Camping Coffee Options

Ah, coffee. What would I do without you?

I’m guessing 15 to life.

There are a few options for making coffee while camping, and for us none of them involve plugging in our reliable drip coffee maker. We’ve experimented a bit over the years – here are our results.

Instant: Not necessarily the cheapest, most environmentally friendly, or even the best tasting, Starbucks Via is still not a bad option. Starbucks Via

I stay away from the “fancy” flavors because I find they have an odd, almost chemical aftertaste. Of the regular flavors I’ve tried, I like the Italian Roast best. Two packets in my stainless steel mug, then add hot water. Doesn’t get any easier. But the cost does add up after a while.

 

 

 

Percolator: The best thing I ever read about how to make percolator coffee? At HowToBrewCoffee.com, the author says what you need is  “A percolator and a heat source, coffee, water, and a complete lack of respect for the coffee bean.”  (Click on the link for a great description of how a percolator works.)  REI Percolator

Now, I don’t think percolator coffee is that bad, but… Well, boiled coffee generally doesn’t taste all that great, and that’s what a percolator does. It boils the coffee.

Still, percolators themselves are fairly cheap (less than $30), and you don’t need to buy paper filters.

You do have to watch the percolator closely, though. If you don’t let it boil for long enough, you get weak coffee-colored water. But if you let it go too long your coffee will be jet black, super-strong, and incredibly bitter.

French Press: So far, this method has been the winner. It’s not perfect, but I find it makes the best tasting coffee.  REI French Press

Of course, you can’t use regular grounds in a French Press, because like the percolator, the French Press has no basket. Beans must be a coarse grind and those can be hard to get sometimes.

The REI French Press pictured is pretty expensive ($54!), but it’s also insulated, so it keeps your coffee warm while it steeps.

On our Moab trip we used our French Press every morning. It was great but I found we went through our grounds pretty fast. In the end (because instant was not an option) we experimented with less grounds and longer steep times.

Pour Over: I’ll admit, this is one method I’ve never tried. But what I’m reading is that this is the simplest method, with the easiest cleanup. I looked up the drip cones used in this method and they’re pretty cheap. REI Drip Cone

This one is about $13. You do need to buy a filter, but this means two things: you can buy regular coffee grounds, and when you’re done you can toss the filter, so cleanup is easier.

The one issue I might have is that the drip cone method is generally only good for 2-3 cups of coffee. The more you brew, the weaker each cup gets. I’m generally good with just one cup, but Michael has been known to drink an entire pot all by himself. And with Vera (the World’s Most Temperamental Stove) preferring not to be fired up multiple times in quick succession… well, the French Press might still be our best option.

I’ll keep you posted!

The search for a waterproof duffel

It’s starting to feel like a needle in the haystack, I tell you.

So we have a plain old duffel bag from REI. Pretty sure I got it on a prodeal, which accounts for the horrible color scheme. At 84 liters (5100 cubic inches) it’s plenty big enough for all our clothes on a 10-day trip.

But it’s not waterproof. Now, I know we could just get ourselves a drybag, like kayakers use. But I want a duffel. When you put your clothes into a sack (which is what a drybag looks like), it always seems like whatever you want is on the bottom. You have to take everything out just to get that one pair of socks. So – duffel it is.

Now, when we’re on the road the REI duffel lives in the basket above the topper, so we had to make some adaptations in case of inclement weather.

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It’s not the best image, but the green blob behind Michael’s bike is our tarp-covered duffel.

And yeah, it works. But it’s a bit of a PITA. Wouldn’t it be easier if we could just throw something up there and forget it? Not have to worry about the tarp?

Sure it would. But I’m finding that waterproof duffel bags have a lot in common with bicycles. See, there’s a saying in the bicycle world: bikes can be lightweight, inexpensive, durable. Pick two, and we’re all good.

With the waterproof duffel I am finding something oddly similar. If a duffel is reasonably priced, then it’s only “water resistant.” And even then it’s not cheap. Case in point:

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This is the Patagonia Black Hole Duffel. At 90L (that’s liters, which translates to 5,492 cubic inches), this bag is roughly the size we want. It’s made of waterproof material. The Black Hole Duffel consistently gets rave reviews. But the seams aren’t sealed, and the zippers aren’t waterproof. So… it’s not really waterproof. And it costs $150. (Although I did find it on Backcountry.com for $104)

The problem I’m finding is that other bags, ones that are actually listed as waterproof, tend to have not-so-good reviews. Not on the waterproofness – on the durability. Seams tearing, handles tearing out, that kind of thing. This Patagonia bag seems to be the king. But if it’s not really waterproof, then what’s the point? We already have a not-waterproof bag.

