Debunking Buzzfeed’s Camping Hate Roundup

By Heather

I get it: camping is not for everyone! I didn’t even think it was for me just a few years ago and would have related to and wholeheartedly agreed with nearly everything on Buzzfeed’s list of things people who hate camping hate about camping.

A lot of the gripes in the article are true: there might be bears, there are nasty plants, there’s a lot of dirt. How well you cope with that is just a matter of preference. I won’t argue about any of that.

But let’s be fair: some of the items on this list are just silly.

While some things—bugs, dirt, weather—are non-negotiable and non-controllable, you’re not helpless against the things you don’t love about camping. There’s a lot you can do to improve your comfort level, depending on how far you’re willing to go: you can purchase outdoor showers if you need to be spotless at all times, you can get hot water on demand if you need warm water and so on.

What Buzzfeed Got Wrong

1. The sun will wake you up in the morning.
Not if you’re wearing a sleeping mask! I don’t use one at home, but camp mornings can be a little intense. Put a sleeping mask on your face and you are going to sleep like a baby. A BABY.

2. It’s “boring as hell.”
No, bored people are boring. There are a ton of things you can do to have fun while you camp. Don’t be that loser who can only entertain themselves with an X-Box. Or, at least don’t admit it.

3. If there’s no cell reception, you’re screwed if you get lost.
Ah, the immortal words of John Muir. Wait. No they’re not! While this is technically true, planning ahead should fix that. If you’re hiking, stay on the trail and have a map. Make sure someone knows where you’re camping and when you’ll return.

4. Sleeping on the ground is a horrible, horrible idea.
Totally agree. That’s why I protect my princess backside with a Coleman double high air mattress. I ain’t no fool!

5. Camping on those little stoves is horrible.
It’s not ideal, for sure. That’s why we use the fire! (And the Perfect Campfire Grill, natch).

6. You will freeze your ass off at night.
Again, you do have control over whether you freeze at night. Pack a warm hat, socks, jacket, layers of clothing and have a nice, warm sleeping bag and a flannel pillow and you’ll sleep like a warm, cuddly baby. Bonus warmth for having a dog or two! If you have room and your dog likes it, put him in the sleeping bag with you. It’s the best.

7. Starting a campfire is not easy.
I don’t think the person who wrote this article has attempted to start a campfire. Ever. Yes, it’s difficult if it’s windy, but that’s when you bust out the fire starting paste. If you haven’t planned in advance and find yourself in a tough fire-starting situation, pine needles and pine cones ignite nicely. We always have lighter fluid on hand, too.

8. Fires are forest fires waiting to happen.
Yes, they are if you’re being a jackass! If you follow the rules regarding where to build your fire, building your fire to a particular size and materials you can put in the fire, it’s unlikely you’ll start a forest fire. How often have you heard of a forest fire being started by a responsible camper?

2014 Camping Gift Guide

By Heather

Sure, it’s July, almost August. Call me nuts, but this is when I start brainstorming holiday gift ideas because buying great gifts is hard. When I wait until the last minute, my gifts suck. This is for all you earlybirds out there.

Is there a camper in your life? I can guarantee your camper likes new gear and is always looking to add to the mix or upgrade some old stuff.

Try one of these ideas on for size:

1. Handmade cold weather gear. Campers can never have too much warm weather gear, and it’s even better when it’s handmade by someone you love: gloves, hats, scarves, socks. If you’re a knitter, knit your favorite camper something! Don’t knit? There’s always sewing. Whip up a flannel pillowcase or shirt, or sew some dish towels or pajamas!

perfect campfire grill

2. The Perfect Campfire Grill. If your camper likes to cook on the fire ring – burgers, steaks, vegetables, fish – get them this and get ready for some raves. We use ours all the time and it’s a must-have on every trip. And it was a gift to us! Our review of The Perfect Campfire Grill.

