Category Archives: Camping

Top 6 Gear Requirements For Camping/Backpacking

I recently traded in my second home of five years as it was quite worn and weary (it was a three man tent) and I was now in need of smaller digs amenable to backcountry travel. Gear requirements for heading into the wild either on foot or by car are pretty simple when you break them down into necessities and I’ve learned a lot over the years about exactly what constitutes a necessity (note the top photo and my past advanced skills in overpacking non-necessities).

Gear purchase is a tricky subject for me as I stumbled into camping and backpacking without feeling like I was over-spending and this happened somewhat by accident.

Though I had car camped for years with perfectly acceptable tents from department stores, I did not fully enter the world of gear until I decided to climb Mt. Whitney solo and even then I casually borrowed a water purifier and purchased a daypack with bladder and a pair of cheap ($40) hiking boots from Big Five. That was the extent of my gear until a year later when I joined REI, bought a 3-man tent, and trekked back to Whitney with my two daughters. The tent was only part of the equation I discovered when we froze in our Disney sleeping bags and suffered through my choice of Indian food for the camp meals.

There have been many years of hits and misses with food and gear and they have taught me that the misses were not only survivable, they were partly what kept me coming back as they were inexpensive mishaps. I never felt I had to risk an exorbitant amount of money – rather the accumulation of gear was gradual, leaving my bank book free of triage.

Please know that these are 6 requirements/areas of focus designed to get you started once you’ve decided trekking will be an ongoing part of your life. My gear is not an objective choice, it’s subjective and chosen to meet the needs of my individual experience i.e. I am 5’5, have no feet issues, enjoy camping in designated sites, dispersed, and the backcountry, have hip soreness when I sleep on hard ground, and on and on. Please consider your needs when gear shopping and only use my list as your template and if your disposable income is feeling too disposed of, try borrowing gear or utilizing Gear Trade until you are ready to make bigger purchases.

* I save in the area of clothing, buying most items from thrift stores but I did recently order 2 – UV 50 shirts from Hanes for under $25.  I chose mens as the womens clothing is higher. I also belong to REI ($20 lifetime membership) and watch their clearance like a hawk.

The six places I now prioritize when doling out my money are listed below but I would love to hear your gear choices as we all benefit from the shared info so please leave specifics in the comments below and on Facebook in the comments as well.

1) TENT – For five years I depended on the REI Quarter Dome 3 person tent and it did the job so when it was time to trade in for a lighter weight/smaller backpacking tent, I compared the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 2 and  the REI Quarter Dome 2 and by compare, I mean that the incredibly helpful sales associate at REI shared that he actually had the Big Agnes and then he set both tents up so we could weigh (literally) our options. By the end of the shopping session, the associate had decided the buy the REI tent for treks that involved 2 people as he too saw our concern regarding enough space and the REI tent is roomier though a little heavier (about a pound). I’ve had stellar luck with my tent and with REI’s return policy in the past and continue to patronize REI both for this and the yearly dividends I rack up to spend in the store. *I realize no gain from endorsing REI.

2) BOOTS – It has only been this year that I am at last crossing over into pricier boots. I will update as I knock back some wear and tear on my day-hikers and my snow-friendly backpacking boots but at the moment I am happy with my choices and felt with as much time as I spend on the trail, it was time for some big kid shoes. I am clumsy and having shoes that don’t fit snug like my past boots, leads to some ungraceful albeit hilarious tripping but also to the hammer slam of my big toe in the end of the boot which causes some shrieks accompanied by salty language. I now have the Saloman Quest 4D GTX Hiking boots and they are made to withstand weight on my back and snow on the trail. *I would take issue with the descriptive that states that they are “lightweight like trail-running shoes”, they do not feel lightweight. I picked them up on sale $160 from $230. My day-hikers are Merrell Moab Ventilator Hiking Shoes and they ran $90 regular price.

3) WATER PURIFIER – From experience, I can tell you there is nothing worse than being insanely thirsty and struggling with a compromised water filter. And I can also attest to the fact that in a number of cases, if you eschew the filtering, you will log some time in the latrine. My guy gifted me with the Sweetwater one I currently use and it has performed well.

4) SINGLE BURNER STOVE – My stove is old enough that they’ve improved and lightened them so this link is pretty close to what I currently use. They last if you are careful with them.

5) SLEEPING BAG AND MAT – I use a Sierra bag rated 20 degrees and it is very lightweight. I recommend paying close attention to getting a bag that will keep you warm as cold and sleep do not mix. As for a mat, for years I used a blowup but recently switched to a small $35 Therma Rest accordion mat that has me giving slightly on comfort but loving that it is very light and unfolds easily, no blowing it up.

6) BACKPACK – I carry an REI Flash 52 backpack that is currently on clearance for $123.73 from $179. I’ve been very happy with this pack and it is holding up beautifully. I was fitted for it in the store and it has been a good choice.

These six choices cover the necessities for a backpacking/camping trip and have served me well. Now it’s your turn, what do you use on your treks or if you have not been yet, what do you hanker for?

5 Rules For Outdoor Simplicity The Right Way

The simplicity balance: when we achieve it, we are victorious. When we don’t, we struggle. I became aware of this on a recent trip to Death Valley as I sipped my coffee and stealthily watched a group of fellow campers, taking note of their picture perfect setup. Between matching bins, evidently created specifically for the top of their off-road jeep, and a large glass coffee press, they truly belonged on the cover of a magazine. As I studied them, I snorted disdainfully while simultaneously scheming a way to wrangle a cup of their glorious java (I’m thinking “coffee” is too base a description for what they were drinking).

The disdain part of the equation turned out to be fleeting and completely suspended when I remembered only days earlier being the focus of another hiker’s withering remark as I spoke to my boyfriend on my cell phone. “Can’t even go without your phone up here, huh” he said with a contrived jokey tone, laced with an obvious overdose of smug that I know all too well, having trafficked in “smug” frequently myself.

