Gear Reviews

We are testing out gear to use with the van. Here’s a few reviews:

Camp table: An ideal camp table is lightweight, fits in an Aluminess storage box when packed, is heat-resistant, seats 2 to 4 people, and fits between the van seats. We tested the Rokk table. It is available from Wal-Mart or Camping World. It packs up tightly and fits in the Aluminess storage box. Assembly was fairly easy. It’s best to assemble the table top first, flip it upside down, and then snap on the legs. The top is aluminum, so we can put a hot pan directly on the table. The leg cross-supports are high up, reducing knee collisions when we use the table indoors. Looks to be a good choice.

Chairs: Several Sportsmobile Forum members had recommended the Pico Chair from GCI outdoor. In our test, the chair has folded up easily. 2 chairs and the Rokk table fit together well in the Aluminess box. The seat-space is surprisingly roomy. There’s a bit of butt sag, so I wouldn’t want to sit in the chair for hours at a time. However, for a compact dining chair, it should work well. Some users have reported that the chair breaks when put on sand. We haven’t tested that out yet. REI does carry this chair, so at least it comes with a great return policy.

Awning: I tried to set up our Shady Boy awning last night. It appears to be a well-made product. I like how the case snaps closed, and there are snaps to hold the fabric up during repacking. The notches that hold the poles seem quite shallow. The poles would just barely pop into the case. I’m hopeful and skeptical regarding the sturdiness of these notches. The awning poles come in a bag, and each pole is color-coded. I wish that I could find directions that explain the codes! The stock directions were unhelpful. There’s a few poor-quality instructional videos on line. The camera work is fuzzy, the instructional text is white print on a white background, and reggae music drowns out the instructor’s comments. We will be reaching out to the manufacturer for better directions.

Vehicle self rescue gear: The Ford vehicle manual is clear, detailed, and a must-have for road repairs. It proves its worth when the “check engine” signal lights up 500 miles from the nearest mechanic, especially when that mechanic doesn’t know what a wiring harness is. Sigh. Viking Offroad is a great resource for rescue gear. Their recovery rope and shackles are valued pieces of our “stuff happens” kit. For an example of “stuff happens”, see what happens when we try to camp on a maintained forest road. The Extreme Air Compressor is essential for airing down tires in rough roads, with the added bonus of inflating bicycle tires and blowing out dust.

Pet care: How to get a large, arthritic dog into a tall van? There are dog ramps, but they would take up half the living room. The Pet Loader folds, and is more compact. With lots of treats and praise, even our “old lady” learned how to use it.


Picture this:  You finally pull your van-home into BFE.  The trees are perfect.  The rivers are clean.  The nearest Starbucks is 400 miles south, over at least one 14,000 foot snow-covered precipice.  Then, some important widget falls off something somewhere, and you’re stuck.  Sure, you should have planned ahead and brought the widget-fixing tool, but you didn’t.

Option #1:  Start walking.

Option #2:  Phone-a-friend.

I choose option #2.  I just added a General Class Amateur Radio license, call sign KD0QXJ, to my “bag of communication tricks,” so I can phone-a-friend from anywhere, anytime, as many times as I want.

I intend to travel to destinations well off the beaten path, and I’m carrying several methods of communication for both staying in touch and emergencies.

  • I have a cell phone with an amplifier.  My rule-of-thumb, however, is that I’m too close to the beaten path if I have reliable cell coverage, so a cell phone alone isn’t sufficient.
  • Citizen’s Band (CB) radio works well for short-range communication.  It’s ideal for chatting in populated areas, along major roads, and within groups of vehicles.  I don’t plan on carrying a CB radio because the next option is better.
  • Amateur radio (also known as ham radio) provides much greater flexibility and range, including world-wide communication.  I already have a VHF/UHF antenna on the hood, and I’ve pre-wired for an HF antenna.  Thanks for Alan Applegate, K0BG, for talking with me about mobile antennas.
  • A portable satellite dish, carefully aimed at the sky, provides Internet access almost anywhere.  I don’t have such a satellite dish yet, but I’ve pre-wired my van for the dish.
  • A Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) provides a world-wide method for sending one-way alerts to search-and-rescue indicating a life-or-death emergency.  Although a PLB is a single-purpose device, I’ll probably get one because it’s a reliable “hotline” to emergency help.
  • Two-way satellite communicators, like the SPOT device, allow two-way “text message” communication via satellites.  It’s interesting technology, and I’m undecided if I’ll carry one.

