Category Archives: Recreation/Lifestyle

Tips for hiking the Appalachian Trail

For serious hikers, tackling the Appalachian Trail is the great white whale. Stretching more than 2,000 miles from Maine to Georgia, it was developed nearly a century ago by Benton MacKaye, who had visions of a path that stretched from New England to the southern Appalachian Mountains. 

Today, the Appalachian Trail is a part of the national park system and visited by thousands of people each year. Some visit for a short day-hike, some go for trips that last several days and some – called thru-hikers – attempt to travel the entire trail in one continuous stretch. Those who complete the journey, which generally takes between five and seven months, are known as "2,000 milers." Fewer than 15,000 are a part of this prestigious group. If you are taking aim to become a 2,000 miler, or just spend a few hours exploring a section of the trail, here are a few tips to make sure you have a safe and enjoyable experience:

Where and when to start
If you are planning a thru-hike, or just a hike that lasts a week or two, the decisions of when and where to start should be made together. For example, if you're heading out during the dog days of summer, it's probably a good idea to plan your hike a bit further north, whereas for an early spring or late fall trip, consider staying closer to Georgia to take advantage of the warmer weather. There are other considerations, as well. For example, Baxter State Park in Maine closes in mid-October, so if you're starting at the south end, make sure you time your trip to get there by then.

Where to stay
Because the Appalachian Trail was designed for hikers, there are shelters and tent sites set up along the way. The vast majority of hikers who are planning on spending several days on the trail bring their own tents. While you can use the provided shelters – they are strategically placed to be about a day's hike apart – it also gives you the flexibility to take it easy one day and find a campsite of your own.

Getting supplies
If you're going to be on the trail for more than a couple of days, it's likely you'll need to restock your food or water. You've got a few options here. If you're planning on taking a long hike, you may use mail drops. Just send yourself packages to points along the way that will keep you well-stocked until the next mail drop. There are also plenty of towns – the trail crosses roads once every four miles on average – so you can usually find a store if needed. Remember that the Appalachian Trail will take you through some pretty small towns, so you may have trouble shopping at night.

Staying safe
Every rule that applies to hiking safety should be remembered when tackling the Appalachian Trail. This means dressing appropriately for the weather you will likely encounter, eating regularly and drinking plenty of water. While you should keep a cell phone with you, remember that service along the trail will be spotty at best in places, so have a contingency plan ready for emergencies. Keep a whistle or flashlight with you at all times. In case of an emergency, three short calls repeated at regular intervals is the standard distress signal. This can mean blowing your whistle, shouting, flashing your light or even smoke puffs. If you hear such a signal, two short calls means you heard them and are coming to help.

If you are alone and hurt, it's important not to panic. Because the trail is relatively well-traveled, there is a good chance someone will come along before too long. Make sure you always have a map, understand how to use it and are aware of your location, so if your phone does work, you can describe your location and get help sent as quickly as possible.

Always stay aware of where you are heading, and let someone know what your plans are each day. It's rarely a good idea to hike alone, or even with a single partner or dog. Groups of three or more are the best way for everyone to stay safe. 

Currently, it is legal to carry a handgun on National Park Service land. If you chose to do so – or for any other valuables, electronics or important paperwork you may be carrying with you – consider bringing along a portable safe to ensure your belongings are secure at all times.

Most importantly, do plenty of research before setting out. There are lots of stops along the way that hikers before you have found and shared in books or on blogs. Using the experience of those before you will ensure you have a great trip, whether you're hiking 2 miles or 2,000.

Tips for your first time skiing or snowboarding

Though skiing and snowboarding are among the most popular winter sports in the country, there are plenty of people who are nervous to hit the slopes for the first time. If you've never given it a try before, you may not know where to find a ski hill. Rest assured that if your area gets snow – whether you live in the Rocky Mountains or in the Great Plains – there's a good chance there is a place to ski nearby. Here are a few tips to make sure your first skiing or snowboarding trip is a success:

Do your research
Unless you are heading out with a much more experience friend who is also extremely patient, you'll benefit from taking a lesson before tackling the slopes on your own. While deciding where you'll go for your first skiing trip, hop online and do a bit of research. Make sure you find a hill that offers lessons – most do – and check out reviews to find a certified instructor. You'll also need to keep an eye on the weather before heading out. For your first time skiing or snowboarding, you'll want to look for fresh snow. Powder – snow that is still fluffy and not yet icy from days of being packed down by others – will give you a little padding when you inevitably take a spill. It's also easier to travel through and gives you more control over your speed. 

