Category Archives: Rafting gear

Portable Toilet Cleaning

The worst part of a whitewater river trip is the take-out. Typically it’s where the entire world seems to congregate at the exact same time to load up for the trip home. It’s hot, dusty, and no one wants to be there.

rocket box
20mm rocket box containing an eco toilet

To make matters worse, there’s a job that needs to be done that can be downright nasty. Remember that nice portable river toilet you’ve been joyfully pooping into for the past couple of days? Yeah, it’s full of the entire trip’s poop, and it needs to be cleaned…guess who’s been elected for that job? YOU!

Scat Machine to the Rescue

Fortunately, this nasty chore has gotten much easier with the advent of scat machines. Most popular multi-day river trip takeouts have these little gems of engineering marvels.

Gone are the days you had to transport your poop over the pass to your home town hoping the methane build up in the toilet system wasn’t getting to explosive levels. (I’ve seen someone almost lose their arm when they flipped the latch and the can exploded…nasty)

You no longer have to drive around town hoping to find an RV dump site that will allow you to dump your can of shit. Now the whole dump and cleanup can be done at the takeout. It’s easy, fairly sanitary and best of all, your done, done, done.

The system i’m most familiar with is the scat machine. It’s a large contraption that’s built in the unlikely town of French Glen, Oregon by the French Glen Blacksmiths. The operation is simple and only requires 1 dollar to operate. (I spend an extra buck and do it twice)

The directions are posted on the machine itself and are pretty self explanatory. I have a few tips though:

  1. They want you to strap down your box to the cleaning surface. The straps you use are in the cleaner when you close the door and come out wet. I don’t think those straps are sanitary after that. So my suggestion is to use specific straps for the job, the poop straps. 2 footers work great. 
  2. Wear a pair of rubber gloves during this entire process. When you open the contraption after the washing, you have to reach in there and unstrap your can. Everything is dripping wet, it makes me feel better to have some rubber between my skin and the wetness.
  3. Spend an extra dollar and send the pooper through the cycle twice. This assures you get every last drop of pooh. Spend the extra buck to avoid any tenacious bits.
  4. Be sure you have dollar bills packed somewhere on your trip. There aren’t generally cash machines at river takeouts and the scat machine doesn’t give change, only dollar bills and quarters are acceptable.

These machines truly are great. They make the whole poop cleaning ordeal much easier.

Camp Coffee: Melitta Style

You’re on a river trip, or  a camp trip, everything’s wonderful. All the logistics and planning are done, all the chaos is behind you and now it’s time to be in the wilderness enjoying yourself.

Steaming cup of Coffee
Steaming cup of Coffee

The first morning you pull yourself from your sleeping bag and wonder where you’re going to get a cup of coffee. Will it be cowboy coffee? instant? Will there even be coffee? Yes there’s coffee and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be the best cup of coffee you’ve ever had.

Just because you’re in the wilderness, doesn’t mean you have to suffer, particularly if you’re on a river trip. Rafts can carry a lot of gear, some of that should be reserved for coffee brewing.

I’ve seen all sorts of ways people brew coffee in the wild. Through much trial and error, the way we do it produces the best cup of coffee.

This is the best way to brew coffee on a raft trip!

Coffee Melitta
Coffee Melitta

We bring a large coffee pot, a large pot to boil water, a ladle, a Melitta, filters, and fresh ground coffee beans (very important to grind the coffee before the trip).

here’s the routine:

In the morning we fill a large pot with fresh water and put it on the stove. If you have a jet burner, that’s the quickest method, but a good old standard camp stove works too, just takes longer.

While the water’s coming to a boil, place the melitta on the coffee pot with a number 4 coffee filter inside. We like our coffee strong so we put a lot of coffee grounds in the filter, not too much though, you don’t want an overflow.

When the water’s at a rolling boil, carefully scoop with the ladle and pour over the coffee grounds. you’ll hear the satisfying drip, then the rush of a steady stream as it starts filling the coffee pot. Keep at it, adding more water as the level allows.

