Category: Gear

Some of the Best Apps for Hiking – Plus How to Hike Without Your Phone

We’ve gotten to the point where it’s hard to imagine going anywhere without our phones. And it just so happens that there is a great crop of apps to enhance your experience outdoors.

But just so we’re clear on this, no app is going to take the place of basic woodcraft skills. Think about it – your battery could die. Your phone could die. You can be in a place where you get no signal. You need to know what to do when you can’t count on your phone.

Fortunately some of the best trail apps help you prepare for the worst.

Knowstartup rounds up 10 Apps that Every Hiker Shouldn’t Live Without. Along with tracking apps like Map My Hike, this list has first aid and safety apps such as the SAS Survival Guide.

Not on the Knowstartup list, and one of my favorite apps, is GAIA GPS, a mapping app that has offline navigation tools for areas with no cellular service.

If you’re planning a true wilderness hike by all means take a look at Knowstartup’s list. But also get familiar with some good old-fashioned map and compass skills.

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


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.

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

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 


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.


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.

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]

Get Your Point Across in Any Language with this Clever Shirt

iconspeak multilingual shirt

ICONSPEAK shirt has universal symbols for travelers | Photo by ICONSPEAK

It’s a good idea to learn the language of a country when you travel. Little things like bus signs, menus and movie marquees make more sense. But if you don’t have the 3 months it takes to learn a language, or even if you know the language and simply can’t get your point across, then this shirt from Iconspeak can help you out. With 39 universal symbols covering transportation, dining, and services you can easily get your point across for most basic needs. And if your shirt is ready for the wash they even have a tote bag.

Also of interest, The 18 Universal Symbols that Make it Easier to Travel in Japan and The Wordless Travel Book.

[Via My ModernMet]

Gear Filter: How to Avoid Going Broke Buying Adventure Gear

Mark Shipman's Garage via

Mark Shipman’s Garage via

Our ancestors went camping with little more than a breechcloth and stick. Nowadays you can’t get out without your Osprey Stratos pack and MSR Hubba Hubba.

There’s no upper limit to how much you can spend on adventure gear. The big question is how much do you really need?

The Last Whole Earth Catalog gives us the answer with a handy little “gear filter.”

As Dan Schiller suggested in Popular Photography, the CATALOG will bankrupt you if you can’t distinguish between what you need and what you wish you needed.

Start extravagant, and you’ll never finish. Get the cheap tool first, see if it feeds your life. If it does, then get a better one. Once you use it all the time, get the best. You can only grow into quality. You can’t buy it.

Most of the stuff in the CATALOG can be borrowed free from a library.

Good advice. Start with a Jansport pack and pair of comfy sneakers and try a six mile hike on for size. If you start doing this every weekend move up from there. And don’t be afraid to beg, borrow or even rent gear for your next adventure.


Adventure: Sign Up Now and You Could Be One of the First People to Mountain-Bike on the Moon

Photo via

Photo via

It’s one bunny-hop for a man (or woman) but it’s one giant lunge for mankind. announces an out-of-this-world travel package for mountain bikers giving you a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore some of the gnarliest single track in the galaxy. Check out Evo’s moon biking offer here. [Via pinkbike]

Also – Awesome Gear Announced in April

All-Sport Performance Lederhosen

Who knew that lederhosen would return as the ultimate multi-sport performance wear? (With a ball-tight fit and moisture wicking no less.)

A Backpacking Tent So Light It Fits in Your Shirt Pocket

You’ve seen all the buzz about tiny houses. Now it’s tiny tents with REI’s Gulliver line of micro-tents.


Minimalist Trail Sandals

The Chaco Barefoot-Z sandal takes minimal running shoes to the logical extreme.

One final note on all this amazing gear – check the date on the post.


[Via REI blog, Gear Junkie, Runblogger]

On the Road with Jucy Lucy – Our Experiment with Low Cost RV Rental

I’ve always wanted to rent an RV but every time I looked into the deets I found them crazy expensive to rent. Well, the ones I looked into a required a huge ($2500) deposit. Granted there are better deals if you take some time to look into the best rates for rv rentals, but I stopped looking.

