Good To-Go: Delicious Dehydrated Meals Made In Maine

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on the EMS Blog on October 8, 2014. It has been re-published here with minimal editing. 

When it comes to choosing what kind of food to bring on a weekend camp-out or multi-day backpacking trip, convenience is king. You want easy to prepare meals with ingredients that won’t spoil, spill, or attract the attention of the furry local residents who are every bit as hungry as you are. For these reasons and many more, freeze-dried, boil-in-a-bag meals are popular alternatives to pre-mixing, storing and preparing your own breakfasts, lunches and dinners in the backcountry.

For years, the selection of prepared meals available at your local Eastern Mountain Sports stores has been dominated by Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry. Both brands offer lots of freeze-dried options for breakfast, lunch and dinner that are ready to eat within minutes after pouring boiling water directly into the pouch they’re sold in. For variety and convenience, these meals are tough to beat.

On September 30, a Maine-based newcomer to the prepared foods game named Good To-Go took a huge step forward in the form of an Editors’ Choice Award from Backpacker Magazine. While the announcement won’t be public until October 15, we at Eastern Mountain Sports have had the pleasure of watching the Good To-Go success story unfold since May when we started carrying their tasty line of dehydrated meals in 10 stores.

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Since May, Good To-Go’s gluten-free Thai Curry, Smoked Three Bean Chili,  and Herbed Mushroom Risotto have sold so well, they will be available in 33 stores by the end of October and in all 68 of our stores later next year. It’s hard to believe that this explosive growth started with a chance meeting at a trade show this past January in  Providence. As Brian Nasser from our product management team explains, “They were just getting started and their rep only had three bags with stickers on them. I liked that the fact that they were super local and trying to do something new. I decided to test it in a few stores as soon as I tasted it and Good To-Go responded with great packaging and excellent results.”

Has Good To-Go made some incredible scientific breakthrough that has enabled them to make exceptionally tasty, gluten-free meals at reasonable prices? No.

In fact, the creator of Good To-Go isn’t a scientist at all. Jennifer Scism is a world-class chef who was on the team that defeated Mario Batali on the popular Food Network show, Iron Chef. She also co-owns Annisa, a nationally recognized restaurant in NYC.  After being introduced to hiking and backpacking by her husband David Koorits, Jennifer was inspired to find a better way to enjoy delicious food while adventuring.

Jen Scism at work in her kitchen at Good To-Go Foods in Eliot, Maine.
Jen Scism at work in her kitchen at Good To-Go Foods in Eliot, Maine.

Jen began preparing some of her favorite meals as if she were about to serve them to her family and then experimenting with her countertop dehydrator. It’s the dehydration process that makes Good To-Go different. I asked David to give me the details:

“Freeze drying is done by taking the food down to -50 to -80 Celsius. Then using sublimation, a vacuum is applied to pull out the water. The freeze dried ingredients are then combined in the proper portions to make a meal.  In contrast, Good To-Go dehydrates its meals.  All the ingredients are fully cooked together allowing all the flavors to infuse like a dinner cooked at home would.  At that point the meals are dehydrated and packaged.  Dehydrating allows the meals to come back with more flavor and taste.  For example, the broccoli in our Thai Curry comes back with texture and chew when you bite into it.”

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I met David and Good To-Go marketing coordinator Emilie Chatelain at a staff training event last month and I was blown away by both the quality of their products and their dedication to sharing it with active people wherever they roam. You’ll find Good To-Go handing out free samples at trail heads, adventure races, local market days and of course, at our stores.

Vendor Village
Last month, EMS employees were treated to a preview of Good To-Go’s newest flavor that shipped out to stores yesterday.

So, if you’re looking to spice up your next adventure with food that has earned the praise of Outside Magazine, Mountain Online, and Gear Junkie while supporting a small New England-based business that’s doing things the right way, I hope you’ll consider trying one of Good To-Go’s dehydrated meals.

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Partners in business and in, life David Koorits and Jen Scism (with their dog Bella) have turned their passion for adventure and love of good food into a thriving business based in Kittery, Maine.

 


5 Best Kid Hikes in Massachusetts

What do you do when your little one is too big for the kid carrier but too small to keep up with you on a full day hike? I have no idea, so I asked an expert. Jen Bauer is a Digital Media and English teacher from the Boston area who blogs about her adventures with her wife Kendra and their three kids “Addison, Evan and Kate at AdventurousMoms.com. In addition to her own regularly updated blog, Jen contributes to National Park Foundation, Travel Mams and FamiliesGo! to name a few so I figured if anyone is qualified to talk about kid hikes in Massachusetts, it’s her.

Here are the five hikes Jen likes best along with a few thoughts on why they’re great for adventurers in training. All of the gorgeous photos below were taken by Jen and the comments about why these destinations make great kid hikes are hers. If you’d like to see more of them and get regular updates on her adventures with her family, be sure to like Adventurous Moms on Facebook.

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Goldsmith Woodlands, Andover
The tall pines provide an unbelievable canopy and the wide, even trails are perfect for toddler legs.
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Bradley Palmer State Park, Topsfield

Footbridges and frogs: what more could a toddler want?

