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Finding Warmth In Winter #1: Furry Friends

When campgrounds and other warm-weather sites close down, winter can turn dreary in more ways than one. Spring may lie around the corner; but this trek through the woods seems impossibly long. For this series of blogs, we’re exploring ways to bring joy, light and that warm, fuzzy feeling into the coldest months. We’re kicking it off with a fun one: owning (or borrowing) a pet! If you have one, you can attest to the list below. If you don’t, and certain family members are requesting one for Christmas, this list might tip the odds in their favor.

  1. Less stress. Researchers found that people conducting a stressful task reported less stress when their pets were with them – and pets took down stress levels better than spouses, relatives and friends. “You might lose your job, your house, your 401(k)—but you’ll never lose the unconditional love of your pet,” says Marty Becker, author of Your Dog: The Owner’s Manual.
  2. Lower blood pressure and cholesterol…and thus fewer heart attacks. You may love your dog more than anything; it loves your heart right back!
  3. Better mood. Within half an hour of playing with your dog, you feel more relaxed and calm. The interaction raises your brain’s levels of dopamine and serotonin, the natural “feel-good” chemicals.
  4. Built-in exercise. “This dog isn’t going to walk itself”…and that’s to your advantage! Between neighborhood strolls and playing fetch, dog walkers get plenty of movement, and ample chances to enjoy the winter sunshine…another mood booster. When the chill sends you and your pet sprinting outdoors, you can generate warmth and keep moving by giving your pet a rubdown with a warm towel. Hugs and wrestling may follow!
  5. Instant friend-maker. Dog parks, outdoor cafes and pet stores (and newer social networking websites like Dogster and Petpop) are a great way to meet and mingle. Animal Planet calls them “the common denominator that helps people connect.”
  6. Healthier, happier kids. Children who grow up with dogs in the family have fewer allergies, stronger immune systems, and less risk of both eczema and allergies.  They also have an outlet for excess energy, a natural way to calm down, and a perfect opportunity to learn to care for others, responsibly.
  7. Stronger values. Dogs teach us more than we teach them. Think patience, commitment, affection, empathy, and all the virtues and values attached to caring for a pet.

Remember: Taking on a pet, particularly in winter, requires responsibility. (Yet another value for the list above!) You’ll want to avoid lighted candles, tape extension cords to the wall, and sweep your rug free of pine needles, ribbon and tinsel.


21st Century Parenting

21st Century Parenting

As holiday time approaches, many parents begin to anxiously crunch the numbers in their budgets for gifts. Will they be able to spring for the latest gaming system, sneakers, jackets and boots?

Family vacations, such as camping trips, merit the investment of money and time – because research shows that shared experiences are remembered more vividly than even the most lavish gifts. In the mind, campfires and creek walks burn longer than couches and consoles.

But with camping season on hiatus, how can families channel their kids’ energy and appetite for “the latest”, the must-haves, the little luxuries that stuff stockings and lift spirits?

The solution might be simple, for the season and for a New Year’s resolution. Have kids work. In many cases, allow kids to work.

Kids have a natural industriousness and a craving for responsibility. In his book The Opposite of Spoiled,  Ron Lieber, money columnist for the New York Times, says he’s heard countless stories about kids redeeming cans and bottles for refunds. And yet many families refuse to entertain the thought of a child performing chores around the house, or a teenager holding a part-time job after school.

“No one wants to return to the days when children worked full-time on the farm or in factories at the age of 12,” he writes. “But many parents have swung to the opposite extreme in the past decade or two, shielding even their oldest children …from paid work altogether.” For the latter half of the 20th century, 45 percent of American kids ages 16-19 had jobs; by 2013, it’s at the all-time low of 20 percent. Part of this flows from the anxiety of the college admissions game. But the skills imparted by a job –including work ethic and “grit” to persevere, not to mention entrepreneurial muscle – can boost life skills as much as any drama club or soccer captainship.  A recent study shows that high “grit” scores are more predictive than IQ tests on academic performance, from spelling bees to retention at West Point.

In one of his book’s most fascinating chapters, Lieber visits a farm family in Utah where seven boys (ranging from 6 to 19 years old) raise 1,800 cows. The youngest started working at age 5, steering tractors through cowpens while his older brothers supervise the feedings or stack bales of straw and hay. They fit in workloads at dawn or after school, between Boy Scout meetings and wrestling practices; and each receive a paycheck for their efforts.

