A kayaker and his brother painted shark jaws on the front of their kayak. A long-distance cyclist attached mirrors and lights to his handlebars and frame. RV campers often customise by adding portable solar panels to recharge their camper batteries.
No matter what sets you free in the outdoors, you can make the outdoors your own by customizing your gear. With summer here, now is the time.
Across the spectrum, here are some ideas how to make your outdoor gear your own, plus somesecrets that can help every trip. I have employed many of these.
The fastest way to make your vehicle your own is to add a rack or two — that is, racks for bicycles, kayaks or camping supplies. If you have a pickup truck, you can build a bike rack out of PVC pipe or buy a kit with a steel rack to fit in the back. Add a rubber nonskid bed liner, and you’re ready to head out. Racks are made to fit on top of SUVs, cars and pickups with camper shells, and also in hitch mounts designed for the front or back of rigs.
or long miles, you can add seat support for perfect posture and lumbar reinforcement. You can upgrade your tires for off-pavement use, add a loud horn to ward off wildlife along the road ahead (they don’t know you’re coming, of course), and strap an altimeter watch to the rearview mirror.
One cool customization is to mount as-bright-as-possible fog lights out front, rigged with a set-aside interior switch. On two-laners, when oncoming traffic is approaching in your lane or it looks like someone on a side road could pull out in front of you, flip on those lights to get their attention.
Pro tip: When a vehicle rolls to a stop at a diagonal with the potential to turn in front of you, watch the wheels and not the relative motion of the vehicle. If the wheels are turning, the vehicle has not stopped.
On your handlebars, mount a phone holder (you can track your rides), trip computer, strobe light and mirrors. On your seat, mount a flat repair kit, blinking red light and an LED red/orange light and reflector. Brent Jacinto, with more than 40,000 miles and no accidents, taught me this. One of his bikes even has red tires. Keep a CO2-powered inflator in your kit to inflate a repaired tire in the field. Get the ergonomics of your seat and handlebar heights perfect, where bigger people can use spacers to raise the handlebars; it should feel near effortless to pedal and propel forward.
Pro tip: Do not mount a bell or horn on your handlebars with the intent to get walkers out of your way. It is not their responsibility to avoid you. They have the right of way. Slow or stop, call out, “On your left,” then smile when you pass.
Most who venture out to see wildlife or bird-watch will bring binoculars, a spotting scope, a rangefinder and a camera with a long lens, plus identification books. To make the experience unique, I mount the scope or camera on a tripod and a simulated rifle stock, where it feels like a hunt: photo-and-release. To track your history of sightings, use color-coded strip tags on the pages of wildlife and bird-identification books.
Internal-frame backpacks often lack many external pockets, clips and straps. You can add these to make your pack your own, and with carabiners, hang your Sierra cup outside, and have easy access to sunscreen, a water-purification kit, rain gear, snacks and anything else without having to dig deep to find in the main compartment.
For the least weight, lowest maintenance, ease of use and speed, we have switched to using Ultraviolet purifiers (where we add new batteries when picking up food stashes). We have tried many of the pump systems and they work great at first. On expeditions, they get heavy with water and eventually clog and become hard to pump.
The key to a camping trip is a good night’s sleep. You can customize your sleeping surface inside your tent with an air bed, cot (with Therm-a-Rest for insulation) or foam mattress, that is, whatever works perfectly for you. Your camp kitchen is another area with an unlimited array available. Multi-table camp kitchens are available for around $150, where you can hang lanterns, frying pans and pots, and insert camp stoves, coolers and crates.
Pro tip: When buying a cooler, make sure it is rated to keep ice frozen for five to seven days.
Out of Auburn, Ron McGuire, a mechanic with fabrication skills and out-of-this-world ideas, has an array of customised creations: You can add rod holders, a fish finder (and lithium battery to power it), downrigger, micro cooler, plus all kinds of mounts, straps, bungees and leashes for a paddle, emergency tie-on ladder, GoPro and more. From the Northern California Kayak Association, FishMaster and his brother, Mark, painted the bow of his kayak with shark teeth.
Pro tip: Many tow dollies are available to wheel a loaded kayak from vehicle to water; the dollies that work the best have inflatable tires, not the ones made out of hard plastic.
RV campers at off-the-grid sites often customise by adding portable solar panels to recharge their camper batteries. The same trick can work with boats. An onboard charger also can top off multiple batteries for external electrics. On the boat, add a stick-on rearview mirror, plus a spotter, so you don’t turn your head back while cruising forward. Many add lights for dusk and dawn, or if caught by darkness.
Pro tip: For the lightweight, pull-cord inflatable PFDs, keep extra CO2 cartridges available if the PFDs need to be re-armed.
Kayak anglers and pro bassers have discovered the best way to organize your gear is in multiple flat plastic tackle boxes, where you then stack the boxes in a crate or portable bag built for them. I also tape custom labels for the contents of each plastic box. During a bite, if we need gear, we can find anything within 10 or 15 seconds.
Pro tip: Keep an array of fingernail polish available, plus stick-on eyes, so you can custom-paint lures that don’t catch anything.