the dyrt
Amy G.
Nevis, MN
Joined May 2017
I'm an outdoors junkie & a human pincushion...mosquitoes love me. So I get creative to stay comfy, but it doesn't stop me...we love hiking & camping!
Ranger Review of Lite Tech Monocular by Brunton at Crystal Creek Camp SHT

Going to sleep to the sound of a babbling creek is almost as wonderful as waking up to the same sound. This campsite at Crystal Creek Camp on the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) in Northern Minnesota will afford you that luxury, while keeping you close enough to reality that the car isn't far away, if you need it. While I was there, I had a chance to test out my new Lite Tech Monocular from Brunton.

Campsite Review:

Crystal Creek is one of those little gems that's kind of hidden, if you haven't already discovered it. It's well marked on the map, but a little off the beaten path, so some may give up on finding it. I was lucky enough to have it all to myself, along with my trusty Border Collie, and it was just as peaceful as I hoped it would be. Once you cross the creek of the same name on the cutest mini covered bridge you've ever seen, you make a sharp turn down a very long path. If you don't give up, and you keep walking, and you have faith in amazing little surprises, you'll come to the campsite and breathe a lovely sigh.

Now, let me begin by saying that I've been to campsites that wooed me more than this one, but this site has a few things to offer than many others don't. Aside from being only about 1 1/2 miles from the parking area, it has more than a few good features.

First, the good things: When the weather has been good, and it's been raining, and the sun hasn't beaten too much on the earth, there is a fabulous little creek that has lots of water that is super easy to access from the campsite. No more than 20 yards down the stairs. That's right…stairs! They say there is an old mine in the creek too, but as hard as I tried to spy the site, my eyes couldn't pick it out. Also, there is a fire pit that's pretty well established, a latrine that's well maintained (although I'd discourage you from eating the wild raspberries that grow around it, if you know what I mean), and it has one of the best views I've ever seen while sitting on a throne. You get to look at Lake Superior, while taking care of business. How is that for awesomeness? Not only are you off the beaten path, but you get to see Lake Superior from camp!

Now, just a few things that I wish I could have changed: While there are benches around the fire pit, I use the term "benches" loosely. And by loosely, I mean the benches are loose. As in falling down. As in, if you sit on them, you'll find yourself falling down. They could use some repair. And the ground isn't terribly level. There were one or two small level-ish spots for smaller tents, but if you had a large tent, it would be hard to set it up so everyone didn't roll on top of each other. And while at first glance the pea gravel appears to be a nice touch, it's laying on fine, dusty stuff that turns to mud if there's moisture of any kind. I didn't have much trouble hanging a bear bag, because there was an awesome tree right nearby, but it was a little too close to my tent for comfort. This site is surrounded by birch trees, and they don't have many low branches. That said, I made it work and I didn't hear a single bear in the night. In fact, I didn't hear anything but the babbling water and the birds.

Note - there are a lot of trees, but not many that would work well for hammocks

Product Review:

Occasionally, from time to time, I have the amazing opportunity to test incredible products in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. On this trip, I tested Brunton's Lite Tech Monocular, and thought it had some great applications!

First, this handy little piece of monocular loveliness fits in the palm of your hand, weighs very little and allows you the chance to see nature a bit more up-close-and-personal. It's not going to replace binoculars, but it'll let you see the bird in the top of the tree a little closer, you can look at the porcupine waddling down the path without risking a quill poke, and you can watch that bear eat your granola bars, and know exactly which flavor he likes best! Seriously…it's fun to keep in your pocket so that you can experience nature a little bit more personally without having to climb a tree or ford a river. Unless you want to. And you have good medical coverage. For that porcupine that would prefer you keep your distance.

Now, it takes a little practice to get used to using it. Get it too far from your eye and all you see is a little glass lens. Press it too close and everything goes black. And no, you aren't losing your eyesight, you are just doing it wrong. It's a gentle act to put it to your eye just right, but once you do, it works well. The lens sort of twists and swivels to pull things into focus. And if you have trouble looking with one eye, just close the other one while spying through it. Just don't fall off that cliff. But if you do, it has a cute little handle so that it won't slip off your wrist during free fall into the bushes below! And if you get stuck in that bush at the bottom, you can use the monocular to watch for help up above. Win win!

Seriously, it's a great little gadget to get you a little closer to nature, whether you are an animal lover, weather watcher or simply love to take a look around, at $35, it's kinda fun to feel like nature isn't far out of your reach.

Quiet, lovely and had a beautiful swimming lake

Quiet and full of trees, it's a great place to drop for the night. We didn't have a camper, but there was room for one. If you don't have a camper, you could actually fit several tents in the space where a camper would be parked. Ours, site #18, had a few steps that led to the picnic table and fire ring. Up there, we found another tent pad. That would have been the ideal spot for a tent (level and under trees), but we'd already set up at the bottom of the stairs.

The fire ring was next to the table, almost too close, but not a problem. There were, however, lots and lots of mosquitoes (end of June). There was also a mamma bear and 2 cubs there, but they didn't bother us at all.

The bathrooms were the nicest vault toilets that we've seen. Glad air freshener and everything!

Although we didn't swim, they had a very lovely area in the lake that was sectioned off for swimming. It also appeared as though they had canoes for free use as well. They also had firewood for sale, but it was $7 for a bundle. That seemed very steep to me.

Typical cost for a state forest campground in MN (cheaper, by far, than state park camps) and it was $15 for the night for a non electric site. Electric (30 amp) was $19 and electric (50 amp) was $21.There was also a $7 charge for extra vehicles at the site.

First to Review
Beautiful solitude with well manicured campsites

This was one of the nicest county campgrounds I've ever seen. We've been to a lot of them, but this one stands out. Not to mention that the price was unbeatable! So much more reasonable than at home. Set off the road a bit in a tiny little town in Iowa, it's along a river and very close to the Raccoon River Valley Trail, an 89 mile loop trail (paved) that goes through several towns and counties. It costs $2/person/day if you are 18 or older, or a year pass is $10. There is also a lodge that you can rent.

