Monday, October 3, 2016

Coleman 1-Burner Butane Stove Review

I've been using a Coleman 2-burner propane stove for years while car camping and camping with the U-haul camper. One of the burners on it went out after ~15 yrs of use. I may try to repair it, but in the mean time I was looking for a single burner stove that was quick an easy to use.

I like to cook outdoors, especially in the fall. (I always try to cook bacon outside on the back deck so I don't have to clean up the grease splatter in the kitchen.) I have a grill but not one with a side burner. So I went looking and researching for one that I could use at home, at the park, or while camping. I stumbled on the Coleman 1-Burner Butane Stove. You'll want to shop around as I've seen the price vary from $16-35.

This stove runs off butane instead of propane like many other camp stoves. The canisters are a bit smaller and should last at least an hour on full flame/heat. The nice thing about this stove is how easy it is to hook up the fuel. I've used a lot of different stoves over the years and most of them use a threaded design. This can be trouble for older children you're trying to teach how to use one and help out, older adults, and folks with dexterity issues (like rheumatoid arthritis or hand injuries for example). With this stove you don't have to thread/twist the canister on. Just drop it in the slot and push down on a lever that locks it into place and pressurizes the system. Then just turn the knob past max till it clicks and the igniter sparks into the gas. It's that easy and you're cooking!

There's other things I like about this little stove too. Check out my video review to see how easy it is to operate and what else I like about it! Whether you're using this for camping, boating, back yard BBQ, or as an emergency cooking source when your power goes out, it's a great versatile addition to your gear.

Click here to view the video on YouTube.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Camping Where the Fish are...

U-haul fiberglass camper at Moccasin Creek State Park on Lake Burton.
It's been a busy, hot summer and I haven't had much time to get the family out for a camping trip. I was looking forward to the fall in hopes of getting one in when work and the weather cooled down. A couple months ago some guy friends and I began discussing a big family camp out. The last time we'd done this as a group, only two of us had kids. So we each cataloged our gear and booked a couple sites at Moccasin Creek State Park on Lake Burton in North Georgia.

My wife and another mom came along while the other moms stayed back with their younger kids (<1yr). We ended up with 8 adults and 11 children (most of them under 6yrs old). This was going to be many of the kids first time camping. As someone who's camped from hammocks and tarps to tents and our camper, I had the most gear and was able to cover us with 2 large tents to sleep most of the folks. We took our camper for our family and also because it made for a great way to haul a lot of the gear. We setup on two sites with our camper and large tent at one, and the other large tent and a smaller one on the other site. (Oh and I forgot to mention we took our 3 dogs which was another reason for taking the U-haul.)

View of Lake Burton from the dock at Moccasin Creek State Park.
Moccasin Creek State Park is located on Lake Burton in the North Georgia mountains. It's about half-way between the towns of Helen and Clayton. Moccasin Creek SP sits on the edge of Lake Burton where Moccasin Creek dumps into the lake. The park only has 54 camp sites; there are no cabins. The campground is relatively flat and well shaded for the most part. There is a boat ramp to put in boats and a couple docks to tie them up at so you don't have to necessarily put them in every day. There is also boat trailer parking at the campground. Unlike many of the other state parks in Georgia, this park isn't open year round (it's closed from Dec 1 through March 15).

We were setup on sites 14 and 25, which were the last 2 sites available when we booked. They also happen to be ADA sites and close to the restrooms (which was a bonus with little ones). While our sites were not near each other (unfortunately), most of the sites are fairly close together. Our neighbors were super friendly. They were from Athens and had camped there for 20 yrs. They seemed to know or be friends with everyone at the campground and were gracious enough to spot us a can of beans so we'd have enough for dinner one night. They had to be the nicest campground neighbors I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. So if you want to camp with friends, book in advance and you might get a few sites next to one another. If you want a bit of privacy, sites 37-39 might be the best option. Sites 1-5 are right on Moccasin Creek, but there's a walkway between you and the creek that folks use for accessing the creek for fishing. There is a church (Boat Church as it's referred to) that meets at the open air pavilion on Sunday mornings for a service right on the lake. Anyone is welcome from boaters on the lake to campground guests. I wasn't able to attend the service due to having to pack all the gear up, but we were close enough I could still hear them singing the old hymns which was nice. Depending on when you need to leave on a Sunday, you may want to plan to leave before or after the service. There are an influx of cars for the service which could make maneuvering a larger rig more challenging if you're near the pavilion. Most of the cars were gone by the time we left (which was probably 30 minutes after the service was over).