For kids who are too young to hold a job, at-home chores can lay the groundwork for “grit,” particularly meal preparation. Consider the nine-year-old girl who cooked Beef Wellington on the final rounds of MasterChef Junior, deftly handling knives and open flames.

While extreme, this talent points up a child’s ability to actively participate in some sort of meal preparation, from setting the table to serving the soup. We often have kids pitch in while we camp; why not bring teamwork into the kitchen, especially around holiday time?

You’ll be easing your task burden, carving out more time for relaxed eating around the table.  You’ll show kids how to build confidence, life skills and work ethic – not to mention an appreciation for food.

Combine industrious can-do attitude with generous holiday spirit, and you just might find the solution to stretching your budgets and your patience this year.


Roughing it Right: Car Camping


When many people hear the word “camping” they immediately think of a grudging journey through nature, walking miles through rugged terrain before setting up a campsite.  While this kind of gritty vacation is invigorating, many people seeking a break in the great outdoors prefer something a bit more tame, i.e. car camping.   But what really makes car camping any less “rough” that roughing it on the trail?  Read on to find out!

The Camp
Unlike traditional camping, car campers pitch their tents in designated campsites right next to their vehicles, and that means carrying your house on your back is no longer an issue.  Setting up or breaking camp is a quick and simple process because all of your gear and equipment is safely stored in the trunk, and bad weather can be ridden out inside the comfort of a warm car rather than a canvas tent.

The Gear
A traditional camper and hiker knows that he or she will be trekking through the wilderness, and thus packing for the trip becomes a delicate dance of decisions on everything from the weight of cookware to the amount of food.  With car camping however the family car is effectively transformed into a supply wagon, allowing campers to bring far more luxuries and items with them on their trip.  Cast-iron cookware and full-sized coolers of drinks and fresh food are a lot more practical when you have a vehicle handy.

The Hygiene
It’s usually the last thing on your mind when you set out for a camping trip, but keeping good personal hygiene is arguably the hardest part of a camper’s life.  Traditional camping means having limited water and fresh clothes, not to mention keeping a wary eye out for waste around the campsite (human or otherwise).  Car camping however is typically a lot less grungy; most campsites have restrooms and showers included as part of the package, and sometimes daily garbage collection.  Getting back to nature is one thing, but few people want to look like an animal at the end of their trip!


The Hiker’s Folly: Dangerous Mistakes


Exploring the wonders of the outdoors is all about empowerment and freedom, but it’s easy for even experienced hikers to let excitement and fatigue cloud their judgement and lead them to some costly mistakes.  We’re not trying to rain on any camper’s enthusiasm, but there are a few all-too-common issues that can lead to dangerous outcomes.

Failing to Stay on the Path
Whether it’s a brand-new hike or a patch of rugged country you’ve hiked a hundred times, it’s important to stay on the trails.  Not only does hiking off-trail contribute to erosion and damage the local ecosystem, hikers are more likely to risk dangerous encounters with wildlife and even become downright lost when venturing down the path less traveled.  Fallen trees, hidden holes or debris are everywhere off of the trails, and not only could these things injure even experienced hikers, but finding help in a hurry becomes that much more difficult when rescue works can’t get to you.

Hiking Alone
It’s true that nature can offer peace-filled solitude, but trekking into uncharted territory by yourself is a dangerous gambit.  Anything can happen out on the trail, and without a fellow hiker nearby to go for help it’s far too easy to get into trouble with no hope of rescue.  Traveling with a companion is just good safety, not to mention having someone to share the experience of hiking makes it all that much more fun!

Overestimating Yourself
While many hikers consider it a mark of personal pride to overcome every obstacle they encounter, it’s important to pay attention to the limitations of the hiking party overall.  Because not everyone will be at the same level of physical fitness or possess the same amount of experience, it’s important to know everyone’s real capabilities and to minimize risk.  It might seem like fun to push on to the campsite after dark or take a shortcut across a stream, remember the old saying: short cuts make long delays!


Fall Fun Part 4: Enhance Your Camping Experience!

fall fun

We’ve spent the last few years regaling you with stories, testimonials and good old common-sense reasons for how camping is just plain fun, but why settle for only having fun at the camp site?  The saying goes that it’s not the destination that matters but rather the journey, and while we are incredibly proud of how great our campsite can be, we still want to make sure our campers make the best memories possible!  Hopefully if you try out some of these ideas to enhance your camp-traveling experience you’ll be that much more likely to come back again!

