Archive

Category Archives for "Featured articles"

How Much Will Living Off the Grid Really Cost You and is it Worth it?

Living off the grid is something more people are dreaming of doing. But the real question is – how much will it actually cost you to be independent from the utility services in your region?

The truth is, the costs are quite a bit more than you probably think so for most people who have limited budgets, finding a hybrid solution rather than completely going off the grid will most probably be a more feasible solution.

Think about it, if you go off the grid, the costs for upkeep and maintenance of the services will shift from the actual utility service to yourself. So, keep in mind that it is best to have a backup solution just in case your main service is interrupted and needs repair and upkeep work.

So, what is the hybrid solution?

This is a more feasible solution to use certain off the grid services as backup options to the local utility services.

Here is what you need to cover your basic needs:

  1. A shelter. Of course, your home is your shelter, but just imaging a tornado, fire or storm makes it uninhabitable for some time? You will need an alternative shelter. This can be a simple shed for storage, which has solar panels or other alternative off the grid sources of energy and resources, as well as conditions which are suitable for living and sleeping there for a while.
  2. A water well – If you are allowed to, and have the resources to drill your own water well this is the best off the grid solution. But due to the cost and the fact that it is prohibited by some local utilities, you can use an alternative method to stay off the grid and have water. Install a rainwater catchment system along with a good quality filtration system. You can install one of these for about 500 USD, and can ensure you get all your water storage barrels full, and have water to meet your needs.
  3. You need a backup plan in case of a power outage. This could mean buying a portable gas generator for around 400 USD and making sure it is filled with gas for emergency outages.
  4. Food and cooking. A backup plan to be able to cook at a time of an outage is getting a wood, gas or charcoal stove. These are affordable, very efficient and require little or no maintenance. Having a sharp machete on hand for chopping wood is invaluable too. Besides there are a ton of other things you can do with machete.
  5. Getting a small, portable and affordable propane heater is great to help stay warm in case your heating stops or for extremely cold weather. Make sure you get one which is tested and can be used indoors safely.

It may or it may not come into use, but having a backup plan will surely help you feel safer and sleep better!

Campgrounds near Sacramento – a personal guide

Our family gets especially excited when the summer comes, because this is what we consider our outdoor season. We love to spend time outside camping, hiking, biking, and enjoying just about any other outdoor activity. We are lucky to live in a place where we have a variety of opportunities to enjoy family time outdoors. We are creating treasured family memories on our trips, and will like to share with you several of our camping and hiking tips which can help you enjoy your time outdoors as much as us too if you live in Sacramento or you are coming to visit:

camping-grounds-at-night

  1. Sly Park is a favorite campground to all our family. It is located on 4771 Sly Park Road, Pollock Pines. From there you get stunning views of the Jenkinson Lake, as well as an option of many various hiking trails. There is a beautiful beach, where the children enjoy playing and boating. This great place is just 45 minutes away from Sacramento and yet it feels like you are in close touch with Mother Nature there. There is a general store, vault toilets and picnic tables, as well as opportunities for fishing, hiking and boating.
  2. Collins Lake – located on 7350 Collins Lake Road, Browns Valle, this is another favorite campground near Sacramento, where you can rent a boat or marina, go fishing, enjoy the beach and swimming. There are playgrounds and an ice cream shop for the kids. For the ladies, there is good news too – there are showers as well as flashing toilets there too. It is a good idea to make reservations if you plan going camping here on a holiday, because it can be crowded.
  3. Lake Berryessa – located by Highway 128, Napa, it is an hour drive from Sacramento and is absolutely beautiful. There are a few campgrounds around the lake you can choose from. There are a wide variety of amenities you can choose from, such as boating, hiking, fishing as well as children’s playgrounds. No flushing toilets though – there are vault toilets available only.
  4. Fallen Leaf Lake – this lake is a bit further from Sacramento, it is at 2165 Fallen Leaf Road, South Lake Tahoe. It is located in the woods which gives you a real proximity to true nature. There are bear lockers for the food! There are some general stores, showers and flushing toilets there. There are also yurts for rent which have lamps and electric heaters as well as beds, if you do not feel like camping out in the woods.
  5. Bothe State Park – located at Calistoga camping, Napa, this place is a dream camping site for those who love wine. Here too there are camping sites, as well as available Yurts for rent. There is a swimming pool, as well as possibilities for hiking, biking and camping. Yes, there are flushing toilets and showers there.

family-camping-drinks

Here are a few of our family camping tips to make your trip better and more enjoyable:

  1. Freeze a gallon jug of water for the trip, so you have a big block of ice to keep your food and beverages cold during the trip. As it melts you will have drinking water too.
  2. Freeze burritos ahead of time, so that you have quick and easy meals ready for the trip. They will be transported easily and will keep other food and beverages cold during the trip. Then, just grill them and eat them.
  3. Use Tic-tac boxes to store various spices which you will be using for cooking and grilling.
  4. Don’t forget to take some instant coffee with you.

