6 campgrounds for solar eclipse viewing

Right off the bat you may be thinking ‘why bother with this now? The eclipse is tomorrow’ and I wouldn’t blame you for thinking such. I’m sure there are some people who have just recently decided they want to get closer to, or within, the 70-mile wide path of eclipse totality. This post is for you. Another reason I’m posting this- a friend and fellow blogger gave me the idea for this one. You know who you are, and thank you!

I live in Kentucky and this will be written from that perspective. In Kentucky, the best place to view the eclipse in 100% totality is Hopkinsville, KY. Regardless of where you live, if Hopkinsville, KY is your nearest prime point of viewing, this post may jog your memory for places to stay. If you have only recently decided you want to go to Hopkinsville to view the eclipse, I’d recommend against it. Hotels and campgrounds in and near Hopkinsville are surely booked solid.

The Land Between the Lakes area (LBL) of Kentucky is an easy, short drive from Hopkinsville. This area is an outdoor lovers paradise. It is chock full of campgrounds (there are over 10 of them in the LBL alone) and the lakes that form LBL beckon boaters and fisherman. After I’d looked online this morning at five campgrounds within the LBL for availability on Monday night and found them all booked solid, I concluded it’s a waste of time to try getting a campsite here. Check this place out another time! But do check it out. It offers some awesome camping and endless activities.

Your best bet for getting as close as you can to Hopkinsville is likely a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campground. You can find them here and and here. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds are not as well known as state resort parks with their lodge rooms and campgrounds. At this stage in the game you need the less well known. Therefore, I’m recommending some Corps of Engineers campgrounds near Nolin Lake or Barren River Lake. Camping near a lake will give you wide-open skies for viewing. I’ve camped at several of the places listed below and they are well-maintained, nice campgrounds. Barren River Lake is a little closer to the 70-mile wide path of totality than Nolin. It’s roughly 30 miles outside the path versus Nolin’s 40. Give or take. Either location will give you greater than 95% totality for eclipse viewing. If you’ve decided to get as close as you can to Hopkinsville, check out the list below. As of this morning all had campsites available. You can book a campsite online using the link above in this post, but you’ll want to do it today.

Nolin Lake campgrounds to consider, as of noon today:

Moutardier- they have 55 sites available out of 167.

Wax- they have 38 sites out of 110 open.

Dog Creek- 70 campsites available.

 

Barren River Lake campgrounds to consider, as of noon today:

Bailey’s Point- 90 out of 204 campsites available.

The Narrows- 43 out of 91 sites available.

Tailwater- 20 campsites out of 50 are available.

 

Don’t forget to pack your eclipse viewing glasses and good luck!

-Rob

Cooler test: Which one keeps ice the longest?

For Father’s Day this year my wife gave me an Ozark Trail 52 quart cooler. Awesome gift! With all the hype around Yeti brand coolers, and a myriad of other rotomolded* coolers that claim to retain ice for days and days, I decided to hold my own cooler comparison. I put my 62 quart Coleman Xtreme cooler (which I’ve had for many years) up against the new Ozark Trail 52 quart cooler to see which one retains ice the longest.            *rotomolded refers to the type of cooler construction used by Yeti coolers and its competitors. To learn more about rotomolding click here.

Ozark Trail 52qt rotomolded cooler
Coleman Xtreme 62qt cooler

In order to replicate what is my real-world cooler use I will have the coolers outside in the weather 24 hours a day, but they’ll be in the shade as much as possible. During the day at the campground I move my cooler around often to keep it in the shade. What will not be like my real world use is the fact that I’m only going to open each cooler once a day. I’ll do this at around 11:00am each day to check the ice situation. Typically my cooler is being opened many times a day, and by different members of the family. Many of the cooler ice retention tests I’ve seen are performed keeping the coolers closed except for one allowed opening per day to check the ice situation. This methodology is flawed if you were to ask me. Opening a cooler one time per day does not represent actual cooler use at all to me. My disagreement level with that testing method is not why you’re reading this! As it is the way most cooler tests are conducted, it is what I’ll be doing for my comparison.