  1. Pre-Plan your route
    1. Fun and fantastic camping awaits at the end of the road, but along the way it’s just as important to keep the excitement as high as it can be!  Rather than follow the more direct route to the campsite, do some research and see what attractions are available along the way to spice things up.  Restaurants, natural wonders or even convenience stores to resupply make great pit-stops and photo opportunities, plus it’s a whole lot of fun to simply pour over a map with your traveling companions and highlight your adventures!
  2. Contact the locals
    1. Besides planning and researching those great experiences for your trip, don’t underestimate the value of getting in touch with the locals in the area for some tips and home-grown advice.  Restaurants off the beaten path or which hiking trails are the best can only come from those people that know the territory, same goes for getting the inside scoop on local weather patterns and wildlife.  Most of the time the campsites themselves have visitor centers that are eager to help, but feel free to check with camping supply stores and local park authorities too.

Fall Fun Part 3: Upgrading your Kit

fall fun

For those campers that laugh in the face of Fall, it’s a time for cool days, colorful hikes and long-sleeves.  More importantly, it’s time to trade your summer gear for autumn equipment!  Hiking backpacks and electronics aside, most of what campers use on the trail in warmer, drier seasons isn’t up to the task come fall.  Trust us: as autumn approaches, keep these tips in mind when summer supplies just won’t cut it anymore!

Sleeping Gear
Many sleeping bag companies claim that they are insulated to temperatures below freezing, but that doesn’t mean that they’re waterproof in cold climates!  Water gets into the lining of the fabric and penetrates the insulation of “summer” sleeping bags, absorbing your body heat and making you cold despite any insulation.  Trade in your summer sleeper for a true winter sleeping bag and you’ll be happy you did!

Wearable Gear
The cold temperatures may make hiking a breeze, but sometimes that breeze cuts right through even multiple layers of spring and summer clothing.  Make sure you carry a few garments that are waterproof or if that’s not possible, stash a wind-breaker or rain slicker in with your other gear just in case.  Sudden snowstorms or autumn rains won’t catch you unawares if you come prepared!

Foot Gear
This one is almost self-explanatory, but where in summer it’s possible to get away with a pair of cross-country sneakers, Fall is the time of year to transition to something sturdier.  Moisture and fallen leaves can turn even a flat, level surface into a slippery nightmare, especially if hikers and campers only have shoes at their disposal.  Wearing a pair of waterproof, insulated boots or high-quality hiking shoes means you’ll keep your footing when it counts, no matter what conditions you meet.


Fall Fun Part 2: Preventing Pitfalls!

fall fun

In our last blog we talked about how incredibly amazing it is to go camping in the Fall, and while we still stand by our declaration, it’s also important to keep a good head on your shoulders.  Fall brings with it new dangers in the wilderness, and if you want to maximize your camping fun, we’ll help you stay alert!

Watch the Skies
Summertime means that the risk of a sudden shower is more annoying than dangerous, but Fall’s weather is much closer to winter than most people think.  Freak snowstorms are not uncommon out on the trails, especially in the mountains, and then there’s the wind; cold fronts coming down from Canada can cause huge wind squalls, even when the skies are clear.  Tie down those tents and tarps, and of course always be prepared for snowy weather!

Watch for Wildlife
Winter is coming, and that means animals are going to be preparing for the cold with a vengeance.  Bears and other wildlife will overcome fear of humans in their search for food, moving into campsites and even approaching sleeping campers out in the wilderness.  Take extra care to keep your containers sealed and all garbage and foodstuffs secured, especially at night.

Watch the Sun
Fall means shorter days and longer nights, and that means daylight will vanish much more quickly than most summertime campers are used to.  To prevent the dark from sneaking up on you, make sure all outdoor activities are wrapped up by about 5:00 PM, and make sure you’ve made camp by at least 6:00 PM.  And for those campers prowling the mountains, sunset is even earlier!


Fall Fun – 3 Reasons for Awesome Autumn Camping

fall fun

With the heat headed south, campers that have avoided the great outdoors are now in for a treat!  Gone are the bugs and the sticky humid nights, meaning that now a hike through the woods or a drive through the countryside is 100% enjoyable.  But if that isn’t enough to convince all of those hesitant campers out there, we thought we’d give you a few more reasons.  Just because!

Sensational Scenery
There isn’t anything wrong with a forest of green, but there’s nothing quite like the amazing and colorful foliage that nature provides for the happy camper in Autumn.  From mountainsides glowing orange and gold to the bright-red orchards set against blue skies, the Fall scenery draws out even the most stay-at-home individuals to the great outdoors.  If you need a reason to spend some time at a campsite, just look out your window.