We rented a cabin for $50, because it was only about $10 more expensive than what we were planning on spending for a campsite in Minnesota. Normally, we stay in tents, so we were very pleased to find the options that this campground had to offer at such reasonable cost! If you wanted a tent site without electric, it was only $8. Electric sites were only $12. And the sites were incredibly well groomed. They were clean (I didn't see any trash). And they were tucked into the woods. A caretaker lives on site, and although we rarely saw him, it was obvious that he cared about his job. The bathrooms were clean and cared for too!

We were in a cabin and they were simple, but suited our needs. They had two wooden cabin-style buildings with little front porches (not screened in, but room under the overhang for chairs). Inside, you had two bunk beds, and the bottom bunk of one was a pull out futon, so you really had room to sleep 5 people. (Must mention: The futon in our cabin was horribly uncomfortable. I would have given 4 stars to the review because of it, but the futon alone shouldn't take away from the rest of the campground, which was immaculate). There was also a bathroom with an ADA shower, toilet, mirror and sink. In the room, there was a mini fridge, coffee maker, microwave, little sink and it even had air conditioning! Tucked in the corner was a folding table and chairs. A few hooks scattered around the walls completed the room. The A/C in ours wasn't at full working capacity, but it did chill the room down enough to be very comfortable. And it was very hot outside! We also had a little fire ring and picnic table, just outside the door.

The campground could accommodate plenty of tents and campers alike. Some electric, some not. All with very nice grassy pads for tents, all with picnic tables and fire rings. Grass was well clipped and there were plenty of parking spaces. It was very quiet when we were there, but I assume it gets busy on the weekends. The shower/bath house had separate bathrooms (both unisex) and both with toilet, mirror, sink and shower). Both were very clean for a camp bathroom. A little campground for those wishing to camp together was at the back of the park. It, too, had bathrooms. But they were locked, so I couldn't peek inside.

Bottom line, it was well worth our $50 for the cabin (you can't even get a hotel room for that price any more). I'd love to go back and tent in the quiet of a weekday eve when the crickets are chirping and I can feel the breeze through the tent!

Please note - there are no trash cans at the campground if you are in tents or RV's (the cabins have them inside). It is a carry in/carry out campground

There are LOTS of water pumps all over the campground. Yay for water!!

First to Review
Ranger Review of Renogy Portable Water Filter on our way to Low Gap

Low Gap was one of the best and largest camps on the AT that I had seen. Now, to this point, I've only seen about 50 other miles of trail and campsites, but in that 50, I'd say this was one of the best. It was truly a "camp". It had almost everything that you needed, including a shelter and water, and was right on the AT. No side trails to follow to get there! On my way to Low Gap, I had a chance to use my Renogy Portable Outdoor Water Filter and it performed incredibly well!

CAMPGROUND REVIEW:

Most camps that we came across (mind you, we were only on the trail for 6 days) were small and intimate, for the most part. A few had multiple tent pads, some had only one, some had shelters and pads, but this one was the largest we saw in GA. Right off the trail (thank heavens…it had been a LONG day of rocks, ups, downs, more rocks with ups and downs, and lots of sunshine!), we were glad to stop off, drop our packs and chill. We hit the first tent pad we saw (others we knew had saved us a spot), but there were many, many others. The small "camps" were in clusters of several tent pads each, so that even though there may have been lots of people there, you could have a more private "area" to share with a few people. There was a path down about 1/4 mile to where the shelter was. And in front of the shelter was a little stream. Perfect, this time of year, for collecting water. There didn't seem to be a privy, but not all camps have them. You just have to find other means. A very welcome addition to this site was a bear cable!! Some sites have cables strung between large trees with pulleys with clips so that you can attach your food bag and hoist it into the air instead of trying to find a tree that will allow you to string it up properly. What a blessing! Many people shared the cables, but everyone respects each other's things. No one messes with your food, except maybe the mice. A very quiet camp, except for the sounds of nature. And perhaps snoring…

My friend and I failed miserably to take very many photos of the camp. Those I do have are a combination of the ones that we both took (and I have her permission to use them). We were dog tired when we got there, and the sun was setting. All we wanted was food. And the next morning, we were saying good-byes to those that were headed north on their through hikes, so we weren't concentrated on cameras so much as memories. My apologies…

PRODUCT REVIEW:

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I have the amazing opportunity to test awesome products in exchange for an honest review. This time, I received the Renogy Portable Outdoor Water Filter for my AT trip!

While hiking, you have a few opportunities here and there to find good water sources to drink from, and since I wasn't sure about a water source at the camp, I found some along the way. That is where I chose to use my new filter. Normally, I use another means to clean my water for drinking, but I was intrigued by the size and potential power of the Renogy Pump. It was small, it looked pretty simple, it was something that could be useful. So I brought it along.

Now, let me first say that this pump will not kill viruses. For that purpose (sometimes you need to kill them), you have to go with a UV type of device or something else that is specific to that need, but to de-bug your water from bacteria, eggs (yes, it takes care of amoebas and eggs) and other nasties, this is your guy. It filters to .1 microns and you can do business with 792 gallons on one filter! It's not the fastest to use, but it does exactly what it's supposed to do.

The instructions aren't complicated, and even someone that's never used a pump like this before can easily put it together and make it work. It does take practice, though, so I tried it in the bathroom sink to get the hang of it. It'll take you a few minutes to pump a liter of water, but unless you are in a race to fill your water bottle the fastest, this really isn't a problem. Long tube on bottom, short tube on top. Weighted end in the water, and pump. If you have the tubes mixed up, don't worry. Nothing will happen, but that just means you have to switch them (speaking from experience). Just make sure not to touch your dirty tube to your clean water once you are done. I found that once you have detached and drained your tubes, if you plug the bottom hole with your finger while you press the plunger in, it helps to release the rest of the water inside the filter. Some water will remain, but doesn't really seem to cause any problems. You want to back-flush with the syringe if it gets hard to filter and won't pump easily (read: dirt gets inside the filter), and then again when you put it away after your trip, but all those details are in the instructions.