Cooler contents

To conduct the test I filled each cooler with a brand new 22lbs bag of ice. In addition to the large ice bag, I evenly split a 10lbs bag of ice between the two coolers. The coolers were then placed outside on my covered porch at 11:00am to begin the test. They were never in direct sunlight. Again, this represents my real world use. I strive to keep my coolers in the shade.

Before I get in to the nitty-gritty of the test, let me say this was a real eye opener for me. I learned quite a bit. Coolers claiming 7 days of ice retention? Really?? They just might… but I’ll be glad to give you my two cents. For anyone who has any questions after reading this or just wants to geek out over this topic, hit me up on Instagram @robtalkscamping.

After 24 hours, 11:00am

At the 24 hour mark I opened each cooler for the first time. Shoving the ice out of the way to see the bottom of each cooler, there was a little bit of water visible. The water was less than an 1″ deep in each cooler, so there had not been a large amount of ice melting in the first 24 hours.

Coleman Xtreme after 24 hours   

 

Ozark Trail after 24 hours

After 48 hours, 11:00am

At the 48 hour mark I opened each cooler again. While lots of solid ice remained in each cooler, there was no need this time to move any ice out of the way to see water. It was also unclear which cooler was leading the way. Both were neck and neck at this point.

… after 48 hours

After 72 hours, 11:00am

This is when it got ugly. On day three, there was quite a bit of water in each cooler. Serious amounts of ice had melted by this 72 hour mark. I measured how deep the water was in each cooler. Admittedly, this is not completely fair. The coolers are different shapes and sizes, still, I measured it. **After I closed the Ozark Trail I realized I forgot to snap a picture. As I was only going to open each cooler once a day, I didn’t open it again to get a pic. You’ll have to trust me when I say it wasn’t looking much better than the Coleman.

Coleman after 72 hours. It was an overcast day so the pic is dark.

After 96 hours

After 96 hours only made for a nice subhead here. Actually I let the test go until the end of day four, and checked the coolers at about 10:00pm. At that time I declared a winner.

And the winner is! …

The Ozark Trail! Not by a large margin. To show how I declared a winner, below are the final tallies.

After four days, neither cooler still had any loose ice from splitting the contents of a 10lbs bag. What remained of the once-new 22lbs bag of ice was:

4.6lbs of ice in the Ozark Trail and 3.0lbs of ice in the Coleman. Advantage Ozark Trail. (The cold water -representing melted ice- was a tad over 4″ deep in the bottom of the OT cooler and it was just barely under 5″ deep in the bottom of the Coleman.)

[The end of this test was a true aha moment for me. I expected the OT to blow away the much cheaper Coleman, which is not a rotomolded design cooler. The fact is, it didn’t. If I didn’t really like the quality and size of the Ozark Trail I might return it and continue using my Coleman. That’s how close the finish was in this comparison. It’s up to you to decide if the rotomolded cooler movement is hype or legit advancements in cooler technology. My $60 Coleman hung in with gusto against an example of the new rotomolded cooler design costing three times as much. THAT, I did not expect. I’ll be honest, I like the rotomolded look. The rotomolding build process also has definite advantages over the old school coolers. From this test, I also can say with confidence you don’t have to go buy a Yeti to improve over the cooler you might be using now. ]

The end of this post means it’s time to give a reader tip! This one may seem like a no-brainer but it bears repeating. When at all possible, keep your cooler in the shade! It will keep the contents colder and make your ice last longer. Seems obvious, right? It is. However, when I’m at a campground and I take a walk around I see plenty of coolers sitting out in the blazing sun when there is shade not far away. Don’t make your cooler have to work so hard and save money on ice, put it in the shade.

Thanks,

Rob

A new tent concept

A short text I received from a friend this week simply said ‘search Qube tents on YouTube’. His recommendations are always insightful and this one was no different. After seeing them I knew what I had to do next- inform others. The Qube tent is an interesting concept on the most basic choice for your camping lodging. Pricing is in line with traditional style tents. I spent more on my last Kelty tent than what a comparable Qube tent costs.

