The ACK.com merchandising team is constantly finding and adding new products to the website year-round but as manufacturers prepare for 2014 this is the time of the year when we start to see some very exciting stuff heading our way. With so much awesome gear either in or on it’s way in, I decided to put together a list of top 9 products you should be excited about. Why? Because they are awesome.
9. SuperNova Lighting Kits – Make your ‘yak glow in the dark with these different lighting kits. Intended for anglers but useful for everyone.
Earlier this month, I started geeking out about new gear I picked up in preparation for my three and half day camping trip to Zion National Park this Labor Day weekend. The one week countdown is here, so I thought I should figure out how I’m going to fit it all in my pack. The gear packing has begun…
You Saw My Gear Packing Spread, Now Show Me Yours!
There are so many ways to approach camping and so many different pieces of gear you can bring along. I want to know what goes into your pack! Share your list by commenting below or send your spread pic to email@example.com and we’ll share our favorites on our social pages!
For our second day of cubicle cooking, we pulled out four very tasty sounding main course meals from Backpacker’s Pantry to try: Chicken Alfredo, Beef & Broccoli Stir Fry, Pad Thai and Beef Stroganoff. Before even tasting the meals, Trent and I were impressed by the variety. I can’t imagine trying to haul out the ingredients for even one of these meals on an extended back country adventure!
Something tricky about Backpacker’s Pantry is that their main course meals and entrees are listed as being good for both dinner and lunch. While this probably rings true for the average hiker and camper just looking to fuel up, those performance-minded explorers aiming to get the most bang for their bite should look over the nutrition facts before buying. We talked yesterday about how you want your back country lunch to be lighter and more energizing for the day with a high calorie count. For dinners, you want meals to help you recover and leave your tummy satisfied at the end of the day. This means protein is important as well a range of different vitamins and minerals. I quickly noted that today’s variety of meals offered a higher percentage of fats and protein -I’d say these would serve best as an end-of-day meal!
Meal 1: Fettuccine Alfredo with Chicken
The Fettuccine Alfredo with Chicken is a classic back country meal and popular choice among ACK customers. Trent and I were both excited to try it. Pasta with a creamy Alfredo sauce? How could you go wrong?! After some vigorous mixing of spice, pasta and boiling water with my Titanium Long Spoon, the meal was ready in about 15 minutes. It thickened up great and looked VERY appetizing.
Joseph’s Review: Easily my favorite meal so far. It’s a great combination of creamy and spicy and there’s just so much to eat. The bell peppers definitely stand out too and in a good way. I would highly recommend this meal.
Trent’s Review: Very classic flavors and healthy portions. Probably my favorite meal of the day. More true to its name than the similar sounding Tuscan Alfredo Rotini from Trail Foods we tried yesterday, though much heavier and easily double the serving size. This will fill you up and keep you satisfied!
Joseph’s Serving Size Insights: After Trent and a few others got to taste this meal, I had almost a full pouch of this for my lunch. It’s been a couple hours since and I am still very satisfied. I would say this is more than you need for one person although I’m not completely convinced it’d be enough for two.
Meal 2: Beef & Broccoli Stir Fry
While the other meals all incorporate a pasta base, this Beef & Broccoli Stir Fry uses rice. It also includes an olive oil packet which you add prior to combining ingredients with the boiling water. If you’re hoping to bring some food with an Asian flair to the back country, this is a meal to consider.
Of our entrees today, the Beef & Broccoli Stir Fry was the lightest and could work well as either a lunch or dinner. It cooked up in about 15 minutes as well and we gave it a try!
Joseph’s Review: This one came out a bit soupy so we drained some water after cooking but we should’ve left some of it in. The rice tasted a little on the dry side. I did like the mix of beef and veggies and could easily see myself enjoying this with the right additives… I’m thinking I’d mix in some Sriracha.
Trent’s Review: I’m a huge Asian food / stir fry fan but the flavors were a bit bland. I have a salty palette and definitely could’ve used salt on the meal and perhaps additional soy sauce. I did enjoy the meal and it was my first pick to have as my lunch for the day.
Trent’s Serving Size Insights: I ate the entire meal around 12:45 – 1 p.m. and am still satisfied now, a few hours later. (I will come back and let you know how hungry I am at the end of the work day). I am a little wary of saying that it’d be enough for two people – maybe with an extra side or snack!
Meal 3: Pad Thai: A Reminder to Read Instructions Carefully!
We were both excited about the Pad Thai. It came packaged with peanut butter, peanuts and some great looking noodles and spices. I separated out the packets and skimmed through the instructions to see what to do next. Little did I know, one more item was hidden away at the bottom of the pouch.
