6 Great Products That Will Make Your Outdoor Life Easier

BY ANDREW MORKES, AUTHOR AND FOUNDER OF NATURE IN CHICAGOLAND

UPDATED 8/18/22

How do you vanquish flies before your next barbeque or campout?

How do you quickly start a fire when camping or hanging out in your backyard?

Which on-the-go steeped coffee doesn’t taste stale and lifeless?

Where do you find a good lightweight sleeping bag for backpacking trips?

How do you protect yourself from bears while hiking and camping?

What’s a great hiking or camping snack?

If you want the answer to these questions, I have some products for you. Here are my reviews of five products I’ve received from companies and one I found on my own (product #1).

The RESCUE! Reusable Fly Trap by Sterling International, Inc.

Overview: I understand that flies are part of the great circle of life, but they are also virulent germ carriers, irritating ear-buzzers, food-ruiners, and a few things that I can’t write in a family-focused blog post. The RESCUE! Reusable Fly Trap is a fly-killing machine. I have never seen a product that attracts and kills so many flies in such a short amount of time. I’m not talking about a handful of flies, but dozens and dozens of flies. I almost felt pity (almost) for the swarm of flies circling endlessly inside the trap unknowingly awaiting their demise. 

How to Use: The trap comes with a water-soluble pouch of powder attractant. Fill the jar with warm water and place or hang it outdoors. The attractant will dissolve and activate. In no time, you will see amazingly lethal results. Sterling says that its fly traps “do not use any killing agents or poisons. They rely on luring flies with food and feed-grade ingredients, then trapping the flies until they expire on their own.” All Sterling water-based products are meant to be used outside. The company also offers products for indoor use.

Cons: Once the water-soluble pouch of powder attractant is activated, it stinks. No, it doesn’t stink…it REEKS like the worst imaginable smell the most imaginative playwright or mad perfumist could conjure. For that reason (along with the fact that the trap attracts swarms of flies), Sterling recommends that users “hang the trap around 20 feet away from home entrances and 20 feet away from patios or decks.”

Cost: $6–$7 at local and online retailers

Final Thoughts: This is an amazing fly necropolis, which I’ll purchase again—especially for use on camping trips and at barbeques and picnics. Replace the powder attractant frequently (and wear rubber gloves when doing so) because the dead flies pile up quickly and the jar just gets dirtier and dirtier if you don’t. Sterling offers single-use products if you want to skip the dirty work.   

Learn More: You can learn more about this and other products from Sterling International, Inc. by clicking here.

Pull Start Fire®

Overview: Some people are expert fire-starters or simply enjoy the process of getting a fire to start by fanning the flames, giving the kindling and other fire-starting materials enough oxygen to blaze, and whispering a fire-starting incantation to conjure flames. Then there are the stick-rubber-together-ers—but that’s not my thing. Pull Start Fire solves these problems if you want to start a fire easily with little effort. It also comes in handy if you forget your lighter or matches. This happened to me once in Chaco Culture National Historical Park, but that’s another story.

How to Use: Take the plastic off the product, tie the green string around a sturdy log in your firepit, add more wood as you would with any fire-building task, then pull the red string, and the fire quickly ignites. Be sure to stand clear of the ignition area when you pull the string.   

Cons: None that I found. Some people might question the $6.33/fire starter price, but the cost is worth it if you need to start a fire quickly.

Cost: A three-pack is $19.99. There are also six-, nine-, 12-, and 30-pack options.

Final Thoughts: I used this product in my city backyard. I did not have large pieces of wood available, so I improvised. The larger the log, the more stable the assembled wood will be when you pull the red string. Additionally, I wet the firewood before my 12-year-old started the fire to test the company’s promise that the product would light wet wood. Pull Start Fire ignited immediately when the red string was pulled and the wet wood burned well for 30 minutes. (These weren’t thick wet logs, but I was impressed by the intensity of the fire emitted by the Pull Start Fire product.) I’m looking forward to using Pull Start Fire when my son and I camp at Kohler-Andrae State Park in Wisconsin in August. Finally, the company says that Pull Start Fire is “safe to cook over” and “windproof.” More questions? If so, check out the company’s FAQ page.

Learn More: Click here for more information.