These two experiences: the observation of the wonderfully stylish desert campers and my own enjoyment of my camp partner, I-Phone 5, had me work to unravel simplicity and the “right” way to hike/camp. My conclusion? “Right” is in the eye of the beholder and perhaps it’s best to only apply it when defining our own experience. My fellow campers in the desert were low key and left their campsite immaculate upon departure and my use of my I-Phone was to connect during a 15 minute window of time, with my boyfriend who lives 1,300 miles away but even that isn’t the whole story because I truly derive enormous artistic enjoyment from both my camera and my I-Phone so including those complexities on a trip works for me. What works for one person doesn’t for another, therefore, maybe it’s time we stopped imposing a right way to be in the outdoors beyond being respectful of those around us and following the leave no trace rule.

So now that I’ve declared there is no right way to experience the great outdoors, here are my rules for simplicity.  😉

1) KNOW YOURSELF – By this, I mean literally think carefully about what your vision is and be careful to hold to it. I found a wonderful camping percolator a year ago and was over the moon. It has now sat in my closet the entire time because it makes nine cups and is too much trouble to consider using. I’m donating it this week and staying with the instant coffee that perfectly satisfies my desire to keep life in the woods unencumbered and hoping that someone else with a different vision will fully enjoy it.

2) GEAR APPROPRIATELY – Gather only gear that enhances your trip on your terms. My back country guide daughter is bewildered by my use of a tent as she has embraced sleeping out in a hammock on backpacking trips. This works for her but I still love the cocoon feeling of snoozing in a tent. In the course of my travels, I’ve bunked with those toting makeup kits, tripods, and a portable chair so there is no one size fits all in the domain of what is considered appropriate gear.

3) SHOP WISELY – Keeping life simple in the back country is more doable when you don’t shred your finances, however, this also is subjective so I will offer myself up as a target for those still addicted to smug. 😉 Just yesterday, I sailed into REI with my very used tent and explained that both zippers were falling apart. I’m an REI member and despite a shift in their liberal return policy, they looked up my purchase and saw that the tent was acquired in 2010 (under the old policy) so they gave me full value. After much consideration and the setting up of two backpacking tents (a Big Agnes tent and an REI), I went with the REI Quarter Dome 2 as the additional room was worth the pound tradeoff when envisioning my guy and myself residing in it for possibly up to five months in the back country or my son and myself residing in it for five minutes. One stuff sack and a footprint later and I forced myself from the store before adding unnecessary complexity to my kit. I spent a total of $129 (difference in tent return and purchase and addition of footprint and stuff sack). Other sources for gear are thrift stores, Craig’s List, Gear Trade, and The Clymb. And if you are starting out, try to borrow gear.

4) PREP AHEAD – This particular rule can radically shift your experience especially when applied to food. Consider making food ahead and try not to overpack, I still have not achieved the latter but have switched from a singular large ice chest to two, a teeny one and a small one also thereby keeping the food a bit more accessible and decipherable in two areas as opposed to one. Often, I make potatoes and onions in advance and have them as a staple for both breakfast and dinner and sort food by when it will be eaten.

5) REDUCE – If you find you are feeling encumbered on your trips, take inventory and remove some of your setup. On my most recent camping trip, I did not take potatoes and inadvertently only took hand-held/campfire foods which proved to be luck upon discovering I forgot plates. This little snafu inspired a huge light bulb moment and on some future trips, I will look to eat with minimal dishes as I realized I did not even take a skillet and stuck to one pot to boil water for coffee and tea. I’ve also over the years greatly streamlined my clothing and find that it works out fine when you combine showering with washing out undergarments and yes, you can use shampoo as laundry detergent for your panties with no ill effects. Some folks swear by Dr. Bronner’s for an all-inclusive soap but I found it to be terrible for my hair. I generally use regular shampoo for my hair and laundry and stick to coconut oil for everything else from face-wash to moisturizer.

The most frequent feedback I get from fellow travelers overwhelmingly centers around a craving for leaving behind the complexity of daily life and enjoying the simpler things. Camping can bring a sense of peace or it can start to creep insidiously in the direction of more and more “necessities” as in my camping percolator. The only person who can decide where the buck stops in the most literal sense, is you. Your trip belongs to you and you alone have the power to create it in a manner that syncs with your soul so get started. Time is finite but the possibilities are endless and you deserve this.

Share/like and Tweet if you wish. Always grateful. 🙂

The Nitty And The Gritty: 10 Steps On A Solo Trip

Teri’s hilarious collection of short stories, THE THINGS I CANNOT DO,  is available at Amazon for under $5!

I often read articles that optimistically enroll me in an idea but then I can’t quite figure out how to execute it or I discover it’s not my talent. The wildly crooked, crocheted scarves I attempted in the past (and wear) are proof of this. Today’s post is shared with the hope that if you want to take on an adventure and feel confused about how to get started, some answers and some truth (the nitty and the gritty) might be helpful so…here we go.

December 2014 rolled around and I found myself once again coveting some wilderness snowshoeing. This had been a desire for years but every time I planned, weather and/or logistics derailed me. This time, the challenge was money. If I went for it, it would need to be on a tight budget. Before I continue, please know that I believe on a dime is subjective and generally I pick and choose a splurge or two so this overview is just my personal experience and money-saving strategy on this particular trip. If you stay at the Yosemite Lodge, don’t feel guilty, take a friend along…or message me.  😉

Here’s the way my Yosemite snowshoeing trip went down, step by step:

1) I found a ham on sale after Thanksgiving ($8 marked down from $27) and cut the leftovers into several portions and placed them in baggies, in the freezer. I also made split pea soup w/ ham in it. On Saturday December 20th, I packed the ham portions, soup portions, instant oatmeal (I ended up eating none of the oatmeal), peanut butter, oranges, tea bags, coffee (pre-perked in a thermos), 1/2&1/2, homemade peanut butter cookies and homemade oatmeal raisin bars, and a bottle of whiskey (splurge). Left over from another trip, I had two Mountain House egg and bacon pouches (this is a huge splurge that on my budget I don’t indulge in so I was thrilled that my guy had previously purchased these and left them behind). If you have the money, these are so EASY and no mess to clean up.