3. Hammock Bliss. This hammock is super light and packs down to the size of a cantaloupe, making it perfect for backpackers and car campers alike. Swaying in this hammock is dreamy. Our review of Hammock Bliss.

ranger doug general grant poster

Ranger Doug

4. Ranger Doug prints. These posters are amazingly beautiful and even more vibrant in person than they are on the website. We have one for Kings Canyon (left) in our home; my parents have Sequoia in theirs. My desk is plastered with the note cards, which get a ton of compliments. I want to cover my car in those stickers. If you know someone who’s a national park enthusiast, anything from Ranger Doug will make a great gift for them. Ranger Doug’s online store.

5. REI French Press. Making coffee outdoors is one of life’s great pleasures. It’s even better with this handy French press. Steve has one and we use it on the regular! Get the REI French press here.

6. Manual coffee mill. If you know a coffee freak who also is a coffee snob, then a manual coffee grinder might be just the thing for that perfect cup. Get it at Uncommon Goods.

7. Hanging Camp Cupboard. We hate how quickly a campsite can become a disorganized mess if you’re not on top of it. This camp cupboard keeps your picnic table from being the repository of all of your crap! Get the hanging cupboard at Cabela’s.

8. Coleman LED string lights. Because they’re adorable, duh! Get them here.

bugaboo base camper

9. Bugaboo Cookset. We use and love the large Bugaboo Base Camper. (Our review here). It’s one of the best camping purchases we’ve ever made. The set looks so pretty, cleans easily, packs together neatly and goes into a nice storage bag that doubles as a washbin. We haven’t used it for dishes, but it’s good to know if we ever need to. Get the Bugaboo Base Camper here.

10. Playaboule Lighted Bocce Ball set. Camping and lighted things go hand-in-hand. It’s something fun to do after the sun goes down AND you can take cool time lapse photos. Get the lighted bocce ball set here!coleman camp oven

11. Coleman camp oven. Baking while camping isn’t the easiest thing. It can be done, but why fuss with the campfire when you can control the heat in your very own camping oven? That folds completely flat? You know you want it! Get the camp oven here.

12. Make a gift basket. If you can’t decide on that one perfect thing for your camper, throw a bunch of perfect things into a gift basket. Things like trail mix, coffee, coffee mugs, homemade granola, nuts and even a bottle of booze will be greeted with much enthusiasm!

13. Books. The other great pleasure in life is swaying in a hammock with a good book. Why not gift your camper with books from other lovers of nature? The Journals of Lewis and Clark are a great pick. John Muir’s musings are pure poetry. Or how about a book about a hiker who trekked solo across the Pacific Crest Trail? Regina highly recommends that one.

14. Topographic water bottle. These topographic water bottles are sweet! Darren has one for Yosemite. It’s sturdy, durable and the cap locks on super tight, so that sucker isn’t going anywhere. And it’s a pretty way to show off your favorite park. Get the topographic water bottle here.

15. Cocktail kit. Drinking is an important component of camping. You’ll want alcohol to relieve the stress of getting there and setting up (Friday traffic is the WORST in Southern California), to refresh during the day and warm you up and night. Drink in style! This basic Bartending Kit is reasonably priced. Here’s a beautiful but crazy spendy kit for the person who has everything. Throw in a Rum Runner Cruise Kit (which work for their stated purpose too, by the way) or some mini bottles and you’ve just given the greatest gift ever.

If there’s a gift you’ve gotten and loved, please share! We’re always looking for cool stuff.

Hiking Mt. San Antonio, AKA Mt. Baldy

By Heather

A few weeks ago, I took on Mount Baldy and won. It was the most amazing hike that completely kicked my ass in the best way.

mount baldy san antonio hike

After reading about it and looking at pictures for so long, it was incredible to see the Devil’s Backbone and Baldy Bowl and the sign marking the summit in person.

Before I tell you a little bit about my experience on the hike, I’ll point you in the direction of some of the many blog posts I read and studied in the weeks before going (I am an obsessive overpreparer who does not want surprises of the unpleasant variety):

  • Dan’s Hiking Pages: I took the Manker Flats via Baldy Bowl and Devil’s Backbone route. I had originally intended to take the Ski Hut trail, but missed it. Oh, well. It’s not the end of the world!
  • SoCal Hiker: I love that he does the SoCal Six Pack six weeks in a row every year! Inspiration, man.
  • California Through My Lens: Beautiful photos and my favorite write-up of the hike. This one got me really pumped to see everything in person!
  • Hikespeak: Lots of very detailed photos of the hike – definitely useful for the easily lost among us (me).
  • Modern Hiker: More great photos and descriptions of the hike.

