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    Camping Must-Haves

    Camping Must-Haves

     I’ve been hiking and backpacking for a few years. I camp in comfort with my mosquito-net camping hammock and tarp. The setup is quick and easy and allows me to stay away from the mud and uneven ground. I navigate with my iPhone and I have extra power packs and a portable solar panel to keep my devices charged.

    But one has to be ready with more than mere comforts and the latest gadgets. Even prepared veteran hikers can encounter dangerous and unexpected circumstances in the field, and to be labeled “ill-equipped” by the responders to your situation is embarrassing. I don’t want to be caught with my pants down, so I’m continuously testing my skills, gear and preparedness in the real world, while borrowing useful tricks from travelers who have more knowledge than I do.

    Overplanning and overthinking takes the fun out of any trip, but heading into the unknown like Chris McCandless can have fatal consequences. Once you have your gear rigged it’s important to do some investigating into the area you’re about to navigate. Weather changes or a night in the mountains can be deadly when things go wrong.

    More often than not, people experience hiccups when they have no strategy at all, or they’re uninformed.

    They don’t know that a thunderstorm in the mountains on a hot summer day can drop the temperature by 30 or 40 degrees in a flash, requiring not only rain gear but also extra insulation.

    They fail to realize the advantages of wearing a headlamp while trekking through darkness in backcountry.

    When you head out on a trail, you should have what it takes to survive an incident or accident – snacks, water, shelter, first aid kit and a way of making a fire.

    1. Map and Compass. Google Maps have failed me again and again, even in busy cities information is not always up to date and correct. When all else fails, the compass will not. There is nothing like a dependable compass to keep you on the right track.

    2. Headlamp or flashlight: We all prefer headlamps for hands-free use while stumbling over roots and rocks. LED hand-held and head-lamps are lightweight, provide long burn times, and are nearly indestructible.

    3. Multitool: Trust in the old faithful Leatherman, and make sure your multi tool has a saw in it, as this could prove invaluable.

    4. Fire starter: Use cotton balls or pads coated with Vaseline in a little zipper bag or plastic container or commercial starters. The Vaseline serves multiple purposes; it’s a great lubricant and moisturizer too.

    5. Extra food and water: Hydration bladders are easy to find. Carry an extra bottle if needed. I also carry iodine tablets for emergency water treatment or a personal water filter like the Sawyer Straw. Dried meats and emergency bars are a good source of energy and proteins.

    6. Matches: Stormproof matches will not fail you. Just be careful of carrying “strike anywhere” matches on airplanes as TSA forbids these.

    7. First aid kit: The Surviveware First Aid Kit comes with 100 items in clearly labeled compartments that ensure easy accessibility during emergency situations. It can be strapped to your backpack and is compact enough to carry in your bag. It’s also waterproof. Remember to add your own personal subscription medication.

    8. Extra clothing: At minimum a dry base layer top, plus light gloves and a buff.  Ensure your heads, hands and feet are warm as most heat loss occurs in the extremities.

    9. Emergency shelter: At the least, a reflective blanket in the form of an emergency thermal blanket. Packs of five ensure you have some for fellow travelers and with duck tape you can construct a makeshift shelter that is easily spotted by rescuers.  

    10. Toilet paper: A.k.a white gold, keep it safe and pack it wisely.

    11. Locating devices: Carry a whistle with companions and use a series of agreed upon blasts for communication. It is sustainable and louder than yelling. Rose would never have been saved without hers after the Titanic sank.

    12. Sun protection: Include sunglasses, hat, buff, sunscreen and SPF-rated lip balm.

    Beyond this list of basic gear, I carry an emergency venom extractor kit for bites and stings. I also carry a small tick removal tool as these parasites are rampant this year. 


    13003 Smoketown Road
    WoodbridgeVirginia 22192
    United States

    8 Things to Do Before Heading Outdoors

    8 Things to Do Before Heading Outdoors

    There is nothing more thrilling than lumbering into the wilderness with just a backpack and grand plans to savor every sunrise and linger over every drop of dew. Whether it’s a new stretch of land calling you, or an old favorite you find yourself returning to from time to time, the anticipation of venturing out to untouched lands is enough to invigorate the soul. Before you head out, there are a few things you should do in preparation, so you are as safe as you are wild.

    1. Figure out where you’re going – the first step of any trip is deciding where to go.
    2. Make a plan – familiarize yourself with your destination by studying maps, tips of fellow travels and park rangers, so you do not wander in blindly. If you can bring a compass or cell phone with GPS, that is ideal.
    3. Share that plan – now that you’ve got your itinerary sorted, make sure to share it with a close friend or family member, so someone back home knows where you are. It is super important to let them know exactly when you plan to return, so they know when to check your Instagram for pictures, or to alert the authorities.
    4. Bring a friend – while solo backpacking adventures are incredible, memories are even richer when shared with someone. Another bonus to bringing a friend? There is safety in numbers. Even just one more person can highly alleviate a troublesome situation by sharing their knowledge, going for help, administering first aid, and making sure you’re safe.
    5. Learn first aid – there’s a reason the Scout motto is ‘Be Prepared’ as you never know what may happen, especially when you’re in the wild. Having basic first aid can go a long way should something happen when you’re out on the trails, or if you come across a fellow adventurer in distress.
    6. Practice survival skills – reading guidebooks and manuals is well and good, but nothing can beat hands-on experience, practicing how to pitch a tent, start a fire, or any of the myriad of survival skills you may need to call upon while in nature.
    7. Pack your backpack wisely – ­this is not a situation in which more is necessarily better. Instead, pack smartly, narrowing down your backpack to the essentials. Ensure you consider all situations – making a shelter, starting a fire, drinking clean water, the weather, obtaining nourishment, navigating. Though you may feel confident in your outdoors skills, you never know what may happen, and it is better to be prepared in case of an emergency, so bring along a first aid kit. Keep in mind any activities you plan on doing – kayaking, hunting, rock climbing – and pack for those.   
    8. Dress for the weather – keep a watch on the weather forecast and dress for it. Layers are a good idea, even in summer, as the nights quickly get colder. Synthetic wicking materials are also good for time spent in the outdoors. Again, this is a situation of understanding the terrain and climate of the outdoor destination you are exploring.