The idea here is “defense in depth.”  I’ll have multiple methods of communication, and I can choose the best for each situation.  If one method fails, I have others.

Where does the Apple II go?

I’d like to thank Ken Gagne for mentioning this site on Open-Apple, a monthly podcast dedicated to the Apple II computer.  Open-Apple, like most things Ken does, falls in the “bucket loads of awesome” category.  The first computer I used was an Apple II, and I’m pleased to be part of the thriving community of Apple II fans and users.  Obviously, my van needs an Apple II.  However, I’m undecided on which model and where.  Tony Diaz recommends an Apple IIgs mounted on the wall.  The Apple IIc and IIc+ are tempting, too, due to their compact size.  I’ll have to wait and see where I have space.

Ski Gear Review

We demoed some ski gear in the early season snow at Telluride. Conditions included fresh powder, packed powder, groomers, and crud. Temperatures were in the high teens to mid 30s. Here are our reviews:

  • Rossignol Temptation 78 women’s skis. Skier: PSIA level 4/5, single blues. All mountain skis with early rise tip and tail and a traditional camber underfoot. Gripped hardpack, western ice, and groomers beautifully. Improved my skiing by 1 PSIA level in these conditions. Floated fairly well in powder. Still did get shin deep into the fluff in Prospect Bowl. Need more skills for crud skiing before I can evaluate the skis’ crud performance. Ski is more forgiving than the Volkyl Attiva that I demoed last year. Overall: a great cruising ski
  • Rossignol Experience 83 men’s skis. Skier: PSIA level 5/6, single and double blues. Also an all mountain ski with 30% early rise tips and 70% traditional camber.  It took a few days to get comfortable with the skis, but I’m happy and look forward to having them underfoot again.  I expect these skis to last as my skills improve.
  • Leki spark S poles: The S pole line has a quick release between the pole and wrist strap. I love this quick release. Easy on and off at the lifts. Much faster to remove than traditional ski poles. The quick release didn’t work in the 3 falls that I took, though all the falls were fairly low velocity.
  • Boots: Bob G at Boot Doctors Mountain Village fit Peter for a pair of Atomic Live Fit boots and a footbed. We were very impressed with Bob’s assessment of Peter’s foot anatomy, stance, and boot fit. The Atomic Live Fit boots fit wide feet well, and they have an expandable toe box for added comfort. The boots are made of a thermoplastic that can be heat stretched, providing a semi-custom fit. Peter skied a whole week without a single “my feet hurt” moment. Thanks Bob!
  • Booster strap: Tightens the relationship between the boot cuff and the shin. Katherine used it to adjust the stance on her ski boots, which are angled too far forward. Improved agility and sensitivity to the snow. Supports a more neutral stance. Takes a bit of tweaking to get the right adjustment. There’s a fine balance between good fit and no circulation, especially as feet swell or shrink with temperature changes throughout different elevations on the mountain.
  • Base layers: While packing for the trip, we discovered that a few of Peter’s base layers got left in storage in Tulsa. So, he got an unexpected gear upgrade. Keen Targhee II hiking boots were warm and dry even on snowy 14 degree nights. A Smartwool long sleeve shirt performed well as a base layer. It was warm, wicked well, had no odor, and held up to daily washing.
  • Smartwool PhD ultralight ski socks completely changed boot fit, removing a lot of sore spots. Surprising, our feet were still quite warm. Katherine did miss the extra heel and shin padding that’s on the curvy mid-weight PhD Smartwool socks. We expect that in January, Katherine will be tinkering more with her boot set up.
  • Shipping of gear: Apparently, our shipping address was difficult to work with. REI, UPS, and FedEx all either ignored or goofed up our very specific shipping instructions. UPS sent back a package for “recipient moved” when that was not the case. Then, FedEx ignored their agreement with REI to hold a package prior to redelivery, and instead left the package in front of the house unattended for 4 days. REI reps were great about taking responsibility for problems and helping us to fix things. Whenever possible, we try to get our gear from REI because they stand behind their service and products. For the next REI shipment, we’re now trying out the My UPS Choice service to see if that will resolve shipping snafus.
Reviews and ratings from Real Skiers helped us understand and choose equipment.  We had fun testing this gear for a week. Look forward to getting back out in January. See you on the snow!