Guides Nick and Elder take on the Motatapu Race

Guides Nick and Elder take on the Motatapu Race

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For those of you lucky enough to have been guided on an Active Adventures trip by Nick or Elder (or both if you were extra lucky!), you’ll be aware that they’re a couple of blokes who can’t get enough of the great outdoors. When they’re not guiding for us in New Zealand, they can be found leading guests on hiking trails in our other destinations – Nick in Europe, and Elder in Nepal. If you’re not familiar with these particular Active Adventures guides, check out the picture below:

Elder Nick lupins
Elder (left) and Nick appreciating the beautiful lupins during a ‘Weka’ trip

Nick and Elder often guide our New Zealand Biking Adventure ‘Weka’ trips together, and so are really good friends who are used to pushing each other to work hard when they’re out riding. 2018 is proving no different for these two so far, and they’ve decided they want to take on the challenge of one of New Zealand’s most popular races, the 47km Motatapu Mountain Bike Race.

Nick and Elder love their bikes so much, that they’ll be competing in the Motatapu midway through a 2-week ‘Weka’ trip as the race falls perfectly on the day the group will spend exploring Queenstown, close to where the race will finish. We managed, somehow, to catch up with Nick and Elder and quiz them on their decision to race in the Motatapu, their training, and if they’re in it to win it.

Q: Have you competed in this race before? What’s the terrain going to be like?

Nick: “This is the sixth time for me. There’s plenty of up and plenty of rivers!”

Elder: “It’s my second time, I love it. The terrain starts with a 15km road section, then it’s onto the single track, lots of ups, but some downs too!”

Q: Are you guys really competitive? Will you be racing to win or just out there to enjoy yourselves?

Nick: “I think everyone wants to win. But it will be a great team challenge. We’re always finding ways to compete with each other, especially on bikes! Ultimately we’ll be competing as a team, and we’re not allowed to be more than 2 minutes apart at any time during the race, so I’d say we’ll be pushing each other pretty hard!”

Elder: “Sure. I want to win. Sorry we want to win! Haha. I’d say I’m competitive but not obsessed.”

Q: Any secrets you’re willing to share with us about training, preparation, or staying fuelled during the race?

Nick: “Peanut butter is key. Haha! Seriously though, it is. There’ll definitely be a Fergburger or two involved in my pre and post race meals too.”

Elder: “I try and eat something every 6km or so. And before the race I’ll be loading up on carbs and making sure I eat a good breakfast.”

Q: Have you done much training? I guess the ‘Weka’ trips you’ve been guiding are enough….?

Nick: “You can always do more training but yeah the Weka trips have helped me keep a steady fitness.”

Elder: “I have been doing lots of running (I’m also running the Everest Marathon in May!) so I’ve been training for that, and of course some biking too. The Weka trips have been really helpful for endurance for biking, it’s a different kind of strength than marathon running.”

The Macpac Motatapu Race is taking place on Saturday the 10th of March, and we’ll make sure that the guys have a team of fans waiting at the finish line in Arrowtown with a cold beer for them! Whilst the boys aren’t riding the race for charity, if they do manage to win any money they intend to donate it to the Queenstown Trails Trust, a charity committed to developing a network of public trails around the Wakatipu Basin. Elder will be running the Everest Marathon in May this year, so watch this space for more details on that, and how you can donate to his chosen charity, Active Hearts Himalayas.

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Fishing Forum
 Hooked Something Huge While Night Fishing Under Bridges

Fishing Forum Fishing in Fort Lauderdale Topshotfishing Happy Day Today Sailfish

Fort Lauderdale Fishing with Top Shot Sportfishing Charter Boat and Capt. Zsak

Jason, Paul, Niles and Matt from Toronto chartered the Top Shot Sportfishing charter boat team to do some deep sea charter boat sport fishing in Fort Lauderdale, FL. The guys were looking for good catches and lots of action, which is what we set out to accomplish. We had clear skies and warm weather, with the days high at 75 degrees.

The best method of fishing has been trolling the reef from 100 ft. to 475 ft. of water. We left the dock and within 15-20 minutes we were in 120 ft. of water, 1.8 miles from shore south of Fort Lauderdale. We set out two plainers, a #8 and a #6, using Bonito strip baits and a sea witch. For surface baits we went with four Ballyhoos.

We zig zagged from 200 to 400 ft. of water heading south of Fort Lauderdale and started getting bites on both the plainer rods and the rigger line. The anglers took turns catching and wiring in the fish and caught one Sailfish, two Wahoos weighing 15 lbs. each and three Bonitos.

The guys wanted to try for a Shark, so next we got three Bonito Shark baits ready and put them out in 300 ft. of water – one on the bottom, one midrange and one on the surface. Shark fishing is a waiting game, and we tried for an hour but unfortunately, did not catch a Shark.

It was now time to head back to the dock. The anglers retired into the a/c salon and enjoyed the relaxing trip back to the dock at Bahia Bar Yachting Center, 801 Seabreeze Blvd. Fort Lauderdale 33316. Matt, our mate, filet the fish for the angler to take home and enjoy.

For a successful and adventurous deep sea fishing charter in Fort Lauderdale FL for Sailfish, Shark, Bonito, Mackerel, Swordfish, Snapper, Wahoo, Tuna, Mahi Mahi and Grouper, contact Captain Zsak. – 954-309-7457 or email us at Website:

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11 Weird Ways to Start Fires

11 Weird Ways to Start Fires

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Sometimes it’s hard to know how to start a fire. Perhaps you’re out of matches, or maybe the weather is horrendous. Sure, there are plenty of smart, easy ways to start fires, but why be conventional? Over the years, generations of fire starters have figured out some pretty weird ways to start fires. Are they all practical? No. Are they all awesome? Yes.

If you’re looking for more conventional ways to get a fire going, check out this article. Or check out this article for how to make the perfect campfire every time.

Fresnel Lens

Fresnel lenses are all around you, but you might not know it. It is a kind of glass used to magnify light and can be found in some rear-view mirrors. However, the most common place you’ll find one is in any old, large television. Modern LCD and plasma TVs of the last few decades are more advanced in their technology, but older projection sets commonly include a Fresnel lens. Simply remove the lens, and use it as a magnifying glass to create a death ray of fire starting awesomeness.