    Gearing up for an outdoor adventure, whether a weekend or a couple of weeks, is an exciting time and part of the fun. By making sure you are fully prepared for any instance or emergency that may occur while you are in nature, your wilderness explorations will be adventurous and safe. 

    College Dorm Checklist

    College Dorm Checklist

    With college just around the corner, students are scouring Target and Bed Bath & Beyond in search of the perfect comforter and shower caddy to bring to college. While there are many bits and bobs to pack, here is a list of the top ten essential items to bring to college. You don't want to show up unprepared for college! 

     1. Bedding and towels - can't sleep on a bare mattress! Sheets, a pillow, comforter, mattress pad, and towels are essential.

     2. Important documents - make sure you have those important documents in case anything happens - social security card, driver's license, health insurance card, etc. 

     3. Snacks - cafeteria food isn't great, and even if you are one of the lucky to attend a college with a top-notch cafeteria, you will want to have food on hand for a late night study snack or to grab on the go before an early class.

     4. Laundry detergent - don't be caught out with a mountain of dirty clothes in your room, bring a bottle of laundry detergent and aim to wash your clothes every other week.

     5. First aid kit - gather hundreds of college students living on their own, and accidents are bound to happen. Stock up on bandages and cleansers, as well as other basic first aid items, and you'll quickly be regarded as a reliable friend. 

     6. Pictures - chances are this is your first time living away from home. Homesickness is no joke, but decorating your dorm room walls with pictures of family and friends will bring a smile to your face when college seems so far from home. 

     7. Laptop - a laptop is a necessity - to write papers, communicate with professors, check class schedules, download notes, add new friends on Facebook, and work on group projects, among a zillion other things.

     8. Storage containers - dorm rooms are tiny. A variety of storage containers to fit under the bed and in the shoebox closet is a must for storing clothing, shoes and pretty much everything else you're bringing.

     9. Toiletries - though easy to stock up on at any time, it's always nice to come prepared with a supply of basic toiletries. On this note, don't forget shower shoes! Sharing a bathroom with a dozen other college students necessitates covering up your feet.

     10. Clothes and shoes - whether your college is near or far from home, you will want enough clothes to at least last a season (or until your first visit home, if you plan on bringing laundry home to mom!) so a good mix of layering items and a variety of shoes is a must. 

    Moving away from home for college is an exciting and scary time in a young adult's life. Independent for the first time in life, there are a lot of big changes and first-time experiences on the horizon. Make sure you're prepared for all of the experiences - big and small - so you can focus on making friends and acing those classes. 

    Winter is Coming - Is Your House Ready?

    Winter is Coming - Is Your House Ready?

    Fall is quickly settling in around the US; the morning air has a brisk chill and the days are shortening. Fall is full of delights, from carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns, cozying up around bonfires and gazing in awe at the colorful foliage, but it also means winter is on the horizon. Don't let the good times of fall distract you from making sure your home is winter ready. Prepping for winter can help you save money, as well as ensure that everyone in the family will safely get through the winter season.  

    Here are some easy projects to tackle before Sunday Night Football:

    • Inspect and clean gutters. Clogged gutters can lead to a plethora of hazards around the home, so remove any debris.
    • Seal any gaps and cracks around windows and doors with weather stripping and caulk. This can help you save up to 10% on your monthly heating bill.
    • Get on top of roof problems. Inspect your roof for damaged or curled shingles, corroded flashing, or leaky vents.
    • Repair damaged sidewalks, driveways, and steps before the first frost. Any cracks over 1/8” should be sealed. Also look for and repair loose railings, uneven surfaces, and disintegrating asphalt.
    • Drain and winterize outdoor faucets, as they are most susceptible to extremely cold weather, yet also one of the easiest to protect from freezing. You should also consider replacing the existing hose faucet with a freeze-proof faucet. 
    • Clean or replace dirty furnace filters. Clogged filters don’t allow heat to spread evenly throughout the home and can raise your heating bills. Get in the habit of cleaning the filters monthly, and replacing them regularly.
    • Schedule a professional to inspect your heating system. Have a standing appointment with a local company to check your heating system before late fall to avoid the rush,
    • Same goes for a gas heating system – get it checked by a professional before winter settles in.
    • Conduct a home safety check. Test smoke and CO monitors, inspect fire extinguishers, review fire escape plans, and rid your home of fire hazards. Check your home and car first aid kits. Replace expired items and ensure it has the proper items to cover any emergencies your family may face.
    • Maintain your washer and dryer by replacing rubber hoses with steel-jacketed ones and vinyl ducts with metals ones.
    • The National Fire Protection Association recommends having chimneys swept at the beginning of winter to remove soot and debris. Find a certified sweep in your area via the Chimney Safety Institute of America.  

    Winter will be here before you know it! Enter the season with peace of mind.