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Noble View Outdoor Center, Russell

The Pitcher Brook trail leads to Big and Little Pitcher Falls. Little kids love waterfalls, and these are a great payoff for a fairly easy hike.

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Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, Ipswich

The Rockery Trail runs over wooden footbridges, and through rock archways, a fun treat for kids. There is a ton of wildlife here: geese, frogs, turtles, herons, ducks, snakes, and more!

Blue Hills State Reservation, Milton

Lots of great trails for little legs, and wonderful views of Boston.

Whether you have a suggestion for kid hikes in Massachusetts or anyplace else, please leave a comment and let me know about it!

I’d love to make this a regular feature here on the blog to give parent-approved hiking ideas to other parents. Life is hectic when you have little kids and pulling the tribe together for an outing can be a challenge. Hopefully suggestions from other parents will take some of the planning and pre-trip anxiety out of the day so you can focus on introducing your little ones to the outdoors.

Have fun out there!


6,800 Ascents of Mount Monadnock...and Counting

From the 48 Four Thousand Footers to the 52 With a View, New Hampshire is a great place for hikers to add new mountains to their tick lists. Not Larry Davis. Since 1984, he’s maintained an almost daily routine of climbing Mount Monadnock. At some point this spring, he’ll summit the mountain for the 7,000th time. In terms of total vertical feet, that’s the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest over 400 times.

Larry Davis (far right) poses with Willem Lange (second from left) and two members of the "Windows to the Wild" crew at the summit of Mount Monadnock.

Last fall, Larry’s story was featured on “Windows to the Wild” on New Hampshire Public Television. On a perfect October afternoon, Larry made his 6,819th summit of Mount Monadnock accompanied by Will Lange, the 79-year old host of the program.

Let that last sentence sink in for a moment.

A 54-year old man climbing a mountain for the 6,819th time with a 79-year old man following him every step of the way.

This accomplishment is a testament not only to Larry and Will’s dedication, but to the “hikeability” of Mount Monadnock that makes it the second most climbed mountain in the world. As Larry says: “Mount Monadnock has something for everybody, from little kids to senior citizens and everywhere in between.” This is not to say that Monadnock is an EASY summit. At 3,166 feet, it’s not a walk in the park. Like any New Hampshire peak, there are a few rugged sections where footing can be dicey and weather is always a factor. Still, compared to other mountains on the aforementioned tick lists, Monadnock is accessible for just about anyone with the ability and desire to challenge themselves. And with views of Boston on a clear day, hiking Monadnock has its rewards.

While Larry’s accomplishment is rooted in his own personal desire, he recognizes that his story has impacted others. In the “Windows to the Wild” piece, you can see the pleasure on Larry’s face when he talks about how his accomplishment has inspired people to set goals of their own to be more physically active. For Larry, it all started with the lofty goal to hike Monadnock 84 times in 1984. That year, he climbed it 106 times and proved to himself that he was capable of much more than he ever imagined.

Personally, I think that’s the best part of Larry’s story. He didn’t set out to climb Monadnock 7,000 times. He simply wanted to challenge himself. Whether it’s your career, your personal relationships or your lifestyle; nothing shakes up your daily routine like setting a challenging goal and holding yourself accountable for achieving it.

Set enough goals and shake up enough routines and there’s no telling where you’ll go, how far you climb or how interesting your life can be.

Mount Monadnock offers some spectacular views on clear days.
Mount Monadnock offers some spectacular views on clear days.

Chesterfield Gorge: Adventure at its Easiest

They may not be on your adventure bucket list and they’re easy to take for granted but local outdoor places like parks, wildlife preserves and bird sanctuaries deserve our respect. That said, I’m willing to bet that there are some local outdoor places in your community that you’ve driven by a thousand times but never gotten around to visiting. We have plenty of excuses–we’re busy, we’ll do it next weekend, it’s for tourists.  Because these outdoor gems are so close to home, we may even wonder how good could they be?

The Chesterfield Gorge is located on the westbound side of Route 9 in Chesterfield, NH–less than 7 miles from my house.
The Chesterfield Gorge is located on the westbound side of Route 9 in Chesterfield, NH–less than 7 miles from my house.

Since moving to Keene, NH in 2007, the local outdoor place I’ve most wanted to visit but always found an excuse not to check out is Chesterfield Gorge. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told my wife “we should go there someday” as we whizzed by on our way to or from the Brattleboro Farmers’ Market. It wasn’t until earlier this summer when we finally pulled in, with nothing but the clothes on our back and seven years’ worth of curiosity.

Trail Sign

That’s the beauty of most local outdoor places–you don’t need a lot of gear and the toughest decision you have to make in your trip planning is where to go for ice cream or beers afterward.

Trail

Another great quality of most local outdoor places is you don’t have to be a serious or experienced outdoor enthusiast to enjoy them. In the case of Chesterfield Gorge, the  trail is well-marked and quite easy to access for hikers of all ages and abilities. If you’re bringing little ones, you’ll be happy to know there are fences to block them from the 20′ drop to the gorge below.

