Archive for August, 2010

Product Review: Solar Showers

Most of the time, getting dirty while camping is half the fun. But on longer trips, or if it is really hot out, I’m always interested in cleaning up a bit. Trust me, having clean hair, face and hands goes a LONG way toward making me feel human again!

It holds 5 gallons of water and is made from heavy-duty plasic.

Whenever I drive through a campground, I see tons of those PVC camp showers laying on picnic tables and the hoods of cars. But my only experience with one was decidedly unpleasant so I’m never tempted to try it one out.

The Story

It was just before my 4th birthday. Standing on a picnic table, The Queen Mother decided to hose me down. Needless to say, the water was FREEZING and I was screaming that I was camping, there was no way I’d ever take a shower! Needless to say, Mom gave it up as a bad job and just dried me off! No solar showers for me!

According to the package, the solar shower should be able to heat 5 gallons of water from 60 degrees to 105 degrees in just three hours. And, according to various water/shower websites, most people shower in water between 102 and 107 degrees. So, the box promising water of 105 would be right in the comfortable range for most people.

I'm not sure how easy it would be to fill the shower without using a garden hose!

Of course, there’s a HUGE difference between a solar camp shower and your shower at home:

The Bathroom!

At home, you close the door and trap all the warm air around you. In camp, there aren’t really any doors to close!

The only thing left to do was to put the solar shower to the test!

The Test:

  • Initial Water Temperature: 78°
  • Gallons in shower: 5
  • Put in sun at: 1:07 pm
  • Outside Temperature: 94°

High-dollar weather station I "borrowed" from ESP Boss.

Mid-way through the 3 hours:

  • Time: 2:37 pm
  • Water Temperature: 92°
  • Outside Temperature: 97°

After 3 hours

  • Time: 4:08 pm
  • Water Temperature: 100°
  • Outside Temperature: 94°

The Verdict:

Well, at 100 degrees, maybe the water would be warm enough and maybe not. On a hot day, it would probably be okay to rinse hands and face. Even a quick scrub to my hair. Since I was at the office, couldn’t really test it!

My water, straight from the garden hose, started out at a balmy 78 degrees. I’m pretty sure that this is much warmer than water that comes out of the spigot at any campground I’VE ever been too!

I used an aquarium termometer to measure water temperatures.

The shower was a bit hard to fill with the hose. It seemed like it would go better as a two person job. To make matters worse, when I tried to pick up the bag, the clear plastic shower tube popped off and water went pouring over my foot. (This is a problem!)

It was actually quite difficult to carry the shower from where I filled it to where I was going to conduct the test. Of course, I couldn’t really wrap my arms around it and carry it like a baby since I was at the office and didn’t want to get all wet. In camp, this might not be as much of an issue since wet and dirty are part of the fun of camping.

I’m not sure at all how you would HANG 5 gallons of hot water so you could get UNDER the hose to wash anything. 1 gallon of water weighs 8.35 pounds; 5 gallons weighs 42 pounds, give or take. That’s an awful lot of weight to haul up into a tree!

The full shower is heavy and awkward!

The box said that the hot water is also good for washing dishes. I don’t know about you, but when I’m in camp, I want to scrub dishes with BOILING water. Maybe use warm water (solar shower warm) as a rinse.

Now, there is one more part of the puzzle:

It was partly cloudy in the afternoon so the solar shower wasn’t in 100% full sun. I don’t know how much of a difference that makes to the over all water temperature. I’m planning on re-testing the shower with cold water and on a fully sunny day. I also am curious to know if air temperature makes that much of a difference. And, what happens if you DON’T put the bag in the sun, clear-side-up?

Readers Weigh In:

  • What have been your experiences with solar showers?
  • What is your favorite way to clean up while you’re in camp?

Here’s a link, in case you want to purchase a camp shower.

After Camping Checklist

An Internet search will turn up a million and one checklists about what to take with you when you GO camping. What I’ve found, however, is that people have little problem bringing everything they need with them, but where they fall apart is knowing what to do with it all when they get home!

Who hasn’t just left a suitcase full of unworn clothes, dirty clothes, and toiletries languishing in the corner for a few days (or longer) after a trip? NOT a good idea for your camping gear, since there’s been considerable expense over the years to gather all your equipment. Unpacking later, rather than sooner, can ruin many different items.

When I got back from my camping trip with Nicole last weekend, I was hot, tired, and dirty. But I knew I shouldn’t leave the gear just sitting there (especially in the back of my truck!) So after a quick lunch, I got right to the business of unpacking all my gear.

