Author: Zack Newsome

Zack is a lifelong adventurer passionate about sharing the joy of the outdoors with others. He loves camping, fly-fishing, sailing, and exploring wild spaces. He launched Outward in early 2022 to inspire others to spend more time outdoors – improving mental health and more deeply connecting with the environment.

Review: DAMA Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board

DAMA Inflatable Paddleboard Inflated
The DAMA Inflatable Paddleboard is beautiful, full-featured, and a great value.

Stand up paddleboards (SUP’s) have been trending up for over decade.  The combination of a vehicle that gets you out on the water while providing a great workout has captivating a large audience of outdoor enthusiasts.  Stand up paddleboarding is loads of fun and with the growth of inflatables SUP’s on the market, paddleboarding became much more accessible to the masses. Over time, inflatable SUP’s have shown to be more portable (allowing people to get out on the water more easily), plenty durable (their robust design rarely punctures or leaks), and much less expensive than their rigid counterparts (often 25-30% of the cost of a rigid SUP). Inflatable SUP’s are here to stay.  They are getting better each year and they are getting less expensive as well – a good thing for those of us who wish we had a whole fleet of these babies.  We’ve recently purchased and reviewed the DAMA Inflatable Stand Up Paddleboard and think it’s a great option for those in the market for a new iSUP.

The Verdict:

The DAMA Inflatable Paddleboard is a great looking SUP that comes with a boatload of extras. It’s a stable board thats works well for both adults and children. We especially like the woodgrain design, built-in GoPro mount and the paddle options.  At $299, this paddleboard is a great value that gives you a lot for your investment.  It should lead to some memorable experiences on the water.

Specs & Features:

Dimensions: 10’6″ long x 32″ wide x 6″ thick

Max Rider Weight: 330lbs

Features:

  • woodgrain top design
  • teak-look non-slip foot pad
  • sport camera mount
  • bungee cargo system
  • 4 Multi-Purpose D-rings
  • 3-fin design

Included Accessories:

  • carrying bag (backpack style)
  • hand pump
  • convertible aluminum paddle (2-sided kayak or standard SUP paddle)
  • shoulder strap
  • 5L Dry Bag
  • leash
  • cellphone dry bag
  • repair/patch kit

Packing:

As convenient as inflatable paddleboards are to deflate, roll up, and take to the next destination, there are still big and heavy. The Dama inflatable paddleboard comes with a packing bag with enough room to easily repack the paddleboard and all its accessories.  The bag is spacious with large zippers to open the bag fully.  It also has backpack straps if you prefer to carry the board to your desired destination that way.

Set Up:

The paddleboard is pretty simple to set up.  You pull it out of the bag and unroll it on a flat surface. The next step is to twist off the dust cap to access the inflation valve on the front of the board.  Like most iSUP’s, the DAMA inflatable has a Halkey Roberts valve to make inflation easy and to ensure a leakproof seal.  Connect the hand pump to the valve and lock it by turning clockwise.  Dama recommends inflating this board to 15psi, but claims that pressures in the range of 12psi to 20psi will be fine.  The recommended 15psi has been the perfect amount of pressure in our testing to give you a stiff and stable board, but getting to 15psi with the hand pump is a workout.  Many iSUPers view this as a part of their warmup – getting their heart rate pumping and taxing the upper body a bit.

If you use you paddleboard often and prefer to speed up the inflation process, we recommend picking up an electric SUP pump.  These pumps are typically 12v powered from your vehicle via a cigarette-lighter style plug.  Most have an LCD that shows the current psi and allow you to set to the desired inflation rate before starting it.  In the case of the DAMA SUP, you set the pump to inflate to 15psi, push the start button, and enjoy your cup of coffee for a few minutes while it does the work for you.

Once the board is inflated, the 3 included fins are slid into the fin slots on the bottom of the board and are secured in place by attached snap pins that hold them secure without needing any tools.  The leash that DAMA includes is pretty standard, but it’s blue color properly matches the blue of the board design.  It should be attached to the rear grab handle of the board, then velcro’ed around your ankle.  Finally, the aluminum paddle should be assembled to your liking.  DAMA includes paddle options to assemble the paddle as a two-sided kayak paddle or a standard SUP paddle with paddle on one end and handle on the other.  If you are planning on standing up on the paddleboard, the paddleboard paddle option in the way to go.  If sitting or kneeling, the kayak paddle setup is a great bonus to have in this package.

Riding Experience:

DAMA Inflatable Paddleboard Promo
Promo Image from DAMA

In our experience, the DAMA inflatable paddleboard is a stable board.  We have the 10ft 6in model which is our recommendation for all around use.  Its 32in width in more than enough side-to-side room to move around a bit and the 10’6″ length gives you some room to adjust forward and backward on the board to match your preferences and water conditions.  The non-slip mat feels good under your feet and does it job giving you confidence that your feet will stay put and not slide around while paddling. The fins help the paddleboard track well and we had no trouble pointing it toward our destinations with ease.

Extras:

The bungee cargo straps on the front of the board are a nice addition allowing you to secure a waterproof bluetooth speaker (we love our JBL Flip 5) or carrying a change of clothes using the included dry bag.

The 4 D-rings, while not seemingly a huge addition, provide extra points to secure the paddleboard to a dock, to another paddloboard, and can even be used to lash down the paddleboard for storage while keeping it inflated. The hidden value of these d-rings is the ability to add a kayak seat to this board which can be secured to the board via these d-rings. For those who are unable to stand up on an SUP, the kayak seat and paddle setup in kayak-mode provide a great option to enjoy the water on this SUP.

Finally, the sport camera mount is a great little bonus.  We have previously installed a GoPro mount the the front of another inflatable SUP we own and it was a pleasant surprise to see the DAMA board comes with this feature right our of the bag. The factory installation looks a lot better than our crude adhesive-attached mount on our other SUP.

DAMA Inflatable Paddleboard Accessories
The features and included accessories make this an iSUP to consider

Deflation:

When you’re done enjoying the DAMA iSUP, packing it away is easy.  Pull it out of the water onto a flat surface.  Detach the leash and fins. Remove the dust cap on the inflation value and push the spring loaded pin down to deflate.  Pushing and twisting the valve pin will lock it in place to keep the value open.  Since the recommended pressure for this board is 15psi, when opening the valve initially, you’ll be greeted by a loud rush of air – so be prepared.  Once most of the air is out of the board, you’ll want to start rolling it – starting at the bottom – to push the remaining air out of the board. Make sure to keep the valve open during this stage.  We typically close the valve only when the board is fully rolled up to ensure that if it unrolls on us, we won’t have to go through the final stages of deflation again.  Once rolled up, the SUP and all accessories fit nicely in the included bag for transport.  This isn’t one of those bags that once opening you can never get everything back into it – it’s large and spacious for all the included gear.

Quality:

In our experience, the DAMA inflatable stand up paddleboard is built really well.  It always feels solid when riding and we’ve had zero problems with leaks in the seams or the valve.  As a budget-priced board, we expected some compromises in the SUP build, but have bene ecstatic so far to not have any issues with build quality.  The added elements, non-slip pad, GoPro mount, D-Rings, handles, etc all are adhered firmly to the board and look great.

With so many inflatable paddleboards on Amazon these days – all with similar features and accessories – we chose the DAMA board due to its design.  We love the wood-look top of the board along with the baby blue styling.  This board doesn’t look or feel like a $300 SUP.  It holds it own against much more expensive inflatable SUP’s on the market.  With over 2000 reviews on Amazon for this board, we aren’t the only ones that feel this way.

Our only complaint about the quality is in the paddle.  The paddle is thinner than we’d like and the connecting parts do feel a bit flimsy.  The tradeoff is that this paddle can be converted to a dual blade kayak-style paddle – so it’s worth it.  As a standup paddleboard paddle, the paddle does feel a bit loose in your hands – feeling at times that the lightweight paddle is bending.  If you are going to stand up paddle longs distances with this board, we may recommend picking up a sturdier 2-piece paddle like this one, but for the flexibility, the included paddle will be perfect for most users.

Value:

We purchased our first inflatable paddleboard almost a decade ago for around $500.  It did not come with a carrying bag and does not have most of the features this DAMA SUP comes with.  It’s been a great board and is still leak-free after hours and hours of use over the years. At $300, this DAMA board is an amazing value.  The board looks awesome with a design that resembles a much more expensive SUP.  The carrying case and extras provide additional value – even if you don’t use many of the accessories regularly.  With this package, you get a lot for your dollar, which leaves more in your pocket to pay for the travel or accommodations to get out on the water and enjoy this SUP.