We might just give one of the lesser bags a try… Both REI and Backcountry.com have excellent return policies.

 

 

Gear Review: the Luci Light

I remember one of our previous trips to Moab. We went late in the fall – like, right around Election Day. In some ways it was the perfect time to go. Daytime temps were in the 60’s.

But it was after Daylight Savings Time started, so it got dark at 5pm every day. Also, as soon as it got dark it got cold. So on that trip we spent a lot of time at the Moab Brewery. We watched Sunday Night Football… Monday Night Football… Tuesday night election coverage…

We also went through a lot of batteries. After we’d get back to camp, we needed to see where were were going. We wanted to read before going to bed.

This time, we wanted to go at least partly solar. Enter the Luci light.

Luci Light

We found these at REI for about $15. They come flat, so they don’t take up a lot of room when you’re packing. Then you inflate them when you want to use them. It cracks me up that there is a warning label on the box, telling people that these lights are not, in fact, flotation devices.

The Luci is made by a company called MPOWERD and the lanterns are pretty cool. MPOWERD says they’ll charge fully in about 7 hours, and last 12 hours on the brightest setting, which is 50 lumens.

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If you look at the hood of the truck in this photo, you’ll see our Luci lights charging up.

We have a total of 6 Luci lights. Because they have a strap along one side, we can even hang them inside the tent. I do love these lights! They pack down small, don’t weigh anything, and are bright enough that even one inside the tent would be enough for us to see what we’re doing.

But we have 6 because we like to read in bed. And one light is not enough to read by. Maybe that means I’m getting old? Whatever.

You can get the Luci Light at REI, and I think they’re worth every penny. Long live solar power!

Gear Review: Coleman 424 Dual Fuel Stove

Coleman 424

We’ve had our Coleman 424 Dual Fuel Stove for years. Mostly because a few years ago it quit working. We changed out the generator but that didn’t help. I was working at REI at the time, and I found a Coleman combination grill/stove at a garage sale for something like $20. So the 424 ended up in the shed with all the other gear we never use but won’t get rid of for some reason.

Coleman Stove

The combo grill/stove runs on propane. Specifically, those small propane canisters. We’ve used this grill for a couple of years now, and I like it. It works great, it’s reliable and easy to use. But the propane canister thing has always been a hangup.

See, those propane canisters aren’t recyclable. And you never get all the propane out of them. Once they get too low, the stove won’t work anymore. So they get tossed before they’re totally empty. What a waste!

We didn’t want to contribute to landfills like that, so we pulled out the 424 again. We replaced the generator (again) and on our deck at home, Michael got it to work just fine. So we took it along on the trip.

We also brought a backup – our MSR Dragonfly backpacking stove.

We needed it. I finally named the 424 “Vera, the World’s Most Temperamental Stove.” You practically had to sweet-talk Vera to get her to work. Sometimes we’d put a pot on the burner just so that we didn’t have to look at the orange wall of flames coming off it. Usually we’d eventually get a nice blue flame from Vera. But not always. So the bottoms of the two pans we cook with have a nice, thick layer of soot on them.

Look, it’s not just us! I found a great website by a Dutch couple who’ve been traveling in their Land Cruiser since 2003: LandCruisingAdventure.com. I found a whole post where Coen talks about his and Karin-Marijke’s adventures with their 424:

“I will admit that the Coleman stove isn’t like a normal propane or camping gas where you turn the knob and have a regulated flame. After preheating the generator, getting your flame to burn nicely with blue flames (instead of orange) requires the right pressure. And while altitude and fuel quality have great affects on the blueness of your flame, once you get to know your stove well, I find it not that hard to manage (Karin-Marijke doesn’t entirely agree with me on this issue).”

Sounds kinda familiar…

Anyway, we plan on sticking with the 424 because of the fuel it burns. It runs best on white gas, and you can find that at just about any outdoor store, Wal-Mart, and the occasional gas station. White gas burns at high altitudes, low temperatures, you name it. And the true beauty of this stove is that it actually will run on regular gasoline too (hence the “dual fuel” in the name). So it can go anywhere.