Things I liked:

  1. Pretty easy to use…IF…you read the instructions and practice
  2. It's fairly small
  3. Does what it's supposed to do if you use it right
  4. Seems to have a casing on it that could stand a bit of abuse (metal)
  5. Comes with a storage pouch

Things I didn't like:

  1. A bit labor intensive, especially if you are tired and thirsty
  2. Takes longer to filter a liter of water than some devices
  3. The storage bag has no divider in it in which to store your dirty and clean tubes. I felt like if I put my dirty tube that still had water on it in with the clean tube, then I was going to contaminate the clean one

Bottom line, it worked really well, and I'd use it again, especially if I knew I needed to have a reliable pump for eggs and worms (think tapeworms….ick). Not pleasant to think about, but really good to know that if I used this pump, I wouldn't have to think about them again.

DISCLAIMER: I'm not a doctor or chemist or biologist or have any degree in water safety. I'm simply reporting on this device as I have interpreted the instructions. I felt very confidant drinking the water I filtered, and have not gotten ill. Please use whatever method makes you feel comfortable to clean your water in the backwoods.

First to Review
Great location, but prepare to sleep on a slant...

This location is kind of famous. You read about it in the AT books and the owner has actually written a book about all the hikers he's met that happen through his shop. Neels Gap is not only a place to throw down for some sleep (they have a campground and a hostel), but it's a total resupply stop. We stayed at Neels Gap Camp because it fit our mileage plans and it was convenient for the night and it was a great place to catch up with folks we met on the trail and meet some new ones.

The hostel here is mainly for through hikers. They charge $20/night and that includes a shower and a bed. We stayed at the campground behind the building. There's nothing wrong with the campground, other than the fact that it's on such a slant (building camps on the sides of mountains and rocks does this…) that you are going to end up sleeping on top of your tent buddy if you don't aim your tent the right direction, and there are not many pads that allow the "right direction". You are truly best off in a hammock at this campground.

There are plenty of hammock trees, and it's kind of cool that the AT goes right past the tent pads so in the morning, you can watch the hikers filter out and head north on their journey. Old faces and new faces greet you as you sip your coffee and eat your oatmeal.

There is a fire ring, and since the fire ban ends on the other side of the highway (Neels sits on the highway), we were on the right side of the road to have a fire! A welcome addition to the chilly night air. There is a fire pit made of stone and everyone shares.

There were not many good spots to hang bear bags that were away from the tents, but we found one that sufficed. They do not have a bear box (and claim that bears don't really come to this campground, but can you really tell them not to?). They do, however, have mice, and one little bugger ate into my pack and buried a peanut inside. So best to put your pack in your tent, if possible. They're cute, but not that cute.

Portable pottys were located out front of the store, and there were about 5 that were fairly clean and maintained. There is a water faucet out front with drinkable water (yay!) that didn't need to be purified and picnic tables for cooking your food. A beautiful overlook while you ate was awesome too! There is a road/highway that passes by, so there is road noise, but not unbearable. Just kind of annoying if you are used to the sounds of the woods.

The store has anything you could possibly need for re-supply, which makes it totally awesome! Gear (packs, sleeping bags, shoes, socks, etc), cooking supplies (food, stoves, fuel), books, water bottles, you name it! They also accept resupply boxes that you have mailed to yourself and a system to hand them out that seems to work really well.

Overall, not a bad spot for camping. Everything you need in one spot.

First to Review
Ranger Review of Midland Pocket Weather Alert Radio at Horse Gap Camp in GA

The Appalachian Trail boasts lots and lots of little, path-side campsites. Some that are noted on the map, and some that are not. Most are very pretty and well placed. Some are not, and while this isn't a pretty one and it's placement is not optimal, it is a place to put a tent and bed down for the night if you need to, so that's what we did. Horse Gap Camp does sit right on the trail, so it's easy access and there is a parking lot, so I assume there is opportunity to use it as a drop off/pick up site if needed. While at the site, I had the chance to use my Midland Pocket Weather Alert Radio, and it did not disappoint!

CAMP REVIEW:

As far as campsites on the AT go, there are much nicer sites with better views and more amenities, but when you are simply trying to gain miles, beat the weather and get some shuteye, anyplace will work as long as it's safe and you can drop a tent on level ground. The night we stayed at Horse Gap, we were trying to get a few extra miles in so that our next day wasn't so long. Our map told us we could camp here, and it was convenient (on the trail, actually), but it wasn't the prettiest I've seen. There were 2 tent pads, a decent bit apart from each other, but neither was terribly conducive to a level tent, and the ground was rocky. One pad had broken glass and the other was in a spot that looked like it might have significant water flow, if it rained. Both had fire pits, but they were in poor shape and had garbage (do you really need to toss a pair of ripped out rainpants in the fire pit?). Nevertheless, we picked the spot that was best suited to our needs and went with it. There was a lot of wind, and so we didn't burn a fire that night. There also weren't many trees that were well suited to hanging a bear bag, but we found one that worked well. Unfortunately, it was right over the other tent pad, so it's a good thing we didn't have anyone using that area. We would have been hard pressed to find a better tree. But we made it work, we had a place to crash, and we were able to use the rocks around the fire pit to set up stoves and cook dinner. Really, that's all we needed. There was a road that passed right by the site. We only saw a few cars, so the traffic was not bothersome.

GEAR REVIEW:

I've always thought I'd like to have an outlet for weather that didn't involve technology (read: didn't involve turning on my cell phone in the midst of the wilderness). That's where the Midland Pocket Weather Alert Radio came into play. This thing rocks! It's tiny, it's useful, it doesn't weigh much and it's super easy to use. What a winner! It comes with batteries, so you don't really have to worry about it. There is a wrist strap on it, an antenna and buttons that are so simple, you can't get it wrong. You turn it on, it scans the seven pre-set stations for one that comes in well, and reports back the weather to you for the area you are in. You can hit "re-scan" if it's not clear and try again. There is a volume up and down button and also an alert feature. If you are expecting weather, but don't know when, you can set it to "alert" mode, and it'll kick in if a weather bulletin/bad weather creates an alert for your area. The station gives rainfall for the area/cities in the area, temperatures, forecasts, etc. It's on a kind of loop that updates periodically. I love that this is something I can use, just in case. Came in very handy to give others on the trail the weather when they asked "is it going to rain". I could say "no" with a smiling face!

