A Case for Campgrounds

Okay, it’s not the most glamorous form of adventure.  And it’s not going to win you any points when the adventure stories start flowing around the campfire. But life doesn’t always allow you to do a 2500 mile backcountry trip through South America, or Iceland, or Death Valley, or even a Backroad Discovery Route in your area. The point is, life happens, be it work schedule, lack of pto, lack of funds or you already have a big trip planned and just can’t swing another. We need to get outside. And sometimes campgrounds are the perfect way to escape and find a little adventure.

Sometimes we are just too busy...

Campgrounds are not my favorite place to be. They can be noisy andcrowded and they just seem to lack the sense of adventure that lures me into the backcountry. But often, they work in a pinch. Here me out. We, as humans, have a desire for adventure. It’s a yearning we all have that manifests itself in a wide variety of ways. For many of us, that means getting outside. But for most average working folks, there just isn’t enough time to do the trips we truly desire. If you’re lucky, you get one, maybe two trips per year. That’s just not enough.

Enter the campground, it’s not as glamorous but it has a lot of opportunities for quick weekend adventures without having to spend loads of time on planning and prep. For me, personally, state parks give me that quick fix I need to see me through to my next big adventure. I can book online (Reserve America) and I know that, because I reserved a site, I don’t have to go wandering around looking for a place to park when I roll in at dinner time on Friday and my two kids are dying for something to eat and starting to melt down in the back. Just pull up, check in, drive to the designated site and start camping. Again, not super glamorous, but the camping in this scenario, for me, is not the adventure. Its all the other things campgrounds offer that can satisfy that craving.

We all started somewhere...

Another benefit of campground camping is simply experience.We allstarted somewhere and for many, a week long trip deep in the bush is a bit too intimidating.  This is where I think State Parks and other campgrounds really shine. They have bathrooms and often running water, in case roughing it just isn’t for you. Also, you won’t feel completely alone. I personally thrive on being the only human for miles and miles, but a lot of folks just aren’t ready for that (every twig snap is a grizzly bear outside the tent, right?). Having other folks camping in the area will offer a little comfort. State Parks are also great base camps. You can set up camp and go out for a hike, hit the trails on a bike or find some 4×4 trails, enjoy the educational programs most parks provide, see the points of interest in the area or just relax in camp.

State parks are also a great way to test the waters of off grid camping. Many of them don’t include any kind of power/water hookups and often do not have restrooms. If hiking is your thing, a lot of primitive sites are hike in only (you must hike to them and can not park at them). These are great opportunities to try out new gear or try out off grid camping in a somewhat controlled environment. And you won’t have to listen to the RV’s generator running in the site next door all night long.

Camping is a family affair...

Every kid is different, but one thing almost all kids have in common is a love for the outdoors. Getting a young child out and on a long trip can be tough, if not impossible. Campgrounds aren’t too far from civilization, so if it just isn’t working, you can bail and come back another day. Most campgrounds have playgrounds, beaches and bathrooms. This makes the first few trips with your kids a lot easier. Don’t get me wrong, those first adventures will be tough, but having a few familiar things to do (swing set, slides, swimming) will make the transition a little smoother.

Keep the roadtrip going...

We sometimes travel long distances to get to the launch point of our adventures. Or the long road trip is the adventure. A low cost alternative to hotels is KOA and similar roadside campgrounds. They are usually located short distances off of major routes to be quick and easy to access. Besides, sleeping under the stars just adds an element of adventure to your road trips. And you get the opportunity to use that expensive gear you just HAD to have. It’s quick and easy, like I mentioned before, you can reserve a site ahead of time and don’t need to wander around trying to find a spot to set up for the night.

 

It’s not the story you want to tell when swapping sagas around a campfire, but the accessibility of campgrounds makes the quick trips more doable. The easier it is to get outside, the more frequent trips will be. And that’s just good for the soul. Find a park, or campground and go sleep under the stars. It will restore you. And give that gear collecting dust in the garage a chance to do more than 1 trip this year. 

Have questions about State Parks and Campgrounds in your area, or in an area you are travelling to? Send us an email. We would love to chat about what will work best for your trip and situation. info@backroadventures.com

First Impressions: Kovea Alpine Master

It's not very often I try a new piece of camp kitchen gear. I'm pretty picky about the items I carry, especially the ones I use for cooking.