Don't strike it out alone
While you may have a vision in your head of flying down a black diamond hill with no company but the wind whistling in your ears, understand that your first runs are probably going to involve a lot more awkward falling and retrieving dropped poles than cruising. For that reason, bring along an equally inexperienced friend or two. You'll have a great time learning together and it gives you someone to laugh with over your spills.

Dress appropriately 
Picking out your first snowboarding attire can be a bit tricky. Obviously, you need to protect yourself from the wind and snow. However, both skiing and snowboarding are tough workouts that can warm you up fairly quickly. A waterproof or water-resistant outer layer is a must. Under that, your best bet is to dress in layers that are easy to move in. Leave your jeans or any heavy cotton layers at home – if they get wet, they'll become extremely heavy and will cause your body temperature to drop. Instead, dress in light layers that you can remove if you start getting overheated. Fabric that wicks moisture away from your body is a plus. You'll also want to invest in a good pair of waterproof gloves or mittens. Your hands will come in contact with the snow more than almost anything else on your body, and having cold, wet hands is not a fun way to spend your day. 

Protect your belongings
Neither skiing nor snowboarding are activities that lend themselves to carrying purses, bags or bulky items. You'll have to either rent a locker or leave your belongings in your car while you are out hitting the slopes. Because nothing can ruin a fun day out on the hills faster than returning to find that your car has been broken into and your valuables missing, make sure you take the proper steps to secure all of your belongings. Don't leave any valuables or electronics out on the seats or dashboard where passers by can see them. Consider picking up a portable safe – it's the perfect way to protect your small electronics, cash or firearms while you're away from the car. If you've used the car roof racks to transport your belongings to the resort, make sure all roof cargo is property secured.

Rent before buying
If you've never been skiing or snowboarding, don't let your enthusiasm get away from you. Buying a set of ski boots, skis and ski poles or a full snowboarding setup can cost you a pretty penny. You may get onto the hill and realized skiing isn't for you after all, or wish you had tried snowboarding instead. Plus, both skis and snowboards come in a huge variety of lengths, widths, thickness and a variety of other factors. Test out a couple of different boards or skis that the resort has for rent before buying so you know you're getting the right one for you. Check out helmet rental options as well.

Don't give up
Both skiing and snowboarding are tricky skills to pick up. No one straps on a board and drops into a halfpipe on their first day, so don't get discouraged. Take breaks when you need to so you don't get frustrated, and try a different instructor if you t feel like you haven't clicked with yours. Practice makes perfect, and with a little persistence, you'll soon find yourself with a fun and active new hobby. 

Staying safe when traveling alone

For travelers, every experience is unique. For some, their ultimate trip would involve a group of friends, while others prefer to stick with just a single companion. For still others, seeing the country or wold solo is the best way to travel. While there are plenty of benefits of traveling alone, there are a few special considerations you should make.

Benefits of traveling alone
There's a lot to be said about not having to schedule your activities around someone else's timetable. Getting up and out when you are ready, resting when you're tired and lingering a bit longer in a particularly interesting museum are all appealing aspects. There is also the benefit of getting some "me time" while you are exploring a new city or trail. Many people regard the time they spent traveling alone as a period of real self-discovery. You will learn to be independent, entertain yourself and trust your instincts. Plus, without the burden of a second person or a group, you can change plans at the drop of a hat if you find something that suits your fancy. There's no compromising when you're by yourself – if you don't feel like waiting in a long line to kiss the Blarney Stone, you can skip it, and if you are willing to drive a couple of hours out of your way to catch a glimpse of Mount Rushmore, you don't have to worry about a sullen passenger.

Drawbacks of traveling solo
Of course, there is plenty to love about seeing the country or world by yourself, but there are also a handful of reasons that it's not for everyone. For example, it can get lonely being by yourself for weeks or even months at a time. This can be especially true if you travel to a country where you aren't fluent in the local language. You may also wish for someone to share the experience of seeing a new place with. Then, of course, there is the safety issue. When no one is around to watch your back, you are more defenseless when it comes to pickpockets, muggers and other ne'er-do-wells. Many people find that they are uncomfortable in cities by themselves, particularly at night. However, there are plenty of ways that travelers can feel safe even if they are alone.