Best part about this radio:

  1. It's so small, it fits in the palm of your hand.
  2. It's so light, you won't notice it tucked in your top pocket for quick access.
  3. It's so easy to use, there isn't a need to carry the instruction manual.
  4. It comes with it's own batteries!
  5. It allows you the freedom to not use your phone in the wilderness, if you don't want to.
  6. It gives you peace of mind to know if weather is headed your way (allowing you to make wise choices about your travel and camping plans).
  7. It's only $25

What didn't I like? Nothing. Nada. Zippo. It's just too easy to take with you….you can't say no. At less than $30, it's peace of mind without having to sacrifice safety in the backwoods.

Ranger Review of Mountain House Homestyle Turkey Dinner Casserole at Springer Mountain Shelter - Appalachian Trail

My amazing Appalachian Trail hiking adventure officially began when we reached Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Just past where it all begins in Georgia, there is the very first shelter that you see when you are northbound, and it's called Springer Mountain Shelter. This is where I chose to have Mountain House Homestyle Turkey Dinner Casserole to celebrate my first night on the trail!

CAMPGROUND REVIEW:

Along the Appalachian trail, in addition to tentpads and campfire rings, there are three sided shelters that you are encouraged to use at night. They are made of wood, generally have a loft for extra sleeping, can fit about 10-12 people (more if it's raining, of course) and are raised and covered. My first night on the trail, my friend and I stayed at one of the most notable shelters on the AT…Springer Mountain Shelter. It's kind of where it all begins if you are headed north for the 2190 mile journey to Maine.

It's kind of cool. If you approach it in the evening, you'll likely hear the chatter of other hikers, earlier to arrive than you, before you see anyone. But when you come around the bend and see it for the first time, it's magical. Your first stop on the AT.

It's a three sided, wooden cabin-like structure with a big stone step to get inside. Simple in nature, it's a big open room with a loft where you throw down for the night. Pegs line up around the wall so you can hang a pack, your clothes, a flashlight or whatever you like. Not fancy, but exactly what you should expect when hiking this trail. There is a privy down the hill, and it's elevated and surrounded by "walls" for privacy. Just down another small trail is a stream for water. Very reliable in rainy season, but you MUST purify it before drinking. This location also has a bear box/locker for storing food at night so that you don't have to hang your bear bag. Everyone puts their food bags in and the clamp type lock goes on for the night. There were about 12 of us at the shelter the night we were there, and there was still plenty of room in the bear box.

There are also plenty of tent pads around the shelter, if you decide you'd rather have a bit more privacy.

Disclaimer: the shelters, because they are in the woods, and are essentially part of nature, are notorious for their critters. Come prepared for (and expect) mice. Bears may visit also, so please be aware, please be safe, and please don't leave a Snickers in your sleeping bag.

PRODUCT REVIEW:

As a Ranger for They Dyrt, I have the amazing opportunity to receive products in exchange for an honest review. This time, Mountain House sent me one of their super yummy Homestyle Turkey Casserole Dinners to try. So I kept it safe in my backpack until my first night, when I knew I'd be famished!

As is true with Mountain House products, this one did not disappoint. They are so darn easy to make and perfect when you need good food fast. The package says "2 servings", but that depends on your appetite. I was so hungry, I ended up eating the entire package myself!

Inside, it's all freeze dried. The meat, the veggies and the stuffing. That's right, the stuffing is in there too. No joke…it's seriously awesome! Add the water that is says to add (boiling, of course), zip the bag shut, and wait a bit. Open, stir, wait a minute or so more, and enjoy! Almost like homemade, and yet it was freeze dried! Personally, I found the flavors to be perfectly balanced. Not too salty, reminded me of Thanksgiving Dinner! I'm a chef, and picky about my food. This one hit it home!

Things I liked:

  1. The ease of use - very simple to make a full, satisfying dinner as long as you can boil water.
  2. Full flavor - I felt like I was eating a turkey dinner. Just like at Thanksgiving!
  3. Lightweight - adds very little pack weight for it's worth in your belly.

Something I didn't like: Not a fan of how much space it takes up in my pack. But I get it…it's a convenience food. I totally understand how it works, and it works well. But a pack full of these meals is going to be bulky.

Bottom line, if I need a few good, solid, hot meals in my bag, these are my go to food. All in one, easy to use, satisfying and flavorful. This one is a winner!

Ranger Review of Alki Twilight Thermal Mattress Topper at Father Hennepin State Park, MN

I've been to campgrounds in MN and other places that were nicer, but there isn't anything wrong with this campground at all. And at this time of year, the ice on the lake was breaking up, so it made for a beautiful sunset! Since it is still that time of year when it's warm during the day and cool at night, it was the perfect chance to test out the Twilight Thermal Mattress Topper by Alki while staying at Father Hennepin State Park in MN.

CAMPGROUND REVIEW:

We've been to this campground before, but not during this season or time of year. The campground is nice, but not terribly fancy. What it does have going for it is that it's a decent bit off the road, so there isn't much road noise. And although all the sites are fairly close together, there are tons of trees that (if it were summer) offer a buffer between them. It's possible to car camp at these sites or tent camp. They also have RV sites. Unfortunately, the RV sites are pretty close to the others, so if there are parties going on or radios playing, everyone can hear them, but that is to be expected at a campground where sites are close together. It wasn't terribly bothersome, though, and the scenery outweighed the mild disturbance.

They do have showers and flush toilets (during warmer seasons) and vault toilets the rest of the time. There is also a dump station for RVs.

