Camping at Arrowhead: Gear Stress Test Results

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Stubb's Falls
Stubb’s Falls at Arrowhead provincial park, where Merrell water hikers came in very handy. Photo by Brad Moon

I just wrapped up two weeks of camping at Arrowhead provincial park (a few hours north of Toronto). While there, I took advantage of the time and activities to put some of the gear I’ve accumulated recently through extended, real-world tests.

We’ve camped at Arrowhead several times over the past few years. The sites are huge and private (this year it took three 25-foot power cords to reach the electrical outlet), there’s a nice lake and sandy beach in walking distance of most campsites, there are multiple hiking trails, and it’s just a five minute drive from Huntsville for supplies. On the more challenging side, there are black bears to contend with (we ran into one on a trail), meaning food and drinks had to be kept in coolers–nothing in the trailer–and stored in the truck.

While much time was spent sitting around the camp fire or relaxing on the beach while the kids battled it out on their rafts, my iPhone (and my wife’s Fitbit) say it wasn’t all lounging about. Even with rainy days factored in, we averaged 4.5 miles per day of walking, including several days where the hike tally was in the 10 mile range–not bad considering a pair of 12 year-olds and a reluctant teenager were part of our entourage.

House of Marley Chant Bluetooth Speaker

House of Marley Chant
Chant (R) beside my morning cup of coffee. Photo by Brad Moon

It looks great and, for the price, it sounds pretty good. Battery life was decent at six to eight hours on a charge, and this little Bluetooth speaker did a bang-up job of providing music on the beach. At least it did until the USB port broke off inside the housing. I opened it up to confirm the connector had literally snapped off the board, leaving an empty hole where the cable would attach and no way to recharge the device. I suppose I might be able to solder it back on, but that’s a project for another day. I don’t know if I have a bum unit or if this was a design flaw, but, at a half dozen recharge cycles before self-destructing, the House of Marley Chant certainly didn’t live up to my longevity expectations.

Coleman Xtreme 5-Day Cooler

Coleman Xtreme cooler
Everyone knows these coolers, but the Xtreme version is worth paying a bit more for (Image copyright Coleman)

I already owned one of these, but we ditched a cheaper cooler used for drinks for a second Coleman Xtreme. The company claims up to five-day ice life in 90-degree weather. The Muskoka region was seeing pretty hot temperatures while we were there (and stuffed in the truck during the day, things would be even hotter), but after seven days there were still remnants of the original ice blocks I first put in the coolers the night before departure. After a few days, I began topping them up every other day with a bag or two of ice cubes, but these coolers performed pretty well–especially considering there were kids rummaging in the drink cooler every time I turned around.

Merrell All Out Blaze Sieve Hikers

Merrell All Out Blaze Sieve hiking and water shoes
Merrell All Out Blaze Sieve hikers. Photo by Brad Moon

I reviewed these sport sandal-style hikers a few months back, but during this trip I wore them almost exclusively. Generally speaking, I still think they make an excellent all-purpose activity shoe. They’re quick to put on, dry quickly after getting wet, comfortable, grippy, and they clean up perfectly. We did a lot of hiking, including a day in Algonquin provincial park where a trail was a mix of wet rock surfaces and miles of non-stop tree roots. That’s in addition to frequent visits to Stubb’s Fallls at Arrowhead (pictured in the header photo). The All Out Blaze Sieves did very well on wet rock–I slipped just once, on a very steep and very slick section of rock where only the side edge of the shoe was making contact. However, after several hours of walking on gnarled tree roots and a subsequent day where we added a further nine miles, I did find myself wishing for just a little more midsole and heel cushioning.

LED Badminton Birds

LED badminton bird
Cheap night time entertainment. Photo by Brad Moon

I bought these on a lark and at five bucks, and wasn’t expecting much. They didn’t look like much either, arriving in a s squashed tube, with (real goose) feathers somewhat in disarray. However, these LED badminton birds were a huge hit with my kids, especially on the beach at night. They transition through multiple colors, they’re bright, and watching the tracers of the lights in the sky is surreal. They do have an On/Off switch, but the battery is not replaceable.

Kobo Aura H2O

Kobo Aura H2O waterproof e-reader
Kobo Aura H2O e-reader’s killer feature is beach-friendly IP67 Rating. Photo by Brad Moon

Still the best e-reader on the market–at least if you’re not locked into Amazon e-book DRM… Two weeks of frequent reading and night light use isn’t enough to make it break a sweat, and the display is razor-sharp. Best of all, the Aura H2O is IP 67 waterproof and dustproof, so I didn’t think twice about bringing it to the beach.

JamSpot Tablet Stand

JamSpot Tablet Stand
Tablet media stand and speaker system in one (image copyright Bracketron)

Finally, a quick word about the JamSpot Tablet Stand. I’ll have a full review on it next week, but this gadget arrived just in time for the camping trip. With three kids confined to a trailer for 13 nights, having videos on tap is a parental sanity must-have. Sticking an iPad on the JamSpot ensured the tablet was secure and positioned so that everyone could see, but also provided built-in sound amplification so everyone could hear. You can accomplish the same effect with a tablet stand and a Bluetooth speaker, but having it all in a single, compact (and rather cool looking) device is a nice option.

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