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5 Must-Visit State Parks to Add to Your Bucket List

Many of us have been postponing or rescheduling travels in 2020. If we didn’t outright cancel plans, we might have restructured our vacations to focus on closer to home or outdoor locations. 

I’m sure you’ve heard of some of the most popular National Parks like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, but did you know that there are over 6,600 state park sites in the United States? The vast array of outdoor spaces we have access to in the US is astounding and fortunate during a pandemic. That way, we can still get outside and avoid the crowds, but we have to be willing to look beyond the most well-known parks and places. 

To help you narrow it down, we put together some lesser-visited yet epically spectacular parks to add to your bucket list. 

5 Bucket List State Parks

1.   Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Location: Overton, Nevada

Best Time to Visit: October – April

Must-Do: Prospect Trail 

Camping: 72 sites (RV hookups available)

Drive through the Valley of Fire State Park, and it will make you think that perhaps you are on Mars. The unique red rock formations and indigenous history within the park have been a focal point for numerous Hollywood productions, festivals, and countless weddings. 

The stunning colors of the landscape come from the Aztec sandstone against the backdrop of limestone mountains. Beyond the geological history, this land is rich with other natural histories, including petroglyphs carved into the rocks by the Basketmaker culture, Early Pueblo, and the Paiutes. 

You can drive through the park and stop at overlooks and enjoy short walks from your car, or you can stay and camp in the first-come, first-serve campground. The campsites are spread out in rocky outcroppings giving you a sense of solitude. 

Learn more on the Valley of Fire State Park website.

2.   City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico 

Instagram: @wandering.america

Location: Deming, New Mexico

Best Time to Visit: Spring / Fall

Must-Do: Camping among the rocks

Camping: 41 sites (with showers / RV hookups)

City of Rocks State Park in New Mexico is located in the Southwest corner of the state. What makes this park unique is the volcanic rock formations. This is a great place to stop over for a relaxing overnight or weekend camping trip. 

All of the campsites are spread out among the volcanic rock formations. The park itself is relatively small, only about one square mile. So, there is some hiking available, but it is limited. If you do plan to hike, make sure to pack a bluetooth portable speaker that will fit right in the slot of your backpack.

The park’s name, City of Rocks, comes from the geological formations that make up a “city” of rock pinnacles that rise to 40 feet in height and are separated by paths. From a distance, the spread of pinnacles resembles a city in the barren Chihuahuan desert. 

Beyond camping and hiking, City of Rocks is a spectacular place for stargazing, birding, and mountain biking. Faywood Hot Springs are also within 5 miles of the park to add some relaxation and adventure to your visit. 

Learn more on the City of Rocks State Park website.

3.   Custer State Park, South Dakota

Location: Custer, South Dakota

Best Time to Visit: May-October

Must-Do: Kayaking on Sylvan Lake

Camping: 9 scenic campgrounds spread throughout the park

Located in the Black Hills area of South Dakota, Custer State Park offers various year-round adventures that anyone can enjoy. While they are open in the winter months, the warmer months tend to be a more popular time to visit the area. 

Depending on the activity, you will have access to several different camping experiences. All camping areas, even dry camping, will have access to a bathroom of some kind, even if they are just pit toilets. There are also cabins available for rent and a resort within the park if you are looking for a more luxurious getaway. 

Hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, paddleboarding, and horseback riding are just a few of the most popular things to do within the park. During the winter months, many visitors enjoy snowshoeing and cross country skiing. 

Learn more on the Custer State Park website.

4.   Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan 

Location: Ontonagon, Michigan

Best Time to Visit: September – November

Must-Do: Backpacking

Camping: Backcountry sites, campgrounds, Yurt rentals, and cabins 

Michigan’s largest state park is located on the scenic Upper Peninsula and includes the Porcupine Mountains. This park is home to over 90 miles of hiking trails and 60,000 acres of land, some of which stretch along the shoreline of Lake Superior. That isn’t the only lake on the horizon, though. 

One of the most famous portions of the park is Lake of the Clouds. This lake is tucked in a valley accessible when backpacking but is visible from a few different overlooks. One of the overlooks is ADA accessible as well. Be warned that the hiking trails are notorious for being muddy, flooded, and buggy so bring proper gear. 

Other popular activities beyond backpacking and camping include fishing, boating, and biking. During the winter months, both cross country and downhill skiing are available in the area. 

Learn more on the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park website.

5.   Merchants Millpond State Park, North Carolina

Instagram: @curtsuneson

Location: Gatesville, North Carolina 

Best Time to Visit: Year-Round

Must-Do: Paddling

Camping: Hike-in, paddle-in, and 20 drive-up sites

Located in the Northeast corner of North Carolina is a hidden gem of a swamp. Now, a swamp park doesn’t sound all that fun, but if you are a fan of paddling, this Southern swamp and hardwood forest is a wonderland. 

