The Gear Doctor – September 2015

The Gear Doctor – Camping With Kidscamping4

 Camping can be the most enjoyable trip for kids, or it can be the most boring.  In this day of electronics, kids are always busy with something at home.  Rule #1: no electronics allowed on camping trips.  Getting to know nature and creating memories will stay with your child longer than playing video games.

Some fun activities include:

  1. Do It Yourself First Aid Kit: cartoon bandaids, bug towlettes, antiseptic wipes, calamine lotion, and gauze pads.  The Dollar store is a great place to get a themed zipper case and all the ingredients for the kit.  As your child puts the kit together,  teach him/her what each item is used for.
  1. Make your own bubbles:

To make your bubble mixture:

Dissolve the cornstarch in the water, stirring really well.  Then gently stir in the remaining ingredients.  Avoid creating a lot of froth.  Allow your mixture to sit for at least an hour, stirring occasionally if you see the cornstarch settling to the bottom.

To make your bubble wand:

 I used two drinking straws, and a length of yarn that was 6 to 8 times longer than the length of one straw.  Thread the yarn through the straws, tie a knot, and you’re good to go!

  1. Make papier mache:

Start with one cup water and one cup flour.  Mix together in a large flat bowl until smooth.  Tear 1” strips of newspaper and dip into mixture.  You can use plastic cups, blown up balloons, or things found in nature, such as pinecones as your base.  Place wet strips over the base and smooth out.  Continue layering strips until you have the desired thickness.  Allow to dry overnight.  Paint or decorate with leaves, twigs, and tiny pinecones, using plain white glue.  You’ll need to bring watercolors and brushes if you decide to paint it….cleanup is easy!

  1. Make your own trail mix. You’ll need ziplock bags, nuts, dried fruit, coconut, chocolate or butterscotch chips, pretzels, etc.  Let your child use a small cup to measure each ingredient and place into the bag.
  1. Look at trail maps close to the camping area. There may even be some right in the campground.  Take a hike to a fun destination such as a waterfall.  Don’t overdo or try to do too many miles in a day.  For a beginning hiker under 5, 2 miles round trip is plenty.  For an older child up to age 10, 3 or 4 miles is OK.  Have a daypack ready for your child, and have him/her fill it with trail mix, water bottle (a must!),  first aid kit and box juices.  Camera and binoculars are optional but fun.  If you see wildlife, these items will come in handy.  DO NOT approach wildlife or attempt to feed it.  Feel free to use a cell phone video setting to capture some live action.  Hiking will tire your child and they will sleep well at night!
  2. Don’t forget games: playing cards, jigsaw puzzles, yarn kits, and collecting jars for bugs and leaves.  When you get home, you can press leaves between wax paper and place between two towels.  Iron on low to melt the wax paper around the leaves, and your child has a lasting memory from the hike.  Remember to PLAY with your child on a camping trip, and you will all have an enjoyable, happy memory!

We are very pleased to have Anita Hudson Easton back on our writing staff as author of our monthly Gear Doctor.  Anita is a 30 year veteran of the Outdoor Industry and is an expert in the design, manufacturing, care and maintenance of outdoor gear!

Celestial Navigator – April 2015

 April Stargazing and the Zodiacal Light

Tonight, or any night after sunset in this month of April 2015, people around the world will see the dazzling planet Venus in the western sky. Then … wait a bit zodiacal_light_600for the sky to get fully dark. After twilight ends, the elusive zodiacal light might appear in your western sky with Venus – if your sky is dark enough. For those living in the Northern Hemisphere, Venus can be your guide to the evening zodiacal light this month. This is a good time of year to see the zodiacal light in the evening from mid-northern latitudes.

As twilight ends, if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, look for Venus in the midst of the mysterious zodiacal light – a cone of light jutting upward from the western horizon about 80 to 120 minutes after sunset.

April 13 – 18 – International Dark Sky Week. International Dark Sky Week is held during the week of the new moon in April. It is a week during which people worldwide turn out their outdoor lights in order to observe the wonders of the night sky without light pollution. It has been endorsed by the International Dark-Sky Association, the American Astronomical Society, the Astronomical League. So go ahead and turn out your outdoor lights this week to appreciate the beauty of the night sky!

April 18 – New Moon. The Moon will be located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky. This phase occurs at 18:56 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint object such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.

April 22, 23 – Lyrids Meteor Shower. The Lyrids is an average shower, usually producing about 20 meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by dust particles left behind by comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, which was discovered in 1861. The shower runs annually from April 16-25. It peaks this year on the night of the 22nd and morning of the 23rd. These meteors can sometimes produce bright dust trails that last for several seconds. The first quarter moon will set shortly after midnight, leaving fairly dark skies for the what could be a good show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Lyra, but can appear anywhere in the sky.

