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!

Boat Ramp Etiquette

Boat ramp etiquette seems like a no brainer issue, but every time I use one to put in my kayak or raft, i’m always confronted with someone not knowing the rules.

This can lead to frustration on everyone’s part. The people trying to efficiently put-in or take-out get pissed at having to wait longer than necessary and the offender is getting dirty looks and possibly yelled at because he/she doesn’t understand the rules.

You can’t really blame the offender too much, it’s not like there’s a book about boat ramp etiquette, but now there’s a blog post, so no excuses!

1. It’s really pretty simple, first come first serve. Meaning if my car’s in front of yours I get to access the ramp before you.

 

Now, sometimes if I’m unloading a 3 or 4 stack of rafts and the guy behind me just wants to throw his canoe in, i’ll let him slide in front, and I’ll even help him get his stuff done. But this is an exception. If I’m in front I have every right to go first.

Being cordial and considerate goes a long way to calming any upset boat ramp people. Everyone wants to get their stuff unloaded or loaded, so work together to make it happen.

If I see someone struggling alone to get their raft off the trailer, i’m not going to sit there and glare at them, i’m gonna get off my ass and help them. This makes it faster for everyone, including myself.

2. Get it done quick. Whether you’re putting in or taking out do it as quickly as possible. I see this not happening all the time. It’s the main issue that rubs people the wrong way. Just because it’s your turn doesn’t mean you can take all day to do it. Put the boat in, unload any gear quickly, put it to the side and pull your rig out of the way.

3. Don’t load your raft on the ramp. I see this one a lot too, pull your raft and gear to the side off the main ramp area and load it there. If you’re loading for a multi-day raft trip, hopefully your things were packed at home and all you have to do is put them in the raft tie them in and be off. Don’t load your whole trip on the boat ramp.

A spread out put-in!
A spread out put-in!

4. Don’t take up the whole ramp. Many boat ramps are wide enough to have 2 or 3 vehicles going at the same time. When you’re backing your trailer, get as far to the side as you can to give the next guy room to pull in beside you. Don’t back down the middle of the ramp unless you must.

This applies even if the ramp is empty. Many times I’ve pulled up ready to put-in and one guy is using the whole ramp because there wasn’t anyone there when they got there. Expect more people to show up and get out of the way!

5. Know your trailer backing limitations. This one drives me nuts. If you’re new at backing trailers, a busy boat ramp is not the place to learn. If you see a lot of people waiting to use it, either wait for it to get less busy, or ask someone to guide you or even take over for you.

Trailer backing is hard and takes a lot of practice. It’s nerve racking enough without a bunch of people glaring at you. Most accomplished trailer backers will jump at the chance to back your rig. It gets them to the water quicker and lets them be a hero… a win win.

Most people at boat ramps are there because they’ve spent the day on the water or are about to. Most aren’t too uptight, but if you disobey these unwritten boat ramp rules, you may raise some ire. Use your common sense and you’ll be fine.

If someone is uptight and having a bad day, let them go first just to get them out of the area. No one wants to ruin their day on the water with an incident at the boat ramp.

River Trip Lunches

If you go on a guided raft trip you will undoubtedly have a full, big deal lunch every day. You’re group will pull over at a likely spot with shade, sand and good swimming, then as you frolic, the crew will put together an extravagant lunch.

If they really get into it they may even start a fire, or pull out a stove and cook hot food.

Easily accessible lunch
Easily accessible lunch

That’s all great and quite a treat, but when you’re on a non-commercial river trip with your family and buddies this extravagance is overkill and only makes the river trip harder than it should be.

Over our many years of trial and error the KISS method always works better…Keep It Simple Stupid!

When were planning river trip meals we always divvy up the dinners and breakfasts evenly. Each family or group of river runners is responsible for the same amount of dinners and breakfasts as everyone else.

Our river trips are usually 3 or 4 days, 2 or 3 nights, so it’s easy to figure out. For longer trips extra planning and flexibility is required, but it isn’t hard.

What About Lunch?

You notice I only mentioned dinners and breakfasts? What about lunches? We leave lunch up to each family or group. That’s the secret, don’t put lunch into the equation, it causes too much extra work.

 

Who wants a big extravagant (read heavy), lunch when you’re on a river trip? If I eat a heavy lunch it won’t be long until I’m ready for a nap.

I’ve got nothing against napping, but on a river trip you need to make some time after lunch to get the campsite you want. You need to make some miles so the next day isn’t quite so long.

Leaving the river lunches up to small family groups works out great. Each family unit can bring whatever suits their fancy, and since the groups are small, you don’t need a lot of cooler space.

Loading a full lunch for your whole group takes up a lot of room, and can be hard to access in the middle of the day. Having your lunch small and accessible means you don’t have to unload half the boat to get to the food.

What’s for Lunch?