Falls Distance

I can’t guarantee that every local outdoor place you visit will be an unforgettable experience but going someplace you’ve never been before is the surest way to position yourself for a pleasant surprise. Less than 10 minutes after leaving the Chesterfield Gorge trailhead, my wife and I found ourselves gazing at a fascinating waterfall that we never would have expected to find such a short distance from downtown Keene.

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Relaxation is another hallmark of local outdoor places. Whether you’re picnicking with your family in an urban oasis like Central Park or exploring the trails of an Audubon Society nature preserve, you’re blood pressure and stress level are sure to benefit.

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If you’re lucky, you’ll even find a place to kick off your shoes and dip your feet into water so cold, it makes you forget how hot you are, what time it is and why you never got around to visiting this local outdoor place sooner. For my wife and me, our spontaneous trip to Chesterfield Gorge has been one of the highlights of our summer and we can’t wait to go back when air is crisp, the mosquitos are gone and the fall colors are exploding. It’s less than 15 minutes from our house so really, we have no excuse.

What’s your favorite local outdoor place? Leave a comment and tell me about it!


40 Years of Osprey Packs History in 14 Photos

It looks like our friends at Osprey Packs are celebrating their 40th anniversary with the same thoroughness and enthusiasm that they create their functional, comfortable and beautiful products. Which is to say, they’ve got every detail covered. As I write this, their #Osprey1974 photo contest is happening where they’re giving away 40 packs in 40 days.

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They’ve got a cool looking 40th anniversary logo that appears on limited edition, commemorative packs:

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And as I write this, their 40th anniversary party is in full swing at the Outdoor Retailer summer show complete with the largest pack I’ve ever seen.

Osprey Packs making a BIG impression at the 2014 Outdoor Retailer summer show.
Osprey Packs making a BIG impression at the 2014 Outdoor Retailer summer show.

All these promotional fireworks are fine and good but what has impressed me most about Osprey Pack’s 40th anniversary celebration is the video series I just finished watching: Osprey Packs–40 Years In the Making. This four-part series tells the story of Osprey Packs’ success with a level of transparency I’ve never seen before and frankly still can’t believe. It’s beautifully shot, informative as can be, and surprisingly hilarious in places. You don’t have to be a huge Osprey Packs fan to enjoy this series but you do need more than 40 minutes to watch it in its entirety.

If you don’t have that kind of time, here’s my five-minute recap with 14 screen shots of what I consider to be some of the most telling, interesting and downright fascinating moments in the four-part video series.

Episode 1

“My personal philosophy is I enjoy life more if I’m surrounded by things I’ve built myself.” Soft-spoken and unassuming, Osprey Packs founder Mike Pfotenhauer will never be confused with Steve Jobs personality-wise, but when it comes to passion for his product and the process involved with creating it, I have to believe that Mike and Steve would have seen eye to eye on a lot of things.

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In Episdode 1, we learn that in his early years, Mike built everything from bike frames and redwood canoes to his wife’s maternity clothes before deciding to “focus” on packs in 1974. I put focus in quotes because according to the video, Osprey Packs designed everything from bicycle battery packs and wheelchair cushions to a prototype of a “backpack, surfboard tent carrier” for O’Neill.

Mike with his wife and Osprey Packs co-owner Diane Wren.
Mike with his wife and Osprey Packs co-owner Diane Wren.

As the business grew, so did the pressure to find a workforce that was not prone to skipping work when the surf was good or the Grateful Dead were in town. In 1990, Mike and company moved to Dolores, Colorado.

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Dolores, Colorado is a quiet town of 800 people, many of whom had already worked in the building Osprey Packs moved into that had been previously occupied by W.L. Gore.  With just $5,000 in receivables and a small army of new recruits, Osprey Packs embarked on a period of rapid growth that eventually required them to move to a larger facility in nearby Cortez, Colorado in 1999.

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With four seasons and a wide variety of terrain within a two-hour drive for year-round gear testing, Cortez has proven to be the perfect corporate headquarters for Osprey Packs.

Episode 2

The nostalgia trip continues in Episode 2 with a look back at how the office staff grew from 9 people in 1999 to 75 people today.

Mike in the center posing with his lean and mean team in the early 1990s.
Mike in the center posing with his lean and mean team.

Episode 2 also offers a revealing look behind the present day curtain of Osprey Packs where we meet people from all departments of the company and get a feel for the passionate, yet irreverent corporate culture where work and play are pursued with equal enthusiasm. The best evidence of Osprey Packs’ anti-ordinary culture is the footage taken at Mike’s 60th birthday party where the feel-good scene of Osprey Packs employees enjoying each other’s company is comically punctuated by intermittent clips of Mike struggling to free a Jello-O shot from its plastic container. After watching this scene, it’s easy to understand why Osprey Packs made Outside Magazine’s 2008 list of Best Places to Work.

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The festive vibe of Mike’s 60th birthday transitions to the sobering reality of the challenges Osprey Packs faced in the early 2000’s that are candidly explained by CEO Tom Varney. Production struggles, late delivery, high retail cost, inability to grow quickly enough to meet demand all lead up to the agonizing decision to follow the overseas manufacturing path already taken by Osprey’s competitors. The tension and sadness is embodied in the stark image of the last pack to come off the Colorado assembly line that was signed by all of the remaining sewers.