April 25 – International Astronomy Day. Astronomy Day is an annual event intended to provide a means of interaction between the general public and various astronomy enthusiasts, groups and professionals. The theme of Astronomy Day is “Bringing Astronomy to the People,” and on this day astronomy and stargazing clubs and other organizations around the world will plan special events. You can find out about special local events by contacting your local astronomy club or planetarium. You can also find more about Astronomy Day by checking the Web site for the Astronomical League.

The Gear Doctor for September 2014

Most often, when people return from an exhausting camping trip, the last thing they want to do is clean all of the gear they took with them. Being out in the wilderness and lacking the effective cleaning supplies we are accustomed to seeing in the cupboard underneath our kitchen sinks, often only the “quick clean” of gear is done, and it tends to be left that way once we return home. But good enough doesn’t always cut it – think of the money you spent on your equipment and what it would cost to replace if not properly cared for. Check out our advice for how to best clean your gear and with what products to ensure it lasts as long as possible, continuing to assist you on adventurous camping trips for years to come.

Boots
The best way you can guarantee your boots will be kept in great shape is to make sure you take 10-20 minutes cleaning them up after each trip. First, remove the laces and insoles, if they are removable. Start with warm water and a small brush (a firm-brush toothbrush will do) that is able to reach into the cracks and crevices of the boots, and start brushing. If a small brush is just not cutting it, browse more specialized tools meant for boot cleaning. When the obvious dirt has been removed, rinse the brush and go over the boots again, but this time with warm water and a boot cleaner. If none is available, a mild dish soap will do. Stay away from laundry detergent or bar soap, as they can damage the boots through residue. Allow the boots to dry in room temperature. Many people use the quick-dry method of drying their boots next to a fire or in the hot sun, but this can cause the leather to become brittle and the adhesive parts of the boot to wear out. The best way to dry them quickly is to place them in front of a fan. If you don’t have a fan, REI suggests using newspapers that are shoved in each boot, which work to absorb excess moisture. Place boots upside down during drying, as this speeds up the process. Once the boots are dry, make sure to use a conditioner coating if they are looking cracked. Also, waterproof boots after each use. Many people want to remove the smell from their boots, so place each in a large, sealed bag and keep them in the freezer for 48 hours, which will kill the bacteria causing the stink. Store boots in a spot where the temperature remains constant, keeping them in perfect condition until your next adventure.

Cooking Supplies
Cleaning your camping cookware is a little less time consuming that caring for your footwear, but still just as important when it comes to preserving your gear. We all do the quick clean on cookware during camping trips, but spending time actually getting rid of the bacteria and grime when you get home is crucial. Fill each pot and pan with hot water and add several drops of soap – use biodegradable if you’re out on the trail doing the once-over clean. Make sure to use any kind of soap, even if it is biodegradable, at least 200 feet away from water sources. Scrub the inside of each several times using a rough sponge or pot scrubber. Rinse the pots with clean water and put them aside to dry. In the case of cooking supplies, the at-home deep clean is pretty obvious, but as for on-the-trail advice, place your cookware in separate pockets of your pack or wrap them in bags to avoid the blackened bottom of pots and pans from staining other equipment.

Tent
Making sure your tent lasts a long life starts the first time you set it up at a campsite. Ensure there are no objects below the tent such as rough plants, rocks, or roots, because this is the number one way tents are destroyed. This isn’t to say you just tear any vegetation to make room for your tent, but rather find a space that has even, clean ground that is already in existence. Making sure the bottom of your tent is also protected on the inside is another thing to think about. Consider purchasing a footprint, which is a barrier between your feet and the bottom of the tent that covers the entire surface of the floor. In addition, make sure the tent is taught when securing it with stakes to prevent any area becoming a catch basic for water or other debris, REI recommended. Make a habit of not wearing shoes inside the tent, and that should help to keep dirt and debris outside, but still make sure to sweep or shake it out several times when you’re done. Something else people don’t consider as often when setting up camp is that most tents are made of nylon, which is worn away by the sun. Try to set up the tent in a shaded area to prolong its life. When packing the tent away at home, the most imperative factor of whether or not it will last is if it’s dry or not. Set up the tent when you get back home and use a non-abrasive sponge, cold water, and a non-detergent soap to clean the inside and outside. Any cleaning products with a perfume smell will attract bugs. Once it is fully dry, pack away in a room temperature, dry location.