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3 Sep

Imagine you are wearing a “heatproof” glove designed specifically for handling hot items around a campfire.  

Now imagine reaching into the fire to pull out one of those fold-up campfire toasters and realizing that the heat was searing right through those gloves.

Now imagine that in the face of blinding pain, you panic and drop the white-hot metal contraption.  Instinctively, you reach out with your unprotected hand to catch the falling food.  The heated metal only touches your skin for a second, but your finger still ends up being the most thoroughly-cooked item of the night.  Maybe you end up with something like this:


Not a pretty picture, is it?  In my opinion, there is no worse “minor” injury at a campsite than a burn.  Cuts and scrapes can be patched up.  But a burn in the wrong place can be downright debilitating.  

As soon as I realized how bad the burn was, I jammed my finger in ice water.  Step one of any burn treatment is to leech out the heat as quickly as possible.  Luckily, the nighttime temperatures dropped into the low 40’s, so cold water was not hard to come by.  Then I recalled that Baking Soda and Vinegar were both cited as home remedies to relieve burns.  

I realized that while my finger was submerged, the pain was minimal, but as soon as I took it out of the water, it flared up again.  I needed something more, so I quickly poured a teaspoon of baking soda into a cup and filled it with just a small amount of cool water.  The mixture made a paste.  Since I was one-handed at this point, it took a little bit of work to mix it together, but once the salve was finished, I jammed my hand into the DIY ointment and felt cooling relief immediately.  

I let the burn soak in my homemade remedy for about thirty minutes.  When I finally removed it, I felt a little heat, but nothing like the searing pain I had previously experienced.  The salve left on my hand dried into a flaky white substance.  And this is where my experimental spirit got me thinking, “Hey, I have vinegar too!  What would that do?”

So I grabbed my vinegar and poured it on the burn without first removing the baking soda.  As soon as the two substances met, they fizzled, but in all honesty, I didn’t feel like it improved my pain level one bit.  So I quickly washed off my finger and reapplied a bit of the baking soda “paste”, laying it on thick.  Then I wrapped it in a bandage to make sure the salve wouldn’t drip off the wound.  

I didn’t feel the pain of the burn again that night.  And when I woke up the next morning, I had no pain whatsoever.  A day later, the blister popped on its own.  For the rest of the trip, I had full use of all ten fingers, even foregoing bandages for the blister.  

I don’t know if my home remedy is backed by a ton of medical science.  I’ve read blogs that say it is either the best way or the worst way to treat a burn.  But I know it worked for me.  I also know that the next time I get a bad burn, I am reaching for the baking soda.  


Back from Camping: Lessons Learned

2 Sep

So we had a successful trip, but there were definitely some lessons to be learned along the way.  First, here is a picture of our camp kitchen, minus the grill, which had yet to arrive.


Camp Kitchen


You’ll notice that I’ve hung our cast iron cookware using simple iron hooks.  My DIY cupboard makes an appearance as well, but there were definitely some design flaws that need working out.  The design of the kitchen worked well for the most part.  When the other half of our party arrived later that night, we were able to fit another cooler, a stand-up grill, and a six-foot table under the canopy as well.

Notice those orange things on the canopy legs?  Those were pieces of a foam noodle that I cut up to make the campsite safer.  Every pole, leader line, and every branch that might jump out and smack an unsuspecting camper got a piece of bright orange to make the hazards stand out.  Which brings me to my first lesson learned.  I had also acquired a can of glow-in-the-dark spray paint to make these noodle pieces light up at night.  In theory, the clear paint should have absorbed sunlight throughout the day and then lit up at night.  In practice, this did not work out.  Save yourself the $10 and put it toward something more useful than paint.

The second lesson I learned was if you are going to go up in multiple cars, try to leave as close to the same time as possible.  And if you can’t do that, make sure you divide up the essentials in a way that ensures your survival until reinforcements arrive.  My wife and I left for the campsite early.  It was a four hour drive.  Our in-laws, who were our camping companions, left a couple of hours later.  On a busy Labor Day weekend, that delay made a load of difference.  An accident on Highway 87 left the road closed for hours.  Their four hour drive became an eight hour drive.  Worse yet, they had the grill and the water!  So while we anticipated their arrival around 5 pm, they didn’t roll in until after 9 pm.  Luckily, there was a general store for us to get some water and I was able to use the campfire for the night’s food.  Still, it could have gone more smoothly.

Lesson number three: altitude sickness is a real thing.  And it is not fun.  Failing to properly hydrate at higher elevations makes you dizzy, short on breath, and nauseous pretty quickly.  Think about the amount of water you’d normally drink at lower altitudes and double it at higher elevations to be safe.  A few extra trips behind the trees is infinitely better than waking up feeling hung over (without the previous night’s fun).

Lesson four:  Altitude also sucks for transport.  On the way up the mountain, I lost two cans of biscuits that popped.  I lost 4 eggs that cracked (in really strange patterns).  And you know how people say that you should buy gallon jugs of water and freeze those to keep your cooler cold?  Yeah, both jugs burst and as the water started to melt, they leaked everywhere.  Not fun.