Camp foods from Backpacker’s Pantry are so easy to cook that sometimes you get a little cocky. One thing to always look out for is the oxygen absorber. The oxygen absorber is a very small square packet and will often be buried in the powdered spices at the bottom of the bag. It’s easy to miss this when opening up your meal pouch for the first time so be sure to review the instructions on the back of the bag. Not every pouch has one, but for those that do, Backpacker’s Pantry will either list this as the first step in the directions or have an added warning reminding you to do this. While neither Trent nor I knew for sure if this would ruin the meal, we thought it would be better to be safe than sorry and passed on trying this one.
Meal 4: Beef Stroganoff with Wild Mushrooms
Beef Stroganoff is another longtime favorite for backcountry campers because of how well it fills you up. It’s thick and creamy, much like the Alfredo pasta, and comes packed with more fatty calories than any of the other meals we tried today. Just like the others, this meal took 13 minutes to cook up and actually looked quite appetizing when it thickened up.
Joseph’s Review: This one was very true to it’s name – thick, creamy noodles with beef chunks. Not bad at all! I enjoyed this one second-most today and would definitely consider it a meal geared for dinner. After a full bowl of this, I imagine I’d want to sit around for a little bit!
Trent’s Review: I’m not a big fan of mushrooms but gave this meal a try anyways. It was great! This was a close second because I liked the flavor of the Fettucini more. This may be a bit heavy for the middle of a trek but would probably be better served as dinner (says the guy who sat in a chair all day).
You Can Eat Backpacker’s Pantry Meals Anywhere You Want!
One of the greatest things about Backpacker’s Pantry meals and all of the camping food options at ACK.com is that you can eat them anywhere you’d like! Need some proof? I climbed onto the roof of our office with my pouch of Chicken Alfredo and long titanium spoon and did some trail eating two stories up. Yep, still tasted great!
Stay tuned to our ACK blog for more cubicle cooking tomorrow. We’ll be focusing on options that don’t even require a stove!
The standard cost of lunch at a fast food restaurant these days seems to be about $5, so to kick things off for our week of trail foods, Trent and I thought we’d take a look at trail lunches for $5 or less. From my experience with trail eating, it’s important to consider your the purpose of your meal – backcountry lunches, for example, shouldn’t be too heavy but should provide you with the energy you need to get through the rest of the day. Each option we selected for today does just that… well, mostly.
On the menu for day 1 was Louisiana Red Beans & Rice from Backpacker’s Pantry as well as Trail Food’s Tuscan Alfredo Rotini, Veggie Pizza Pasta and for desert, Bananas Foster Bread Pudding. Trail Foods provided far more options than Backpacker’s Pantry when it comes to meals at this price and the reason has a lot to do with serving size. On average, Backpacker’s Pantry meals make two servings per packet while Trail Foods only makes one. In terms of calories, the Louisiana Red Beans provides 180-200 more than the Trail Foods options.
Meal 1: Louisiana Red Beans & Rice
The Louisiana Red Beans & Rice was a great place to start our week. It’s a simple meal that everyone has had in some form or another. As mentioned above, Backpacker’s Pantry packs two servings of food into this pouch for $3.99. It re-hydrated well and was ready to eat in about 15 minutes. After some vigorous stirring to make sure the spices were appropriately portioned, it was time to eat.
Joseph’s Review: I like my food spicy, and while this had a tiny kick to it I wasn’t that impressed by the heat. Overall the taste was great and it did have quite a bit of seasoning on it to give it plenty of flavor. I definitely would eat this one again, especially at such a great price!
Trent’s Review: Plenty of classic southern flavors in this hearty meal. No one you can go wrong with this one. Definitely a staple in my trail foods pantry.
ProTip: Backpacker’s Pantry Meals offer 2 servings – but that doesn’t mean they’ll fill two people up. Serve this one as a midday snack for 3-4 people or pair with half of a banana and share between two. Eating it solo is always an option, but you better be hungry!
Pasta is another very standard trail meal as the noodles cook the same on the trail as they do in the kitchen (depending on your altitude, of course). Trail Foods categorize their meals as Prepare, Perform, Recover or Enjoy Your Day – both of the meals we sampled were labelled as Perform, which means they’re intended to be a lunch or snack and are infused with electrolytes to keep you energized during long periods of activity.