Camping for Beginners

Tent and Hammock at Campsite
Camping is an awesome way to start enjoying the outdoors.

Camping is one of the best ways to leave the stress of everyday life behind and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors. The fresh air, starry skies and campfire all allow for unique experiences that help refill our tanks.  If you’re jonesing for some time outdoors, we’ve put together some tips to help you on your initial trips. Following these steps will ensure successful camping for beginners.

Initial Tips

Start with Car Camping

Car Camping doesn’t mean sleeping in your car (though this is an option).  Car Camping simply camping somewhere you can drive to and unpack all of your gear.  Car camping allows you to pack anything you might want to bring along without worrying about size and weight restrictions of what you bring.

Keep it Simple

Don’t overthink your first few camping trips.  You don’t need to find nearby hikes to fill your day or catching your own fish for dinner.  Ensure a successful and pleasant entrance into camping by focusing on the essentials and leaving plenty of time to simply enjoy the experience.

Keep it Short

Don’t be overly ambitious on your first few trips.  An overnight camping trip allows you to bring less, requires less planning, and has less to go wrong. Get the basics down for a single night before pushing things on a multi-day trip that requires a lot more preparation and planning.

Don’t Stress about Not Having All the Right Gear

Don’t be intimidated by all of the specialty camping gear available on the market.  You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to have a fun camping trip.  You can bring a lot of necessary gear from your home to get you through your first few trips. When you decide to camp more frequently, then you can invest in gear.

Planning Your First Trip

S'Mores over a Campfire
Making s’mores over a campfire is a “must-do” activity when camping.

The key to successful camping for beginners is proper planning. Once you’re comfortable sleeping in the outdoors, planning is less essential, but when just getting started with camping, it’s important to think through your trip beforehand.

Where to camp

Modern campgrounds are typically a mix of rustic and comfortable.  Most campgrounds have toilets, potable water and garbage facilities on site. Campsites typically have a parking spot (or 2), a cleared and level area for you tent and a picnic table.  Some campsites have a firepit ring.

The best campsites to choose when beginning camping are ones that are reservable online.  Reserving your spot ahead of time will ensure that you have a site when you arrive.  The website Recreation.gov has a searchable list of campgrounds in National Forests across the US and is a great spot to start your search. Campendium is another campsite resource we highly recommend. While primarily focused for RV campers, Campendium has campground reviews, cell service information, and camper-taken photos that can also help you find the perfect tent campsite. Popular campsites book quickly, so plan ahead to reserve your dates.

Most campgrounds have a number of campsites that aren’t reservable. These are first-come-first-serve campsites that can be claimed when you arrive. If you head out without a reservation, make sure to plan to be there early to have the best chance to get one of these spots. Don’t plan on arriving at 5pm on a Friday and being able to find a spot. Your best bet is to plan on arriving just before the “check-in” time to grab an open spot before the masses arrive.

Watch the Weather

Knowing what Mother Nature may throw at you while camping is important.  Not having warm enough clothes during a chilly evening or having your single pair of shoes soaked by rain can ruin a camping trip quickly. Check the weather at your camping location when packing to make sure you have the right clothing.  If rain is in the forecast, don’t necessarily cancel your trip – some of our most memorable outdoor experiences have been accompanied by the soothing sound of rain on our tent’s roof.  On the other hand, if the forecasted low temperatures are cooler than expected or if extended rain is in the forecast, it may be a good idea to reschedule.

Temperatures also will have an effect on your outdoor activities.  If it’s hot during the daytime, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of shade – either by trees at your campsite or provided by the gear you bring.  If rain is in the forecast, make sure to plan indoor activities.  Books and board games are great things to have on hand for rainy days spent inside your tent.  When camping, it’s important to allow for weather to be a part of the experience.  A rainy day is a great excuse the get that long nap you’ve been dreaming of taking or working through that book you wish you had more time to read.

Whatever the weather is, be sure to plan and pack accordingly. Bring an extra change of clothes in case you get wet. Pack layers of clothing.  Remember that you can always remove layers as temperatures warm. For your first few camping trips, steer clear of nighttime temperatures lower than 40 degrees.  You’ll most likely need specialized gear or a heat source to sleep comfortable in temperatures lower than 40.

Plan Properly

Beyond watching the weather, it’s a good idea to think through your trip to make sure you have everything you need.  If you plan on exploring the nearby area and plan to leave your campsite unattended, do you have a plan to secure your valuables? If you plan on fishing in a nearby creek, don’t forget to pack your rod, reel, bait. Do you have a valid fishing license? Looking forward to having s’mores around campfire at night, don’t forget to bring everything you’ll need to start the fire and the ingredients for the s’mores.  Even the most experienced campers forget things from time to time, but walking through your trip outdoors will help you make decisions before you head out.

What to Wear

When packing for your first camping trip, don’t over pack – one of the joys of camping is the simplicity of it and lugging around extra gear isn’t fun.  Bring what you’ll need, with backups of the essentials in case of rain.  Like your mom suggested when spending the night at a friend’s house when you were a kid, an extra pair of socks and underwear is always a good idea. Pack warmer clothing that you think you’ll need.  It’s easy to add and remove layers of clothing as the temperature changes, but it’s tough to do if your layers are at home.  In the outdoors, evenings and early mornings can be chilly – it’s part of the charm of camping – so plan accordingly. If rain is in the forecast, a light rain jacket will do wonders to keep you dry.

Shoes

You don’t have to go out and buy hiking boots to go camping.  Honestly, for many hikes, you don’t need hiking boots.  In most cases, simple tennis shoes will do fine for both camping and hiking.  Since you’ll be treading in natural areas, open-toed shoes aren’t ideal.  You can bring a pair of sandals if that’s your thing, but you’ll discover quickly that your feet will be filthy.  In case your shoes get wet, it’s a good idea to have a second dry pair t put on.  It’s not necessary, but if you have the room, bring them along.

Toiletries

If you’re camping for one night, toiletries will be minimal, but there are a few items you shouldn’t be without when camping for the first time. Make sure to bring your medications and personal hygiene items. You won’t need to worry about shower items as you most likely won’t have a shower at your campsite – you don’t need a shower anyway for one night away. Bring handsoap and a bottle of hand sanitizer is always good to have on hand in a pinch. A first-aid kit is helpful to have in case of injury, but you can also just bring a few bandaids and medication from home.  I always bring along some sort of pain reliever when I camp and recommend bringing a small bottle to fight off a headache, stiff back, or sole muscles. Don’t forget sunscreen and bugspray –  you may not need them, but you’ll be glad you packed them in case you do. A towel to dry your hands and a roll of toilet paper in case the campsite bathroom runs out are also a good idea.

Meals while Camping

Breakfast on a Coleman 2-burner camping stover
A 2-burner stove allows you to make coffee while cooking breakfast.

With a little advanced preparation, camping meals can be a highlight of the experience. Regardless of how you approach cooking while camping, it’s important to plan out your meals before you leave for the trip. Meals with simple ingredients and simple preparation are best, but that doesn’t mean your camping meals have to be bland or boring.

I’d caution against being overly ambitious on your meal planning for your first few trips. Scratch plans to cook over an open fire.  Weather conditions and fire restrictions may leave you hungry if you don’t have another way to cook your food. It’s better to plan meals that can be cooked over a small camp stove. Plan meals that will be easily to cook and pull off while outdoors with minimal effort.  Hamburgers, bratwurst, or even chicken breasts marinated at home are great lunch or dinner options.

Breakfast is typically the meal my family looks most forward to while camping. There’s nothing better than some eggs, country potatoes, and bacon – all cooked in the same pan after a night of deep sleep under the stars. Pancakes are another campground favorite. A “just-add-water” pancake mix makes the process easy with minimal utensils needed.

Lunch is the easiest meal to keep it super simple.  Sandwiches are a great option here to keep the stress low, but any dinner meal can also be subbed in for a lunch.

Basic is best in the spice & seasoning department.  Salt and pepper are must-brings, but packing your favorite all-around seasoning is a good idea as well to give your meals an extra kick of flavor.

Don’t forget the coffee or tea.  If you have a stovetop kettle and have room in the car, bring it along.  If not, you can heat water in a pot on the stove to use for your coffee or tea. When camping, I make my coffee using a stovetop espresso maker (moka pot), but a percolator will do the trick as well.