I’m pretty serious about my camp kitchen. After all, food is my love language. But while at Overland Expo East this year, I got my hands on the Alpine Master by Kovea. I’ve used some Kovea stuff in the past. And it’s pretty good gear. In fact, the pot I usually use for boiling water is the Alpine Wide Up (we like the Wide Up a lot, so much so, we started carrying it in our store). I really like that system. It boils enough water for a couple cups of coffee, or a couple freeze dried meals in no time at all. And it has a small attachment that I can use for my regular pots if I need an extra burner for making dinner. Anyway, that system isn’t what has me all tingly inside today. The big brother, The Alpine Master, is what I have in front of me right now.

*Disclaimer: I purchased the Alpine Master myself and this is not a review requested by Kovea.

Bigger is Better

It’s big, not massive, but big enough. The pot has a capacity of 2 liters, and nests quite securely on the burner using a sort of tongue and groove. Now 2 liters may not seem like something to get excited about, but that’s a half liter more than what my current set up can handle. And when you have many cups of coffee to make on a cold morning, it makes all the difference. The system also has a lid (4 small holes in the rim for straining) that doubles as a small frying pan and a small ring that fits in the groove of the burner to use normal pots and pans. Flip the pot over and you see the same heat exchanger you would find on any of the other fast boil systems out there. But the pot isn’t what drew me to this new system. It’s the burner.

Power

The burner has this sort of honeycomb looking mesh that glows as the fuel is burned. There is no visible flame, and as I understand it, the burner is supposed to function better in windy conditions; which is really intriguing to me. It has the typical folding wire control tab; righty tighty, lefty loosey. The rated boil time is 1.2L in 2 minutes 40 seconds. And from the limited testing I did in my kitchen, that’s pretty accurate. Apart from the ability to boil a larger pot of water, I’m excited to be able to use the burner as a supplement to my cook-partner stove. There are some occasions, where another cooking surface is needed and the Wide UP just doesn’t have the power for that.

 

Storage

What I like about the kit’s size is that everything nests inside of the large pot, including the fuel. Space is pretty limited in my truck, especially when I have my family of four with me. The whole system, once nested, slips into a mesh bag with draw-string. The footprint is larger than my current setup… A small price to pay for the extra cooking capacity.

So why am I excited about it?

As a guide, I’m not just responsible for my own needs, I’m responsible for those of my clients as well. The ability to boil enough water to make coffee for everyone at once in a really short amount of time may not seem all that special but it can be a game changer when it’s a cold, early morning. The system seems really well built and sturdy. Gear that lasts and can take the punishment of constant use is important to me. Though I haven’t had the Alpine Master in the field yet, I’m pretty excited to get it into the rotation. It won’t take the place of my BSR when backpacking, but I have a feeling the Alpine Master will likely find a permanent spot in my truck. Time will tell. I’ll be sure to post an update once I’ve had this setup in the field and adequately tested it.

Let’s Talk About Airing Down

Why Air Down?

Airing down can be boiled down to two distinct benefits:  mechanical advantage and personal comfort. Both of which can drastically impact your experience on the trail.

Disclaimer – BackroadVentures does not advocate the use of your vehicle, tire, or equipment in a way the manufacturer has not intended and doing so is at the full risk of the consumer/owner. 

Mechanical Advantage

There are two mechanical advantages here:  1) Increased contact patch (where the surface of the tire meets the ground) and 2) more pliable contact patch

Reducing tire pressure allows the “footprint” of the tire to expand.  A common misconception is that “airing down makes the tire wider.”  While yes, it appears that the tire is wider because of the “sidewall squat,” the actual mechanical advantage is the tire contact patch is longer. This elongated contact patch provides more traction by increasing the amount tire tread that is in contact with the road/trail surface. Additionally, reducing the pressure allows the contact patch to mold to changes in the road/trail surface, like rocks and such.  The contact patch being able to mold to the contour of the terrain allows the power to transfer to from the vehicle to the terrain with less slipping.  This pliability also helps to reduce the likelihood of tread-face punctures.

Personal Comfort

Anyone who has spent time on washboard roads knows that having full, stiff tires does not help to alleviate the tooth chattering, dash shaking, “oh no my coffee is coming out the sip hole” experience. Reducing the tire pressure can help to absorb some of that by acting as the initial “shock absorber” in the suspension system. This is obviously subjective, and everyone will have different comfort levels, but the overall experience is generally improved.

So why not run them low all the time?

There are a couple of things to be aware of. Running tires at lower pressures does make the sidewall work harder, which is alright at slower speeds, but not good when driving fast on tarmac.  If you drive at higher speeds on tarmac with soft tires, you may experience squirrely behavior in when cornering. More importantly, the friction generated by the sidewall changing shape can build up heat in the sidewall and cause delamination or failure of the plies.