2) My gear became a creative challenge when my mat sprung a leak so I packed 3 bed pillows for cushion from the cold ground and 1 for my head. I knew I would not be backpacking so hauling stuff was doable. I brought from home – my tent, 3 sleeping bags (1 fantastic Sierra bag rated 20 and 2 cheapie 30 rated bags), camp chair, single burner stove, firewood (oak, don’t buy wood in Yosemite, it is a fortune), headlamp, lantern (I have never used the lantern in a decade so why I continue to pack it is a mystery), matches, mess kit (created from my kitchen), and cooler w/ my food. **3 sleeping bags? Yes, I used one as extra padding over the pillow bed and I slipped my Sierra bag in the other for additional warmth. I freeze easily and had noted the low 20s night temps and prediction of frost in the weather report and it had rained the previous day so it was still damp. **I did not pack a full med kit, HUGE mistake.

3) Sunday at 6am, I hit the road (cost for fuel from LA to Yosemite was $30, my car gets about 34 mpg). Arrived at my campsite at 1pm. The entry fee for Yosemite was $20 and it was $5 per night to camp in Camp 4. A good thing to know is that Camp 4 was tame and very mellow as I was there in the off-season but this is a well-known, historical rock climbing camp so in the busier season there are early lines for the first come/first serve sites of which, up to 6 tents can share a single fire ring. There are multiple bear lockers at each site and a number of picnic tables throughout.

4) I set up in about 20 minutes but left my Sierra bag and my firewood locked in my car. I do not worry about theft generally but have learned from another on a dimer – when she had her firewood stolen – to leave the important things locked when I can. After setting up, I headed out on the hike right at the base of the campsite which leads to Upper Yosemite Falls (this is an uphill climb). In all, I ended up doing only about 4 miles as I was suddenly hit with what I thought was a violent allergic reaction. I was sneezing and coughing insanely.

Hike view
THIS is the view from the hike about 1/2 way
Waterfall first glance
Yosemite Falls from the trail

5) Hiking back down was tiring and I took a quick break to call my guy and instantly felt perhaps I was suffering from more than allergies. An hour later (5pm) and I was in my sleeping bag, drinking a hot whiskey, water, and fresh orange juice. The next 14 hours brought shivering fever, sore throat, coughing, chest congestion, and finally euphoria. Euphoria? Yes but I would never in a million years suggest that this is the norm nor that it could be duplicated. I’m assuming it was a combo of the fever, whiskey, and the arrival of a couple that only spoke Dutch. My eldest daughter’s boyfriend is Dutch and as I eavesdropped on this couple clinking bottles, cooking, and making a fire, I had the supreme feeling of comfort that comes from access to something joyful and familiar. It was as if my daughter and her guy were right outside my tent. The night passed peacefully and a side note: right before collapsing in my tent, I witnessed the most glorious sunset over Half Dome. This view of Half Dome is from the parking lot of Camp 4.

Half Dome sunset 1
Half Dome sunset from Camp 4

6) I woke and felt weak but better and drank some tea and ate a Mountain House. The Mirror Lake hike (near Curry village) is a piece of cake so I strolled that one and then headed to Curry Village to hand over $15 for DayQuil (not fun). After consulting with my guy on the phone, it was decided I would sit in my camp chair in the sun and drink herbal tea all day, log some more sleep and then the following morning either head directly to my daughter’s house in Tahoe if I was sicker or go for the snowshoeing if I was better.

Mirror Lake
Mirror Lake

7) I managed a fire with my oak and some discarded boxes left in a bear locker. Note to you: bring kindling because I would’ve been in a world of hurt if not for the boxes. I ate split pea soup and relaxed by the fire and then got in my sleeping bag with my book by 7pm.

Campfire and view from Camp #4

8) My alarm sounded at 7am and this is something to take notes on as I believe I finally have conquered breaking camp when it is hatefully cold. I activated the hand warmers, placed them in my gloves and packed up the car. Dismantling metal tent poles with ice on them was so much more doable with the hand warmers. After the car was loaded, I fired up the single burner stove and made my Mountain House and coffee while the car warmed up and melted the ice off of my windshield. **Bring an ice scraper unlike yours truly.

9) White Lightning (my little Hyundai) was pointed toward Badger Pass by 8am and I arrived 10 minutes after they opened the rental area. The snowshoes were $24 for the day and I only made a slight ass out of myself when I considered putting them on INSIDE the rental area (you attach them when you are already in the snow). I had been told by many that snowshoeing is horrendously arduous but I found it required the same exertion as regular hiking. Now, it is important to note that I was traversing snowshoe trails so the snow was pretty packed. The arduous part would’ve occurred if I had taken on unmarked areas of deeper, powdery snow. I learned this upon exploring those areas and took a few ungraceful stumbles when the snowshoes stuck. The end result was that I fell in love with snowshoeing and will do it again. There is silence and beauty and such stillness when you leave the congested areas and head into the forest. I literally only saw three other hikers for the first three hours I was out. If you enjoy company and want to skip the $24 rental fee, Yosemite offers daily guided snowshoeing hikes *Scroll to the bottom of the link and the snowshoes are included. I ended up hiking 4 hours and then had to head to Tahoe but I will absolutely return to explore more trails.

Snowshoeing finally!