There are no entrance fees to enter the park, but you have to set up reservations for overnight stays. While you can reserve drive-up campsites, some of the most coveted spots are the ones you have to backpack or paddle to. Although there are alligators and other swamp critters around, they generally avoid visitors paddling through the waters. Be sure to respect their boundaries as well. 

Besides paddling, you can also enjoy some biking/hiking trails, fishing, and picnic areas.

Learn more on the Merchants Millpond State Park website.

A Review of the Buckshot Pro Ultra

Review by Harold Whitford from Bikes Haven.

I’m quite meticulous when it comes to picking cycling accessories. So, when I heard about the Buckshot Pro Ultra wireless speaker, I was thrilled and skeptical about it at the same time. But after taking it for a test ride, the only thing I regret is not buying it sooner. 

For me, being able to bring a charger, flashlight, and a portable speaker all embedded in one small and lightweight gadget is fascinating and impressive. And in a way, the Buckshot Pro has saved me a lot of money that I would have otherwise spent if I bought each accessory separately. 

What is the Buckshot Pro Ultra? 

The Buckshot Pro is a combination of a Bluetooth speaker, a flashlight, and a portable charger. The speaker delivers hi-fi sound and an excellent amount of bass. Its flashlight includes a number of lighting modes for different levels of visibility, and the integrated charging system lets you juice up small electronics as you ride your bike.  

How to Use the Buckshot Pro Ultra When Cycling 

I’ve tested dozens of bike accessories in the last 6 months, and I can tell you that none of them come close to what the Buckshot Pro is. In my twenty-something hours of testing, I noticed how easy the device was to set up and how well it performed.

Setup  

The outer design features mounting straps to fix the device on a bike’s handlebar. To get started, place the Buckshot Pro on either side and adjust the strap to fit. 

mountain biking speaker

Putting the Buckshot Pro Ultra to Work 

1. The Bluetooth Speaker 

This one has been good company for me, especially on the loneliest trails that I’ve found myself on. The built-in Bluetooth speaker allows me to play music as I bike and dance to my favorite jams to get the most out of my rides. 

This gadget’s Bluetooth technology even lets you stream music from a wireless device like a smartphone or a Bluetooth enabled MP3 player. There’s even an integrated microphone that lets you make and receive calls on the spot. 

From my firsthand experience, the sound quality is undeniably up to standards. The highs are clean, the lows are deep, and the bass is spot on. With a 10-hour playtime on a single charge, you can go on long distance bike rides while listening to your favorite music. 

2. Power Bank 

The Buckshot Pro’s built-in power bank has been quite handy in juicing up two of my USB-rechargeable GPS-enabled cycling computers. For what it’s worth, the energy allows me the grace period to keep tracking my biking performance when it would have been impossible otherwise. 

Frankly, I don’t often bring a smartphone with me to a bike ride. But when I do, I like to use Buckshot Pro to charge it up. Quite a good power bank if you ask me. 

3. Bike Light 

The Buckshot Pro Ultra lets me cruise through dark trails without worrying about hitting anyone or hurting myself. The brightness level stands at 100 lumens, which is allows other road users to spot you. The strobe, torch, bright, and dim lantern light modes all work together to make you easily visible. At 100 lumens, you won’t be visible at a long distance, but other people will still notice you even in the deep dark.

What I Think About the Buckshot Pro Ultra 

I love the Buckshot Pro because it’s lightweight. At only 0.42 pounds, this device is so super light that it doesn’t add weight to my bike. 

It’s even IPX5 rated, so it can stand up to elements like dust and resist water in drizzles. I wish it were waterproof, though. 

My Final Thoughts on the Buckshot Pro Ultra

I don’t know about you, but I think Buckshot Pro is an innovative gadget that’s changing the way we perceive bike tech. Not to mention, it takes the bike riding experience to the next level. It’s the ideal combination of a bike light, a bike stereo, and a charger for a small electronic all-in-one. 

Top Gifts to Give Your Best Friend this Holiday Season

It’s no secret that this year has been a difficult one. Many of us are tired, overwhelmed, and craving connection with the people we love — which is why this holiday season will be more important than ever. Even if you can’t physically gather with your friends or extended family, you can still show them how much you care with a beautiful personalized gift.

You can find a personalized gift for everyone on your list, from your parents, nieces, and nephews, to your best friend in the world. But what, exactly, should you get your best friend this year? The answer depends on their interests… but we’ve got a few ideas that we think you’ll love!

For the “Monica” of Your Group: A Recipe Cutting Board

Is your best friend the person who hosts Friendsgiving? Are they always ready with a freshly baked treat when you walk in the door? Give them something that’s truly special and embraces their love of the kitchen: a personalized cutting board etched with a family recipe. 

With both maple and cherry wood finishes, you can select a board to suit any decorating style. This beautiful paddle cutting board can be a lovely serving tray for special events, or it can simply be decor for the kitchen. Trust us, once they see this beauty they’ll be baking you lots of cookies to thank you!