Safety tips
Whether you're staying in a hotel room by yourself or a hostel with 10 strangers, keeping your valuables safe is paramount. The last thing you want to deal with on your big adventure is losing your passport, ID or credit cards. Here are a few ways to make sure none of these things happen to you:

  • Make a color copy of your passport and IDs and keep them in a safe place separate from the originals. That way, if your wallet or passport book is stolen, the process to have them replaced will be expedited. 
  • Avoid standing out as a tourist. Sure, once you start speaking, your accent will give you away, but there's no need for potential thieves to be able to pick you out as "not from around here" a block away. This means dressing in comfortable but appropriate clothing, figuring out your route in advance so you don't have your nose buried in a map and always walking confidently and with purpose.
  • Trust your gut. If a restaurant, park, street or cab feel a bit shady to you, walk away from it. Better safe than sorry.
  • Invest in a portable safe or small lockbox where you can store your valuables and paperwork while you're out enjoying the sights. The peace of mind you'll have burglars or with sticky fingers won't get their hands on your belongings will be worth the price.
  • Leave a copy of your itinerary with friends or family members and check in with them regularly. If you go missing for whatever reason, "somewhere in Europe" is not a great start to look for you.
  • Be careful who you reveal information to. While meeting new people on trips can be fun, be on alert for potential scam artists.

Get the most out of your experience
One of the drawbacks to traveling alone is the fact that you don't have anyone to share the experience with. Reliving particularly fun adventures with your travel buddy is one of the best ways to keep the memories fresh. However, if you're alone, you're the sole proprietor of your experiences. To make sure you remember everything, consider keeping a journal or a blog that you update frequently. You'll be glad to reread it later and relive the memories that may have faded over time. If you're feeling lonely, write postcards or emails to those you miss – they'll love hearing from you. Most importantly, give yourself time to enjoy your own company. It's a great opportunity to work through your thoughts and form new opinions and plans.

All about AreaBFE: 320 acres of open wilderness

For the uninitiated, AreaBFE is a recreational park in Moab, Utah. Its 320 acres can be used for any manner of outdoor activities – from hiking to dirt biking to camping. It was created by a group of guys 10 years ago who wanted to create a place where people could enjoy the landscape and all it offered without the threat of being kicked off by a cranky land owner. The site is open seven days a week all year round and is free to the public.

It is constantly being improved and new features are added often. According to its website, new trails and campsite are being developed all the time. In addition to being an inviting place for off-road vehicle enthusiasts, the area is available for corporate events, club gatherings, competitions, weddings and music festivals. These events, along with donations from users and the public at large, help keep AreaBFE open.

AreaBFE rules

As far as rules and regulations for a recreation facility go, AreaBFE is pretty lax. They ask that visitors to stick to the upper lot if they’re coming in for a day trip and reserve the lower lot for overnight camping. Camp sites also need to stay west of the tree line out of respect for neighbors in the area.

Once you’re settled in, the staff of AreaBFE don’t ask much of you. As the expression goes: “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.” This means no abandoning unneeded supplies, trash or materials behind and don’t take your new favorite rock home as a souvenir. Also, leave the vegetation alone. Don’t cut down trees, dig up plants or drive over shrubs.

Staying safe at AreaBFE

Just like any camping trip, you need to keep yourself and your belongings safe. Because AreaBFE relies on the honor system and a “police yourself” system, it’s up to you to look out for No. 1. If you’re leaving your car, truck or RV for any period of time, make sure you lock your belongings up securely. While your Jeep storage may be fine for holding onto your things while you’re driving or hanging around your campsite, you’ll need something a bit more secure if you’re not around to keep an eye on it. Bring along a portable safe for your valuables like small electronics or firearms that need some extra protection.

Because some of the trails are dangerous, avoid hitting the trails on your own. Traveling in groups is the best way to ensure you will have help if anything should happen.

On that note, while there aren’t any specified helmet rules in AreaBFE, make sure you are keeping yourself as safe as possible. Wear the proper safety gear for whatever activity you are engaging in. This means head gear, seatbelts and the appropriate pads, if necessary.