Unpacking Checklist

Do you RV? The very first thing you need to do is dump your holding tanks of grey and black water. If you can, dump the tanks at the campground, since many provide RV dumps. If you camp a lot, and if it’s feasible at your house, consider having a sewer connection near where you park your RV.

We usually dump at the campground and then make sure the holding tanks are really clean when we get home.

The “Royal” Family (okay, so it was all ESP Boss!) had a level concrete pad poured where we park the RV. Right there we have a sewer dump, fresh water connection, and power.

Return any leftover foods to the refrigerator or pantry, as necessary, and discard any foods that may have spoiled. Do this sooner rather than later. Some items on the put-away checklist can be done the next day, but food needs to be unpacked and returned to the refrigerator or pantry right away.

Rinse the ice chest and allow to dry. Sprinkle some baking soda in the ice chest to keep it odor-free and fresh until the next time you use it. This is a great time to make sure the valve to let out water is still working and that there are no cracks or bows in the chest. If anything is damaged, replace the ice chest.

Gather up and dispose of any remaining trash.

As you unpack, take inventory of your gear. Did you leave anything behind? Identify any items that are damaged, broken, or consumed (like matches). Be sure to count your tent stakes to make sure you’ll have enough for the next trip. Then, make a list of what needs repair or replacement. Pay special attention to items in your first aid kit.

When we get home from a camping trip, we also make sure to restock on any paper products we’ve used: toilet paper, paper plates, paper towels, plastic silverware, and make sure that the replacements get back into the trailer or camping box.

Separate all clothes and bedding items that may need laundering. Don’t wait to start doing the laundry; wash whatever you can, as soon as you can, to remove outdoor smells that can come from campfires, or from lakes, streams, and beaches, or from dirt, mud, and sand, etc.

Set up your tent to air it out, especially if it got wet while camping, and give it a good sweeping before stowing it. Be sure to air out any other camping gear, which may have gotten wet on the trip, to avoid possible mold and mildew. If your RV has slide-outs or anything tent-like (awnings, tent trailer sides, fold out beds, etc.) be sure to open all of these when you get home and make sure they are dry.

The dew had fallen the last morning in camp so I had to set up the tent at home too!

(If you are in an area that gets morning dew, make sure that all the gear is stowed before the dew falls, or you’ll have to wait for everything to dry out again!)

Clean all kitchen utensils, cookware, dishes, glasses, and silverware – if you can, run everything through the dishwasher. Return kitchen items to where they belong, and store all camping specific cooking items together.

Open your camping stove and wipe off any grease or food particles. You also might need to wash any cooking surfaces.

I wiped my stove down before I packed it up in camp. It WAS greasy!

Make sure that any camping stoves and lanterns are turned off and that all fuel containers are properly stored.

My new lantern is battery powered: I removed the batteries when I got home. It can't turn on in storage AND the batteries can't leak.

Empty any water containers and allow to dry. You’ll want to keep a close eye on it however, so as soon as the inside is dry, you put the lid on tightly. There is nothing worse that filling up your potable water container and having a big dead spider looking up at you from the bottom! Or peering inside to see dust, cat hairs, dead bugs, LIVE bugs… You get the picture!

Take good care of your camping gear since it was an investment and you will want to use it for many years to come.

Readers Weigh In:

  • Do you have other items on YOUR unpacking checklist?

How To Camp-Cook With Unusual Ingredients

EatStayPlay’s popular eGuide, “Camp Cooking from the Newsletter” is full of easy, yummy recipes you can make on your next family trip. But, when I was working on the guide, a few of the recipes called for more unusual ingredients.

So, I thought I’d better give you some advice on how to Camp-Cook With Unusual Ingredients!

So you understand the problem:

  1. You’ve got a great camp recipe that calls for 1 tablespoon of teriyaki sauce
  2. You weren’t planning on taking a bottle of teriyaki sauce with you on your camping trip
  3. You have no idea what you can substitute for teriyaki sauce
  4. You REALLY want to make this recipe

Guess what! There IS a solution!

With a little pre-planning, you should be able to make just about anything at the campsite that you would at home. All you have to do it have a nice selection of small Ziplock Bags and small plastic containers with lids.

If your recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of teriyaki sauce you can measure that into a small plastic container with a tight-fitting lid before you leave home. At the campsite, you know that you’ve got just the right amount of teriyaki sauce for your recipe and you know that if you end up not making the recipe, you can just dump out the sauce, wash the container and you’re done. You don’t have to lug your (glass!) bottle of sauce out to the campsite and back again!

Now, if your recipe calls for 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon, just measure it into a small Ziplock Bag! You will want to label the bag- especially if you’re taking more than one bag or the same ingredient for different recipes.

