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Outdoor family travel Episode #3 –  The right stuff


©Jeff Boyle


©Jeff Boyle

We’re not talking about that movie from the 80’s about the Mercury astronauts. Or the insulating spray foam in a can. That’s Great Stuff, though it could come in handy the next time your kayak springs a leak. No, I’m not actually recommending taking household repair products on your next outdoor adventure. Though duct tape has its many uses. This article is about acquiring the gear that will help you stay safe & somewhat comfortable in the outdoors.

While my writing tends to take a snarky tone, let me get real for a minute. Safety in the outdoors, especially with your family, is no joke. Having the right gear and knowing how to use it means you and your loved ones can be reasonably protected from the conditions that you could experience when you leave the manmade bubble of your home/car/office/hotel. Repeat after me: “I will not take any shortcuts with being prepared for the weather that could put me or my family’s health (or worse) at risk.” More people die from exposure to cold & wet than from lightning strikes. Seriously, be smart out there.

Fortunately there are many excellent outdoor equipment retailers who have vast amounts of experience and costly stuff to offer you. However, you don’t need to personally keep them in business to have fun & be safe. Here are a few tips:

1. Do you have friends? Do they like to venture outdoors for a night or two? Maybe you could work out a trade: They take your whiny toddler for the weekend and you borrow their tent. Um, on second thought, how about your in-laws take the precious tot while your buddy loans you his Coleman? Before you drop your hard earned clams on the latest equipment that might just end up rotting away in your attic when you find out how much your significant other hates bugs, might be best to take a test run with someone else’s stuff. Just bring it back without any obvious burn holes, or blame it on an errant meteorite instead of the marshmallow sticks your kids were fighting with after dinner.

2. Stalk outdoor blogs / youtube channels. This could lead to spending some real money, so be forewarned. Enter something like “the perfect pair of hiking boots” in the search bar and see what comes up (for example: Some of the advice out there is commercial promotion or simply crap, but you’ll also find plenty of outdoor enthusiasts who simply want to share their expertise. And even throw in a humorous anecdote or two.

3. So you’re ready to commit to your own outdoor gear, but maybe you’re on a budget, a frugal Yankee, love bargain hunting, or all of the above. Pretty much describes your author to a T. Do you realize there are actual humans out there who bought new stuff, then decided they didn’t like it / need it / want it? Don’t let yourself be one of those people! Take advantage of the depreciation they have already purchased! Sites like eBay and are terrific resources as long as you know what you want and are OK with the slightly less generous than LL Bean return policy.

4. Visit your local outdoor equipment retailer or outfitter. Pick the brains of the staff. Many of them have actually ventured to the places you want to go, and have done the things you want to do. Just try not to be one of those jerks that ties up the brick & mortar salespeople for hours, then goes online and buys the same exact stuff from Amazon at a discount. That is not cool. You do that enough and these guys are going to close up shop and you’ll have nobody to talk with anymore. Remember Erehwon? Well, maybe it was REI that put them out of action…

The message is simply this. Other than the minimum clothing and equipment to keep you & your loved ones out of harms way, you can always stock your “adventure closet” over time like the Boyles have. While it’s tempting to spend thousands on the latest, lightest, flashiest stuff, that’s the mind-control power of marketing! If you’re just starting out, fight that urge with all your might and borrow or buy pre-owned gear while you’re figuring out what works for your family.


©Amy Boyle Photography


©Jeff Boyle

Next up: Packing it all up. Why leave home if you’re just taking your entire house/condo/apartment with you?

About the author

Jeff has been wandering around the woods since his loving parents first told him kindly to “Go outside and play!” at the tender age of 4. About the same time, he climbed his first mountain in New Hampshire without being carried the entire way. A few years later, he married Amy, a wonderful and adventurous professional photographer, and the two of them raised four boys together. He soon understood why his folks had encouraged him to spend so much time outdoors as an energetic youngster…

In Amy & Jeff’s two decades of togetherness, they’ve gone from camping mainly ’cause he’s frugal, to realizing they actually enjoy spending time in the “five billion star” resort called the great outdoors. Both have been active in Scouting, and their own boys have mostly had no choice but to come along. From lugging the heaviest car-camping gear ever made several miles into the woods of northern Wisconsin, to flying their latest slimmed down but still comfy adventure kit to the west coast, they’ve gotten better at getting around.

Just about the world’s worst storyteller, Jeff has decided it’s more effective to write and share photos about what he’s learned through many years of family outdoor travel. Like Mark Twain supposedly said, “Good judgement is the result of experience and experience the result of bad judgement.” Hopefully his sarcastic New England style doesn’t put everyone off, especially all the nice folks he’s met in the Midwest that he’s been so lucky to have called home for what feels like forever.

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