Lori Carey Photography

Monday, September 29, 2014

National Preparedness Month - Gear Review: Biolite

Biolite Steve and Kettle
Biolite Stove and KettlePot

When I was planning out my article series for National Preparedness Month for DrivingLine, I put a lot of thought into problems I had personally experienced or seen while venturing off road. When I talk about "off roading", I'm not just talking about hard core rock crawling on technical trails. I'm including traveling off pavement in remote areas, something that landscape, nature and wildlife photographers do on a regular basis. When something goes wrong in a remote area, it could be days before help is able to reach you.

One of my biggest challenges when packing for a trip is the balancing act between bringing enough gear to be ready for anything with being able to fit it all in a 2DR Jeep and still have room for my photography gear. That's why I love gear that is multi-functional, it makes packing so much easier! One of the toughest decisions is how much fuel to bring for the campstove; the (propane in my case) canisters are bulky and take up a lot of room in my camp box. I always try to bring only as much as I need, and since I always have several partially empty canisters I sit there shaking them trying to evaluate how much fuel is left in each one to determine which ones I should take. I did run out of propane once, and that got me thinking that if I were forced to spend an unplanned night or two out in the wild, I would have no way to heat water or cook food. All the freeze-dried emergency food in the world isn't going to do me any good if I have no way to prepare it. In the desert environment that I spend most of my time in, there are very few (if any) trees and there is no firewood lying around!

I started researching options and became fascinated by the Biolite Stove. Not only did it claim to boil water with just a handful of twigs, it also claimed it could charge a cell phone with that same handful of twigs! I may not be able to find wood for a campfire in the desert, but I can always scrounge up some twigs or other small biomass. And although I can charge my electronics with solar, not everyone has that option. I contacted Biolite and they graciously agreed to send me a Biolite CampStove and KettlePot to put to the test.

I am so incredibly impressed with this system and everyone who has seen it in action has been equally impressed. The Biolite Camp Stove uses thermoelectric energy to convert to heat to electricity. The generated electricity powers a fan that makes the fire more efficient by improving combustion, so it requires very little fuel. Surplus energy can be used to charge small electronics like a cell phone through a USB port. It uses biomass for fuel - any small twigs, pinecones, wood chips - and it doesn't need much.

Biolite Steve and KettlePot
Biolite Stove and KettlePot

The first time I tested the Biolite Stove we used a couple pine cones and a handful of pine needles. The pine needles burned hot and fast, maybe a bit too fast for practical purposes because I did have to keep resupplying the fire, but I heated a half liter of water in less than three minutes and brought a dead cell phone to half charge in less than twenty minutes (we forgot to keep a good eye on the clock). The next time I tested it I used a handful of small twigs and they made a perfect fire. I didn't even need to use all of the twigs you see in the top photo. It is amazing how well this stove works with just a small bit of biomass fuel!

Biolite states that the stove will boil one liter of water in 4.5 minutes and my tests were consistent with that number. They state that twenty of minutes of charging an iPhone 4s will provide 60 minutes of talk time, and again my tests were consistent with that figure although I used different phones for testing purposes.

Biolite CampStove charging a cell phone

If you want to play it safe and not worry about having to scrounge up twigs or other biomass, you could always buy wood chips and pack a small quantity with the stove (mmmm mesquite!). I also recommend carrying some kind of fire starter, either store-bought or home made such as dryer lint soaked in Vaseline (the stove ships with an initial supply of fire starters). After filling the stove with twigs you will be lighting the fire from the top of the stove and it takes some practice to get the hang of it. Fire starters make it much easier to get a good flame going right away.

The 1.5 liter stainless steel KettlePot makes it a complete cook system. You can cook inside the pot or use it to boil water which you can easily pour through the spout. The stay-cool handles mean that no pot holder or cloth is required to pick up the pot, and it even comes with a bowl.

It gets even better - the CampStove packs up inside the KettlePot for a complete cook system that also charges small electronics in a package that is 10.2 inches tall and weighs just over three pounds. The CampStove also comes with a pot adapter so you can use other pots on the stove if you don't have the KettlePot.

Biolite Stove and KettlePot

Biolite also offers a really cool grill that attaches to the CampStove so you can use the stove to grill dinner over a wood fire (mmmm burgers over a wood fire, guess what's on my Christmas wish list!). If the CampStove is too small for your needs, the larger BaseCamp might be a better fit.

