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May 31, 2016
The Water Bottle Battle: What you need to know

water bottles

Any camper worth his or her salt knows the importance of staying hydrated, and that means carrying a refreshing bottle of water with them at all times.  Staying hydrated keeps our 60% water-filled body functioning properly, including maintaining healthy blood flow, kidney and liver function and even mental cognition.  But grabbing a refreshing drink of water on the trail can be tough, and that’s why a camper’s choice of water container is so crucial to hydration.  In this blog we’ll be exploring the most important factors to consider when selecting that go-to water bottle and hopefully help you choose the best bottle for the job!

Construction and Composition
Before letting yourself be dazzled by the glitz and glam of colors and features, take a look at just what sort of engineering and materials have gone into making your potential water bottle so fancy.  Before the early 2000’s, many plastic water bottles made from a material known as polycarbonate (PC) contained a harmful substance known as bisphenol-A (BPA).  This toxin would seep into the water stored in water bottles and make their way into the bloodstream, building up to toxic levels and causing a number of health problems.  Manufacturers today have since eliminated BPA as an additive, but other chemicals replacing BPA haven’t been fully tested.  Aluminum bottles have replaced most major brand-name plastic bottles, but as aluminum is reactive and sometimes toxic in its own right, a resin or plastic liner is required to prevent reactions and causes its own set of health concerns.  Currently the safest type of water bottle is food-grade stainless steel, so always look for this label on a water bottle for maximum safety.

Features, Use, and Care
Now that you’ve got your BPA-free water bottle in mind, it’s a good idea to consider your physical regiment and if that lifestyle requires more or less design features.  Do I need a hands-free drink cap?  Will I be adding fruit for taste?  Will I be drinking carbonated or carbonated beverages?  All of these questions are important factors to consider when purchasing a new water bottle.  Pay attention to the temperature rating and cleaning instructions as well.  Not all bottles are considered dishwasher-safe, and some water bottles’ health-protective liners can be compromised through excess heat.  It’s a good idea to clean water bottles by hand using a soft brush or sponge, and then only with warm water.  Unless using a stainless steel bottle, pay attention to any dents or damage to the bottle itself as this can compromise inner liners as well, so always recycle such bottles immediately.

May 21, 2016
Paracord: Does the Hype Hold Up?

If you’re a seasoned camping guru (and we know you are), more than likely you’ve seen or heard of a recent material that’s become popular for everything from bracelets to utility trailers: paracord.  Also known as 550 cord, paracord is a sturdy lightweight nylon rope that was originally developed for the military but has become highly-valued as a consumer product for its versatility and low cost.  But as we’re not an organization that places our seal of approval on just anything, we thought we’d some investigation of our own and see just what makes paracord so special.

All Paracord is Not Created Equal
Despite advertisements to the contrary, most paracord available for civilians is not the same rigorous military-grade cord from which it gets its name.  Instead commercial manufacturers (some of whom have actual paracord contracts with the military) have developed lookalikes that retain enough of the featured of the military-spec varieties to sell using the paracord brand.  At a glance the difference between commercial and authentic military-grade cord is marginal; both cords are almost identical in size and shape and have a strength rating of 550 lbs.  Cut into the core or “kern” however and you’ll find that military-grade paracord has a 3-ply twist and contains about 9 individual nylon fiber strands, and therefore much stronger than the 7-strand 2-ply commercial variety.  Military-grade paracord also has a 100% nylon composition rating for maximum weather production, whereas commercial varieties will often have a nylon core but be covered in a polyester sheath to save on costs.  Perhaps these differences are trivial, but it’s always important to know that there will be differences in quality and composition despite both paracord varieties carrying the same namesake.

Paracord Created Versatility…or did Versatility Create Paracord?
Whether commercial-grade or true military-made paracord, the uses for paracord in the field and in the wilderness stretch far beyond what the original WWII designers had in mind.  Though obvious uses include lashing tent poles together, tying down equipment/tarps, etc., paracord’s rugged durability and compact size-to-strength ratio take it far beyond a mere rope.  Repairing/replacing broken shoelaces, securing tents in a windstorm and tying firewood together are all a breeze, but the individual fibers in a length of paracord can be used as thread for sewing or improvising stitches in the field.  Fishing line or dental floss both can be crafted from paracord fibers, and lashing or braiding several lengths together can make for an excellent emergency winch or towing system.  In recent years hobbyists have been increasingly using  paracord to replace watch bands and bracelets, which serves as a convenient way to carry emergency spools of paracord wherever you go.  Compared to more traditional ropes and ties paracord is much less expensive, much more durable and arguably has the best versatility of anything in the camper’s arsenal since the hatchet.

