Archive for the ‘Tips & Advice’ Category

Guest Post: How to Have a Successful First Camping Trip

This camping equipment guide was kindly written by Russell Smitheram over at

I remember way back when I first started camping. It was daunting to say the least and I had no idea what to expect. I thought I was looking at the whole camping thing through rose tinted glasses – I was expecting the worst. I was anxious but very excited to get started.

Before I go into the meat of the article I want to settle a few misconceptions about camping. Firstly, it’s not as expensive as people make it out to be. Sure, it costs money initially to purchase your tent, sleeping bags and other gear which I’ll go into shortly, but once you’re set up you’ll have the kit to enjoy many seasons of camping at minimal cost. Much cheaper than checking into a hotel, that’s for sure.

Secondly, camping is far from boring. Camping is supposed to be a time to relax, spend time with family and generally wind down. If you have kids you can go fishing or walk a trail. Consider packing a football, paper and crayons, books and board games. Some camp sites have on site swimming pools, arcades and even evening entertainment. But if you haven’t got access to any of this you can’t beat bringing it back to basics with a good book, board game or ball game to enjoy as a group.

Lastly, but certainly not least, is the misconception of what to pack. Luckily that’s what this article aims to outline but before I get there let’s cover where to camp. If you’re totally new to camping I recommend going somewhere fairly close to home. Choose a camp site with toilet and shower facilities, nearby lakes, trails and woodlands if you can to keep the kids entertained. The good camp sites get booked up well in advance so once you’ve made your mind up reserve your spot!

So what should your camping equipment list look like? Well, you are governed by a) how much room you have in your vehicle and b) how much you want to carry. The basic equipment is a tent, sleeping bags, a gas stove for cooking, utensils, cups and plates, and a torch. Everything else is optional and you can go as far you want. It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than this but if you want more luxury consider things like kettles, tables and chairs, wind up radios, a selection of different torches, heaters and air mattresses.

If you want a better night’s sleep use a foam pad under your sleeping bag. This insulates you and stops warmth seeping into the ground from your body. For extra insulation consider using a sleeping bag liner. These help increase the temperature range inside the bag to further aid heat retention. Furthermore you can wear a fleece cap if things get really cold.

Here’s a quick check list to keep handy. You’ll need:

  • Tent, poles, groundsheet and a mallet
  • Sleeping bags, foam pads and pillows
  • Toiletries such as toothbrush, toothpaste, towels etc
  • Gas stove and fuel
  • Cooking utensils – pans, matches, table cloth, spatula’s, tongs.
  • Cutlery including knives, forks, spoons
  • First aid kit
  • Insect repellent
  • Sunscreen

Feel free to add to this list, it’s by no means exhaustive. The more you add the more luxury you’ll have but bear in mind it’ll also take up more room in your vehicle. I hope you find this article useful and I sincerely wish you all the best with your first camping trip. Remember, relax and enjoy the experience.

4 Tips to Keeping Your RV Cleaner

You know I’m in love with my new-to-me tent trailer Skippy. Skippy is a 1998 Coleman Taos that had been used a grand total of three times before I bought it. Because of the low usage, the interior AND the exterior are in pristine condition.

And I want to keep it that way!

One of the things that I do is the second I open up the trailer, before I put ANYTHING on the beds, I put a sheet over the mattresses. On both beds — not just the one I sleep on! It’s nothing special, just a cheap flat sheet from a twin bed. But then, I know that the dust that blows in the open windows all day won’t get into the mattresses as quickly. And when I toss my dirty duffle bag and shoes onto the bed, the mattress won’t get torn, snagged, or damaged.

Sheet on bed

Once the sheet is on the bed and tucked in, I feel free to pile all my gear on top.

When I get home, all I have to do is throw the sheets in the wash and they’re ready to go for the next trip. And if they DO become worn beyond repair — Hey! They were like $3 a piece.

Then, get a bunch of little non-slip rugs to lay down inside. Basically, the goal is to put down wall-to-wall carpet in the trailer. But by using small no-slip rugs, it’s easy to take them outside and shake them out.

