Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, and survival
and how they work together to provide wholesome family fun and great learning opportunities.
Many posts are intended to familiarize novice campers and RVers with RV systems and basic camping and survival
skills. But even experienced RVers and campers will enjoy the anecdotes and may even benefit from a new
perspective. Comments, questions, and suggestions are encouraged.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Choosing the Ideal Camp Site

No doubt we'd all like to experience the "ideal camp site".  So how do you find one?  First of all, what is ideal is going to be different for different people and different for anyone at different times.

If you have an RV and prefer the convenience of hookups, your ideal camp site will necessarily be in a comfortable RV park.  But are you looking for an overnight stop long the way to your destination or is the site itself  your destination?   If ;you're looking for an overnight stop the ideal place will be near your route and easy to get in and out of.  If the site is your destination,  you'll be more concerned about its ambiance and amenities.  If  your outing is geared toward special outdoor recreational activities, the ideal site is going to be one that gives you convenient access to those activities.  OHV riders will need a place with access to trails or open riding areas.  Fishermen will need well-stocked lakes or rivers. Boaters will need launch facilities for their watercraft.

If you prefer boondocking or are at least willing to explore off-grid camping, you will find many more options.  Factors to consider may include how remote you want to be, how long you are prepared to stay, and how far you are willing to drive to reach your goal. If you're seeking peace and quiet you will want to avoid primitive camping areas that serve as staging areas for OHV activity.

Tent campers will want to choose camp sites that are suitable to their style and expectations.  If you enjoy hiking and backpacking, your ideal camp may be miles off the beaten track, but if you bring a lot of equipment with you you're going to want a site you can drive right into.

Time of year may color your selection as well.  In hot summer months you will probably want a shady site to give you some relief from the glare of that hydrogen fusion furnace 93 million miles away we call Sol.  In cooler times you may enjoy a sunny sight that will warm your tent or RV.

The composition of your camping group will also affect your choice of an ideal camp site.  A couple seeking some quiet time together will have different needs than a family with young children who will require access to playgrounds or other sources of entertainment.

If you are seeking peace and quiet you will probably want to avoid popular state and federal parks, especially on holiday weekends or during the summer vacation time.  Look for smaller venues, such as local or county parks.  If you enjoy a lot of social interaction, by all means get reservations at a popular location during a busy time.

Finding the right site within an established campground might take a little exploring.   In most cases, not all sites are equal.  Some might be downwind of the restrooms or near a high traffic road.  You might be able to choose a camp site from a map when you make your reservations.  If not, you might have to physically explore the available options when you get on site.  Some common criteria for choosing the best site are level and adequate parking, clean, level space for tents, minimum traffic, close proximity to resources you want to use, not too close to restrooms or dumpsters, convenient access to water faucets, shady (especially in the summer!), proper fire pit, picnic table(s), pavilion or shelter.

Finding the right site when boondocking will either require familiarity with the area or doing some exploring.  You will need a spot that is accessible to your vehicle(s), reasonably level, away from traffic (roads, trails, etc), shady, large enough for your group, and fire safe.  In rainy weather or if there is an chance of rain, avoid depressions or washes that may be subject to flooding.

The bottom line is, only YOU can determine what is the ideal camp site for any given outing and it will very likely be different from trip to trip depending on many factors.  You may feel like returning to a spot you previously enjoyed, but consider whether there are mitigating circumstances that might change your experience.  Some things to consider are the time of year and the size and make up of your camping entourage.  If  you really loved the fall foliage you might be disappointed in visiting at a different time of year.  A nice little camp site that was perfect for you and your significant other might not work when you bring another family with children.  A site that offered great camaraderie and companionship during the active season might be less rewarding in the off season unless you bring enough companions with you.  If you realize that finding the ideal site means matching YOUR current needs rather than adopting some external definition, you should be able to select the right place very time.

Get it right!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Camping Axe/Hatchet

One of the most iconic and useful tools in camp is a good axe or hatchet.  It doesn't matter whether you're camping in a luxury RV or roughing it in a tent.  Both lifestyles enjoy campfires and a good axe or hatchet is a valuable tool for cutting and splitting firewood, preparing kindling, and driving tent pegs.  Which you choose will depend on personal preferences and available space for transporting or carrying it.  Physical limitations might also impose size/weight limits on the tools you can use safely and comfortably.