Stunning stillness

10) Overall, this trip was lovely despite the complications. I’m often asked if I get lonely or am ever afraid when camping and trekking alone and the answer is, yes. Sometimes I am lonely and miss camaraderie and sometimes I am afraid but that is rare and really it’s the same experience as hearing an unfamiliar bump in the middle of the night in my home. I also have been asked if I miss luxury and the answer to that is, yes, sometimes, but I feel I experience the return to civilization in an enhanced manner after time in a tent. Soaking in a hot lavender and eucalyptus oil bath is a million times better after camping – and drinking a glass of wine with family and friends feels more joyful after solitude. There are always times of imperfection, derail, regroup, and breakdown, but the moments of sweet perfection outweigh any less than stellar experiences. It is that sweet perfection – so very powerful – that pulls me back time and time and there has never been a trip that did not deliver multiple versions of euphoria.

Finally, is this for everyone? No. I get that some people don’t derive pleasure from roughing it but for those dreaming this little dream, go ahead, what are you waiting for? If a misfit like me can figure it out, you can too. You deserve that sunrise/sunset, campfire, frosty morning air, perked coffee, aroma therapy bath. Take it.

See our other articles on Mount Whitney and Half Dome if you covet backpacking as well as our simple “how to” tab for planning.

Please feel free to share/like on Facebook. Always grateful.  🙂

On A Dime Spirit: The Real Deal ~by Adam Bergstrasser

The Bergstrasser Family

On A Dime Adventure is so very thrilled to have our first guest blog post and it deserves a teeny-tiny back story. We noticed fellow traveler, Adam Bergstrasser generously sharing some of his tips via our Facebook page and as a result, I asked if he’d be open to guest posting. Adam enthusiastically agreed but with the disclaimer that he’d not blogged before so his work might benefit from a possible creative edit. Well, here it is completely untouched because we found it to be perfect. Enjoy the blend of practical advice, coupled with the story of a family that figured out the spirit of On A Dime living long before I ever started my journey. My only addition is the title as I figured Adam would be  too humble to have come up with the one I thought he deserved.

So now without further adieu, meet the Bergstrassers.  ~Teri

On A Dime Spirit: The Real Deal

by Adam Bergstrasser

I’ve always loved the outdoors. When I was a child, my parents often took me camping at a lake outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma. As a teenager I began backpacking and camping in the mountains of New Mexico. I could never afford fancy gear, so most of my stuff came from friends and garage sales. I didn’t care. It was never about having the “right” gear, it was the act of getting away from town and into the wild that I loved.

When I met my wife twenty years ago, I was excited about introducing her to my outdoor world; minimalist camping, long treks, and amazing vistas. I quickly realized that if I wanted to continue this lifestyle, I needed to invest in a few creature comforts. On one payday, I bought a lantern. On another, a folding table. Soon we were packing a minivan to the rafters with all kinds of crazy stuff for each trip, but hey… we were camping! When gas was a buck a gallon, it was something we could afford to do as often as we liked. We took half a dozen mini-vacations each year to the mountains around Albuquerque. It was what we did. It defined our family.

Then I let life intrude. Making money became more important to me than quality time, and I chased construction projects around three different states. I worked seventy hours a week. We took an occasional scenic drive, but the camping gear gathered dust. I became homesick and dissatisfied. One evening in Austin, I came home and told my wife, “Baby… I want to go home.” We talked about the quality of life we wanted for ourselves and our three daughters, and decided that time together outweighed whatever we could buy them with more money. That was a hard decision. I took a 50% pay cut to move back to Albuquerque. It was a very difficult adjustment, but I pictured a time filled with camping trips. Singing around a fire. S’mores. Lots of pictures. Lots of memories for my daughters to carry with them for a lifetime.

When our savings account was almost empty, my wife handed me our last $800 and said, “Go buy us a camper.” She’s so smart. I’d wanted one for years. That 1977 Coleman pop-up saved us. We began camping again and really enjoying it. After a couple years we traded up for a new(er) 1988 pop-up, and proceeded to drag it all over the West. Life was good.

Over the last eight years, we’ve been to some amazing places. We’ve seen sights that I’m sure people pay a lot of money for, and we’ve done it on a very tight budget. How? I’ve used two keys: research and the government. Before every one of our “big” trips, I spend hours, days, sometimes weeks online. I look for the most scenic routes, the most interesting roadside attractions, and the biggest waterfalls. And I key in on all of the properties that I own. That’s right. Public property. National Forests. National Parks. BLM land. It’s my vacation secret. Everywhere we’ve been, I’ve been able to find a place to stay for between zero and thirty dollars a night. It doesn’t matter if you own a nice new camper or a $10 yard sale tent, you can stay at an incredibly beautiful campsite on public lands for free or close to it.

To be honest, I’m not much of a people person. When I camp, I want to be as far away from other folks as possible, so most of our trips are to primitive sites in the National Forests in New Mexico or Colorado. No facilities, no neighbors, and total peace. I even take a trip or two by myself every year. I’ve realized, though, that not everyone is as antisocial as I am. I’ve also realized that some of the best places in nature just happen to have a lot of other people appreciating them, too. If it was up to me, I would just go backpacking, but there are other people making this trip with me. My daughters love little mountain towns with lots of tourist shops. My wife likes waterfalls and showers (which, I learned quickly, are NOT the same thing). So I tailor our trips accordingly. Some wilderness hikes for dad, some tourist towns for the girls, lots of waterfalls for my love, and always with hot showers nearby.

Sure, you can pay a lot of money to stay in a nice hotel or cabin, but did you know that the Forest Service rents out the most amazing mountain cabins all over the West? Yup. They’re so cool. Look it up:

Did you know that for $80 a year you can buy a pass that gets you and everyone in your car into all kinds of federal and state lands for free?

AND all of these places are on a map:

You might have to haul your own water. You might have to sleep on a bunk and use an outhouse. You might have an encounter with wildlife… But here’s the key, the secret, the amazing truth: THESE ARE THE THINGS THAT MAKE MEMORIES! Your kids may not remember another plane flight, another vacation lodge, another trip… but they will DEFINITELY remember that time you burned your eyebrows off trying to start a fire (not that I recommend this)! They will remember that night the tent collapsed around you in a rainstorm. They will remember standing under a massive sandstone arch after a long hike in Utah. They will remember every wild deer, waterfall, and quirky roadside store. Last time I checked, all these things are free.