If at all possible, I don’t wear my shoes into the trailer. In stead, I keep a plastic tub (with a lid) just outside the trailer door. I slip off my shoes, tuck them in the tub, and then put the lid on. I know that no critters can get in there and if it rains (or the dew falls) my shoes will still be dry.

I was really lucky with Skippy because I don’t have to climb OVER the seats at the dinette to get to the back bed. But in the tent trailers my family has owned in the past, we haven’t always been that lucky. In that case, I’m always super careful to NEVER put my shoe on the dinette seat cushion. Either use your knee as a booster or take off your shoe.


I bring the table, but leave it folded flat and put it on the bed. You can see it under my duffle bag. Next to my dirty boots and green Crocs.

Readers Weigh In:

  • What tips do you have to keep your RV clean? (Or cleaner?)

Down and Dirty Rain Gear

Summer Rain

Ah! Summer rains.

The monsoon season is nearly upon us here in Northern Arizona so I wanted to share this tip with you before the rain starts so you can be prepared. This is great rain gear for kids because it’s easy to make and cheap to replace.

Just remember: plastic bags are not toys so don’t use this tip with small children or if you think your child will put the bag over his or her face.

A heavy-duty black trash sack makes a great raincoat, in about a minute. There are two ways of doing this:

Trash-Bag Rain Coat #1
Make a hole in one side of the bag, near the bottom. This is where your face will come out. Pull bag over your head and wear it like a hood. Then, cut slit on each side of the bag for your arms.

Trash Bag Rain Gear

Shelby is sporting Trash-Bag Rain Coat #2



Trash-Bag Rain Coat #2
Cut a slit in the bottom of the bag and slide the bag over your head. Mark where your arms should go through and cut slits in the sides for your arms. This version is great for messy camp projects (mud pies, anyone?) or for a double layer of water protection.

Don’t Skimp on Sunglasses!

If you’ve read any magazines lately, you’ve probably seen article after article about sun protection. As an Arizona native, I’m the first to admit that I’m a bit nutsy about my sun protection.

And with summer just around the corner, I’ve been after ESP Boss to get new sunglasses (he did) and fussing at CodeWolf to either get contacts and sunglasses or a pair of prescription glasses. (Still working on that one!)

I always wear my hat, I use sunscreen like it’s going out of style, and my sunglasses are my best friends. (Yes, I’m working on a sunscreen article of my own!)

Kim in Sunglasses

But I know a lot of people who don’t wear sunglasses or who aren’t consistent in wearing them. And I’m here to tell you that you need to be!

What are some things to think about when choosing sunglasses for the family?

1. Will they wear them?
Protection does no good if it isn’t used. When you buy sunglasses, make sure the person who’s going to wear them is there to try them on. You’re going for fit first, not looks. So, make sure they don’t slip off the face, pinch the nose, or put pressure behind the ears.

2. Do they offer UV protection?
What’s the point of sun protection if it doesn’t protect? Read labels! If you can get some with broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection that’s the best bet for your money. But at the very least make sure that your sunglasses offer some UV protection.

3. How big are they?
Itty bitty sunglasses might look cute, but they don’t really protect the eyes. As anybody who’s fished can tell you, there’s a lot of reflected glare coming UP at you, so make sure they protect the eyes all the way around.

4. How dark are they?
You want sunglasses that are dark enough so you won’t be squinting, no matter how bright the reflections or glares are. Squinting creates wrinkles too, and who wants those?

If you can, walk outside on a sunny day before buying your sunglasses. If nothing else, look at a store’s florescent lighting to get some idea of how the glasses will work outside.

ESP Boss and The Outdoor Princess

Between the hats and the glasses you can hardly see our faces! Trust me, that's ESP Boss and The Outdoor Princess under there!

5. Don’t skimp on cost
I love my polarized sunglasses since they dramatically reduce glare and reflections. Of course, they’re prescription so they were expensive to begin with, but the added cost of polarization is well worth it. But, if your family won’t WEAR the sunglasses (see Tip #1) then cheap or expensive doesn’t make much difference.