I guess I’ll just have to learn to work with Vera.

Gear Reviews

Time to take a look back on the trip… and see what worked, and what didn’t.

First up: The Yeti 45 cooler

Yeti 45 cooler

People who are familiar with Yeti coolers seem to either love them or hate them. The hate mostly stems from the price – would you believe that bad boy costs $350???

Yeti Tundra coolers are heavily-duty. In fact, Yeti says they are “damn near indestructible.” You can stand on it, sit on it, drop it out the back of your truck (it’s been done, and it’s on YouTube). The latches are made from heavy-duty rubber and sit flush with the cooler, so they won’t break off. Yetis are also bear proof!

The double walls means they don’t sweat. They definitely keep ice better than a cheapo cooler, for a few reasons. The walls and lid are extra thick, with over 2″ of polyurethane foam. Also, the seal around the lid is a freezer-quality gasket. (Just like on the fridge/freezer in your house.)

Sounds great, right? We got our Tundra 45 (it means 45-quart capacity) at REI, because we like their return policy. They didn’t have the next size up (a 65-quart), and honestly, we thought the 45 would be plenty big enough.

We were wrong.

With a 10-lb block of ice in there, we ran out of room for all the things we needed to keep cold for a 10-day period.

That’s actually my only complaint about the cooler. It worked like a champ. That block of ice lasted for the entire trip. I love the basket that comes with the Tundra:

Yeti tundra basket

It holds all the little stuff that you don’t want to get wet.

So when we returned the 45, we headed over to Cabela’s. Their coolers are cheaper and get similar reviews. But we found the Cabela’s version to have a larger overall footprint. The Yeti has rope handles only. The Cabela’s Polar Cap Equalizer rope handles, as well as plastic handles that stick out farther. Also, there is no basket.

These seem like small things, and Michael and I talked about it for a while, standing right there in Cabela’s. And while it pained us greatly to spend the extra money, we went over to REI and got the Yeti 65.

Of course, I may change my mind yet again… which is one more reason I like REI so much.

There is one other company we considered – RTIC. They’re considered a Yeti knockoff. Literally! I read that Yeti is actually suing RTIC for stealing their design. Maybe that’s why when we tried to order one, it was on backorder for 6 months?

Let me know what you think in the comments! Are we crazy for going with Yeti over the Cabela’s version?

 

 

Last day… for this trip.

So we arrived just before dark at the dispersed (i.e. free) camping at Bookcliffs. I didn’t take any pictures until this morning, and I still can’t believe it.

This place is empty.

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I mean, empty. I couldn’t believe it! Moab was packed. It took us 30 minutes just to get inside Arches NP yesterday. And yet we’ve got the Bookcliffs all to ourselves. If you haven’t ridden Fruita, then get your butt out here. Fruita has some of the best trails around. You can get started at Over The Edge Sports. Aside from being a super-cool bike shop, they also sell lots of maps of all the great riding areas in and around Fruita.

Bookcliffs (also known as the 18 Road Trailhead) is a series of loops. Some are directional (the main uphill trail is called Prime Cut) and the whole place is super fun. Here’s a link to the BLM site that outlines some of the trail distances. And here’s a map.

So after breakfast (I fired up Vera all by myself, yay!) we started up Prime Cut and my original plan was to ride down the Kessel Run. It’s such a fun trail! But Michael convinced me to try something new: Joe’s Ridge. It’s a smooth, swoopy downhill with steep dropoffs on either side. Scary fun! Michael went back for a second loop, but I was done. The dogs were pretty happy to keep running around our (empty) campsite.

Then it was on to Glenwood Springs. And the Hot Springs. Oh man, do I love the Glenwood Hot Springs. Their showers are nice and there are two pools to choose from: warm and hot. After getting cleaned up, we spent some time in the hot pool before reluctantly heading back out.

What a fabulous trip! Next post I’ll start going over our gear – what worked, what didn’t, and what we plan on changing.

Leaving Moab

Remember how I said instant coffee wasn’t bad… but that didn’t mean it was actually any good?

Yeah. Done with instant coffee, we packed up camp and headed straight into town. Both of us were looking forward to revisiting the Eklecticafe. I think they have the best coffee in Moab, in addition to great food and people watching. (Full disclosure, I think the food is pretty pricey.) Eklecticafe is also home to a drink called the Cafe Cubano. Michael loves this dairy-filled coffee drink, so I got myself an Americano. Mmmmm.

