— The following originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Canoe & Kayak.
Photo by Aaron Schmidt
Early winter in the mountains brought short days and a shed full of orphaned gear. The water had left the rivers, and there was still too little snow for skiing. The desert called. Southern Utah? Too dry. SoCal? Too crowded. Tacos, ocean touring, and soul-surfing south of the border sounded more like it. So we pulled out the long boats and headed down the Baja way, where one side of the peninsula offers prime surfing on deserted beaches, and the other a sea kayaking dreamscape. First, we loaded enough boats to take full advantage of both coasts. Then we crammed the truck full of every camping comfort it would take, right down to a hand-cranked margarita blender.
Camp on a Baja beach starts with shade, always a rare commodity on the peninsula. We were thankful to create our own with the Kelty Shade Maker 2—easy to set up, tall enough to stand under, and (once properly secured to stakes, water jugs and car) able to withstand gale-force blasts ($200, kelty.com).
The next thing to keep cool was the cerveza, along with some freshly caught grouper and a value pack of hotdogs we hoped not to open. Enter the rugged, ice-retentive Canyon Coolers Outfitter 50. Made of nearly indestructible roto-molded plastic (just like our river kayaks) the premium Outfitter put my old picnic cooler to shame, and doubled as a cutting board ($259, canyoncoolers.com).
We completed the kitchen with Eureka's Catskill Table, a shock-corded aluminum slat table ($119, eurekatent.com). This burly (16-pound) fold-down adjusts to provide a level surface for taco artistry, and a worthy arena for Coleman's Gladiator stove. Featuring Coleman's new HyperFlame technology, this gladiator did battle with vicious gusts, its pair of high-output propane burners producing piping-hot coffee in all conditions ($169, coleman.com).
We kept a half-gallon of that joe steaming through the night in the stainless steel Hydro Flask Growler, and roused the crew for a pre-dawn start to an ambitious day of paddling on the Pacific ($55, hydroflask.com). At sunset we were ready for a cold crushed-ice margarita, so we put the hand-cranked GSI Vortex Blender to work (and it is work). The Vortex produced remarkable smoothies all week, and even whipped the cream for a pumpkin pie fresh out of the Dutch oven. ($115, gsioutdoors.com).
We slouched down and kicked back in Therma-a-Rest's TReO Chair—a welcome surprise for a smaller camp chair that packs tightly and cleverly into its own sturdy tripod base ($99, cascadedesigns.com). When the fire died, I retired into the new Mountainsmith Mountain Dome 2 ($240, mountainsmith.com). While the hexagonally shaped, spacious two-person home quickly proved its worth for sleeping bodies and for storing gear, at 7 pounds, we opted to leave the tent body behind on an overnight tour and set it up using only the poles, fly and ground cloth.
But for Baja basecamp, I shed the fly and happily watched the Milky Way appear through four mesh walls inside a Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed. The innovative zipper-less bag (think oval-shaped entry, covered by tongue-like integrated comforter) kept me, first, warm at night with its lighter (600) DriDown fill, then comfy in the early morning, catching a few more Zs with the comforter untucked as the morning sun brought warmth to another day in paradise ($249, sierradesigns.com).
Of all the hedonistic extras we found room to cram in empty car spaces around the camp essentials, none raised more eyebrows than the Bison Airlighter. This "portable air-driven fire lighter" seemed quite unwieldy, though as futuristic-looking and feature-packed a coal starter as we’d ever encountered. Once we’d dealt with the formalities, a six-hour battery charge and butane top-off, we were off to tinder-less flame-growing bliss with the four-inch flame that the pressurized Bison kicks out (and not missing that distinct taste of stove fuel-ignited wood on our fish). As the trip progressed and the butane bottomed out, we reverted to traditional fire construction, using the Bison-blown air as an effective flame stoker to keep us out of the ash. And in its gun-like configuration, the Bison provided an uncanny amount of conversation, around the campfire and especially during border crossings. It also opened cervezas and provided a secondary flashlight—more than can be said of our typical Baja ignition combo: a propane tank screw-on brass torch head, and a plastic balloon pump from the dollar store. ($79, thebisoncompany.com)
Another extra we packed away with high hopes for finding the perfect siesta spot (which turned out to be between vehicle racks at our tree-less beach basecamp) was the 16-oz. tight-packing ENO SingleNest hammock. Not only did its quick-dry nylon guarantee cool afternoon naps, being off the ground also ensured a restful sleep free of any potential scorpion incursions, thanks to pairing it with ENO’s Guardian Bug Net. (both $59, eaglesnestoutfittersinc.com)
You can only stare at the surf for so long before you decide to paddle out. Though REVO’s Blue Water lenses cut the glare to make it a little easier, we couldn't take them off, locking them down with the new Chums Switchback Silicone Eyewear Retainer (goodbye soggy cotton) for awesome between-wave visibility and clear color contrast on the water—especially in overhead sun and even paddling into it directly. (Harness glasses pictured, $179, revo.com; $10 chums.com)
Speaking of that overhead sun, it’s all too easy to get drained fast being exposed all day on the water, and then back on the shade-less abyss of the beach. The stretchy, quick-dry ExOfficio Sol Cool Ultimate Hoody provided near total top-side coverage—only fingertips and sunglasses were left exposed—by integrating thumb holes and a full zip-up hood that covers your face up to the nose. And don't worry about going full ninja to cover up; the hood features a mesh panel for easy breathing, a back vent, plus arm-vents that cool an already loose-feeling top made of UPF 50+ Icefil-treated, odor-resistant fabric. For more targeted neck protection while benefiting from ExOfficio’s same techy Sol Cool fabric (which creates a cooling sensation with contact to moisture) we liked the simple Sol Cool Bandana ($19) thrown under a ball cap on the water. ($75, exofficio.com)