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Nature Walk in Los Angeles

Today, we took a family walk in Fryman Canyon in Los Angeles. There’s a misconception that LA is a concrete jungle, devoid of natural areas (and culture if you ask other parts of the country), but that’s just not the case. We have beautiful nature reserves that give us an opportunity to explore the natural flora and fauna of Southern California. If you’re in the San Fernando Valley, you have easy access to

  • the Hollywood Hills with Fryman Canyon just south of Studio City
  • Griffith Park east of Glendale / Atwater Village
  • the Verdugo mountain range north of Glendale and Burbank
  • Malibu State Park
  • and the Angeles National Forest

Traffic to some of these areas can be slow during the week, but if you’re willing to have a bit of patience, you’ll be able to miss the hoards of people enjoying what Los Angeles has to offer. Personally, we think that seeing how many Angelenos come out to play on the weekends is encouraging, especially when they bring their family.

We also had an opportunity to try out our hydration backpack. This one is a 2 liter, which was plenty for this trip. The days have been amazingly beautiful now that we got some solid weeks of rain. The additional carrying capacity is a little small if you have a lot to bring, so if this is a hike during a camping trip, we’d recommend upping the size to a 5 liter bag (which is different than the water bladder size of 2 liter).

The pictures above are an attempt to model. We’re normal people doing normal things, so forgive us for wearing a shirt and not having chiseled features. It’s all about how the products work and fit for the average person. Take a look at our selection of hydration packs to see what suits your adventure.

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Camping Checklist

Okay, so here you are staring your first camping trip in the eyes.  It’s only a month away, and you’re trying to figure out what you need to bring with you in order to really enjoy nature at its finest.  We have you covered. 

Quick Camping Checklist:

  • Tent
  • Sleeping Bag
  • Stove / Fuel
  • Lantern, Flashlight, and Headlamp
  • Ample Food
  • Camping Knife
  • Layered Clothes

Checklist Details:

Tent: 

You’re going to need a place to sleep, and unless you want to sleep under the stars (which can be amazing on a warmer night), a tent should be first on your list of things to get.  When selecting a tent, there are a couple of things to think about:

  • The general climate and forecasted seasonal weather. Tents come in a variety of styles, sizes, and seasons.  A three-season tent will mean that it’ll keep up with the weather from Spring through Autumn.  Two seasons is Spring and Summer, and four seasons is, well, all year.  The difference really is the thickness and water repellent nature of the tent walls and roof. 

A two-season tent is meant for warmer weather, so the tent material will generally be a bit thinner.  You’ll also have more ventilation because you’re not worried as much about the cold and rain.  It’s also, generally, going to be a bit lighter.  For the casual camper, this is probably the ideal season rating because you’ll likely be taking your vacation in the Spring or Summer.

A three-season tent will use a heavier material for the tent walls and roof.  Ventilation is a bit more restricted than the two-season tent because it’s expected to perform well in wetter and colder weather.  This is also a good option for first-timers.

  • The number of people who will be sharing the tent.  Size ratings can be a bit deceiving.  Tents are sized based solely on the number of people sleeping in the tent.  It does not account for any luggage or bags you will bring into the tent with you.  If you want some elbow room, take the number of people using the tent and add two.  We know, that seems like it might be overkill; however, tent manufacturers assume that you don’t mind sleeping shoulder to shoulder.  A one-person increase is just fine, but it’ll still be a little cramped. 

One thing that we want to call out in this section is that you should NEVER have food or toiletries in your tent.  Wildlife will sniff out the smallest amount of food or toothpaste and tear through the walls to get it.  One of our editors had this happen to his tent in Mammoth Lakes, California.  Thankfully, it was during the day, and his part was not at camp, but the tent was ruined.