This was our first time eating a meal from Trail Foods and we quickly noticed a difference on the nutrition facts between these pouches and the Louisiana Red Beans & Rice from Backpacker’s Pantry – the list of Vitamins & Minerals was about five times longer on both of the pasta options! While this might not affect every camper or hiker’s decision, this does mean Trail Food meals might have an edge when it comes to energizing you for vigorous activity.
These single serving pouches were both ready in about 10 minutes using the Jetboil and were easily identifiable when we served them up into our bowls.
Joseph’s Review: Of the two, I preferred the Veggie Pizza Pasta, which could just as easily be called Pasta Marinara. It claims to use a spicy sauce, but I wouldn’t say it had a kick at all. Overall, it was right on for a simple yet typical pasta with a tomato based sauce. The Tuscan Alfredo Rotini looked a bit more creamy and was heavier, though I wouldn’t say it was much heavier of a meal than the Veggie Pizza Pasta. In my opinion, two were actually quite similar aside from the difference in sauces. The one kicker for me was the basil flakes in the Rotini, I just wasn’t a fan.
Trent’s Review: I enjoyed the Tuscan Alfredo Rotini over the Veggie Pizza Pasta. The sauce was creamy and the flavors were instantly recognizable. Definitely a solid choice in my book. As far as the Veggie Pizza Pasta goes, I felt like it was a little bland and indistinct but it wasn’t bad at all. I would take this one along to mix my meals up if I’m on the trail for a while.
Meal 4: Banana Fosters Bread Pudding
Remember when I said almost all of our meals would be tuned to energize you midday for some outdoor activity? This meal came to us from Trail Food’s new Enjoy Your Day line of meals and actually isn’t yet available at ACK.com directly (though you are certainly able to put in a special order for it!). Unlike the Pastas which belong to the Perform line of meals, this pudding is meant to help you, for lack of a better phrase, enjoy your day! A quick look on the packaging shows it’s not packed full of the same electrolytes, vitamins and minerals as the two previous meals.
Joseph’s Review: The pudding was a nice meal to end our day with, I mean, it’s pudding! Great dessert even though it’s not the most appetizing looking food in the world.
Trent’s Review: Not much to look at but a nice treat. The flavors weren’t very distinct but overall this bread pudding was very sweet and tasty.
Blind Taste Test Factoid: Four out of of five ACK employees were given this meal in a blind taste test and thought it was apple cobbler. The fifth thought it was peach although they all enjoyed it just the same.
Grab One Of Our Backcountry Lunches and Hit the Trail!
It only costs $5 to try one of these backcountry lunches yourself so what are you waiting for? Give them a try and have some fun outside – you can eat them just about anywhere!
Our first four meals of the week are done and have to say we had a lot of fun. Keep an eye out for tomorrow’s post when Trent and I take a look at some 2 Serving Dinner Options from Backpacker’s Pantry. Comment below if you have any questions or comments about today’s meal reviews!
With the long Labor Day weekend on the horizon, my adventure instincts have kicked in, urging me to action. With endless destination possibilities for adventure at my fingertips, I finally settled on Zion National Park in St. George, Utah. I wanted to venture to Zion ever since I shared a photo from the Clever Hiker on the ACK Facebook Page, and I could feel the excitement building as I booked our tickets. My girlfriend, Andrea, who frequently accompanies me on my many outdoor excursions, will be joining me on this expedition. Setting up camp at the park’s Watchman campground, we plan to spend four days exploring the multitude of hiking trails the park has to offer. Over the last month, we have worked to get the details and schedule finalized. Now it’s time for the fun part – making my gear list!
I’m going to be honest with you. There is a good possibility that this is a good representation of what I probably looked like…
Gear Planning (Geeking)
When it comes to camping, my experience is mostly one or two night trips with my car about fifteen feet away. Luckily, most of my gear is fairly compact and lightweight which is important because without a vehicle we will be restricted to the gear we can carry. The trip is still a month away but I’ve been geeking out a bit while putting together our gear list. I’ve got everything you’d expect for our campsite (tent, sleeping bag and pad, lantern, etc.) but it’s my daypack and camp cooking supplies that I’m most excited about since I’ve made new additions to both!
Gearing Up for Camping & Day Hiking
Unlike backpacking, we wont be lugging our gear with us everywhere we go and will be able leave things like the main basecamp supplies behind. We will be able to take the essentials for the day which means it will be important for us to have a good daypack that can carry water and food for lunch and snacks.