If  you’re planning to camp or hike for an extended period of time, be sure to bring the supplies you’ll need. Summer in Utah is no joke, so lots of water is always a must. Be sure to carry enough snacks and other supplies for the amount of time you’re planning on staying. Bringing a bit more water or provisions than you think you’ll need is never a bad idea, either.

Always keep a first-aid kit or other medical supplies with you when you’re going to be camping or engaging in any activities where you may take a spill or turn an ankle. You should also keep a flashlight with you in case you lose track of time and find yourself unexpectedly caught in the dark.

Most importantly, enjoy your time at AreaBFE. It was designed so people like you can enjoy the land, so take advantage of it.

Tips for your Grand Canyon trip

There are few locations in the United States as iconic as the Grand Canyon. Whether you are just visiting to take in the views from the South Rim, are planning on taking a short hike or are paddling down the Colorado river and camping out for a few nights, you can be assured it will be a trip worth remembering. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your Grand Canyon experience:

Pick your season
While the summer is the undisputed traveling season across the country, think twice before you plan your Grand Canyon trip then, as temperatures can average as high as 106 degrees. If you're planning on simply stopping for a couple quick snapshots, excessively warm temperatures may not put too much of a damper on your plans. However, if you are looking to do some hiking, consider planning your trip around the cooler months to avoid the dangerously high temperatures. Couple that with the fact that Arizona thunderstorms tend to generate lightening, and you should have plenty of motivation to move your trip to cooler months. In fact, January sees average highs of 56 – those from parts of the country or world with harsh winters see that as ideal outdoor weather. On top of that, you can avoid fighting the massive crowds that tend to visit the canyon between Memorial Day and Labor Day by planning an off-season trip.

Planning ahead
If you are traveling to the Grand Canyon with the intent to hike – whether it's short or long – it's important to do your research so you know what you're getting into. For example, if you have any known asthma, heart conditions, problems with your knees or back, or any other medical concerns, talk to your doctor before planning your trip and take it easy. Understand and respect your limits – many visitors report that the Grand Canyon is a more difficult hike than they expected. Make sure you plan out a reasonable route as well. There are plenty of maps and guides to help you do so. Keep in mind that you need to allow yourself about twice as long to climb back up as it takes for you to descend. That means that if you hike down into the canyon for about 30 minutes, it should take you about 60 minutes to get back up.

Short hikes
No matter how short you think your hike is going to be, it's still important to be prepared for anything. First and foremost, this means plenty of water. Particularly in the warmer months, don't wait until you're feeling parched to drink water, as this means you are already dehydrated. A good rule of thumb is to drink between a half to full quart of water per hour that you are hiking. You'll also have to eat more than you might expect, so be sure to have a good meal before setting out, and bring snacks along with you on any trip longer than 30 minutes. Focus on salty foods, which will give you a boost in the electrolytes that your body needs.

Long hikes
If you're planning on a longer hike, it's essential that you bring food and sports drinks with you, especially if you are hiking during the summer. That said, the less you carry with you, the more enjoyable your hike will be. Anything heavy or valuable – think bulky electronics, firearms and so forth – should be left in your hotel room or car. Invest in a portable safe or lockbox so you don't have to worry about theft while you are enjoying the views. Be sure to take frequent breaks, too. Stopping for about 10 minutes every hour, even when you don't necessarily feel like you need it, will help you from wearing yourself out. Propping your legs up while you're sitting down will help as well. Depending on the time of day and how ambitious you're feeling, you may need to bring along compact flashlights so you don't find yourself navigating the hills in the dark.

Watch out for mules
While hiking is an extremely popular choice when it comes to enjoying the Grand Canyon, it's by no means your only option. Another well-liked activity is riding mules down the trails. If you happen to be hiking when a team of these steady animals passes you on the trail, make sure you pay attention to the wrangler's instructions. It's likely he or she will ask you to move off the trail to the uphill side and keep still while allowing the mules to pass. It's a good idea to wait until they are several lengths away from you before getting back on the trail. Remember, though the animals are well trained, quick movements or loud noises can startle them and cause injury to itself, its rider or you.