All that said, the benefits are there.  The biggest debate is “how low should I go?”

How low should you go?

The pressure you choose is really a combination of personal preference and risk mitigation.  The lower you go, the more the benefits are noticeable, but the likelihood of popping your tire bead off the wheel increases.  Most people are confident going down to 15-20 psi without bead-lock wheels (if you aren’t familiar with bead-locks, they are wheels that use a ring rather than tire pressure to secure the tire bead to the wheel).  With bead-locks, people will run in the single digits and often be just fine, but when is that really needed?  Pressures that low are extremely beneficial in rock-crawling; not so much in general overlanding. For overlanding, and if you are new to airing down, test out different pressures to see what you like. Start in the mid-20’s, if you like it, try the low-20’s.  For the majority of what/where/how I drive, I typically run my tires at 20-22 psi. I find it to be nice blend of steering responsiveness, traction, and comfort, considering the weight of my vehicle with expedition load.

KEEP IN MIND – if you air down, you must have a way to air back up.  A blog for another time.

It Shouldn’t Be This Hard to Have So Much Fun!

Photo: Chris Jones

Adventure is calling

I would guess that most people reading a blog on an adventure travel site, like myself, have at one point or another dreamed of great adventure.  Adventure like reaching the Arctic Ocean or trekking across some vast wilderness, likely due to an intrinsic wanderlust or passion for outdoor adventure and the dream of experiencing incredible remote locations. Or…maybe because you’ve always wanted to and just didn’t know where to get started.

So what's stopping you?

Well, if you’re like most folks that I have met this past year, it is likely having the time and resources, knowing where to go and how to get there, and let’s not forget the planning.  When you combine these, adventuring can seem like a daunting task or dealing with the unknown of remote travel can be downright scary

3 tips to get you over your hurdles and out on an adventure

Research doesn’t have to be difficult

The internet is full of phenomenal media outlets that can make figuring out how to get out there less daunting. The trick is to find one that works to maintain neutrality and sense of community.  Overland Bound for example professes to ensure an open and accepting community spirit – key to getting started and not getting a bad taste from bullies and trolls.

Don’t fall into “analysis paralysis”

It is very easy to keep putting off adventuring until your rig is “more capable” or “you know more about where to go” or whatever…. Adventure is out there waiting for you – don’t miss it!  You’d be very surprised how much fun you can have in a stock vehicle – any stock vehicle.  Seriously.  You just need to tailor the type of adventure to the vehicle’s capabilities (this could be a dirt bike, mountain bike, tricycle, car, truck, van, Jeep, flip flops, boots – whatever).  If you plan to do the Mojave Road (139 miles all off-road on a dirt track) for example – you probably won’t enjoy yourself in two-wheel drive passenger car.  However, it also doesn’t take a highly modified 4×4 either – which is what most people who haven’t done it believe.  The key here, to quote Nike, “just do it” – experience and learn.

Do a trip that is just on the edge of your comfort zone 

*Or seek assistance from someone that can guide you (insert shameless BRV plug here)

This is a lesson I have learned over time, and I’ll be writing soon on how this impacted my Baja 1000 trip this past November.  By nature, certain members of my family are trip planners to the nth degree; and yes, there is certainly a place for that and it is needed… But sometimes you just need to flow and see what happens.  Some of my favorite trips started with loose plans and led to incredible unplanned adventures.

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Notes From HQ: Why Adventure

Why Adventure?

Staring out at a quiet, unusually empty street, on this snowy Christmas day, I’m struck with how I got here. Sipping bourbon and pondering life often makes me nostalgic. But tonight it’s not so much the life choices I made that are on my mind. It’s the adventures I’ve had to this point. Most of which occurred before my almost two year old arrived. It’s funny how the details of life, graduating, getting my license, my twenty-first birthday, can all be fuzzy but the minute details of adventure can be recalled in an instant. My first fish on a fly rod, knee deep in a Northern New Hampshire brook watching a small brook trout sip a well worn Parachute Adams; heck just about every fish I ever caught, is a distinct and vivid memory.

I can visualize the exact route to Ruby Point and recall the feeling of unmitigated rapture when my wife and I stepped out of the truck and were standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon. Completely alone. Nothing but the sound of Cliff Swallows to break the silence. My adventures have always been important to me. Sharing those adventures with my wife, Kayla, has always been important to me. And now, more than ever, sharing those adventures with our daughter is important to me. It’s my adventures, my interactions with the natural world that have shaped who I am as a man, as a husband and hopefully as a father. It’s not always easy to get out. But it’s always worth it.

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