Many of the sites are lakeside, for no additional cost. Benches dot the lakeside, and you get a gorgeous site of the sunset from here. There is also a paved path that runs near the water, so it's a pretty stroll late in the eve. This leads to a floating dock (not floating this time of year, though, because of the ice). Pretty space to chill and take in the breeze.

PRODUCT REVIEW:

As a Ranger for They Dyrt, I have the amazing opportunity to review incredible products in exchange for an honest review. This time, I received a Twilight Thermal Mattress Topper by Alki in a queen size. This is the first time I've ever tried something like this, so when I found it on Kickstarter, I was intrigued. The idea of a thermal layer built into a quilt-like blanket (think about the silver reflective stuff that everyone who camps talks about). But this isn't your typical mylar-type foil sheet. It's quiet. It's soft. It makes absolutely no noise at all. Now, this isn't something you are going to put in a backpack because it's big and it's not going to fit the bill of the ultralight hiker, but that's not what it's meant for. I emailed with the owners of the company and they intended it to be an addition to a car camping excursion or used on a bed as extra insurance from the night air. So I was intrigued. We are getting a teardrop trailer soon and I thought it might be a great way to stay warm without adding a heater to the mix.

The owners, Saul and Carolyn, have created this super soft blanket-type mattress topper that can be used several ways. You can put it on the mattress directly and sleep on top of it. You can use it as a blanket, you could wrap up in it and make a mock sleeping bag. It's a microsuede type of fabric on top and feels amazing, but has a brushed polyester bottom that helps to keep it from slipping off your pad. I'm a cold sleeper, so I really wanted to give it a good test. Normally, I use a sleeping pad with an R Value of 4.4 or better so that I don't chill out in the night. This time, I decided to use a pad with an R Value of 1.9 (thank you to my husband for sacrificing his pad). Normally, I'd be frozen from the backside, even in temps that are in the 40's. So I put down my pad in the van, laid the topper over the pad, and then my bag on top of that. And then I was off to la-la land.

The verdict…a toasty back side. It was truly wonderful to sleep in cooler weather without the typical CBS (cold butt syndrome) that campers talk about. Normally, with a pad that was only 1.9, I'd be frozen from the pad side. And that means tossing and turning all night to figure out how to stay warm. But I didn't have any cold spots from the pad side while sleeping on this topper. I just wish I'd thought to wrap it over my bag as well to insulate from the top as well. Then, I would have had the perfect night of sleep! It reflects back your own body heat to help keep you toasty.

PROS:

  1. Super soft fabric! It has a great feel against your skin.
  2. No noise! Even though it has similar thermal properties as the crinkly mylar-type blankets, this is absolutely not the same. It feels just like a blanket.
  3. It works! Coming from me (a cold sleeper), I feel like this would be a great addition to your camping arsenal so that you can have a better night of sleep without needing a ton of expensive gear to stay warm.
  4. Machine washable!

There really isn't anything negative to say about this blanket. Now, it does weigh more than a regular thermal blanket (queen is 4.5 pounds, and twin is 3 pounds), but they don't advertise it as ultra light or for backpacking. Carolyn said that it was designed with car camping in mind, as mentioned before. That said, it works beautifully for that purpose! It would be lovely if they'd consider making a skinny version that would fit in a hammock or under a sleeping bag/pad. As a cold sleeper, I'd seriously consider adding it to my cold weather backpack supplies, even if it meant an extra pound of weight.

Bottom line, if you want to enjoy a good night sleep in the chilly night air while car camping with your family or friends, take this topper for a spin. It's perfect under a sleeping bag, over a sleeping bag or to snuggle while watching the autumn sunset.

Beautiful little canoe camp accessible by foot as well!

This is a unique little site that's really a canoe camp, but accessible by foot as well. It's not well advertised…almost a secret! But if you are in a canoe, it's easy to find off the river. If you are on foot or bicycle, it's marked on the paved Paul Bunyan Trail.

From the trail, it's about a 1/2 mile walk/hike to the site. Not super easy if you have a bike, but do-able. Easy if on foot, and super easy if in a canoe! There are actually 2 sites, about a 1/4 mile apart, and both are equally nice. Newer picnic tables, fire rings, lots of trees for hammocks, right on the river with super easy in/out for canoes. Very pretty view on the river! Both have bathroom/latrine/toilet access as well.

Ranger Review of Tredagain Sandals at Gulch Lake Campground in MN

Please note: I previously reviewed the group camp at the same campground, but it's in a different location. This is the review of the regular campground at Gulch Lake.

This campground is lovely because it's very near the North Country Trail, a few other camps on the trail and a group camp just up the road. It's a little off the beaten path, but has amenities that will serve you nicely. While here, I had the pleasure of testing out a pair of sandals from Tredagain, and they were lovely!

CAMPGROUND REVIEW:

There are about 9 sites at this small campground, but it was plenty big, since we were the only ones there. Each site appeared to have a picnic table, fire ring and plenty of space for a tent. It didn't look like there were many good places for hammocks, so this one might be best for tent camping. There was a water pump at site #1, where we were, which would be lucky if you needed fresh water! Plenty of sun streamed into the site we were in, so it would make it a bit warmer in colder weather. We were there in November, so it was welcome! There are vault toilets nearby and just down the road a bit is the North Country Trail. The nice thing is that the trail makes a figure 8 around 2 lakes, so it's a great way to get lots of scenery, yet still end up back at your car if you wanted to. There are also a few other free sites on the trail itself (first come first served) and a group camp (Gulch Lake Group Camp) that I've reviewed previously. While not the prettiest camp, it would be just fine if you needed a place to crash.

PRODUCT REVIEW:

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get the awesome opportunity to review products in exchange for an honest review. This time, I had the pleasure of testing out a pair of sandals by Tredagain! The Tredagain Guadalupe Sandal rocks out on their specialty…re-cycled rubber from tires. Here is a quote from their site about what they do:

"TREDAGAIN partners with Austin Rubber Company LLC which manufactures a de-vulcanized rubber compound called APX®. Using an environmentally friendly, patented process, this sustainable solution converts end-of-life tires and other vulcanized scrap rubber into a less expensive substitute for virgin rubber, which can be used in a variety of new products including the outsoles of TREDAGAIN."