Condom Fire Starter

Condoms can literally be used to make fires. In fact, this is merely a bizarre variation on the aqua lens. For anyone unfamiliar with this group of improvised fire starters, any clear container filled with water can be used as a magnifying glass, focusing the sun’s rays on your tinder. Condoms (balloons as well) happen to be surprisingly good at this. Just fill the condom with water, and hold it at an angle to best concentrate sunlight. With any luck, you’ll have a fire going in no time.

A Light Bulb

Another unexpectedly effective aqua lens for fire starting is the humble light bulb. Snap off the end of the bulb, and remove the contents. Then, fill it with water and use it just like the condom above.


In one final twist on the aqua lens, try using a large chunk of ice. As with the previous two methods, angle the ice in a way that concentrates light on your tinder. This method is pretty hard to pull off though, so you’ll need some patience. You’ll also need gloves. Otherwise, your fingers will freeze long before the fire gets going. To see this fire starting method in action, check out the video below.

Dead Lighter and Paper

Think that old Bic has reached the end of its life? Not so fast! First, you’ll need a smooth surface to work with. Place a piece of paper flat on the surface, and remove the safety lock from a dead lighter. Then, roll the lighter slowly but firmly over the paper. As you do this, the flint rod inside the lighter will get ground down by the wheel, creating little shavings that you can collect and use.


Perhaps more useful than most of the ways to start fires on this list, a flashlight can be an excellent choice. This method relies on the same reflective cone used inside the flashlight to magnify its light. Remove the front of the flashlight, and pull out the shiny cone behind the globe. Then, pack the hole at the end of the cone with tinder, and point it towards the sun. On a sunny day, it’s not too hard to get the tinder to light. To see how, watch the video below.

Guitar pick

This method really rocks, if you’re not too picky (please excuse the puns). A guitar pick can be shredded into tinder, and easily ignited with a flint. To see how in detail, check out this article.

Clothes Dryer Lint

This method is inadvertently used by thousands of unlucky households each year. In fact, around 20,000 house fires are started annually across the country due to clothes dryers. In most cases, the cause is lint, which is surprisingly combustible. Lint is especially flammable when it comes into contact with metal, such as the wire in bras. So if you need to start a fire and only have laundry to work with, just pack the dryer full of lint and bras, turn it to full heat and watch. You’ll have a fire going in no time, but good luck controlling it.

Brake Fluid and Chlorine

This method is somewhat dangerous, but it works ridiculously well. Powdered chlorine will ignite almost immediately if doused in brake fluid; so if you want to know how to start a fire quickly, then this is it. Just made a small pile of chlorine powder, squirt it with brake fluid, and keep your distance. Once you’ve got some smoke going, add kindling and watch your chemical fire burn. I wouldn’t use this for cooking, as the chemicals aren’t recommended for consumption. Also, make sure you wear protective goggles and gloves, because both brake fluid and chlorine are pretty toxic. See this method in action in the video below.

Car Battery and Pencil

Car batteries are obviously packed with energy, and thus make for a simple – albeit dangerous – way to get a fire going. In this unorthodox method, you’ll just need a pencil, a car battery, and some jumper cables. Cut the pencil in half to expose the graphite within, and attach the jumper cables to either end. Then, connect the cables to the car battery, and watch as the graphite glows red hot. The pencil’s outer wooden jacket should quickly catch fire and can be supplemented with tinder and kindling. Be extremely careful of the heat generated by this method, and be sure to wear protective equipment.

Galaxy Note 7 Smartphone

Yes, this one is just a joke; after all, who would want a Galaxy Note?

In all seriousness though, Samsung’s recall of the Galaxy Note 7 illustrated the power of lithium phone batteries to start fires. To try for yourself, simply remove the battery from a cellphone, and touch the battery’s positive and negative contact points with steel wool. This will create sparks that can be used to get tinder smoldering. See for yourself in the video below.

So there you have it! Out list of 11 super weird and wacky ways to start fires.

Do you know if any other crazy fire-starting techniques? Let us know in the comments below!

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Fishing Forum
 Hooked Something Huge While Night Fishing Under Bridges

Fishing Forum Fishing Fort Lauderdale Topshotfishing Happy Day Todat Sailfish

Fort Lauderdale Fishing with Top Shot Sportfishing Charter Boat and Capt. Zsak

Bill, Matt, David, Mike, Kirk and Dan decided to charter the Top Shot Sportfishing charter boat team to do some deep sea charter boat sport fishing in Fort Lauderdale, FL. The guys were looking to have a fun day on the water and catch some fish.

I decided to head down to an area called the Hollywood pump which has treated water pumped out from the city of Hollywood. We started with our trolling spread from Dania Beach down to Hollywood with two deep plainer lines and three surface lines. We trolled the reef from 90′ of water to 200′ of water until we reached the Hollywood pump and worked the area going over and around the bubble.

There were plenty of live bait hanging around the up current side, and the Kingfish were showering the baits. Birds were diving and swooping down to catch the Ballyhoo having their own feeding frenzy. We changed over from our trolling spread to the live bait kite spread. I sent one right and one left kite a few hundred feet behind the boat with 4 live Goggle Eye baits (2 per kite) along with one deep bottom rod with a dead bait. We watched the Ballyhoo get hit on all angles from the Kingfish in the area and patiently waited for our bite. We did have a few nice Kingfish explode on our bait, but the three got away.

All of a sudden a Sailfish came up to the short kite bait, he fed and got hooked up. The Sailfish started jumping out of the water. He made a long run almost spooling the reel. Our first angler reeled like crazy to retrieve the line. All the guys had a turn angling the Sailfish and the 6th angler brought the Sailfish to the side of the boat. We brought the Sailfish into the boat, removed the hooks, got a photo and put the Sailfish back in the water to live another day.

Next we went back to trolling the reef catching two Kingfish. The fish were about 10 pounds each, and they both ate the deep plainer lines.

It was time to head back to the dock. The anglers retired into the a/c salon and enjoyed the relaxing trip back to the dock at Bahia Bar Yachting Center, 801 Seabreeze Blvd. Fort Lauderdale 33316.