Whether you grab dinner on the road on the way to your campground or cook a 5-course dinner at your campsite, thinking through each meal ahead of time will help you shop and pack appropriately.  And don’t forget the details to make sure you bring everything you need along on the trip.

Essential Gear for Camping

Campsites are built to help campers get into nature.  They are primitive with only basic facilities (water, bathrooms, trashcans), so keep that in mind when packing your gear.  Camping is all about getting away from the complexity and stress of everyday life in the city, so embrace the environment you’re headed into.  Pack what you need, leave behind what you don’t.

A typical campsite will have an area for your tent, a table, a parking lot, and (possibly) a campfire ring. Bathrooms and water sources will be  a short walk away. The benefit of car camping is that you can bring as much gear as you can fit in your vehicle – and can leave it in your car if you don’t need it.

Camping gear can be expensive.  Don’t be intimidated by the high cost of some camping gear or discouraged by the wide variety of specialized gear that you don’t have. Ask friends, family, or a neighbor to borrow the essentials before investing in the gear yourself. Whether you purchase the essentials or borrow them, here is a list of the gear you’ll need for a successful camping trip.

  • Tent – Your tent will keep you out of the rain and away from the bugs while you sleep. Tents are rated by how many people they will sleep, but it’s wise to size up for extra room if possible. 3 or 4 person tents will be perfect for a couple and  6 or 8 person tents will sleep a family of 4 with room to breathe. This 3-person Colemen tent is highly rated and is easy to put up if you choose to invest in a tent rather than borrow one. Whether you buy or borrow a tent, it’s a good idea to set it up in your backyard before heading to the mountains.  This “practice” will make setup at your campsite a breeze and save you stress on your camping trip.
  • Sleeping Bag – Sleeping bags typically have temperature ratings – the outside temperatures they are rated to keep you warm in. For most beginning campers venturing out in warm weather, a 3-season bag will be more than warm enough.  Rectangular sleeping bags (not mummy bags) are the better option for beginners as they’ll give you room to move while you sleep.  This Oaskys 3-season Sleeping Bag comes in a variety of colors and is a great value pickup for beginning campers. If you’re camping on a budget, you can also bring bedding from home to use while camping.  Fleece blankets or duvet comforters work great and make it feel like you’re sleeping in your own bed. Just don’t bring anything that you can’t handle getting dirty – it will get dirty.
  • Sleeping pad (or air mattress) – Your sleeping bag will keep you warm, but it won’t do much to protect you from the hard ground you’re not used to sleeping on.  For most of us, sleeping on a hard surface is guaranteed to equal a sore back in the morning.  A sleeping pad will help provide some cushion between you and the ground.  It won’t be near as comfortable as your mattress at home, but it will be much better than sleeping on the ground – trust me. Another option is to pack an air mattress – especially for those that already have one laying around for house guests.  Air mattresses will keep you higher off the ground than a typical sleeping mat, but will take more effort to blow up.  Another issue people often have when camping with air mattresses is air loss during the night.  Temperatures fluctuations and small leaks can find you waking up to a leaky air mattress. In my opinion, if you trust your air mattress, it’s worth the risk.
  • Light – Campsites can get dark at night.  The benefit of the darkness is the ability to see stars you couldn’t imagine in the city. The challenge is that if you don’t pack adequate light sources, you can be left struggling to see much of anything. Flashlights are the easiest to bring as most of us have a few laying around the house. They provide directional light and when shined at the top of the tent, can illuminate a great deal of space. For lighting to light up larger areas, a lantern is a great piece of gear to have. While kerosene lanterns were the light source of previous generations of campers, LED lanterns are the way to go now.  This LE LED rechargeable lantern with a 4400mAh power bank provides light for your campsite and will charge your phone as well.
  • Camp Stove – The classic 2-burner propane camping stoves are the way to go for beginning campers.  The simple devices have two burners that can handle all but your largest kitchen pots and pans and use small 1lb propane tanks that are easily found in stores. The tops of these stoves fold up to form a windscreen to help prevent wind from getting in the way of your cooking. Most people who camp semi0seriously have some version of this classic camp stove and it should be easy to find someone to loan your theirs. You may also be able to find at used one at a discount online.  I wouldn’t have too much anxiety about buying on of these used – they typically last a long time.
  • Cooking Gear – You can bring your pots, pans and utensils from home on your first few camping trips – so don’t feel the need to go out and buy these new for your camping trip.  If you have nice stuff in your kitchen you don’t want to risk damaging while camping, you can often build a “camping” set of pots, pans and utensils at your nearby thrift store for next to nothing.  If you go this route, it’s a good idea to keep all of your camping kitchen gear in a plastic tub for easy storage and quick transport.  If cooking is your jam and you want to invest in a good pan and pot for camping, consider picking up this cast iron combo set.  Don’t forget to bring along biodegradable dish soap (we love Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap – an 18-in-1 soap) and a scrubbing pad to do dishes after your meal. While campgrounds typically have water available, most don’t allow washing dishes at the water source. So bringing a plastic tub to serve as a wash basin is a great idea.
  • Cooler – You probably already have a cooler stored somewhere. On a short camping trip, your cooler, filled with ice, will serve as your refrigerator – keeping your food (and beer) cold.  If you don’t have a cooler, borrowing one from a friend or neighbor should be pretty painless.
  • Camp Chairs – Folding camping chairs aren’t a necessity as most campsites have a table already, but having a few on hand will allow you to sit and relax wherever you want at your site. You’ll especially love having them to sit around the campfire on a chilly evening. Of all the items on this list, investing in a few inexpensive camp chairs will give you the most use beyond camping.  They’re great for backyard parties, kids sporting events, or just about anywhere you want to sit for a while.
  • Cups and Water Bottles – While disposable cups and plastic water bottles seem convenient for a camping trip, the extra waste they leave behind isn’t worth the convenience.  Bring along some reusable drink tumblers and metal water bottles instead.  You can find some great options at Outward Goods including our insulated wine tumbler, sherpa tumbler, and our 22oz vacuum insulated bottle.  These all make great items to have when camping and can also be used around the home while keeping your drinks at the desired temperature – in style!
  • Water Container – At your campground, water will usually be found a short walk from your campsite. It’s great to have a larger water container to fill up once at the start of your trip and then to use to dispense water at your site.  We typically keep our water container on the campsite table at all times for easy access to water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning.

Bonus Tips

Don’t forget pillows.  The most forgotten item when my family goes camping are pillows.  Having a pillow while camping can make all the difference in the world – don’t forget yours.

Google camping recipes. If you want to put some extra culinary effort into your camping experience, you’ll find some pretty creative camping meal recipes online.  These 27 Easy Camping Meals to Make Camp Cooking a Breeze from Fresh off the Grid is a good place to start.

Bring along a power bank. While the point of camping is to get away from technology, its wise to keep your phone close by and charged in case of emergencies.  Having a power bank on your trip will ensure you can keep your phone charged the whole time.

A hammock is a wonderful thing.  Stretched between two trees at your campsite – laying in a hammock is the perfect way to read a book or to take an afternoon nap. If you decide to pick one up, try ti find one with tree straps included, like this one.

Get Out There and Camp

Couple enjoying wine with a view while camping
Don’t forget the most important part of camping: enjoy the experience!

Camping is an awesome outdoor activity.  It can help to reduce stress, improve mental health and connect us more deeply with nature. If you haven’t been camping before, don’t be intimidated or discouraged by your lack of experiences.  Following the tips in this article will get you well on your way toward a successful outdoor experience.  With proper planning and preparation, camping can be done easily and inexpensively.  So what are you waiting for?  Get out there and give it a shot.  You may find yourself fall in love with the fresh air, quiet spaces, and freedom from everyday life.

 

 

 

Review: Coleman Queen Airbed Cot

We’re always looking for ways to help people outdoors. Rough sleep is a major consideration (and concern) for many to stay at home. Our Coleman Queen Airbed Cot review presents a great option to make camping more comfortable and enjoyable.

The Verdict:

Coleman Queen Airbed CotIf you have the room in your vehicle (and in your tent), the Coleman Queen Airbed Cot can turn camping into glamping with a single purchase. It’s comfortable, durable, and can double as a spare bed for house guests. It’s not for everyone, but for those looking for motivation to get outdoors, this airbed can make the experience more comfortable and luxurious. The best amenity this cot provides is the ability to sleep comfortably alongside your partner – making it feel more like home.

