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Tag: REI

5 Camping Tips from a City Boy

Thinking of going camping for the first time? On the fence? Here’s the good news: You don’t have to entirely ‘get away from it all’ if you don’t want to. Here’s how to keep your mobile tech alive and well…

I was a city boy growing up. I was raised on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. My only real exposure to nature was camp outside of the city. And that wasn’t camping.

My wife loves camping.
She introduced me to its allure. I gave it a shot and found it wasn’t so bad.
(Although we endured a terrible thunderstorm over our first night.)

We did a bit of camping, but it wasn’t a ‘thing’ for us. But then our son came along…

Two years ago, we tried family camping with our then five-year-old boy. Specifically, at the annual Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Oak Hill, New York.

I think the sweet spot for any family camping location is to go somewhere that already has built-in activities to do as a family. So, the idea of a music festival that includes a family tent for kids was perfect.

Our kid really digged it. The concept of pitching your own little ‘house.’ It was magical for him.

Now, family camping is absolutely a ‘thing’ for us.
Grey Fox has become an annual event…
(We just returned from our third Grey Fox camping adventure.)

So I think it’s fair to say that today ‘we’ love camping.


My iPhone Goes Camping Too
I haven’t totally played fair. I’ve also spent the last couple of years figuring out technology tricks on how to stay ‘connected’ while on our camping excursions.
(I’m sure purists might fault me for this intention.)

My reality is I simply can’t leave my iPhone behind. My life doesn’t easily let me disappear for a few days. If my 84-year-old father needs to reach me, I’ve got to be able to answer the call.

Fortunately, the giant field we camp on at Grey Fox gets one to two bars of AT&T cell coverage.
(Other service providers are noticeably absent.)
So, my iPhone didn’t fall off the grid.

The bigger challenge was keeping my iPhone powered up.
(Plus, my wife’s iPhone)

Looking to the Sun with Goal Zero
As long as the sun shines, it’s a great idea to bring a portable battery station that recharges with a solar panel to nurse multiple smartphones over the course of days. A while back, I did my research and decided to go with some nifty gear made by Goal Zero.

Goal Zero Sherpa 50 Power Pack
Capacity: 50Wh, 5,200mAH
$178.48 on Amazon

I paired it with the Goal Zero Nomad 20 Solar Panel, which has a 20W solar capacity.
$159 on Amazon

And I added in the Light-A-Life 350 LED
$32.00 on Amazon
to illuminate the inside of our REI Kingdom 400 tent.

Goal Zero Upgrade
We were camping with another family this year, and I found it especially convenient that the other dad was also at home with his tech.

My friend brought the newer and more powerful models that Goal Zero offers:

The Goal Zero Yeti 150 Portable Power Station, which provides 150Wh and 14Ah of battery power
$199 on Amazon

He paired it with the Goal Zero Nomad 28 Plus Solar Panel, which has a 28W solar capacity.

Important note: Solar-powered battery solutions are not cheap!

You’ll notice that the Sherpa 50 and Yeti 150 are essentially the same price, but the Yeti 150 gives you a much bigger bang for the buck. The only downside to the Yeti 150 compared to the Sherpa is the Yeti is much bigger. But if you’re car camping, that shouldn’t really be a consideration.

We tethered the two Nomad solar panels together and successfully created our very own solar ‘FrankenPower’ Grid.

It worked great and easily kept four iPhones going over four days with plenty of power to spare.






A Cheaper Choice
Over the course of multiple camping excursions, Goal Zero gear becomes less expensive per use. But if you want a cheaper way to power your gear on your first camping adventure, just bring a few basic (inexpensive) power sticks.
(You just need to bring enough since you won’t have a solar recharging capability.)

Last year, I picked up this beefy RAVPower battery pack as a backup option-
RAVPower 26800 Battery Pack (26800mAh)
$49.99 on Amazon
(It has three USB ports and is rated to recharge an iPhone 7 nine times!)

So, you can probably get away with spending less than fifty bucks to power your smartphones on a family camping trip. It all depends on your needs and your desire to generate additional power in the field.

You might be thinking about now… “Maybe Barrett doesn’t really love camping if all he talks about is how to maintain his ‘normal’ life with all of his companion tech.”

And you might be right.

But I’ve decided that for me it’s not about loving the camping experience.
It’s about proving to myself that I actually can camp. And enjoying the fact that I can step out of my comfort zone and rough it for a few days.

To successfully ‘survive’ in the ‘wild’ and provide your family dry shelter… that’s a useful skill.
(Just don’t take all the credit when your more-qualified spouse is also there pitching the tent.)

And to MacGyver your mobile tech to stay connected with the world…That can make you feel a tad clever, although I guess that’s not in the spirt of true camping.

Perhaps this all falls under the category of ‘glamping.’
(Guilty as charged!)