Sleeping Bag: 

A comfortable sleep is crucial if you’re going to get the best out of your camping trip.  A cold night is a great thing to talk and laugh about the next day, but it’s not a lot of fun when you’re trying to sleep.  Some sleeping bag basics:

  • Style.  There are two general styles of sleeping bags:  rectangular and mummy.  There are others, but for the majority of camping, these two styles are enough.
    • Rectangular.  If you like to move around or sleep on your stomach or side, this is the style for you.  Due to the basic design, there is more room in the arms and legs for you to position yourself for the best night’s sleep.  Some can be fully unzipped and paired with another rectangular sleeping bag to create a double, which is awesome for couples or good friends to keep each other warm.
    • Mummy.  The mummy bag design is intended to provide a smaller air pocket around you, which will heat up a lot faster than a rectangular sleeping bag.  There isn’t a lot of space to move around, but it’s not going to be uncomfortably restrictive at all.  These are ideal for colder weather.
  • Cold Rating.  You know how we suggest that you should always go up a size in tents in order to be more comfortable?  Well, the same concept applies for cold ratings.  Whatever the manufacturer says it’s good to (e.g. 35°F), assume that they are about 10°F overconfident.  We suggest purchasing a sleeping bag that’s good to 0°F.  As an example, one of our editors has a 20°F rated mummy bag, and he had to put on most of his clothes at night in order to get comfortable during a night that probably dropped to just above 20°F. 

Now, you may think “but I’m going to the desert, that’s not going to be cold.”  Well, unless it’s in the middle of Summer, nights can still be chilly.  When you’re camping, it’s always easier to cool down than to warm up. 

Stove: 

A stove is the real heart of camping.  Yes, we know it should be the fire, but a hot breakfast on a cold morning is AMAZING, and it’s a lot easier to get the stove up and running than it is a fire.  Thankfully, camping stoves are pretty straight forward.  We suggest a 2-burner so you can prepare a complete meal at one time.  You can’t imagine how quickly food cools down, so a 2-burner stove means that you’ll have a hot meal all at once.  The main difference in stoves is fuel type.

  • Propane / Butane.  These stoves are ubiquitous.  Both propane and butane come in canisters of compressed gas that attach to your stove through a hose or pipe.  They’re super easy to operate, and there’s no possibility of spilling the fuel. 
  • Liquid Fuel.  These stoves are thought to be more efficient than compressed gas stoves because they don’t rely on the pressure of the tank to work properly.  Our opinion is that gas runs out in either stove, so this isn’t a deal breaker for us at all.  A liquid stove often requires priming to get the gas to the burner, which is not a concern with compressed gas since the fuel is already under pressure.

Something else to consider when purchasing your stove is how much wind protection there is.  There have been many, all too many, occasions when the stove is positioned the wrong way, and the wind blows out the flame with every gust.  Stoves should have some type of wings that connect the foldable lid to the base in order to create three ‘walls’ of protection against the elements.  Backpacking stoves are a whole other story, so we’re going to hold off on that discussion for now.

Access to Light:

Because you’re away from city light pollution, night is actually pretty dark.  Always make sure that you have an assortment of lighting to make camping at night safer.  This should include:

  • Lantern.  A good lantern is vital for camping.  Technically, we think there should be two, one for the table and stove and one for the tent. 
    • For the outside lantern, it can be gas (propane or liquid) or battery powered.  While the following is true for both types, it’s particularly important for gas lanterns:  Lanterns should always have a stable base.  The risk of fire is very real with lanterns, and a narrow base or top-heavy lantern that can easily fall over is a real hazard. 
    • A tent lantern can be smaller and more portable than an outside lantern.  It doesn’t need to be as bright because you’re using it for your tent or trips to the bathroom; however, don’t assume that they are going to be dim.  Even the cheaper battery powered lanterns emit ample lighting and can last for hours with minimal battery usage.

Tent lanterns SHOULD NEVER be gas.  Just because it’s lit doesn’t mean that the flame is consuming all of the gas that’s being pumped out.  Plus, there could be unknown leaks.  Bringing a gas lantern into the tent is just stupid.  Don’t do it. 