Axes come in many sizes.  They may have a single or double bitted blade.  The larger the axe, the heavier it will be making it both harder to swing and capable of making larger, deeper cuts.  I like a fairly small axe for camping, one with about a 30" handle and a single blade.  It is kind of like a long-handled hatchet.  It isn't too heavy and it fits well in RV outside compartments.  For tent camping I prefer a hatchet or a roofers hammer, which fits easily in my camping bins.  A large, double-bitted, "Paul Bunyan" style axe is useful if you're doing any heavy felling or cutting, but they are big and heavy and in some ways the extra blade seems to be more dangerous.  For normal campfire activities such an axe would be excessive,  take more energy to use than it might be worth, and be cumbersome to store in RV compartments and camping bins.  Since most of the firewood we buy is already cut to length, most of the axe work will be converting it to kindling by splitting it.  A 30" single blade axe or a splitting wedge is perfect for this task.

A hatchet is small axe, often used with one hand where the larger axe takes two hands.  One of the most versatile hatchet configurations in my opinion is a roofers hammer, which has a hatchet blade on one side of the head and a hammer on the other.  The back of a regular hatchet or axe can be used for driving splitting or tent pegs, but the hammer head is more precise and is easy to use as a hammer.  A hatchet may be a better choice than an axe for someone with physical disabilities or limited strength.  It is also more convenience for splitting kindling than a larger axe.  As mentioned above, a versatile alternative for a hatchet is a roofers hammer, with a hammer head on one side and a hatchet blade on the other.  They are about the same size and weight as a typical hatchet and make a good mallet for drive tent or awning pegs too.  The hammer head seems to be more effective on tent pegs than the back side of an axe or hatchet.

No matter what size axe or hatchet you choose, you will need to keep it sharp.  Sharp tools are not only easier to use, they are safer.   To some people that is conterintuitive.  They think sharp tools would be more dangerous, but dull tools are more likely to result in injury.   It is a good idea to put an edge protector on the blade to keep it from being dulled by rubbing against things in transit.  Axes and hatchets can usually be sharpened on an electric grinder.  Just be careful not to spend too much time in one spot because that can overheat the metal and ruin the temper.  Hold the tool so the blade is tangent with just a slight angle to the grinding wheel and move it back and forth smoothly and fairly quickly to shape a neat taper on each side.  If the edge is severely damaged (chipped or dented) you may need to use a coarse grinding wheel for initial reshaping.  Grinding using a medium or fine wheel is usually sufficient for sharpening most axes but you could finish it with a file or even a sharpening stone if  you want an especially fine edge.

Handles should always fit tightly in the head.  Loose handles are dangerous.  The head could fly off at any time and inflict serious injuries on anyone it hits.  A loose head also messes up the precision of your cutting strokes, reduces the efficiency of each blow, and may cause bounces.  Wooden handles can usually be tightened by driving wedges into the end of the handle at the head so it expands the wood to fit tightly in the hole in the head.  In a pinch you might be able to drive a few heavy nails into the handle.  Sometimes a slightly loose head can be tightened by soaking it in water to swell the wood.  Be sure to coat the iron head with oil or grease so it doesn't rust.  Metal or fiberglass handles usually don't come loose and may need replacement or servicing by a qualified expert if they do begin to fail.  Metal handles are usually molded along with the head so the tool is all one piece. 

Handles should be clean and smooth.  Some hatchets have rubber or leather wrapped  handles for a better grip and to cushion the impact somewhat.  Any damage to the rubber or leather should be repaired if possible.  If it can't be repaired, the tool should be replaced.  Wooden handles should be checked for cracks, rough spots, and splinters.  Cracked handles should be replaced although you can sometimes tape them up as  temporary repair.  Rough spots should be sanded down, splinters trimmed and sanded, and the entire handle treated with linseed oil or a good quality furniture oil.  Don't over oil the handle!  You don't want it to be slick.  The oil should penetrate the wood, not create a slick, glossy coating.  When oiling the handle, use a soft cloth to rub the oil well into the wood.  You might also rub a light coating of oil on the iron head as well to prevent rust, especially if you're putting the tool into storage for a while, like at the end of an outing.

Swinging your axe.   Using a hatchet you will most likely use just one  hand in a  hacking motion, but swinging axe usually requires both hands, giving you more leverage and allowing you to strike harder.  If you are right handed you will probably swing  your axe right handed, but not necessarily.  My dad was right  handed but always swung his axe left  handed.  Whether you swing right or left  handed is determine by the position of your hands on the axe handle.   A right handed swing will start with the left hand near the butt of the handle and  the right hand a couple of inches from the head.  The right hand slides back until it is nearly against the left hand has you swing the axe.  A left handed swing is just the opposite.  Regardless of whether you are normally right or left handed you might want to try swinging your axe both ways and find out which way is most comfortable for you.  You may find it useful to be able to swing either way since you can achieve different angles each way.