Sometimes I know I could do a better job as a husband and father. Sometimes I wonder if my choices are the best. But several times a year, I sit by a fire with my family, after a day filled with amazing sights and adventures that I was able to bring my family on because I researched and studied hard. I was very careful with my money. I took advantage of all the free things I could find along the way. I feel full. I feel peaceful. I feel complete. I never, ever, miss or regret giving up chasing a buck. I am super dad.
Happy camping!
-Adam Bergstrasser

Please feel free to “like”/share to Facebook and/or Tweet.

10 Tips For Cold Weather Camping

Teri Clifton’s collection of humorous/sentimental essays, THE THINGS I CANNOT DO, is now available on Amazon!!

Camping in warm weather is lovely and requires little more than a tent and sleeping bag but for those venturing out in chillier weather, a few tricks can make the experience a sublime one rather than a shiver one. *Extra info about gear we’ve used can be found in our permanent camping section.

1) Tent – Truly most any tent will suffice as long as you are not knee deep in snow or truly in extreme temperatures, however, bring or purchase tent stakes and secure your casa down to the ground to minimize unwanted breeze.

2) Sleeping Bag & Mat – This one is important if you chill constantly (I do!) Easy-peasy fix, look at the rating. I’m fine with a 20 degree rated bag that I purchased from REI. Mine is a mummy bag but I will confess that turning over and keeping the head area straight can be a tad irritating so consider this when making a purchase. If you are trying out cold weather camping and borrowing gear is possible – do it – or check into renting. If you embrace sleeping in the wild, go ahead and invest in your bag – mine is like sleeping in a cloud and I am grateful every time I use it. *Zip-together sleeping bags are great for couples. Inflatable mats keep the cold from your body and truly make a big difference but if you are not ready to commit to that cost, place a folded blanket under you for extra warmth and padding.

3) Stove – This is a little tidbit that can make a frigid morning divine. I place my backpacker stove right outside my tent with water and instant coffee at the ready. When I wake I simply lean out and fire up the stove (it is located away from and outside the tent, NOT INSIDE THE TENT). My coffee is made quickly and then I drink it in my sleeping bag, in the tent, if it is too cold to consider drinking it outside.

4) Hand/Foot Warmers – These are a few bucks and I found them on clearance last year in the spring and stocked up. Grab them and pack them in, you will be thrilled, especially when drifting off to sleep sans icicle toes.

5) Pre-cook – This is so important when considering how much longer it can take to create food when your hands are freezing and dealing with water is tear-inducing. I pre-make potatoes with olive oil, seasonings, kale, peppers, and onion in the oven and then pack it up in ziploks. This makes for an easy heat/fry in a skillet rather than cooking from scratch. I also add eggs and make a protein rich, pan scramble for breakfast. Most foods can be pre-cooked and stashed in a cooler and this strategy keeps fingers from frost bite.

6) Stocking Cap/Hat – Some people don’t realize you can double up hats and it will double up warmth. I wear a snug stocking cap and then a mukluk brand hat that ties over the stocking cap. Toasty!

7) Leggings – These are for guys also and I can vouch for the fact that we did not disown cousin Andy when he wore a Jolly Green Giant pair repeatedly for years on camping trips. On A Dime style leggings (used) can be found for a song at thrift stores and for anyone recoiling… two words, washing machine. I have 3 pairs that are all used, in excellent shape, and cost me next to nothing.

8) Fireside – We’ve all envisioned hanging around the campfire while roasting marshmallows and then had reality crash in as we hovered over the fire while plotting with our fellow a campers a way to create a fire ring that we could stand in the center of so our backs would quit freezing. Well, there is an easier solution IF YOU ARE CAREFUL. I place my sleeping bag in my chair and get in, HOWEVER, again I reiterate that you must stay back a little as you do not want errant sparks connecting with your bag. This is obviously not a good suggestion in cases of any wind.

9) Hike – This solution to chill can be a no-brainer. If you get cold, get moving. Night hike a bit in advance of bed to take the chill off before hunkering down in your sleeping bag and get up in the morning and get moving as you will immediately warm up.

10) Car Camp – In any scenario where the cold just gets to be too much, if you have a sleep-amenable car, use it. I drive a teeny Hyundai Accent and slept in it for 5 days recently while in rainy, high elevation as the car was warm and a piece of cake to camp in. A HUGE discovery, if possible, park with your front end slightly elevated. When you lay your front seat back, the incline will work with you to angle the seat flat. I felt like I was sleeping in a bed when I figured this out. If you have the luxury of a back area to sleep in, consider a portable mattress that inflates with a cigarette lighter.

Cold weather camping isn’t for everyone but I am here to tell you that I have awakened to gentle snow and a steaming mug of coffee and felt that there was no better place on earth to be. And I have left at sunrise to hike a bit and seen sites that brought home to me the meaning of the word “awe”. Go ahead, try some camping this fall or maybe even winter and let us know if you come up with any tricks as we are grateful for the community information share.

*Try Gear Trade for deals on whatever it is you are in need of. We do not realize any gain from you using their products or visiting their site and we absolutely appreciate hearing of your experience as we are careful about what we recommend.

Feel free to “like”/share to Facebook and/or Tweet. We’re always grateful.

10 Ways To Enjoy Traveling Alone

A recent solo, five day trek across four states by car left me with a new understanding. This understanding did not culminate in a – never before experienced – deep enlightenment, rather it culminated in a realization of what I truly value. This came about by simply being present to, not all, but most moments. Magnifying pieces of time that were finite, one sunset, one foggy morning, one hail storm – thankfully only one hail storm.

