How To Start a Campfire

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When you hear the word “camping,” a swirl of pleasant images immediately comes to mind. But perhaps the most iconic is the welcoming campfire.

More than just to ward off the chilly night, a campfire is a place where family and friends gather to lounge and chat, roast marshmallows, or simply stare into the glowing coals and let the mind wander.

But before you can reach such nirvana, you should know how to start a campfire. And really, it’s not that hard…

STEP 1: Gather Your Tools

There’s a bit more to building a great campfire than simply placing a few logs in a heap and tossing on a match. Here’s what you’ll need:

Tinder—the smallest and easiest burning materials used to get a campfire started.

Kindling—the next step up in size. Usually twigs or small branches between 1/8 inch and 1/2 inch in diameter.

Firewood—the crown of an inviting campfire. Firewood can vary anywhere from 1 inch to 5 inches in diameter. It can be whole logs, or split down from larger pieces. It’s important that your firewood is completely dry in order to start easily and stay lit.

Important Note: Don’t break branches off trees for firewood. If everyone did this there wouldn’t be any forests left. Some forest management agencies permit you to pick up fallen limbs but ask first.

Matches or a lighter—how else are you going to get your campfire started? Common stick matches are fine, although gas lighters used for starting BBQ grills are gaining in popularity.

STEP 2: Build the Fire

Before you can start a campfire, you have to build it first.

If your site has a fire ring, you’ll probably have to push the ash and charcoal from previous fires to the outer edge of the ring to give you enough room for the new fire. For ashes that are stone cold, consider shoveling them into a plastic trash bag for proper disposal later.

If you have to create your own fire pit, clear away any dead grass or vegetation for 8 to 10 feet around. You want bare dirt. Then dig down into the cleared soil several inches and set the loose dirt off to one side for use in case of emergency. You can mound the dirt around the sides of the pit to act as a firewall, or place large rocks around the edge of the pit to insulate the fire.

Next, at the center of the fire ring, lay a bed of tinder perhaps a foot in diameter. (Remember, tinder is the really light, quick burning material.)

1. The Teepee Fire: This style is good for cooking. First, arrange your kindling in teepee fashion over your tinder. Then build a larger teepee of firewood over the kindling. When lit, the flames will rise up through the kindling and into the larger wood.

2. The Lean-to Fire: This style is also good for cooking. Start by sticking a long piece of kindling into the ground above your tinder at about a 30-degree angle, with the other end of the stick pointing into the wind. Then lean smaller pieces of kindling against both sides of the longer piece to build a tent. As the kindling catches fire add more, followed by your firewood.

3. The Cross Fire: This is ideal for a long-lasting fire. Start by laying your kindling over the tinder bed in a crisscross fashion, followed by your logs or firewood.

4. The Log Cabin Fire: Another long-lasting fire. Begin by creating a kindling teepee over your tinder, then lay two logs on either side of the cone. Place two more logs on top of these to form a square. Then build up using smaller and shorter pieces of firewood until you’ve formed a cabin. Top off the cabin with some of your lightest kindling.

STEP 3: Light the Fire

Now it’s time to enjoy the results of your labor. Remember to keep children and pets safely away, then light your tinder. For best results light the tinder from several sides. Don’t squirt charcoal lighter fluid into a fire; flames could travel up the stream and burn you. And NEVER use gasoline!

Once your campfire is established, feed it with additional wood as needed, taking care not to build the flames too high. Be sure to keep your fire extinguishing tools nearby, and never leave a fire unattended, even for a moment.

Putting Out Your Fire

Once the evening is over, it’s your responsibility to put your campfire out completely so give yourself plenty of time to do the job right.

Start by sprinkling—not pouring—water onto the flames or coals. Don’t flood the fire ring or pit as you or the next camper will want to use it later.

As you sprinkle, stir the embers with a stick or shovel to ensure that all the coals get wet. Once the steam has subsided and you no longer hear any hissing sounds you’re just about done.

Before you head off to bed or pack up to leave, place the back of your hand just above the wet ashes. Don’t touch them as they could still be hot. Don’t feel any heat? Then the fire is out. If it still feels warm add more water and stir until the fire bed is cold.

With the proper fire ring or pit, the right tinder, kindling and firewood, plus selecting the style of campfire that best meets your preferences, you and your family can safely enjoy an evening under the stars while making s’mores.

Don’t Forget: Safety First

Safety is the most important factor when learning how to start a campfire—especially if you have kiddie campers. A 2011 study revealed that a person is injured by fire every 30 minutes, so stay alert as dancing flames have a magnetic quality that draws people close.

 

10 Alternatives to the Classic Hot Dog

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When someone says “barbecue” you think of the classic meal: A hotdog, a bun, a zig of mustard and a zag of ketchup. Maybe a few onions and relish on top, depending on your preferences.

While the classic hot dog is a campsite staple, it’s not your only option. A few unconventional toppings are all you need to create a whole new meal, or you can choose a different kind of dog altogether. Chew on these ideas before you shop for your next camping trip.