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From this lamentable moment the scene changes to present day Vietnam where Mike moved his family in 2003 to personally oversee the establishment of Oprey Packs’ new office and manufacturing facilities in Ho Chi Min City.

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Amidst the scenes that paint a vivid picture of Vietnam’s frenetic culture that is the polar opposite of Cortez, Colorado, Mike lets us in on the deep irony he felt about his decision to move his entire family to southeast Asia: “I protested against the war in Vietnam. I never imagined that I would go to Vietnam willingly and do business there. It was the last thing I ever imagined.”

Episode 3

Of all the marketing buzzwords that are bandied about in blogs and Powerpoint presentations, “transparency” is the one that few companies have the courage to pull off. Transparency demands that a company be confident enough in its product and secure enough in its own skin to provide customers with an unfiltered view of the organization–warts and all.

In Episode 3, we meet pack designer Le Nhu Quyhn who matter of factly explains the stunning differences between access to outdoor recreation in the United States and Vietnam.

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WHAT?

A pack designer who doesn’t camp? How is that possible? How does that WORK?

Well, as Mike calmly explains: “I think in some ways Quynh’s lack of experience in the end use of the product can be helpful in that he looks at the problems more objectively. He questions some things that might seem obvious to me and shouldn’t be obvious and therefore together, I think we come up with some pretty interesting ideas.” 

The transparency doesn’t end there. Osprey Packs takes you inside the manufacturing facility where Account Manager N.H. Kim explains how a typical hydration pack will have 100 patterns while the same size hydration pack from Osprey Packs will have 300 patterns. After describing how more patterns provide the customer with a more natural shape as well as improved function and convenience, Kim candidly describes what it’s like to work with Mike.

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The rest of the video takes you on a tour of the production floor where seamstresses describe their hours and the working conditions that they all seem to genuinely enjoy.

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In addition to showing that his overseas employees are treated fairly and respectfully, Mike proves that his skills as a pack-maker are still sharp after forty years.

Episode 4

After the detailed tour of the Vietnam office and manufacturing facilities, Mike returns to Colorado in Episode 4 to talk about how the Ho Chi Minh City office and Cortez, Colorado offices work together. Having each office work while the other office is sleeping, creates a situation that Mike describes as “around the clock development.” The time zone and distance are not without challenges to the production schedule–a situation Osprey Packs has admirably addressed with state-of-the-art video conference technology.

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The scene shifts to Mike standing before a lineup of 15 child carriers representing the different styles and improvements he and his team have made over the years.

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Beginning with the first edition where Mike admits: “Some of it doesn’t make any sense, I can’t remember what we were thinking,” the scene cuts to a rapid-fire breakdown of added features including drool pads, a built-in contoured bucket for the child, foam pockets on the shoulder harness, engineered buckles, air flow for the child, hydration sleeve, removable diaper pad, sun protection and rain protection…” It’s a humorous segment that showcases Mike’s deep knowledge of his product as well as his waning patience for the documentary film process where he states: “these are 15 of over 50, but I don’t think we want to go into THAT much detail.”

In the spirit of the transparency that is so evident throughout this four-part series, I will say that the remainder of Episode 4 includes some justifiable chest-thumping about Osprey Packs’ organic growth in the U.S., explosive growth in China and ongoing commitment to innovation and exceptional design. After some entertaining speculation about the future of pack design from various Osprey Packs personnel, the video closes with Mike describing the difficulty he has always had with defining the vision or mission statement of Osprey Packs:

“I’ve never been able to give a very good answer for that. I downright refuse to because I can’t put my finger on it. I think our vision is better defined by what we’ve done and the actions we’ve already taken.”

In the end, we’re treated to a scene of Mike looking relaxed and reflective while sitting in a sample room, surrounded by “the things he’s built himself” as he simply exclaims:

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I’d like to look back at this and go ‘yeah,this all made sense.’ 

I’m quite sure that millions of customers around the world would agree that Osprey Packs make a lot of sense. Their vibrant colors leap off our pack walls, their exceptionally designed suspension systems make it easy to adjust the fit to your body and their thoughtful features make the sport of backpacking even more enjoyable.

Whether you’re an Osprey fan or not, I hope this recap has given you a greater appreciation for one of Eastern Mountain Sports’ most popular brands. If you’re inspired to experience Mike’s work for yourself, check out our full assortment of Osprey Packs at ems.com or stop by the store nearest you for a personal pack fitting.

Thanks for reading and Happy 40th Annniversary, Osprey!!

5 Must Try Backpacking Recipes from Dirty Gourmet

After putting so much thought and consideration into planning your backpacking trip, choosing the perfect gear for the weather forecast and packing your pack for optimal load efficiency, it’s easy leave dinner to Chef Boyardee, Dinty Moore or a dehydrated backpacking meal. For sure, all of the above are viable options but not for the ladies of Dirty Gourmet. Mai-Yan and Aimee are on a mission to inspire gourmet outdoor cooking by providing easy camping recipes and ideas. I discovered their blog a few weeks ago and was blown away by their culinary masterpieces they create specifically for camping, backpacking and bike touring.