With this in mind, I was on the hunt for daypack options. I found a discontinued Columbia pack that I was able to pick up for a steal in the Backpack Section in the ACK Outlet. It wasn’t exactly exactly what I had in mind but with a few improvements (AKA more new gear!), it will definitely work. It’s become an industry standard for brands like North Face and Columbia to include a pocket for water bladders and my bag was no exception. With the addition of a CamelBak reservoir, I could take care of any hydration needs. Next, I decided to strap a Goal Zero Nomad 7 Solar Panel to the top of the pack so that I will be able to charge my camera or phone while I’m hiking.
Can’t Forget Food Gear!
Now I need to look at the food aspect. I typically lean towards simplicity when it comes to camping and that includes eating. Of course I’d prefer a steak over the fire but even more than that, I’d prefer to not worry about a cooler, ice, fire starters and cooking utensils. Therefore a JetBoil Stove is a must! With foods that simply require hot water (oatmeal, dehydrated meals, instant coffee, hot chocolate, etc.), we should be set. Packing these items actually brought back memories of my college days. Thankfully, the variety of Backpacker’s Pantry meals I have chosen are much tastier than the instant ramen I used to live off of. Having used Backpacker’s Pantry meals in the past, my experience has taught me that even though they are convenient, the bags are rather tall and getting to the bottom to stir or serve the food can be a little tricky. So what do I do? Pick up a Titanium Long Spoon from Optimus, of course. Problem solved!
Now the last and possibly most important aspect is keeping all this tasty food safe from critters. Adding the Backpacker’s Cache, which will store the majority of our food and make it impossible for animals to get into, was a no brainer. It’s a bit heavy duty for this trip but I can see myself using it on future trips so why not, right?
Ready to Go!
Well, it’s a month out and I certainly feel like I’ve done a good job choosing the gear I need for this trip. It will be interesting to see exactly what ends up being useful or just dead weight and what I wish I would have brought. I’ll be blogging about the different aspects of my trip including product reviews, tips I’ve learned and of course pictures so stay tuned!
ACK Web Developer Jeremy Arntz is one of the company’s most frequent paddlers who is typically found on the water at Austin’s Lake Travis once or twice a week. Recently, he landed a new piece of gear and wanted to share his excitement about it – the Kelty Noah’s Tarp. See what he had to say:
Take Your Time And Enjoy The Outdoors With the Protection of the Kelty Noahs Tarp
It may sound weird that one of my favorite pieces of paddling gear is the Kelty Noah’s Tarp 9. However, as much as I love paddling, it’s also nice to relax near the water and to do that you need something to shelter yourself from the sun and elements. The Noah’s tarp is compact and light weight – both important factors for kayaking. When combined with a pair of Kelty Staff Poles and a cheap rubber mallet the whole kit weighs only 4 pounds and easily fits into the front hatch of my Wilderness Systems Tarpon 160 with plenty room left over for the rest of my gear. As the sun shifts during the day, only minor adjustments of the tarp are needed to maximize shade. Adding a Nite Ize Figure 9 small line tightener to the mix makes line adjustments even easier.
It has plenty of loops and grommets to make different configurations possible. So far, I’ve found the “Flying Diamond” (pictured) to work best for my needs. However you choose to use it, the Noah’s Tarp provides a light weight and versatile way to escape the elements and comes in three sizes 9, 12, and 16 feet.
Some Elements Can’t Be Beat
The tarp is great, but it isn’t made to handle every condition. For example, setup is fairly easy for two people to get done in minutes but on a windy day – not so much. My wife and I had such a hard time one outing that we decided against setting it up all together. It makes me worried about trying to set it up on my own, although I am sure that with some practice it could be done. In addition, the tarp could be thicker to completely block the sun. I would compare it to the material of a tent in the fact that if you are laying under it and staring straight up, you can see the sun right through.
Still, the Noah’s tarp has quickly become my new favorite paddling accessory. There really isn’t anything more relaxing after a long paddle than pulling up to a sandy beach and relaxing in the shade. For all of you Austin area paddlers, keep an eye out for my wife and I laying under it around Lake Travis next time you go out. (Hint: Our favorite spot is Windy Point!)
Looking for a family tent? Eureka’s Tetragon 5 Tent might be just the ticket with plenty of space, easy setup, quality features and, maybe most importantly, quality that’s meant to last! This five person tent from Eureka is a popular buy and has been known to hold up for plenty of years. Oh – and it comes at a great price too! Just ask ACK customer ‘Happy Camper’ who submitted the following review:
“This is my second Tetragon 5. I also own the Tetragon 4. The first one lasted for 15 years and I was so happy to see this was still sold. Exoskeleton makes setup a breeze, floor wraps up for added rain protection and rain-fly goes all-the-way-down. Every quality I want in a tent!” – Happy Camper
This tent is so great for families that we created a camping package for it! Check it out if you’re looking for some great savings & want to get the whole family enjoying some time outside.
