that her notion of grit is getting.

I think the misunderstanding — or, at least, one of them — is that it’s only the perseverance part that matters. But I think that the passion piece is at least as important. I mean, if you are really, really tenacious and dogged about a goal that’s not meaningful to you, and not interesting to you — then that’s just drudgery. It’s not just determination — it’s having a direction that you care about.
–Angela Duckworth to The Science of Us

W. Ben Hunt – Grandaddy of the Makers

W. Ben Hunt from Indian Crafts and Lore

W. Ben Hunt from Indian Crafts and Lore

Even if you’ve never had the urge to make something with your hands, glancing through one of W. Ben Hunt’s beautifully illustrated tutorials will have you itching to chop down a tree and carve out a dugout canoe, tan a bear hide, make your own “mock” eagle feathers and so much more.

Hunt, born in 1888 was a largely self-taught graphic designer who developed a number of beautiful hand lettered alphabets (what we might call “fonts” today.) His attention soon turned to woodcraft and he parlayed his love for the outdoors into a full-time career writing and illustrating articles for Boy’s Life.

While his graphic style was exquisite and precise, Hunt’s instructional writing cut straight to the bone, highlighting only the most important details. You can instantly grasp how to sew leather, stamp leather or dance an Apache Devil Dance.

There’s more than a little anthropology mixed in with Ben Hunt’s crafts. Along the way you develop a solid appreciation and respect for native American culture. After all, who doesn’t want a grizzly bear claw necklace like the one below?

Most of W. Ben Hunt’s books are out of print but you can still find copies of his best books on Amazon.

How to make a bear claw necklace from Indian Crafts and Lore

How to make a bear claw necklace from Indian Crafts and Lore

Teardrop Trailer Holds its Own in the Outback

off road teardrop trailer

This Teardrop holds its own on technical trails | Photo Chris Cordes, Expedition Portal

One of the big questions about mechanized camping is whether the expense and trouble of a camper offsets the hassle of setting up and striking a tent. But when you’ve got a camping trailer as capable as the SoCal Teardrop the equation starts leaning in the direction of “camper.”

Chris Cordes takes an in-depth look at the performance of a fully outfitted SoCal teardrop and has a lot of good things to say. This rig was equipped with an ARB refrigerator powered by a couple of Goal Zero Boulder 30 solar panels which gives it some off-the-grid capability. The suspension was retrofitted and a fold-out side tent added.

But the best mod that was made to the trailer?

By the end of our first journey I had begun implementing a series of small changes aimed at making trailer more enjoyable and easier to live with. This began with swapping out the wheel on the tongue jack. As anyone who has pushed one of these things around can tell you, plastic wheels are awful for maneuvering. We picked up a pneumatic rubber model from AT Overland, and spent the rest of the year and a half thanking ourselves for such a smart decision. Seriously, it might be the best investment you’ll ever make.

If you have an inclination toward taking a trailer on one of your explorations, give this article a read.

Also: Tent Camping Vs. Trailer

We Designed the Best Roof Top Tent Ever. Sort of.

Car Camping in an 1967 Chevelle in the Arizona Desert

How to Remove a Fishhook and Other Extraction Tips

 

picture-2

Here’s some essential knowledge if you ever plan on fishing with me…via a tweet from Guy Kawasaki…Wired’s How-to Wiki explains how to remove a fishhook from a buddy.

But why stop there? Here are some other helpful extraction techniques you should know:

[Originally posted April 10, 2009]

How Robots Might Change Our Understanding of “Off the Beaten Path”

Concept for an Autonomous Exploration Vehicle | FastCo Design

Concept for an Autonomous Exploration Vehicle | FastCo Design

A road trip is the ultimate journey into the unexplored territory of one’s soul. FastCo Design asks the question “how will that change when cars drive themselves?”

Honda invited creative director Morihiro Harano to highlight the company’s autonomous driving tech by talking about his love for exploration:

“My inspiration for this project came from a few things,” Harano says. “My son’s and my love for motorhomes—we built one together from Legos—the tiny house movement—I love architecture—and a road trip in Iceland for a shoot on a very long and wild road. When I learned about Honda’s autonomous driving technology, those four things are came together for me. I thought if we could make a comfortable motorhome with autonomous driving technology, I would love to live my rest of life on the road, moving, traveling, enjoying a very long road trip on this planet, being a kind of new nomad.”

I wonder, though if one’s sense of being part of a bigger experience will get lost when we leave the driving to the bots. It might start feeling less like a road trip and more like a family vacation.