For a successful and adventurous deep sea fishing charter in Fort Lauderdale FL for Sailfish, Shark, Bonito, Mackerel, Swordfish, Snapper, Wahoo, Tuna, Mahi Mahi and Grouper, contact Captain Zsak. – 954-309-7457 or email us at Website:

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The Andes' Perfect Survival Plant

The Andes’ Perfect Survival Plant

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Cattails, amaranth, clovers, and dandelions are all typical plants of choice for the survivalist, but what about the frailejon? If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry; most people outside South America have never even seen one before. These amazing survival plants are only found in a very specific region of the Andes, where the climate is just right for them to flourish.

For hikers, explorers and other outdoor enthusiasts traveling in this part of the world, frailejones can serve as a critical survival and medicinal plant. When the going gets tough, these plants are your best friends. Or, you could use your knowledge of frailejones to impress fellow travelers next time you’re hiking in the Andes.

There are many plants helpful for survival that you can grow at home, check out our list here.

Frailejon is immediately recognizable. While exploring the foggy flanks of the northern Andes, you’ll no doubt catch glimpses of shadowy, slender figures dotting the landscape. These silhouetted forms can look like other hikers in the fog, but on closer inspection, you’ll find something much stranger.

A plant, anywhere from a few centimeters to a few meters high. It might look like a cactus at first, but the leaves are soft, and the spines feel more like fur. The twisted stalk gives way to a spongy mass of leaves bunched at the top, and you might see yellow flowers poking up here and there. Botanists call this wacky-looking plant the espeletia, but most locals simply call them frailejones, or friars. Indeed, they certainly look priestly, with their shaggy forms vaguely resembling cassock-clad monks in dim light. At night, the frailejones can be a bit of an otherworldly sight when hiking in the Andes.

Where Can You Find Frailejone?

In areas where they’re endemic, frailejones can cover the landscape like a spongy blanket. They’re most commonly found in Colombia, along with the western highlands of Venezuela and Northern Ecuador. Failejones also grow in some parts of Peru, but are not particularly common. In all four countries, you’ll only see frailejones on the paramo.

The paramo is a high altitude tropical ecosystem. It is usually wet, windy, and cold, and sometimes resembles moorlands. As for the frailejones, they typically grow on paramo at altitudes of 1800 to 4700 meters. However, this height can vary, depending on the specific climate of the paramo. In general, however, you can expect to find frailejones on any high altitude slopes in wet and cold regions. In some places, it’s hard to walk without stepping on one; elsewhere, it can be challenging to find even a single plant.

General Survival Uses

Frailejones have a surprisingly diverse set of applications for campers and survivalists. Next time you’re in the northern Andes, try out a few of these for yourself. Bear in mind, however, that the frailejon is considered endangered due to agricultural clearing.

In some areas where the plant is plentiful, it can seem harmless to take a few leaves for yourself, but keep in mind that frailejones grow exceptionally slowly. So if you need to harvest the plant for yourself, do so sparingly. Only take a few of the outer leaves from limited plants where permitted. In some areas frailejon harvesting is banned, while in others it is entirely acceptable. When in doubt, play it safe and refrain from picking this plant.



The rocky, wet terrain of the paramo offers very few spots for the weary traveler to sleep for the night. Luckily, the frailejon can save the day. The wide, spongy leaves of the frailejon make an excellent camping mattress or pillow. Simply harvest dry leaves, evenly pile them, then lie down to compress them a bit. Stuff them inside a plastic bag to make a decent pillow, or heap them under your tent for a little extra comfort in the night.

In Venezuela, you’ll often see local hikers harvesting frailejones by the armload, piling them into ridiculously high improvised mattresses. Don’t copy this wasteful behavior. Instead, take only what you need, and do so sparingly.


Frailejones make an excellent addition to any improvised shelters, such as a lean-to, wedge hut, or round hut. Packing them all over the walls will offer protection from the wind while helping keep the precious warmth inside.

Medicinal Uses

Along with being suitable construction material for bedding and improvised shelters, frailejones also purportedly have some serious health benefits. They are believed to ward off altitude sickness. An attribute that makes them quite a popular survival plant among travelers hiking in the Andes.

Frailejon tea

A common folk cure for altitude sickness, frailejon leaves can be used to make a bitter, but tasty tea. Boil washed leaves vigorously for at least 10 minutes, then drink hot. You should use roughly one medium-sized leaf per cup of water. Cinnamon is also traditionally added for a bit of flavor. I’ve tried this myself, and find it can be pretty refreshing and helps with the symptoms of mild altitude sickness.

Frailejon resin

Boiling the tea further will lead to the liquid forming into a thick mess of bitter yellow syrup. It might look gross (and ruin your cooking pot), but Andean locals claim it can help with asthma and other respiratory problems. At altitudes like these, anything to make breathing easier is welcome.

Bonus tip: frailejon nightcap

As a final ode to the glorious frailejon, let me introduce perhaps its greatest application: as booze. On a cold Andean night, a frailejon nightcap can work wonders, easing sore muscles and helping even the most restless traveler get their Zs on.

To try it for yourself, begin by making the frailejon tea described above. Add a tablespoon of cinnamon, two tablespoons of sugar, a dash of cardamom and a bit of nutmeg, depending on taste. Simmer for a few minutes after the initial vigorous boil, and add either aguardiente (basically moonshine) or a spirit of your choice.

In Venezuela, I’d opt for their excellent rum, while in Colombia you’re better off sticking to an aniseed liquor. In Ecuador, trago de caña will do the trick.
After a total of 15-20 minutes of boiling, strain the leaves and drink hot. You’ll thank me.

So what do you think? Will you be keeping an eye out for this legendary plant on your next trip to the Andes? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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Fishing Forum
 Hooked Something Huge While Night Fishing Under Bridges

Fishing Forum SW FL-Bonita Beach–still windy, still fishing!

Monday, 2/5/18, I fished with frequent customer, Ron Musick, joined by friends who are visiting for a few days. We used cut-bait and squid to fish spots out to 28 miles from New Pass. The spots that have consistently yielded lots of lane snapper have not been doing so recently, and this day was no exception. But, the group did catch over twenty nice-sized porgies, along with some grunts. They released twenty-five red grouper shorts, along with a 15-inch mutton snapper.