For the Constant Jet-Setter: A Personalized Passport Holder

This friend has the most enviable Instagram page you’ve ever seen. They’re constantly flying off to some beautiful and exotic locale, and they usually bring you back a cute souvenir or two. Even if travel is on hold at the moment, this friend needs something to remind them that soon they can get back in the skies.

A personalized passport holder is a great way to indulge your friend’s love of travel while making them feel extra fancy. The soft, vegan leather feels ultra-luxe, and the laser engraving will last as long as your friend’s passport (maybe even longer).

For the Music Lover: A Bluetooth Speaker

We all have that one friend who’s always in charge of the party playlist. They love music, they know all the latest artists, and they will not rest until they’ve found the perfect song to suit the mood. If that person is your best friend, give them a new way to play their tunes this holiday season.

bluetooth speaker will allow your friend to play the latest songs anywhere they go — in the car, on a camping trip, even while lounging in the pool! With a durable and sleek design, this speaker will quickly become a constant companion for your friend, and that means you’ll be treated to their best playlists every time you’re together (bonus!).

For Your Partner-in-Crime: A Keepsake Box

Of all your friends, this one is like the friend you’ve known the longest. You two have shared countless memories, from special events like concerts and vacations to many nights in binge-watching Netflix. While you may not have spent as much time together this year (dang 2020), you can give them a gift that shows them how much you value your time together.

A personalized keepsake box is a perfect gift for anyone who wants to save precious memories with their friends and loved ones. Have it engraved with your names and fill it with ticket stubs, funny photos, souvenirs from trips, and so much more. This is one gift that will truly last a lifetime.

For the One Whose Phone is About to Die: A Power Bank

Now, we’re not trying to shame this friend, but we all know who it is. This is the friend whose phone is always at one percent, the one who takes hours to respond to your texts, the one who — as much as you love them — could use a little help getting it together this holiday season.

How can you help this friend keep their phone from shutting down mid-call? Get them a portable power bank. This small, rechargeable battery can fit nicely in their car, purse, or backpack so that they always have a little extra power handy.

Get Personalized Gifts For Everyone on Your List

Whether you’re shopping for your parents, best friends, or that someone special, you can’t go wrong if you put some thought into who they are. After all, it’s the thought that counts!

Best Hobbies to Pick Up During the Pandemic

These are challenging times for everyone. It helps to have a hobby to occupy your mind and your time. The situation going on around us is unprecedented, but it’s full of opportunities if you know where to look. Rather than sitting around the house feeling bored, lonely, and worried, why not pick up a hobby? You can enrich your mind and entertain yourself, as well as your family. All you have to do is select the right activity for you. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Binge-Watch Your Faves

You might be stuck inside, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to do. During times like these, sometimes you need to do something soothing that will not only take your mind off of what’s happening, but will also numb you a bit and take you out of the situation. For that reason, binge-watching movies and TV shows might be your best bet. You can turn it into something fun, even something that has a purpose. For example, this is your opportunity to catch up on all the shows you always wanted to watch but never had time to enjoy. You could also sit down to watch an entire movie series, such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy or all of the Marvel movies—in order. To make it more enjoyable, consider Facetiming or Zooming with a group of friends while you watch.

Pick Up a Book

Speaking of immersing yourself in different worlds, all you need is a book to transport yourself to a faraway place. At the very least, you can get lost in a world where the pandemic isn’t happening. It’s hard for busy adults to find time to read even when they enjoy doing so. Right now, you have no excuses and no other commitments. You’re stuck at home, so there’s no reason not to pick up a book that you’ve been dying to read. Then again, why not reread your old favorites? Books and stories are comforting, and comfort is exactly what we all need right now.

Bust Out the Crayons

Soothing activities are unquestionably some of the best hobbies to start right now. Plenty of adults have embraced some of their childhood favorites because those activities give them a sense of calm and help them to believe that everything genuinely will be okay. Whether you want to color with crayons, colored pencils, or watercolors, take a look at some adult coloring books to see what strikes your fancy. In addition to funny adult coloring books with risqué pictures and naughty words, you can also pick out books with intricate designs and breathtaking scenes.

Get to the Kitchen

Throughout the course of the pandemic, people have understandably been cooking at home more often. Many restaurants are open for delivery, takeout, and social distanced seating, but with the economy the way it is and with growing numbers of furloughs and layoffs, cooking at home is often the more practical choice. Why not turn it into an adventure? Try your hand at gourmet meals that you’ve never attempted. Experiment with baking, chocolate, or pastries. You never know, your true talents may lie in the kitchen.

Stay Active

You may be wary of going to the gym, if they’re even open in your area. That’s entirely understandable. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy physical activities. Turn your home into a gym. There’s a wide world of videos and tutorials out there that can show you exactly what to do using basic equipment. You don’t need to spend a fortune to work out at home. Simply going for a local hike or doing yoga in the backyard is excellent for your mental and physical health. You can also opt to go for a run, but don’t forget your earbuds to entertain yourself while you’re on the go.