Final lesson: I want to do my best Hank Hill impression and talk about propane.  Your propane grill will likely take half a tank just to boil water or cook a meal.  One of the downsides of camping is just the sheer slowness of a camp kitchen.  So bring more propane than you think you’ll ever need.  Even if you have a campfire as a backup, it will be even slower and less reliable than the consistent heat delivered from your stove.  You don’t want to run out of fuel halfway through a trip.  For our 3 night trip, I went through four small canisters of propane, even though I used my stove for no more than coffee in the morning and then cooking dinner at night.

So that is it for now.  I will be back with the most important lesson I learned in a separate post: Treatment for a burn suffered within the first hour of arriving at camp.

Must Have Items For Every Camping Trip

28 Aug

Very soon, we will be heading out to start our camping weekend.  It seems to me that when I search most “must have” lists for camping, they include gadgets that are really “nice-to-haves”.  So I’m going old school with a list from my backpacking days:

10. Duct Tape: It can be used to patch holes in a pinch, whether it is your tent, or you know, your skin.  I think that’s pretty self-explanatory.

9. Pocket Knife: Or some type of multi-tool.  At some point you’ll need a blade, a can opener, and maybe a fish-scaler.

8. Kindling:  Whether it is lint, cardboard, newspaper, oil-soaked cotton balls, etc; you should bring your own ignition source to the party.  You never know if you will arrive in the middle of a downpour, so starting out with a dry source is a good start.

7. Tarp (aka footprint): Don’t rest the bottom of your tent directly on the ground.  You need a buffer.  Purchase a footprint made specifically for your tent or make your own with cheaper alternatives such as tarps or plastic drop cloths.

6. Extra socks

5. Extra underwear

4. Rope and/or twine: Eventually you will need to tie something down (or up).  Download the knot app and learn which knots are appropriate for your needs.

3.Tin Foil: You can use it to cook food, you can use it to scour pots.  You can use it to make a funnel.  You can use it a to fix a battery connection.  Opt for the heavy duty kind.

2.Plastic baggies: Use them to store your stuff, seal up food, and even make your own omelets in boiling water.

1.Baking Soda: The unquestioned king of any camping pack.  It deodorizes, it cleans, it soothes bug bites and burns.  It can be used to combat grease fires or de-skunk your pet.  You can make toothpaste.  You can was dishes.  You can freshen up your mildewed gear or stinky boots.


Camping Cupboard

18 Aug

One of the items that I have deemed a necessity on this trip is a way to organize our camp kitchen.  Or at least it was until I saw the price tag on these things.

Camping Cupboard Kitchen Collapsible Organizerhni-camp_kitchen.jpg

Yikes!  There are less expensive options out there, but they sit on the ground.  Since we are taking dogs, I’d prefer to have my kitchen items hanging.

I already know my campsite will be covered because I own one of these from my tailgating exploits.  So all I really need is a hanging shelf that doesn’t cost $60.  In one of my favorite DIY moments, I decided to go foraging for parts.  I went to Lowe’s, but any hardware store will have comparable products.

First, we need the main structure of the cupboard.  I found this six-shelf collapsible closet organizer.  Unlike other organizers, it had steel hooks at the top, rather than a fabric sleeve to slide over a pole.  This is preferable, because it will make campsite installation a snap.   This particular model had clear vinyl sides (which will come in handy later) and canvas shelves (which needed tweaking).  

Clothing Organizer

Next, I decided I wanted to make sure the contents of at least a couple of my shelves didn’t tumble out the first time a stiff breeze swings the entire contraption.  I picked up a couple of collapsible canvas drawers.  Notice they are the same width and depth as the shelves (11.5″ x 11.5″), so I know they will fit snugly.  If you want to purchase a drawer for each shelf, you can do that too.  I was feeling cheap, so I only bought 2.  

Canvas Drawer

If you want to stop there, then you’d have a usable shelving unit for less than $20.  But where is the fun in that?  What about a paper towel holder, you ask?  Yeah, what about that?  Here’s what you need.  First, go to the organization section and find a folding towel rack that will screw into a shelf.  These racks come with pre-drilled holes to
guide your screws.  Pay attention to this distance.  If it is greater than the width of your hanging shelf, then it won’t work.  This is the cheapest one I could find, and it also had fastening holes that were within my acceptable limits.  

   Towel Rack

Now we need a way to fasten it to the bottom of the shelf.  I went to the hardware section and found that 4mm x 0.7 machine screws fit into the towel hanger holes perfectly.  I bought the 25 mm length screws, along with nuts and washers to fit. Then I used a pocket knife to punch 2 holes through the bottom canvas shelf that aligned with the holes in the towel rack.


So you have shelves and drawers and a towel rack, but why stop there?  Why not find a place to store your knives as well?  Here is what you need:

Velcro 1Velcro tape.  Oh, and I guess you need some knives.  I didn’t want to take my kitchen knives camping, but I also don’t want to spend a ton on new cutlery that is going to be exposed to the elements.  So I found these:

Simply attach the Velcro to the knife sheath and the vinyl sides of the shelf.  See?  I told you the clear vinyl would come in handy.  The Velcro tape sticks to it so much better than canvas.  

