If there's one thing that I never figured I would engage or enjoy, it would be the outdoors. A self-proclaimed bug-a-phobe, I've avoided spending time with mother nature simply because I didn't like the possibility of being attacked and eaten alive in the woods (and trust, I am the type who will get bitten when no one else would). My first foray in outdoor excursions in North America happened last year in BC, camping out for the first time in 8 yrs (my first time camping was in Japan in 2008) near Cowichan Lake and then in Tofino. It wasn't a bad experience, and wasn't quite what I had thought it would be. When I thought of camping, I thought it was about roughing it in the woods sans running water, bathroom or shower stall. But then when I went to an actual camp site, there were tons of people everywhere with their cars, campers, running water and toilets. I was expecting backpacking into a remote place and it would just be me and my husband. I thought that was camping in the truest sense, but I guess that's just too hardcore for normal people, so they go to camp sites instead.
Now that the knowledge of camping has been demystified for me, we went on our first solo camping trip last month to Mont-Tremblant. Honestly, I didn't know the first thing to pack for camping nor was I sure we had all the gear we needed for this trip. In BC, his brother had kindly loaned us camping gear, while in Montreal, we were left to whatever we had. Luckily for me, my husband is well prepped man, he had pretty much everything we needed on the most basic level. We agreed to stop by the small downtown area in Tremblant to get supplies like firewood and food at the grocery store before setting up camp.
We camped in Mont-Tremblant National Park, and rented a one-night site near a private lake and tiny beach. The tent we had was a quick 5 min set up, and I was surprised how fast we were able to put it together. Everything else was basically setting up our little camper stove, getting water in our jug and starting the fire in the pit. While he was gone to get water, a deer popped up on our site. A rather large one too! We had come across that deer just 10 minutes before getting to our site when we saw it casually grazing on the side of the road, not even 2 meters away. This time, the deer was so close I could practically touch it, though I didn't. I gently shooed it away when it got too close to our picnic table and it moved along to eat mushrooms nearby. Cory came back and I urged him to come over quickly to take photos. It was a surreal and magical little experience on our first time camping alone together in Quebec. During our brief time there, we looked at the starry sky at night, so utterly stunning without having city lights in your way. I felt completely at peace and the stress of city life just barely starting to ebb away. Definitely would need more time out there to unwind.
Over the course of our stay, it was clear we needed to prepare a little better the next time around (i.e.: no paper plates, better food ideas, get better floor pad). Despite us having 3 sleeping bags, the area became quite cold at night at about 5C. I was freezing and my sleeping pad barely gave me any cushion against the hard floor. So I ordered a new sleeping bag made to resist the cold for up to -18C and a thicker sleeping pad. Most would probably opt for an air mattress, but maybe if we were to go on a week-long camping vacation, we would probably opt for that. As we like to keep things simple, we think RVs, cots, and other types of glamping (glamourous camping) is overkill and defeats the purpose of living with just the essentials. I've professed my love for stoking the fire with a stick, keep it burning hot and making sure the logs are used up entirely.
In the process of finding better camping gear, I came across a company I had read about at work called Biolite. Initially, I thought Biolite only made wood burning stoves for third world countries. Their technology removes the toxic smokes from their stoves, giving users clean energy to cook their food, along with an internal battery that is heat powered to power cell phones and other electrical items. I've heard of them back in 2012, but since then, they've developed a whole gamut of consumer products for westerners that relies on the same technology, with a part of the proceeds going to the Biolite HomeStove for third world countries. They've since developed a few rocket stoves, LED lights and solar panels for camping.
Upon reading about the Biolite CampStove 2, we knew we had hit something that we absolutely loved. It's a stove entirely powered by biomass such a sticks and twigs, the moment you light it up, a fan comes on to blow on the fire and heat it up. You don't need propane at all, just thick twigs to keep it going. The CampStove is self charging, meaning the fire powers up an internal battery that powers the fan. It can boil water, light a lamp and charge your phone at the same time too. Watch the neat video below.
I also ordered a stick breaker, which I know sounds incredibly silly, but I would challenge anyone to break half inch wide branches into 6 inch long twigs with their bare hands (remember you need a rather large pile of twigs to feed your fire), your hands and knees will hurt. We just received our CampStove 2 this week and are excited to use it this upcoming weekend for our trip. I've seen enough videos and read the instructions to know what it can or can't do and how to handle it. We ordered the matching Kettle and Grill to make cooking a little easier. I'm super excited to use it and can't wait to see how this thing works. The goal of it of course is not to actually replace the fire pit or propane grill. However, in the case of emergency and power outage (or lack of propane fuel), this is a great device to have on hand as it doesn't take much to power it and generate alternate forms of energy to recharge our electrical devices. I'm super tempted to get the site lights, as it's a great way to light up our camp site in the pitch blackness of night when you're not yet ready for bed. These can also be recharged via Biolite CampStove while the fire burns. Without propane, we don't have to worry about lugging around any fuel, only spend time picking up dry twigs (and in a forest, how hard can that be?).
My next challenge is to simply find ways of making better food while we eat. Most sites suggest to bring along cast iron pots and skillets, which is great for camping, but a headache on weight and a bitch to clean. We had roasted hot dogs last time, with bacon & eggs for breakfast, but we definitely could do better. I don't think we'll go as far as pizza grilling (apparently this is a trend) but pasta would be interesting to try out in camping.
As we've discovered this summer, we highly enjoy having a monthly getaway plan. It's something to look forward to instead of an actual vacation, it's relatively inexpensive (even if we're renting a car) and you don't need to travel very far to enjoy time outside the city. As we hope to stretch out these excursions to 2 nights, we can opt to do more activities like hiking or exploring our surroundings. Winter getaways are a bit trickier and more expensive, so we may just lay low in the winter and plan more for the late spring/summer/fall.