Choose a Craft

Are you into arts and crafts? Maybe it’s time to start crafting. There are all sorts of hobbies to learn. For instance, have you ever considered crocheting or knitting? You can order the supplies, have them sent to your home, and look up video tutorials to get started. The same goes for painting, felting, jewelry making, or woodworking. Just think about an artsy hobby that you’ve always wanted to try and jump right into it.

Turn Your Thumbs Green

Have you ever considered gardening? It’s a calming activity, it serves a practical purpose, and it gives you the chance to nurture something and watch it grow. It may not be the right season for gardening where you are, but that’s okay. You can set up an indoor garden, instead. Consider creating a container garden in your sunroom or treat yourself to an herb garden starter kit. You can grow herbs right in your kitchen. Not only are they beautiful and fragrant, but they can elevate all of your cooking endeavors, as well.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of hobbies. You may decide that it’s the perfect time for a few DIY home improvements. Learning a new language may be right up your alley. What hobby interests you the most?


5 Lesser-Traveled Spots to Check Out That Are COVID Friendly

The COVID-19 pandemic has been excellent for outdoors lovers. Bars are closed. Conventions and amusement parks are widely considered bad ideas. What’s left for simple recreation is getting outside to camp, hike, backpack, and otherwise enjoy nature and all its myriad attractions. 

However, many of our favorite outdoor locations have become crowded by groups who usually would have gone to Disneyland or stayed closer to home, sampling the local pubs and restaurants. This not only makes these destinations less enjoyable for a diehard outdoors lover, but it also makes them dangerous. A crowded campground can be just as hazardous as an overpopulated beach, from a disease vector standpoint.

Until there’s a vaccine, good sense and a spirit of adventure both dictate that we go to the lesser-known spots. Here are a few great ones from different parts of the country.

1. Pacific Northwest: Toad Lake Campground

This small patch of camping bliss is 12 miles west of I-5 near Mount Shasta. It’s one of the hike-in-only locations on the Pacific Crest Trail, a strong deterrent for casual campers. You can take your pick of developed sites with park benches and nearby toilets or hike the extra few miles for a back-country or primitive space. The farther you go, the more separated you’ll be from the crowds.

Its eponymous lake covers 23 acres surrounded by hilly forest. The shores vary from thick woods to rocky outcroppings to meadows. Boats are not permitted, making it great for fishing and swimming. There’s not much going on besides the beautiful, off-the-beaten-path nature, but that’s all we need. It might even be the perfect spot to bring out your Waterproof Speaker and lounge around for a bit.

Toad Lake Campground is open all year. Camping sites are first-come, first-served.

How to Get There

Turn onto exit 738 from I-5 near Mount Shasta, heading west. Follow Route 26/Barr Rd and turn off at the Toad Lake sign. Follow the winding road to the parking lot, then hike in following the marked trail.

2. Southwest: South Ruby Campground

A fishing and boating paradise located in the Ruby Valley National Wildlife Refuge, this campground is rarely close to as crowded as its location and amenities would suggest. It sits at 6,000 feet elevation around the coast of Ruby Lake in Nevada. Despite being a classic high desert location, its lake and marshlands attract stopover species from all around, making it one of the best bird and wildlife watching locations in the area.

The campground is located among pinyon pine and juniper, offering a shady place to pitch your tent in one of 35 sites, including one double spot and one wheelchair-accessible site. All sites have picnic tables and campfire rings, with vault toilets and running water available nearby. Besides being out of the way, the campground’s structure runs screens of trees between sites, making social distancing (and privacy) easy.

Unlike many of the out-of-the-way camping opportunities on this list, South Ruby allows boating, ATV riding, and off-road vehicles.

South Ruby Campground is open May through September, with exact dates announced one year ahead of time. You can book sites up to six months in advance.

How to Get There

Turn south off I-80 onto Route 227 near Elko. Turn right onto Route 228 and follow it past Jiggs. As the highway begins to turn north in a wide dogleg, turn right onto Ruby Valley Road and take it to the campground. If 228 turns into 767, you’ve gone too far.

3. Southeast: Linville Gorge

“The Grand Canyon of the East” is a rugged river valley in Burke County, North Carolina. The land is so steep and rough it was never harvested for timber, leaving much of it as pristine, old-growth forest rare on that side of the Mississippi River. The designated National Wilderness Area covers 12,000 acres deep forest, offering multiple rare plant species and excellent wildlife and bird viewing opportunities. The Linville River cuts a meandering path through granite walls, creating stunning falls, steep gorges, and multiple deep coves for swimming and fishing.

Trails here are not well-maintained or even clearly marked, but they offer unique, spectacular vistas to experienced hikers. Camping (with permits) is available both in established, primitive campsites and simple backwoods spaces. Motor travel is not permitted, and cellular reception is spotty. This is wilderness camping, so come prepared.

The Linville Gorge wilderness is open year-round.