 

Don’t allow anyone to pour themselves a cup until you have a full pot (beat them back with the ladle). If you pour prematurely, that person’s cup of Joe will be very strong, but everyone elses will be weaker.

As the water drips through the melitta it seeps the nectar from the grounds, so each time the water picks up less and less coffee. It seems obvious but i’ll say it anyway, the first few ladlefulls of water will be stronger coffee than the last few. If you allow the process to continue uninterrupted, the super strong will mix with the weaker and you’ll have a perfect cup of coffee. Be patient, and ruthless!

If you have a big pot of coffee to fill you may have to replace the coffee filled filter with another before you’re done brewing. This is controversial, but there’s a wonderful way to tell when your coffee filter needs to be re-done.

When you’re ladling boiling water into the melitta, you’ll notice the coffee grounds will start to change. At first they float and bubble as the water drips through, then they get saturated and things go along wonderfully.

But eventually the water will take longer to percolate through. You’ll notice the grounds will become almost solid, melted together. You’re getting close to having to start over, but the way to truly know is when the water takes on a glassy, calm lake look.  There may be a bubble that forms. This is a sure sign it’s time to start over. If you continue, you’ll be adding minimal content and almost clear, very weak coffee that takes an age to drip through.

The plusses to this method:  you’ll have a very good cup of coffee…that’s a huge plus.

The minuses: it takes awhile (the person in charge is tied to the job until it’s done), If you didn’t start the process before people have woken, you may have to fight them off until it’s ready. Plan to wake at least 20 minutes earlier than everyone else to allow enough time for a full pot.

I’ve been on lots of river trips and seen all kinds of coffee making methods but I believe for the best cup of coffee, this is the best method. It takes some time and effort, but it’s well worth it in the long run…besides, you’re on the river…what’s the rush?

Travel Hacks: For a River/Camp Trip

32 ounce Nalgene water bottle
32 ounce Nalgene water bottle

You’re tasked with cooking breakfast for the final morning of a 3 day raft trip. You decide on everyone’s favorite breakfast: eggs and bacon. But how do you transport eggs on a river trip without having them break all over your river cooler? There’s an easy hack and it doesn’t involve one of those  backpacking egg carriers…this hack is  easier, more effective and fool proof.

Most river people I know have a Nalgene water bottle somewhere in their gear. If you don’t, shame on you. Figure out what you do have and use it for the same purpose.

For this hack, I use a 32 ounce  Nalgene water bottle. It’s the correct size and it’s what we use every time.

Like most hacks this one’s easy:

  1. Be sure the Nalgene bottle is clean
  2. Crack a dozen eggs into the bottle (that’s all a 32 ounce water bottle will take)
  3. Screw the lid on…and you’re done!

The eggs are intact and unless you didn’t put the lid on correctly, aren’t in danger of spilling. A dozen eggs packaged neatly and securely in your cooler.

Now you don’t have to worry about breaking the damned things every-time you open the cooler. Since they’re safe in the bottle you don’t have to pack them on top either. Feel free to shove them all the way to the bottom of the cooler.

 

If you’re doing scrambled eggs, here’s a hack to the hack…shake the bottle of eggs vigorously until all the yolks are evenly distributed…wallah! the eggs are scrambled and ready to be poured into a hot pan for cooking.

If you’re doing fried eggs it’s trickier but possible. The eggs are in stasis in the bottle, the yolks intact. Carefully pour a few out, ready to break off when you see the whites have a separation. Have a knife ready to cut any hangers on, then carefully tip the bottle upright saving the rest for the next batch.

It can be tough separating them but I’ve found cooking the entire dozen as fried eggs gets the pan crowded fast. It’s tough to separate and flip the eggs if there are too many cooking at once.

There you go: a travel hack for  transporting eggs on a river/camping trip.

Remember: the river seasons almost upon us…stay hungry.

