Camping is what we used to do before we invented houses and apartments. Yet we still do it for recreation (and necessity) today. What you’re using for weekend getaways today could one day become your home if the banking industry has anything to say about it.
I’ll never forget the year I lived in Florida. One summer day back in 2012, I took a train from Miami to Palm Beach to meet with Lisa Epstein during her campaign for County Clerk. Lisa hoped to stave off the bank’s foreclosure mill by refusing to sign from that position.
A Different Kind of Tent City
What Lisa understands is it’s not high-profile people that affect real change; it’s the people on the streets. She knew I was nearby and invited me to come speak at her rally, even booking a hotel for me for the night. I don’t have many regrets in life, but I do regret how shellshocked I got during that trip.
Over a year out from the banks, I had barely begun my transition into my writing career and wasn’t being paid yet. Struggling to survive while planning a move to Clearwater to attend school, I saw the reality of what my systems did while working at the bank.
Along the train tracks just north of Miami, I noticed the first of many tent cities set up by the homeless to survive. Watching these people hang their clothes to dry, chatting, and trying to survive, it hit me hard what was happening behind the scenes to people’s lives.
Working in the foreclosure mills, everything is just a code in a field on a screen in a system. For these people, it’s the reason they had to sell everything of any value and live out of a tent.
That was five years ago…and about five months before I moved into my first van (and first vehicle of my adult life). It was long before I returned to Phoenix to be held in the old military tents of Tent City jail over my leak.
Finding One Direction
When I arrived in Palm Beach, I walked 3 miles to the country club carrying a duffel bag full of a change of clothes and my laptop, anxious about meeting one of a very small group of people who were willing to talk me through the first year of whistleblowing. A hospice nurse who felt the bank’s wrath first hand, Lisa knew how to talk me through some very hard moments in my life nobody else in my life understood.
I sat at the bar and connected my laptop to the club’s WiFi to get some work done while waiting for everyone to arrive. When I saw her, I didn’t know what to do, so I reached my hand out instinctively. She smiled, brushed off my hand with a “no way,” and immediately hugged me before introducing me Lynn Szymoniak and her son.
That was the night I met Ramin Bahrani as well – Lisa was hosting him on part of his location scouting tour for 99 Homes. She introduced me to Ramin and a young writer he was dating (who I blatantly hit on before I realized my folly), who had a notepad, pen, and continued baiting me to explain my whistleblowing story.
The combination of everything finally took its toll when Lisa asked me to step up to the mic to say a few words about force-placed insurance. As I looked out into the crowd who gathered to support her, said my name, and introduced myself, it all hit me, and I froze.
Regardless of whether I understood it, I helped the corporations that caused all this. I played for the other team, and I did it flawlessly for years. It’s a revelation that still makes me pause in contemplation and I still haven’t fully come to grips with the ethical implications of. I remained shell-shocked for the rest of the night, blew my speech, and was distant for the rest of the night.
For the vast majority of the population, camping gear is important. It’s how we survive on road trips, and you never know how long that trip may last. I’ve come a long way from that noobish whistleblower, and I’m a much more confident in my position as a writer.
When I contacted the outdoor gear companies to find the best camping gear on the market, I wasn’t disappointed. Of all the gear I got from PR companies this winter, this is the gear that made me feel secure, comfortable, and finally successful. The next time I visit a tent city, I’ll have something more to contribute than a fleeting feeling of guilt.
Big Agnes Tumble 3 MtnGlo ($329.95 at BigAgnes.com)
Big Agnes makes quality tents and camping gear, and while the Tumble 3 is quite expensive at over $300, it does come with a small LED light strip at the top, which is a nice feature.
This tent is bright, starting white at the top and switching to a bright, neon yellow. It has plenty of ventilation and is made from polyester with polyurethane tape at the seams. The aluminum poles are lightweight, and it’s easy to set up with one or two people.
Plastic clips attach the body to the pole frame, and there’s a buckle to attach the rainfly to the tent as well. You can even use just the rainfly and frame for lightweight shelter without the tent on backpacking trips and such.
The selling point is the MtnGlo technology, which is basically a short (maybe two feet long) LED light strip that can be powered by the mini box that holds three AAA batteries.
This is, of course, highly inconvenient (I hate anything that doesn’t use an even number of batteries, unless it only uses one), so you can use any USB battery bank to power it. Only one of the battery banks I have (and I have a lot since I review them for a living) actually fits in the pocket though, so this patent-pending technology is severely limited.
Big Agnes may be obvious patent trolls, but the illuminated tent isn’t the worst. There are pockets and plenty of room inside, and it’s a sturdy tent we left up all day and night to withstand the mountain weather. I can’t justify paying twice the price as the rest of these, however.
Kelty Outback 4 Car Camping Tent ($149.95 at Kelty.com)
This four-person car camping tent from Kelty is the hands-down favorite of the bunch. not only is it highly affordable, but it’s a solid, mostly mesh, design that lets you really experience nature when out camping.
The polyester floor is a dark green, followed by a foot of white before hitting entirely No-See-Um mesh. The fiberglass poles are lightweight and easy to assemble/disassemble.
Inside the tent, we also used the Kelty Two-Person sleeping bag, which is a whole other wonder of camping innovation I’ll get to in a minute.
Although we didn’t pull the vestibule taut for the pics, they do provide several feet of extra storage space to protect your gear from the weather. For the most comfort at an affordable price, you simply can’t beat the Outback 4.
The Outback tent also comes in 2-person and 6-person configurations so it can accommodate groups and families of any size.
Sierra Designs Summer Moon 2 ($179.95 at SierraDesigns.com)
Another great tent for 360-degree views of the surrounding nature, Summer Moon is one of the latest tent designs from Sierra Designs. We got a small two-person tent and found it a cinch for one person to set up.