We’ve come to the conclusion that 550 paracord is no joke, and having it on hand makes camping (and thus life) much more fun and convenient.  In this case, the hype is right!

May 14, 2016
Bottled Water: What’s Under the Cap?

Though the idea of buying, storing, and drinking water has been around for hundreds of years, the bottled water industry that we know today has evolved into a cultural and economic phenomenon only in the past twenty years.  Indeed the bottled water industry (and yes, it is an industry) contains dozens of brands, types, sources, and even countries that look at bottled water production as a both a consumer good and a natural resource.  But with all of the advertising hype and marketing plugging one brand over another, it’s not unusual to ask just what truly separates one kind of refreshingly-cool water from another?  We decided to find out!

Types of bottled water

Technically bottled water is considered a consumer food product by the FDA, and as such the Food and Drug Administration has created very specific standards and regulations governing water quality and classification.  All bottled water must label itself appropriately, and the categories may surprise you!

  1. Spring Water
    1. Arguably the most sought-after type of bottled water on the market, spring water is water that has been gathered via a naturally-flowing underground water source.  There are strict quality standards to gather and process spring water, including that the water itself can only be collected at the spring or through a strict borehole that taps the underground water formation, the water cannot have its physical properties altered during or after collection, and must possess the same composition and quality as it would have if drank straight from the source.
  2. Mineral Water
    1. Though similar to spring water, mineral water is a natural water that most contain no less than 250 PPM (parts per million) of total dissolved solids.  It most likely does not “flow” up from a natural spring but is instead collected from underground deposits (though this is not required).  Rather what distinguishes mineral water from other types is that it must have a constant level of minerals and trace elements when collected from the source.  At no point can minerals be added to the product.
  3. Purified Water
    1. Produced by distillation, deionization or reverse osmosis, purified water is the second-most popular type of bottled water available on the market today.  Unlike spring water or mineral water there is no source restrictions, but the water itself must undergo several processes that ensure it has been sterilized for consumer consumption.  Many critics of purified bottled water often say that this water is just “tap water in a bottle,” but this is untrue; if a bottled water manufacturer’s water source is a public water system and does not meet FDA purification standards, the product label legally must disclose the public water source.

May 8, 2016
Spring Camping Checklist

As the flowers bloom and birds begin to sing, that camping spirit has undoubtedly begun ticking the back of your mind.  Before you head out on the trail however, there are a few things that will help you better prepare for that first camping trip through the thawing wilds.  Keep in mind these are only suggestions—experienced campers usually have their own regiment—but sometimes cabin fever makes us rush out the door too soon, so let us help you get ready for the season!

Check Your Gear

Even though you might be sure nothing is wrong, before saddling up for the camping season make sure to check your collective camping gear for any unknown issues or problems.  Inspect your tents, backpacks, and sleeping bags for any rips or tears and make sure all zippers and snaps are functioning properly.  For those gadget-minded campers, test the batteries on your flashlights and other electronic devices and make sure you have some backup power sources just in case.  One last safety measure to take is to open your first-aid kit at the start of the season, replacing expired medications with new ones and refilling any medical supplies that might have been used.

Check Your Grub

Nutrition is critical to good camping no matter what the season, but in spring a smart camper should go through his or her food supplies with a critical eye.  Look for bulging cans and expired food along with any potential contamination by mice or insects, and discard things like old bottled water or other drinks that might have been stored too long.  Spring camping is also known for colder-than-normal days and nights, so be sure to include foods with higher fat and carb content to keep you warm when packing things to eat for the trip.

Check Your Guts

One last thing campers: get a check-up.  Nature is beautiful but it’s also far away from civilization, filled with perils and pitfalls that only a healthy body can overcome.  Scheduling a visit to the doctor and/or the dentist will make sure that your health is up to the rigors of hard living and help identify unknown health risks.  It’s also a good idea to update vaccinations for things such as tetanus and other maladies common to the outdoors, and be sure to purchase new stocks of insect repellent and sunscreen.   Any way you look at it personal health is a smart step in preparing for the camping season.  Like the Boy Scouts say: be prepared!

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