Campfire safety tips

Whether it's a cool summer night or a chilly winter afternoon, you don't need Smokey the Bear to tell you that campfires can be dangerous and need to be attended to carefully. Even if you have been building fires since you were a Cub Scout, it's important to brush up on your safety techniques. Here are a few tips to make sure you leave your campsite just as you found it:

Selecting a site
No matter where you find yourself camping, selecting a proper location for your fire is an essential first step. This is more than just how close to your tent the fire pit can be or what a safe distance from the nearest plant growth is. Before you leave for your trip, check for the weather and any fire restrictions that may be in place where you plan to camp. While you are driving to the site, keep an eye out for signs that indicate fire danger. Even in generally safe areas, a dry spell or a particularly windy day can make any campfire dangerous. Once you're confident the weather is on your side, double check that the campsite you selected is fire-friendly. In some cases, you may need to obtain a permit before getting started. 

After all of that is cleared up, it's time to pick a spot to start your fire. If you're camping in a developed site, there is a good chance there is a fire pit already designated for use. Usually, it's surrounded by a metal wall or a ring of rocks. If not, pick a spot that is at least 15 feet away from your tent, as well as any shrubs, trees or any other potentially flammable objects, including low-hanging branches. Clear any grass, twigs, leaves and extra firewood from a 10-foot diameter around the fire pit.

Starting your fire
Always remember to use local wood when building a fire. No matter how much truck bed storage you have, hauling your own firewood from more than 50 miles away can introduce new insects to the campground, which have the potential to cause huge problems to the local flora and fauna. Generally, you can find wood for sale at nearby stores. If you start collecting fuel from your immediate area, only use downed wood. Cutting trees or breaking branches – even those on dead trees – may disrupt birds and other animals who make their homes there.

To get started, build a small cone or stack of dry twigs or sticks and ignite them using only a match or lighter. Do not use any kind of flammable liquid when starting or maintaining the fire. As the flame grows, introduce gradually larger pieces of wood, saving the biggest pieces for the end. As the fire grows, push embers into the center of the fire to ensure they burn completely. The best way to protect the surrounding forest is to reduce everything to white ash.

Staying safe around the fire
Always keep a bucket of water nearby in case the fire starts to get out of control. Also, consider keeping a shovel nearby to throw sand to extinguish any errant flames. Never leave the fire unless you have put it out completely and are confident it is cool. Any extra wood or flammable objects should be kept upwind and well away from the fire. If you have brought any valuables to the campsite with you, consider investing in a lockbox or portable safe to ensure their safety. For drying out wet clothing, secure a cord between two trees safely above the flames. Be sure it is taut, then carefully hang the clothes over the fire. If you have any children or pets with you, do not let them near the fire and never leave them unsupervised. Kids should be taught proper fire safety techniques, including how to stop, drop and roll if their clothing catches fire. Never burn trash that can't be completely consumed by the fire, like plastic, foil or cans.

Putting out the fire
Whether you are leaving for the afternoon or for good, safely and thoroughly extinguishing your fire is paramount to preventing a forest fire. When you leave your campsite, all of the coals, embers and unburned wood or ashes should be completely put out and cool to the touch. The best way to do this is to pour water over the embers until the hissing sound stops. Then, stir the ashes and continue to add more water. Repeat this until you are confident that the fire is out completely. If you don't have water nearby, you may mix soil and sand with the embers. Continue to add and stir the mixture until everything has cooled. Be sure to avoid burying the remains of your fire, as they may begin to smolder and burn. 

King of the Hammers Race 2014 attracts thousands

Each year, some of the country’s toughest racers meet in a dried lake bed in Johnson Valley, Calif., to take part in The King of the Hammers Race. What started as a casual race between a dozen teams in front of a few friends in 1997 has since evolved into a massive race that brings together more than 300 teams each year. The King of the Hammers Race is attended by more than 35,000 fans in person and an additional half-million online.

Cars and trucks race around the lake bed and tackle nearly every imaginable condition, including mud, dirt, sand, snow and rocks. During portions of the track, drivers tear around at more than 100 miles per hour, while at other times they creep over massive boulders and rocks.

As for the cars themselves, requirements are fairly lax. As long as they are four-wheel drive, they can participate. Many vehicles boast gear ratios that near 100-to-1 in order to tackle the rocks. The driver and co-driver are on their own when it comes to any repairs that may need to be made throughout the race, so both competitors need to have the technical savvy to fix just about anything on the fly.