Here's a handy tip for splitting kindling:  hold the target piece of wood with a stick instead of your fingers.  If your aim is off and you chop off the stick, no big deal but if you hold it with your finger and strike your finger it is going to spoil your whole evening and possibly the appetite of your fellow campers!

Chop, chop!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Camping and Survival Knives

"A knifeless man is a lifeless man".  This old saying may be especially true in a survival situation.  A knife may be the single most useful tool you could have -- other than your brain and your hands.  That being said, the question may arise "what is the best knife?".  There are many different sizes and styles of knives and each one has its own special niche.  In recent years there have been a proliferation of "Rambo" style survival knives promoted on the Internet and marketed through outdoor stores -- huge knives with mini survival kits stored in the hollow handles.  No doubt these have a certain appeal but how well would they work in a real world survival situation?  The tiny plastic compass is probably better than nothing, but  how well does it work and how long will it last?  And what will you really do with a couple feet of fishing line and a few safety pins?

The best consensus I've found for a good survival knife is that is should be a bit more modest than these monster combat blades -- a 3-4" fixed blade is usually recommended as best for survival.  The reasoning is that in a camping or survival situation you will do a whole lot more carving than you will hacking.  Sure, having a big, heavy knife may be useful for hacking when building a shelter from tree limbs, but how often is that going to happen?  And, even when you do need to build such a shelter, you probably will only do it once per event.  On the other hand, there will be an ongoing need for carving. Even notching limbs to secure cordage in building a shelter will require more finesse than hacking power.  Any kind of medical applications will need a fairly delicate blade.  Skinning and butchering animals for food or other uses will be well served by a modest blade.  You will also need a modest blade to carve wooden tools and implements.  A good hunting knife should be adequate.  If you choose a folding knife, make sure it has a locking blade.

Multi-tools are often touted for camping and survival use.  One cannot deny the versatility of these items or the convenience offered by the multiple functions they are capable of performing.  About the only downside to a multi-tool is that it has folding blades, and folding blades are not as sturdy nor as safe or as durable as fixed blades.  Locking blades will mitigate this problem to some extent, but the ideal blade for camping and survival will remain a fixed, 3-4" knife like a hunting knife.  Having both a proper knife and a multi-tool would be a particularly good combination.  Having both for camping should not be a problem for most people.  They need not be especially expensive and they take up a little room in your pocket or pack or on your belt.  More expensive tools will usually be more durable and offer more precision, but you will have to decide how much you are willing or able to spend.  Unless you lose your knife you will probably never regret investing in a good one.  Carrying both a knife and a multitool on your person at all times so you have them in a survival situation may not be as convenient as tucking them in your pack so you may have to make a choice.  If you're comfortable with a multitool with a locking blade it will offer you more versatility but a sturdy hunting knife may be more durable and safer.  I have recently seen a specialized knife that includes a built in flint and steel fire starter, which strikes me as a really good starting point for any survival situation. 

Having a knife -- the right knife -- is only the first step.   For it to be really useful (and safe to use) it must be sharp.  Yes, a sharp knife is actually safer to use than a dull one.  It is worth learning how to hone a knife edge to keep it sharp.  The most common and traditional way is using a sharpening stone but there are other types of knife sharpeners, like the drag through manual kitchen knife sharpeners and electric models that use internal grinding wheels.  You may be able to improve sharpness using one of these but to get a truly fine edge requires a practiced touch on a sharpening stone.  There are several tricks used by those who know how to do this well.  Using a combination of wet and dry sharpening is one.  Another is to push the knife toward the stone as if you were shaving it instead of dragging the edge backwards on the stone.  To get a good edge you need to hold the knife at the right angle to the stone.  The angle will depend on the thickness of the blade and the basic shape of the taper so you will need practice to find the right angle for each blade.  It is rather tedious endeavor but well worth the effort. Here is a link to a really good article from Buck Knives on How To Sharpen Your Knife.

Even a sharp knife will be of little help if you don't know how to use it.   The best way to learn how to use a knife is to have some with experience show you then practice.  Every camping trip should an opportunity to practice your knife skills.  Whittling can be a fun thing to do sitting around the campfire and it can be a very handy skill in a survival situation where there is no end to the opportunities for carving and slicing.  Knowing how to clean a fish or prepare a rabbit for cooking could mean the difference between dinner and going hungry in a survival situation.

The bottom line:  my personal recommendation is to carry a 3-4" fixed blade knife as the basic tool in my camping and survival kit.  And then supplement it with a multi-tool and a flint and steel fire starter -- and a sharpening stone.  These items take up little space and will repay your efforts again and again when you need them.