Did you know that the Americano supposedly got its name during World War II? American GIs stationed in Italy would dilute their espressos with hot water, saying that otherwise the drink was too strong for their tastes. Cafe Americano literally means “American coffee.”

Well, once we were fully caffeinated we set out for Arches National Park. The plan was to spend the morning at Arches and then head over to Fruita and go for an evening ride at the Bookcliffs area.

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Arches was packed. It took us 30 minutes just to get inside the park. As we’re sitting in the car, full of caffeine, we decided to go for a run inside the park. But which trail? There aren’t that many in Arches, and most of them are kinda short. The Park Avenue trail (pictured above from a 2010 trip), is only a mile long. Our first choice was Delicate Arch, but the parking lot was full. There was a line of hikers heading up and we knew running on that trail would be no fun at all. Time for plan B.

Plan B: Broken Arch Trail. This trail can be done as a loop for 2.4 miles. Perfect for people who haven’t been doing a lot of running lately. And what a great trail! Unfortunately for me I tripped while trying to pass a hiker. I tell you, it was the perfect storm. I looked up, said to the hiker, “can I get by on your left?” and immediately tripped over a tree root. Good thing you can’t actually die of embarrassment.

So after the run we sadly headed out of Moab. If this town weren’t located in the desert (and subject to 100 degree temps for weeks on end in the summer) I’d move here in a heatbeat. The wind was really picking up as we headed east. Initially this was a good thing – a tailwind. But we had to drive over to Grand Junction first, and then head back west to Fruita. See, I miscalculated the amount of dog food we’d need and we were going to run out. Luckily GJ has a store (Murdoch’s) that carries our brand.

Getting back onto I-70 west was a nightmare. It was so windy. I was getting pulled all over the place. So, I really think that for future trips we’re going to have to invest in a hitch mount.

When we arrived in Fruita we knew immediately that it was too windy to ride. Hell, it was too windy to even set up the stove, so we went to dinner at a great little place called Hot Tomato and waited to see what the weather was going to do.

Around dusk the wind actually died down so we headed out to the Bookcliffs. Barely any wind out there – we even started a fire and Michael had a little mandolin time.

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So now the plan is to ride Bookcliffs tomorrow morning, then head home with a stop at Glenwood Springs Hot Springs. I can’t decide which I’m more excited about – a shower an a soak, or riding the Kessel Run one more time.

 

Creative Cooking in the Desert

Some pretty cool things happen when you travel with a chef.

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First of all, he got Vera (the world’s most temperamental stove) to work on a regular basis. Second, he makes some pretty fabulous meals on that stove. Example? At some point I noticed two bananas on the dashboard in the truck… turning black in the sun. Too ripe/mushy to eat, but still edible. I hate to throw food away. I showed them to Michael and he said, “I can make something with that.”

Behold the something:

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Almond butter banana “pancakes.”

Confession time: about two weeks before we left on this trip, I started something called Whole30. It’s a 30 day diet that’s pretty restrictive – no dairy, no grains, no beans or legumes, and no added sugar. If you’re familiar with Paleo eating then you’ve probably heard of Whole30. It’s actually designed to help you break your sugar addiction.

For the record, the first week of Whole30 bites the big one. Giving up sugar is hard. Going grocery shopping and avoiding added sugar is also hard. I mean, why does Italian sausage have sugar in it?!?

Anyway, I was in week 3 of the Whole30 challenge by the time we left for Moab, and doing quite well. When Michael came up with the recipe for these “pancakes,” he made it Whole30 friendly: the 2 ripe bananas, some almond butter, and an egg for binding. (If you think that doesn’t sound like a lot of ingredients…. it’s not. Michael said for next time he’d add some kind of flour – there are a couple that are Paleo-friendly.)

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The worst (best?) part was that we forgot to pack a flat spatula. You know, the kind for flipping pancakes. All we had was the small spatula for making scrambled eggs. Michael had to get pretty creative in making these pancakes.

But in the end those ingredients yielded 6 pancakes. Michael added honey to his 3. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but they were so filling I could barely finish mine.

We might reconstruct this recipe from our home kitchen so we can come up with an actual recipe. If we do I’ll make sure to post it!