Funny Story:

While I was growing up, every October, we went camping with our good family friends Patti and Eddie Gray. Each trip, we made Navajo Fry Bread. Each year, Patti used a Ziplock Bag to pre-mix and pre-measure the dry ingredients. One year, we were making Indian Fry Bread and Patti told me, “Grab that bag of white stuff, it goes into the fry bread mix.”

Turns out it WASN’T fry bread mix- it was Eddie’s powdered coffee creamer!

The moral of this story: label your bags!

Readers Weigh In:

  1. Have you ever had an “unexpected” ingredient in your camp food?
  2. How do you transport and use “unusual” ingredients while in camp?

Best Camping Season

Most people associate camping with summer time. And, as the start of the school year is drawing nearer (The Queen Mother teaches 5th grade; she reports back on Monday!) I think a lot of people might be thinking that their camping for the year is over.

But that is far from true. Done properly, camping is easy in three seasons of the year and for those hearty souls, can even be done in winter!

No matter when you go camping, you’ll want to make sure you have the proper gear including sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and a tent! If you need help buying gear, you can find information about Buying a Sleeping Bag and Picking a Sleeping Pad. (Tents coming soon!)

Spring Camping

The grass is coming out, a few early wildflowers and blooming, the creeks are running with snowmelt. And there might even be snow on the north side of hills!

Advantages to Spring Camping:

  • Not many people are out in the spring, so you can enjoy the peace and solitude of nature.
  • Enjoy that early vegetation! Nothing is prettier than grass and flowers just starting to grow.
  • Animals are usually pretty active since they’ve “forgotten” the crush of people from the summer before.
  • No bugs!
  • The fishing is usually excellent.
  • Less likely to have fire restrictions.

Disadvantages to Spring Camping:

  • Many campgrounds don’t open until Memorial Day so services might be limited including water and trash service.
  • Mud! You have to be very careful where you drive so you don’t damage the soggy ground.
  • Cold nights and it might freeze. You’ll have to bring warmer clothes (more to pack) and it’ll take extra time to cook.

Summer Camping

It’s hot, supermarkets have displays of s’more fixings, the kids are out of school, and the campgrounds are just calling your name! Of course, they’re calling everybody else’s name too!

Advantages to Summer Camping:

  • Kids are out of school.
  • There’s a festive atmosphere at most campgrounds.
  • Campgrounds offer full services of a campground host, water, trash service, etc.
  • Campgrounds are less busy during the week.
  • Big Box stores are full of camping gear so it’s easy to purchase/upgrade new equipment. (Or if you forget something, they’ll have it on the shelf!)
  • It’s tradition!

Disadvantages to Summer Camping:

  • Campgrounds (and dispersed camping!) can be crowded, dusty, and noisy.
  • There might be fire restrictions in effect depending on rain fall.
  • It can be difficult to find a campsite on the weekends.
  • Summer means all manner of crawling things! Mosquitoes, chiggers, ticks, bitemes, spiders, ants, etc.

Fall Camping

The leaves are turning, most people have headed back to the cities for school and work, the air is crisp. Fishing picks back up. It’s my favorite season to go camping!

Advantages to Fall Camping:

  • Campgrounds (if they’re open) won’t be crowded.
  • Fewer bugs.
  • The fishing is usually excellent.
  • Less likely to have fire restrictions.
  • Wildlife is very active.

Disadvantages to Fall Camping:

  • Campgrounds might be closed or have limited service.
  • Cool nights and it might freeze. You’ll have to bring warmer clothes (more to pack) and it’ll take extra time to cook.
  • Hunters are out so you’ll need to check hunting regulations in your area. It doesn’t mean you can’t go out and enjoy the Great Outdoors, but you might need to wear “hunter orange” or take other precautions.

Winter Camping

There’s no denying the bite in the air! Trees and shrubs have shed their leaves, the grass is brown, snow is in the air. Snowbirds are flocking south for the season.

Advantages to Winter Camping:

  • There are hardly any people.
  • Peace, solitude, and beautiful winter views abound.
  • You can head to warmer climates for camping and leave all those office folk their cities.
  • Not a bug in site!
  • Good for bird watching or viewing large game like deer and elk.

Disadvantages to Winter Camping:

  • Many public campgrounds will be closed and services will be extremely limited.
  • You will need to bring lots of extra gear to brave the colder weather.
  • If you’re heading south, you’ll have to deal with the snowbirds and retirees.
  • Winter camping (in the snow) requires a higher level of knowledge, skill, and expertise.
  • Wind, rain, snow and freezing temperatures so be prepared!

Personally? My favorite season for camping is the fall!

Readers Weigh In:

  • What is your favorite time of year to go camping?