The 2014 King of the Hammers Race kicked off on Feb. 1 following a week of qualifying rounds. While the top 20 teams from last year’s competition automatically were granted spots in the 2014 competition, all other vehicles need to qualify to race in the official race.

Race week
While the King of the Hammers Race is certainly the big draw for audiences, the week is filled out with plenty of other races. Drivers of motorcycles, utility task vehicles and stock cars will all have the chance to earn their stripes. During the first two days, King of the Motos – a motocross race – is run. There are 60 riders who competed on Feb. 1 to secure their start position the following day. Two at a time, competitors raced over 40 miles of desert track followed by another 40 miles of the trying rocky terrain.

Feb. 4 and 5 will feature the qualifying rounds for the main competition, including a Last Chance Qualifier race for the final spots in the King of the Hammers Race. Later on Feb. 5, audiences will get a chance to see the UTVs – two- or four-person off-road vehicles – tackle a 114-mile course that will include both high speeds in the desert portion and technical rock courses.

Finally, starting in the early morning of Feb. 7, drivers will compete to be named King of the Hammers. Drivers are given 14 hours to compete the nearly 200-mile course. Of course, not every vehicle will make it to the end of the race. In fact, only 27 out of 129 cars finished the 2013 race.

An eye on security
The 2014 King of the Hammers Race is expecting teams from eight countries and 31 states on top of the tens of thousands of spectators that will be in attendance. For many, this race is a yearly pilgrimage to be made each year from all across the country.

Because of the huge number of people expected, it’s essential that all attendees take the utmost care when it comes to security. Any valuables brought along need to be kept in a portable safe or lockbox.

When looking for the appropriate mini safe, it’s important to find one that is both extremely secure and easy to transport. Drivers should look for one that has enough room for their valuables – like important documents, cash, electronics or firearms – without taking up a huge amount of space in their car or RV.

Though Jeep storage is not always as secure and spacious as many drivers require, there are plenty of options to ensure that all valuables are safe. For example, a lockable storage box is a great addition to existing trunk space, as it can hold larger items that need extra protection.

Those who are attending this year’s King of the Hammers Race are going to enjoy themselves and watch tough cars tackle everything that Mother Nature can throw at them, so keeping their personal belongings secure will help make sure they have confidence that anything they leave with their truck will be there when they return at the end of the day.

Bringing your dog camping

Camping is an activity that can be enjoyed solo, but many of us prefer to hit the trail with our loved ones. Those of us who are dog owners know that Fido isn’t just a pet, but a member of the family, so wanting to bring your dog on your camping trip is only natural. While bringing your dog along can be a fun change of pace for your and your pooch alike, there are a few special considerations you need to make to be sure everyone is safe and happy:

Getting ready

Bringing your dog camping isn’t as simple as just loading him up in your car as you get ready to leave. Before you head out, pay a visit to your vet to make sure he’s up-to-date on all of his vaccinations. Because there are lots of other wild animals in the woods, it’s important that he has had his rabies shot and, because mosquitos can transmit heartworms, be sure he’s protected from them, as well. You also may want to consider having him vaccinated against Lyme disease, especially if there is a large tick population where you’re planning on traveling. No matter how well-trained your dog is, always keep a collar on him with the appropriate contact information. If you haven’t already, consider microchipping as an extra precaution as well.

If you’re planning on doing a lot of hiking, especially in hilly or mountainous areas, be sure your dog is physically ready. Take him on long walks and practice hikes so he can build his endurance and keep up with you where ever you go.

Packing

Find out whether there is plenty of water available for your dog at your campsite and, if not, pack enough for the entire trip. Same goes for food – bring along his regular dog food and treats along with a food dish and water bowl. You’ll probably want to bring an extra leash and collar in case one gets lost or is broken. If you have a bigger dog, pick up a dog-friendly backpack so he can carry his own weight on longer hikes, just be sure to give him a chance to get used to it before your trip.

During your trip

Be sure to bring a few toys to occupy your dog. It’s likely that he’ll be somewhat unsupervised at times, so keeping him busy will prevent him from wandering off and getting into trouble. If you are planning on bringing along any firearms or valuables that can be chewed on, take the proper precautions and keep them in a portable safe or small lockbox to make sure everyone is safe.