I will tell you this, though, if you wear prescription glasses and spend a lot of time outdoors: spring for the extra pair of prescription sunglasses OR the glasses the darken in the sun.

If you wear contact lenses then YOU HAVE NO EXCUSE not to have a good pair of sunglasses!

You know I LOVE recommending people take a look at for shopping ideas so here’s a link to the page about sunglasses. (Affiliate link)

Readers Weigh In:

  • How often do you wear sunglasses?
  • Crows feet make you look younger: yes or no?
  • What is your favorite pair of sunglasses? (Style, brand, etc)

Spring Camping Maintanence

Yeah! I am so excited it’s FINALLY spring. It’s been a long LONG winter here in Chino Valley. To make matters worse, spring teased us several times by getting warm and then snowing. Getting warm and then having knock-you-down wind that dropped the temperatures back into sweatshirt weather.

But it’s spring. For real. (And if it’s NOT for real, I’m here to tell winter to take a hike!)

That means that it’s time to do a pre-season shakedown of all your camping gear and head out!

Stoves and table top BBQs: Wipe them down from any residual grease or food particles. Yes, you should have done this in the fall, but a winter of storage will usually attract dust (and other more unsavory things!) to any spots you missed.


Dirty campstove

Fuel: Check your stove’s fuel source to make sure you have enough and that it didn’t leak away over the winter. (Scary!) It is a good time to take the stove or BBQ outside and fire it up to make sure that all the hoses and connections are still in good shape. Replace anything that you’re worried about.

propane fuel

Lanterns: take a look at the mantels to make sure they don’t need to be replaced. Make sure you have a stock of replacements on hand. (And yes, I use a propane lantern like the one pictured below. BUT, I also carry a battery powered one as well!)


Propane lantern

Ice Chests: Check for mold, mildew, sour smells and left-over bologna sandwiches. A little chlorine bleach and mild detergent should clean them up sufficiently. I’m also a big fan of letting them sit opened in the sun for a while; UV rays kill a lot of icky things. Just be sure to properly store the ice chests away from UV rays since they’ll deteriorate the plastic and shorten the life of the ice chest.

Ice Chests

Ice Chest

Water Containers: You DID completely empty them and allow the inside to fully dry, right? If you grew mold in your water container over the winter, you might want to consider replacing the container; you’ll probably always have a funny taste. Make sure all the seals still work and that the inside is clean, dry and critter (bugs or mold) free.

Aqua-Tainer (this is the brand I use personally!)

Water Container

First aid kit: Make sure that you replenished any supplies you used last year. I recommend opening a bandage and making sure the adhesive hasn’t turned into a sticky mess. (Be sure to replace it!) Discard any outdated medicines. If any ointments look or smell funny, replace them as well.

First aid kit. Get a pre-made one and then customize it to your family.

First aid kit

Sleeping bags and pads: open and fluff! Look for any smells (mold or mildew are possible!), check zippers, drawstrings, etc. Now’s the time to repair any holes, rips or tears in your bag as well. Be sure to inflate your sleeping pads and check for leaks.

Sleeping bags

sleeping bags


See my article on sleeping bag maintenance.

Tents: set it up and make sure that all the zippers still work, the seams are in good condition, and all poles are still in good shape. Now’s the time to make sure you still have all the tent stakes and guy lines as well. Before your first camping adventure is the perfect time to apply seam-seal (if recommended by the tent manufacturer) and repair any rips in the walls or floor. Don’t forget to check the rain fly!




Other gear: go over your camping checklists to make sure that all your favorite camping gear is still in working order.

If you discover anything broken, you can repair it yourself, find a professional repair service, or set about replacing it. And it’s better to do that while it’s still a bit cold and windy rather than when you’re heading out for your first camping adventure of 2011!

To make your life easier, I included a link after every category to I’m more and more impressed with that company and use it to get a LOT of my gear! Those are affiliate links, FYI.


Readers Weigh In:

  • Do you fix your gear in the fall or spring?
  • If you had a tear in a sleeping bag or tent, do you fix it or buy a new one?
  • What’s you must-do activity before heading out for the first camping trip of the season?