How to Get There

You can access this large patch of wilderness from multiple locations, including simple roadside trailheads and a few logging roads kept open during the summer months. Aim your GPS for Spruce Pine, North Carolina. or Lenoir, North Carolina, and set off from there. Local guides can tell you what’s best and what’s least crowded at any particular time.

4. Great Plains: Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

Another sizable protected area, Wichita Mountain Wilderness contains Fawn Creek Campgrounds and Doris Campground. It covers more than 59,000 acres of scrubland containing rough hills, plains, and waterways. It’s one of the oldest national wildlife refuges in the United States and home to roaming herds of bison and longhorns. Locals and road trippers visit for camping near the Visitor’s Center, but the hiking trails and boating opportunities go deep into the Refuge.

Camping opportunities are more strictly regimented here than in many other areas. Doris Campground offers hookups for RVs and pop-up tent vehicles (tents are currently prohibited). Fawn Creek Campground is reserved for organized youth groups. Everybody else is invited to enjoy backcountry camping, which is likely what you wanted anyway if you’re reading this article. All three options are by permit only, available up to three months in advance.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is open all year, though some facilities shut down or curtail operations during winter.

How to Get There

Drive west out of Lawton on Highway 62. At Cache, turn right onto 115 and enter the area Refuge near Doris Campground. For faster access to the Visitor’s Center, continue on 62 and turn right on Route 54. Turn right onto Hwy 49, which leads you straight into the Refuge and to the Visitor’s Center.

5. New England: Cutler Coast

This area is also known as the Bold Coast, and it offers some of the most extended tracts of undeveloped coastline along the East Coast. Activity here is centered on trail hiking, including the famed Caribou Loop and Black Point Brook Loop. You can access most camping by car, but some of the best views, hiking, and wildlife viewing are only available to those willing to reach them on foot (or by paddling).

The entire area is dotted with primitive camping opportunities, all first-come, first-served. The main areas include Fairy Beach, Machias River Corridor, Donnell Pond, and Stave Island. Bear in mind that hiking is often strenuous and consists of some hazardous conditions. This getaway is not recommended for families with small children or novice hikers, making it an excellent choice for experienced outdoors lovers looking to avoid crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cutler Coast is open year-round, but the hazards increase and the foliage decreases as soon as the snow starts to fall.

How to Get There

Follow 191 northeast out of Cutler (accessible via 191 by driving south, then east out of East Machias). You’ll find multiple turn-offs and opportunities on your right as you go.

Final Thoughts

Visiting these out-of-the-way spaces is no guarantee you’ll be alone or at no risk of COVID-19 exposure. Be sure to include hand sanitizer, face masks, medical gloves, and similar items in your packing kit. For the time being, they’re as important as your cooking supplies and first aid gear.

John Bradley lives with his family of six in Oregon. They hiked and completed a big trip across the country in an RV during COVID-19.

Hiking Or Camping? Here’s How to Spot Poison Ivy and Poison Oak

Spending time outdoors is one of the best things we can do for our physical and mental health — especially right now. And if you’re looking for something invigorating to distract you from the pandemic, hiking or camping should probably be on your list.

Of course, you do need to take precautions when you participate in these outdoor activities. Although going outside can be one of the safest options right now, that doesn’t mean there won’t be hazards waiting for you. Many of those hazards occur naturally, so you’ll want to be mindful whenever you’re walking through wildlife. If you keep an eye out, you might even find a Mossy Oak Buckshot Pro hiding in the bushes.

As we move from summer to fall, you’ll still need to be aware of the animals and plants that can cause harm. Poison ivy and poison oak are among these dangers. It’ll behoove you to learn exactly what these plants look like so you can avoid them on the trail. That way, nothing can ruin your trip.

Poison Ivy Vs. Poison Oak: How to Tell the Difference

Both poison ivy and poison oak can cause allergic reactions (which typically show up in the form of a bodily rash) due to the urushiol they contain. In fact, 85% of Americans are allergic to poison ivy. Both plants are characterized by their lack of thorns and their three-leaf clusters. (If you’ve ever heard the expression, “leaves of three, let them be,” you’ll already be familiar with this aspect of their physical appearance). They also grow as either a vine or a bush, have red berries and white flowers, and come in a variety of sizes. They also tend to turn red in color during the fall.

However, poison ivy and poison oak also have some key differences that can help you know which plants to avoid. Poison ivy often grows close to the ground and has vines or stems that are fuzzy in appearance. Its leaves are almond-shaped and may look shiny. Poison oak has leaves that are a bit more rounded and “hairy.” They really do look similar to oak leaves. 

Avoiding and Treating Poison Ivy or Poison Oak

Knowing how to differentiate between poison ivy and poison oak can allow you to avoid making contact with these hazardous plants. But you may not always be able to rely on your quick reactions to keep you safe. When hiking, camping, or spending time in nature, you should consider wearing protective clothing to cover your skin. Long pants and long-sleeved shirts should be worn to provide a barrier between your bare skin and any plants you might brush up against.