Specs & Features:

  • Dimensions: 78″ x 59″ x 22″
  • Supports up to 600 lbs
  • Folding Steel frame
  • 22″ bed height
  • carrying bag included
  • includes 2 side tables with cup holders
  • includes battery-powered pump for mattress inflation
  • weighs 22.5 lbs.

Purchase the Coleman Queen Airbed Cot on Amazon

Packing Size:

The Coleman Queen Airbed Cot comes with a convenient carrying bag.  Stored in the bag, it resembles a pop-up canopy in size and packing dimensions.  The bag with bed inside is approximately 37 in. long, 10 in. tall and 7 in. wide.  Being that this cot is essentially a queen bed on a folding platform, it does take up significant packing space when headed out to camp.  Depending on what else is on your packing list, you may not have room for such a large luxury if you are in a smaller vehicle.

Coleman Queen Airbed Cot Carrying bag

This cot is made for those who have space in their vehicle and in their tent.  If you have a large SUV or a pickup truck with plenty of room, having this along on the trip is a great amenity.  If you are tight on space, stick with a regular inflatable mattress on the floor. A large tent like the Kodak Canvas Flex-Bow 10’x14′ tent is a perfect vessel for this large airbed.

That being said, the carrying bag is a great accessory.  The folded bed frame, deflated mattress, side tables, and pump all fit nicely inside without having to tug and stuff like many outdoors carrying solutions. A zipper running much of the length of the top of the bag allows for great maneuverability when packing the cot away.

Set up:

Coleman Queen Airbed Cot Frame

Set up of this cot is easy, though awkward.  The bed frame is well designed and neatly folds in on itself to minimize the packing space required to stow. Unfolding the frame is a one-man (or woman) job, but if you have an extra set of hands to help, it’ll save you some initial awkwardness.

The included queen air mattress is separate from the frame.  Once inflated, the mattress slips into a zippered pocket mounted to the top of the bed frame.  Like the zipper of the packing bag, the zipper of the mattress pocket is large and unzips a long way giving you plenty of room to slide the mattress inside without trouble.

The included air pump (requires 4 D batteries that not included) inflates the mattress easily. The pump is nice to have along in the carrying bag, but we recommend making sure to bring some some spare batteries along 0 just in case.

Coleman Queen Airbed Cot Side Table

Finally, the optional side tables are a nice touch.  Like the frame, the side tables fold in on themselves to save space when packing away. Set up is an easy as unfolding the side tables, located the appropriate slots on the side of the bed and placing the tabs of the tables into the slots.  The cupholders in these tables are great and the tables seem sturdy enough for small items (think keys, phone, flashlight, etc), but due to the simply attachment point on then bed frame, I would caution against resting anything too heavy on these.

 

Comfort:

Compared to a sleeping bag on the ground or a thin mattress pad, sleeping on this is heaven.  I am a big believer that camping should be comfortable – a doctrine that my wife and kids fully agree with me on.  Camping should be about enjoying the outdoors – the fresh air, the multitude of stars, quiet and solitude – not a sore back and awful sleep.  The Coleman Queen Airbed Cot makes sleeping in the outdoors easy, enjoyable, and comfortable.

In true goldilocks-style, the air mattress was just right for us – not so soft that you roll into the person next to you all night, but not so hard that you can’t get settled sleep.  Again, considering the alternatives (ground or thin sleeping pad) this mattress is something to look forward to on your trip outdoors.

Coleman has a bunch of different trademarked names for the elements that ensure this mattress’s comfort:

  • AirTight® – apparently tested at the factory to be leak-free
  • ComfortStrong™ – a coil system provides better support for all-night comfort
  • Double Lock™ valve – a leak-free dual-sealed valve

We did not have any issues with deflation in our multiple night test of this mattress.  It stayed properly inflated and comfortable without having to add air throughout our trips.

Coleman Queen Airbed Cot Inflated with Zipper

One of the best aspects of this airbed cot is its 22 inches of height off the ground.  It can be difficult to get up from a rough night of sleep on the ground while camping.  A sore body (especially in chilly temperatures) can make getting up out of a sleeping bag a chore even for the young and nimble. The Colemen airbed cot feels just like you’re getting in and out of your bed at home.  The ability to slide your legs over the side of the bed in the morning to sit up and get your bearings makes for a much more pleasant experience.  The height of the cot also makes for a quick seat when putting on shoes and socks – a simple pleasure, but nice nonetheless.

Finally, the best part of this airbed is the Queen sizing.  Gone are the camping trips to beautiful locales capped off by a fireside snuggle with your partner only to both retreat to separate (and uncomfortable) sleeping arrangements.  The size of this airbed allows the snuggling to continue through the night if you so choose.

The only real issue we (and others online) have experienced with this airbed cot is that the mattress can be loud when moving around. Having read other reviews before purchasing, we knew this was a concern beforehand, but it hasn’t bothered us too much.  To be sure, each movement does come with a corresponding “vinyl-sliding” sound, but it’s not too loud and the comfort of being on an elevated inflatable cloud while camping is well worth it.

Durability:

Like most things, durability of this airbed is related to proper case and usage.  The steel frame is sturdy and the joints don’t seem to warrant too much worry. The pocket the mattress fits into is thin material and while we didn’t have any issues, I could see small tears or wear spots potentially being an issue with a lot of use.

The big question with durability is the air mattress.  The air mattress that comes with the Coleman Queen airbed cot is certainly made of thicker material than a cheap air mattress picked up a Walmart or Target, but air mattresses typically don’t last forever.  While the air mattress is the most important part of this cot (especially with fancy marketing features such as AirTight®, ComfortStrong™ and Double Lock™), any replacement queen-sized air mattress should fit into the mattress sleeve on the frame.

If you camp a handful of times per year and use this cot occasionally indoors for houseguest, it should last for many years without issue.  The carrying bag allows all the included items to be properly and safely stored while protecting the contents from the elements.  Take care of it and it will take care of you.

Value:

The Coleman Queen Airbed Cot is expensive when compared to most camping sleep solutions. Though Coleman lists its price at $219.99, as of this writing, it can be purchased for $161.99 on Amazon.

At $162, the value of this airbed is measured by its convenience and comfort.  If it helps you get outdoors more often, avoids the backaches, and gives you the opportunity to share a bed with your partner – it’s well worth the cost in our opinion.

 

Looking for a tent with plenty of room for this Queen Airbed Cot? See our recent review on the Kodiak Canvas Flex-Bow Tent.

Review: Kodiak Canvas Flex-Bow Tent

The Verdict:

The Kodiak Canvas Flex-Bow Tent is the last tent you will ever buy. It’s solidly built with materials that will last for years (most likely decades). For its size and robust materials, it is easy to set up and take down. Various size options will allow you to pick the tent that fits your needs with room to spare. The waterproof canvas breathes well and insulates better than a typical nylon/poly tent.

Build Quality:

The Kodiak Canvas Flex-Bow Tent is a canvas tent.  For those who have never camped in a canvas tent, it’s like camping was supposed to be. This tent reminds you of a 70’s summer camp but with design and engineering that make it amazing.

Kodiak Canvas tents will last a lifetime IF properly cared for and maintained.  Proper care and maintenance should be recommended practice for all tents, but most people who buy a cheap poly tent from a big box store expect the tent to last a few seasons before it will be replaced by another cheap poly tent.  The Kodiak Canvas Flex-Box tent is in another category of tent built for those who want to invest in a quality tent that won’t let them down.

The build quality of this tent is probably best illustrated in its weight.  With heavy-duty materials all around, the 10×14 flex-bow test we tested weighed 80lbs.  So this is NOT a backpacking tent.  This is a tent you pack in your car and live like a king in the outdoors – possibly for weeks at a time. Having been in some sketchy weather situations while camping in the past, the flex-bow won’t give you anxiety worrying about if the tent will hold up.

 

Set Up:

Unpacking the Kodiak Canvas Flex-Bow TentThe setup process for these tents is different than your average tent, but it’s not overly complicated. One of the biggest concerns about Kodiak Canvas Tents is that they take more time and hassle to set up. The truth is that the Kodiak Canvas Flex-Bow Tent takes about the same time to set up as your average nylon/polyester dome tent. In our experience, the Flex-Bow Tent can be set up by only 1 person in under 10 minutes.

