Tommie J.

Lawrence, KS

Joined September 2016

Ranger Review: Matador FreeRain24 at Horn Fork Basin Dispersed Camping

Paradise in the Collegiate Peak Wilderness Area of San Juan National Forest.

Campground Review:

We stumbled upon this dispersed camping site on a summer backpacking trip where we needed a basecamp to operate out of on a quest to summit Mt. Harvard and Mt Columbia. We wanted a place that was located near where we would begin our summit attempts but would also be comfortable to spend several nights in. This is not a camping site that you can drive up to. This is a site that you need to backpack to on an established but physically demanding trail. To get to it, you must first access the Horn Fork Basin trail at the North Cottonwood Trailhead just West of Buena Vista, CO. To get to the trailhead, it is advisable to have, at a minimum, a high clearance, front wheel drive vehicle as the county road to the trailhead is not paved and is a little rough in areas. Parking at the trailhead can get crowded since many trails originate there. 

This is primitive, dispersed camping. No fees, first come first serve. You will not find any treated water or toilets in area. We hiked right at 6 miles to get to the site and passed multiple areas that were “established campsites”. Like most dispersed camping in Colorado, you are encouraged to find a spot that has been used and unofficially designated as a campsite. Most often you will find obvious areas that tents have been set up in the past. This site had multiple areas we could have set up tents and we were able to find 3 very level and cleared pads. There was also a stone fire ring that we could use.

The site was within 50 yards of a fast running stream which provided a perfect place to filter our water from. Even though the water appears to be very clear and cold, you must filter or treat to avoid being exposed to contaminants that can ruin your trip. 

As I stated, there was a fire ring and fires were permissible in the area according to the managing ranger office. We were able to find ample firewood and enjoyed beautiful campfires every morning and evening. Plenty of remote wilderness to explore and wildlife (mule deer, birds, marmots, pika…) was abundant. 

From the site, Bear and Kroenke Lakes are within day hike distance as well as 3 14K foot peaks and several smaller peaks. The site was at around 10,500 feet above sea level but below tree line. We were protected from high winds by beautiful pines and aspens. At the time of our trip, daytime temps were in the low 70’s and in the low 40’s at night. Perfect weather! We did experience light rain, ice pellets and a bit of snow on the way up the mountains but not at camp. 

The site was about 50 yards off the established trail and was remote enough that we did not see another camper in the 2 nights we were there. 

The site ended up being one of the most enjoyable camping areas I have ever visited. Can’t wait for someone else to venture there based on my review!!!

Gear Review: Matador FreeRain24

See a quick video summary of the product HERE.

As a Dyrt Ranger gear tester, I often get opportunities to evaluate camping related products during my outdoor adventures in exchange for honest reviews. I took the Matador FreeRain24 with me to this campground and during my day hikes from the basecamp and especially on this physically demanding attempt to summit two 14K ft peaks.

About the company: 

Matador was started in California but moved to Colorado in 2015. Funded by sales and personal investment only, this is a true “cottage company”. Products are designed in house by people that go on adventures like I do and know what we look for.

Testing conditions: 

This was a summer trip but at elevation, all kinds of weather can be expected. The bag was used in conditions where temps ranged from 38-75 degrees. I did carry it in light rain, heavy mist and icing conditions. I used it as my daypack to carry essential gear while summiting mountain peaks. 

Things that stood out:

-       Packs extremely small so did not take up much space in my larger backpacking pack.

-       At just 5 oz, the weight cost to benefit ratio was perfect for this trip

-       Waterproof!! 

-       Comfortable. 

-       Sleek – hey, it just looks really good!

-       Top loading main compartment is easy to access

-       Two pockets that can hold water bottles easily and can be accessed while hike without taking pack off.

-       External zippered storage that is water resistant. 

-       In addition to shoulder strap adjustments, pack adjustments available to help with comfort.

-       Company sent me video instructions on the pack prior to me receiving it. Great idea!!!