 

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Mai-Yan and Aimee are on a mission to make good food a part of every outdoor adventure. | Credit: Hilary Walker.

“Our criteria for backpacking meals is familiar,” they said. “They must be lightweight, nutritious, made of non-perishable ingredients and require only one pot. That said, it’s important to us to be creative and have fun with our food.” Although they said pre-packaged backpacking food can be great, with the time and energy, it’s even better to customize your meals to your individual taste.

To help you “go beyond hot dogs and rehydrated sludge and discover your gourmet potential” on your next adventure, Mai-Yan and Aimee were kind enough to share five of their favorite backpacking recipes.

 


coconut-soup-ingredients

Coconut Curry Soup

Yield: 1 serving

Ingredients

  • 30 grams coconut cream powder (1/2 a packet)
  • 1-2 cubes vegetable bouillon
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • A handful of rice noodles
  • A handful of dehydrated veggies
  • 2 cups water

Method

At home, combine coconut cream powder, bouillon, curry powder and cayenne in a small zip top bag. In another bag, portion out your noodles and dehydrated veggies.

At camp, boil the noodles and dehydrated veggies in the water. Once the veggies are re-hydrated and the noodles are tender, stir in the coconut cream mixture and serve.

 


Breakfast Couscous

Yield: 1 serving

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup couscous
  • 1/3 cup dried milk
  • 1 tablespoon raisins
  • 1 tablespoon salted shelled pistachios, chopped
  • 2-3 teaspoons sugar
  • A pinch of cardamom
  • 1 1/3 cup water

Method

At home, combine couscous, dried milk, raisins, pistachios, sugar, and cardamom in a zip-top bag.

At camp, boil the water. Stir the ingredients into the water, remove from heat, and leave covered (without peaking) for 5 minutes. Serve hot.

 


broccoli-cheese-orzo

Broccoli Cheese Rice

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 package broccoli cheese soup mix
  • ½ cup boil-in-a-bag rice (parboiled)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup dehydrated veggies (optional)
  • 1/2 cup pre-cooked chicken (optional)
  • 1-2 tablespoons parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, crushed chips, or crushed nuts (optional)

Method

Bring water to a boil, place bag of rice into water.

When rice is cooked, remove from water. Turn stove off, but leave hot water in pot.

Add soup mix and loose rice back in, along with any optional additions. Stir to combine, then cover.

Let set for about 5 mins. Top with parmesan, nuts, chips, or breadcrumbs, for crunch.

 


loaded-mashed-potatoes

Loaded Mashed Potatoes

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup instant potatoes
  • 1/4 cup dehydrated fire roasted veggies
  • 1/8 cup bacon bits
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • Slices of parmesan cheese (optional)
  • Salt to taste

Method

Bring water to a boil, and turn off heat.

Add dehydrated fire roasted veggies to water in pot and cover. Let sit for 5 minutes.

Put instant potatoes in large bowl and pour water with veggies into the bowl. Mix so no powdered potatoes remain.

Garnish with bacon bits and slices of parmesan cheese.

 


peanut-ramen-noodles

Peanut Sauce Ramen

Yield: 1 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 pack of instant noodles with seasoning pouch
  • 0.85 ounce pack of powdered peanut butter
  • 1/8 cup dehydrated veggies
  • 1 pinch of red chili flakes
  • ¾ to 1 cup of water

Method

Put water in pot and add noodles, seasoning powder, chili flakes and dehydrated veggies. Bring water to a boil, and then lower heat to simmer contents for 3-5 minutes.

Add powdered peanut butter and stir well. Serve immediately.

 

What’s your favorite one pot backpacking meal? Leave a comment and do your part to make the backcountry a tastier place to be.

 


Introducing Kids to Outdoor Adventure: Advice from Cragmama

I’m not a big fan of most “mommy bloggers.” I know their intentions are noble and their efforts are nothing short of remarkable but the vast majority of them fail my “Come on, now” test within 30 seconds. The “Come on, now” test is my personal Geiger counter of authenticity/reality that doesn’t respond well to ultra filtered images of perfectly coiffed “15-minute meals” and “super easy craft projects” that look like they were conjured by a sparkle fairy princess on Prozac.

“Come on, now.” – NO one has that kind of time, especially the hard working moms that I know.

On the opposite end of “Come on, now” is “Holy crap, that’s fantastic” which is where Erica Lineberry would reside if she JUST blogged about hiking, climbing and camping. It just so happens that Erica blogs about hiking, climbing and camping with her crag baby–and as of just eight weeks ago–cragBABIES. Erica’s Cragmama blog documents her and her husband’s efforts to raise children who “don’t remember their first time climbing, camping, hiking, etc. They don’t remember it because to them being outdoors enjoying nature is something their family has always done.”

Erica Lineberry aka Craigmama with her family in their natural element.
Erica Lineberry aka Craigmama with her family in their natural element.

Erica’s blog features no-filter photos of her growing family doing the best they can to live healthy, active lives packed with as many fun experiences as they can handle. I like Erica’s blog because it’s filled with creative ideas that anyone can do. Her writing is inspiring but she doesn’t claim to have all the answers. She shares her victories as well as her challenges all with an air of gratitude and self awareness that’s hard to find in the “Everything is awesome, especially me” blogosphere.