If setting up a tent is your least favorite part, then you will like, or at least appreciate, how the Qube tent is set up. There are no tent poles to snap together or fight with. When it comes time to break the tent down, this is a fairly simple process as well. Qube tent also has a new twist on the two room tent concept. You have to see this for yourself. I’m attaching their product launch video which explains the product better than any of my typed words could. The video is several minutes long but it will likely
hold your attention. #Qubeit.

My camping tip for this blog post is, naturally, a tent camping tip. Invest in a tarp that is at least the size of your tents footprint. Before setting up your tent lay the tarp out on the ground where you want your tent to be. Next, set up your tent on top of the tarp. This will keep the bottom of your tent cleaner since it will be touching the tarp and not the ground. The tarp also gives you an added layer of material between your tent and the (wet) ground if it should rain.

-Rob

Camping: my Happy Place

Camping makes me forget about the busy reality of life for a weekend. This is one of the reasons I love it so much. Everytime I’m driving to a campground whatever might have been weighing on my mind just fades to the background. When I look in my car’s rearview mirror and see the camper behind me, it kickstarts my relaxation mode. Once I’m at the campground and set up, I’m focused on the park I’m in, hiking some trails and enjoying outdoor activities with my family. Assuming the weather is cooperating, my biggest stressor might be whether I should set up the folding chairs first or throw a Frisbee™ with my kids? You will have to make these difficult decisions when camping.

I’ll provide a case in point to illustrate how camping allows me to fully chill out. In October our kids were out of school for Fall Break. They had a 4-day weekend from school (Fri-Mon) so we took a longer than normal camping trip. On Monday morning- our last day of the trip- while we’re all eating breakfast my wife reminded me about tennis that afternoon at 4:00. We were not in danger of missing it, but I had completely forgotten about it. Granted, we are not typically at the campground on a Monday morning. It left like a Sunday to me and I was still in my relaxed camping mode. For five months now our oldest son has played tennis on Mondays at 4:00pm. Every Monday, I am the one that takes him there! Yet, on this morning I’d forgotten all about it. When I’m camping, I get in a relaxed state of mind that just doesn’t happen when I’m at home.

camping, Fall camping, outdoor activities
2016 Fall Break camping trip. Harmonie State Park in Indiana, located on the Indiana/Illinois state border. They have a nice campground with several playgrounds and great hiking trails. The park also has family cabins available for rent.

Here is this post’s tip:

I prepare for a camping trip by making a list of everything I’m taking. On the list I not only have camping gear, but the food and the cookware needed to make it also. Until the items are in my car or my camper I don’t check them off the list. At this point they are really packed and pretty difficult to forget. If you arrive and find that you have forgotten something, don’t let it wreck your mood or your weekend. You might honestly be okay without it. If you really need what you forgot, ask a neighboring camper for help. The kindness of strangers can be seen in campgrounds. Some of the nicest people you’ll meet are campers. Don’t hesitate to ask them to borrow something. Come to think of it, maybe I’ll do a blog post on all the acts of kindness I’ve been granted while camping. I have forgotten plenty of things myself over the years!

(Some campgrounds will have a camp store that sells basic items. Consider these stores a last resort fallback plan. My experience has been they normally don’t stock a wide variety of items. Don’t look for low prices here either. Camp stores are more the exception than the rule. I consider it a bonus if the park that I’m staying in has one.)

There are some great lists online to help you pack for a camping trip. Want my camping list? Let me know in the comments section and leave me an email address to use for contacting you.

-Rob

Product review: Thermacell

The Thermacell® is a mosquito and insect repellant. It’s not a spray or a candle; rather it is a plastic device containing a small hot plate. It works by using butane fuel to heat up a built-in small metal hot plate, which has a repellant mat placed on it. The mat releases a scent into the air as it’s heated up. This scent is what keeps mosquitos, black flies and other insects away. You can place the device on a table, or with an accessory, it can be configured to hang from a tree. You can also purchase a holster, which I have used to hang the device from a campsite lamppost.