My preferences for improvement:

-       The zipper on the external storage is very light duty. 

Summary of experience with Matador FreeRain24:

At 5 oz and about the size of a baseball when packed down, it was perfect to attach to the outside of my larger pack but could have gone on the inside. Come day hike time, took it out of its storage bag, stuffed it with everything I need for 8 hours on the mountainside and headed out.  24 liters was more than enough storage for all my extra clothing layers, food, water and emergency gear.  Met with some mist and ice during one stretch and contents stayed bone dry. I don't like water bladders so the 2 side pockets were perfect for the bottles of water I normally take on my trips - easy to access and bottles stayed put. Once adjusted, pack held tight to my back and that was important on sketchy parts of the climb. Didn't want my pack shifting at a critical time. Pack was comfortable the whole way and held up well. The pack material held up to several scrapes on sharp mountain rocks. The zipper did hang up and eventually became distorted to the point that I’m worried it may fail eventually. 

Fully recommend the Matador FreeRain24for similar type adventures!!!

See a quick video summary of the product HERE.

Ranger Review: Wild Zora Foods at North Cottonwood Trailhead Dispersed Camp

Bare bones but beautiful camping opportunity conveniently located near the trailhead to the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area in Colorado

Campground Review:

Needing a spot to serve as a staging area for a planned backpacking trip into the Collegiate Peak Wilderness Area of Colorado, my group discovered this gem. County roads (CR) that access national forests in Colorado often have primitive but established camping spots. Since we were going to start our backpacking trip from the North Cottonwood Trailhead, we searched online to make sure that the access road, CR 365 offered dispersed camping.

After a nice meal in nearby Buena Vista, Co, we headed out on the 7-8 mile drive to the trailhead. Now 7-8 miles on a CR isn’t always the same as a similar distance on a paved road. The first 3 miles on the drive from town center were paved and were navigated quickly and easily. The next few miles were not and driving became more of an adventure and slowed dramatically. While in the end we saw 2 WD vehicles at the trailhead, I would suggest that at a minimum you should have a high clearance FWD vehicle. Our Subaru Outback AWD served us well. The drive took us around 30 minutes.

2 miles away from the trailhead, you pass a Colorado Trail access point with parking and vault toilets. IMPORTANT: there are no toilets past this point on CR 365 and no facilities at the North Cottonwood Trailhead.

We ended up driving all the way up to the trailhead to know what to expect for the next morning when we would start the hike. We then headed back down CR 365 about a mile to some of the more attractive looking camping sites along the road. In all, I would suspect you pass 15-20 opportunities along the road. Some of them are small, single vehicle, single tent areas and others could handle multiple groups.

We ended up finding a pull off point that had a gravel road that accessed several campsites. You are encouraged to find sites that have been used in the past and most will have a fire pit. Always check with the ranger stations to see if fires are allowed in the area at the time.

Since this site had a gravel road that took you 50-100 yards off the CR, you really felt the seclusion. The CR is not heavily traveled (maybe 6 cars used it from 7pm to 6am the next morning while we were there), being off the road really made this a nice site. The sites that are accessed via side gravel roads do have road designations. The one we chose was 365B and was clearly marked with a reflective post sign.

The sites are adorned with pines and aspens. We were also near a stream that provided us beautiful sounds to fall asleep to. Spacing between sites is significant so you do feel remote and won’t hear much if anything from other campers. Our site had a rock fire ring but firewood is scarce so if you want a campfire, you will need to bring some with you. There is no running water at these sites but the stream is flowing and with a filtration system, you can easily fill up. No tables or benches are in the area.

Does a bear … in the woods? Well yes and you will need to as well. This area’s minimum suggested practice was to dig your “cat hole” at least 6 inches deep, 100 feet or more away from water, camping and trail locations. Degradable toilet paper, no wipes, was suggested.