The secret to a smooth setup is to set this tent up in your yard to become familiar with the parts and the process.  Kodiak Canvas suggests doing this before your first trip along with lightly spraying the assembled tent with water and letting it air dry to “season the tent”.  According to Kodiak Canvas, this seasoning process causes the canvas to shrink slightly, closing needle holes where the canvas was stitched.

The flex-bow roof is the most impressive part about this tent.  The flex-bow frame keeps the roof taut to better repel water and to improve sturdiness.

Kodiak Canvas Flex-Bow Tent Custom StakesOne important thing to mention about the set up of this tent is that it it not built to stand on its own.  It requires placing stakes around the entire perimeter of the tent before the tent is raised to maintain its proper shape and structure.  This is by far the most time consuming aspect of the set up process, but properly staking the base of the tent helps to give it durability against any wind and snow you may encounter.

Size:

The Kodiak Canvas Flex-Bow Tent is available in 4 sizes:

  • 8.5′ x 6′ – 2-person capacity
  • 9’x8′ – 4-person capacity
  • 10′ x 10′ – 6-person capacity
  • 10′ x 14′ – 8-person capacity

These tens include a lot of headroom and will allow most people to stand without issue.  The 10×14 and 10×10 sizes has a roof height of 6’6″ while the 9×8 and the 8.5×6 have heights of 6’1″ and 4′ respectively.

This tent is also available in 3 versions: Basic, Deluxe, and VX.  Differences between the version can be seen on this table from Kodiak Canvas. The Deluxe includes 2 large additional windows, a gear loft, a pocket organizer, 2 small roof vents, and an upgraded carrying bag. The VX version includes 2 additional triangular windows on the ends of the tent along with everything else from the deluxe model (except the roof vents).  Not all versions are available in all sizes.

Interior Size of the 10'x14' Kodiak Canvas Flex-Bow tent

Comfort:

The test we tested in the 10’x14′ Deluxe model.  Our family of 4 and our two dogs slept comfortably in this tent with room to spare.  With 4 sleeping bags arranged along the tent walls, we still had open space in the middle to allow us to move around in the tent.  The 10’x14′ tent certainly could sleep 8 people as Kodiak Canvas suggests, but like most maximum tent ratings, you would only want to have this many people in this tent if it was necessary.

The canvas breathes well – we had no problems with condensation in this tent – but it also felt warmer that our nylon/poly tents in our 40 degree test conditions.  The 4 large (almost floor-to-ceiling) windows in the deluxe model give you a lot of control by opening and closing the windows to control airflow.

The no-see-um mesh window screens are well made and are great at keeping the bugs out.  We had no trouble with bugs in this tent except the times we left the door open for any length of time.

The white “flex-bow” ceiling allows for a nice diffused light to enter the tent once the sun rises.  This creates a welcome and subtle wakeup for early-risers, but could be frustrating for those who look forward to sleeping in when camping.

The detachable gear loft and pocket organizers provide some useful space to store items.  The gear loft extends over half the ceiling when deployed.  Multiple attachment rings around the top of the tent give the ability to customize these items to suit your own needs.

Durability:

Kodiak Canvas Flex-Bow Tent Carrying BagsIt’s hard to know how long the Kodiak Canvas Flex-Bow tent will last, but it seems sturdy in every way.  The zippers work well and are protected by heavy external canvas flaps with velcro.

The tent includes a carrying bag made of thick, durable canvas.  Our deluxe model included an upgraded “Strap & Cinch” bag that makes packing this tent back in the bag easy as pie.  Properly stored in this bag, the tent is well-protected during storage.

Everything about is heavy duty – making it a serious consideration for campers looking for a home in the wild.

Value:

The Kodiak Canvas Flex-Bow Tent isn’t cheap. The model we tested currently runs $699 on Amazon. But, the value is there.  This tent is super sturdy, can stand up to strong winds and snow, and is considered a 4-season tent. If you spend a good amount of time in the outdoors, this tent is a must have.  It will make camping enjoyable and worry-free for the whole family. To top it off, this may just be the tent that you make memories with your kids and pass it down for them to make memories with the kids in.  It’s a tank.  It’s comfy. It’s camping in comfort and style.

Images:

Kodiak Canvas Flex-Bow Tent Custom Stakes


Buy Now at Amazon

 

The Outward Overland Trailer

Restored 1968 Airstream Overlander Camping in Telluride, CO
Camping in our restored 1968 Airstream Overlander

5 years ago, I purchased and restored a 1968 Airstream Overlander Travel Trailer.  It was a LOT of work, but the finished product provided my family and I with a pretty killer medium for adventure.  We took some great trips in that Airstream and made some memories that we will all never forget. And, at least for me, the process of rebuilding the trailer from the ground up was fun and super educational about how RV systems worked.

We originally purchased the airstream with the idea that it would contain all of the gear necessary for a multi-day trip and that we could hook it up and go anywhere on a whim. After the trailer was ready for use, we quickly learned that our dream of it being the perfect camping vehicle was far off base.  First of all, it was huge.  Towing a 26ft trailer that weighs 6,000lbs isn’t something you do mindlessly.  Ensuring that you’re properly connected, all safety devices are in place and working correctly, and that the trailer is ready for travel takes time – usually over an hour – to feel confident that people and property are safe for the road.  Secondly, large travel trailers are not the most maneuverable vehicles, so proper planning had to be done far ahead of time to know that your destination could handle the size.  Finally, the trailer had a lot of great electrical systems on board – it was clearly meant to have power while being outdoors.  Locating sites that had available power took time and limited the locations to choose from.

Airstream Shell Sunset Reflection
One of the last pictures taken of the sunset reflecting on our Airstream before we sold it

The strongest feeling we had after a few years with the airstream was anticipated.  We missed being outdoors.  We would tow our shiny encapsulated tiny home for hours into the outdoors, only to feel as though we weren’t really in the outdoors.  For some, this is the point.  Having (almost) every luxury that home provides should make camping more comfortable.  But for us, we missed being more immersed in the elements.  We missed the sound of rain on the taut sides of tent.  We preferred cooking outdoors without worry of smoke filling the cabin of the airstream.  We wanted more living space than our airplane on wheels allowed.

So, a few years ago, we sold our airstream and started over.  We purchased a large and long-lasting canvas tent. We picked up a 3-burner outdoor propane stove. We bought a few canopies to give us various spaces protected from the rain – a screened bug tent and a 10×10 popup canopy. We even splurged on a queen-sized air mattress with a frame that’s raised off the ground.  With all our new gear, we were going to do camping right – at least by our standards.

Our new challenge quickly became apparent.  With all of this gear, how would we get it to the destination?  And how would we store it all in our already cluttered garage?

After some googling, I discovered the world of overlanding – vehicles (usually off-road ready) with camping setups that could be deployed far off the beaten path.  Having loved the free dispersed camping spots we had found with the airstream, I instantly connected with the idea of overlanding.  So I started searching for ideas on how to build my own overland trailer.  After watching hours of YouTube videos of DIY overland builds, I was growing excited about the challenge of building my own, but was hesitant to spend the time it would take during the build process. And summer was coming!

Then one day, I stumbled across a post on Offerup for a trailer that I thought could work well as a starting point for an overland trailer build.  The trailer was being used by a mobile auto-detailing business and I thought it was the perfect platform for what I had in mind.  So I bought it and brought it home.

 

The Outward Overland Trailer

The trailer I purchased was a lifted flat-bed trailer that had a 1966 Utility Body Company work truck bed mounted to it. Giving it 3 lockable compartments on either side of the trailer provided multiple blank canvases to build out the necessary systems.  On top of the 6 side compartments, a large front lockable compartment had been built along the front of the trailer and a 4′ x 1′ toolbox had been installed on the trailer tongue.  In all, the trailer came with 8 lockable compartments and had an open-air “truck bed” in the middle with a double-door tailgate at the back. To top it all off, the entire trailer was painted in a grey digital camo scheme that added some great character.

Overland Trailer Build Before
The mobile auto detailing trailer as we bought it

Over the past year, we have added a series of systems and components to make this trailer our basecamp when exploring the wild.  It’s not perfect and it’ll never be “done”, but it’s a constantly evolving hub that allows us to contain all of our needs when away from home in smart and creative ways.  It also can go further off the pavement and deeper in the sticks than most camping vehicles.  Below are the various systems and upgrades we’ve added to the trailer.