On Wednesday, 2/7, Craig Royal and family fished 24 miles west of New Pass with me, where there continued to be lots of small bait fish around, and keeper fish seemed scarce, despite steady action. The group released a couple dozen red grouper shorts to 18 inches, along with two big lizard fish about 19 inches each. They did box three keeper lane snapper and a dozen grunts, all of which bit on squid and cut-bait.

Roy Mittman fished in various spots out to 25 miles west of New Pass with me on Monday morning, 2/12. Once again, the red grouper bite was active, but yielded no keepers, and we released over twenty shorts. Keepers included lane snapper and grunts, which bit on squid.

Tuesday, 2/13, I spent the morning fishing the backwaters of southern Estero Bay with John Pompeo and his son, John, Jr. The guys used live shrimp to catch ten sheepshead to 15 inches and a 16-inch black drum.

Bob Ellis and his friend, Tim, fished about 15 miles west of New Pass with me on Wednesday 2/14, where they used cut-bait and squid to release four red grouper shorts and two gag grouper out-of-season shorts to 21 inches. They boxed a 15-inch sheepshead, a keeper porkfish, and three grunts.

Eddie Alfonso, Kay Daugherty, and Liz Condos fished 17 miles west of New Pass with me on Thursday, 2/15, using cut-bait and squid. The group released red grouper shorts to 18 inches, along with a would-be-legal (if in season) gag grouper, and a 16-inch triggerfish. They caught a mess of grunts, so fish tacos were still on the menu, even with having to release the other catches.

The photo shown is of Liz Condos with a 24-inch, out-of-season gag grouper, caught on cut-bait and released.

After a couple of days off the water, due to a family event, Mike Bochman and his friend, Kevin joined me to fish 20 miles offshore on Monday, 2/19. Seas got progressively choppier throughout the morning. The guys used squid and cut-bait to release fifteen red grouper shorts to 19 inches, along with a 15-inch scamp grouper. They loaded up on grunts for fish tacos.

Mike McCarthy and friends, Ken, Tim and Eddie, fished in various spots out to 35 miles west of New Pass with me on Tuesday, 2/20. We had steady action at the 35 mile spot, where the guys released over thirty red grouper shorts to just short of 20 inches, inches, five gag grouper to 22 inches, several yellowtail snapper shorts, and a few banded rudder fish, all around 18 inches. They loaded up their cooler with lots of 15-inch porgies and 15-inch grunts. Everything bit on squid and cut-bait.

Mike McCarthy and friends, Ken, Benny and Timmy, fished in various spots out to 35 miles west of New Pass with me on Tuesday, 2/20. We had steady action at the 35 mile spot, where the guys released lots of red grouper shorts to 19 12 inches, five gag grouper to 22 inches, several yellowtail snapper shorts, and a few banded rudder fish, all around 18 inches. They loaded up their cooler with lots of 15-inch porgies and 15-inch grunts. Everything bit on squid and cut-bait.

Seas were choppier than predicted, with some rain off Naples, on Wednesday morning, 2/21, when I fished 18 miles offshore with Mark Dutkewych and his young son, Nick. The guys caught and released a dozen red grouper shorts and a dozen or so grunts before calling it a morning.

Wayne Geall and friends, Tucker Seabrook, Carm, and Clay, fished the backwaters of southern Estero Bay with me on a windy Thursday morning, 2/22. Using live shrimp, the group caught sixteen sheepshead, including one nice keeper at 19 inches. They also released two mangrove snapper shorts, a spadefish, three black drum, and a brace of two-pound stingrays.

The photo shown is of Tucker Seabrook with a 19-inch sheepshead, caught on shrimp in Estero Bay.

It was another windy morning in southern Estero Bay on Friday, 2/23, when I fished a catch-and-release trip with Bob and Mary-Lou Schwartz and their grandchildren, Hannah and Tyler. The family used live shrimp to release a 17-inch black drum, two would-be-keeper mangrove snapper at 11 inches each, a lady fish, nine sheepshead shorts, and a 22-inch sailcat.

You can view our fishing action videos at videos.html

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Tent vs. Hammock Camping: And The Winner is...

Tent vs. Hammock Camping: And The Winner is…

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for the WORST to come? Click here to sign up NOW! We'll even throw in a FREE survival tool! (just pay s&h)

Camping hammocks have exploded in popularity in recent years, but are they all they’re cracked up to be? Over the past year, I’ve been toying around with my camping hammock, to see how it measures up to my tent. The results might surprise you.

Before trying hammock camping for yourself, check out our guide to basic hammock camping.

Trees are everywhere

At first glance, the camping hammock seems far more restrictive than the traditional tent – at least regarding finding the perfect spot to crash for the night. Surely it’s a pain in the backside to find the perfect pair of trees, right? Wrong. On most popular wilderness hiking trails, there’s never a shortage of trees.

Most national parks have plenty of trees, and even relatively sparsely vegetated regions still have plenty of spots to string up a hammock. You just think that they aren’t there because you haven’t been looking.

If you’re still unconvinced, then try this experiment: next time you go for a walk in the wilderness, try keeping a count of how many suitable hammock camping sites you see. Odds are, you’ll count far more than you expect. So in the tent vs. camping hammock debate, trees just aren’t as much of a factor as you may think.

That means more campsites!

In practice, I’ve found that locking in a good hammock camping site is usually much easier than finding a tent site. While trees are everywhere, so is uneven, rocky ground. This is particularly true of wooded areas, where tent campers have roots and stones galore to contend with.

How many times have you settled down in your tent at the end of a long day, only to have some sneaky rock jab you in the back? What about those moments when you discover the ground isn’t nearly as even as you thought it was, and now you’re stuck sleeping on an annoying slope?

The reality is, once you switch to a camping hammock, you’ll find you usually have more flexibility than tent campers. For example, when was the last time you tent camped right next to your water source, or up a slope to the side of a crowded campsite?

Speed of set-up

This one may be contentious, but I’m going to say it: hammocks are quicker to set up. Between spending less time looking for a site, clearing a square, smashing those pegs in and the like, tents take a few minutes for even the pros to get set up.