Look sharp!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Candle/Flower Pot Heater

Someone emailed me a description of a candle/flower pot heater.  The article claimed it could heat a small room (like an RV or a tent) for 15 cents a day.  Right!  If it did, wouldn't everyone be doing it?

The idea is that nested clay flower pots placed over the candle (or candles) act as a radiator to capture and distribute the heat of the candle(s).  That may, in fact, work to some extent -- that is, it will capture and hold the heat and you may feel it more if you are close to it than you would just being the same distance from an open candle flame.  However, the idea of heating a small room with a candle is ludicrous.  It is simply impossible.  A candle only puts out from 30 to 77 watts of heat.  It would take a lot of candles to match the output of a typical 1500 electric heater, which, if used 10 hours a day would cost less than $1.50 per day with electricity going for less than $.10/kwhr.   Stacking a bunch of flower pots on top of some candles will not multiple the heat.  In fact the pots may capture and store heat you could otherwise be enjoying.  Remember your basic physics:  energy cannot be created or destroyed (although it can be lost, as in losing heat through cracks or  uninsulated windows).

So why is this in a blog on RVs and OHVs?   Well, one of the videos I found online showed a guy testing a flower pot heater in a motorhome.  He had closed off the main salon so he was only trying to heat an area of about 8' x 15'.  He tried using one large candle, using 4 tealights, and even using the burner on the stove.  In one documented test, the measured temperature inside the motorhome started out at 68° when he lit the heater.  A little more than two hours later it was 64°.  What happened was the sun went behind the clouds so he lost any solar heating that might have warmed the interior to 68° and clearly the candle wasn't contributing much, if anything, to keeping it warm.  The flower pot did get warm to the touch, which could be useful if your hands were cold, but I' rather wrap them around a cup of my favorite hot beverage.

Too bad it doesn't work.  It would sure be nice to have a simple, inexpensive, auxiliary heat source for our RVs.  If you really need to supplement your RV furnace, try using an electric heater or a propane powered catalytic heater.  Hey, even your trusty Coleman lantern will do a better job of warming up your RV than a candle/flower pot set up!  That's all one of my friends ever used to heat his Class B van conversion.   If you have shore power or are willing and able to run your generator, the electric heater option is clean and easy to use.  Portable catalytic heaters are also simple, but you must keep a couple of windows slightly open to provide sufficient ventilation so you won't suffocate.  Even heaters that are designed for indoor use and purport to not give off any toxic fumes WILL consume oxygen and without adequate ventilation you will die!

We can put candle heaters in the same category as Mountain Dew light sticks -- a cute idea that doesn't work!  You'll find articles on the Internet that promote both of these ideas, but you will also find plenty of articles that debunk them.

Don't get taken in!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Wet Wipes

We're always looking for more convenient ways to improve our camping experience.  We like tools and appliances that are lighter weight and easier to use.  We like tents that are easy to set up.  Of course, camping in an RV is all about convenience and tent campers enjoy bigger, better equipment too.  But there are little things that can boost convenience.

Wet wipes have long provided added convenience for the messy task of changing baby diapers.  They can also be very useful when camping.  There are many different types of specialty wipes on the market today, ranging from hand sanitizers to tire shine.  There are general purpose cleaning wipes that find many uses at home and around camp.  But to get the most out of wet wipes, check out the ones designed for specific needs you may have in your RV or while camping.  Wet wipes often take up less space and are more convenient to use than liquid or aerosol cleaners -- and they don't spill.  Sometimes you can even tuck them in your pocket or pack for use out on the trail.  If they come in individual sealed packages like the ones at restaurants, keep them sealed until you need to use them.  If not in individual packages you might be able to seal them in a Ziploc type plastic bag so they stay moist --at least for a while.  Wet wipes in Ziploc style bags WILL dry out so be sure to check them before each outing to make sure they are still viable.

Here are some of the types of wet wipes I've seen that may be helpful:

    * General purpose wipes
    * Antiseptic wipes
    * Baby wipes
    * Glass wipes
    * Furniture wipes
    * Leather wipes
    * Tire wipes
    * Stainless steel wipes
    * Counter top wipes
    * Hand sanitizer wipes
    * Mechanic's degreaser wipes
    * Car wash wipes