Thermacell® is also available in a lantern and torch style. This review focuses on what the company calls the repeller style. No batteries are required in the repeller!

Does it Work?

Yes. The U.S. Army Special Forces use Thermacells to keep the insects at bay when they’re conducting training in NC and near swamplands in Florida, which are a breeding ground for flying insects. If the Thermacell® works well for the U.S. Army in this environment, it should perform well at your typical state park campsite. Still, I wanted to find out firsthand how well this product keeps the annoying flying insects and mosquitos away.

On a camping trip to southern Indiana in September of this year I conducted my Thermacell® testing. You are most likely familiar with citronella. The Thermacell® works much better then any citronella product I’ve used. Before turning on Thermacell® at the campsite I had a citronella candle burning. With this candle burning, there were still some flying insects bugging us at the campsite. There were also some bees interested in the soft drink can I had open on the picnic table. With the arrival of the bees, it was time to try out Thermacell®.

To start the device you turn the dial to ON. Easy enough. After that, you press the start button 5-6 times quickly to light a small pilot light. This pilot light heats the hot plate that you place the scented mat on. (There is a viewing window on the top of the device so you can verify the pilot light is in fact lit.) It doesn’t take long for the scent to begin releasing into the air. Within five minutes of turning on the Thermacell® the bees were gone, so were any annoying flying insects. I was impressed! Over the course of the weekend I performed my own product ‘tests’. These were nothing more than having the Thermacell® either on or off. Every time it was on, there were no insects bothering us within the Thermacell® advertised zone of protection. This is a 15’ x 15’ square area surrounding the device. The repeller by itself does a fantastic job keeping pests away.

Here is this posts tip: If you use the Thermacell® along with some strategically placed citronella candles burning as I did, you will be enjoying your outdoor time pest-free. You could also place several Thermacell® devices around to achieve the same, or better result. I only had one of them on this trip with me.

If small children will be in the area keep an eye on them around the repeller. I only say this because it does generate heat. The scented mat covers the heat source and there is also a protective grill over the hot plate. As long as you pick up the repeller away from the hot plate it is absolutely safe and cool to the touch. The product is EPA approved.

What’s in the Box?

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This is what you get in the box. The Thermacell device, 3 mats, 1 butane fuel cartridge

You will get the plastic Thermacell® device, one butane fuel cartridge and three mats when you purchase the product. Thermacell® runs off butane fuel. The fuel cartridge screws on to the device, and the way the cartridge is designed, there is no fuel mess. This is a definite plus. The fuel cartridges last about 12 hours and it is recommended you replace the mats every four hours. As the mats are being heated they will turn a lighter color. Mats come in different scents; original and earth scent. I was using original scented mats, which did not give off a very strong odor. The repeller is available in several different colors as well as a few camouflage options. For additional fuel and mats refill packs can be purchased.

Shop around for your Thermacell®. I’ve seen prices range from $15.00 to near $30.00. They’re available through online retailers. I’ve also seen them at Cabela’s, Dick’s, Home Depot and Academy Sports and Outdoors.

Some Final Thoughts

My brother was camping on this trip with me while I was trying out the product. He commented on how bad the mosquitos were this year. He entertains guests in his backyard often so he’s outside quite a bit to know. After the camping trip my brother promptly ordered a Thermacell®. He was sold on the product.

Thermacell® is not limited to camping use. You could use them on a hunting trip. You could take one along on a picnic in the park to keep the mosquitos away. It is small, lightweight and travels easily. My neighbor uses one when he’s outside enjoying his porch. He was the first person I knew to have one, and in fact, I borrowed his to ‘try before I buy’ for testing. I now have one of my own. (My neighbor doesn’t camp much, but I’m working on him. He did drive a borrowed motorhome once from KY to Canada and back again, camping along the way. This certainly gives him some camping street cred.)

www.thermacell.com

I was not paid to write this review. When I come across a good product, I simply want to inform others.