STEEPED COFFEE 

Overview: Coffee and camping are as American as apple pie and Chevrolet. But there are a lot of bad-tasting single-serve coffee products out there. STEEPED COFFEE (patent pending) tastes much better than the typical camping or hiking coffee.  All you need is hot water; there’s also a cold brew option. The coffee is available in the following blends: Sunrise Blend (light roast), California Blend (medium roast), Odyssey Blend (dark roast), and Breakwater Blend (organic French roast…my favorite). The company says that its coffee is ethically sourced and that “each Steeped Single Serve Coffee Bag is made of a non-GMO food grade renewable and biodegradable material.” I’ll let you visit its website for all of the other marketing particulars if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

How to Use: Step 1: Place a single-serve filter in cup and gradually pour 8 ounces of hot water per steeped bag; Step 2: Dunk the bag for 15-30 seconds or longer for added strength; Step 3: Leave the steeped bag in the cup or until preferred taste; drink after 5+ minutes if the coffee has cooled enough to consume. 

Cons: The per unit cost for STEEPED COFFEE is higher than many single-serve coffee products, but you get what you pay for. The lower-cost coffees I’ve tried are acidic and stale tasting. This is not the case for STEEPED COFFEE.  

Cost: $14.95/box of eight, single-serve steeped packs; a variety of box counts are available

Final Thoughts: STEEPED COFFEE is a winner. I’ll include this in my camping kitchen.

Learn More: You can learn more about this and other products (mugs, kettles) by clicking here.

Ultralight Sleeping Bag by Naturehike® outdoors

Overview: Naturehike, which was founded in 2010, sells a variety of hiking, climbing, backpacking, camping gear, and travel accessories. I received an ultralight (1.3 pound), 90 percent, goose-down sleeping bag (Model CW290/NH17Y011-R) and carrying bag. The sleeping bag comes in blue or khaki. Comfortable temperature scale: 41 to 59 Fahrenheit. (Winter-appropriate sleeping bags are also available from Naturehike.)

How to Use: The sleeping bag comes in a handy carrying case, and includes a hanging hook to air or dry it out, if necessary. The bag unpacks easily, and I was able to climb in quickly.

Cons: No drawbacks for me. I should note that as a 5’6”, 180-pound guy, the 28.3-inch-wide zipped bag was a tight fit. Taller and heavier people should look into larger sleeping bag options offered by Naturehike.

Cost: $119.95 (with free shipping)

Final Thoughts: This is a great lightweight sleeping bag that’s extremely comfortable. I’ll be taking it on my next regular camping trip, and really look forward to packing it on a 50-mile backpacking trip I plan to take through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in early September.

Learn More: You can learn more about this sleeping bag and a variety of other useful products from Naturehike outdoors by clicking here.

SABRE FRONTIERSMAN® Bear Spray and Accessories

Overview: The closest I’ve ever been to an adult bear was about 500 feet across the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park. The grizzly was much more interested in eating berries than eating me, but I was still happy to have a cannister of bear deterrent spray should the bear have decided that I looked better than his dinner. I received a 9.2-ounce cannister of SABRE FRONTIERSMAN Bear Spray, plus a 7.9-ounce water practice training unit, and a belt holster. The bear spray has a plastic protective safety cap so that the bear spray cannot be accidentally discharged in transit or during incidental contact. According to SABRE, the bear spray contains the maximum strength (2 percent major capsaicinoids) that are allowed by the EPA and offers the industry maximum 35-foot range that allows for greatest distance between the user and a bear. When used correctly, SABRE says that the bear spray “will cause immediate irritation to the bear’s eyes, nose, mouth and lungs. Studies have shown that bears will flee due to panic and in order to find relief from the intense burning sensation.”

How to Use: Follow the detailed instructions on the bear spray cannister, and obtain some experience using the water-based training unit before heading out on the trails. Watch videos of the products being used and click here for additional information.

Cons: None, but be aware of the expiration date for your cannister.

Cost: One 9.2-ounce cannister is about $50 at local retailers. A 7.9-ounce water practice training unit costs an additional $20 or so. Additional product combinations are available.  