Electrical System

Our overland trailer has two 6-volt “golf cart” batteries wired in series for 210 amp hours of 12-volt power. For charging, it has a 120V 10amp battery charger when we have access to the grid and a 20amp MPPT solar charger with 180 watts of solar panels for when we don’t. We’ve installed a 1000watt pure sine wave inverter for the rare times we need 120v power on the go.  It also has a battery monitor to know exactly where our battery capacity (as well as input and output) is at any given time. The battery system is finished off with a switch panel with circuit breakers for the various systems that also includes usb and 12V DC “cigarette lighter” ports.

Overland trailer Electrical System
The batteries, solar charger, battery monitor and inverter switch in our overland trailer

Lid

We custom crafted a steel and fiberglass lid to cover the trailer bed and to protect our camping gear from the elements.  The lid is hinged on the front with gas strut lifts on the sides of the trailer to assist in opening and to keep it open.  The bottom of the lid has 3 rows of led strip lighting that illuminates the bed area of the trailer and provides campground lighting when open.  The lid is secured using 2 latch clamps that are lockable with padlocks. In the future, we’ll add a roof rack to the lid allowing for a planned shade awning, shower enclosure and rooftop tent.

Custom Overland Trailer Lid with lighting
With the lid raised, the led strip under lighting provides light to the campsite

Refrigerator

F40C4TMP 53qt 12V Portable Refrigerator in our Custom Overland TrailerIn our front left side compartment, we added a 53qt 12-volt refrigerator. We custom-built an aluminum tray for the fridge and mounted it in the compartment on heavy-duty locking drawer slides to both keep it in place when traveling and for easy access when needed.

To connect it to the electrical system, we use the included 12v DC cigarette lighter charger which plugs into a bed-mounted 12V DC outlet which is switched at the electrical panel.  With multiple compartments and ample space, this refrigerator has been a valuable addition to the trailer and allows us to cook using fresh ingredients when outdoors.

 

Water System

Water Heater and Outdoor Faucet on Custom Overland TrailerOur overland trailer’s water system is built around a 40-gallon water tank installed at the front of the trailer bed. In the right front side compartment, we installed a 12v 2.9 gallons per minute water pump that gives 50PSI of pressure to the system.

For hot water, we have a propane tankless water heater mounted to the back of the compartment door. The heater stows away neatly in the compartment when traveling or not in use.  For showers and for general water needs, we installed a faucet with a quick disconnect fitting made for RV use. We also plumbed hot and cold water to the kitchen on the other side of the trailer using PEX tubing and fittings.

Kitchen

By far the most complicated part of the build so far, our overland kitchen includes a deep rectangular sink with folding faucet, hot and cold water, 3 storage drawers and a slide-out countertop for food prep.

Made of baltic birch plywood, the entire kitchen is protected with flat marine-grade varnish to protect against spills and the elements.  The entire unit is on heavy-duty locking drawer slides.  For the space of one side compartment, we have a well-equipped kitchen that meets all of our needs.

Outdoor Kitchen on Custom Overland Trailer
Our custom-built outdoor kitchen slides out of the left rear compartment

Under Lid Storage on Custom Overland Trailer

Storage

Even utilizing compartments for the refrigerator, water system, and kitchen, we still have 3 compartments for storage on the sides of the trailer.  The front toolbox allows us to keep all of our tools and small miscellaneous gear secure. The main storage are is the area under the lid.  This storage area is 67″ long x 60″ wide and 26″ tall giving us ample room for all of our gear.  This space holds our Kodiak Canvas 10’x14′ Flex-Bow Tent, our Coleman Queen Airbed Cot, 3 awnings, 5 camping chairs, 2 extra water containers, multiple sleeping bags, mattress pads, and miscellaneous camping gear.  Since this space is locked and protected from the elements, we can store all of our gear here when we’re not camping and it becomes usable workspace when we are.

 

Roofrack

Next up on the upgrade list is a roof rack to take the trailer vertical.  We recently decided to purchase and modify this 800lb capacity truck bed roof rack rather than fabricate our own. We’ve received it, but have not yet had the chance to get it on the trailer.  We will be completing the installation in the coming weeks. The added height of the roof rack will allow us to mount an Overland Vehicle System 270-degree batwing awning to provide shade and cover over the kitchen and refrigerator area. Also from Overland Vehicle Systems, we’ll install a shower side room to the roof rack on the opposite side of the trailer that is close to the water system. Also under consideration for the roof rack is a rooftop tent.  If we end up going this route, it’s between the Smittybilt Overlander XL and the OVS Nomadic 3 Extended tents.

Conclusion

Our Overland Trailer has exactly what we need and is laid out exactly as we want – because we are building it custom for how we camp.  The build process allows us to be deeply connected with our systems – if something goes wrong, we know how it’s built and can quickly identify the causes.  We miss our Airstream Overlander for sure.  It was a work of art that got our family out into the woods, but our overland trailer allows us to go further and on our terms.

As we continue to add and upgrade our overland trailer, we’ll post more in-depth details of what we chose, how we did it, and why.  We’ll also be creating a series of more in-depth articles for each of our trailer systems to help those looking to do something similar. Stay tuned and check back often for more.

Gallery

Water Heater and Outdoor Faucet on Custom Overland Trailer
Under Lid Storage on Custom Overland Trailer
Outdoor Kitchen on Custom Overland Trailer
Overland Trailer Build Before

 

 

Camping in the Valley of the Gods

There are more beautiful lands on this planet than one could hope to explore in one lifetime. Camping in the Valley of the Gods is a trip you should add to your list now.

Monument Valley’s Less Famous Sibling

On the Utah-Arizona border, lies Monument Valley – the setting of Hollywood films and a location that one critic called, “five square miles that have defined what decades of moviegoers think of when they imagine the American West”. With its 1000ft tall, sandstone buttes it’s no wonder the Navajo people consider it to be sacred land.

To anyone who’s had the privilege of taking in this place firsthand, they undoubtably agree.  Monument Valley is spectacular (and sacred) country.  Driving the highways that divide this land is inspiring – not only because Forrest Gump once ran these same roads – but because the views are otherworldly.  Mother nature has not been kind to this land in terms of erosion, but much to the delight of modern-day viewers, pinnacle after pinnacle rise above the desert floor in shapes that spark the imagination.

If only we could exist here for a few days – to take it in – to experience this sacred land.  Well we can……sort of.

The Valley of the Gods

Just 1 hour north of Monument Valley, a special place is waiting for those whose spirit awakens in the outdoors.  It’s called the “Valley of the Gods” and it’s unlike anywhere else you’ve spent a few days.  Imagine your favorite good-looking celebrity had a lesser-known, but equally as good looking sibling than was approachable and accessible. This is the Valley the Gods.  The beauty of Monument Valley in a BLM managed area that for a few days you can claim a piece of as your own.

Camping in the Valley of the Gods is free and for up to 14 days, you and your crew can enjoy every gorgeous second of it without paying a single cent.  As a result, the VOG is rustic – as a proper escape to the wild should be.  There are no bathroom facilities to rely on, no water sources to depend – only the solitude and space that the VOG rewards those who enter with.  It’s the wild as it should be.

Those who aren’t survivalists shouldn’t fret though because cold beer, bottled water, ice, convenience-store snacks, and fuel are only a 30min drive away in the nearby town of Mexican Hat.  The beauty here is that you can take in the Valley of the Gods on your own terms – as a tough-guy/gal (I don’t need to depend on anyone) or as a poor planner (like myself) who appreciates the flexibility of picking up a forgotten item.  In my opinion, the VOG is the perfect balance of off-the-grid camping with amenities in reach and I’m not ashamed to admit that I feel a bit safer with food, water, and civilization nearby.

Valley of the Gods, Utah
The Sandstone Giants

How We Discovered the VOG

We had discovered the Valley of the Gods on Campendium – a great resource for RV’ers and campers who are looking for a wide variety of camping options. Being community-driven, Campendium allows you to search “free” campsites for boondocking (free camping without amenities).  After doing a search for the highest rated free campsites in Southern Utah, we stumbled upon this place.

Arriving in the Valley of the Gods

Our overland trailer loaded up, we entered the Valley of the Gods unsure of what to expect.  We LOVE camping, but our list of ideal camping spots usually includes forest land with nearby rivers or streams.  The VOG is a desert locale and water is scarce, We knew that a different, but exciting, adventure awaited us.