  • Headlamp and Flashlight.  It may seem redundant to have both a flashlight AND a headlamp, but there’s a reason:
    • Headlamps.  These things are a lifesaver.  Having your hands free makes camping a whole lot easier.  You’ll use this while cooking at night (especially if you only have one lantern), on the trail, or headed to the backroom.  Typically, they have a broader focus than flashlights, which is perfect for the various tasks around the camp like cooking, starting a fire, digging through your gear, etc.
    • Flashlights.  Flashlights are more versatile than headlamps, and usually have better focusing capabilities.  Obviously, you’re familiar with a flashlight, so we’re going to skip the bigger write up.  Just bring one or two.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Adequate Food.  Plan your meals ahead of time.  Know what you’re going to cook for each meal for each day.  Make sure you talk to your camping party to ensure that everyone will be well fed.
  • Sleeping Pad.  No, this isn’t a necessity, but it’ll make your night a lot better.  Basic foam pads will make the uneven ground a bit softer, but inflated pads are the way to go.  Many self-inflating pads still need a little extra air from you, but they’re well worth the small price difference.
  • Clothes.  Dress in layers.  Temperatures shift a lot, and you’ll want to be able to take off or put on clothes easily.  If you’re hiking, wear long sleeves.  This gives you extra protection from the sun.  Also, cotton does a great job of staying wet.  It may feel good when you’re hiking, but when it’s time to set up camp, and the sun goes down, it’s going to get cold.  We suggest non-cotton, water wicking material whenever possible.
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Top Three Family Tents 2019

Picking the right tent for your experience is really a personal matter. How many people will be using it? Do you expect to keep some of your gear in the tent as well? Beyond four walls, a roof, and floor, what other amenities do you need in order to keep camping fun? When we were growing up, the selection of tents was a lot smaller because the tents were pretty basic: Four walls, a door, and at least one window. In truth, this is all you really need (it may even be overkill if you’re one to sleep under the stars); however, as your family grows, it may be worth checking out tents that are designed for larger families or for those who want a bit of extra privacy in nature (not explicitly when nature calls; although, there are options for that too).

When we looked at the selection, we wanted to ensure that we were balancing functionality, durability, and cost. There are some awesome tents out there that can put a dent in your wallet, but that level of investment is not needed to have a good camping trip. Growing up in larger families, camping was the affordable vacation for us, and we want to pass that down to newer folks as well.

The one rule that we had when selecting the tents is that they must sleep more than 4 people. As we’ve mentioned in other areas, the tent sizing is based on the number of sleeping people the tent can fit. From our experience, more goes into the tent than just sleeping gear (e.g. luggage), so, for us, a family of four should have a five person tent (or more if you have young kids).

Coleman Elite Weathermaster 6-Person

Ratings

Set up3 / 5
Stitching5 / 5
Rain fly4 / 5
Ventilation5 / 5
Packing3 / 5

Features

  • Sleeps 6 (no gear)
  • Capacity and Weight
    • Height: 6′ 8″
    • Fits 2 queen-sized air mattresses
    • Weight: 20 lbs
  • Built in LED lighting with 3 settings
  • Attached 9 x 6 ft screened room (no floor)
  • WeatherTec construction and rain fly

In short: The Coleman Elite WeatherMaster 6 Person tent is well designed and can support a family of 6; although we suggest maxing out at 5 people in order to keep a little elbow room. Awesome features like the cabin-style door and integrated LED lighting system give just a bit of added comfort to car camping. Set up complexity is moderate and requires more than one person, but it’s a family tent, so you have an extra set of hands or three running around you anyway.


This is a great tent for a family of 4 or 5 (it sleeps 6). The interior space allows for 2 queen-sized air mattresses and has beautiful meshed windows and skylights for awesome out-of-the-elements sight seeing and hot weather ventilation. For our trips, we bring one air mattress for our middle-aged bones, and the kids get to experience ‘roughing it’, which gives the tent a lot more living area for tent games like cards.