These steps should help imprint a solo trip right onto your heart and soul and create meaning and awe in simple, teeny – tiny slices of time.

1) Drive – Significant miles, as in 1,345 miles for moi, across New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada before turning back toward Los Angeles. If you enjoy driving like I do, the miles will encourage a hypnotic trance that allows for all of life’s junk to just fade away.

2) Pause – This refers to stopping along the way and the style I chose was to avoid truck stops and gift shops and instead pull over in areas where the landscape rocked my soul. One note, watch for ants in Arizona. I was stung/bitten by some python anaconda viper boa ant that had my foot on fire for hours – talk about pause.

3) Chill – Bring a cooler and fill it with healthy food and drinks and skip the fast food along the way. To share specifically, I carried peanut butter, bagels, apples, and trail mix as well as iced tea, coffee, and water. Picnicking is more appealing when you pack goodies so I included chocolate chip cookies and banana bread as well as some favorite candy. It is much more relaxing to stare across a magnificent landscape than a busy McDonald’s at lunch rush.

4) Read – Books are a boon when traveling alone and I had a delicious one along. I ended one evening in a rain/hail storm by reading for hours and it was sublimely cozy.

5) Sing – This is one category where I part company with most solo travelers. I decided to do my five days in silence. No radio or music of any kind. I checked out of news and media with the exception of stopping and posting to the On A Dime website. I found that the silence went from a bit intimidating to a relief, however, I did engage in a bit of loud a cappella singing with the windows down. The music choice is purely subjective so if it enhances your trip then by all means, include it but if silence is enticing, go for it.

6) Write – If you enjoy keeping a journal, immerse yourself now. Consider a scrapbook with notes, mementoes, and photos. Artistic sketches and/or watercolors are also nice and don’t worry about how your art/words will appear to others, this can be just for you.

7) Watch – One morning, leaving the Grand Canyon after camping alone, I debated about where to stop for coffee when the location was suddenly right before me. A huge meadow with wildflowers. I popped out my stove (see gear) and quickly made coffee while watching the wildflowers open as the sun hit them. Another stop had me enjoying baby birds as the mother flew back and forth, bringing them food.

8) Unplug – As mentioned above, checking out of social media or even taking big blocks of time away can bring about a peace and renewal. I fall victim to thinking I am somehow unfeeling or irresponsible if I step away from news and current events and yet I know that truly the world moves right on whether I am actively in the mix or not and maybe being in the mix also means physically soaking ourselves in what came before Macintosh.

9) Reduce – This refers to your packing, your daily routine, and your place in the world. Pack lightly, eat simply, and grab the realization that not a whole lot matters beyond where you are headed and what you will pull from  the cooler for your next meal which can occur whenever the heck you get hungry, not when it’s time. As for your place in the world, revel in the fact that you are not your job, you are not your hobby, and you are not your opinion. You are only this teeny, tiny, stunningly wonderful traveler upon a new uncharted territory that is open to your visit.

10) Play – Yes, play. Claim any interpretation of this that pleases you. Splash in a creek, photograph flowers, partake in yoga on a mountain, sip herbal tea in the forest, or simply do nothing. As long as you are leaving no trace, your experience of the places you visit is yours to define. If taking a guided tour is a pleasing break from being alone, then do it or if staying solo and meditating for hours rocks your soul, then carve out the time for that. This is your play time and in this world of hard work and struggle, play time should be more highly valued. Start a trend.

Don’t wait, begin immediately. Even if it’s a weekend or a day or an hour, take some moments and call them your own. Getting better acquainted with the joyful, creative you, will be something you’ll never regret.

*Safety? See our articles on traveling and feel free to “like”/share on Facebook and/or Tweet. Grateful.

10 Safety Tips For Camping Alone 

10 Road Trip Tips

5 Things To Know About Free Camping

10 Safety Tips For Camping Alone

Camping alone can be a time of discovery. Discovery that you are adept at making a fire on your own and discovery that the crinkling sound of a new rain jacket can convincingly mimic a stealthy animal creeping up behind you. For the record, I only swung around in terror three times.

To keep terror at bay and peace and Zen flowing, we’ve compiled a little checklist that seems to aid in times of sneaky rain jackets. This list is also designed for the purpose of being prepared and putting your loved ones at ease as you strike out to explore some righteous beauty.

1) Leave an itinerary with a point person and check in daily to let them know your whereabouts. *Obviously this is subjective and if your aim is to spend some solo time off the grid, adjust your plan accordingly but do make a plan and leave it with someone responsible. If you still doubt this wisdom, watch the movie 127 Hours.

2) Photograph your car tag and message it to your point person.

3) Take plenty of water. On my recent road trip, which included a piece with my 15 year old son, a piece with my guy, and then the final leg – just wrapping now – solo, I carried no fewer than 3 gallons of water and depending on dispersed camping plans, up to 6 gallons as well as my purifier. I also had a large ice chest filled with ice and assorted drinks.

4) Pack plenty of food. It’s unlikely you’d get into trouble with hunger on road trips or car camping but having plenty of snacks is a boon on long drives.

5) Look around your camp-spot and note other campers as it can give piece of mind to connect with neighbors. I connected with a variety of individuals that included a young fly fisherman, a group of college kids, a retired couple, and several other solo female campers. The point is, reach out and connect with others unless – once again – you are really craving 100% solitude. I had hours and hours of solitude but still felt a sense of connectedness that was reassuring.

6) Touch base with rangers and get the lay of the land. They are your greatest allies in any time of trouble.

7) Bring extra warm clothing. I encountered temps in the 30s in CO in Aug.

8) Check weather. I chose a campsite under trees and off the lake in one area due to storm forecast and sure enough, pea sized hail appeared and had me hoping for no overachieving golfball hail to follow. If lightning joins your campout like it did mine on the north rim in the Grand Canyon, get in your car, turn off all electronics and make certain all windows are rolled entirely up.