Camping in the Valley of the Gods
Campsites are well spaced in the VOG

Arriving in the Valley of the Gods, we travelled the main dirt road for about a half an hour, looking for the perfect spot to claim.  There are miles of roads on the VOG with campsites every 1/4 mile or so.  The land is pristine, open, and just about every spot is secluded.  We found a great spot perched on a small hill, overlooking the valley and in the shadows of sandstone giants.  Other than an airstream parked about a half mile away and the occasional truck traveling the main road, we had the place to ourselves.

The Days

Days in the VOG are spiritual experiences.  The silence is refreshing and the postcard views surround your every move. October seems to be the perfect time to visit with temperatures in the mid-70’s and clear skies. Being a desert valley, the VOG can be windy and anything that can blow away will if the gusts pickup.  The wind overturned our pop-up canopy at one point because we neglected to secure it properly.  With a lot of rock just below the surface, look to place your tent and other “stakeable” items in areas with some sand/dirt depth.  We placed our Kodiak Canvas Flex-Box Tent higher on the hill where the soil ran a bit deeper and had zero issues with it moving during our visit.

Miles of Hiking in Any Direction

There is some great hiking on the VOG. Formal hiking trails are few, but pick any direction on the compass and you can explore that direction for miles.  We hiked the dry riverbed that runs along the valley floor and enjoyed every second of it.  The sun can be relentless, so don’t neglect the sunscreen and headwear for your trip. The nearest town is Mexican Hat, located about 30mins away, so you’ll survive if you forget something. However, the hour round trip drive on the dirt road will keep you from making the trip often.  Dumping your trash is a challenge as Mexican Hat is small and all of it’s dumpsters are off limits for campers to dump.

Valley of the God Sunset Camping
Sunsets are extra-special at the VOG

The Evenings

The evenings in the Valley of the Gods are star-filled masterpieces.  Far from the lights of town, you can see the nights sky as it was meant to be enjoyed.  On our visit, the nights were chilly with lows hovering in the low 40’s – but our Kodiak Canvas Flex-Box Tent (highly recommend!) along with our Big Buddy Propane Heater kept the cold at bay during the evenings.  Due to fire restrictions, we were unable to have a campfire, which only helped our view of the night sky. If a campfire is vital to your camping experience, I recommend picking up a Propane Fire Pit to make it happen. Sleep comes easy in the VOG, so be sure to take advantage of the rest.

You Should Visit the VOG

The Valley of the Gods is worth putting on your camping bucket list. While a bit of a drive from most cities, The VOG is more than worth the escape. Just make sure to keep your phone charged to be ready for a instagram-worthy photo at every turn.  Be ready to take in the landscapes and you’ll come out refreshed and recharged after having discovered some of the most beautiful land in the American west.

 

 

Fly Fishing in Greer

Arizona isn’t known for its trout fishing. Much of the landscape doesn’t allow for the ideal conditions for trout to grow big. But in Arizona’s White Mountains, there is some really fun fly fishing in Greer, Arizona.

Growing up, some of my best memories were fishing with my dad.  We weren’t very good fishermen, but the reward of landing a fish was a feeling unlike anything else. Back then, we were lazy fishermen, usually resorting to some sort of smelly bait left on the lake bottom overnight.  We would wake in the morning hoping that a catfish was on the other end of the line.

As an adult, my interest in fishing waned.  The time and effort required was no longer worth the reward.

As I had my own kids, I wanted them to experience the thrill of landing a fish and my interest in fishing grew again. This time though, I wanted to approach fishing differently.  I had begun to fall in love with the outdoors, looking forward to camping, hiking & exploring the wild areas around me. A camping trip on the Dolores river in Colorado, I tried fly fishing and have never looked back.  That first time, I had no idea what I was doing, but the skill required captivated me. That first trip, I spent hours each day on the water.

Since then, I’ve picked up some better gear, learned more about bugs, and have a lot more experience.  I’m still not very good at fly fishing, but my love for it has only grown.

Arizona’s White Mountains

For years, I have heard that the White Mountains held some of the best trout streams in Arizona. The village of Greer was often mentioned as the ideal place to base to explore the nearby fishing. Greer is a beautiful little town that sits in a small valley with the Little Colorado River running through the center of town. Along with the Little Colorado, the Greer area has 3 lakes, multiple creeks, and more private stocked ponds than you can count.

This summer, I stayed in a small rental cabin in the heart of Greer to try to explore as much of Greer’s fly fishing as my time would allow. In the few days I was in Greer, I fished only a small portion of what Greer has to offer, but here are my thoughts.

Greer Lakes in Greer, Arizona
River Reservoir (left) & Tunnel Reservoir (right) in Greer, Arizona
Fly Fishing in Greer, Arizona
Fly Fishing at River Reservoir

Greer Lakes

Just a few miles north of the town of Greer, lie the Bunch, Tunnel, and River Reservoirs – otherwise known as the Greer Lakes. Surrounded by the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, these lakes are absolutely gorgeous and uniquely peaceful. A lot of water can be covered quickly at these smallish lakes. I don’t have a float tube, so I casted from the shoreline on all 3 lakes.

Tunnel Reservoir

I had no luck at my first stop, Tunnel Reservoir (the smallest of the Greer Lakes), but really enjoyed having the lake to myself for the morning.  Next, I walked about 10 minutes to Bunch Reservoir.

Bunch Reservoir

Bunch is a bit bigger than Tunnel and some of its small cliff shoreline makes it difficult to fly fish.  I landed a small rainbow at Bunch and noticed a large amount of wildlife footprints at the water’s edge.

River Reservoir
Little Colorado River in Greer, Arizona
The LCR downstream of River Reservoir

My final stop was River Reservoir, easily the largest of the 3 lakes, and in my opinion, the most beautiful. Bunch and Tunnel mostly spring out of flat terrain, but River Reservoir has more of a small canyon-lake feel. The water in River is held back by a 30-40ft rock dam, from which the Little Colorado continues on the back side of.  This span of the LCR north of the dam is dazzling. I’ve heard there are some big browns back there, but my time spent fishing it yielding nothing.

River reservoir was really fun to fish.  I netted a few small bass here that were fun to catch on my fly rod. I was not fortunate enough to run into the rainbows that the float tubers here seems to be constantly hooked up with. The fish are there, but as with all 3 of these lakes, fishing from out on the water is the way to go.

While the Greer lakes aren’t the best fly fishing in Greer, the experience  this water provides is a great way to spend a few hours. If you’re more interested in “catching” than “fishing”, bring a float tube or other type of boat to get out to where the fish are.

The Little Colorado River (in town)

Molly Butler Lodge in Greer, Arizona
Molly Butler Lodge: A great spot for a break in fishing

One of my favorite parts of Greer is the path that winds through town known as the Greer Village Walkway.  The northern part of the walkway starts near where the LCR crosses under the main road.  There are a number of spots which you can throw your fly here. In the summer months, AZ Game and Fish stocks the Little Colorado in Greer. I’ve seen fish holding near the walkway, but haven’t had much luck netting any.  The great thing about this section of the LCR is how easy it is to access.  It was a short 5 minute walk from my cabin in the middle of town, so I found myself fishing these stretches when I only had a few minutes.

Another great part of this area is that you can take a break and grab a beer at Molly Butler Lodge which is a 2 minute walk away.

Note: you can’t park or fish from the bridge. There is a small area you can park for short period just north of the bridge on the west side of the road.

The West Fork of the Little Colorado River

In the middle of the town of Greer, the West Fork of the LCR meets the East Fork. Both of these stretches are Apache trout recovery streams which means they hold Apache Trout – one of only two trout species native to Arizona. The Wallow fire devastated much of the area in 2011 and the trout population of the East Fork of this river was severely damaged. Fortunately, the West Fork fish sustained minimal damage and it’s a destination to fish for Apaches in the Greer area.

I fished the West Fork right on the edge of town where Highway 373 dead ends.  At the end of the 373 lies is the Government Springs Trailhead and includes parking and a bathroom.  The Government Springs Trail travels upriver along the West Fork and it is specularly beautiful. This trail is lush and green in the summer months. It can be followed for just over 5 miles to Sheep’s Crossing – an area next on my list to fish.

The water of the West Fork can be difficult to access.  The brush along the water grows thick and is dense, but just following the trail further will yield plenty of spots to throw your line. Honestly, I’m not sure sure if the best approach to this area is to “bring your rod along on your hike” or to “get some hiking in while you fish”.  Either way, this is an area not to be missed while fly fishing in Greer.