I first connected with Erica two years ago when she agreed to review our women’s EMS Longtrail 60L pack. With Mother’s Day coming on strong, I thought I’d ask her for her best advice for anyone (not just parents) who is interested in introducing kids to outdoor adventure. Cragbaby #2 has Erica pretty busy right now, but she agreed to let me comb her blog for cool ideas to make the outdoors second nature for kids AND the adults responsible for their safety and happiness.

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Dirt Is Good

Erica is a big believer in letting her kids get dirty. Let’s face it, dirt is a healthy by-product of just about every outdoor sport so you may as well embrace it and avoid future drama. To introduce her son to the fine art of making mudpies, Erica duplicated a DIY project that made it easy for her son to have a blast making a mess of himself without trashing her house.

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Start At Home

Just as babies have to crawl before they walk, it’s important to expose them to outdoor fun where they’re most comfortable. To keep her son occupied with “self directed play” while introducing him to the natural wonders all around him, Erica has him create simple art projects using leaves he collects himeself in their yard or at the local park.

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Make Things Interesting

A simple egg carton became a treasure chest of pine cones, acorns, pine needles and colorful rocks that Erica challenged her son to find while they’re out and about. To her son, he was just having a good time scouring the area for treasure. For her Erica, she was laying the foundation for longer excursions that eventually became 5 mile hikes.

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Make Learning or Overcoming Fear Fun

The photo above says it all. Easter is over, but you can easily hide small toys, dollar bills or other treats in climbing holds to give your little climber an extra incentive to dig deep and get after it. This is such a cool idea because while it takes effort to earn the prize, the fact that it’s hidden decreases the odds of a tantrum if he fails the first few times. There may be a prize at the next hold, they’re may not. That’s why you have to keep on climbing!

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Savor the Journey Not the Destination

Parents plan, toddlers laugh. Over the last few years, Erica has learned to enjoy the moment because with young kids, you never know how long that moment will last before a minor accident or age-appropriate mood swing will cut the day short. Also, when a 3-year old is setting the pace, it’s a good time to relax and appreciate the little things you’d ordinarily miss when you’re focused on the summit, a goal or a best time.

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In her post about camping with infants under age one, Erica makes a bunch of awesome points to quell the fears of parents who have been conditioned to be over-protective  for fear of being “bad parents.” “The sooner you get him or her out and exposed to new situations, the more equipped they will be to deal with change in the coming months.”  I think that makes a ton of sense and like the photo above, the sooner you get your kid to help out with chores, the less those chores will seem like work. There are so many small jobs involved with setting up a camp site that small people can do and gain a sense of accomplishment from.

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“External Motivators” Are OK

Erica is not down with bribery but she has no problem with “a small treat here or there as a reward for an accomplishment.” A couple of gummy bears after a big uphill push or after an acceptable time on the trail or milestone achieved keep little hikers motivated and happy.

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Know When To Dial It Back

Little kids are pretty good at letting you know when they don’t like something or are no longer having fun. If they’re protesting the effort level of the activity, slow down or try an easier route. If they’re protesting the activity itself, there’s nothing wrong with doing something different (bug collecting, bird watching, frog spotting) and trying the other activity another day.

I mentioned that this post wasn’t just for parents of small kids but ANYONE who is interested in helping to inspire the next generation of outdoor adventurers. I can’t stress enough how much I mean that. Especially in a world where technology is king, entitlement is queen and nature is generally ignored by the general population if not mocked outright like the Toys ‘R Us commercial below. You don’t need to have kids of your own to introduce kids to the outdoors, you just have to care.


Best Paddling Accessories for Comfort in the Cockpit

Whether you’re goal is adventure or serenity, a few hours in a kayak can put a  grin on your face from start to finish. Unless of course, you’re not comfortable for one reason or another. As we look ahead to warmer days and our first paddling trips of the season, I asked two of our most prolific paddlers within the EMS family for their thoughts on the little things that make a huge difference in the quality of your time on the water. Some of them are obvious, but easy to forget. Others may not be necessary if you’re just messing around in a recreational kayak for an hour or two. That said, it’s always good to know about the different kinds of paddling accessories available to you that can make kayaking even more fun.

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“I’m not one for too many accessories,” says Justin Chase, a regular contributor to this blog. “but I’m a pretty big fan of small dry bags.” Loksak super durable zipper closure bags are available in a 4-pak of assorted sizes and are great for making small creature comforts much easier to deal with.  If you’re bringing a camera, phone, tablet or something else that’s absolutely, 100% got to stay dry (handled roughly, dry pouches can get ripped…) and not get crushed, a dry box is the best bet, and also available in a variety of sizes.  ‘Bombproof’ protection  is cheaper than replacement.