We’ve said it before, tent placement should be more about soft ground and avoiding flooding potential and less about the view; however, the skylights that the Coleman Elite WeatherMaster boasts make for stunningly beautiful stargazing on warmer nights. If you use the rain fly, you miss out on the stars, but you keep the ventilation while staying nice and dry.

We really dig the screened-in area that’s included with the tent. While there is no floor (a big miss to us), it gives you ample space to store non-food gear and provides a nice respite from insects in the evening.

One of the cooler advancements in tents is the inclusion of LED lighting. This means you don’t have to choose between lighting the tent or seeing on the way to the bathroom at night. The Elite WeatherMaster has a wall-mounted light switch that operates overhead lighting with three brightness levels. This is also a huge bump in safety because it removes the need to bring portable light into the tent. Too often, campers use fuel-burning lanterns in the tent, which is just plain dangerous. Burning propane releases carbon monoxide, which can lead to poisoning and possibly death. Additionally, fuel lanterns or heaters is a fire hazard.

The Elite WeatherMaster 6 is well-constructed and will easily last season after season. High-stress seams are reinforced with extra stitching and all external seams are inverted, keeping the needle holes inside the tent, which reduces ways that water can get into the tent.

We liked the ‘cabin-style’ door, which behaves much more like a real door than the typical flaps that just about all smaller tents have. One of the more annoying things for us is fiddling with the door zipper in the middle of the night.

All in all, this is a very solid (albeit heavy) tent that’s perfect for new or experienced families.


Coleman Tenaya Lake Fast Pitch Cabin with Closet 8-Person

Ratings

Set up3 / 5
Stitching5 / 5
Rain fly2 / 5
Ventilation5 / 5
Packing3 / 5

Features

  • Sleeps 8
  • Capacity and Weight
    • Height: 6’8″
    • Length: 13′
    • Width: 9′
  • Built-in Closet
  • E-Port to bring electricity into the tent
  • Hinged Door
  • Room Divider
  • WeatherTec construction and rain fly

In short: The Coleman Tenaya Lake Fast Pitch Cabin with Closet is a huge tent that lets you stretch out and relax. Given the design of the rain fly and wide open mesh skylights, we’d recommend only using this tent for warm / dry weather camping. The added room dividers are a great way to give you a bit of privacy, and the closet can keep your luggage and gear out of the main area. It’s a bit heavy, but set up is pretty quick for a tent this size.


The Coleman Tenaya Lake Fast Pitch Cabin is the perfect tent for those families who want a bit more wiggle room or extra privacy. Featuring room dividers and a small closet (including a hanger rod), this tent fits 8 people sleeping, but we recommend not using any tent at its capacity. Keep this at 6 to 7 people and you’ll have plenty of floor space so you don’t have to hop, skip, or jump across your camping party just to get outside.

We suspect that most families aren’t going to utilize the full 8-person capacity this tent is rated for, and that’s perfect, because the extra room can easily be used as an indoor play area for younger kids. We set up a small table and a couple of chairs that allowed us to enjoy some travel games at night after the fire had died down, and we were ready to call it an evening. While the tent floor is durable, we recommend putting a cheap blanket on the floor before setting up any furniture to help prevent any accidental tears. Just for good measure, we also recommend using a tarp underneath the tent to further protect against any rocks or roots that may have been missed when clearing the tent area.

Just in case you skipped the warnings about using fuel-fed lanterns or heaters in the tent, DON’T. It’s just not safe. There are plenty of really well-regarded battery powered lanterns on the market that are perfect for tent usage.

There is a huge miss when it comes to an effective rain fly. The rain fly for the Tenaya Lake tent only covers the roof. Typically, rain flies will stretch down the corners of the tent and form awnings above doors or windows. This way, as rain runs off the tent, it’s channeled away from these water weak spots. We’d have to say that the Tenaya Lake is not the best tent if you’re expecting rain. When we tested it, we noticed rain ran off the roof and hit the door window. Water then pooled in the pockets of material between the door’s mesh window and window flap getting us wet whenever we went in and out of the tent. Now, if you’re camping in wet weather, you and your gear are going to get wet; however, there are basic design features that can be implemented to mitigate this, and we were a bit surprised that more care wasn’t taken in planning for water runoff.