So these were our suggestions for excellent camping sites for those of you who are in Sacramento or are planning to visit, there is nothing better than spending your weekend outdoors, in the nature with your favorite people!

Finding North in the Wilderness Without a Compass or GPS

It is essential that you pack a compass and a GPS when going on a hiking, camping or other trip outdoors. But even if you have packed them in your backpack, anything can happen outdoors, and you may lose all means of navigation. This is when one of these tips for finding the right directions without a compass or GPS can come in handy.finding-north-wilderness

Some tips on basic navigation, use of GPS technology as well as survival in the wilderness

        1. First of all, you have probably heard of the one that moss grows on the North side of trees, which is definitely not a reliable method of determining where North is.
        2. Another theory which is not as reliable is that deciduous trees have more branches, leaves and overall vegetation on their southern sides. Although there is some logic for this phenomenon because of the better sunlight exposure, it still can be quite difficult to be used as a reliable method to determine the exact direction without a GPS or compass.
        3. Find the North star. The oldest and most reliable method to find north is to find Polaris (the North Star) and use it as a direction pointer. Polaris is positioned above the North Pole and is very closely aligned to the earth’s axis. The North Star is not the brightest star in the sky but should be easy to spot especially in a clear sky. In the northern hemisphere, Polaris is no more than 1 degree from the North Pole. You can train for spotting and easily identifying Polaris by training with a compass on a starry night.

          Use the sun for finding the correct directions.

        4. The stick method: This can be done in a sunny day by using one of several methods. You can do it with the help of a “shadow stick compass”. Place a tracking pole or a long stick into the ground on a sunny spot. Place a rock or other marker at the end of the shadow of the tracking pole. About half an hour later place another marker at the furthest point of the shadow. The line of shadow markers runs from East to West. In order to find north, just stand in a perpendicular position to the shadow marker line facing away from the shadow stick, and North will be straight ahead.
        5. Also, you can use a classic analog wristwatch to determine the right direction with the help of the sun and the stick. Point the hour hand to the stick and sun, and if you are in the North Temperate Zone, the North-South line will be located in the middle between 12 o’clock and the hour at which the hour hand is pointing. In daylight saving time, look for the North-South line between the hour hand and 1 o’clock. If the day is cloudy, place a stick at the center of the watch in a way that its shadow falls on the hour hand. North is right in the middle between the hour hand and 12 o’clock.

Once you have determined where North is, use a topographic map to compare its feature with the actual features you are seeing on the terrain. Try to identify some specific features, roads, rivers or others to get a better idea of the direction you are heading to. Try to make a “mental map” in your head for better direction maintenance and for a safer hiking experience.

A topographic map balances the methods discussed above. Once North is determined (as discussed above) orient the map to north and compare terrain features on the map with the actual contours and features on the ground. Identify topographic handrails such as rivers, trails, and dominant land features (e.g., mountains tops.) These features will help guide the hiker’s travel during the day.

How Becoming a Minimalist Changed My Hiking Experience Forever

After years of hiking and travelling mainly by foot from state to state, and after I got a painful back condition, I finally did a major revision of the things I carried in my travel bag along with me at all times. It turns out, that a lot of the stuff I have literally been carrying on my shoulders for thousands and thousands of miles has been completely useless in the majority of the time.

  1. Reduce

First of all, reconsider the number of knives, multi-tools and tools you carry in your pockets, on your belt and in your backpack at all times. Also, get rid of the duplicated things, and all that gear which you have always thought could come in handy, but never actually does. Consider keeping a good, small pocket knife, and a good quality multi-tool in your pockets, especially if you are carrying a full sized knife and multi-tool in your bag. Carry a lighter, your wallet and just essential stuff.

  1. Revise

Revise the contents of your wallet as well. Take out all old, invalid cards, business cards, etc. which you will not be needing. Carry one or more bandanas with you – they are light and yet can serve so many purposes while on the road.

  1. Barebones

Keep a good quality, strong, pocket knife with a locking blade, a medium and super small screwdriver, a toothpick and the option for attaching a lanyard. It is best that the pocket knife comfortable fits into the watch pocket of your pants. One option which fits this description is either an 84 or 85mm Swiss army knife with only two layers.

  1. Remove the bulky items

Also, revise your personal safety kit and remove all unnecessary bulky things, just a small signal mirror, a whistle, a mini photon type light, a piece of pencil, a compass and just some other essential stuff.

With the small pocket knife in your watch pocket, you should only carry folded bandanas in your back pockets. Bandanas are soft and can serve multiple purposes when you are on the road.