If this is your dog’s first time camping, there is a good chance that he’s never been around a campfire before, so make sure you keep an eye on him when he’s near it. Be sure he’s well-trained and understands commands like “leave it” something similar to get him out of trouble if he starts playing with something potentially dangerous. Perform regular checks for ticks, burrs or thorns, which should all be removed right away. While a burr may seem harmless enough, if your dog has long enough hair, you may find yourself having to shave the area completely to get rid of them if you don’t take care of them immediately. Ticks should be removed by pinching it as close to the skin as possible and pulling it slowly and gently. Be sure to wear gloves while you’re doing this, as diseases can be transmitted to you if you’re barehanded. If there is one nearby, you can bring him to a vet, as well.

There are times you may have to leave your dog for a while, so make sure he is safe and secure while you’re gone. Avoid tying him to a stationary object, instead opting for a crate or a portable fence. Make sure he has plenty of water, food and something to keep him busy while you’re gone.

Dog etiquette

Just like walking in the city or suburbs, there are certain unspoken – or clearly defined, depending on where you are camping – rules that you should abide by. If you have a dog that barks at his own shadow, it might be a good idea to leave him at home, especially if there are other campers nearby. Do your best to keep your dog with you while on the trail so he doesn’t disturb other hikers or stir up trouble with other wild animals in the area. Remember, not everyone is comfortable around dogs, so only let him off the leash if he is well trained in voice commands. And, even though you are out in the wilderness, it’s bad etiquette to let your dog do his business in the middle of the trail. Your best bet is to burry it off of the path.

Making your kids’ first camping trip a success

Camping can be the perfect family vacation. It’s relatively inexpensive, there is plenty of together time and no television to distract everyone. Your kids can learn all about your love of the outdoors. Maybe you’ll bond over fly fishing as the sun comes up over the trees or quietly bed down and observe a herd of deer grazing nearby.

But, let’s all be honest with ourselves. There’s a good chance some of those things won’t happen. Camping with kids, especially very young ones, can be its own special challenge. Sure, it will be rewarding and a fun shared experience, but only if you go in prepared. Here are a few tips to make your first camping experience with your kids a fun one:

Stay close to home
For your first attempt at camping with your family, it’s not a bad idea to stay close to home. If you have a toddler who absolutely cannot sleep in a sleeping bag or a preschooler who discovers she is terrified of the dark, it will be much easier to just hop into your car and zip home instead of driving five hours out of the backwoods. It even opens up the option of spending a few days at the camp site and returning to your own beds at night.

Prepare the kids
The key to a successful camping trip is laying out the appropriate groundwork before hitting the trail. Discussing what camping is and what they can expect is a great start. Try watching movies or television shows where the main characters go camping, though make sure you stick to ones that show a fun and successful trip – maybe they can watch The Blair Witch Project when they’re a bit older. Another good idea is to introduce them to different aspects of camping in an environment where they are already comfortable. Try setting up a full-fledged campsite in your backyard for a night. Take a walk around your neighborhood when it’s dark out so they know what to expect.

Pack for the kids
If you’re a veteran camper, you can probably pack for a weekend outdoors with your eyes closed. However, packing for your little ones requires more than just bringing smaller clothes than usual. Make sure you have enough to keep your kids feeling safe and secure. If they are not quite comfortable with the dark, bring plenty of flashlights and lanterns. Consider bringing some disposable glow sticks along as well. They are great as makeshift night lights – just slip them into mesh pockets in their tents for some extra illumination without wasting batteries.

Bring along entertainment
While your idea of a perfect evening of camping may consist of a quiet evening around the campfire with close friends, don’t expect your kids to feel the same way. Be sure to plan kid-friendly activities for the evening when hiking is no longer an option. Of course, roasting marshmallows and making s’mores is a time-honored activity, but be ready with a contingency plan. While you’ll probably be happy leaving your smartphones and portable video games at home, being prepared with cards or other travel-size games as a fun way to pass the time before bed.

Get plenty of sleep
Nothing ruins a trip faster than tired, cranky kids. Because of this, it’s important to make sure your kids get plenty of sleep. There are a few things you can do to make this easier for them. Sleeping on the cold, hard ground in a sleeping bag may be tough for little ones. Consider investing in a camping-friendly air mattress to make them more cozy. A few days before the trip, have your kids try a night out in a sleeping bag in the safety of their own bed. If they find they can’t get comfortable in one, pack accordingly.