If you plan on doing this hike and also like preparedness, you’ll learn so much reading the posts I’ve linked above. Read and enjoy!

Hiking to Mt. Baldy’s Summit

The hike got started when I pulled up and parked on Mount Baldy Road. A little after 9 a.m., it was crowded, but I had no trouble finding a spot. You’ll want a California Adventure Pass in order to park on this road, or you’ll get a ticket. You can purchase them all over the place, including at the visitor’s center, which is down the road in Baldy Village.

The trailhead is marked by a sign and a closed gate on the left-hand side of the road as you’re facing the ski lifts. If you’re hiking Mt. Baldy and want to take three or so miles off your trek, take the ski lifts, but I must inform you that this is totally cheating.

mount baldy ski lifts

If you skip the chairs and take the hike: about 2 miles in, after you pass San Antonio Falls, there’s the unmarked Ski Hut Trail veering off to the left. It’s easy to miss. I’m telling myself this because I missed it. But that’s okay. I just did the hike as an out-and-back instead of a loop. Next time we go (in a few weeks), I’ll know where to turn.

If you also miss the trail, you’ll just wind up following a fire road up the mountain until you reach the ski lodge. This section of the hike is very moderate and do-able.

I thought the lodge would be more impressive than it actually is. Yes, there is beer and food there. But the food didn’t look like anything I’d want to eat and the lodge itself isn’t a comfortable place where you’ll feel free to kill some time. That was disappointing because I thought it would be fun to have a glass of bourbon. Think…big cafeteria. I was picturing…restaurant. And on their website, they say they are a full-service restaurant. All I saw was a cafeteria-style food line. Was I in the wrong place??

There are, however, bathrooms and water stations, so it’s a great spot to replenish and take a breather.

mount baldyGood thing I didn’t have any booze, though. You want your faculties about you more than ever on this hike. There are spots where one stumble could spell total disaster.

The hike gets a lot tougher after the lodge, too. From here, the 4,000-foot elevation gain begins!

Baldy Bowl is the first segment after passing the lodge. There’s lots of loose gravel here, so be careful. As you hike up, you’ll see other trails – take whatever you want. They will all converge and lead you to the summit eventually. You’ll see people going in various directions. If you’re ever unsure of what you’re doing, just ask someone nearby. Hikers are generally a friendly, helpful lot.

There’s a long portion of the hike spent along a steep, narrow trail winding alongside a mountain. After that, Devil’s Backbone. I’ll let pictures do the talking. Although it’s treacherous, it does give you a break from the inclines. And aside from the summit, this part was my favorite.

mount baldy devil's backbone


mount baldy devil's backboneAnd finally, the push to the summit. I’m not going to lie. This is the hardest part! Tons of switchbacks, thin air, steep incline, burning thighs, burning lungs….ohhhhmyyyygoddddd. It was hard! But I just kept pushing and telling myself it would be bullshit to give up now, when I’d already come this far.

Keep going…keep going…keep going…

mount baldy summit

Suddenly, when I least expected it, I was at the top. 10,000 feet, baby!

mount baldy summit panorama

The summit was full of people – and a few dogs. It’s a huge, flat summit and if you want to stay a while, you’ll have no problem finding a spot to park yourself. Enjoy it!

Compared to the hike up, the way back down is a breeze. However, use care going down the summit. There’s a lot of gravel. Naturally, I slipped because why wouldn’t I?

The entire hike took me about five and a half hours at a pretty good clip with a few short breaks for snacks and water.

Notes for Next Time

There are some things I’d do differently on the next hike to Mt. Baldy’s summit:

  • Start a little earlier. This is not a shady hike at all! You’ll need a hat, tons of water and an early start will really be in your favor.
  • Again, I won’t miss the Ski Hut Trail next time. I want to do this as a loop.
  • Check out that lodge again. I feel like what I’m reading about and what I saw are two different things. Must investigate.
  • Hiking poles. This hike will do a number on your knees if you have issues like I do. My knees were achy for several days. At one point, both were iced and I was popping NSAIDs like Skittles. OW. That’ll never happen again, guaranteed. I won a gift card in a fitness challenge at work, and what better way to spend it than getting in even better shape? I purchased these hiking poles this morning, and I can’t wait for them to get here! A review will be coming when I’ve had a chance to test them out.