  1. Remove/reduce the non-essentials

Make sure that you remove any unnecessary keys and stuff from your keychain as well. Leave your ID tag, a small light, a mini capsule with critical medication, a mini light, glow ring and a small lighter.

It may not seem so crucial if you just go outdoors and hike for several hours, but for people like me, who spend their life on the road and on foot, every single ounce counts. So, do some self-observation next time you are spending time hiking, and watch for the things you carry and the things you actually use. Decluttering will make one hell of a difference for your legs and back, I promise!

How to Introduce Your Significant Other to the Outdoors Without Making Her Hate Camping

You aren’t a camping type of person, but your man is? Well, let me share my personal experience with this issue. I have always been a “girly” kind of girl, and I never thought that I could enjoy spending days and nights stranded in the wilderness without any showers or running water around. But fate got me together with my wonderful adventurous man, who is into hiking, camping and all kinds of outdoor activities. Since then, I have gradually learned certain skills, and a lot of very useful information on living and survival in the wilderness. Now I even know how to sharpen a machete! Not bad for a girl, right!

I have actually started to enjoy these camping and hiking trips with my fiancée, and have quite a decent bit of camping and survival equipment packed up too. I have several knives – both folding and full tang, camping equipment and gear, and have learned the most important basics: “shelter, fire, first aid, water” – these four things I have learned to priorities and take care of first, instead of panicking, getting angry and crying from despair as I admit doing the first couple of times we spent the night outdoors.

If your significant other is a newbie in camping and is doubtful about joining you at the next camping trip, maybe some of the things I have learned along the line may be able to help you or convince him or her to at least try:

meatballs-on-barbeque-outdoors

  1. Let her take whatever she wants, true you are probably going to be the one to carry all of it, but let her figure it out for herself and know that she needs to pack the essentials for next time.
  2. Discuss the meals you are going to be making on your trip. You can prep it at home and freeze it, so that you just throw it on the grill once you are there. Let her take part in the meal planning.
  3. You can practice putting up the tent in your backyard with her, if you expect her to take part in the actual putting up of the tent. Try to make it a fun and enjoyable experience for her, so you don’t scare her off from the real thing.
  4. Talk to her about what happens at your camping trips – the walks, the camp preparation, the fishing, etc. Get her ready for what to expect, without frightening her off.
  5. Once you arrive at the campground don’t just leave your partner hanging alone while going to talk with others. Involve her in the camping befriending experience as well.
  6. You must prepare yourself for sacrificing some of your own fun time in order to make her time.
  7. If she is having a hard time, go comfort her and talk to her about your first time camping and all the mistakes you made then.
  8. Remember to encourage her, and never embarrass her, because she may refuse to come to your camping trips ever again. Give her the credit for at least trying!

Six Tips for Your Kitchen Which Will Make Cooking Easier and Better

You may enjoy cooking, but dealing with all of the cleaning and other chores in the kitchen can take away a lot of your time and the joy of cooking at some point. Thankfully there are some tips for kitchen maintenance which will make prepping and cooking easier and simpler, and will allow you to have time for other things as well.

  1. Choose the most appropriate knife. Make sure you pick a well-balanced and sharp knife, because it is more efficient and safe to use. Of course, keep in mind that different knives are suitable for cutting different foods, for slicing, chopping, dicing, etc. So, you should get several knives (two or three) depending on the most common foods you cook with and the most common cutting techniques you use in your kitchen. It is a good idea to invest in high quality chef’s knives because they will last and serve you for longer, if taken care of properly.
    cooking-in-kitchen
  2. Properly and timely sharpen your knives. Over time the blade will get uneven and dulled, so you need to make sure you sharpen your knives periodically. You can use a steel, a whetstone or a sharpener to sharpen your knives, or you can leave it to a professional to do it for you. As a quick fix you can sharpen the blade by rubbing it at the unpolished bottom of a ceramic mug or dish.
  3. Make sure your grill is clean. Burnt on carbon and food residue can harm your food, will make it taste bad, and will cause the grill to take more time and use more energy for cooking it. This is why you should clean it regularly. It is bets to clean it after it has cooled down right after using it. In case you have food stuck on it, you can slightly pre-heat the grill and rub the tarnished rods with onion halves. Make sure the grill is not too hot so that you don’t burn yourself.
  4. How to easily squeeze a lemon. If you don’t have a lemon squeezer or a juicer, you can use tongs to squeeze a lemon. Cut it in half and squeeze the handles of the tongs to get as much of the lemon juice exerted easily.
  5. An easy tip for cutting soft foods. Cake, cheese and other soft foods can easily and evenly cut with the use of dental floss. Use a strip of floss and use it as a knife to cut the soft food without making a mess.

If you know some other clever kitchen tips to make our lives easier – please share it with me.