Fishing with the kids at Lake Burton Hatchery.
There is a section of the creek at the park that is only for kids and 65+ to fish. The hatchery next door has some stocked fishing ponds and we took the kids over there for some fun fishing Saturday morning. Each of my kids caught 3 small fish within an hour. They loved it and were so excited. I had to hold them at 3 each cause I could tell it was going to become a competition that might go all day.

Later in the afternoon we loaded up the kids and made our way over to Wildcat Creek to a sliding rock section on the creek. The water was really cold but the kids didn't seem to care. With some hammocks up for adults to relax in, we spent a good while there that afternoon. Eventually, we packed it in and headed home to fry some chicken strips up for dinner.

Tour of the Lake Burton Fish Hatchery.
Moccasin Creek State Park, as I mentioned, is right next to the Lake Burton Fish Hatchery. The hatchery raises trout and stocks Lake Burton and many of the trout streams in North Georgia. Here's a great video on what they do: (Lake Burton Fish Hatchery Video). On Sunday after we packed up camp, we took the kids over to the hatchery to look around. John, the hatchery manager (gentleman in the video), came out to talk to the kids. I wasn't expecting there to be anyone around on a Sunday morning. It was a nice surprise when he came out and engaged our small group to tell us about what they did there and answer questions. He even grabbed a bowl of fish food and let the kids feed the brown trout they were going to be releasing in a couple weeks! He's been working there for over 10 yrs.  He is a super nice man and really engaging with children. So if you stop by, tell him hi.

With the gear, dogs, and kids packed up, we started our trek homeward. We will definitely keep this place in mind for future trips. I'm thinking of coming back in the spring when they're stocking the creek so the kids can take a try at fishing for brown trout. Maybe we can even watch them loading up the fish in the trucks to release. I think the kids would get a kick out of that. Hopefully, next time we can stay longer as I think 2 nights was not enough time for us.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

U-hauling in Myrtle Beach State Park

Uhaul CT-13 Fiberglass Camper at Myrtle Beach State Park in South Carolina
We finally got a break to take our first camping trip of the year last weekend. We headed out to Myrtle Beach State Park in South Carolina as our accommodations for a weekend family reunion with extended family (my mom was born and raised on a farm in the area before the tourism boom). The last time we were in Myrtle Beach we camped at Huntington Beach State Park which is on the far south end. Huntington Beach SP tends to be a bit quieter and there's less traffic. Myrtle Beach SP is just south of Springmaid Pier and the south end of Ocean Blvd (known by locals as The Boulevard).

Uhaul CT-13 Fiberglass Camper at campsite at Myrtle Beach State Park in South Carolina
South of Myrtle Beach SP is most of the private owned campground resorts (aka RV parking lots). Many of them offer water parks and other amenities but since we're more of a camping family than an large RV (read condo on wheels) family just looking for a parking spot, we of course headed to the state park. The campground is very shady and has a surprising 300 or so sites for tents to RVs scattered through ~6 different loops. We stayed in site 23 and loved it. Here's where having a small camper is awesome. Site 23 is technically a tent site, but I called ahead and spoke to a ranger and told them the size of our camper and they gave me the ok to book it. It's basically the first site in the campground which means it's the closes to the beach access path. There's not a site right next to or behind it. It's very private/quiet and totally surrounded by trees/shrubs. It also has 2 perfectly spaced trees for hanging a hammock. So that's why I wanted that site. Another site we liked when we were there was site 82. It seemed quiet and a bit deep, was across the street from a small bath house and next to a little path to a playground where the kids went every day.  So if we go back, those would be my top two sites (uh-oh I let the secret out!). The 2 bath houses we used were in great shape and regularly maintained. There is a camp store open daily from 8am-9:30pm if you need something without leaving the park. The campground is not a long walk from the beach and it's located on the northern end of the park's beach.