Igloo Coolers for Rafts Review

I have always used Igloo coolers in my raft setup for a couple reasons. The main reason is because the cooler fits perfectly in most raft frames.

I’m not sure which came first the cooler or the raft, but they seem to fit perfectly; like they were made for each other.

Igloo cooler
Igloo cooler

The other reason? They keep ice pretty well. But…not so well that i’m discounting all other coolers. In fact, the most recent Igloo cooler we bought has got me wondering if I should switch brands altogether.

Here’s the deal, we bought a brand new Igloo cooler last river season. We always get the one’s with the flat lid because they’re easier to deal with in a raft. The raised, shaped lids are a pain in a fully packed raft, so we get the basic flat lid without any of the special little openings. They’re actually becoming harder and harder to find (people love their gimmicks).

 

A year later; one river season later; this cooler looks likes it’s been to the barber. Both front latches have broken off, making it impossible to truly close it up tight. One side has completely lost the rope and wood handle. It’s gone, snapped off, leaving only the plastic anchor. The other side handle is half off.

Broken handle
Broken handle

So, this cooler is basically useless. It’s actually worse than useless, it’s dangerous. In order to use it we have to put a cam buckle strap around the side without a handle in order to carry it.

We pack our coolers heavy, so you can imagine trying to move it from the back of the truck to the raft. It’s hard enough moving a fully loaded cooler when both the straps are functional. It’s downright dangerous with a strap and half a handle. Every time we do it were ready to bail out if that half a handle breaks.

The thing that really galls me though, besides the fact that it’s fallen apart after only one season, is how expensive the replacement parts are. In order to fix that broken handle, which is simply a matter of replacing the side hinge plate, it will cost us 50 bucks. It’s just a bit of plastic and some screws.

Useless handle attachment
Useless handle attachment

Since we spent a lot of money on the initial cooler buy, I’m unwilling to pay for that part (I need two). I have no idea about the front latches, or even if you can replace them.

Now that the bulk of the river season is over, I’m not going to spend any more money on this damned cooler. I’m going to explore different options.

Broken front clasp
Broken front clasp

I don’t know what’s happened to quality of the igloo coolers. They used to be work horses, but now they seem fickle.

I’m impressed with the Yeti coolers, a friend of mine has one and they seem well made and worth the rather extravagant price tag.

Igloo has served me well for many years but now I think it’s time to move on.

Camping Cots

Since I’ve turned 40 sleeping on the ground has lost a bit of its mystique. When I was in my 20’s I used to pride myself on minimalist camping methods which meant I slept on a thin, short thermarest pad. The thing was designed to roll up into almost nothing…perfect for stuffing into the back of a kayak on some gnarly multi-day class V river in the high Sierra’s.

But I have evolved I suppose, into more of a wuss. I still do hard rivers in my kayak, but more often than not, I’m sitting in the front of our family raft as my beautiful wife rows me down the undulating rapids of the Rogue river.

 

So, I decided to upgrade to a more human sleeping platform. Something soft, something looking a lot like a bed.

I got a nice large comfortable sleeping pad. That went very well for a number of years. It was worth the extra weight and the incredible bulk of the thing would fit into a dry bag, as long as there was nothing else in it.

But we’re rafting. It’s like RVing, or car camping; you can bring whatever you  want as long as it doesn’t sink the boat. It’s hard to sink a 15 foot inflatable raft.

The Cot

You can set these up anywhere
You can set these up anywhere

But this river season something new happened which forever changed my river sleeping habits. My wife bought us both camping cots for Father’s day (I don’t know why she got one too, best not to ask).

when I first saw the thing, I was apprehensive, I mean a thick pad is one thing but a cot seems like an extravagance only for Kings.

I set it up on our driveway and was impressed with how easy it was. I remember an old Army cot someone tried to sell me… you needed an engineering degree from MIT to make it work.

This new camping cot was slick. I walked around it admiring its slim features and tight fabric over rounded metal alloy. I laid down on it…Wow! This thing is comfortable even without a pad. That was my next question: do I need a pad? Hell, were rafting why not.