While general purpose wipes can handle a myriad of tasks around camp, there are some places special purpose versions will definitely shine.  Baby wipes are especially gentle for cleaning sensitive body parts on baby's of all ages.  Glass cleaners won't leave residue and streaks on mirrors and windows.  I don't find the little towelettes very good for cleaning big vehicle windshields but they're perfect for touching up rear view and shaving mirrors.  You will want to use leather wipes on your leather upholstery and to clean your shoes and saddles.  They are formulated so they don't try out the leather but do have additives to help keep leather supple and add to the shine.  Tires wipes are quick and easy way to add shine and protection to clean tires and rubber trim.  Stainless steel wipes are perfect for the comparatively small sinks and stoves in RVs and take up a lot less room than a big can of aerosol stainless steel cleaner.  Hand sanitizing wipes are a convenient way to protect yourself from dirt and germs at picnics and when you stop for meals on the trail.  You might even tuck a couple of mechanic's degreaser wipes into your tool kit or fanny pack on OHV trips.  The whole packet will probably be too big but for each trip you could put a couple in a Zip-loc type plastic bag.  They might not be as a effective as Goop cleaner and warm soap and water but they will get off a lot of the gunk that would otherwise end up inside your expensive riding gloves.  Don't count on them staying wet for more than about one ride, even in a plastic bag.  If  you tuck them in  your tool kit and forget about them for several weeks they'll most likely be all dried out and nearly useless when you need them.  Restock for each outing.  Antiseptic wipes are perfect for cleaning around small wounds before applying a Bandaid and cleaning your hands before eating out on the trail.

One word of caution:  don't put wet wipes, even so-called flushable wipes, in you RV toilet or Porta-potti.  They won't break down fast enough or well enough for complete flushing of the tanks when dumping and can grab and hold onto other unpleasant solids you'd rather have flushed out.  Over time they could even clog the plumbing.   Avoid putting them in pit toilets.  They don't disintegrate very well and cause problems with pumping.  Put them in your regular trash or incinerate them in your campfire.

Most wet wipes come in some kind of resealable container.  Be sure to close all plastic lids completely.  The pop-up feature is handy, but it often leaves enough of the next towelette sticking out to get in the way of proper sealing.  When that happens, they will dry out and become almost useless.  Flat packets often have a resealable flap.  I've found that if I store them with the flap down so the packet is resting on the flap it helps prevent the contents from drying out.  The weight of the remaining product helps keep the flap closed tightly and gravity brings moisture to the bottom so the next wipe is plenty moist.  If you store them with the flap up you'll probably find them pretty dried out in just a day or two.  For those with Zip-loc type seals on the end of the package about all you can do is make sure it is completely sealed.    Additionally, storing them in a sealed plastic container or an additional Ziploc style bag my help extend their useable lifetime.

Antiseptic wipes usually come in individual packets for single use applications.  The nurse in your doctor's office probably uses one to clean your skin before giving you a shot or taking a blood sample.  It would be a good idea to have a supply of these in your camp first aid kit and carry a few in your personal pocket first aid kit whenever you are out and about.  You should be able to purchase them at any pharmacy.

You may also encounter single use wet wipes at restaurants who serve "finger food".  They are helpful both for pre-cleaning  your  hands before eating and getting rid of the sticky residue afterwards. If you have some left over, tuck them in your pack or pocket for use on the trail.

Degreaser wipes can be really helpful when you have to do maintenance on an OHV out on the trail.   However, general purpose wipes will help a lot if you don't have any degreaser wipes to take along.

Wipe out!  Or better yet, wipe up!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Winter Dirt Biking

Dirt bike riding isn't nearly as popular in the winter as it is in the summer.   When we lived in sunny southern California, winter outings weren't usually too bad.  We did encounter snow on a couple of occasions, but mostly we didn't have to deal with temperatures much below about 40° F.  However, even 40° is cold enough to make one begin to question the sanity of being out on dirt bike.  The wind chill can be brutal.   And I've never found riding anything with only two wheels much fun in snow!

As with any other cold weather activity, the key to staying comfortable is dressing right.  Dressing in layers is definitely the right (or only) way to go.  Start out with some good thermal underwear and warm socks.  I always wear two pair of socks in my motorcycle boots winter and summer.  A pair of light weight dress socks avoids blisters and the thicker cushioned motocross socks absorb impacts and help keep my feet warm in winter and wick away perspiration in summer.  Make sure your boots aren't too tight.  Tight boots will restrict blood flow and your feet will freeze!  For most of our California riding, ordinary riding pants over thermals were pretty adequate but regular jerseys were too cool even under our Enduro jackets.  If you expect really cold temperatures you might double up the thermals or wear some sweat pants under your riding pants.  You could wear a sweater or sweatshirt as an extra layer under your jersey but we found that "Windchill" jerseys did the job without the extra bulk and restriction of movement of added garments.  Together with either glove liners or Windchill gloves, an Enduro jacket, and a nylon face mask were pretty much all that was needed.  It if got really cold, a warmer motorcycle coat did the job.