Searching for Apache Trout

Apache Trout in Greer, ArizonaWhen I visited, I did more hiking than fishing, but searching out the holding fish was the highlight.  The Apache trout in these waters, while not overly abundant, exist in enough quantity to assure you’ll catch one. In the summer months, this water is stocked regularly with Apaches.

I’ve had success here both fishing pockets of deeper water and shallower riffles that I didn’t think were holding fish.  The water runs really clear and can be pretty shallow at times, so prioritize your surprise to be most effective.

Wild Hops from Greer, Arizona
Wild hops harvested from the Government Springs Trail

I’ve caught a number of apaches here and have spent hours roaming this trail. From what I’ve seen, this is my favorite place to fish in Greer.  Even if the trout aren’t biting, you’ll enjoy yourself.

Note: we found an abundance of wild hops growing along the Government Springs trail last time we visited.  I’m planning on home-brewing some beer with the wild hops I harvested soon.

Private Stocked Ponds

Greer has countless small ponds, many of which are stocked with trout.  Many of the cabin rental properties have stocked ponds.  I did not have a chance to check out the fishing in any of these, but I plan to visit the Greer Meadows Lakes on a future visit.  There is a cost involved, but I’ve heard of large trout being caught in the private ponds in Greer. Guides are also available at Greer Meadows Lakes to ensure your success.

Greer has become one of my favorite places in Arizona. It’s the highest elevation town in Arizona giving it perfect summer temperatures and snow-filled winters. The best part is the area’s abundance of nearby water to fish – often just steps away from your rental cabin.

If you do explore fly fishing in Greer, I highly recommend Antler Ridge Resort Cabins. I stayed in the Mountain Vista Cabin (#4) while I explored Greer.  Antler Ridge is perfectly located in the middle of town, steps away from the walkway, Molly Butler’s and the Little Colorado. They have cabins of all sizes and if you make Antler Ridge your choice for your next trip to Greer, you won’t be disappointed.

Sailing to Ensenada

Sailing to Ensenada, Mexico from San Diego is a short trip by sailing standards, but it’s a fun and exciting day on the water….if you’re lucky enough to find some wind. The last time I sailed this route about a decade ago, we bobbed around in flat seas having to resort to using the boat’s engine the entire trip.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sail from San Diego to Ensenada on a gorgeous, 46ft sailboat.  The journey, approximately 60 nautical miles, lasted about 8hrs and was filled with dolphins, beautiful landscapes, and just the right amount of “relax”.

This time, we had plenty of wind, but it was blowing the same direction as we were headed.  Without a spinnaker, we utilize a combination of engine and wind to propel us the majority of the way.  Downwind sailing, (sailing with the wind to your back) is typically a blast and a comfortable sail, but without the right gear for the job, this sail wasn’t as exciting as it could have been

I LOVE sailing. Utilizing the wind to propel yourself across the sea wild with potential is a special experience. It’s romantic. It’s ripe with adventure. It’s life-giving. We all gravitate towards the activities that help us disconnect from the stresses of life.  I gravitate towards sailing.

Sailing around the safe confines of a harbor is fun, but sailing to a destination is exhilarating. The weather must be adequately accounted for.  The course needs plotted ahead of time.  Calculations are required to ensure an on-time arrival based on local conditions.  Destination sailing take preparation. But it’s the unknown that creates the adventure.  What sea life will we encounter?  Will we catch some fish for dinner during our travels? What business are the commercial vessels we pass enroute engaged in?  Will weather conditions change and surprise us?  Will rough seas leave us clinging to edge of the boat heaving the contents of our stomach?  Or will a strong breeze carry us swiftly leaving only the sound of the hull piercing through the waves? Once you embark, your fate is the hands of mother nature and with the sturdiness of your vessel.

Sea Life

While most people think of the “wild” as lush forests or desolate deserts, the sea is equally wild.  On a sailboat in the open ocean, you are adventuring where only a small percentage of humans have. The ocean (certainly all that is below the surface) is relatively unfamiliar and untraveled. Lose sight of land and the isolation can be unsettling.

At least until you encounter a pod of dolphins, a whale, or even a school of fish churning the surface in search of food.  In these moments, the aloneness gives way to a certain comfort.

On our sail to Ensenada we were met by a small pod of common dolphins.  As they often do, the dolphins quickly headed toward our boat when they noticed us and playfully cruised in our boat wake for a few moments. No matter how many times you stand on the bow of a boat and watch dolphins play alongside, it’s always magical. It’s something everyone should have the opportunity to experience at least once. They are beautiful and inquisitive creatures and can make even the worst day of sailing a little brighter.

The Quiet of the Sea

My favorite part about sailing is feeling the boat move through the water toward your destination in silence.  Once the boat is in open water and its sails are hoisted, there is nothing quite like the moment the engine is killed and the sounds of the sea take over.

Sailing provides the time and space for reflection that we often struggle to find in our lives. While at sea under the power of only the wind, we are captive to the experience. The myriad of tasks we are compelled to complete in our everyday lives are silenced with only the task of utilizing the available wind to most efficiently make headway toward our destination.  As the world around us quiets, our mind can’t help but follow.

Experiencing the wild is therapy. It disrupts our routines and adapts our perceptions. Sailing connects us with our sea-faring ancestors, nature, and ourselves.

This trip sailing to Ensenada was no exception.  With the journey feeling not long enough, we arrived into the harbor in Ensenada at nightfall, greeted by the twinkling lights of this Mexican city.

Ensenada: A Charming City

Ensenada is a city of more than 500,000 people located in Baja California, Mexico’s west coast. It’s a charming Mexican city with great food and plenty of nightlife, but it’s also a cruise ship destination and a focal point for the Valle de Guadalupe, its nearby wine region.

Having not been to Ensenada for a number of years, I was surprised to see how much the city had changed. The coastline just north of the city has significantly more development than I remember and we stumbled upon some amazing restaurants.

As anyone who’s been to Ensenada will tell you, one of the more memorable sights of the city is the enormous Mexican flag that flies near the harbor.  This giant flag greets cruise ships entering port and tourists alike – welcoming them to a welcoming city. The people of Ensenada are overwhelmingly generous and hospitable.  With a large cruise terminal, a decent amount of the Ensenada economy counts on tourism dollars. Like many Mexican towns, you can find just about anything by asking around for it.  But in Ensenada’s case, you feel less like a tourist target walking around town. You are always invited in to just about every place you pass, but never feel dragged in or pestered.

For those arriving by boat, Ensenada has two main marinas, Marina Coral and Cruiseport Village Marina. While we’ve enjoyed Marina Coral in the past, this time to Ensenada, we chose to stay at Cruiseport Village.  Marina Coral is just north of Ensenada attached to a wonderful hotel with all the amenities of a resort. Cruiseport Village is inside Ensenada’s harbor right in the middle of town.  This central location provides the ability to walk into town and explore the city just a few minutes away from your boat.

Getting Back to the States

The owner of the boat we sailed to Ensenada was leaving his boat in Ensenada leaving us to find an alternative way back home.  Luckily, many of the larger hotels in Ensenada can arrange a shuttle to take you back to the US.  Having ridden one of these shuttles on a previous trip that took us only to the border then dropped us in a 2-hour long line to walk across, I was excited to learn that this time we would be driven all the way to the airport in San Diego. Getting transportation across the border is the way to go.  We arrived at the airport in San Diego in 2 hours – the same amount of time we stood in last at the border last time.

Another option for back to the US border is by bus. ABC buses run from Ensenada to Tijuana every hour and cost about $10 per person. ABC offers nice busses and typically show movies during your travel – a nice mindless distraction to pass the time. There are a couple of places to pick up these busses in Ensenada, so be sure to plan your route to the bus station and give yourself enough time before departure.

The trip back to San Diego is breathtaking.  The drive is along the coast most of the way with endless ocean views from the cliffs above.  Much of this coastline had been heavily developed in recent years. This makes perfect sense once you lose all track of time watching the waves roll endlessly from the deep of the Pacific Ocean.  I could spend some more time in this region.

Conclusion

Sailing to Ensenada is a fun, all-day sail from San Diego.  Conditions are usually good and there’s a good chance you’ll spot some wildlife on your journey.  Ensenada is a beautiful and modern town with plenty to keep you occupied while there. Ground transportation between Ensenada and San Diego is an adventure in itself with beautiful views along the ocean and many options to choose from. I’m looking forward for my next excuse to visit Ensenada.


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