Camping hammocks, on the other hand, just involve clipping straps around two trees. You’re done in mere seconds, and it couldn’t be easier. Cleanup is a breeze too. Put simply, the question of which camping method is quicker to set up is well and truly settled.

Protection against the cold, wet ground

Who enjoys waking up to discover they’re camping on slush? We’ve all had those nights when the rain comes down, and all of a sudden that perfect campsite becomes a mushy, wet, mess of misery. You won’t get that with a hammock. Ever.


Overall, hammocks are more comfortable than even the best camping mattress. Maybe you’re hardcore and like to say you don’t care about comfort, but let’s be honest. Deep down inside, all any of us really want is a decent night’s sleep, and camping hammocks provide that much more consistently than any tent. So concerning which is more comfortable, the hammock wins every single time.


Perhaps not the most important factor for everyone, but camping hammocks are a bit cheaper than most tent set-ups. My cheap hammock set-up cost me less than $100, while my tent was a few hundred. Evidently, there’s a lot of room for variation here, and the price difference may not even matter to most campers.

Frustrating learning curve

I’m not going to sugar-coat it: my first few camping hammock escapades were pretty lame, mostly because I spent half the time wrestling with a somewhat uncooperative hammock. I’m not alone. Most campers are used to tents, and switching to a hammock can a learning curve. Getting the height right and making yourself comfortable takes a bit of practice, not to mention a time investment.


While it’s possible to make a camping hammock set-up lighter than the average tent, it’s not easy. In fact, the most significant complaint new hammock campers have is the additional weight. The hammock itself isn’t the problem; it’s the tarp, the bug net, the straps, and other gear that ends up making this set-up just a few kilos heavier than a tent. Unfortunately, hammocks lose in the weight department, though perhaps not all of the time.

For a good light-weight camping hammock, check out this tactical hammock review.

Casual camping on well-trodden trails

For casual camping trips to your average national park, camping hammocks are just so much better than tents. You’ll never have trouble finding somewhere to sleep in even the most cramped of camping sites. Not only that, but you’ll sleep better than anyone else.

When you’re camping in woodlands

Any heavily wooded areas lend themselves well to hammock camping. While tent dwellers are struggling with the afore-mentioned roots and rocks, you’ll be chilling a few feet above the ground in style and comfort.


Perhaps it’s just me, but I’ve had no success with beach hammock camping. It might sound idyllic to merely find a few palm trees and sit back with a beach-side piña colada, but odds are it won’t work out that way. In reality, you’ll end up miles away from the shore, trying to find a half-decent tree by the roadside. For beach bums, tents are way better.

High mountains

When you’re doing a serious hike at over 4000 above sea level, camping hammocks are pretty much useless. The extra weight will drag you down, and good luck finding a single tree. Even if you do manage to find somewhere to camp, you’ll be knocked around all night by the wind. Stick with your tent for intense hikes.

What do you think? If you’ve had your own experience with hammock camping, let us know in the comments below.

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Fishing Forum
 Hooked Something Huge While Night Fishing Under Bridges

Fishing Forum How To Make Bait Bags Using Big Vic’s!

How To Make Bait Bags Using Pro Meds Big Vic’s Bait Netting!

Years ago i shared how i used Pro Med01 finger gauze to make bait bags. What are bait bags? A simple gauze bag to cast soft baits that would normally rip off a casted hook. Recently i was contacted by the owner of Pro Meds , Vicki Lurie who became aware of my videos that showcased her company’s products. I then received several boxes of Big Vic’s Bait Netting#1. Seems this product was meant for anglers to cast soft baits.

Pro Meds01 is the same as Big Vic’s#1, just marketed for the fishing community. I thought this would be a good opportunity for me to enhance my experience with my bait bags. Since sharing how i make my bags i’m still answering questions till this day. So i hope i’m giving enough information to update the dozen videos i’ve done showing my usage of bait bags.

Since my first video highlighting Pro Med netting bags i’ve caught Trevally, Ladyfish, Bonefish, Sharks & Rays. Besides being able to cast very soft baits like liver i’ve found the bags prolong how long the bait can be presented. That means the netting protects the bait from being eaten to early by those tiny “bait stealers”. This means less bait checks. The benefits? You save on buying bait & that means you save money.

This day i tried to share techniques that i’ve learned to make the bait bag experience complete. A large Ladyfish took-off jumping away since it wasn’t fully hooked. Had a hit & run, and a hit that stopped & the rig went into the coral reef (most likely a eel). I showed how to stabilize your bait in sand utilizing wired banks to how to take a bait bag off a barbed hook easily. Also how i break my lead line without damaging my equipment if stuck.

Since i didn’t have any fish to show for todays demonstration i used past pictures of fish caught using bait bags since Pro Med & Big Vic’s are the same netting material. I’ve had messages from Florida to Australia by anglers who are extremely satisfied using this product.

The original intent of creating bait bags was for fresh water anglers targeting catfish by using soft baits like liver in pantyhose. Problems were the bags ripped to easily. Now salt water enthusiast as well as fresh water anglers can benefit from using bait bags.

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How to Mark Trails Like a Pro

How to Mark Trails Like a Pro

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for the WORST to come? Click here to sign up NOW! We'll even throw in a FREE survival tool! (just pay s&h)

Want to be the BEST prepared
for the WORST to come? Click here to sign up NOW! We'll even throw in a FREE survival tool! (just pay s&h)

Learning how to mark trails isn’t as difficult as you may think. With a few basic pointers, anyone can mark a path from scratch and provide a reliable route for hikers for years to come. All you need is a hatchet, some paint and a sense of care and interest.

Whether you’re creating a leisurely hike through your property or planning a survival route, knowing how to mark trails correctly can make a big difference. There’s nothing in the world better than a well-marked trail, and nothing more frustrating than the opposite.

This article looks at the basics of how to mark trails. We review the most commonly-used methods, and how to apply them to your paths. Bear in mind, however, that just because a process is listed here, that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate in all contexts. Keep in mind that while you’re generally free to do whatever you like on your land, the same cannot be said for public property – not to mention other people’s backyards. If you start smearing paint on other people’s trees, or hacking blazes on public land, you’re just asking for trouble.