The site was beautiful, primitive, remote, and convenient. Everything we were looking for. We experienced temperatures of 70’s during the day and mid 40’s at night. We did have the typical misty rain in the evening but it didn’t last long and the ground absorbed it well. You are at around 9500 feet above sea level so you may feel the effects of the altitude. It served as a great place for this “flatlander” to get acclimated.

Not a site for someone that needs amenities. But if you love the thought of a controlled, primitive site, this will be right up your alley!

Gear Review: Wild Zora Foods

See a quick video summary of the product HERE.

As a Dyrt Ranger gear tester, I often get opportunities to evaluate camping related products during my outdoor adventures. On this outing, I was able to pack a variety of Wild Zora snacks and meals to help fuel this physically demanding trip.

The genesis for Wild Zora began in 2011 with a family that discovered the benefits of Gluten-Free, Paleo, and Primal foods. After developing their own, sharing with friends and family, the founders decided to package and offer their creations to the public. They offer meat and veggie bars, paleo meals to go, soups and teas. All are claimed to be prepared with minimally processed, high quality ingredients. The company states that it is mindful of diet restrictions and allergies.

Testing conditions:

I tested the product over several weeks under somewhat adverse but consistent conditions. The food was used to fuel a physically demanding trip where calorie dense foods were needed. I needed to be able to consume around 4000 calories a day to be able to backpack for miles and to climb 14,000 foot Colorado peaks. Space and weight were taken into consideration as well. We would be preparing the meals at high elevation which would affect how long and effective reconstitution of the dehydrated food would take. During most of the cooking times, temperatures were between 40-60 degrees.

Things that stood out:

· Conveniently packaged. Durable with no excessive packaging.

· Shelf life was way longer than what I needed for this trip so if any was left over, it would keep for my next trip.

· The meals and flavors offered are not limited to your common camping meals offered by others. CHECK OUT SOME OF THESE FLAVORS!

· There is no shortage of flavor in the meals. Nothing bland about them.

· Ingredients are top shelf and the meals and snacks have such a short but impressive ingredient list, you know you are doing your body good.

My preferences for improvement:

· Adjustment needed in how I ate it because of the dimensions of the meal packages. Narrow and tall vs short and wide made me adjust how I consumed the meal.

Summary of experience with Wild Zora:

These meals are POPPING with flavor! Since what we like in our meals is a personal preference, some may not like the strong flavors but I loved them. I am a little adventurous with my food and the flavors in all the meals I tried were distinct and pleasing – think gourmet vs fast food.

The food is packaged with the outdoor enthusiast in mind. Easy to tuck away in my backpack without being a space or weight hog and the snacks were perfect when I went “peakbagging” with a smaller daypack. Calorie dense. I was able to easily take 4 meat/veggie bars with my on mountain climbs and averaged 120 calories a bar. The bars provided satisfying protein and fat calories that complimented my quick carb foods I packed.

Will absolutely be a part of my meals on future adventures. See a quick summary of the product HERE.

Ranger Review: CRKT Sweet KISS Knife at Carver Campground on the Buffalo River

The gentle sandbar of the Carver Campground was a welcome site after an 11 mile canoe trip down the Buffalo River in Arkansas.

Campground Review:

Recently spent several days paddling the waters of the Buffalo River in Arkansas. This was the last day of our trip and proved to be the most gentle leg of the river. We put in at Pruitt Landing and headed out on the 7 hour trip to Carver.

We had been on the river several days prior to this leg and the water had been running fairly fast and murky. However, after a couple of miles into this trip, the river widened out and it turned into a calm float down the scenic river. Lots of beautiful cliffs, caves and foliage.

We hit the pull out point of our trip at the base of Carver Campground. The area was out of the way of fast moving water so it was easy to guide our canoes in. The sandbar was small river rock and provided a very clean and easy way to end the water portion of the trip.

While the put in/pull out portion of the camp was open and convenient, it is at the base of a fairly steep hill. Add to that that the road leading down to the waters edge from the campground was a dirt path that was wet and slick, it did make getting our crafts up a little rough. Several trucks were trying to backdown the road to put in and gave up when they realized they may get down but wouldn’t get back up.