A coworker recently lent me their new PowerMonkey Extreme to try out for a camping trip. This portable solar charger and battery combo from Power Traveller is both waterproof and shockproof (waterproof for 30 minutes up to about 3 feet) making it the perfect tool for both paddlers and campers to keep electronics charged.
I have used the Goal Zero Nomad in the past and had charged my phone directly from the panels. I immediately noticed some big differences between the two, the biggest of which was the battery. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this battery is a powerhouse.
It houses a 9,000 mAh capacity Lithium Polymer battery which, in charging terms, translates to 6 iPhone charges or about 8-10 charges for my basic smartphone. I plugged my phone in on the drive home from work and found it fully charged not long after without even putting a dent in the battery’s charge. I was immediately impressed.
The battery ‘on-off’ switch is touch operated and is best described as ‘slick’. Just swipe a finger across the friction control from left to right and up pops a neat LCD display which tells you how much charge is left in the battery. You can also activate a permanent ‘on’ feature which will negate the auto-shutoff that is programmed to occur after fully charging the device that’s connected. Ya.. this thing is smart.
So how does the battery stay charged?
To tell you the truth, for the week that I used it, I never put too large of a dent in the battery’s life. Out of the four cell phone charges, I knocked it down 2 bars out of five. I was able to return it to full charge using the solar panel after a few hours in the sun while I went out paddling. It is designed to fully charge the battery within 15 hours in optimum light conditions.
The solar panel is simple and easy to use and compared to the Goal Zero Nomad is more protected and compact, although a bit thicker as a result of the protective housing.
However, this isn’t the only way to charge the battery. It can also hook into a USB port or a universal main charger which comes standard with every kit. That’s right – the solar panel is not even close to your only option!
Let’s not forget about the solar panel after all this battery talk. The two folding panels offer 3 watts max output and can operate as a power source on it’s own as well using the same cables that are compatible with the battery.
It also comes with a Velco strap accessory that is perfect for attaching it directly to a tent or backpack which makes it perfect for hiking. Texting-addicted students might also enjoy hooking it to their backpack for portable power wherever they go…just a thought.
This video from Power Traveller demonstrates how it hooks into a hiker’s pack to charge electronics during the daylight adventures:
The panel and battery aren’t all that the PowerMonkey includes. It comes with everything you need to get charging right out of the gate with 8 mobile device tips (I used the Micro USB to charge my cell) and four interchangeable heads for universal main charger made to fit wall outlets in the United Kingdom, USA, Europe and Australia.
It also includes a hard bodied black travel pouch which has room for all of the pieces in a nice compact size that won’t take up much room in a backpack. Yep, PowerTraveller seems to have thought of everything with their Power Monkey Extreme. It is certainly my new favorite portable charger.
Here are some more photos of me playing with it on an overnight camping trip:
Despite camping once or twice a month, I never felt like it was worth investing in a quality camp chair. I had bought a pair of $5 brand-less chairs and had been using the one that hadn’t fully broken down after the first use. That was until I decided to take the plunge and buy one of the Kelty Mesh Folding Chairs.
I had been a bit scared of the price tag but was tired of my old cheap chair which continued to fall apart little by little. Well, all I can say is I don’t regret the purchase one bit and don’t think you will either. Here’s five reasons why:
No more broken arm rests. Arm rests are the first thing to go on a poorly made chair because they have such little support.
Hold cups, cans & bottles with confidence. Good quality camp chairs have good quality cup holders so you won’t have to worry about your drinking falling out or even breaking through the bottom.
Features! A good quality camp chair will have some bells and whistles that you’ll never find in your $5 one. The Kelty Mesh Folding chair comes with adjustable arm rests, ventilated mesh & an attached bottle opener!
Quality chairs are backed by quality manufacturers. If I had an issue with my Kelty chair I could call up their customer service team and ask for help. Not the case for my older one.
Look like you know what you’re doing. You just don’t look camp ready when you pull out a folding chair that has trouble standing on it’s own four feet. Quality chairs show you’ve come prepared.
So there you have it, five reasons why I don’t think you’ll regret spending a little extra on your next camp chair. In addition to the Kelty Mesh Folding Chair, we also offer a number of other camp furniture options including the Wenzel Folding Banquet Chair, Eureka Directors Chair as well as many more. We guarantee that any of them will beat that old $5 chair you bought.