Final Thoughts: If you plan to hike, camp, or otherwise enjoy recreational activities in bear country, you need bear spray, and SABRE FRONTIERSMAN Bear Spray should be on your list of must-have supplies. And when you engage in recreational activities, don’t stow the spray in your backpack. You must wear the holster on your belt so that you can access it quickly should you encounter a bear—who will not wait for you to dig around in your backpack before charging. Also, augment your hikes with bear bells and horns, and never hike alone (if possible). I’ll be wearing my cannister of SABRE FRONTIERSMAN Bear Spray when I hike at Shenandoah National Park and at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore later this summer.   

Learn More: SABRE FRONTIERSMAN Bear Spray and accessories are sold in both the United States and Canada. Click here to learn more.

old trapper beef sticks

Overview: OLD TRAPPER offers tasty, smoked beef sticks in four flavors: Old Fashioned, Peppered, Teriyaki, and Hot & Spicy. It recently started selling its family pack of 18-ounce bags of beef sticks. They are available nationwide in grocery, club, and convenience stores.

How to Use: Unwrap and eat!

Cost: Approximately $22 for an 18-ounce family bag at local and online retailers. Smaller bags are available for $10 to $12.

Final Thoughts: I’ve tried a lot of beef stick brands, and OLD TRAPPER products rank amongst the best I’ve sampled. OLD TRAPPER beef sticks are tender, tasty, high in protein, and a perfect snack during a hike, on a camping trip, or any other activity.  

Learn More: You can learn more about OLD TRAPPER products by clicking here

Copyright (text, except quoted material) Andrew Morkes

Copyright (as credited)

If you’re looking for some great destinations in Chicagoland to use these products, check out my book Nature in Chicagoland: More Than 120 Fantastic Nature Destinations That You Must Visit, which has received rave reviews in local publications.  

Disclaimer

I received free samples of all the aforementioned products (except The RESCUE! Reusable Fly Trap, which I purchased). I have not received any other form of compensation in exchange for reviewing these products. No affiliate links are used in this article. Every effort has been made to make sure that the information presented in these reviews was  accurate at the time of publication. The author and Nature in Chicagoland Press LLC do not assume and hereby disclaim any liability to anyone who reads this article who experiences damage, personal injury, or death caused by any  errors and omissions in the reviews. All life activities (including those in the outdoors) involve some degree of risk, and readers must make every effort to reduce these risks by learning how to use these products safely and taking great care and caution when lighting fires, heating water for coffee, discharging bear deterrent spray, and engaging in recreational activities in “bear country” and the outdoors in general.  

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Looking for some great nature destinations in Chicagoland? If so, I’ve published Nature in Chicagoland: More Than 120 Fantastic Nature Destinations That You Must Visit. It features amazing destinations in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Click on the title to learn more. The book (306 pages, 210+ photos) is only $18.99 (with free shipping for the first copy). Click here to learn more and purchase the book.

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ABOUT ANDREW MORKES

I have been a writer and editor for more than 25 years. I’m the founder of College & Career Press (2002); the editorial director of the CAM Report career newsletter and College Spotlight newsletter; the author and publisher of “The Morkes Report: College and Career Planning Trends” blog; and the author and publisher of Hot Health Care Careers: 30 Occupations With Fast Growth and Many New Job OpeningsNontraditional Careers for Women and Men: More Than 30 Great Jobs for Women and Men With Apprenticeships Through PhDsThey Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, which was selected as one of the best books of the year by the library journal Voice of Youth Advocates; and other titlesThey Teach That in College!? provides more information on environmental- and sustainability-related majors such as Ecotourism, Range Management, Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Built Environment, Sustainability Studies, and Sustainable Agriculture/Organic Farming. I’m also a member of the parent advisory board at my son’s school. Stories about my work have been published in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Daily Southtown, Beverly Review, and Practical Homeschooling.

In addition to these publications, I’ve written more than 40 books about careers for other publishing and media companies including Infobase (such as the venerable Encyclopedia of Careers & Vocational Guidance, the Vault Career Guide to Accounting, and many volumes in the Careers in Focus, Discovering CareersWhat Can I Do Now?!, and Career Skills Library series) and Mason Crest (including those in the Careers in the Building Trades and Cool Careers in Science series).

My poetry has appeared in Cadence, Wisconsin Review, Poetry Motel, Strong Coffee, and Mid-America Review.

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