-Rob

Born to Camp

Camping. I love it. To me, there is no such thing as ‘too much camping’. The packing and the prep work required to go camping is something I do not love, but the thing is, it is absolutely worth it. I’ve managed to streamline the packing part over the years, so it’s less of a chore than it once was.

All my life I have camped. I’m a fresh 41 years old and so that’s quite a bit of camping. My parents were big time campers. They took me out on camping trips before I was old enough to realize I was even taking part in it. Baby pictures exist that show me in diapers at a campground with my parents. Camping with a small child requires work. If you’ve ever done it, then you know. I have taken, and set up, a Pack ‘N Play portable crib inside my tent countless times. The point is I give my parents props for not letting their infants keep them from enjoying the outdoors. They could have easily said, “Forget it. This is too much.”

Growing up my family camped everywhere we went. I mean everywhere. We took vacations to beaches in Florida, Alabama and South Carolina. At every one of those beaches we camped. When I was 13 we took a fantastic vacation out west to see Mount Rushmore, the Rocky Mountains and other sights. All overnight stops along the way were at a campground. We must have stayed at 8-9 different ones along the way. Disney World vacation? Check. On that trip we stayed at Disney’s Fort Wilderness campground- in the middle of the summer. Without any A/C. Only twice do I recall trips in my first 16 years of life that involved a hotel or resort stay. One of those resort stays was because my parents had sold our camper and we didn’t have another one yet. The other time, we had our camper; we just didn’t use it on this particular trip. We stayed at a hotel in downtown Chicago, IL and I recall thinking it was the nicest hotel I’d ever stepped foot in. Well, I hadn’t stepped foot in many of them! We were always camping. Surveying the lobby I thought to myself my Father must have hit the jackpot on a bonus at work, or maybe he landed that huge account. I didn’t dwell on it and I didn’t ask but I did enjoy that hotel stay!

Some of my fondest childhood memories are from the camping trips I went on with my family while growing up. I want my kids to say the same thing when they are adults. Now, this is far from the only reason I camp. It’s just a small part of it. Mostly I camp because I grew up on it, I loved it then and I still do. Our three kids do enjoy it. I am so glad! This is because they don’t have a choice! They’re not old enough to stay home by themselves, Mom and Dad are going camping, and so they’ll have to go too. When I got married (16 years ago) to an awesome woman we actually included some camping items on our wedding registry. What better way to add to our camping gear and upgrade some of the existing pieces we had? It was great! Thanks again for that new tent and camp stove friends’, if you’re reading this, you know who you are!

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That wedding gift tent served us well for 10 years. Then about six years ago I started to daydream about owning a camper. Five years ago I really got the itch to go from the tent to a camper. There was room in my garage to store a popup and I was ready for one. The Jayco you see pictured on my blog is a camper I stumbled upon. It wasn’t posted for sale online anywhere. The transaction turned out to be a win-win for both the seller and I. My brother towed the camper home for me since my car didn’t even have a trailer hitch yet.

Towing a trailer. Now this was new to me! Let me offer a tip that has helped me tremendously when backing up the trailer. First, point your front tires straight ahead, then grab the very bottom of the steering wheel (in the 6 o’clock position) with one hand. As you back up, if you want your trailer to go to the left, move the steering wheel to the left. If you want the trailer to go to the right, move your steering wheel to the right. Before you start this procedure it helps to have your trailer in a straight line behind your tow vehicle. Go slow. The shorter the trailer the more it will react to even the slightest movement in the steering wheel. One more thing, check that your trailer is level from side-to-side on your campsite before you disconnect it from your tow vehicle. This way, it’s much easier and quicker to make any leveling tweaks should they be needed.

If you are still reading this, thank you! Future posts will be a mix of topics to include gear reviews, stories, spotlights on a specific campground and educational posts to share with you things that I have learned the hard way. It is possible I will make some tweaks to this blog so if the look changes don’t be alarmed. I’m new to this.

Please bookmark my site and if you like what you see tell a friend. Better yet, share the story with them! I’ve made it super easy for you, just use the social share buttons on the left side of the page . Thank you for reading and I’ll be back to post again soon.

-Rob