Two Dozen Free/Cheap Things to Do in Los Angeles – Plus a Few

Santa Monica pier

Santa Monica pier at night | Photo: ™ Pacheco via Matador network

Los Angeles is such a sprawling place that you have to plan carefully how to explore. Matador Network serves up nearly two dozen free or cheap things to do in the city of Angels that give you a real taste of the city – arguably much more so than a trip to Universal Studios.

You might not think of Los Angeles as a place to take in nature but Matador’s list even serves up a few waterfalls:

22. Go chasing waterfalls.
Cost: Free + gas + parking

There isn’t a ton of flowing fresh water in L.A., but if you know where to look there are trails that lead the adventurer to some small (hey, we take what we can get around here!) cascades. Wear sturdy shoes, sun protection, and bring plenty of water when doing any hiking.

Waterfalls to visit:

Monrovia Falls: An easy 1.7-mile hike from Monrovia Canyon Park entrance station (in Monrovia).
Eaton Canyon Falls: About 1.8 miles from the parking lot at the trailhead in Altadena and a very popular hike. If you have fantasies of having the waterfall to yourself, think again! Expect crowds.
Santa Ynez Falls: Perhaps easiest accessed from the trail system emanating from Topanga State Park. It’s about a 2.5-mile hike to the falls from the TSP parking lot.

To Matador’s list I’d add:

1) Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, everything you’ve ever seen in Core77 is on this street.(Check out the canals while you’re there.)
2) Central Library in Los Angeles – The Mother Lode of Art Deco
3) The Getty Museum – There are actually two Getty museums, Getty Center and Getty Villa. Both are free but you’ll need to pay for parking and at the Villa you need to make reservations.

The secret to enjoying Los Angeles is to visit neighborhoods that are close together – and avoid the 10 freeway if you can.

Lightweight Cardboard House Can Be Installed in One Day – Designed to Be Permanent

modular cardboard house

Modular cardboard Wikklehouse finished with wood panels | Photo © Wikkelhouse / Yvonne Witte

Cardboard has long been the stuff of dreams – the joke is that at Christmas children spend less time playing with a toy than with the box it came in. And few things are more exciting than the arrival of a new appliance and a box that can become an instant fortress or playhouse.

Now it’s cardboard’s chance to come of age with Wikkelhouse, a project for building modular housing developed by the Netherlands design firm Fiction Factory.

The houses are framed and then spun from rolls of cardboard on an armature in a factory. The cardboard is waterproofed, the modules are paneled inside and then shipped to their final location.

This is by no means the first time cardboard has been used as a permanent building material. But it might be one of the most energy efficient ways to build small scale dwellings.

[Via Contemporist]

Gut Check – Is Your Intestinal Biome Making You Crazy?

Bifidobacterium

Bifidobacterium longum | Image: Wikimedia Commons via Motherboard

You might want to skip the hand sanitizer after you read this…a new study from New York City’s Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai cited in the Huffington Post reveals that an imbalance in your intestinal flora could be making you mentally ill. Or worse.

In particular the study shows that intestinal bacteria may override genetics when it comes to illnesses like depression, anxiety and even neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis. Therapy for some of these disorders may be accomplished by getting one’s intestinal flora back in balance. But this…of course…will require more research.

In the mean time what can you do to get your gut in balance? You might think that ingesting “healthy” bacteria (think yogurt) is the way to go. But maybe not so fast. Mark Hyman, MD is big on the “oil change” – replacing polyunsaturated vegetable oils with healthy Omega 3 oils. Also fermented foods, in other words don’t hold the pickle.

Liam Springer also cautions to go easy on the probiotics. His contrarian idea is to add more dairy even…and maybe especially if…you are lactose intolerant Read the link, he explains it better than I can. And carrots.

All in all though, it seems like we need to spend more time listening to our gut.

5 Firefighting Tools that Belong in Your Tool Shed

fire crew photo by FEMA

Northern California fire crew working hot line in San Diego 2007 | Photo by Andrea Booher/FEMA

I worked one summer on a blue card fire crew, one of the best jobs ever. A ten-person crew can clear a trail five feet wide down to mineral soil almost as fast as you can walk it. The tools we used were so useful that I’m surprised at how rarely I see them in people’s sheds. Here is a round up of the tools we used and why they are so great.

Stihl Chain Saw 

stihl_chainsaw

A Stihl 76cc chainsaw with a 28 inch bar and a full skip chain handles limbs, trunks and logs up to 50 inches diameter or thereabouts. Michael Smith shares a firefighter’s perspective on chainsaws, noting that Husky is equally popular to the Stihl out on the fireline, but mainly because parts for both brands are likely to be stocked and readily available. Available at Stihl USA

Brush Hook

Hand crew sawyers are followed by two or three workers with brush hooks. The razor sharp curved blade can be used to pull branches and chop them. The curve of the blade makes it less likely to glance to the side or fall short on a stroke than a traditional axe when you’re clearing brush and shrubs. Wranglestar has a Youtube video explaining more about brush axes. Available on Amazon.