Enter Jucy Campers. You don’t go looking for Jucy, Jucy comes looking for you. By that I mean the lime-green-and-purple paint job is so loud you can hear it two blocks away. The good news is that Jucy RV rates are about what you’d pay for any mini-van, and quite a bit less than most hotels.

Because I’m lazy (hey, my vacation starts NOW) I’ll let Travel Fashion Girl provide the full review. Let’s just say that aside from the relative hassle of picking up an RV from Lawndale, my initial experience with Jucy has been great. The Jucy website recommends taking the Hostel Hopper from LAX, which I sorta did. NOTE: Jucy has a bad link to Hostel Hopper so you’ll need to follow the link above (or google Hostel Hopper). The nice people at the Hopper had know idea that Jucy was referring them, but my lift was prompt, pleasant and cheaper than a taxi.

Getting the Jucy van home and packed was a snap and we’re getting ready to roll out of here. So far the only downside is terrible racket made by the Jucy-provided kitchen gear. I stuffed towels around all the pots and pans and crockery and hopeful it will be a little better than a 5.0 earthquake in a china shop.

Love Camping but Can’t Part with Your Mid-century Modern Life? Try These

Face it, sometimes you want to live in a better part of town. Maybe on the grounds of a rolling estate or some place you can fish from your back porch. Architizer features the Markies camper, something like an Eichler home in a box.

If you’ve got a spare $55,000 in your budget, then check out the Spartan Carousel, sparkling like a diamond among a bunch of canned hams on MessyNessyChic. The Carousel was a premiere offering of the Spartan trailer company, demonstrating that trailer life could be fashionable. (So many ironies.)

Maybe Frank Gehry type, if so check out this pop-out postmodern camping trailer.

But for camping in the era of the Apocalypse, this one has my money – a tent trailer that fits in a shopping cart.

Is BMW’s i3 at the Frontier of Driving Technology? (Hint: It Comes with a Spitoon)

I don’t know if lumbersexual tobacco-scented hipsters are anywhere near the core of the market for the i3, but if they are BMW is ready for them with this rugged rustproof ABS squirt bucket.

This plastic ash-can isn’t unique to the i3, nor are many other features such as Connected Drive and BMW Assist. But when you roll them all together in an advanced carbon-fiber package it starts feeling as if the future has arrived. Sadly, without a jetpack.

After three weeks of driving I have a very strong feeling of being networked. This car was designed around ecosystems, electric grids, cellular systems and highway infrastructure. The BMW i3 Remote app, which lets you pre-heat or pre-cool your car when it’s plugged in, has hooks to link with Life360, a service that let’s your family and friends creep on your driving habits. So yes, even social networking plays into the design of the i3.

We’re just around the corner from the end of the automobile as we know it. With the BMW i3 the era of the Hypercar has begun. But I don’t think this era will last terribly long. The self-driving car isn’t very far on the horizon and by the time that happens we may well stop thinking about cars as cars and more as mobile offices or lounges. And when that day comes just remember that the BMW i3 helped you get there.

BMW i3 Stability Control Just Saved My Ass

Yesterday some doofus in a Dodge Magnum decided to test the general properties of matter by occupying my lane while I was still in it. I swerved hard to avoid the oncoming rear quarter panel of the Dodge and then swerved back to avoid causing a chain reaction of my own.

At least that’s what I think happened. Maybe the car took over control after my initial swerve and helped me back into my lane. The whole thing happened in less than a heartbeat.

BMW’s car-and-driver-are-one stability response felt really weird, icky and unpleasant in action. To me it felt like the torsion on the wheels was making them buckle and collapse. And then suddenly the car bounced back into it’s lane – like riding a beach ball in a rodeo. I don’t ever want to do that again.

But I’m alive. Unscratched. And happy. If I swerved like that in my Jeep Wrangler there’s a better than good chance I’d have hit the ground hard.

Thanks BMW. Your car of the future just preserved mine.

BMW i3 First Drive – Whoosh!!!