Camping is naturally a fairly active adventure – lots of hiking, swimming and boating can really tucker the little ones out. If they are still taking naps, be sure to stick to their regular schedule to avoid a meltdown later in the day. Even if your kids no longer require daily naps, plan a little downtime during the day so they can catch some Zs if they need to recharge their batteries for the afternoon.

Stay safe
Whether it’s for safety or sport, you may be in the habit of bringing a knife or even a firearm with you when camping. While you don’t necessarily need to stop doing this once kids are in the picture, it is essential that you take extra precautions with dangerous objects around your kids. A handgun lock box or portable safe are both great options for guns and knives. They are lightweight and easy to keep close at hand without the risk of kids getting their hands on anything they’re not supposed to.

Tips to properly pack your pack

Whether you are backpacking through Europe or through the Rocky Mountains, a well-organized bag is the key to comfort and convenience. The less experienced among us may be tempted to just shove as much stuff as possible into our bags and hit the road. However, there are lots of tips and tricks that will make packing easier and keep you as comfortable as possible. Here are a few:

Organize
If it’s your first time packing a hiking backpack, give yourself plenty of time to get yourself organized before actually putting anything in the bag. Obviously, what you pack will depend largely on where you’re going and how long you’ll be staying there. The best way to do this – and keep yourself from getting overwhelmed – is to give yourself plenty of space and spread out everything you need. If you’ll be camping, this includes any food, water bottles, tents, sleeping bags and other equipment you’ll have to carry with you.

Remember, it’s a good idea to leave any expensive or delicate electronics somewhere safe. You should consider picking up a portable safe if you’ll be keeping valuables anywhere besides in your home. While you are organizing the items you’ll be brining along, set aside your boots, water bottle, sunglasses, knife and first day’s clothing. You’ll obviously be wearing the clothes and boots, so no need to pack them, and you’ll need to keep the other items handy and on your person or attached to the outside of your bag.

Prioritize
Assuming you are hiking out to a camping spot, look at what you have and determine what you’ll probably need to access while you’re on the trail and what you won’t need until you reach your destination. Whatever items you probably don’t need to get to during your hike – sleeping bag, tent and other nighttime supplies – should go toward the bottom, while anything you may need to get to quickly or regularly – snacks, bug spray, a GPS or rainwear – need to be easily accessible.

Internal backpacks
Next, you’ll have to start thinking about the weight of your items. If you have a pack with an internal frame – the type that has become more popular as of late – you’ll want to pack all of your lightest items in the bottom of the bag. Next, the heaviest items. You’ll want to pack these items as close to your back as possible and centered halfway between the top and bottom of your bag. This will put them as close to your shoulder blades as possible, transferring the weight to your hips, which should hold most of the weight. If you are traveling over rough terrain, put the heavy items a bit lower to drop your center of gravity and make you more stable. The top of the bag should be reserved for more mid-weight items and things you’ll need to access.

External backpacks
This style of backpack is currently less popular, but they are certainly still perfectly good packs for trail hiking. Just like an internal frame, keep the most lightweight items low in the bag. However, external frame packs should have the medium-weight items in the middle, while the heaviest items go on top close to your back. This centers the pack’s weight over your hips and allows you to walk comfortably upright.

Whether you are using an internal or external frame backpack, it’s important to remember to balance your pack horizontally as well as vertically. If you load up one side of the pack, you will not only be uncomfortable, but you may do some real damage to your shoulders or back over a long period.

External gear
While a properly-packed backpack should not require many items attached to the outside of the bag, sometimes it is necessary. Usually, this is due to oddly shaped items or a bag that is a bit too small for your needs. Watch out for anything attached to the outside of your pack as they may swing, clank against other hanging items or get caught on branches or other obstructions along the trail. If attached improperly, it may also have a detrimental effect on your balance.

Most commonly, hikers will attach trekking or tent poles to the outside of their packs. These can be attached vertically on either side of the pack under the compression straps. Make sure you tuck them into water bottle pockets on the bottom of the pack to keep them from getting caught on clothing or plants.

The hip and shoulder belts of most backpacks usually have daisy chains or other ways to hook equipment on the front. These are intended for mountaineering equipment, so if you’re not heading for Everest, they make ideal places for things like water bottles or sunscreen so you can easily access them.