So what’s a great river lunch? We keep it real simple. So, here it is:

  • Small whole wheat bagels,
  • Pre-sliced assorted cheeses. Pre-sliced makes it a lot easier. I know it’s more expensive and the paper between each slice isn’t PC, but cutting cheese (not the cheese) on a raft is hazardous.
  • Mustard, Mayo
  • pre-sliced deli meat
  • couple of apples and tomatoes, maybe an avocado or 2. These will need to be sliced so you’ll also need…
  • Small Cutting board
  • Small, sharp, foldable Knife

Depending on how many people and how many lunches you have, this shouldn’t take up too much room, and is quick, easy, yummy and satisfying.

Like I said our river trip lunches are simple, so simple in fact that sometimes we don’t even pull over to put it together. We’ll pick a mellow section of river and keep drifting while were making and eating lunch. That just can’t be beat, drifting, eating, maybe sucking back a beer.

That’s a river lunch that can’t be beat by even the most extravagant guided river trip lunch.

Steelhead Fishing: Swinging Flies

 

hatchery steelhead
Steelhead caught on a swinging fly

Fall Steelhead fishing on our local river, the Rogue, has been good thus far. We’ve had the most luck swinging flies in front of our drift boat.

This is unusual since we normally do much better nymph fishing. However, I’ve yet to catch a steelie drifting nymphs through the standard holes this year.

This made me realize, there’s a big difference between nymph fishing and swinging flies. Here are the major advantages and disadvantages to both.

Swinging Flies:

Swinging flies means you’re putting the steelhead fly about 20 or 30 feet out in front of the boat. You can have either floating or sinking tip line depending on the water you’re fishing.

The oarsman is the one really fishing in this scenario. He’s the one putting the flies into the water holding the fish.

 

The oarsman holds the boat, (ideally a drift boat) in the current and rows from side to side, pulling the flies through the water, swinging them. The fisherman simply holds the rod and gives it an occasional twitch, waiting for the takedown.

Since the flies are streaming they’re usually pretty close to the surface. Sometimes this is a disadvantage because steelhead in cold water don’t always like to come up from the bottom to eat the fly.

If you’re fishing deep slow water, you’ll want to use a sinking tip line to get it down a few more feet.

The advantages to swinging flies is that it’s really easy for the guy holding the rod. Anyone can sit in front of a boat and hold a fly rod, all they have to be able to do is reel up and strip line as needed. This makes it perfect for kids.

Another advantage is the way a steelhead hits a swinging fly. For some reason they hit it like they’re a deranged locomotive. They slam it hard and usually burst through the water and start tail dancing. It ads to the excitement and really sets the hook.

Nymph fishing is a different deal. It’s much more skill oriented. You need someone who can cast well and read water.

My kids are excellent casters but it’s hard casting because steelhead flies and lines are heavy and take some strength to do well.

The advantages to nymph fishing make it worth it, though. Typically you’ll catch more fish because the dead drifting bug will be on the bottom passing through where the steelhead live.

However, the fish won’t hit the fly like they do a streaming, swinging fly. They tend to eat it rather than slam it.

The fisherman has to watch his indicator and wait for it to stop drifting. When that happens, pulling back on the rod will hopefully end with a strong pull from a surprised steelhead. More often than not, though the fly stopping will be because the fly hit the bottom and got stopped by something other than a fish.

Having to stay vigilant makes it more like dry fly fishing. Nymphing is a great way to catch steelhead, but it takes an accomplished caster to do it well.

Like I said, this year i’ve had more luck swinging flies. We’ve gotten into some big steelhead and most have been hatchery fish, which means we can keep and eat them…yum.

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.

Kids Skiing Powder

We’ve been skiing with our kids for quite  a while now, and they can ski almost everything we can. We started them young, getting them to the mountain when they were 4 years old, and now they are great little skiers.

The hard work of teaching them to ski has been evident this year, because their skill levels have shot up. This was made crystal clear when we took the kids powder skiing.

Our local mountain got a fresh dump of 10 inches of light powder. It was hovering around 17 degrees keeping the conditions perfect. It was snowing at least an inch an hour the entire time, adding to the perfection.

We skied hard, not having to worry about lift lines because everyone was waiting out the storm (silly fair weather skiers).

You’ve heard the quote, “there are no friends on powder days”? If you can’t keep up you can’t ski with us…we aren’t waiting. I’m not saying I’d ditch my kids…but I didn’t have to, they were right there with us.

We skied the trees, the bowls, everything and we never had to wait for them. Sure the powder was light and perfect, but even then, skiing powder can be tough for kids. They’re used to groomers, but not our little powder skiers, they ripped it up.

All the hard work of the previous years was paying off. They weren’t only keeping up, they were begging for more; wanting to hit the trees and find all the fresh lines. One of my boys was even launching off some pretty serious jumps. We couldn’t stop laughing all day long.

I don’t have any tips for teaching kids to ski powder other than just doing it. There aren’t any magic techniques, there’s just practice.