The campground itself is a small 8-10 site camp. This is a basic “river float” campground and really didn’t offer anything other than a place to camp. No trails or activities that we could find but we weren’t looking for or needing that.

Each site had ample room but not much privacy. Kind of an open area with some shade trees so you could see and hear all of the other campers in the area. Again, not bad for what we needed it for but if you are looking for a secluded, activity rich campground, Carver probably isn’t for you.

Each site had a fire pit and picnic tables. There was a common use water faucet that made refilling water containers and clean up easy. This is a tent camping site so did not see electricity or dump stations should you have an RV. Very well maintained vault restrooms for such a small campground. There was way more parking available than what was needed for such a small campground so it was obvious that it is used as a parking/pick-up area for many more visitors than just those that spend the night.

Overall, the campground served its purpose well. A place to clean up, use the restroom and lay your head down for the night. Great stop for float trips!

Gear Review: CRKT Sweet K.I.S.S Knife

As a Dyrt Ranger gear tester, I often get opportunities to evaluate equipment and clothing during my outdoor adventures. On this trip, I carried with me the Columbia River Knife and Tool (CRKT) 2356 Halligan Sweet K.I.S.S Fixed Tanto Plain Edge Knife to try out.

CRKT is a 20+ year old knife company offering quality affordable knives for multiple uses. K.I.S.S. stands for “Keep It Super Simple” and the Ed Halligan designed Sweet K.I.S.S. does just that. Slim, sleek, and sharp!

This is a knife that is designed to where around your neck and used for emergency personal protection. Yes, that means, should you be in harms way, this is a knife you could use to defend yourself from an attacker. I do a lot of hiking and camping alone and while I am not overly concerned about running into people with bad intentions, I do like to be prepared.

While its main purpose may be for personal protection, I wanted it to test it out as a useful tool in my outdoor lifestyle. It’s overall length is just over 7 ½ inches a modified tanto blade with a black oxide finish measuring in at just over 4 inches. The blade is made from 8Cr13MoV which is a pretty good material for an “every day carry” knife. It won’t hold an edge as long as a better quality steel but does sharpen easily you can get a wicked sharp edge on it.

Being a neck knife, if found it very convenient on the canoe trip. The knife was very accessible but still out of the way. The cord is adjustable and has an adjustable stop on it that would give way should it get hung up on a branch or something. Nice feature to prevent getting strangled by your own knife!

Not really into single use items, I did want a knife that could do more than just stand up to stabbing an attacker. The incredibly sharp edge made slicing camp food a breeze. Check out my video HERE to see how easily it went through a ripe tomato.

Extremely pleased with the knife and would highly recommend it should you have similar needs.


· Light but durable

· Easy to get to in emergency situation

· VERY SHARP out of the box

· Perfect tension to hold inverted in sheath but easy to get out

· Great looking

· Affordable


· Little dangerous if your hand should slip on the thin, short handle

· Leather lanyard on end is nice for added “real estate” when pulling out or gripping but could be made more substantial

Ranger Review: Klymit Insulated Static V Luxe Sleeping Pad at Erbie Campground on the Buffalo National River, AR

Campground Review:

River surge warning forced us to bed down for the night at the Erbie Campground along the Buffalo National River in Arkansas. It was a welcome and comfortable site for our sore, wet bodies!

Our group of 9 guys had planned a canoe/kayak trip to the Current River originally but heavy spring rain flooding had left our route muddy and littered with debris. Last minute change of plans put us on the Buffalo River.

Plans were to set in at Kyles Landing and paddle to Ozark Campground for the night and then reach Carver Campground the next day. Because we were going it alone, we dumped the gear at Kyle's and then a couple of guys took one vehicle to Carver. LONG DRIVE! Much longer than we expected so by the time they got back, we were really late in the afternoon.

Some commercial guides who were pulling out at Kyle's informed us that heavy rains upstream were headed our way and would create a surge sometime in the late evening. Told us that it would not be a slow rise.