But since reactions to poison ivy and poison oak aren’t immediate, you might realize too late that you’ve unknowingly touched them. You should first wash all exposed areas of your skin (or the affected area, if a rash has started to form) with soap and cool water. You can use cool compresses, calamine lotion, or antihistamines to treat the symptoms. Be sure to seek medical care if the rash becomes increasingly uncomfortable or if it’s accompanied by blisters, swelling, fever, or difficulty breathing. In most cases, however, the rash will eventually dissipate on its own within a couple of weeks.

Now that you know all about poison ivy and poison oak, you can hike or camp with confidence.

Analysis of a Successful Traveler’s Gear

There’s a lot to think about when you’re a frequent traveler. From the types of clothing you pack and the shoes you wear to the airport to how many bags you bring and where you keep all your essentials, a successful traveler has a plan for everything. If you’re wondering what you need to have in order to ensure your travels are comfortable and convenient, explore these top tips for the most essential traveler’s gear everyone should have.

  1. Inflatable Pillows

Getting rest while in the air or on the road is critical. You don’t want to arrive exhausted and take days to recover from your flight and adjust to a new time zone. Whether you’re traveling for work or adventure, you want to get out and get at it right away! An inflatable pillow allows you to bring an ultra-compact accessory that provides so much comfort during your trip. Since it’s inflatable, your pillow can fit into any zippered compartment, side pouch, and even in your pants pocket. 

Once you’re settled in your seat, you can inflate your pillow to your desired comfort level. Instead of using those weird, flat airline pillows, you now have more neck support than ever. Since inflatable pillows are so versatile, you can find them in a number of sizes, shapes, and fabrics to customize your experience.

  1. Compact Electronics

Your phone may nearly be the size of a laptop these days, but that doesn’t mean that all your other electronic accessories and essentials need to take up a lot of space. From docking stations to portable chargers, you should be looking for all-in-one travel electronic tools that make it a whole lot easier to just pack up and go. Look for battery packs that fit right onto your phone or charging cords that split into several strands and can charge multiple phones, tablets, and cameras. The more you can compact your electronics, the easier it is to bring more of the travel accessories you really need.

  1. TSA Friendly Bags & Cases

TSA pre-check and carry-on only travelers may have a great deal, but that’s not always an option for everyone. To ensure you have the easiest time getting through airport security, a TSA-friendly bag is one of the most important pieces in your traveler’s arsenal. Look for laptop backpacks that have separate and distinct compartments, so that you can easily access your laptop and whip it out for security. Restraining straps are also a top choice for TSA-friendly bags to allow you to access any section of your carry-on without opening and sorting through the entire thing.

Travel bags are about more than just being efficient for security checkpoints though. They’re also more durable and protective than other backpacks and bags. You’ll find travel bags that are weather resistant and waterproof, ones that can convert from backpacks to messenger bags, and bags with specialty contoured designs that make them easier to carry over long distances — no matter how heavy they are!

  1. Packing Cubes

Organization in packing is the key to making sure you can fit everything you need into the smallest space available. With travel restrictions in place dictating how many bags you can bring and how much they’re allowed to weigh, strategizing where everything fits in your bag is one of the most important parts of packing. Invest in some travel cubes to make packing more like Tetris and less like Jumble.

  1. Comfortable Clothing

Getting to and from the airport means you don’t want to be messing with your clothing or tripping over heels as you rush through security, terminals, and gates. Comfortable travel clothing ensures you feel good in any situation — whether you’re running to catch your connecting flight or freezing in an over-air-conditioned cabin. Athleisure and loungewear are the most recommended options for flying. Opt for leggings, sweats, layered tops, and slip-on sneakers to create a flexible wardrobe that you can adjust to your surroundings.

  1. Supportive Travel Shoes

Traveling to your destination can require a surprising amount of walking even if you’re mostly navigating airports and train stations. When you’re walking around through airports and foreign cities, thinking about your shoes is probably the last thing on your mind. But, if you want to get through your trip without aching feet and legs or a sore back, you should move your shoes to the top of your list. Get travel shoes with thicker soles and more shock absorption, as well as light, breathable fabric that won’t weigh down your bag. Bonus for finding a shoe with removable arch support that allows you to insert your own orthopedic footwear!

Become a Travel Expert

man holding luggage photo

Travel looks very different now than it did five years ago, or even just one year ago. While there are still a depressing amount of travel restrictions in place, don’t lose hope! Embrace the change in travel and evolve with the times to ensure that when everything opens up again, you’ll be ready with quality traveling gear.

6 Ways to Make Your Camping Experience More Convenient

For some people, the hardship of roughing it is part of what makes camping fun. They like pretending to be Bear Grylls or on the set of “Survivor,” pulling their food out of a river and starting a fire by hand. It’s part of “getting back to nature” for them.