Once you know that you’re free to make a new trail, actually marking it can be a fun experience. To get started, all you’ll need is a hatchet or machete, and durable paint. In no time at all, you’ll know how to mark hiking trails with ease.

Use Appropriate markers

There’s much debate over what exactly makes the best trail marker. Should you use cairns, cut blazes, or leave a colored flag? In reality, the best tag is the one that is most appropriate for your specific need.


For most people heading out for a day hike, chalk is king. It doesn’t permanently scar the wilderness, leaves no trash behind, and will wash off after a day or two. Chalk is especially useful in national parks or on private property, where you can get into severe trouble if you needlessly vandalize your surroundings.

2. Environmental material

However, chalk isn’t always the best option, particularly in wet weather. The next step is to use material already in the environment. Rock cairns are a classic, along with sticks and pine cones. Slashing or painting marks in trees is also effective.

3. Dedicated markers

Finally, you’ve got your dedicated markers. Trail ribbon is a popular choice, while reflective tacks are a good idea if you plan to return after dark. These methods should only be used under appropriate circumstances, such as long-distance trips far off the grid.

Personally, I like to use trail stakes when appropriate. Bamboo skewers or similar can be fitted with colored plastic flags and placed at regular intervals as you hike. They’re easy to see and can be collected effortlessly on the return trip. After a long hike, fiddling around with a knot of ribbon is the last thing you want to do every few hundred meters.

Remember though – and I cannot stress this enough – to be careful with how you mark, even with chalk. Landowners can understandably get frustrated with hikers leaving their markers behind or vandalizing their property. Inappropriate use of markers on private land can cause enormous headaches for the various organizations that maintain trails.

One rude hiker can cause a landowner to close their property to trail maintainers; effectively ensuring the closure of the path. So be conservative with your markings, and if ever in doubt, bring along a GPS or smartphone. If you don’t know how to mark hiking trails respectfully, it’s best not to try.

Cairns and duck rocks

Both ducks and cairns are extremely common forms of trail marking around the world. They’re easy to recognize, easy to make and simple to understand.

Cairns are piles of rocks used to mark trails, particularly in areas with limited trees or other natural markers. They should be around 2-3 feet high, and tall enough to see through fog or snow. To indicate a turn, add an accent in the given direction. An accent is just a fancy word for an extra couple of rocks to one side. Make sure to keep the emphasis clean and distinct. Otherwise, it might just leave you with a wonky looking cairn. Alternatively, you can use sticks to make an arrow in the desired direction. Arrows are universally understood, and more suitable than accents if your marker needs to be interpreted by less experienced hikers.

Ducks are pretty similar but are usually just three or more rocks heaped on top of each other. These are quicker and simpler than Cairns but can be easy to miss if you’re not careful. It’s for this reason that many hikers have a distaste for ducks, which some people say are lazy and ineffective.

In my opinion, ducks aren’t all bad. For one, they can make good reassurance markers. When constructing either option, make sure the rocks are stable, but try to keep them tall and thin. Wider or lopsided cairns can be easy to mistake for natural formations, so don’t be afraid put pride in your work and add distinctive flourishes.


As mentioned before, blazes are simple markers consisting of a slash or painted mark on a tree. The simplest way to make a blaze is with a machete or large knife, by carving a clear, distinct indicator into a tree. Paint is an acceptable alternative if you are concerned about harming the tree. Either way, place the mark around eye level, facing inwards toward the trail. Make sure your signs are visible from both directions. Keep in mind, next time you pass, it will be from the opposite direction. Consider adding some additional marks to indicate turns. For instance, turning your blaze into an arrow.

As with all such intrusive markings, blazes should be used sparingly, and only when you have permission from the landowner. Acceptable distances between blazes vary, but anywhere from 200 to 300 meters apart is normal. Make each blaze count by sticking to prominent, eye-catching trees that come into view easily from the desired directions.

In terms of use, blazes are best suited as reassurance markers – auxiliary trail markings that exist to reassure hikers that they’re heading in the right direction. A mix of blazes and Cairns can make for a great trail marking system, with Cairns being used at critical junctures such as sudden turns.

Understanding blaze code

While most trail markers are intended to be universally understood, blazes do have meanings of their own. In the US, a single vertical line means you should continue straight ahead. Two vertical parallel lines with a third stacked above and centered indicates the start of a trail, while the inverse (two parallel vertical lines above a single vertical line) indicates a trail end. A single vertical line with a second vertical line above and to the right of it indicates a right turn. As you might expect, a vertical line with a second line to the top and left is a left turn. Lastly, two vertical lines on top of each other, plus a single line to one side suggests a spur leading to a different trail. Keep in mind, however, that while these general rules often apply, different organizations have their own blaze codes, and they can even vary from trail to trail.

Making your mark count

If you’re trying to make a permanent trail marker, then make sure your mark counts. For blazes, this means cutting a flat surface into the tree to remove the bark, then painting over. In the US, hatchets are commonly used, with one hand on the handle and the other firmly holding the back of the head. Cut upwards in controlled movements, and keep the blaze as smooth and straight as possible. Then, cover the cut with a durable oil-based paint. The National Parks Service sells paint suitable for marking.

Don’t go overboard

However you choose to mark your trail, don’t go overboard with your markers. As mentioned before, 200-300 meters between markings is ideal, but this depends a lot on the terrain. Realistically, markers like blazes should come in predictable intervals, spaced an hour hiking time apart at the very most. If you can see two markers at the same time, then they’re definitely too close. Making trail marker the wrong distance apart is a common beginner mistake, and can lead to confusion – especially when you get lazy and start spacing them out later on.