I was picturing myself sleeping on a river bank anywhere I wanted. I wouldn’t need to flatten out a sandy spot, digging my bed like a dog. I could lay this baby anywhere, level the legs out with ease. I pictured myself almost in the river, away from crawling bugs and clouds of mosqitos. Hmm this thing might just work.

My first river trip with my new camping cot was on the Rogue. It was heavenly. Super comfortable, I never slept better on a river trip.

Another amazing discovery; I realized I could sit on the side of the cot to take my sandals on and off.  I wasn’t on the ground, I was in a sitting position. Comfortably sitting there getting ready for bed.

I could even stow my sandals and clothes under the cot and not worry about them getting wet from dew. Can you tell, I’m in love with my cot? I am, madly and deeply in love.

Sure they require a whole dry bag just for themselves and sure they’re damned heavy, but will I ever do another raft trip without my cot…hell no!

River Trip Packing Essentials: the Day Bag

The items from the day bag kept us warm

When packing for a river trip it’s pretty obvious you need a couple changes of clothes sleeping bag, sleeping pad, shoes, etc… This post isn’t about the obvious stuff, this is about the importance of the Day Bag.

So what the hecks a day bag? A day bag is a sealable water proof bag (dry bag), that’s about half the size of a full dry bag.

It’s different from a full dry bag because it doesn’t get loaded deep in the raft during the day. Your full dry bag is filled with things you’ll need at camp, not things you may need during the day.

The day bag is smaller so it’s easier to attach to the top of the main load in the raft. It should be small enough so you can attach it with a simple carabiner. This makes the bag accessible without too much trouble.

What’s in a day bag? It should contain articles of clothing you may need throughout the day. Your day may start off summery warm, but what happens if an unanticipated rain storm rolls through? Do you have something warm you can put on? That’s what should be in the day bag.

Here’s what I typically have in my day bag:

  • A medium weight, long-sleeved polypropylene shirt
  • A lightweight splash jacket (it doesn’t need to be waterproof), mostly to stay warm in wind
  • A light waterproof pair of rain pants and coat

Pretty basic stuff, but it can make you a lot more comfortable if the weather changes. And, since it’s in the easily accessible day bag, you don’t need to untie your raft load to get it. Simply unclick the carabiner and you’re good to go.

My family of four can easily fit the clothing listed above in our day bag.

However, the day bag always seems to grow during a river trip. By the end of a 3 day trip it’ll be filled with things that weren’t originally in it: T-shirts, socks, camp shorts, the list goes on. Usually its items that didn’t get put into the full dry bag before they were loaded on the raft.

Sometimes the bag gets so out of hand we’ll have to start a second day bag. But that’s okay, the day bag needs to be small, but if you’ve got room there’s no reason not to have more than one.

Mid-Winter Raft Care: 5 tips

A well taken care of raft

Were smack dab in the middle of Winter. Do you know where (how) your whitewater raft is doing? If you’re like most rafters, probably not. It’s mid-winter who wants to get out on a cold river?

Not me, but this is a good time to check in on your raft and see how it’s faring through the Winter. After all Spring is only a few short months away.

Here’s a list of mid-Winter checks you should do on your whitewater raft:

1. If your boat is deflated and rolled up, you should flip it onto the other side. Just  like humans, if it’s in the same spot for a long time, it can develop wear spots just like we develop bed sores.

 

2. Be sure the raft isn’t sitting in a wet spot (eww). Rafts love the water, but in Winter water can freeze and that can damage valves and even the raft thwarts and tubes. Wipe off any wetness with a dry towel. Wetness can breed mold which just doesn’t belong on a whitewater raft!

3. If your raft is inflated check to make sure the tubes are somewhat equal in inflation. You don’t want one a lot fuller than another, it can lead to a blown baffle. Inflate the less inflated one to match.