Tips to Take with You
The truth is I’ve not really taken my family that far away from civilization.
(Our car was located a whopping fifteen feet away from our pitched tent.)

So, I’m not pretending to be some kind of Grizzly Adams.

The point of my story is you can teach a city boy some new tricks.

And for all of you out there who think they may hate camping, remember there can be a lot more to the experience than just spending a few days in a tent.

To review, here are my 5 family car-camping tips that will brighten your days in the ‘wild.’

  • As long as there’s a bar of cell phone coverage out there, you don’t have to disconnect from the world if you don’t want to.
  • Just bring battery and/or solar powered backup to keep your smartphones going.
  • Camp with someone who knows more about camping than you do.
  • Camp near a festival or event that can fill your day with baked-in activities for the family.
  • Don’t stress. Remember, you’re really only fifteen feet away from the rest of your world.
    (As long as your car’s battery doesn’t die)

Jump in… the water’s warm!

Seven Packing Tips for Successful Winter Business Travel

Some business trips are more challenging than others. And cold weather never helps. So packing smart can make all the difference…

Some business trips are more challenging than others. And cold weather never helps. So packing smart can make all the difference…

I recently had something of an adventure at my job, and it involved enduring more than a little bit of extreme cold. I flew to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to support our communications team on the ground.

It was an amazing week for me. Not only for being a part of the WEF experience and being immersed in the theme of responsive and responsible leadership, but also because it took me out of my comfort zone… in more ways than one.

Going Back to my Roots
My contribution called for some hands-on video skills that I hadn’t practiced in some time and then employing them with tight deadlines in the frigid outdoors.

And as the week progressed, my successful experience reminded me there are many ways to bring your best self to any challenge…

Grace Through Adversity
Life will test you. On any day… a moment can unexpectedly knock you off balance. So how should you handle the curve balls?

First off, how you approach them always makes a huge difference. But there are also certain precautions you can take to help prepare for the unexpected.

Here’s my list of packing tips to help you succeed during a challenging winter business trip.

Bring a Travel Plug Bar
First off… I didn’t…

What I failed to realize when I was packing my type ‘J’ power plug adapters for Swiss outlets is these adapters are really bulky. So I wasn’t able to get more than one to fit next to other existing plugs in the wall outlet.

So if you’ve got multiple devices to power in one location, you’re going to need some help with a portable multi plug bar.

Here’s one good option:

Pack Portable Power
So halfway into my trip, I ran into some additional electrical difficulty. I plugged in my iPhone charger next to the bed and tripped a circuit breaker. The power remained out in my room for the remainder of the trip.

Typically, I charge up my iPhone every night and also use it as my alarm clock for the morning.

So that would have been a problem without my wakeup alarm if I had to change my iPhone elsewhere overnight. Fortunately, I brought along some portable power via my trusty Anker Astro battery power bank.

I charged up the Astro during the day at another location and then used it at night to keep my iPhone up and running.

Thank you, Anker!

Don’t Forget a Small Flashlight
See dark bedroom story above…

Have a Good Compact Camera at the Ready
Sure, a smartphone can handle many photographic needs these days, and my iPhone is always there for me and easily accessible in my right pant pocket. But sometimes, you’re going to need a camera with a few more tricks up its sleeve.
Case in point…

Towards the end of my trip, I was called upon to take a team picture. An earlier attempt by a colleague using her smartphone in the dimly-lit space could not generate a usable photo. The question rang out from the group… Did I have a camera with me that could get the job done?

In fact, I did.

Remember my new Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX10?

The Lumix’s powerful 1” sensor and ample flash got the job done big time.

Dress Like You’re Going on a Winter Hike
Simply put… Davos, Switzerland is wicked cold in January.
(I began my days at about 2 degrees Fahrenheit.)

And I knew that I was going to be spending a whole lot of time outdoors. So what are you supposed to do when the dress code skews semi formal?

The trick is to use the cutting-edge fiber technologies built into today’s outdoor-sports clothing. Sure, this kind of clothing isn’t cheap, but it’s really thin… and you can wear one or two base layers under a dress shirt and tie.
(As well as a base layer under your pants.)

So in preparation for the extreme environment, I did a little shopping at REI and Eastern Mountain Sports.

Losing Stuff will Happen
But try not to lose the important items.

I dropped a glove more than once, and each time someone ran up and returned it to me. That’s great karma.
(Though I did pack an extra pair of gloves)

Believe You Can
Speaking of karma… this list can’t only be about the tangible objects or tech that you bring with you. As I mentioned above, it’s also about what you bring from within…

In my view, it’s usually better to take a chance and risk failing instead of playing it safe and never trying to stretch yourself.

Now don’t get me wrong… you’ve got to be as prepared as you can be.

And never forget to bring the confidence that you can figure it out… no matter what.

All right, then…

Start packing!