Isn't that cool!?

I love the philosophy, and I loved some things about the shoes too…

  1. The soles are solid. Just what you'd expect from a tire. And the sole is imprinted with "tire tread", thus re-enforcing and reminding the consumer about what the shoes are all about.
  2. While this isn't the lightest weight shoe I've tried on, it feels as if it will last a long time. It's got substance to it. Not a "dime store" purchase…you'll get some wear out of these.
  3. They are very compatible and comfortable with my toe socks! It was colder outside when I tried these out, so I took my toe socks and voila! They were great!
  4. They use post-consumer waste to make their packaging. This just gets better and better!

The only thing that I was minorly concerned about is that they might take some time to break in without socks. I felt a few rub spots when I tried them on barefoot, but most new sandals rub on your feet in spots you didn't know existed, so I suspect my tootsies just need time to adjust to the new feel of this sandal.

Ranger Review: Ledlenser MH2 Headlamp at Mantrap Lake Campground in MN

State forest camps have rapidly become our favorite. They have the amenities you need, without the fuss. Far cheaper too! If you need showers and electric and sewer, this isn't for you. But if you like to rough it in a tent, don't mind a vault toilet and are happy with a picnic table and fire pit, then this is it! I had the great opportunity to review my new Ledlenser MH2 Headlamp at Mantrap Lake Camp.

CAMPGROUND REVIEW:

The sites are a little more exposed than at some state forest sites I've seen, but granted, I was there in the autumn after the leaves had dropped. It might be very different in the summer. There were ample pit toilets (not much to write home about from the outside, but the inside was very clean!). Lots of sites to choose from, all with fire pit and picnic tables. Garbage cans were sprinkled here. It wasn't the prettiest campground I've ever seen, but it would work just fine if you needed to pitch a tent. There appeared to be a very tiny little playground, but it wouldn't have entertained the kiddos for very long. They'd be better off playing board games in the tent or running around the circles that go around the campground. The did appear to have a small nature trail of some kind, but the portion I tried to walk down seemed a bit overgrown. There were also a handicapped site or two, but aside from possibly being a bit closer to the bathroom and having water at the site, they were very similar to the others.

PRODUCT REVIEW:

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get the amazing opportunity to review products that have been given to me in exchange for an honest review. This time, I won a Ledlenser MH2 headlamp in a contest that was sponsored by The Dyrt. Wow…just wow! What a headlamp!

This thing is amazing. I recently tested a Ledlenser flashlight, and it rocked. Its' cousin, the MH2 Headlamp, was no exception. Their specialty is something called the Advanced Focus System which is a combo of reflector and lens that creates a specialty lighting system, and it was great! Things I liked:

  1. It has a wide band that is easy to size to your head. It doesn't fall off either, so it stays put where you want it.
  2. It's not rechargeable, but it takes AAA batteries, which are easy to find. They say that in low mode (10 lumens) you can go about 40 hours on one set, and in high mode (100 lumens) about 10 hours.
  3. It has several modes for the light, including white and red. In the white mode, you have low, high and flashing for emergencies.
  4. It has a waterproof IPX6 rating, so it's good to go in the rain and even splashes from the river in a canoe.
  5. There's a "lockout mode", so you can lock it before putting it in your pack to preserve the batteries.
  6. The light hinges up and down so that you can send the beam where you want it. Straight ahead or at your feet.

The only things that were mildly bothersome were the weight (it's a bit heavy if you wanted to throw it in an ultralight gear pack) and the instructions. Although in English, they are more pictures than words and take some patience to understand. But if you have the time to do so, it's a very worthwhile piece of camping equipment to own.

Bottom line, if you have a chance to try this out and don't mind just a bit of extra weight to insure that you always have great light, this is your next headlamp.

Ranger Review: Ledlenser M10 flashlight at Gulch Lake Group Camp in MN

I stumbled across this site which I believe is the Gulch Lake Group Camp. There is also another Gulch Lake Campground here, but this one that I reviewed is the GROUP camp. It's right on the trail, but don't let that deter you. It's one of the prettiest sites I've ever seen! You do, however, need a reservation (it says it on the website for the Paul Bunyan Forest where it's located). While I was there I tested our my awesome Ledlenser M10 flashlight and it did not disappoint!

CAMPSITE REVIEW:

Don't confuse this site with a few others in the area. It stands alone, and is directly on the trail. Or rather, the trail runs through it. It's huge!! Surrounded by pines, there are plenty of places for tents, a lot of trees for hammocks, the largest stone fire ring I've ever seen, a huge pile of firewood and in a quiet area as well. It sits not only on the trail, but just off the road too, in case you care to drive in instead of pack in. But it's still very quiet! NOTE: This site does require a reservation. It's $50 for the group camp site. Very picturesque and close to several segments of the North Country Trail. Some of the trail nearby even makes a figure "8" so it's an easy day hike (and there are more campsites nearby).

PRODUCT REVIEW:

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I get the awesome opportunity to test out amazing products in exchange for an honest review. This time, I tried out a rechargeable flashlight. The Ledlenser M10 did not disappoint!

Now, while this is not the lightest or smallest flashlight in the world, it has so many features that rock, you won't really want to leave it behind. My favorite feature…it's rechargeable. That means no more wasted batteries!! Here are some of my favorite things about it:

  1. I already mentioned it's rechargeable, and really..that's a great point! On one charge, it can be on high beam (1000 lumens) for about 6 hours. On low beam (10 lumens…still enough to read and hang a bear bag) about 144 hours. Tell me this thing doesn't rock!
  2. It's not giant. It has a huge punch for it's size. That means you can toss it in a purse or a pack. And it comes with a little pouch (can be attached to a belt) and a clip (in case you want to clip it directly to your pack or pocket instead). Ya, it has a little weight to it, but you'll be glad you didn't leave it behind.
  3. You can adjust the beam to "near" and "far". No…this is not a muppet reference. Okay, maybe it is, but seriously…you CAN! Create a wide beam for "all over" viewing, or zoom the beam in for more precise location. It's a unique feature that Ledlenser boasts with their products.
  4. You can choose which "program" you want for your flashlight when you turn it on. There are a series of "high/medium/low" combos that are available, and you can program the flashlight to recognize the sequence you like best. Not only that, but one sequence creates a quick flashing "strobe" that helps in an emergency.