The bright blue of the summer moon looks great and helps it stick out from the pack. The poles are made of 7001 aluminum, and color coding guides you through staking and setting up the rainfly.
Inside the tent, you’ll find a hanging lantern pocket for you to use your camping lantern as a light bulb. I found this idea to be much more useful than the MountainGlo (and at half the price). This is a great small tent for two people to sleep (or one person to sleep and store personal belongings.
Like the Outback, the rainfly of the Summer Moon extends out to provide even more shelter from the elements outside the tent. You can easily set up a camping chair or lounger underneath to stretch out a bit while still maintaining privacy.
Kelty Tru Comfort Doublewide 20 ($179.95 at Kelty.com)
Not everyone’s lucky enough to have a tent for shelter, but you simply can’t beat a good sleeping bag when you’re living on the road. My sleeping bag got me through vandwelling for several years in relative comfort. For true comfort, however, I’d recommend this doublewide Tru Comfort sleeping bag from Kelty.
It’s built to allow two people to sleep however they want and control their individual climate using zippers or individual built-in blankets on the inside. Even with one person, this is a great bag to stay comfortable, but for couples, it’s a must.
The grand daddy of sleeping bags, the Latitude LT II is a mummy-style sleeping bag that can be used in any weather, especially when paired with the company’s wide range of sleeping bag liners. The 2D NanoShell fabric is filled with 750+ Ultra-Dry down and has tons of room inside to move around.
During warm weather, pair the bag with a Coolmax InsectShield liner to absorb moisture and keep your skin cool while repelling mosquitoes and other insects with the treated fabric. On colder nights, add a Thermolite Reactor Fleece to gain extra warmth (or use the fleece liner as its own bag on especially muggy days.
Kammok makes some of the best hammocks using lightweight materials. The Wallaby uses 40D Diamond ripstop nylon for a lightweight, 10 oz hammock. The Python straps (sold seperately for $29) are sturdy and can hold the weight without strain.
While the hammock is great, what’s really a must-have for sleeping in colder weather is the Koala underquilt.
Promising to keep you warm in 30 degree weather, Koala is made from a proprietary ripstop nylon fabric called Atmos. It’s fully adjustable, can be connected to the hammock for stability, and makes laying around that much more enjoyable.
Hummingbird hammocks are the lightest in the industry at 7.6 ounces (210 grams in non-retard).. They’re made of PIA-C-44378 certified reserve parachute fabric, 1500 lb spectra cord, and military-spec, bonded nylon thread.
These are the perfect hammocks for backpacking (though I wouldn’t recommend leaving them hanging up in your backyard, as the sun will destroy them).
The Pelican rain tarp adds another dimension by transforming your hammock into a lightweight shelter that’s protected from the elements. If you’re traveling alone, this is a great way to sleep above the ground much more comfortably while keeping your gear safely beneath you.
I spent many nights sleeping like that in my van.
Grand Trunk OneMade Double TrunkTech Hammock ($119 at GrandTrunk.com)
Grand Trunk is actually one of only two hammocks I’ve bought in my life. That’s because these hammocks and the corresponding Trunk Straps (sold separately for $29.99) are solid and were able to withstand the hot Phoenix sun for several years when left in my ex’s backyard to lounge.
This double Trunktech ripstop nylon hammock is durable and breathable with T70 seatbelt-grade stitching that can hold up to 400 lbs. This is easily my favorite hammock, as it was before I even started this project.
Briggs and Stratton 8000W Elite Series Portable Generator with Bluetooth ($1,199 at BriggsandStratton.com)
Of course for me to truly survive camping, I need access to power. This isn’t something you’re going to find out in the wilderness or a tent city. That’s why we went on the hunt for power generators. Briggs and Stratton was the first to come through with this 8000W generator from its new Elite Series.
This generator includes B&S’s Statstation and Bluetooth connectivity, allowing you to monitor and control it from your smartphone through a simple app. It has enough juice to power all manners of household electronics while on the go and can be used as a household backup power source as well (with the optional adapter).
With this generator, you’ll have smarthome control wherever your home happens to be (although obviously don’t run it inside your tent, house, or vehicle unless you want to die of carbon monoxide poisoning). If you find yourself in an emergency situation, this generator could be the difference between life and death.
That’s why I’m going to be spending the next month playing with it to see how well it holds up to different loads. up to 9 hours on a half load is what’s advertised out of the 7.5-gallon gas tank. We’ll see how useful that is in real-world usage soon.
There’s nothing better in life than music. No matter what mood you’re hoping to amplify or dissolve, you can do it quite easily by losing yourself in the music. I’m always on the lookout for great bluetooth speakers, and these two rugged outdoor speakers are amazing.
While Turtle Shell 3.0 has the best sound in its waterproof design, it’s the Buckshot Pro that stole my heart. Featuring a speaker, mic, power bank, and flashlight/lamp combo, it’s everything you need to survive a camping trip in one device. you can even remove the flashlight head and attach it to any USB battery bank. It’s the Swiss Army Knife of speakers, and I’m in love with it.
Midland Radio Micromobile Two-Way Radio ($99.95 at MidlandUSA.com)
Communication is a necessary part of survival – that’s why nations go through so much trouble to monitor, intercept, control, and cut off communications during wartime. Whether you’re in nature, on a road trip with a caravan, or just trying to stay in touch while in your vehicle, a two-way radio from Midland can one day save your life.
Cell service is all well and good these days, but when a disaster hits, those networks are quickly overloaded. These radios help you monitor radio waves and reach out for help, and since it connects to your car’s power and an external 5-amp antenna, you’ll get access to emergency weather channels, smart channel scanning, and more.
Pair it with some handheld two-ways, and you’ll have a basecamp and explorer setup anywhere you go.