Chili Dog

Pair a traditional hot dog with vegetarian or beef chili for a delicious twist on the classic preparation. What’s better, you can make the chili at the campsite in your Dutch oven and eat the leftovers for another meal.

Chicken Sausage

Throw out the hot dog altogether and nosh on chicken sausage instead. Applegate Farms makes a variety of gourmet flavors like organic chicken and apple sausage, organic andouille sausage and organic fire roasted red pepper sausage.

Chicken Dog

Chicken hot dogs are leaner than all-beef or beef and poultry mix dogs, making them lower in fat and often sodium, as well. Pair your chicken dog with a whole-wheat bun for a healthy hot dog dinner.

Turkey Sausage

If you want to ditch the hot dog altogether, swap it out for a turkey sausage. Cook it over the fire for the smoky, charred flavor that makes campfire cooking so delicious and unique.

Corndog

This childhood favorite is a great hot dog alternative, but don’t buy the frozen version. Instead, make your own right at the campsite.

Vegan Dog

Many shy away from vegan and vegetarian dogs because of their unappetizing and processed ingredients. However, if you choose not to eat meat, but still want to have a dog around the campfire. While some of their ingredients are less than ideal, they pride themselves on using mostly all-natural ingredients like apple cider vinegar and paprika.

Uncured All Beef

An uncured, all-beef hot dog varies in taste and health benefits. An uncured dog has no nitrates, which come from the salts used in a traditional curing process.

Seafood Roll

If you don’t want a hot dog or sausage at all, choose a different protein. With fresh fish and veggies you can still fill a hot dog bun, without having to skip out all together.

Pizza Dog

Ditch the ketchup, mustard and onions for marinara, cheese and pepperoni when you opt for a pizza dog. Make sure to roast your dog on a stick so you still get the campfire flavor that’s so delicious.

Bacon Dog

While this isn’t the healthiest alternative, it’s certainly different from the traditional option. Remember, this hot dog variation will need to be cooked in a pan over the fire so the bacon stays wrapped.

 

RECOGNIZING THE SIGNS OF VEHICLE ENGINE DAMAGE

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It’s not always easy to recognize when your vehicle is suffering from engine damage as symptoms can be overlooked and seen as “normal.” While not all sounds and smells may threaten the life of your engine, there are some obvious warning signs that require a vehicle inspection right away.

Early diagnosis of engine damage can most likely be treated, but it is important to be aware of potentially damaging symptoms and have the vehicle inspected if something doesn’t seem right. By acting quickly and making necessary repairs as soon as possible, you could be saving yourself from the cost and hassle of breaking down along the road.

One of the signs of engine trouble is an illuminated check engine light. This light indicates that a vehicle system, such as the ignition, fuel injection or emission control, is not operating properly, even if the vehicle appears to be running normally. Ignoring the check engine light can negatively impact your fuel economy or cause damage resulting in more costly repairs.

Many motorists are familiar with the noises their vehicles make on a daily basis. However, any noise that is new, different or suspicious may indicate a problem, including a high-pitched squeal, grinding or thumping. Sounds under the hood, such as hissing, can also indicate that your vehicle is in need of attention.

Although all vehicles burn fossil fuels that create undesired emissions, these odors should remain outside of it. Unusual smells that could signal engine damage include: burnt rubber, hot oil, gasoline, sweet smell of syrup, burning carpet and rotten eggs. When you smell any peculiar odor, you should not ignore it.

Another symptom of engine damage is excessive amounts of smoke or steam. Although some smoke is normal, excessive amounts of dark smoke in particular indicates that oil is leaking into the combustion chamber and is being burned along with the gasoline.

Ways to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling

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Tips for avoiding scams and theft while traveling are a staple of the travel writing genre; pretty much every guidebook or travel website dedicates some space to the subject. 

But in the 21st century, you are as much at risk of having your identity stolen — or more accurately your financial and digital identity — as you are of getting “mugged,” which almost sounds quaint these days (though I do not intend in any way to underplay the misery and danger of actually getting mugged).

Identity theft is a growing problem worldwide — especially for travelers, who are very vulnerable, forced as they are to use unsecured Internet connections, carry extensive personal documentation with them at all times, and share their credit cards with merchants about whom they know nothing and whom they’ll never see again.

Modern technology hasn’t made it any easier for honest folks to avoid identity theft, either; witness the practice of websites like Facebook and LinkedIn, which often keep you logged in to the site, even after you close your browser or turn off your computer. Someone getting unfettered access to your closest friends on Facebook could definitely shake out some very “helpful” information before you knew it.

As time and technology advance, this problem is only going to affect more travelers.

Here are tips to avoid identity theft while traveling:

“Unpack” Critical Documents Before Travel

If you carry some essential documents with you when you are not traveling — the average wallet or purse might include a Social Security card, bank statements, medical documents, checkbook and the like — remove them before you leave home. Essentially, when it comes to documentation, you want to “unpack” before traveling.