The only problem I had was reading the instructions for setting up the sequence I wanted. They are in English, but mainly in picture form. Once you know what the pictures mean, they make sense, but to make sense of them, I actually had to do a little research online. But it's well worth your time to be patient and learn the system.

Bottom line, this one is worth the money if you are a die-hard camper, hiker or outdoorsman (or woman). It'll keep you sane in the wilderness, help you distract that bear that's ravaging your granola bars and assist in the late night tent set-ups that might, otherwise, have you flummoxed. Get one…now. I mean it.

Perfect color in the fall!

I'm pretty sure this campground would be beautiful any time of year, but we visited on our anniversary in the fall and it was gorgeous! Most of the trees were yellow, and even in the overcast morning, gave the campground a wonderful warm glow!

The campground is a good size, and all the sites seem private. This is a state forest campground, and in MN, they are all very well maintained and the price is far better than a state park campground. In my opinion, they are far superior. Usually less crowded, lesser known, but better kept. Normally they are about $14 (bonus!), and sometimes free, depending on the time of year. Drop the money in the box at the entrance (honesty is appreciated) and take a site. No reservations accepted.

They have pit toilets, pets are accepted, there is drinking water available at a well pump, each site has a picnic table, plenty of space for a tent, lots of trees if you want to try a hammock, and a fire ring. It was very quiet at night (there was only one other site being used), and we heard a beautiful owl chanting in the night.

The lake was very nearby, and some sites have access via stairs, if you like. There seemed to be plenty of firewood, if you care to collect it, and it was the best option for a wonderful camping experience!

Not really for tent camping

This campground offers tent camping and RV camping, but really appears to be more for campers and RVs than tents. It's a little out of the way, and isn't terribly comfortable, although it does offer all the things you need to camp. There is a shower house, bathroom, playground and little beach. There are hookups and lake views. So it's not a bad spot, but appears to be more suited to those that are RV camping. There were a lot of 4 wheelers and ATVs. It also appeared as if most campers were there for more "longer term" than a simple overnight.

There was/were a picnic shelter, vending machine, fire rings, electric hookups etc. A dock at the beach allowed for fishing etc.

If you need an RV camp, this might be right up your alley, but as far as tent camping (and that is what I like to do), I wouldn't recommend it.

Cute little site that's not too far out of the way....great for a family outing!

This little campsite is lovely because it's not too far from things, but far enough away that you feel like you are in the woods. The North Country Trail passes by this site and most sites on the NCT are free! (except for some that are in State Parks, etc). This free site is a very short walk from a parking area/trailhead. Because it's on the NCT, the trail that passes the camp is extremely well maintained and groomed, not to mention super wide! If you have little ones that you are trying to "wean" into camping, this would be a great place to take them to get a feel for the woods.

There is a picnic table, a fire grate (lots of cement blocks around the grate that while are not terribly attractive, actually make great flat surfaces for camp stoves). The tent pad is pretty level and all the pine needles soften the ground below the tent a bit. A plethora of trees give hammock-ers lots of options! The latrine, while not glamorous (are they ever?), is just down a short path past the fire pit. The campsite and the latrine are very well marked and easy to find.

Across the trail (directly across from the camp) is a small little meadow type area that would be a perfect spot for "overflow" tents, if you have more in your group than the site can take. I wouldn't recommend a party…lol…but if you have a family unit with a few tents, this would work really well.

Also…as an observation…my husband said it would be a great winter camping site, as it's more sheltered in the trees than some sites are. Plus…in the winter, this trail is groomed for Cross Country Skiing, so it would be super accessible as a camp if you were skiing.

Plain Jane, but does the job

Crow Wing Inn and RV Park is exactly what it says it is. There is a small motel, if you need a room with a shower, but there is also space to set your RV up for the night. It's definitely not fancy, by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not a dirt pad. It's kind of pretty, even if it's in the wide open. The grass is green and plentiful, there is a grove of pine trees (I suppose you could hang a hammock here, but I don't know if you could pay to camp if you didn't have an RV). There is a single fire pit near a picnic table. It doesn't look like there are many sites, but this is a tiny town, so I suppose there isn't a high demand for an RV park in this area either.

While not my first choice, if I had an RV, it would serve the purpose if I needed a place to spend the night.

Within easy walking distance, there is a small grocery, two gas stations, a laundry, bar, bank and bakery. As well as a walking trail and a small park. There's even a "do it yourself" car wash next door with a vacuum!

Very quiet, off the trail with a pretty view

Flooded woods campsite is a bit off the trail (the North Country Trail in MN), which is nice, but very well marked by a wooden sign with it's name carved in it. A 30 yard walk perhaps. Some sites are right on the trail. This one is not, and it keeps it a bit more private. It was only about a mile and a half from a parking area, so easy walk if you wanted a quick overnight from reality.

There is a lovely view of the "water", but this time of year, when we were there, it was more swampy. Still a very pretty view though. A lot of dead tress gave it an interesting look. The campsite itself has a fire ring, tent pad and trees for hammocks. There was a latrine too, but nothing to write home about.

Someone had put a chair near the fire. Not quite sure what that was all about, but I guess if you needed an extra seat, then you had one! There was also a log bench, as is common at these sites.

Ranger Review of Coldpruf Quest Performance base layers at 400th Ave Camp on the NCT in MN

A glorious little site nested in the trees. So close to the parking area it's a breeze to get to, yet far enough away you'd never guess you were near your car (except for very occasional road noise). Great place to camp with kiddos to get them used to the woods! And a perfect spot to try out my Coldpruf Quest Performance base layers!