But that’s not you. You love being in the great outdoors, but the more convenient and comfortable you can make the experience, the happier you are. You probably have a portable charger. There’s nothing wrong with that (no matter what your survivalist neighbor might say), and there are plenty of gadgets to support that preference. Here are our six favorites.

6 High-Tech Gadgets to Enhance Your Camping Experience

1. Portable Solar Power

Although getting at least a mile away from the nearest power outlet is the whole point of camping for some, access to electricity for light, cooking, and music can make the whole experience more enjoyable. Reliable phone charging can also give an otherwise rough camping site an extra margin of safety.

In the past 10 years, breakthroughs in solar technology have made solar charging and power cheaper, portable, and more reliable, resulting in solar charging stations you can easily pack.

Camping solar units are foldable or rollable for easy portability and come with or without batteries (or with detachable batteries to give you the option). Be sure to get the outdoor or ruggedized models, as opposed to the more fragile units designed for urban or academic use.

Some of the most highly recommended camping solar units for this year include:

  • BigBlue 28W
  • X-Dragon 40W
  • Goal Zero Nomad 7 Plus
  • Goal Zero Boulder 100
  • Renogy 15,000maH

2. Pressure Showers

Camping showers have been around for a long time, but they’ve been far from perfect. Mostly, they consisted of a bag — or, in earlier years, a bucket — attached to a tree above your head, which you filled by hand and let the sun warm up. These showers sort of got you clean and were slightly better than just washing in the nearest river or lake.

A pressure shower improves on this model by attaching a foot pump to the unit. As you stomp on the pump, it fills an internal bladder with air, pushing the water out through the hose. That means you don’t have to elevate your water reservoir, and you can get reasonable water pressure. It also lets you use the shower for other things like washing dishes and winning squirtgun fights with your kids.

As a bonus, most come with a trigger nozzle so you can avoid wasting water between sprays. A few come with solar or electric heating so you can take a hot shower in the wild.

This year’s top pressure showers for camping include:

  • RinseKit Portable Outdoor Shower
  • NEMO Helio X
  • Advanced Elements Summer Shower
  • Sea to Summit Pocket Shower
  • Reliance Outdoors Flow Pro

3. Water Treatment Tech

If you’re reading this blog, you’ve been camping and hiking enough that we don’t have to go into detail about how heavy water is to carry and how much water you need per day to stay hydrated, healthy, and clean. You already know how convenient it is to be able to use whatever water is on-site.

Water treatment used to mean boiling it or screwing up the taste with iodine tablets, but recent technology has added two new options. Portable, fast-acting water filters have come so far you can drink water you found in a stream through a straw that delivers drinkable H20 by the time it gets to your mouth.

Further along the sci-fi spectrum, you can find UV light water treatment that feels like you’re using something from “Star Trek.” You just insert the battery-powered UV light into your water, follow the directions, and kill all the bugs.

Filter straws for camping we recommend include:

  • Sawyer Products MINI
  • LifeStraw Steel
  • LifeStraw Personal
  • Membrane Solutions Water Filter Straw
  • Survival Hax Outdoor Water Filter

UV camping water purifiers on our list include:

  • SteriPEN Adventurer
  • SteriPEN Aqua
  • CrazyCap Deep UV

4. Sandless Mats

If you have trouble finding sandless mats in the camping section, look for them in beach gear. These mats and blankets are made with a weave and material that actively repels sand and dirt. If you set one down in front of your tent, it keeps the tent cleaner because you track in less dirt and dust. When you pack up to leave, the mat is grit-free, so you don’t end up with gunk in your pack or gear bag.

For added convenience, most models come with attached pockets you can fill with sand (ironically), dirt, or rocks to keep them laying flat and prevent them from blowing away in the wind. Our favorite makes and models of this simple but helpful camping tool include:

  • Wekapo Sand Free Beach Blanket
  • WELLAX Sandfree
  • Wildhorn Sand Escape
  • FUTERLY Sand-Free Mat
  • CampMe Premium Beach Blanket

5. Next-Level Tents

For a very long time, tents came in various configurations but with only a couple of basic structures. They all required setup using those bendy poles you slid in through the loops even though you were tired and it was probably already getting dark. They were fine, at best.

Newer models offer multiple other solutions. Some spring out and pop up, fully assembled and ready for use. Some have inflatable ribs you can pump up, possibly using an electric air pump powered by your portable solar unit. And some versions come with hammocks on the inside for extra-comfortable, warmer camping.

The specific features you’ll want will depend on what you like and dislike about your current tent and about how deep into the wild you like to go. The fancier the tent, the bulkier or heavier it tends to be.