Be Very Careful About Shared and Insecure Internet Connections

This is one thing that I have found very difficult to do – when traveling, it is hard to find connections other than public ones at hotels, cafes, airports, you name it. To see the warning “this connection is unsecured and others may see your information” is almost a staple of the travel experience. The risk applies to anything you type into your keyboard while connected, such as email passwords and website logins.

Use Only Bank ATM’s

A recent trend among identity thieves has been to install card readers in an ATM by which they can access your card number and PIN. This happens most often at non-bank, “generic” ATM’s (in hotels, convenience stores, etc.), which have less oversight and are therefore more vulnerable than bank-run and hosted ATM’s. Stick with the ones at banks; these can still be compromised, but tend to be targeted by thieves much less often.

Change Passwords and PIN’s

You may want to change your passwords after a trip; identity thieves are thought to be very patient criminals, and often wait until you are less likely to pay attention after a few weeks at home.

How to Take a Digital Detox Vacation

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When airlines first started offering Internet access on planes, there was an outcry from many folks who were connected almost around the clock and therefore cherished the precious time in the air when no one could call, email or text them. Many saw this quiet time as one of the most enjoyable elements of what were otherwise arduous business trips.

Similar debates raged over whether or not to allow cell phone use on planes. Do we really want to interrupt the relative quiet of an airplane with ringing phones and inane conversations?

Most of us know at least one person who has posted something to Facebook or Twitter along the lines of “Aircraft doors closing, stack of magazines and neck pillow at the ready,” with some sort of anti-digital hashtag.

The fact that so many folks announce delight in time away from devices and social media via a device on social media seems as good an indicator as any that there may be something to the growing popularity of digital detox vacations.

Why Do a Digital Detox?

Should I Do This While Traveling — and How?

In some respects, a vacation is a perfect time to eschew all types of digital stimulation; you are out and around, often in an entirely new environment, and have far less exposure to the moments of boredom or distraction that lead folks back to their screens again and again.

On the other hand, most of us know how helpful our devices are when traveling in an unfamiliar place. In fact, it could be argued that a smartphone shifts from a source of distraction to a superb tool when navigating new cities, finding things to do and dealing with travel snafus.

– Be ready for withdrawal symptoms
– Plan to enjoy (and not regret) missing out on what everyone else is doing
– Be prepared with things like paper maps and written phone numbers
– Set small goals (maybe a 24- or even 12-hour detox instead of a week the first time out)
– Plan something that will occupy and entertain you

This last item in particular suggests that travel might be the perfect time to try a digital detox; spending your afternoon snorkeling can make it really easy to skip fitful checks of your phone.

 

Cleaning the RV Shower

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Most RV’s these days come equipped with a fiberglass or acrylic shower stall. They are lightweight and can be manufactured in unlimited sizes and configurations to fit any RV floor plan. The stalls are attractive and easy to maintain. Many RVers are dutiful about using a squeegee after a shower and some folks even dry the stall with an old towel – but one day you are going to have to clean the surface.

Fiberglass shower stall manufacturers provide detailed care instructions, but basically they state to never clean the surface with an abrasive cleaner (like Ajax powder) or pad (like steel wool). The best way to clean the shower stall is with a dryer sheet. Bounce, Snuggle or any brand will do – just choose your preferred scent, and hop in the shower.

The procedure works best if the shower stall and dryer sheet are wet. Moisten the dryer sheet and wipe the walls of the shower stall – when the motion becomes smooth, the gunk is gone. All you need is a little teeny bit of elbow grease. Two or three dryer sheets will clean an entire shower stall.

If the floor of your shower is textured, this can sometimes be very difficult to clean. But our old friend, fabric softener, comes to the rescue again. Pour a capful of liquid fabric softener on bottom of a wet shower floor. Use a fiberglass or acrylic-safe scrub brush to spread it evenly over the surface and let it sit for ten minutes. A little scrubbing with the brush will have it looking new again.

The dryer sheets also work wonders on glass shower doors and an old toothbrush dipped in liquid fabric softener will make quick work of soap scum on the metal and rubber seals around the door.

Once finished, rinse the stall with the shower. The fabric softener will cause the shower stall to become slippery during cleaning, so take precaution.

6 Quick Tips for RV Beginners

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Whether you’re a family of weekend campers or a retired couple looking to travel full-time, every RV beginner has to know a few important things before making the maiden voyage. Here are six quick tips to consider before you pile in and head out.

Tip 1: Decide Whether to Buy or Rent

This isn’t always an easy decision, with pros and cons for both. However, when you consider a few key factors, the answer becomes clearer.

  • Buy: You plan to go RV camping often or full-time and you have storage for the times when you aren’t traveling.
  • Rent: You plan to go on a single trip, or want to test the waters before making a purchase.
Tip 2: Get to Know Your RV

With little road experience, it’s especially important that RV beginners take time to learn how the motorhome works, even if it’s just a rental. If something breaks, you should be able to assess the problem, and potentially fix it. This saves time and money spent at a mechanic. Continue reading