Snowsuits, like the ones you wore as a kid or like the ones worn by snowmobilers will keep you warm in pretty cold weather, but I've found it more comfortable and convenient so simply dress in layers.  I like the extra flexibility that dirt bike gear gives.  Dirt bike gear (pants and Enduro jackets) are usually made of much tougher fabric than snowsuits.

Glove liners often cost almost as much as the gloves themselves.  We found we could use fairly inexpensive (knit gloves) under our normal riding gloves and they kept our hands pretty warm.  Sometimes even got them two pair for $1.00 at our local dollar store.  Often they were kiddie colors (like pink or baby blue!) so they weren't the most macho of solutions.  But no one can see  them inside your gloves anyway!  Windchill gloves were usually quite comfortable without any additional liners at a little more than the price of regular riding gloves.  Bulky winter work ("polar") gloves were very warm but are too clumsy for handling the controls and ski gloves,which are warm and flexible, don't  provide enough protection against brush.  If your hands are still cold you might try glove liners under windchill gloves.  Or get some "Hot Hands" chemical hand warmers.   You can use similar chemical warmers inside your boots to keep your feet warmer too. They even make pads large enough to warm you back or your tummy.  They are usually designed to last 8-10 hours.

Road bikes and snowmobiles have electrically heated hand guards and gauntlets that might be adapted to dirt bikes, but the extra wiring might be prone to get caught on bushes and the magneto on dirt bikes may not be able to supply enough power for the heating elements.  I've tried electrically (battery powered) heated socks but didn't find the performance worth the extra bulk of the batteries.  Good wool socks seemed to work just as well to keep my feet warm.

You should feel just a little cool when you're ready to ride, not cold but just a little cool.  If you're already warm the way you're dressed, you're going to get TOO warm once you start riding.  Although bipping along at a stiff pace will add a bit of wind chill, your physical exertion is going to warm you up to the point where you'll need to stop and start stripping off layers before you get soaked in sweat if you are dressed TOO warm to start with.  If you start out warm and cozy you will get too warm and start to sweat once you get going, even with the wind chill but those two narrow tires are still pretty skittish.  I've even seen guys try riding with sand paddle tires to improve traction in snow.  Steel studded tires are probably a better bet unless you're doing a lot of riding in deep powder.

Dirt bikes aren't very stable in the snow.   I've seen some guys use studded tires to improve traction.  That works pretty well on ice or packed now but isn't much help in deep powder snow.  Sometimes running a lower than usual tire pressure will improve traction a little bit.  But, basically dirt bikes are made to ride in the dirt, not the snow.  ATVs, with their softer, fatter tires and 4WD are a lot better adapted for getting around in the snow.  And, of course, snowmobiles are a blast!  Their configuration, with skis for steering and a track for traction, is ideal for the snow.  I've seen track kits that can be added to side-by-sides, ATVs, and even dirt bikes to improve winter traction, but they 're very pricey. 

When you get back to camp, get out of your cold and possibly damp clothing as soon as you can and swap it for something warm and dry.  I keep an old pair of puffy snow boots I call my desert slippers to change into to quickly warm cold feet and keep the chill off.  A steaming cup of your favorite hot beverage next to a blazing fire will also be a pleasant way to chase off any remaining chill.  Or get inside  a warm tent or RV.

Stay warm!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Camping Supplies from Dollar Tree

I am a strong proponent of looking for camping and RV/OHV supplies everywhere I go.  I have found bargains at drug stores, farm and ranch stores, and grocery stores as well as at RV, OHV, camping, and outdoor outlets.  You can often find things you can use for camping in your own basement, attic, or garage.  One kind of surprising place I've found is my local dollar store.  The solvent resistance foam tiles on the counter of my enclosed motorcycle trailer are kids animal puzzle tiles from the 99 Cents Store in California.  I was teased a lot when my riding buddies first saw them, but they sure changed their tune when they saw how well they worked!  Not only do they provide a cushion, non-slip working surface, they are surprisingly easy to clean.  I was delighted to discover that brake cleaner would remove oil and grease stains completely without harming the tiles.   We get most of our cleaning supplies, toiletries, sundries and OTC medication from Dollar Tree along with flashlights, batteries, and many kitchen utensils.  Paper goods, plastic utensils, etc are also readily available.  The cheap single ply toilet paper is a pretty good substitute for the more expensive RV tissue and a lot more compatible with holding tanks than the fancy quilted brands favored for residential use.