The only thing we were careful of, was making sure one of us was always behind them, especially when we were skiing the trees. In deep snow, it can be dangerous if a kid falls. It’s damned difficult to get yourself up, and sometimes they need an adults help.

It’s important to keep sight of the kids and make sure you designate a meeting spot after the tree section. My biggest fear is losing them in a tree well. I’ve been trapped in one before and it can be a nightmare trying to extract yourself without some outside help.

We didn’t have any incidents though, and the powder day with the kids was more magical than any other powder day I’ve ever had.

Here’s a YouTube video of my wife tearing it up on that magical day

Powder skiing on Mt Ashland

 

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.

 

Mountain Biking with Kids in Winter: 5 Tips

Ready for a Winter ride

This Winter on the west coast has been one of the driest on record. Normally the only thing on our mind this time of year is skiing. Skiing, skiing, skiing, the more the better.

This year though, has never happened, so instead of skiing, we’ve had to change our activities a bit. Were lucky to live in a place that offers a lot of other Winter activities. The one we’ve done most is mountain biking.

Like I said the snow hasn’t fallen, which also means it hasn’t rained much. All this adds up to dry Winter mountain bike trails.

Normally this is an adults only activity, but this past summer we invested in some decent mountain bikes for our kids. Nothing fancy, just decent, used bikes. The kids are big enough to use 26 inch wheels which makes a big difference when riding mountain bike trails. They can actually keep up with us.

We’ve been mountain biking quite a bit with them and they really love it. To make it more enjoyable for them we’ve learned a few things:

1. Get them on 26 inch wheels. These bikes are bigger but they have a lot of advantages over smaller kid bikes. First of all the bigger the wheel the faster they’ll travel along the trail. Second, you can upgrade them so kids won’t grow out of them so quickly.

2. Shocks are nice. these bigger bikes also come with front suspension. This isn’t essential for kids, but it does make for a smoother more enjoyable ride. If you have the kind that are adjustable, make them as spongy soft as you can to accommodate for the kids’ light weight.

3. Keep the pedals simple. don’t throw your kids into clipless pedals. Give them the downhiller pedals. These pedals have good grippiness but all they have to do to release is lift their foot. there’s no twisting or having to think about getting out of the pedals. Hell, I still have trouble getting out of clipless pedals.

4. Winter mountain biking requires stops and fuel. To keep the kids’ comfortable be sure to stop often and eat small snacks throughout the day. You don’t want them bonking or getting too tired. You want them to come back don’t you?

5. Choose an easy to moderate trail. don’t take them to some hardcore trail you love, take them to something you know they can handle. Remember, you may love slogging up steep hills, but I sincerely doubt your kids will.

There are probably a lot more tips and tricks for making mountain biking fun for kids. If you have any be sure to post them in the comments section.

 

When should Kids get Ski Poles?

 

kids on chair lift
on the lift with ski poles secure

Our kids started skiing when they were 4 and 5 years old. Now they are 9 and 10 and can ski anywhere on the mountain.

When people see how well our kids ski they start asking questions and one of the most common is, “when should we give our kids ski poles?” Ski poles are an important piece of ski equipment, but not something they should start out with.

 

The simple answer is, give them poles when they’re ready for ski poles. It sounds flippant but what I mean is give them ski poles when they master these skiing moves:

1. They can stop and turn when they want. This sounds obvious but until they master these basic moves they don’t need to be thinking about ski poles.

2. They’re tall enough to have poles that fit. Kids’ ski poles can be cut down to    whatever size is needed but if you’ve got a real shrimp, the poles won’t do much good anyway.

3. They’re responsible enough to take care of them. I don’t mean taking care of them in the sense of keeping a pet safe, I mean able to take care of them while they’re in the ski line and on the lift.

They need to know not to swing them around using them as a sword or a bludgeon on other skiers. They also need to be able to get the straps off they’re wrists before getting on the ski lift. This takes practice but be sure they understand how it’s done before getting on the lift.

4. Give them ski poles when they ask for them. If they’ve met all the above points wait for them to ask for ski poles.

It’s pretty obvious how useful they are in ski lines. The kids see how easy skiers move in line when they use their poles to push them along. They notice how difficult it is for them to move, having to rely on their parents to pull them along.

Pretty soon they’ll get sick of not being able to move well, and they’ll ask for the poles.

Skiing with Poles

Once they have poles and they understand how the straps work, you’ll have to teach them what the heck they’re for. Skiing with poles goes beyond the basics of teaching skiing. Don’t get too involved with this step. Tell them to use them to help them turn. Have them try to plant the pole whenever they turn.

Most kids won’t do this initially. they’ll turn the same way they always have, not using their poles at all. That’s okay, don’t push them too hard or they’ll want to go back to no poles.

Eventually they’ll see other skiers using their poles to help them turn and they’ll figure it out on their own.

Once kids get used to having ski poles they’ll never want to go back.

 

 

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.