Campsite Review:

My husband and I are lucky enough to live easy driving distance from one of the longest (yet little talked about) hiking trails in the country. The North Country Trail (NCT) runs from North Dakota to New York and all the states in between. It spans Minnesota, not far from our home, and so we love to take overnights and day trips to the trail, sometimes with the pooches!

This campsite doesn't really have an official name, but it's literally only about 100 yards, if that, from the parking area at the 400th Ave trailhead in the Laurentian Chapter. Close enough that you can leave non essentials in the car and run back for them if you need to. You could even haul your food back to the car instead of hanging it if you wanted to. Great little stop for thru hikers or section hikers, yet perfect for a quick overnight with the kids, if they were itching to camp somewhere other than your back yard.

It has a great little fire ring with a grate that swings out of the way. A tent pad that's sort of wonky, but you can find a bit of a flat spot if you move closer to the fire. A two sided latrine is just down the path and there is a great big beautiful bench! It looks very new, and it's carved (whittled?) out of a large log of some sort. Solid and gorgeous! There's a little road noise, but not much because it's a logging road, not a highway.

I highly recommend this spot to families and hikers alike!

Gear Review:

Since I'm a Ranger, I get the awesome opportunity to review gear from time to time. In exchange for the gear, I give an honest review of the product. This time around, I had the super pleasure of trying out base layers by Coldpruf. I was donning the Quest Performance tops and bottoms for women. Wow…totally impressed!

There are several tops in this line (The Quest Performance line), and I had the mock zip. I also had the bottoms that match. They make base layers for men and women.

Here are the reasons that I think this set rocks:

  1. The fabric is unlike any I've seen. It's super stretchy, so it fits. Everywhere. Even though my arms are shorter, they didn't "slide" down. They stayed where I wanted them to stay.
  2. The thumbholes at the wrist don't cut into your skin. They are big enough to fit the thumb through without cutting off your circulation. Major bonus!
  3. The cuff comes much further down your hand than most tops that have thumbholes. Another bonus! Keeps more of your hand warm.
  4. The zip is at the neck, but your skin is protected from it by a little flap of fabric (at the top edge) that keeps it from rubbing your skin. Your chin will thank you!
  5. The top is longer in back than front, and even longer than most tops I've seen. It covers your tooshie! HUGE bonus in Minnesota!
  6. The bottoms are like running pants, but better. Not too tight, but just tight enough. Easy to pull up and down and fit like a dream under your pants! I hiked 15 miles and couldn't tell I had them on.

*Note: please refer to the sizing chart when ordering. You might want to "size up" on the tops, as they are "very fitted". I originally started with a small (which I normally wear), but it was too tight for my liking. The medium was a bit looser, without being too loose, and I felt much better in it.

While not a complaint, but just a sidenote, if you are short, the pants will be a bit long, but just like the top, they didn't feel strange. I just pulled my socks up over them and they were golden!

Also…they make GREAT jammies!

I really can't think of anything I didn't like about them. In fact, when I had to exchange the sizes, customer service answered my email VERY promptly and I had new sizes in the mail within days. Thank you Emily!

Bottom line, if you live in sub zero temperatures, enjoy living in an igloo, or just generally like traveling to cold places, you really should give Coldpruf a try. Totally worth the money!

Small and quaint with a pretty view

This site is on the Mississippi River and is a canoe in site. It's actually kind of hard to find the "entrance" to the campsite. You can see it from the river, but the bank is rather steep. It was by error that we actually found the landing…it's down river about a hundred yards. There is a sign at the landing for the camp, but it would be lovely if there were a sign at the camp telling you to "keep going" just a bit farther.

The landing itself isn't too bad, and would be even better in higher water. The catch…it's on private land. So you have to be quiet and careful when you get out. And you must keep you pets leashed. The house is only about 50 yards from the landing. That said, the site is about a hundred yards upstream, so you have to walk through a field-like setting to reach it. So don't forget anything in your canoe because it's a walk to go get it. Or you can haul your canoe to the site, I suppose. Also…no bathroom…so be ready to go primitive.

The site itself is very pretty, but very tiny. One small tent pad and perhaps a place to hang a hammock if you get creative. No picnic table, but there is a fire ring. You do have a very pretty view of the river!

This would not be a great site if you had a family or more than a few people in a 2 or 3 person tent. Just not enough room. But lovely if you were solo or just with a couple.

Best canoe campsite I've ever seen

To date, this is the best campsite I've ever seen. No joke.

My husband and I like to canoe, and this time, we were on the Mississippi for another adventure. That said, this one is a canoe campsite, so in order to get to this one, you have to be on the Mississippi River in Minnesota. The DNR in Minnesota has river maps (kind of like hiking maps of the major trails) that mark river miles and show where the boat ramps and access points are. It also shows the campsites that are available (most of them for FREE!) to those that choose to camp along the river. This was one of those.

Most of the time, there will be a picnic table (not always), a fire ring and a place to put a tent or hammock and usually a latrine. Sometimes a nice bench around a fire ring, and sometimes not. This one, however, in addition to other lovely amenities, had a pile of firewood in a useful "shelter" with a little roof to help keep it from the rain. There was also a peg hook with a saw! A note near the saw said "please replace what you can". I have never seen that before, but what a refreshing thing at the end of a long day of paddling! They asked that you use what you need, but also put back what you can. How lovely! This site also had a bear box…incredibly rare! It had a donation sign on the front that told who had donated it. So, in addition to an immediate fire upon arrival (which was appreciated this time because it rained very quickly after we got there), you didn't have to hang your food!

The latrine wasn't anything special, but they never really are, are they? Nothing wrong with it though. It served it's purpose and that is all I have to say about that.

There were a couple of lovely hammock trees and two good areas for tents. Except for the mosquitoes (which are to be expected in the summertime), this was the perfect site.

The only thing that was a little difficult was docking your canoe/watercraft and getting on shore. The water levels on this trip were very low (about a foot lower than normal) so it was a steep climb and we had to pull the canoe to a landing, but when you are on the water, this kind of obstacle is something that you come to expect and prepare for. So no complaints…merely and observation.

Definitely would use this site again!