Pulaski Axe

A Pulaski is a hybrid axe and digging mattock – and next the chainsaw one of the most dangerous tools on the fire line. The point of the Pulaski is to dig up shallow roots and chop them so that a fire won’t cross the line underground (yes it happens). Check out the US Forest Service instructions for improving your Grubbing Technique. Available at Amazon.

Razorback Shovel

Just about everybody has a shovel of some kind. I always liked the Razorback because the tempered steel blade keeps a sharp edge all day long. The function of the shovel on a fire line is to cut turf and sweep it off the trail. The technique is to grasp the neck or socket of the shovel with your dominant hand, brace that arm against your knee which acts as a fulcrum. You use your other hand to pull back on the shovel’s handle like a lever which moves the blade across the ground with quite a bit of force. Razorback shovels are available on Amazon.

Mcleod

Last but not least is the Mcleod (pronounced “McCloud”) which is a hoe with an attitude. The purpose of the Mcleod is to clear the trail down to mineral soil with no clumps of organic matter in the mix. This is done primarily with the hoe blade but sometimes you come across sticks and debris and you simply turn the tool 180 and you’ve got a heavy duty rake. This thing isn’t for raking leaves but it’s dandy for chopping up a garden patch that’s gone fallow. Available through Amazon.

Trail Notes: Ballinger Canyon and Deer Park Jeep Trails

Shrubby Brushweed in Bloom Along Trail 24

Despite drought conditions this year, the Shrubby Brushweed plants are covered with yellow flowers in Ballinger Canyon. Other flowers blooming in the canyon are Hareweed, Phacelia, and Bush Lupine. It’s a different story in Quatal Canyon to the south where hardly any wildflowers are blooming at all.

On this trip to the Ballinger OHV park I was hoping to enter Deer Park Canyon from Highway 33, using Trail 23W31 marked as a through 4WD route on the Ballinger Canyon route map. It appears that Trail 23W31 is on private property. Trails 40 and 46 are both gated at approximately the place where the vertical black line intersects them on the map below.

Trail 23W31 Deer Park Canyon

I wound up scouting a number of trails, outline in lime green on the map below. (Click on the picture for a larger view.)

Ballinger Routes 24, 36, 40, 46

Trail 24 is an easy trail through high desert territory. The road is sandy, rocky and heavily “moguled,” making for a bumpy ride in places. The easternmost part of the trail includes a slight climb among scrub oak and pinyon pines. The trail is narrower here and more interesting. In wet weather it can be challenging, with deep ruts that could leave you high centered if you slipped off the trail.

Trail 40 includes some sections of moderate difficulty, with a steep climb up the ridge overlooking Deer Park Canyon. I’m assuming the moderate rating comes from a couple of pretty steep scrambles. I imagine some of the hillclimbs (and descents) could get pretty hairy following a big rain. In dry conditions these hills aren’t anything a little 4WD Low can’t handle. The trail is quite narrow in places, giving excellent views of the canyons on both sides.

Trail 40 travels a narrow ridge with no shoulder on either side.

Trail 46 follows a gentle grade to the floor of Deer Park Canyon. More moguls here and a few narrow places.

Trail 36 follows a wash along the floor of Deer Park Canyon. It’s a fun ride between steep walls in places. There was quite a bit of Bush Lupine in flower along this trail.

Bush Lupine in Bloom in Deer Park Canyon

As I said above, Trail 40 and 46 are gated, meaning that you can’t use them to exit to Highway 33 as maps indicate. But they are good for some nice out-and-back exploring. There were a handful of bikers and ATV riders in the park on this beautiful Saturday in Spring, but most of the time I felt I had the trails to myself.

Originally posted April 9, 2007.

Close to 100 Uses for Paracord – and Growing

nylon paracord

Paracord | Photo courtesy of More than Just Surviving

You’ve got one of those nifty paracord bracelets and you know that it must be good for something more than Macgyver-esque style. More than Just Surviving lines out 93 ways to use that paracord bracelet for more than drying laundry.

Here are just a few of the ways you can use paracord:

Belt or replacement belt,
Bolo tie,
Pet leash,
Knife handle wrap,
Support for a lean-to shelter.

Unravel the paracord and you’ve got high-strength inner threads that you can use for:

Fishing line,
Bowstring for a fire drill,
Dental floss,
Suture thread.

One thing you might not actually be able to use your paracord for? You guessed it – parachutes*.

* Check to be sure your paracord is certified 550 mil spec before using it to jump out of a plane.

[Via More than Just Surviving]