4. If you’re inflated raft is hanging, check to make sure there aren’t any wear spots forming. Sometimes a raft will deflate a bit and widen out as it does so; pushing up against straps and ropes.

5. If you have gear inside the boat, like coolers or dry boxes, take a look inside and make sure no mice are living there. Mice can destroy boxes as well as rafts, be sure these little beasts don’t have access to your precious baby.

If you find evidence of mice living in your raft, get rid of them. Pull your boat out, inflate it and spray it down. Put mouse traps and poison out.

Doing a mid-winter raft check shouldn’t take more than a few minutes but it’s time well spent. It could be the difference between a great whitewater rafting season and a completely missed rafting season. Neglect has killed more whitewater rafts than Blossom Bar rapid.

Have some more raft care tips? Post them in the comments section.

 

The Nook: Is it Right for the Outdoorsman?

work
Creative Commons License photo credit: Barbara.K

I’m an avid outdoorsman and an avid reader. In fact I can’t fall asleep unless I’ve read at least a page or two no matter how tired I am. So when I got a Nook for Christmas last year, I was excited, but apprehensive.

Excited because the thought of having a device that holds more books than I could read in a year made me think of long river trips without having to fill my bag with a bunch of paperbacks. Apprehensive because…well it’s an electronic device exposed to the harshness of the outdoors.

First Generation Battery Life

It was apparent that the first generation Nook had one major flaw, it only held a battery charge for maybe 10 hours of reading. Hardly sufficient for long river trips. Can you imagine running out of juice in the middle of a 7 day Salmon river trip? Unacceptable.

This Christmas I turned my old Nook in for their new version, it promised to hold a charge for up to 2 months. This sounded like the answer to my problems.

I certainly saw the difference at home. I never seemed to have to charge the Nook. It lasted for weeks.  I started thinking this might be the ticket.

Then, last weekend I went on a trip to eastern Oregon to do some Chukar hunting. Eastern Oregon in Winter is cold…very cold. The nights dropped to 13 degrees and the days barely got above freezing. We were camping in our tent trailer so the Nook was never in a warm place.

New Generation Battery

After a long day of chasing Chukar around steep Eastern Oregon canyons, I was excited to crawl into my warm sleeping bag and do some reading. I turned on the Nook and lo and behold the damned thing was out of battery power. I’d fully charged it only 2 days prior.

It seems the Nook’s new longer lasting battery can’t take the severe cold of a Winter hunting trip. To be fair, this is harsh country and harsh conditions. I’m sure it would have worked out better if I’d been hunting in more moderate climes, but I was disappointed.

This leaves me with ambiguous feelings about the Nook. I love it at home, but won’t be taking it on any more outdooring adventures.

Dogs on River Trips: Tips and Tricks

A constant companion on our river trips is our dog, Zipper. She’s a black lab and loves river trips. What’s not to love: water, family, sticks, wild animals and dropped smores? It’s a river dogs dream.

We’ve learned some tips and tricks on making a dogs’ river trip even more enjoyable.

1. Buy a Good Life-Jacket. It might seem silly to have a life jacket for a dog but even though most dogs are great swimmers, they need one on a river. Dogs don’t have a lot of fat and sink easily in rapids. Do em a favor and buy a life jacket.

The first doggie life jacket we bought lasted about half a season. It seemed like it was well made and was definitely easy to use, however the front straps came loose after 3 river trips.

As with most things in life we learned you have to spend more to get more. My brother bought his dog a life jacket made by Ruffwear. It cost around 50 bucks but he uses his even more than we do and it’s still in great shape.

ruffwear life jacket
Zipper’s new ruffwear life jacket

We followed suit after our first one died and are very happy with our Ruffwear doggie life jacket.

2. Bring a leash and Stakeout. It seems counter-intuitive to have a leash on a river trip…leash laws on a river? But it’s not for legality but sanity. You don’t want your dog running around a busy put-in while you’re trying to load your raft.