Myrtle Beach State Park Pier
The park has it's own pier that is free to access. There are fee's if you want to fish/crab from the pier though. There is a store at the beach side of the pier also for souvenirs and bait and pay the fees for fishing. All of the hosts and park staff we interacted with were very nice. The beach is beautiful and there were not many people there when we went out in the morning. The state park does have day use access (fee per person for those not camping) to the beach so it does get busier on the weekends as the day goes on.

Totally Turtles Day at Myrtle Beach State Park
As you know if you've read this blog for a while, I'm a big fan of supporting the state parks in any state and I love to take my children camping there. One of the benefits to a state park over an RV resort, is the educational programs and activities.Unknown to us until we got there, that Saturday was a huge event with the North Myrtle Beach Sea Turtle Patrol targeted towards kids. The day's events ranged from educational talks, to looking for turtles from the pier, to arts and crafts. The kids favorite event was the life of a sea turtle obstacle course on the beach. At the end they got a "test tube" with information about their sea turtle's DNA and how many times it had nested and how many eggs it laid each time. The DNA project is interesting. I thought it was the most exciting and well thought out event I had seen. The kids had a blast! Many thanks to the NMBSTP for putting on an engaging day.

Now there are two things to be aware of when you are planning to stay at MBSP. The first is that the Myrtle Beach Airport is just northwest of the campground and they tend to land planes from the east. So there's a bit of air traffic which may not be something you're used to. We were there Friday till Monday and I'd gotten used to it by then. It does make for an incredible site for the kids on the beach to see the jets coming in for a landing. But MYR only has a single runway so they are limited to how many flights they can run each day. For those who may not be familiar with the area and are history buffs, the airport and Market Commons area to the south of it used to be Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. (My grandfather was stationed there when my Dad was in high school which is how my parents met.)

The second thing to be aware of is mentioned in tiny print on the home page of the state park:
Due to heavy visitation on Saturdays and Sundays, expect long lines when entering the park, especially from 11am to 4pm.  We appreciate your patience in advance! 
And by long lines they mean it will take you 30-45 mins to get into the park (and that's on a Sunday in early May!). Yes, we ran into that problem on Sunday at ~1pm. We spent the morning hanging out with my cousin and his kids at their beach house and came back to the camper to get ready for a dinner with the big family. Had to wait 30-45 mins in a long line to get into the park. The problem?  There's not a separate entrance for campers. So you have to go through the same entrance as all the day use folks. I'm sorry MBSP, I do love your place but that's a very poor design decision. You should provide a second entrance for campers. The main entrance is off business hwy 17 near the south end of the park and winds it's way towards the middle of the beach where the pier is. I don't understand why there's not an entrance/exit on the north end for campers since the campground is on the north end. 

In the end, it's a beautiful park and I think that during the week it's probably not as bad on the entry issues. I know that they can't control air traffic, but they really do need to setup a separate entrance for campers. That is something they can control. While the entrance on Sunday afternoon was a pain, overall we enjoyed our time and the turtle event was a huge success from what I saw.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Get outside! How We Fit 4 People and Dogs in a 13ft Uhaul Camper.

When people see our little fiberglass camper, there's usually some statement about how cool or cute it looks. That's usually followed by questions about how small it is and how do we all fit in it. :) What makes it ideal for towing and storing, is also the one thing that people seem to think is a problem for actually using it. In America, we live in spacious houses where everyone has their own room. The thought that you'd have to sleep or hang out in the same room with the rest of the family for a couple days seems inconceivable to a lot of people. We camp. We don't live out of it 100+ days a year. Yes, we would need a larger camper if we were going to actually make it our home for most of the year. But most of our trips are going to be less than 15 days.

When camping you need to realize that it's not about taking your house with you. It's about making the most of your time and experience. A tent or camper is really just a place to sleep. I explain that to people when they ask about how we all fit. We have an outdoor screen we can sit under, We go hiking, We have hammocks. When I go camping, I want the kids outside most of the time. I don't want them watching tv in a big luxury camper all day. That defeats the purpose of going camping in my opinion. That doesn't mean we don't have electronics. We have tablets with access to books for the wife and I to read. We carry dvd players that go over the back of the front seats in the car for long trips. And we can and do use them on a rainy day to watch a movie. But we don't sit inside the camper all day. So we don't need it to have a lot of room. We just need it to be warm and dry (or cool in the case of summer in the south).

