Camping gear investigation

The wife and I have a small camping trailer for our excursions that we love. It’s comfortable and keeps us dry, and it’s easier to set up than a tent. We’ve managed a half dozen trips this summer, and love spending time outdoors. However, the downside is that it’s a trailer, and you can’t really take it into the backcountry.

Recently, I’ve been starting to think about doing some hiking/fastpacking that involves staying at campsites along trails. This means traveling light and carrying only what you need to survive. It’s a totally different experience than what you get with a camper, or even car-camping with a tent. In many ways it emphasizes the survival aspect more than just going out to relax. You have to think about how to live when you don’t have the creature comforts of a car.

I’ve only been on one backcountry camping trip, and I had zero gear. We weren’t hiking far to the campsite, so it wasn’t the end of the world, and my friend had enough gear to get us by. Knowing what I know now, I probably looked like an idiot carrying a duffle bag down the Superior Hiking Trail.

That brings me to the point of this blog. I’m thinking of doing a camping trip that involves hiking or running in, and testing myself if I can survive for a couple of days with just my gear and my wits. However, I have very little idea where to start when it comes to gear. Browsing through the REI website is all well and good, but what I really want is to hear from folks about what has worked personally for them.

The parameters are:

  • 2 night self-supported outing with hiking each day
  • Not looking at winter camping yet, just warm weather seasons
  • Might be solo, might be with the wife, so 1-2 people.

What gear have you found to be the best either in quality or value?

What are the essentials that I need to think about getting, that might get overlooked in a google search?

Where have you found you can skimp to lighten the load?

What other questions should I be asking?

Ok Internet, do your thing and educate me!

Feuding with the Trumps!

In a previous post I talked about setting up a RetroPie. I loaded it up with a bunch of old games and hooked it up to our entertainment system. The boys loved it and had fun trying out campy old games. One of them in particular gave us a big laugh.

My youngest found a Family Feud game and loaded it up. It greets you with a screen to create your family name and set a few other game parameters. You’re then presented with the family that you’re going to face, based on a random computer list of family names. As soon as this opponent flashed on the screen we couldn’t stop laughing. Our opponent for the evening… The Trumps!

And ya… they beat us…


The craziness of Star Wars

The final trailer for Episode 8 dropped, and I have mixed feelings about watching it. I felt like it might have shown me a bit more than I wanted to see. However, having only seeing it once, I’m going to avoid going back to it so as to be more surprised by the movie when it comes out.

Speaking of when the movie comes out… tickets also went on sale. My friend Michael started to put together a group to get tickets, and it showed just how crazy Star Wars mania is. We wanted to see it at a theater near our houses but that one was pretty much already sold out. We then started hunting for other places to go, and after a bunch of fits and starts, we found a theater that has a showing at a decent time, and had enough seats open for a medium sized group.

It’s crazy that we’re two months ahead of the film, and theaters are already selling out. That’s crazy, but that’s Star Wars.

So about that Google stuff

This past week Google had their big event to unveil a bunch of new hardware. Slowly but surely Google has been catching up to Apple (along with Microsoft and Samsung) and producing high end hardware that highlights their software in the most ideal way possible. This is an area where Apple has had an advantage for decades. They produce hardware and software that is custom fit for one another. Android has always suffered from fragmentation, and a bit too much openness.

Google has entered the hardware market in small ways before, but with the advent of last year’s Google Pixel, it feels like they’re doubling down. This year they proved that they’re here to stay, showing off a bunch of new devices, a couple of which are very intriguing to me.

First up, the Pixel 2. This is a new iteration of their highly successful phone from last year. They’ve continued to evolve over last year’s model with better performance, and most importantly continued improvements to the camera. A bunch of reviews I’ve seen have said that they were disappointed by the lack of design innovation. However, I feel this is a red herring. Almost everyone I know puts their phone in some form of a case for protection. When you’re spending $500+ on a phone, you protect it. Many of these cases change the design aesthetic of the phone anyway, so the fact that Google didn’t bother to creating something groundbreaking with curved edges means very little to me. Overall, the Pixel 2 looks like a great phone.

Google also announced the Pixelbook. This is its entry into the high end Chromebook market, and wow, does it look amazing. It’s got top of the line specs, and all of the bells and whistles of a nice Macbook. I’m anxious to see one in person and see if the screen and keyboard are as beautiful as they make them out to be. This is also one of the few Chromebooks that has a backlit keyboard, one of my personal needs.

The home automation revolution was also on display in the Google Home Mini and Max. I’ve never really thought much about getting a product like this, except recently I’ve noticed how often I’m talking to my phone to set timers and look things up. Evolving to a home assistant seems to be a natural progression. Something like the Mini might be a good foray into this arena to see if it’s something I would want to keep using.

The new Google camera has very little interest to me, but I could see how some people might like it. Google also unveiled a pen for the Pixelbook, which might be cool, but I’m not a huge pen-on-tablet user. There was a handful of other devices, but the ones above were the ones that interested me the most. I have no idea if any of these will actually find their way into my house, but I’m getting more and more intrigued by Google’s offerings. They give me a lot to ponder on the technology side of things…

Some West 7th Adventures

(photo credits: Lisa K.)

We had the day to ourselves, so we decided to go exploring in an area of Saint Paul that I haven’t spent a ton of time in since I was a child, West 7th. I know there’s been a lot of new things popping up around there, and so we decided to go check them out.

We parked our car down by the river near the Science Museum and took a lovely stroll through Irving Park. Irving Park is a VERY old neighborhood in Saint Paul, filled with homes from the late 1800s and early 1900s. These are the classic victorian homes that equate more with Summit Ave, but here they are in a little enclave between a busy street and a bluff overlooking the Mississippi.

We arrived at our first stop, Waldmann’s, right around 11am when they opened. This is a small brewery and wursthouse that is built in the oldest surviving commercial building in the Twin Cities. Built in 1857 as a saloon, it’s now been converted into a lovely little restaurant with amazing German food, and good beer. Much of the structure has been restored to it’s original feel, and it was a real treat to experience it.

From there, we walked about 50 feet to Bad Weather Brewing, a long time favorite of ours, for another quick drink. We ended up getting lucky, as they usually aren’t open before noon on Sunday, but they had a special party going on in their party room, so they were able to open their doors to the general public. I had their new lemon beer, which although it was good, it could have used more lemon aroma. Brewers need to remember that we taste with our noses as much as our tongues.

We wanted a bit of dessert so on the way back to the car we hit the brand new Truck Park, near Excel Energy Center. This is a fun hangout spot with different places to buy food, giving it the experience of a food truck park. The vendors are all a part of the same company, but the open feel, and different counters to order from, gives it a “State Fair” type of feel. There’s even a bar on the outside of the building that you can sit at, right along West 7th.

While there we tried this amazing ice cream sandwich made with a T-Rex Cookie S’More’s cookie and Oreo ice cream. it was decadent and huge. The cookies from T-Rex are usually about the size of your face. Needless to say, this filled us up the rest of the way for our meals for the day. Plus, the environment was fun and vibrant, giving a very different feel to this area of town.


We hung out down by the river for a bit, and then headed back home, and to real life, with house projects and cleaning. This was a great way to spend a morning, and I’d highly recommend checking out West 7th, the next time you’re in downtown Saint Paul.