The Best Piece of Luggage for a Six Year Old

Traveling with kids is no walk in the clouds. Their bags had better be able to handle whatever bumps and bruises come their way. I say don’t skimp when it comes to buying their luggage…

Traveling with kids is no walk in the clouds. Their bags had better be able to handle whatever bumps and bruises come their way. I say don’t skimp when it comes to buying their luggage…

My son really needs a decent piece of luggage to travel with. His favorite knapsack has a gaping hole by the zipper, which developed due to massive zipper stress any learning hands will create. Plus, I say he’s ready to handle a more substantial bag with heft and even some wheels to help him along.

Sure, I can get him a cheap rolling soft suitcase that’s specially branded with his favorite cartoon character. Amazon is filled with them.

But I doubt any are really built to last. And perhaps more importantly, I worry they’d provide enough protection for their contents.

Protecting Possessions on the Go
You might be wondering how much protection a few kid’s clothes really need.

But I’m not talking about his shirts and pants. I’m thinking about his prized possessions “de jour” he likes to travel with. In the past, that used to be a few of his favorite stuffed animals. But now, he’s almost six years old, and his favorite toys are clearing evolving into the delicate electronic realm.

Remember that Carrera RC stunt car I got him over the holidays?

And that crummy family Nikon COOLPIX S32 camera?
(He absolutely loves it.)

This is the type of gear he likes to keep close when he’s packing. And I imagine unless my boy suddenly becomes a Luddite, there’s more future tech that’s going to need protection while we travel.

And I’d rather him not use cute luggage made for kids that could disintegrate at any moment.

Sure, one solution is simply to carry his delicate gear in my own luggage until he’s eighteen.
(But how realistic is that?)

I think the better choice is to get him an adult piece of luggage that’s tough enough and simply small enough for him to handle…
(The down side is decent luggage is usually pretty pricey…)

REI or Bust
I’ve always loved shopping at REI. Not that I’m a huge outdoors guy. But I like their stuff. It’s good quality, and yes, I’ve been known to hike a small mountain or two in my time. (Massachusetts’ peaks aren’t very high.)

These days, my wife is leading the way in our family camping experiences.
You may recall my Goal Zero Sherpa 50 battery back-up purchase last summer in advance of our first family camping trip.
(I also picked up a beefy Thule Covert Camera Backpack.)

The REI downside is it isn’t the cheapest place to shop. But I think that economic reality is more reflective of the camping/hiking market anywhere.
(Unless you’re shopping at Walmart… and that inventory is entirely different.)

One factor that softens the REI sticker shock is the 10% rebate you get every year on all of the regular-priced purchases you make as an REI member.

Even so, you don’t go to REI looking for the best prices. You’re there, because you want the product to hold up under tough conditions…
(I think my five year old fits that equation. Plus, he won’t outgrow a piece of luggage any time soon!)

Web Research
I first took a look at and perused the wheeled-luggage section. It seemed clear that the 22” bags designed as airplane carry-on luggage would be the right size for my young traveler.

Beyond that, we would need to evaluate the options in person. So it was time for a little father-and-son shopping excursion…

Weight Matters
At our local store, I found three similar rolling bags made by Osprey, Eagle Creek and REI:

Osprey Ozone 22
Osprey Ozone 22”
4 lbs, 5.9 oz
22” x 14” x 9”






Eagle Creek Load Warrior 22
Eagle Creek Load Warrior 22” Wheeled Duffel
4 lbs, 13 oz
22” x 14” x 9”






REI Wheely Beast 22
REI Wheely Beast 22” Wheeled Duffel
6 lbs 2 oz
22” x 14” x 9”

I found the biggest difference between the three was the weight differential.
The Osprey was the lightest.

It was really only seven ounces lighter than the Eagle Creek, but my son noticed it immediately.


The REI Wheely Beast was the best deal of the bunch, but it was also almost two pounds heavier than the Osprey! Now that may not sound like a lot, but believe me, when my son picked the heavier REI bag, it was clear what the right choice was.

Not only was the Osprey the lightest. It also has a cool, neon green interior.

That doesn’t quite shout, “This is a cool kid’s bag!” But it definitely has that ‘fun’ vibe.

Plus my son liked the red surface color.
(It also comes in light blue and black.)
…and he also called out the osprey image stitched on the front.
(Which he thought was a bald eagle)

Actually, ‘Swipe.’
(REI didn’t have chip-card readers installed yet.)

Life-Long Journey
My boy’s tech gear is now safe.
Well… safer.

No, I didn’t buy him a hard travel case that can withstand a playdate with a guerilla. But I feel a whole lot better knowing the Osprey will hold together for the foreseeable future.

Plus, when my son outgrows it, it will find a second life as a perfect overnight or day trip bag… for me.

Yes, I like it too.
(Is that so wrong?)

…Just thinking about the future.

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