I've mentioned Dollar Tree and other dollar stores in several places in this blog.  Not long ago I found a camping article on Pinterest that also entreated readers to shop Dollar Tree for camping supplies and things to keep kids occupied in camp and on the road.  There were some negative comments in response to her presentation that I thought were unwarranted.  As with anything you buy, you should make your own decisions and buy what works for you.  Like me, the writer touted the advantages of dollar store flashlights and batteries.  At least one reader rejected her advice.  He preferred to buy sturdier flashlights that lasted longer.  I stand by my original recommendation of using dollar store flashlights and batteries, especially for kids and loaners.  Like the critical reader, I like to have a couple of high quality Maglites for my own use, but have found it particularly advantageous to use inexpensive and easily replaceable flashlights for kids and as loaners.   Those light weight plastic flashlights may not be as durable as nicer ones but, hey, I'm not out serious $ if they are damaged or don't come back.  I was really ticked when one of my kids "borrowed" my good brand new blue anodized Maglite for cave exploring and brought it back looking like it had been through a rock avalanche.  The good news?  It still worked just fine.  It just wasn't very pretty any more.  No doubt a cheap plastic flashlight would have been left in pieces in the cave. But at least I wouldn't have been out much!

Many of the cleaning products at dollar stores are brand names so often there is no question about quality.  However, don't reject their own house brands or off brands.  My wife and I have found than many of the "Awesome" branded products at Dollar Tree are excellent and match or even sometimes exceed the performance of similar brand names.  In addition to liquid and aerosol cleaners you can often find a variety of wet wipes.  I've found leather wipes, tire wipes, stainless steel wipes, furniture wipes, glass wipes, and mechanics' degreaser wipes in addition to traditional baby wipes and general purpose wipes.  They seem to come and go so I advise stocking up on what you want/need when you see them. They will last a fairly long time as long as the package isn't opened.  By the way, aresols are less likely to spill but if you're deeply concerned about their affect on the atmosphere, use spray products, or where feasible, wet wipes.

OTC medications are another category I find Dollar Tree to be a good source for.  It enables me to easily and inexpensively stock my medicine cabinet with a variety of choices so all member of my family or group can chose their favorite pain relievers, etc.  Aspirin doesn't work for every one so I carry acetaminophen and Ibuprofen too. Nice not to have to shell out big bucks for each bottle.  Since stuff in our RVs and camp kits often sit around a long time before being used it is also nice not have a large investment in disposable items that may have to be replaced periodically without being used up.  Fortunately, most medicines are good long after their official expiration dates, but if you have any concerns, it is inexpensive to replace them at Dollar Tree and maintain peace of mind.  I have found surprising number of different types and sizes of bandages and medical tape.  And I keep a tube or two of Superglue in every one of my first aid kits.  Superglue is almost the same thing as pharmaceutical grade "Dermabond", but a lot cheaper, especially when you get it at Dollar Tree.  In use it may sting a bit more than Dermabond, but it will essentially work just as well at holding small wounds together.  And it bonds instantly to skin.  I've heard it will sting a bit more than Dermabond, but since I've never used Dermabond I can only attest to the very satisfactory performance of Superglue.  You will often find pocket sized first aid kits at your dollar store.  I like to stock up on these so that everyone in my family always has a basic first aid kit in their pack or pocket and I can share them with guests.  You aren't going to handle major injuries with a little pocket first aid kit but they are perfect for the many smaller tasks that often pop up during outdoor activities.

Kitchen utensils are another group of things that I have found frequently suffer from abuse or loss during camping trips.  Items from a dollar store may not be restaurant quality but I find they usually at least match things I buy at grocery and department stores and, once again, the low cost makes them cheap and easy to replace when they get ruined or go missing while camping.  The low cost also means it is economical to bring along duplicates if you have room.  We've found it is often very nice to have extra spatula or serving spoon.  I've even found sturdy all stainless steel items that are perfect for camping.  My wife like my camping ladle so well she commandeered it for the kitchen at home and I had to look for another one.  The kitchen section  is also a good source for dish towels.

There are usually a good selection of toiletries and sundries, which allows me to stock up for camping and have enough for my whole group and to share with fellow campers should the opportunity arise.  The only downside is that with the cost so low it is easy to OVER buy for my family, but at least everyone has the products they like to use.  I encourage using things like combination shampoo/conditioner or even shampoo/conditioner/body wash to minimize RV bathroom clutter.

Dollar stores usually have a fairly large selection of beauty products -- combs, brushes, nail clippers, nail files, chapstick, etc. making it very inexpensive to stock up on what you and your family might need in your RV or camp kit.