Next, I decided I needed a place to store my oils.  I bought this and attached it to the shelf just like I did with the knives.  

Handy Solutions 4 Piece Travel Bottle Kit - TSA Approved

Again, feel free to stop at any step if it doesn’t suit your needs.  If you’ve done everything I did, the total cost to you would be around $40, and that includes purchasing new knives!

But I am not done yet.  Since this shelving unit is for a camping kitchen, there is a good chance I will have stuff stored in there that’ll attract bugs.  So I bought some cheap mesh, more Velcro, and electrical tape.  All of this cost me another $10.

Mesh Materials

I cut the mesh to size and then sealed the edges with the electric tape.  I made sure that more of the tape’s surface area was on the inside of the mesh than the exterior so that the Velcro tape would have better contact.  I then attached the Velcro’d mesh to the shelving unit.

One final note.  The shelving unit I bought had soft canvas shelves.  Remember how I said I needed to tweak that?  Well, I cut cardboard squares (11.5″ x 11.5″) to line them.  The cardboard prevents the shelves from sagging and will support more weight.  Since I had previously bought two drawers with their own cardboard liners, I only needed to cut 4 squares.  

The total cost was about $50, but since the knives cost $15, I think I can say that I built a camping cupboard for about $35-$40.  

 Here are pictures of the final product. 

IMG_1495.JPG   IMG_1498-0.JPG


                                  IMG_1505 IMG_1506

Bonus tip:

The cupboard above clearly won’t support the weight of say, a cast iron skillet or dutch oven.  So instead, I bought these

Hang one end from your canopy frame and hook the other around the cookware handle.

Camping With a Diabetic

16 Aug

One of the biggest worries I have about my upcoming trip is insulin storage.  My three-year-old Maltipoo, Willow, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when she was six months old.  She requires two shots a day, twelve hours apart.  She also requires eye drops twice a day that require refrigeration.

Photo: Happiest pup I know!

(Isn’t She Cute?)

Keeping the insulin in a cooler is a decent option for overnight trips, but for our three night trip, I wanted something a little more reliable in case the Arizona sun melts all of our ice by Day 2.  Unless I want to pack a noisy generator and a fridge, how am I going to make sure that the temperature fluctuations don’t spoil her insulin?

When researching the issue, the answer was surprising easy to find.  Just Google FRIO and the problem is solved.  FRIO is a cooling case that uses gel insulation to regulate temperature for up to 2 days.  You just soak it in water for 5-10 minutes and it will retain its cooling properties for 48 hours.   But wait, I will be camping for 72 hours.  What do I do?  Well, after 48 hours, I will dip the FRIO in chilled cooler water/ice for another 5-10 minutes and I will be good to go for another two days.  Or, if the ice water isn’t so “icy”, I’ll venture down to the nearby lake and recharge the FRIO that way.

I researched other battery-operated products, but those cost hundreds of dollars and often didn’t carry a charge much more than 2 or 3 days.  FRIO cases cost $20-$40 and require no electricity.  They are also very compact, an essential characteristic for any camping item.

FRIO_XS_Six_Colors_new.jpg                        FRIO_XL_Six_Colors.jpg

                                                FRIO EXTRA SMALL                          FRIO EXTRA LARGE

Camping Time

15 Aug

When I was a Boy Scout, I camped with Troop 207 once a month.  Sometimes these trips were one-nighters.  Other times, we made a week out of it at Camp Wehinahpay.  And once, we even backpacked at Philmont for two weeks!  Snow, rain, wind, and blazing heat were no match for us!  Then I went to college and me and thirty of my closest friends made a couple of excursions to Elephant Butte Lake.  It turned out that I was one of the few to have any camping experience, so I set up tents, lit fires, cooked the food, and loved every minute of it!

Since moving to Arizona ten years ago, I’ve only camped twice; but I am going with my family in a couple of weeks.  It’s amazing how outdoor skills and knowledge never really go away.  I’ve been hard at work the last few days preparing for the trip by replenishing my outdated gear.  Let’s just say I’m a little overwhelmed at the advances made in camping technology in the last decade.  While I salivate over the parachute material hammocks, I find that there are just some old school methods that can’t be beat.  A quick consultation of the Internet tells me these methods are now called “hacks“.

For my upcoming trip, our group will consist of 4 dogs and 4 humans.  We will be venturing to the White Mountains of Arizona at the end of August for a 3 night excursion at a hosted campground.  “Hosted” generally means the site will boast fire pits, ranger stations, and other amenities.

This particular site also has running water and restroom facilities (including showers).  What better way to ease the family into life outdoors?  Unfortunately, hosted sites often have RV hookups as well.  Let me make this clear.  If you are in an RV, you are NOT camping.  You are not roughing it.  And you certainly are missing out on the best parts of the Great Outdoors by insulating yourself inside your rolling meth lab.

So anyway, while I stock up on the essentials (and not-so-essentials), I am going to update this blog with thoughts on what new gear might be worth the money, and which can be replaced with cheaper DIY substitutes.  I’ll also update with my packing list, menus, and other thoughts that might be helpful to other people looking to get out into the wild.