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Once you have your valuables in individual plastic bags, you may want to get them out of your way in the form of a dry bag or a deck bag. The Access from Sea to Summit above lashes to the deck so it’s out of your way yet easy to get into when you need your camera or snacks.  Snacks are always important to bring along. In the immortal words of Brook Burke: “Bonking on the far side of the lake with 2 miles into a headwind back to the car is NO FUN.  Paddling is like cycling, hiking and running- you’re not just floating, you’re working.  Feed the fire.”And once you’ve fed the fire, you’ll want to quench your thirst so Brook also recommends an Insulated Steel Water Bottle to keep water cold.  Get one with a loop top, tie a cord to the loop, and use a keychain size carabiner to clip it into the seatback strap.  That will prevent it from rolling too far into the boat, keep it out of the way in the seating area, and prevent loss as well.  Drink frequently.  The first signs of dehydration are headache and yellow pee, so drink often enough to pee often.

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While keeping stuff out of the cockpit makes things much more comfy, Justin Chase’s best piece of advice to people is choose your paddle carefully. “It’s often more important than the boat,” he says. “If the kayak is the pack, than the paddle is the boots. Choose carefully. Length, gauge, material, blade size, etc all make a huge difference in the day.” At Eastern Mountain Sports, you’ll find paddles ranging from the two-piece $400 Werner Kalliste Carbon Paddle to the $100 Sunlgass paddle from Bending Branches that’s made from fiberglass.

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Justin is also  a big fan of a properly fitted PFD like the KOKOKAT Bahia Touring Vest with front pockets for cameras and maps. Brook Burke from ems.com agrees and adds: “A PFD is like a seatbelt, but more comfortable to wear and with more choices to choose from. There is simply no good reason to accept the risk of not wearing one!”

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One of the best ways to feel comfortable in the cockpit of your kayak is to be confident in the fact that you are visible to other boaters, especially in high-traffic areas that are popular with power boats. Reflective tape is always good but to really stand out, consider the Seattle Sports Hydrostar Multistrobe. The wide suction cup  makes it easy to mount to any deck for hands-free, worry-free illumination.

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Now let’s talk about sun protection. First and foremost, DON’T be the person who forgets their sunglasses at home. I don’t care if you have to keep a pair of fold-up Ferrari sunglasses from the ’80s in the pocket of your PFD. Whatever it takes to keep the magnified glare of the suns rays out of your sensitive eyes, DO IT. Next is lip balm with an SPF ratingwaterproof sunscreen, and bug repellent.  Nothing mars the memory of a beautiful sunny day on the water than blistered lips or cooked hands.  Beware of deet-based bug repellents that can stain or possibly damage some sportswear fabrics.   Don’t forget- if you’re wearing shorts in a sit insdie kayak, the sun can still fry your upper thighs. For additional sun protection, consider one of our long-sleeve Techwick shirts so you don’t have to worry about your arms getting burned. Techwick is light weight, dries fast and feels like a second skin without overheating you. Floppy sun hats may look goofy, but it’s not nearly as embarrassing as having a pair of ears that look like fried pork rinds because your cool-looking baseball cap left them exposed to the scorching sun. Just make sure your sun hat has a good chin strap prevent unplanned windy sprints.

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 5.22.54 PMFor comfort on land, in the water and on the water, nothing beats a good pair of water shoes. Can you get by with sneakers, flip flops, sandals or even bare feet? Of course you can. But water logged sneakers are no fun, flip flops are prone to floating away, sandals leave you open to scrapes and bare feet are just begging for trouble from every angle. A quality pair of water shoes that fit well, drain quickly, and protect your soles from natural and man-made pointy objects that hurt will make you a happy paddler for years to come.

What are YOUR favorite paddling accessories? Leave a comment and share your wisdom!

 


Paddling the Perkiomen in Pennsylvania

kayaksA few weeks ago, our Collegeville, PA store staff posted an eye-catching photo on their Facebook wall of a huge group of people paddling the Perkiomen Creek.

 

After counting 30 different paddlers, I figured there had to be a story so I called Tim Swavely who handles local outreach in Collegeville. On August 3rd, “The Perkiomen Creek Sojourn” was organized by the Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy. The day-long paddle/water quality study session turned out to be a fantastic way to get people on the water and help them understand the history, current conditions and importance of the Perkiomen Watershed to the health of the greater Philadelphia area.

Tim ensured the Collegeville store’s fleet of rental kayaks was available and handled all the put in and take out logistics. He also supervised the paddling party atop his stand up paddleboard. Originally scheduled for June 8, the sojourn had been postponed due to the rainiest June on record. “In a normal summer, paddling the Perkiomen would have been impossible because the water level would be too low. Not this year, we had an incredible day (despite even MORE rain) and learned everyone learned a lot. I particularly enjoyed the looks I got from people as I followed along on my SUP. Folks had no idea you could use a stand up paddleboard on a lazy river so it was cool to let people know what the sport is all about.”

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Stopping to conduct water quality tests for the Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy.

In addition to just paddling the Perkiomen, the 31 paddlers conducted an invertebrate study to assess the health of the Perkiomen which feeds into the Schuylkill River, a major source of drinking water. According to Tim, the team assisted with an invertebrate study. Certain invertebrates can only live in high quality water, so finding them is obviously a good thing. “We learned how to tell if leeches were present simply by picking up rocks,” Tim explained. “We also brushed off the invertebrates into a cup and analyzed them under mini microscopes.” During the course of their assessment, the sojourn group discovered that an invasive species of crayfish had arrived and was eating the native crayfish. Information like this is invaluable to the Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy and was fascinating for everyone in the group.