Happy Harvests
Besides the obvious aesthetic amazements, Fall is that magic time of year when farmers are bringing in their harvests and sharing them with the community.  That means campers can enjoy a whole new selection of outdoor activities that only happen in Autumn including apple-picking, farmer’s markets, pumpkin-patches, corn-mazes and oh-so-much more.  Adults can enjoy Oktoberfest while the kids jump into piles of leaves, and campfires are so much cozier when there’s a cool breeze at your back.

Cool Accommodations
We’ve already touched on this already, but the fact that Fall brings on cooler temperatures means that campers can expect to have all the fun of summer without the hassles.  It’s much easier to grab a good night’s sleep if the nighttime air isn’t sweltering, and unlike summertime hikes and picnics, Fall campers aren’t constantly battling the swarms of bugs, mosquitoes and other insects that make the outdoors a nuisance.  Even swimming is a lot more fun in early Fall, as the water is still warm from Summer’s heat but the algae and water creatures have all gone dormant.  In the words of an anonymous camper: Fall is fun and autumn is awesome.


Eyes Open: Signs of Dehydration


Camping and hiking in the great outdoors feeds the mind and cleanses the soul, but because nature often leaves us with limited resources and prolonged periods of exposure to the elements, keeping hydrated is a constant struggle.  For the last blog in our series on hydration, here are some of the warning signs of dehydration and how to deal with it, even when water is scarce!

Dehydration Details

The simplest explanation for dehydration is the body begins to lose more fluids than it takes in, but this in turn leads to the loss of more than just water.  When not enough water is present in the body, it tries to compensate by dumping electrolytes, potassium and sodium, all of which are crucial to a healthy body chemistry.  If not replenished quickly, dehydration can escalate into a serious health problem!

Individual symptoms of dehydration are often easily dismissed as minor aches and pains; headaches, dizziness, muscle weakness or a lack of energy, and even thirst are very common.  These same symptoms together however are a sure sign that a person is dehydrated.  In the early stages treatments are simple: drink plenty of clear fluids (water, juice or sports drinks).  It’s important to note that these fluids should not be gulped or consumed quickly but rather sipped a little at a time, as drinking too much fluid can induce vomiting.

Normally these mild cases of dehydration can be treated at home, but for severe dehydration more intense treatments are required.  If a person is suffering from nausea or vomiting, ice chips or a similar item can be used in place of liquid water.  Replacing fluids intravenously (otherwise known as an IV) is the only real method to treat dehydration quickly, but this should only be done by trained medical professionals.


Water or Sports Drinks: What Hydrates Better?

drinksWelcome back to our camping blog series on hydration!  When it comes to hydration, it’s common knowledge that nothing beats a tall glass of water, yet the retail market it flooded with all sorts of sports drinks and flavored water that all promise equal or even better hydration that good old H2O.  With so much hype surrounding these new-age drinks, do they truly hydrate better?  Well campers, we went to the experts to find out!

Hydration history
Sports drinks as we know them today owe their legacy to the United States, where in 1965 the University of Florida’s medical staff realized that they could potentially improve the performance of their sports teams by creating a beverage that was formulated for physical activity, a.k.a Gatorade.  By adding vitamins, minerals and artificial flavoring, players seemed to perform better at physical activities in clinical studies and it was soon adopted as the official drink of the NFL in a few short years.  Modern sports drinks all stem from this basic formula, but better performance doesn’t necessarily mean better hydration.  More science is needed!

Sports Drink Science
The key behind hydrating with sports drinks isn’t the liquid itself (which yes, has a base mixture of water), but rather the sodium and other elements present within it.  Sodium is by far the most important hydrating element, as it helps the body hold on to the water already in the body and keeping the circulatory system in balance.  Drinking large amounts of water during a heavy workout causes an imbalance of sodium levels, replacing salt with water in blood cells.  This causes cells to swell, restricting blood flow and leading to poor oxygenation, headaches, vomiting and even muscle death!  Drinking sports drinks helps hydrate while keeping sodium levels in balance during hour-long workouts, and that means the machine that is the human body just works better!
So it looks like science is right: sports drinks hydrate better that water…during heavy exercise.  Otherwise the added sugar, salt and other elements in sports drinks aren’t necessary, and pure ordinary water will work just as well.