9) Be conservative with alcohol. This was not really a consideration for me as I found I had absolutely no desire for spirits while alone. A few times I considered a beer or hot toddy but felt chamomile tea was more in keeping with my solo mood and spirits fit better when I was with loved ones. Dulled senses are not the best scenario when a middle of the night scuffling calls for a loud “go away, bear!” tone in order to scare off chipmunks. Hey, I figured if they heard “bear”, they’d also wonder if there was one around and scoot.

10) Be discreet. By this, I mean fly under the radar and no need to tell anyone along the road that you are camping alone and where you will be. Despite the fact that my latest road trip was designed to share with On A Dime, I waited to list places I’d camped until after I’d gone. The excitement of passing along amazing sites and great finds was very doable after the fact. No need for paranoia, just pragmatism.

A solo trip can be a learning experience on many levels. There will most likely be moments of frustration, nervousness, joy, peace, introspection, awareness, humor and a myriad of other emotions. And any time fear has wandered into your psyche as in a devious rain jacket, try redirecting thoughts to the coming sunrise and the beautiful sites on your agenda and if that doesn’t work, yell “go away, bear!”

Feel free to share on Facebook and/or tweet! Grateful.

5 Great/Cheap Locales & Links

On occasion – ok frequently – here at On A Dime we extoll doing as we say and not as we did. In other words, skip sleeping in the car during a lightning storm but be sure to enjoy the sunset (calm) before the said storm.

This list, links, and overview offer some 20/20 hindsight from our recent road trip that will have you bypassing snafus in favor of success and we’ve broken it down into a concise little list to aid in visiting these awesome places. More in-depth articles to follow on individual areas of interest.

1) ZION (UTAH) – Utah’s first national park and well worth the time to visit. Do as we say, take time. We did this in too big of a hurry due to weather and enjoyed a hike in The Narrows but will return to explore more in depth. Weather, and we’re saying it again as it determines so powerfully how the visit goes and if you can roll with speeding things up – like we did – or delaying them then weather’s impact can be lessened. Absolutely take the EARLY shuttle from the visitor center as the popular hikes get more crowded throughout the day. Camp? Yes, however, make a reservation or get to the state campground at the noon checkout time for first come/first serve.  And here are your links. General Info. Camping (1/2 mile from the entrance). Free camping? Yes but always check current status by reading comments at the bottom of the camp listing.

2) GRAND CANYON (NORTH RIM ARIZONA) – This experience was so close to perfect that we cannot wait for the article to share. **Update – here’s our article on FREE camping at the north rim! We would’ve hit perfect if not for the weather, we endured a nasty lightning storm. This are is free. No park fees, no camp fee and there is a stunning view as well as trailhead within the camping area. You will traverse 27 miles of dirt/rock road but our Hyundai made it just fine. And here are your links. General Info. Camping. Free Camping at Locust Point.

3) LAKE POWELL (ARIZONA & UTAH) – In terms of lakes, you cannot go wrong with Lake Powell. The park entrance fee is $15 for 7 days but then the camping, ON THE BEACH, is free. You can choose fee camping at the resort or free camping and this place is heaven. And here are your links. General Info.  Camping fee and free. Top Ten Beaches.

4) PALO DURO CANYON (TEXAS) – We’re talking Texas and it’s pretty grand which is why this canyon is touted as the mini grand canyon. The soil is red and the sunrises and sunsets are stunning. We spent $5 per head to enter the park and then $12 per night to camp. There are a number of camping choices but none offer rim view sites. Recommended book to take along, LONESOME DOVE by Larry McMurtry. And here are your links. General Info. Camping. Free camping (an hour away, Lake Meredith, all sites are FREE looks worth investigating and we were sad to not have the opportunity).

5) WICHITA WILDLIFE REFUGE (OKLAHOMA) – If you ever wonder what it might have been like over a hundred years ago when Bison roamed free, wonder no more. You can camp on the Wichita Wildlife Refuge where Bison and Longhorns roam free. That’s correct, they’re not fenced in and it is stunning to see them placidly grazing on the open range. And here are your links. General Info. Camping.

These five stop-offs offer freebies and very inexpensive fees. If you are in any of these areas or road tripping, put them on your list and sit back and enjoy the money that is still in your pocket.

“Like” our page on Facebook and/or Tweet if you wish, we are always grateful.

Hike Narrows

5 Things To Know About Free Camping

Teri Clifton’s collection of hilarious essays, THE THINGS I CANNOT DO, is now available on Amazon for under $5 and includes her misfit Mount Whitney summit.

Here at On A Dime, we talk about free camping a lot, a whole lot. We lead off our lodging article with freebie camping. Obviously, staying somewhere for absolutely no cost is pretty outrageous but for those of you who have never done this, you may wonder if it is too good to be true. Here are your answers.

1) IS IT REALLY FREE? Yes. It really is free, however, we would not want to leave out amazing campsites that cost very little so we include those anytime we have them available as well. Backcountry/backpacking is free or darn near free in most areas and a whole different experience from developed campsites. *Great example of free camping was on the north rim of the Grand Canyon!

Campsite along the river
Campsite along the river in the Hoh Rain Forest

2) ARE THEY REALLY NICE? We don’t feature any sites that we consider unappealing for any reason. We encourage you to Google sites for info but then also absolutely search for photos! Here is an example of freebie camping at Gumboot Lake photos (not taken by On A Dime) in the Mt. Shasta, CA area. Having been there, we can confirm that these photos accurately represent the campground.

On A Dime photo of Gumboot from a campsite

3) DO THEY HAVE RUNNING WATER? Not always and this is very important to note. We feel it is also not a bad idea to travel with adequate jugs of water anyway. Car trouble in rural areas with no water is no fun.