In the end, we really liked the Coleman Tenaya Lake tent provided that our trips are planned for warmer weather.


Coleman Instant Dome 5 Integrated Fly

Ratings

Set up5 / 5
Stitching5 / 5
Rain fly4 / 5
Ventilation4 / 5
Packing4 / 5

Features

  • Dimensions
    • 10′ X 7′
    • 5’4″ center height
    • 2 queen-sized mattress (tight)
  • Set up in under 3 minutes
  • Integrated rain fly
  • Reflective guy lines
  • WeatherTec construction
  • Auto-roll windows

In short: The Coleman’s Instant Dome series is the standard of car camping and backpacking tent design. Not going for bells and whistles like some of the larger tents, the Coleman Instant Dome 5 keeps camping simple and fun by ensuring that your time is spent enjoying nature, not getting frustrated with setting up the tent. We think it’s a much better 3 or 4 person tent, so if you have a bigger family, go up a size.


The Coleman Instant Dome 5 Person tent is much more of your traditional camping tent with the iconic dome shape, which provides stronger structural integrity that some of the boxier tents like the Tenaya Lake or WeatherMaster, both from Coleman; however, it also means that the standing height is considerably shorter.

Personally, we really like these tents. The set up is incredibly easy and shouldn’t take you more than 5 minutes (and that includes installing the stakes and ties). The Coleman construction stands up over time, and the craftsmanship can be seen in the key stress points like zippers, ties, and stake loops. All of these areas are reinforced with extra or thicker material to prevent tearing.

The storage leaves a bit to be desired. By now, you know our refrain of tent sizing, so 5 is going to be really tight. We argue that this would be just fine for 3 people, but it starts to get a bit cozy at 4. Our opinion is that there should be enough storage pockets to support the capacity limit, and this is an area in which the tent falls a bit short (although, we understand that this is not part of the durability or main function of the tent). The Coleman Instant Dome 5 Person tent has 2 smaller mesh pockets for your pocket gear like phone, knife or multi tool. We’d like to see a 1:1 ratio of campers to pockets.

Beyond the door and window, there are two small vents at the top of the tent which provide marginal ventilation. This is a tent for which a portable fan would be very helpful in hotter weather.

The rain fly creates reasonable awnings over both the door and window, and they did a great job preventing water from hitting these water weak spots. We’d like to see a more exaggerated awning for the door so that you’re not as exposed when trying to zip or unzip the door. If it’s wet outside, you’re going to get wet, but anything the design can do to keep you a bit drier should considered. This is a good balance between form and function.

One of the features that we really enjoyed are the self-rolling windows. Depending on how old you are, back in the days, there were these slap bracelets that were all the rage. The same design applies to the windows. The thin piece of curved bendable metal is slid into the center sleeve of the window. When the curve is inverted, the metal stays rigid. Once you snap it back to it’s original bend, the metal curls up. Don’t expect a perfect roll, but it’s far better than the traditional ties, and it helps keep the tent organized.

Maybe it’s our own history with tents, but there’s not a lot to dislike about the Instant Dome series. It’s a basic design without many bells and whistles, but it’s incredibly durable and effective.

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Basic Compass Skills

Using a compass is a skill that everyone should know if they’re headed out on the trail, and the basics are not that complicated. All you need is a map and a compass that has a straight edge. No calculator or “natural sense of direction” required. Here’s how it’s done:

  • Mark your location and destination on the map with dots.
  • Draw a line between the two.
  • Place your compass’s edge along the line. Make sure the directional arrow is pointing in the direction of your destination.
  • Rotate the compass housing so the orienting arrow aligns with north.
  • As long as the needle is within the orienting arrow, your destination is in the direction of the directional arrow.