Finally put in and paddled for several hours. The river was up and running fast from the get go and canoes did tip and gear got wet. Around 8pm, we had stopped on a sandbar and as we were talking, you could see the river rising. Being about a 1/2 mile from Erbie, we decided paddle quickly there and pull out rather than chance it by going all the way to Ozark. GLAD WE DID!

River side of Erbie has a great primitive loading and unloading area. We were able to easily paddle in and carry the kayaks and canoes up about 25 yards to a safe and dry area. There was a circle road that, should we have wanted to use Erbie as our put in or final take out area, it would have made gear unloading and loading very easy. In the area of the ramp, there was a wide open space of freshly mowed meadow, a parking area, a vault bathroom and a half a dozen picnic tables. Looked like the perfect place so we pitched our tent and broke out our kitchens. Turns out that we weren't really in the camping area of the campgrounds but we didn't realize it until morning when it the light came up.

The real camping area was better equipped. Some designated spots were fairly primitive with just a grill area and a picnic table but others had full pad sites with water and electricity. The designated camping areas were nestled in trees and were nicely spaced. Many offered a very "remote" feel to them. There were at least 3 vault restroom facilities but while we were there, only the one in the parking area where we camped was open. Not sure why as there were quite a few other campers in the area. There were also several "communal" water hydrants but all were locked. Since there was no camp host that we could find, we never did find out why there wasn't water available. That was disappointing but we just may not have known the details on how to get access to the water.

Overall, the campground was well maintained, seemed safe, and the the restrooms were clean and stocked. We liked the remote feeling of the area and the river access was excellent. I would recommend Erbie to those needing a spot to stop on a float trip.

Gear Review: Klymit Insulated Static V Luxe Sleeping Pad

As a Dyrt Ranger gear tester, I was offered an opportunity to evaluate one of the sleeping pads offered by a newer but very innovative outdoor gear company named Klymit. ( They do other things like sleeping bags and backpacks but I believe they are best known for their pads.


  • WIDE! Allows for a restless night without falling off.
  • Durable. Made from a rugged polyester fabric that has a substantial feel to it.
  • Thick. This thing is flat out comfortable.
  • Easy to inflate.
  • Easy to deflate.
  • Easy to roll-up


  • Valve system takes a little getting used to.
  • Noisy if not fully inflated.

I'm not an ultra light backpacker so do keep that in mind regarding my evaluation. First the specs. The bag weighs in at 35 oz and offers an R value of 5. It is a wide 30 inches and a long 76.5 inches. It is designed with V chambers to limit air movement and comes with a cinch down bag and repair kit.

Again, not being a hardcore, ultra light backpacker, the 35 ounces wasn't a concern. As long as it is durable, warm and comfortable, a few extra ounces are worth it to me.

Being 5'9", the 76.5 inch length was more than adequate and the 30 inch width allowed me to do my normal tossing and turning without hitting ground. Fully inflated, the pad is a whopping 3 inches thick and extremely comfortable. Being so thick, I felt no discomfort when I was side sleeping. Something other pads fail at. I believe it has to do with the design as there didn't seem to be any air movement between the chambers when fully inflated.

I read somewhere that it takes 50-60 breaths to fill it up but my experience was only 25-30. You'll be blowing in and not seeing much happening and then all of the sudden it's full. Not sure if you would be able to use a pump to air it up but don't know why you would. 25 puffs and lest than 2 minutes and it is fully inflated ready for sleeping. Deflation is as simple as releasing the valve and pressing the air out.

The valves are very durable looking. I was inclined to try to "unscrew" them to open an close and that caused me some confusion in the beginning. It's more of a push/pull and a twist maneuver. Guess they expected me to be smarter that the pad!

This trip was my third opportunity to use the Insulated V Luxe. Man have things improved since my first sleeping pad! I highly recommend the Klymit Insulated Static V Luxe pad. Durable, comfortable, warm and affordable - all good things in my book!