How to Properly Take Care of Your Knives – a Quick Guide

High quality knives can cost quite a lot of money, but anyway professionals invest a lot in purchasing the best ones for their needs. The high quality knives can definitely turn out to be an excellent long term investment which pays itself back, but it is essential that proper care is taken of the knives so that they last longer and serve you properly and safely.

Here are several tips on how to ensure that your knives are taken care of correctly:

  1. Storing your knives

Ensure that your knives are stored properly, so that they stay sharp and at the same time are safely put away when not in use. There is a wide variety of excellent knife storage options available on the market, including: canvas wallets, different knife racks as well as blade guards, which you can choose from.

  1. Knife washing

Remember to wash your knife immediately after use to prevent staining by acidic foods. Remove the grease with a good quality dishwashing solution and never leave them to dry naturally. Use a towel or dry cloth to dry the blade and handle in order to prevent corrosion.

  1. Knife sharpening

Naturally after using your knife for some time, its blade will get dulled and the slicing ability of your knife will decrease and it will become harder regular honing with steel can realign the blade and keep the knives in excellent form. Sharpening should be performed at least twice a year. You can leave the sharpening to professionals or you can get your own sharpener, steel or whetstone. There are various good quality brands to pick from, such as: Hygiplas, Buffalo, Dick and Vogue.

man-sharpening-knife-on-rotating-stone

  1. The chopping board

It may seem non-essential, but the truth is that using the appropriate chopping board is of great importance for the proper maintenance and care for your knife. Glass, ceramic and stone boards will damage the blade of your knife, so stay away from these no matter how cool they look. Stick to the wooden or plastic chopping boards instead. They will cause less dulling and present no risk to the blade of your precious knife. You can get a set of chopping boards which are of different colours for the different type of food products you use them for, which will help prevent cross contamination in the kitchen. One excellent set is the Hygiplas standard low density chopping board set of 6 various cutting boards.

  1. Engraving and marking your knife

If you carry your knife around and use it in a commercial kitchen, it is a good idea to engrave it, so it doesn’t get misplaced. There are various knife engraving services you can rely to get the engraving done safely and professionally.

Pros and cons of the various knives to bring along when camping or hiking

The question about the one single item you will bring if you are dropped on a deserted island without clothes or anything else is as old as the world. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that the single item which could be of the most use for you in such a situation is a knife. With a knife you have protection, you can make shelter, cut food and make yourselves some sort of clothing too.

camping-various-knives

Of course it is highly unlikely that you will be put into such an extreme situation, but in other more common cases, like when you go out camping or hiking, it is essential to bring a knife with you. You can use it for cutting food, cutting cords, making a shelter, hunting, for fixing your gear, or for a wide variety of tasks which you may need to perform while outdoors in the wilderness. But what is the best type of knife to take to your hiking or camping trip? Here are some of the pros and cons of the different types of knives you can choose from.

Pros and cons of the different knife types

Fixed blade knives

Since it isn’t foldable, a fixed blade knife is not the most common choice among campers and hikers. This type of knife needs to be carried in a sheath or other case, which makes it bulky and heavy. On the other hand, it is a very strong knife, because of the full tang construction (the metal from the blade continues into the handle of the knife. So, you choose whether to carry a heavier and bulkier full blade knife with you when you are going on an outdoor camping or hiking trip. It could be a choice between strength and dependability vs weight and bulkiness. You decide!

single-blade-folding-knife

Single folding blade knife

This type of knife is much more compact and easy to carry around in your pocket. Yes, it is compact, but its hinge makes it weaker than a full blade knife. These types of knives are usually quite affordable and can come in different sizes and varieties.

They can be used for tasks such as cutting food, gutting fish, cutting small branches and other everyday tasks. As far as survival goes, this is not the most reliable knife to have on you if you are hurt or lost in the wilderness.

multitools

Multitools

The most famous multitools carry the brand name Leatherman. These instruments have a wide array of different types and sizes of blades, wire cutters, plyers, screwdrivers and various different tools fitted in 1 body. Usually with multitools, the blades are rather narrow and small, and the other tools are very unlikely to be needed for survival in the wilderness. The multitool is handy for repair jobs and fixing mechanical faults, rather than for hiking or camping.

Swiss army knife

There are so many different types of Swiss army knives which feature amazing different tools. The problem is, the more tools it contains the heavier and bulkier the knife gets. The best type of Swiss Army knife to take on a camping or hiking trip is the classic small model with 1 main blade and a smaller one, a saw to cut branches, as well as an awl for punching holes and repairing gear and packs. The corkscrew and the can opener could be of help on your trip too. Although the blades can easily blunt, Swiss army knives tend to be the most popular kind of knives for camping and hunting because of their compact size and the variety of options for tools they have.