The "Soft Lines" section often includes socks, knit gloves, knit caps, and other expendable items  you might use on camping trips.   Once again, these are especially handy to have for kids and as loaners.

The hardware selection usually includes a few small hand tools and car care products.  The tools may not be professional quality, but are often adequate for the light use they will get when camping and the low price makes them very affordable.  And, should they break or get lost, you're not out a lot of money.  Low price also lets you get as may as you need to have them at all the places you will need them.  Convenience is paramount when camping.

Inexpensive toys for camping can be a real boon to young families.  It is also gives grandparents a way to stock up on things to entertain their grandkids during an outing or a visit.  Things like sidewalk chalk and squirt guns appeal to kids of all ages.  Same with glow sticks, necklaces, and bracelets, which are fun for after dark activities.  Even adults enjoy cooling down on a summer afternoon with a "Supersoaker" squirt gun fight.  And the dollar store lets you arm your whole army without a big price tag and the low cost pretty much eliminates worry over them getting lost or damaged, which are both frequent occurrences with any group of active youngsters.  The variety of crayons, colored pencils, and colored markers along with pads of various sizes can provide hours of entertainment for the budding artists in your group.  You can usually find a variety of simple games as well as other basic toys to keep the little ones busy.

Flashlights and batteries are always good to have in camp.  While I do enjoy using my sturdy aircraft aluminum Maglite, inexpensive plastic flashlights and LED lights from the Dollar Tree are really nice to have on hand for children and as loaners.  The low cost batteries may not last as long as higher priced brand names but since they spend so much time in storage it is good not to tie up a lot of money and yet have an adequate supply of replacements for every application.  I've used small Dollar Tree LED flashlights in my tool kit on my dirt bike we great success.  They are sturdy aluminum construction, are light weight, and have endured 100s of miles of bumpy trails.  The low cost allows me to stash little flashlights wherever they might be needed for added convenience in my RV, camper, tool box, and motorcycle trailer.

Some people might be kind of choosy about tools and hardware, but low cost might allow you to supplement your tool box and spare parts with little investment and you don't have to worry about losing your good stuff.  I frequently find little items, like razor knives, that are handy to have in my camp kit.  I would not be likely to pay normal retail for them for such occasional use, but being able to have them at a reasonable price often makes many tasks around camp easier and more fun.  It also allows me to duplicate some hand tools so I can them where I frequently use them instead of having to always go back to my tool box when I need something.    An extra screwdriver and/or pair of pliers tucked into a pocket or pack can be very handy.  And they don't have to be heavy duty, professional quality, precision items for occasional light use around camp or on the trail.  I've even picked up rolls of wire that is perfect for wiring hand grips on OHVs, sometimes getting 3 rolls of different colored wire for $1.00!   Nice to have options if you're sensitive to color coordinating things on your ride.   BTW, you'll find that a pair of specialized wire-tie or "safety wire" pliers will make that task pretty easy and kind of fun, but you probably won't find them at your dollar store.  Try your favorite OHV or auto supply store.  They can be a bit pricey.  I've seen them from $30 to $385!  One of the best deals I found was two pair (6" and 9") plus some wire on ebay for $31.99.  Wire tie pliers have a locking mechanism to hold the wire secure while twisting it with a special built in spinner as you pull on the pliers.   It will pull the wires nice and tight and lock them securely in place with a very tight, neat twist.  But go easy.  It is way to easy to twist the wires off and then you have to start over.

Solar walkway lights from Dollar Tree can often be adapted for use as tent and campground lights.  Remove the ground stake and add a hanger to use it as a tent light or stick the ground stake into a can or jar partially filled with rice, beans, or pebbles to use it on your picnic table. Solar lights are also useful for illuminating tent pegs and poles so you can avoid tripping over them at night.  A solar walkway light on either side of your RV step makes it easy to find in the dark.  LED "tap" lights are an easy way to add lights to cabinets and closets or under the hood for checking your oil.  I've also seen them installed on/in the lids of mason jars to turn them into little table-top lanterns.  Sometimes you can get some that designed for kids that are very colorful and shaped like various animals.  They make good individual tent lights or bunk lights in an RV.  The provide sufficient illumination for individual needs without impinging too much on fellow campers and being battery powered they won't run down your RV or vehicle batteries.

Having access to inexpensive products provides an opportunity to experiment with different things to find out what works best for you and what you like best.  If you get something you don't like, you've only wasted a dollar!  I've found that particularly useful for kitchen utensils.  You can try out a variety of sizes and shapes.  Keep what you like working with and put the others in your next garage sale or donate them to your favorite charity.  If all else fails, you can throw them away without feeling guilty about having wasted money on them.

Happy Shopping!