Paddling the Perkiomen is a great way to spend a day with lots of great scenery and sightings of great blue herons, green herons, bald eagles, chimney swifts, kingfishers and rough winged swallows. If you’re interested in a checking out Perkiomen Creek yourself, please give Tim in our Collegeville store a call at 610-226-3995.

 


Roof Rack Advice|How To Avoid a Gear-Wrenching Mistake

When it comes to roof rack advice, specifically, the topic of how to remember you have bikes, kayaks or a cargo box on the roof before you pull into an unforgiving garage, I’m embarrassed to say I know what I’m talking about from personal experience. It happened last summer after a fantastic day of kayaking. As I pulled into our driveway, I pushed the button on the garage door opener and suggested to my wife in the passenger seat that we enjoy a cold beer on the front porch. My anticipation of the first frigid sip of Harpoon IPA was shattered by the sudden, sickening CRUNCH of our kayaks colliding with the roof of our garage.

Once I got the expletives out of my system, I put the car in reverse, backed into the driveway, took a deep breath and got out to survey the damage. Fortunately, I got away with a few scratches and a minor crimp in the front of my kayak and no noticeable damage to Brenda’s kayak or our garage door frame whatsoever. My two front Thule kayak roof racks and the roof below them were not so lucky. The sudden downforce flattened my Subaru Forrester’s front cross bar, which caused both front roof racks to embed themselves in the roof. I ended up with four circular dings on the roof of my car – one ding for each screw holding the roof racks to the cross bar.

As infuriating as the experience was, I know I was very lucky. I wasn’t going more than 2mph when my kayaks smacked into the roof and I hit the brakes immediately. Had I been going faster or reacted later, I could have dented or cracked the hulls of our kayaks or done damage to my roof beyond the reach of my amateur auto body repair skills. While I felt like a total idiot, I know thousands of kayaks, bikes and cargo boxes suffer similar fates when drivers like me pull into a parking garage, car port or restaurant drive thru with gear on the roofs of their vehicles.

To help you avoid the indignity of destroying your gear in the most humiliating way possible, here’s some roof rack advice I’ve used myself along with some ideas our customers provided when I posed the question on the Eastern Mountain Sports Facebook page:

The Garage Door Warning System
Car Rack Advice: Post your warning sign on the door frame, not the door.
Car Rack Advice: Post your warning sign on the door frame, not the door.

Simple to make and easy to apply, I keep this sign in the cockpit of my kayak so I see it as soon as I attempt to load my boat onto my car. The first time I employed this technique I put the sign on the garage door and quickly realized that if I was distracted, the door (along with the sign) could have gone up before I saw it. Now I hang it on the garage door frame.

The Remote Control Warning System
Car rack advice: Stop stupidity at its source with a subtle warning on your garage remote.
Car rack advice: Stop stupidity at its source with a subtle warning on your garage remote.

A standard sticky note and a red marker are all it takes to make this fairly fool-proof early warning system. To prevent this sign from eventually blending in with my car’s interior, I pull it off the remote after each use and create new ones as needed.

The Remote Control Avoidance Maneuver
Car rack advice: Stash your garage door opener someplace where you have to hunt for it - ideally the glove compartment, or perhaps inside the garage?
Car rack advice: Stash your garage door opener someplace where you have to hunt for it – ideally the glove compartment, or perhaps inside the garage?

Still worried about waking your brain from cruise control before pulling into your driveway? Take the extra step and stash your remote in your glove box, center console or anyplace else that forces you to think: “Where’s the damn remote and why the hell isn’t it on my visor?” If this extra step is necessary for you, I can’t guarantee you’ll make the connection so you may also want to deploy….

The Garage Door Blockade
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Car rack advice: When subtle reminders fail, block access to the point of entry/destruction.

This awesome bit of roof rack advice was from a Facebook fan and I absolutely love it. Plant something conspicuous in front of your garage door or carport that requires you to stop, get out of your car to remove the obstacle and then (hopefully) notice the kayaks, bikes or cargo boxes strapped to the roof of your vehicle. It’s brilliant, provided you remember to place the obstacle before you leave.

The Mobile Warning System
Car rack advice: Don't leave home without a means of remembering you have valuable stuff on your roof.
Car rack advice: Don’t leave home without a means of remembering you have valuable stuff on your roof.

If you’ve been thinking to yourself: “This roof rack advice is fine for home, but what about when you’re on the road and in the path of malicious parking garages, ferry terminals and drive thru restaurant overhangs?” That’s where the dashboard solution is perfect. Be super smart and measure the height of your load from the ground up. Add an extra six inches to be safe and write the figure on your sign. Another Facebook fan suggested hanging a warning from the rear view mirror. It’s a fine idea, but I personally don’t need another distraction on the road. Plopping Fred Sanford on my dashboard is the ultimate wake up call no matter where adventure takes me. When in doubt, a combination of more than one tactic is never a bad idea.

How do YOU remember you’ve got stuff on your roof? Leave a comment and share your best roof rack advice or worst gear crushing story and help someone extend the life of their gear!