Depending on what you want, check out the following prime examples of the various types of upgraded tent options:

  • Hemiplanet Inflatable Geodesic Dome Tent
  • Vango Odyssey Air 800
  • ICOrer Automatic Pop Up Tent
  • EDMBG Instant Tent
  • Kammok Roo Double
  • ENO JungleNest

6. Cooking With Style

We know you love your classic Coleman gas unit. You’ve built a lot of great memories making simple, nutritious meals with it over the years. But there are ways to make cooking and eating much more enjoyable —  dare we even say decadent — in the 21st century. Consider the following additions to your camp kitchen loadout:

  • Portable electric cook pots like the Biolite KettlePot
  • Gelatin-based edible cups so you don’t have to pack or burn the trash
  • The Bearbowl, a cooking pot that folds flat for packing
  • The Roccbox, a stone bake oven you can fold and pack

Final Thoughts

Just because this article focuses on high-tech camping conveniences, don’t forget that there are many low-tech camping survival items you shouldn’t leave out of your planning.

If you combine these old-school tools with new-school technology, you can turn your next camping experience into something as easy and luxurious as a stay at a five-star resort. Well, maybe not that luxurious, but it will be very comfortable.

Charles Greene grew up on the East Coast roughing it with his family on camping outings. But as an adult, when he camps, he enjoys some of the luxuries mentioned above.

Protempo US Aquires Outdoor Tech

IRVINE, CA – April 20, 2020 – Protempo US Limited, a global consumer electronics distributor announced the completed acquisition of Outdoor Tech, a leading ruggedized consumer electronic and helmet audio company.  The Outdoor Tech brand will contribute tremendous value to the Protempo product offering, providing for high-margin quality goods to be offered through Protempo’s expansive sales and distribution network. 

Gerry Fay, Protempo US CEO stated, “I have long been an admirer of the Outdoor Tech Brand.  Their product design skills and unique brand has allowed them to quickly grow within both the consumer electronic and outdoor industry.  There is much opportunity ahead for Outdoor Tech, particularly when combined with Protempo’s vast resources and omnichannel network. We believe we are well positioned to develop Outdoor Tech into one of the largest action electronic brands globally.”

Both US corporate headquarters, which are conveniently located in Southern California, have already begun to diligently work on a seamless transition and integration of their operations. In addition to added sales support, Protempo offers customer service, fulfillment and reverse logistic services.  Protempo’s additional resources will help the Outdoor Tech brand continue to flourish and gain market share.

“We are so excited to be part of the Protempo Family.  Outdoor Tech has been searching for the right partner to expand their sales and distribution reach for their high-quality helmet audio kits, earbuds, headphones, speakers, power banks, chargers and cables. We have been successful at designing and producing unique consumer electronics in support of a healthy and active lifestyle.  The acquisition by Protempo will allow the Outdoor Tech brand to flourish within Protempo’s global network,” said Charlie Gugliuzza, Outdoor Tech’s CEO.

About Protempo
Founded in 2004, Protempo works with leading brands worldwide combining a single, integrated technology platform with global logistics infrastructure and an international sales force based in every major market to offer complete management of reverse logistics, refurbishment, remarketing and distribution of consumer electronics. Protempo delivers tailored customer solutions through a broad product and services portfolio.  For more information, visit www.protempo.com .

About Outdoor Tech
Founded in 2010, Outdoor Tech® is an outdoor designer brand creating accessories for an action-filled lifestyle. Packing the world’s most complete line of Bluetooth audio and power built for reveling in the open air and on the road, Outdoor Tech proves there is a way to stay connected but not tethered. For more on Outdoor Tech and the rest of its line including rugged portable power and the iconic Yowie® Logo apparel collection, visit www.outdoortech.com .

5 Things To Do While You Are Stuck Inside

These are some strange times… strange times indeed. Fear not friends, this will all be figured out soon. For now, make sure you are safe and responsible. You may find yourself spending a lot of time inside (just like us) over the next few weeks. Here are 5 things to do so that you don’t go stir crazy.

Watch X Games’ Real Ski and vote for Alex Hackel

Alex is on our ski team and he is amazing. His Real Ski part is insane so watch it and vote for him. Protip: You can vote once a day, so do it every day. http://www.xgames.com/xgames/real/28891617/hackel-28891692

Get a Jump on Spring Cleaning

spring cleaning
Clean all the things

This isn’t inherently fun but it can be. Put on your favorite maids outfit and get scrubbing. Or maybe you need to go through that closet and get organizing. You will feel so much better when you can finally find that one shirt that g-ma got you.

Support Small Businesses Online

Make sure you support your favorite small guy. Stock up on those non-essentials that will come in handy when it’s time to go outside and enjoy the outdoors again. https://www.outdoortechnology.com/

Write A Letter and Mail It

This is for you.

It’s crazy, right? Just think of the glory and excitement that someone will get when they have an actual letter in their mailbox. Not a bunch of coupons or political campaign nonsense. An actual letter… from an actual friend. Maybe the letter is a poem. Maybe it’s a love letter. Or maybe it’s a dissertation on why Blue Cheese is awful and should be banned throughout the world.

Make A List of Something and Post it to Social Media

Selfie

Lists are fun. Creating a list of 5 things to do during quarantine can be fun. There might be a little research involved. But at this point, you are really grasping for content out of shear boredom. Well at least you a being productive. Let me see your list.