The times in the camper can sometimes feel cramped if you don't plan ahead. Rainy/cold days happen. And with little ones, you have to be prepared to entertain (See my post on Entertaining Kids on a Rainy Camping Day). The other thing about the little camper is that there's not a lot of floor space. So only about 2 people can stand at once in the camper. This is why it's important to keep a neat camper and put things back in their cabinet/place. This is also why you only take what you need. Space is a premium!. One of the things my wife did was to design a way to make everyone feel like they have their own space. Each kid has their own bunk bed and we have the main bed area. See my post on the bunk bed setup to see how we gave each kid their own little room.

When you have a small camper, you have to figure out how to pack what you need without having too much stuff. There's just no room for extra stuff. The back end of our SUV becomes a key storage space during camping trips. I try to keep it organized and we keep any bulky items there plus some of the dry food. The items we keep in the camper are imperative to the camping and cooking and are the items we keep packed in the camper even when we aren't traveling. Items we keep in the camper include plates, bowls, utensils, dish detergent/cleaning products, paper towels, pots/pans, small coffee maker, toaster drying rack, and an expandable tub for washing dishes in. I also keep electrical cords, flash lights and camper maintenance gear in the camper as well. While that seems like a lot, we've trimmed down the gear to the essential. So we only take 4 plates and 4 bowls, a couple of pots and a frying pan. Most of this stuff stays in the cabinets and cubbies in the camper. All cold items are either in our mini-fridge or in a cooler left outside or in the back of the SUV. Clothes are stored in bins under the main bed.

While there is a stove in the camper, We hardly ever use it (except that one time in South Dakota when it was too cold to cook outside). I take a Coleman camp stove and my Weber Q grill and cook outside. We also do clean up outside. The camper does have a sink but it's really small and we mostly use it just to wash hands and brush teeth at. We bought a collapsible dish tub (here's ours) that we use to wash the dishes outdoors. See my other post on Adding Space to Tiny Fiberglass Camper for how we use our screen room.

So I didn't mention the dogs yet. We have 2 currently. When we first got the camper we had 2 Yorkies and a Silky which were perfect size for the little camper. Our current dogs include a Miniature Pincer and a Border Whippet. Zelda, our Border Whippet, is a lot bigger than the other dogs we've had. At ~45 lbs. she is the size of another small child. Fortunately, she is a major couch potato and loves to lay in our bed. We'll take her on walks and hikes but when we're at camp, she's happy laying on our bed and staying in the camper. At night she'll ball up at the foot of the bed usually between our feet. It's amazing how small she can make herself. We do have an outdoor dog crate we'll put smaller dogs in under the screen room. Inside, we'll either let them sleep with us or on the floor. We have put a small crate under the bed before. I usually keep my clothes in the back of the SUV to make the room under the bed for the dog crate. 

I don't think we could add another kid or a larger dog to our equation. As the kids grow, we'll need to find ways to adjust. I can see us maybe adding my small tent to the equation at some point. We also have the hammocks we take with us and I have tarps that can go over them to provide shelter. I personally love sleeping outside in a hammock. But that's part of the fun for me, figuring out how to make it work. Limiting the amount of time you feel "cramped inside" is a major win in making it work. So most importantly: GET OUTSIDE!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The New Faces of Fiberglass Campers in 2016

Fiberglass Camper Collage (HC-1, Dub Box, Nest Caravan, American Dream)
New Faces of Fiberglass Campers in 2016
If you've seen my page on how you can find your own fiberglass camper, then you know that there are many options when it comes to the molded fiberglass campers (not to be confused with fiberglass panels over a wood frame). There are many older brands that aren't in production anymore (U-Haul, Boler, Burro, etc). If you're lucky, you can find a good used one. They never seem to lose their charm no matter how old they get. And that's the great thing about fiberglass campers, they tend to last a long time unlike "stickies" that need to be rebuilt after many years. There are many companies that still make new fiberglass campers today that I've listed on that page. Some, like Scamp, have been around a long time. Others, like Lil Snoozy, are newer.