Driving the BMW i3 is a huge change from my gas-hungry Jeep TJ. The i3 has a distinctly golf-cart feel with the smooth silent and instant acceleration. Once you’ve got it up to speed – only 7 seconds if you floor it (compared to 7.4 seconds for the Scion TC) – the ride begins to feel like a bullet train. The i3 hums along, floating like it’s on rails.

There is a little side-to-side liveliness on the despicably paved freeways of southern California. This might have something to do with the i3’s light weight but I’m guessing it has more to do with the narrow bicycle tires that aim to cut down rolling resistance.

The (Nearly) Self-Driving Car of My Dreams

The most amazing aspect of driving the i3 is the Active Cruise Control. Lock in your top speed and the car practically drives itself. You still have to steer but the car takes care of all the stopping and starting that makes bumper-to-bumper traffic such a soul-sucking exercise.

Oddly I find that I’m MORE alert when I’ve got the ACC engaged because a car that cuts in front of you won’t trigger the automatic braking right away. But it’s a zen-like awareness that’s vastly different from the brake-gas-brake-gas-coast-brake-brake dance that I do for at least an hour every day.

The BMW i3’s Dirty Little Secret

The best thing about driving the i3 is something I’ve never heard anyone talk about – sneaking up behind people in parking lots and tapping your horn. Man do they jump!

The BMW i3 is so quiet that people don’t hear you while they are walking. They tend to freak out when they notice that there’s suddenly a car right behind them. It’s funny but I’m finding myself being an ultra-defensive driver when there are people nearby. Much the same as riding a motorcycle, where you have to assume drivers won’t see you, in the i3 you have to assume that they won’t hear you and could easily step right in front of you.

In the Twisties

The BMW i3 handles twisting mountain roads like a champ. The short wheelbase and low center of gravity make the i3 more than adequate on ultra-winding hairpins (Potrero road anyone?). But the best part of the experience is the regenerative braking that starts as soon as you back off the accelerator. You’ve got positive control of the car through turns without ever having to reach for the brake.

In General a Pretty Satisfying Ride

The range extender is what sold me on the BMW i3, not the ride. To be sure it was important to have a comfortable, quiet cabin so that I can convert some drive-time into dictation-time. And the Active Cruise Control is soothing to already jangled nerves.

The zippy, smooth and powerful driving response is just icing on the cake.


[Image: BMW]

How I Leased a BMW for $0 (Almost)

Here’s the deal – I live in my car. That’s to say I spend almost two hours every day dragging my sad briefcase across two counties to the salt mines. For the privilege I shuck out over $400 big ones to fill the ample gas tank on my lumbersexual Jeep TJ.

But you can only push a man so far. I broke out the yellow pad and a stubby pencil and applied an advanced form of math known as Teslanomics to calculate how much it would cost me to lease a plug-in hybrid.

Turns out on paper I could actually MAKE MONEY by leasing an electric powered car. And don’t worry, the plan is only slightly more complicated than Milo Minderbinder’s arrangement to buy eggs for 7 cents, sell them to the US government for 5 cents, clearing an 8 cent profit per egg. Basically it hinges on getting the monthly lease payment down below what I pay for gasoline.

So I went ahead and pulled the trigger on a lease for a BMW i3 – loaded (or maybe half-loaded) and joined the ranks of electron moochers who comb the streets looking for charge points the way ants look for sugar. I will confess that an idiotic mistake on my part at the dealership ended up with me getting an extra $50 sliced off the monthly payment. Horse trading is overrated, you simply need to be dumb and have lots of luck.

So life is good, right? I HAD NO IDEA A BMW WOULD BE SO FRICKIN’ EXPENSIVE TO INSURE!!!! My stubby pencil math went bad at this point. Maureen and I had some time earlier calculated insurance premiums on the basis of a STUPID CHEVY SPARK. The cost of insurance seemed no obstacle (see CHEVY SPARK, above) to carrying out my evil plan. So it was all systems go. Until it wasn’t.

Well, here I am, an electron hobo with a shiny BMW i3 plugged into my garage, working an extra two hours a day in the mines to make up for a couple of bad numbers. Your mileage may vary.