This is my favorite hike yet, both in terms of the views and the pure challenge. Getting up to the summit made me feel like I could do anything. What a rush! I highly recommend it to anyone who wants something way tougher than the Griffith Park and Santa Monica Mountain trails!

Project Half Dome: Proper Hiking Shoes

By Heather

Up until just a couple weeks ago, I had been hiking in the same shoes I wear to the gym. They’re not even proper shoes for me to begin with, since they’re actually running shoes, and I make it a point not to run too much. I know, I’ve always had a problem with suitable footwear.

But at some point, common sense kicked in and I thought, “Self, you need to get a proper pair of hiking shoes if you’re going to be serious about it.”

There is just no way I could climb Half Dome, Mount Whitney or even Mount Baldy in my flimsy pink runners.

Good shoes are especially important on Half Dome, because the rock has been worn slick over the decades, so you reaalllly want good shoes with a nice grip.

The Best Hiking Shoe So Far

The brand of shoe was an easy choice: Merrell.

Darren has a pair of Merrells he’s been camping and hiking in for a couple years, and he’s never said a bad word about them. A fellow hiker I know also swears by them.

I read the reviews, looked at the styles, researched the best prices, sought out discounts and tried on a half dozen contenders. Hey, when your hiking shoe makes the difference between remaining on rock and plummeting to your death, you’re going to do a shit-ton of research.

I also knew that I didn’t want boots or anything higher than a mid-rise shoe. It’s a quirk of mine that I detest having anything touching or rubbing my ankles. Thinking about it is giving me the heeby-jeebies.

I also researched the difference between trail runners and hiking shoes. Trail runners are nice, but from what I’ve read, the soles aren’t as durable as hiking shoe soles. For $150 and up, fuck that. Plus, hiking shoes are more versatile and better able to handle different kinds of terrain and conditions, according to the people who live in my computer.

And the appearance of the shoe is a factor, too. Most hiking shoes are ugly as hell, am I right? They don’t have to be super girly cute, but something even vaguely pleasing to look at would be nice.

So, based on all of that, these are the chosen shoes:

merrell grasshopper air hiking shoesNo fugness here!

I’ve already put them to the test, too. A couple weekends ago, Regina and I went on a 13-mile hike in the Santa Monica Mountains and my shoes were so amazing. I didn’t even get a hint of a blister, and my feet felt about as good as they could after hiking 13 miles, but the shoes weren’t responsible for any pain. And bonus, they’re really, really light. You might say…like AIR!

We’ll be doing more intense hikes in the coming months, including one this weekend, and I’m eager to see how these shoes hold up.The soles feel plenty grippy, but I’ll have to find some rock to test them out for sure. I did notice on the 13 mile hike that I was tripping a lot less, which is a miracle. These shoes are actually making me less of a klutz.

Based on the early results, I’m completely in love.

Revisiting: How to Wash Your Dishes at Camp

By Heather

A few months back, I wrote a post about how to wash your dishes at camp. But the post was only minimally helpful because I didn’t include photos.

Well, now I have photos.

This is our dishwashing station. As I’ve said before, we typically organize our campsite by placing all dishwashing/handwashing stuff at one end of the picnic table. The other end is for cooking.

camping dishes

Darren hates being cold, so he always warms up a pot of water to throw in with the dishwater to make it more tolerable. Not that I particularly enjoy being cold, but this one is optional for me.

camping washing dishes

Once you have a bin full of dirty, food-encrusted dishes, you’re ready to start washing them.

Heat up the water, pour half in the rinsing bin, half in the dirty dishes bin and get to work. Usually one person washes while the other one dries. But if you don’t have a drying person, that’s okay – just leave your stuff to dry in the sun.

camping washing dishes

Fork off! Ha! Oh. No?

If you’d rather avoid the whole dishwashing thing entirely, just follow some of these handy tips!