As one look at the Lil Snoozy will prove, newer ideas sometimes have some neat innovation in design. That's why those of us in the molded fiberglass community love to hear of new companies popping up and creating new models. As each new entrepreneur works to plan a design that is beautiful and useful, they bring various features to the market that have us on our toes to see what's coming next. 

Since I originally published the above mentioned page, there's been some new companies and designs hitting the market. So I thought I'd highlight a few here for you in case something piques your interest.

Happier Camper's HC-1
Happier Camper's HC-1. The Happier Camper started out as a company that renovated and rented old molded fiberglass campers in California. After years of doing this the owners decided to try their hand at building their own. The camper has a modular design to the inside to allow for various configurations. The rear hatch is a unique option not found on any other molded fiberglass camper. The retro styling and color combinations provide for a beautiful design. Check our their website for information and to see pictures.

DubBox USA Camper
DubBox USA. DubBox is also focused on a retro styling. Taking its design from old Volkswagen camper vans, it's modeled completely out of fiberglass. They currently provide 2 camper models and 2 event/food trailer models.

American Dream Camper Trailer
American Dream. The American Dream trailer takes it's unique design from a bit further back in history. Reminiscent of the 1950's trailerboats or 1960's Kompacs, the American Dream provides you with a camper and a boat. It's a beautiful camper and a neat concept. They're also much smaller than other fiberglass campers with a dry weight of 650lbs. This makes them ideal for smaller tow vehicles.

Nest Caravan Camper
Nest Caravans. If the retro look of the previous trailers doesn't do it for you, you might be interested in the Nest Caravan. With a bit more futuristic styling the Nest is also a beautifully designed option. It even has a "control center" inside. Visit their site to check out the details. UPDATE: Airstream has purchased the startup company behind the Nest and will be producing and selling it.

Please visit the above companies websites for more information on their models available and specs. If you know of any other up and coming manufacturers, leave a note in the comments below. As I discover more I'll make additional posts to highlight those options. One thing is for sure, with all the choices out there, you can find the perfect one for you and your family!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Perfect Addition to Our U-haul Camper

Old Town Saranac 146
Santa brought me the perfect addition to our U-haul Camper for Christmas, a canoe! I'm super excited to dive into a new frontier of outdoor adventures. I like to fish and I've done a little from boats but most of my fishing has been from the bank of a lake/river.

A few years back before we had kids, I got the opportunity to get my hands on a small boat. It was a old 1970s Sears Craftsman 12ft fiberglass boat. It was nice because it wasn't heavy. I actually only put a trolling motor on it and it would take me upstream on the Oconee fairly easily. After we had kids, I didn't have as much time to take it out. I was trying to get our family outdoors and camping at the time. That's when we bought the U-haul CT-13. The camper was going to replace the tent for us.

That decision pretty much put the nail in the coffin of the boat. I couldn't tow the camper and the boat when we went somewhere. And I refuse to be one of those people who take multiple vehicles so they can haul every single toy they own camping. I enjoy having my family with me outdoors, and I enjoy sharing experiences with them. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy solo trips too to decompress. (It's easier to find time to read a book when you're not entertaining 5 and 7 year olds.) But getting my family outdoors and experiencing their excitement and wonder is something I genuinely enjoy. So I sold the boat.

The obvious option, if I wanted a boat I could take with the camper, was a canoe or kayak. Something I could strap to the roof of the SUV that wouldn't impact towing the camper. So the search was on to find one. I've been saving a little money and keeping the idea in the back of my mind for a couple years. I read reviews and listed out my requirements/wants. I weighed my list and prioritized features. In the end, I opted for a canoe for now. With the kids being young, I need something I can take them out in together. You just can't find a 3 person kayak.

I settled on the Old Town Saranac. It's 14.5 ft long and while it weighs 70-something pounds, it does have good reviews. It's not too expensive at ~$499 most places online. It will seat 3 people and handle over 700 pounds. I've had it strapped on the roof and it doesn't overhang too much. For now, I think this is the best option to get my kids on the water. When they get older, we may trade-up for some kayaks. Hopefully by that time, they'll have a desire within to explore on their own.

The sad thing about getting a canoe for Christmas is that it's too cold to really enjoy it right now. Can't wait for spring to break it out. Expect to see a few more posts, photos, and videos after we've broken it in and learn more about exploring on the water as a family.