$5 camping at Tuttle Creek, approx. 10 miles from Whitney and elevation 5,120
$5 camping at Tuttle Creek, approx. 10 miles from Mt. Whitney, CA and elevation 5,120

4) WHAT ABOUT BATHROOMS? Also a wild card but often they’ll have pit toilets and for the most part, we’ve had luck in that they’ve been pretty clean and odor-free. Come prepared w/ a small garden hand shovel and be prepared to dig and cover. If you’d like a giggle, know that on multiple camp trips when the kids were little, this On A Dimer brought the kiddie potty with plastic bag liners and more than one adult was known to utilize it as well. This also comes in handy during car travel with wee ones needing to wee-wee.

Sunrise Lake Yosemite, no bathroom and 3 mile hike in
Fall is in the air
Fall is in the air in Kansas and yes, Elk City has bathrooms

5) IS IT SAFE? That is up to interpretation and asking the rangers in the area is beyond smart. We’ve had wonderful experiences and passionately love the pristine and Zen energy the non-fee sites  offer. Only once did we feel uncomfortable and leave due to there being no one in the area except a lone and unseen camper in a cave. This turned out to be kismet after a park ranger offered us an alternate site in an area nearby that turned out to be stunning and offered a view of the mountain range that houses Mount Whitney. Remember that there is safety in numbers and you save even more money (see Grand Canyon article) by splitting more ways!

*Fire, critter, and food safety? Check this link.

Finally, go ahead and try some free camping and enjoy spending your hard-earned, adventure dollars elsewhere. You deserve it!

Share to Facebook and/or Tweet it if you like it and thank you tons!

Grand cyn sunset
Grand Canyon, North Rim has some dispersed camping, south rim we camped at Mather for $28 w/ amenities
Kings Canyon $40 each for the whole weekend

10 Vacation Money Savers

If you are pining to get out of town and the urge for a vacation hit yesterday, last week, last month, it’s not too late so let’s get it started. The goal of On A Dime Adventure is to share ideas for getaways without spending a fortune and after a recent money-saving article‘s popularity, we’re looking to provide more information that encourages travel for less cost.


1) LODGING – Yes, we here at On A Dime rely heavily on camping (see #2) for a small fee or dispersed for free, however, we completely “get” that there are non-campers so here you go. Hostels. Yep, they have gone mainstream and offer private rooms for less than hotels. You most likely will need a reservation in the peak season but if you come up empty-handed, call for last minute cancellations. We are in no way suggesting the kind of luck we had is a given but we did score last minute accommodations via cancellations for a group of 6 on 4th of July, two years in a row at the Yosemite Bug which offers a day spa as well as beer and wine in the restaurant.  After a hearty Half Dome visit, this hostel offered an amazing respite. The photo below was our view from the Montara Hostel on the coast of California. Check out our article on COUCHSURFING, written by guest blogger, Lexie Davis.

View from our room
View from our room

2) CAMPING – This is the best way to spend no money or to save a lot of money and we depend on a strategy that has been successful repeatedly. We camp first, hostel or cabin second, and then hotel for our final night. We save big time as is illustrated on this trip to Big Sur. If you compare our camping, cabin, and hotel fees, you’ll see the savings created by combining rather than spending the entire time at the hotel.

3) ACTIVITIES FOR KIDS – These ideas rock the little ones and make for some inexpensive fun for the parents as well.

4) BEACH GETAWAYS – This link makes a very good point in the money-saving game, stay close to home. Whatever body of water is closest, explore that first. To drive this home, we are including photos of Lake Texoma a huge body of water that lands 1/2 in Oklahoma and 1/2 in Texas.


tealights = ambiance
tealights = ambiance

Obviously, the ocean is lovely but there are amazing lakes that are stunning and off the beaten path. Below is Elk City State Park in Kansas.

Kansas $15 a night
Kansas $15 a night

5) AMUSEMENT PARKS – Go ahead and jump on Priceline for all-inclusive packages. This will be your best bet. The  On A Dime strategy in peak season is to get a good package and perhaps consider bringing food to the park and storing it in a locker. Heed this warning, water bottles are expensive so go ahead and bring personal (non-glass) bottles to fill from the fountains and, if you desire, powdered flavor packets like lemonade.

Sta Monica Pier2

6) NATIONAL PARKS – Here’s a timeless article on some of the stunning sites that are not to be missed. Personal experience at the Grand Canyon allows us to impart to travelers that as the day wears on, the lines to get in the parks can swell. Be an early bird and avoid the wait and the crowds.

7) GOLF VACATIONS – This link was billed as cheap golf vacations but we here at On A Dime feel it’s more in line with less expensive as golf is never truly cheap. That said, for the rabid golfers, this link does provide ideas on spending less.

8) HOUSE SWAP – Just like it sounds. Trade your house for one in your vacation location and save hugely. Adventurers, many of you are in contact with friends/family all over the world via social media. Consider swapping with someone in your circle. Also check out Airbnb for cheaper accommodations offered by private individuals. You’ll have the opportunity to choose lodging in a variety of locales with a variety of styles. Prices vary. Also Vacation By Owner (VRBO) for private homes for less overall cost. We’ve used VRBO a number of times and never had a bad experience.

9) FOOD – If eating out, SPLIT. The end. Portions are almost always way too much for one person so split your meal but please tip your waitstaff as if you’d purchased individual meals. 🙂 The service is not halved when the food is split.  The photo below is an actual breakfast for less than $10 at the Mount Whitney portal and the pancake is the bomb in flavor as well as size!

BRK Portal

10) SAVE ON GAS – Friends, we cannot impress upon you enough that sharing transportation greatly cuts your travel cost. This link offers ride sharing and possibly an opportunity to connect with other like-minded adventurers. If you feel better with buddies rather than strangers, spread the word. Share costs with another family and watch your SUV gas cost shrink by splitting it up at the pump. We managed a $40 dollar (per person) weekend by going as a group and it was a joyful time around the campfire with friends.

Share on Facebook and Tweet. Our gratitude cup runneth over.