Convenient location

The campground itself is too busy for my liking but it is well run and clean. Seems like they tried to cram too many sites into the amount of land they have.

It is however fairly centralized to a lot of neat areas. Great as a basecamp to work out of.

Even though it is often crowded, there is a lot of wildlife to be found nearby. Moose everywhere!

First to Review
Plain but useful

Have only camped here when the prime campgrounds around the lake are full or overcrowded.

Not very scenic but is convenient. Lake offers boating, fishing, biking, playground and hiking opportunities.

Not the best but we'll maintained and will do in a pinch.

Hidden gem!

Nice little secluded campground on a small lake.

The campground has a playground and clean facilities. Makes for a great family camping option.

Great fishing campsite

Camped here half a dozen times this past year. There are some very nice sites available but there are some really boring ones too. College nearby so weekends inches summer can get a little rowdy at times but week nights are usually very peaceful.

Fishing in the lake, the spillway it the pond is always productive. And if you do want a little nightlife, there is a great area called Aggieville 15 minutes away.

Bike trails are awesome!

On a trip to Colorado for some hiking and biking, we stopped off here for a night. Campground had nice camp sites and was well maintained and facilities were very clean.

What make the space though we're the miles of incredible bike trails around the lake. Worth going back just for those! Very challenging if you take the tougher routes or there are others for leisurely rides.

Getaway in the city!

If you're looking for a remote getaway, this isn't it. Lots of people and just on the edge of Topeka. It is a nice family campground though. Fishing swimming, hiking, boating, golfing and many other things to do.

Camping sites are fine and the facilities are well maintained.

Nice way to introduce kids to camping!

Nice and quiet

Used Father Dryer Campground as one of our base camps while hiking a few 14ers during a week on Colorado. Found it to be clean and convenient. Vault bathrooms well maintained and tent sites were spaced far enough apart to provide privacy.

Made our early morning trip to Mt Elbert easy. If you don't want to hit a 14 er but like hiking, the campground has some great trails of its own. The Turquoise Lake Trail is a long and beautiful hike.

Will be using this campground again!

Great hiking trails nearby.

I live in Lawrence so this campground isn't a vacation spot for me but rather a "get some alone time" spot. Clean, safe and well maintained. Other campers are respectful and the camp hosts are always friendly.

The draw for me is the many hiking trails accessible from the campsite. Great place to spend a nice Kansas weekend!

Great way to see the sunrise from one of the nearby 14ers!

So often you have to drive quite a ways to get to 14er trail heads that a late start is inevitable. By taking advantage of camping right at the base of Mt Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln and Bross, you can get a very early start. Gives you a chance at being at the peak at sunrise!

The campground is run on the honor system. Drop some money in the box and find a place to set up camp. Vault bathroom in the area but no water besides the lake. You are at 12K ft so it is chilly year round.

Nice and secluded at night but gets busy come morning. The last 2 miles of road to get to the site requires a 4x4 or very high clearance 2WD. Even with clearance, you have to really maneuver around the washed out road.

Overall a neat place to spend the night!

Just not very scenic

The potential is there as the lake is a pretty lake. The problem is that most if not all of the campgrounds are so fare removed from a view of the lake, you might as well be in a random pasture.

The campgrounds are clean, safe and well maintained. Just not very pretty.

Great location for a variety of activities!

Located on Dillon Reservoir, Prospector Campground offers a nice balance of feeling remote while being conveniently near some really neat towns.

When at the clean and well maintained campground, you can hear a little highway noise and see a few signs of civilization across the lake but overall you feel like you are "getting away". If you do decide you need a little "city", Dillon, Frisco and Sliverthorne are a short drive away. Breckenridge is also just 20 minutes away.

Located perfectly as a base camp if you want to hit some nearby 14ers but also has some great hiking trails all of its own.

Never had anything but positive interactions with camp hosts and the bathroom facilities are always clean.

Highly recommend!