Learn hiking lingo

If you’re marking a trail, you might also want to know what type of trail you’re making; getting your terms right could save both you and other hikers a lot of confusion. So, in the interests of marking trails correctly, here’s your basic list of lingo essentials:

  • Trailhead: The point where your trail begins. This should be marked prominently.
  • Loop trail: A simple trail type that loops back on itself, returning the hiker to the trailhead.
  • Spur trail: A minor trail that splits off from the main hike. It might head to a lookout, a campground, or even another trail. Either way, these trails should be marked as spurs, with some identification to indicate exactly they’re going. For example, if you’re making a spur trail to a camping area, a distinct picture of a tent will help plenty of weary hikers later on.
  • Thru-hike: A hike from one end of the trail to the other. If somebody is doing a thru-hike, it means they plan on covering your entire trail, end to end.
  • Switchback/Hairpin/Dead man’s curve: A sudden, extremely sharp turn. Such turns are common on steep routes. These are points in the trail where it’s easy for hikers to get lost. If you’re trying to mark your trail correctly, make sure to indicate these turns clearly and consistently.
  • Out-and-back: Sometimes called an “in-and-out”, these are simple trails that head to an endpoint but don’t loop back to the starting place. To return to the trailhead, hikers, need to follow the same trail that they followed on the way out.

See how others are marking trails

Even if you think you know what you’re doing regarding marking trails, there’s nothing wrong with seeing how the pros do it. I highly recommend visiting a few popular hikes, and observing how local maintenance staff marked trails. Pay attention to their blazes, what kind of symbols they use for indicator signs, and any other tidbits of trail marking that you can pick up.

Are you looking for ideas for new hiking trails to explore? Check out our list of amazing hikes you have to see to believe. Before you head out though, be sure to read these tips.

Augmented reality: The future of trail marking?

Now that you’ve learned the basics of marking trails let’s talk about how everything you just discovered will one day become obsolete – maybe. Augmented Reality, or AR, offers instant information about your surroundings through your camera-enabled smartphone. Forget maps, compasses and the like; just download an app, and use your phone as your guide. Some AR apps even allow you to leave virtual markers, which only you can see on your phone.

These breakthroughs have the potential to save trailblazers a lot of trouble with landowners while keeping the physical environment pristine. For now, though, most serious hikers still use physical maps and rely on markers. Whether this will change in the future is anyone’s guess.

If you’d like to try experimenting with AR and similar virtual trail apps, check out this list here. A personal favorite of mine is Marmota, an app that instantly identifies any mountain peak you might happen to stumble across. It’s a great way to impress your friends with your seemingly expert knowledge of the mountains.

Do you have any trail marking tips we missed? Let us know in the comments below!

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Ready-Made Survival Meals That Actually Taste Good

Ready-Made Survival Meals That Actually Taste Good

Want to be the BEST prepared
for the WORST to come? Click here to sign up NOW! We'll even throw in a FREE survival tool! (just pay s&h)

Want to be the BEST prepared
for the WORST to come? Click here to sign up NOW! We'll even throw in a FREE survival tool! (just pay s&h)

Finding the best ready-made meals isn’t always easy. With so many on the market, it can be hard to know which ones will actually taste good. So, we’ve put together a list of some of the best ready-made meals out there, both for outdoor activities and survival preparation.

The best ready-made meals are more than just bare sustenance. Sure, nutrient bars and bare gruel might keep you going, but when SHTF you’re still going to need a decent meal every so often. That’s what this list is for. These ready-made survival meals are among the best you’ll find, whether for weekend camping trips or for survival preparation.

Bear in mind that we’ve decided to mostly steer clear of bulk long-term storage options, as they’re a whole world of their own. This list also excludes homemade survival meals, so once you’re done stocking up on the best-packaged food, consider checking out DIY options. Making your own granola is easy, or try our recipe for Civil War fire cakes.

Lastly, while we’re limited to commercially available ready made survival meals, we’ve tried to include something for every taste. There are freeze-dried hiking pouches, MREs, and even some surprisingly good alternatives to the average pack of ramen. To top things off, we’ve even included dessert.

Admittedly, with so many ready-made options available, it was difficult to narrow down our list to just a few top picks. In general, meals were selected based on a mix of nutrition, value for the money, and just plain old taste. See what you think, by checking out the list below:

Mountain House MCWs: Ready-Made Meals with Variety

It’s pretty hard to talk about the best ready made meals without mentioning Mountain House (and yes, their products will appear again). These guys often top the list with their freeze-dried ready-mades and are extremely popular among hikers in particular.

The reasons are obvious: they’re easy to use, super light-weight and don’t take up much space in your pack. Best of all, they offer a great variety of fairly good tasting ready-made meals. Their line of cold weather meals (MCWs) are marketed as military grade. The company says it produces them for the US military, and that certainly doesn’t surprise. Their line of MCWs come in a variety of flavors good enough to satisfy a platoon or two. Some highlights include the Turkey Tetrazzini, breakfast skillet and the beef stew.

On the downside, their ready-made survival meals with rice can come out a bit gluggy, such as the Mexican rice and chicken. Nonetheless, that’s to be expected among even the best ready made meals, so don’t let it bother you too much. Overall, at around $12 a pack, Mountain House MCWs are good value given the quality.

Personally, I recommended stocking up on a mix of flavors, and rotating them so they don’t get boring. Including the varieties mentioned above, there’s 12 to choose from in total. So even if you don’t happen to like one or two, at least you know you won’t have to eat the same meal again for nearly two weeks! Check them out here.


Augason Farms Freeze Dried Beef Chunks: Ready-Made Meal With Serious Meat

Arguably Mountain House’s toughest competitor in North America, Augason Farms has a fairly good line up of freeze dried ready-made meals, not to mention single ingredient pouches. However, they’re at their best when it comes to their freeze dried beef chunks, which make a great addition to any ready-made survival meal. Sure, they’re never going to compete with a choice cut fresh off the barbecue, but they’re certainly not bad.

I like to throw these beef chunks in with a simple stew, and eat it straight from the pot with some bread rolls. On a cold night in the middle of nowhere, it’s a five star meal. The only one problem is that the smallest pack is 1 lb (454 g), which sells for around $60. In other words, these beef chunks are extremely expensive, and perhaps best suited for groups or long term storage. See for yourself here.

French RCIR Varieties

It’s French, so you know it has to be good. In the world of ready to eat combat rations (MREs), the French have reigned supreme since the days of Napoleon. During international operations, the French Combat Ration Individual Reheatables (RCIRs) are highly prized.