Not only will you piss off other boaters, you’ll also put your canine in danger of being hit by cars backing in raft trailers.

While were floating the river we don’t use the leash but when it’s time to camp we sometimes bring it out to keep Zipper out of our way while were setting up.

At bedtime we usually use a stake-out, driven into the sand with a long strap and leash attached and put Zipper near our sleeping area. We don’t put it too close, otherwise she’ll end up in the sleeping bag with us.

The stake-out not only keeps her out of our bedding but also keeps her from wandering, checking out all the various smells and night critters.

stake out
Stake out with orange flag to help us find it in the sand

Bring extra food and treats. When dogs are on rivers they play hard, they need extra nutrients to keep going.

We always feed her an extra cup of food with her morning and evening meals. We also have treats readily available and give those throughout the day. It keeps her energy up for those long summer days.

Bring a small poop shovel. Be sure to respect the river and bury any droppings your best friend leaves.

I know dogs are animals, but they’re not indigenous to the river corridor and their poop shouldn’t be left on beaches.

Zipper loves river trips and we love taking her. She’s part of the family and we would consider any river trip without her sub-par.

The little tricks we’ve learned over the years have helped to make Zipper’s trip and ours smooth and easy.

Raft Rowing Seat: The Best Choice

It seems the trend these days is having a shaped cushioned seat bolted onto a river box as a rowing seat. I’m sure you’ve seen these and maybe even use one, but personally I can’t stand the things.

We recently bought a whitewater raft and the frame had one of these seat systems. Since it was there and I had never used one, I figured I’d give it a try.

rowing seat
removed raft seat

I sat on the thing and thought, wow, this feels pretty good, nice and comfy. Then I started to row.

At first it was fine, it’s exactly in the center of the rowing box, so you start off in the correct spot, however it felt too high. I felt like I was having to reach down to get the oars in the correct position. This made my oar stroke awkward.

In order to get the normal purchase on the oar I’m used to, I had to keep my arms low and pull them into my belly. This immediately felt wrong.

I’m used to pulling back on the oars with my back and shoulders. With my arms so low, I was being forced to pull only with my arms. My back and shoulders are one hell of a lot stronger than my arms…so I flailed.

The seat put me too high on the oars. This is a mistake I see many beginner whitewater rafters make. They try to pull the oars with their arms instead of their back. If you’re sitting on a seat that puts you too high in the first place your bound to use too much arm.

I suppose this problem could be overcome if you had your raft frame altered to lift the oarlocks into a higher position. But the cost of doing something so drastic would far exceed the much simpler fix of not using the padded rowing seat.

Another problem occurred when I wanted to make a move, like a hard pivot and row away from an obstacle, I was forced to stay on the rowing seat. I couldn’t move around in the seat to gain a better purchase on one oar or the other. If I came off the seat I was sitting on bare metal and sliding all over the place.

I quickly realized that I move around a lot when I row, depending on what I’m trying to achieve. If I need to put a lot of power into my right oar, I’ll move my body that way to get a better angle and bite on the water. The rowing seat was far too restrictive for any kind of lateral movement.

The other thing I can’t stand about this raft rowing seat is the high back. For the life of me I have no idea why this has a back at all. It’s not big enough to add support however it is big enough to get in the way when you really need to make a pull. I don’t understand this design at all, it was annoying and in my way.

Notice the high back… how annoying

Okay, so what’s the answer? What’s the best rowing seat? It’s really simple, sit on something thin like an ethafoam pad strapped to the river box you’re sitting on. Honestly this is all you need. If you want something thicker, purchase some thicker mini-cell foam and either strap it on or if you’re ambitious, glue it onto the top.

Gluing mini-cell onto the lid is a great way to go. You don’t have to worry about straps, and the mini-cell layer will help protect the river box and add a layer of insulation to the contents. But more importantly, it won’t be too high to row on, and won’t restrict your movement.

I give the rowing seat pictured above an A+ for comfort,  and an F- for rowing functionality.