For example, according to internet rumors, a single crate of RCIRs trades for an entire US field cot, which is apparently a big deal. That’s just one of the many legends surrounding the RCIR; another being the persistent rumor that they come with a small bottle of French wine. While that sounds awesome, it’s unfortunately not true.

Instead, you’ll have to settle for the likes of duck paté, stewed lamb, sauteed rabbit and pork cheek ravioli. The menu varies considerably depending on the specific model, but almost all are astonishingly good. Find out more here.

Italian RVSdC

Not to be outdone by the French, Italy puts up one hell of a fight with its combat rations, the Razione Viveri Speciale da Combattimento (RVSdC). The RVSdC varieties typically come with a good mix of meat, fruit bars and enough coffee to keep you running all day long. However, the RVSdC’s real claim to fame is its’  shot of booze. For novelty alone, the RVSdC is worth trying.

Backpacker’s Pantry: Ready-Made Meals with Flavor

Backpacker’s pantry is a pretty common sight on hiking trails, and for good reason. Their line of ready made meals is a few notches above run-of-the-mill ramen noodles. The chana masala and Cuban coconut bean and rice mixes are both pretty flavorsome, while the Southwest corn chowder isn’t bad either.

However, if you really can’t live without your noodles, don’t panic. Backpacker’s Pantry offers a fantastic ready-made pad thai. Admittedly, it’s not exactly up to Bangkok standards, but it’s the best Thai food you can get in the middle of the wilderness. At the very least, it’s a welcome change from instant ramen. Check out all Backpacker’s Pantry ready-made meals here.

MaryJanesFarm Organic Shepherd’s Meat Pie: It’s ready made shepherds pie!

Ever since I was a child, I’ve had a bit of a soft spot for shepherd’s pie. Admittedly, MaryJanesFarm’s organic shepherd’s pie isn’t quite how Mom used to make it, but it’s not terrible either. For one, it’s the only shepherd’s pie I’ve found that can be eaten straight from the bag.

Just pour in some hot water, wait a few minutes, and you’ve got a mush that tastes reasonably good. You can tell it is made with real meat potatoes, not to mention a generous amount of cheese. It’s not bad, and REI sometimes has packs on special deals. Have a look here.

H2 Mi Goreng: Yes, it’s a Ready Made Meal in its Own Right

As an Australian, I’d probably be charged with treason if I didn’t mention this next one. Indomie’s mi goreng noodles are a staple diet for all Australian university students and proof that instant noodles can be a genuinely good meal in their own right.

Americans, forget what you think you know about noodles. Mi Goreng isn’t just a square of noodles with one lousy sachet of chemical flavoring. Instead, it’s a square of noodles with one lousy sachet of extremely addictive chemical flavoring, plus soy sauce, oil and even a little pack of fried shallots. They’re designed to be dry noodles, so either strain them or boil in just a little water. Either way, they’re incredible.

Mi Goreng is easy to find if you happen to be in Australia, New Zealand, some parts of Indonesia and (for some reason) Nigeria. In North America, you can try Asian specialty stores, but you’re probably better off ordering them online. While you’re at it, check out Indomie’s other flavors as well. The soto mie, barbecue chicken and rendang are all worth your time, while the other flavors are nothing to write home about.

NongShim Shin Ramyun: Now That is Spicy!

While we’re in the noodle department, let’s talk about NongShim’s Shim Ramyun. Again, we’re talking instant noodles, so skip ahead if you don’t think this counts as a ready-made meal. These chunky noodles are designed to be eaten in their steaming hot broth.

Without doubt, this broth is the single most flavorsome item on this list. It’s spicy, rich with flavors of kim chi and chili. You also get a little sachet of dried Asian vegetables. If you’re not into spicy food, then you’d better avoid Shin Ramyun. In terms of cost per serving, I’d say it’s perhaps the best ready-made meal available. You can buy it online here.

Good To-Go Thai Curry: A Ready Made Curry with Flavor

If you happen to have a taste for Asian food, but don’t want to eat instant noodles all day, then I’d suggest having a look at Good To-Go’s range. They’re a relatively small Maine-based company mostly aimed at the hiking crowd, but also appealing to survivalists as well.

I recommended their Thai curry; it’s a spicy coconut curry mix that’s easy to toss into an overnight pack. Find it here. Alternatively, their smokey three bean chili is also extremely good. While the Thai curry contains fish, the three bean chili happens to be completely vegan. 

Augason Farms Stew Blends: Ready Made Meals to Stew Over

Augason Farms provides one of the better stews for long term storage. Their vegetable stew blend is surprisingly good, especially given the price. For around $20, you can get 40 servings of decent stew.

It tastes fine, but the consistency might need adjusting, depending on your personal preference. I personally find it a bit thick, and usually add more water than advised. Also, I’d steer clear of their chili cheesy enchilada mix if I were you..

As with all Augason Farms products, you can save a lot by buying in bulk from their website.

Augason Farms Taco Flavored Vegetarian Meat Substitute

Vegetarians will be happy to know that Augason Farms has a good meatless option. The taco meat substitute is noticeably better than Augason’s other foray into Mexican food, and is a good addition to soups and stews. Have a look here.

Mountain House Freeze Dried Desserts: Prepare to Have Your Mind Blown by These Epic Ready Made Desserts!

I’ve saved the best for last. I hinted that Mountain House was going to make another appearance, but did you expect dessert? Most survivalists tend to neglect dessert, as if a sweet treat at the end of the day is supposedly only for snowflakes.

Well, call me a snowflake, because frankly, a good dessert can do wonders to lift spirits after a rough day. It’s for this reason that I consider Mountain House’s line of freeze dried desserts among the best ready-made meals out there. The New York style cheesecake bites are reasonably good, while the raspberry crumble pouches are enjoyable.

However, the ice cream pouches really take the cake. These pouches don’t need to be frozen, thanks to the un-meltable ice cream within. Believe it or not, the icecream actually tastes like…well, ice cream. 

To make best use of Mountain House desserts, I suggest making sure everyone in your group has either the ice cream or one of the (raspberry or apple) crumbles. With a bit of trading, everyone can have a slither of crumble with a side of ice cream. So what are you waiting for? Get yourself over to their website, and stock up on survival ice cream.

Got any good, ready-made meals of your own? Let us know in the comments below.

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