I love that I don't have to depend on fuel canisters when I'm out on the trail and the Biolite CampStove is perfect for emergency situations, on or off the trail. You could even use it to make s'mores on the beach or in your backyard! It's good for the environment because it uses a renewable fuel source, it's non-polluting and it doesn't add more trash to landfills.

All of my friends who have seen this stove in action have wanted one. It really has become a favorite piece of gear. It's not just extremely functional, it's actually fun to use!

I have been challenged by a few friends to see if I can find enough biomass in the Sonoran desert of the southernmost portion of California. Desert season starts next month and I'm looking forward to seeing how well I do finding enough fuel to boil a liter of water and charge a cell phone.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Stop The Madness People!!

I was going to leave this as a Facebook post but when I saw people posting on LinkedIn that National Parks are going to start charge smart phone users to take cell phone snaps I lost it.

Several people have asked me why I wasn't in an uproar about the "news" that is spreading like wildfire throughout the internet that it was going to cost me $1500 for a permit to shoot on public land. Well that's because I knew that there was a lot of incorrect information being spread around. In this day and age of citizen journalism, very few people take the time to verify information and fact check. If they see it on the internet they figure it must be true, even if it was originally posted by someone who has no clue what they are talking about.

Fact is, permits for commercial photography (as defined) have long been required on federally owned land such as National Forests, and any responsible professional photographer is aware of the permit requirement. If you are doing a commercial shoot with models, actors or props, require access to an area where the public isn't generally permitted, or will cause additional administrative cost (think of the work required for a large movie film crew or to shoot a car commercial) you must get a permit to film. The proposal in question is to extend the same guidelines to congressionally designated Wilderness areas that are currently in place on National Forest lands. The current directive expires in October and only covered still photography, the proposal is to also include commercial filming (as it is on other federally owned lands). Designated Wilderness is not the same as National Forest, National Park, National Preserve or National Monument, and it's important to understand the different designations. Most designated wilderness areas do not even have motor vehicle access other than perhaps one main access road to a staging area/trailhead and the occasional legal cherry stem. Motorized/mechanical transport is not permitted in designated wilderness, not even bicycles.

The Forest Service issued a news release yesterday to help clarify all of the confusion which stated:

"The proposal does not change the rules for visitors or recreational photographers. Generally, professional and amateur photographers will not need a permit unless they use models, actors or props; work in areas where the public is generally not allowed; or cause additional administrative costs."

"Currently, commercial filming permit fees range around $30 per day for a group up to three people. A large Hollywood production with 70 or more people might be as much as $800. The $1,500 commercial permit fee cited in many publications is erroneous, and refers to a different proposed directive."

If you're still worried that this might affect you, I encourage you to take the time to read the directive yourself so you know the facts, not the hysteria. The public comment period has been extended to December 3, 2014.

(For what it's worth, you also need a permit for commercial photography on most California beaches, and Laguna is one of the most expensive. If you do portrait or wedding photography I hope you know that!).

Do your homework and check the facts before you add to the spread of bad information. Most bloggers, even on well-known photography sites, aren't paid enough to be bothered with fact checking and apparently editors don't care anymore. All they care about is getting people to click their link. Even mass media reports incorrect information when they "report" on topics for which they have no background knowledge.

These days you need to be more careful than ever before and verify information before you get caught up in the hysteria.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

National Preparedness Month - Gear Review: Goal Zero

Since September is National Preparedness Month, I wrote a two-part series on DrivingLine that covered some important items that everyone who ventures off the beaten path should consider carrying in case of an emergency. My word count is limited in those articles and I could only give some brief information about the items, so I'm going to provide more detailed reviews here on my blog. Although the articles on DrivingLine were targeted to off roaders, being prepared for outdoor emergencies is important for everyone who ventures into the wild, including landscape photographers who travel into the backcountry in SUVs or on foot and even families visiting National Parks. Last year a couple died in Joshua Tree National Park because their vehicle broke down on a remote park road and they were not prepared to be out in the harsh elements overnight.

What I really hate is when magazines and blogs publish a list of "must-have" gear that is nothing more than a list of expensive and fancy gear and it's obvious that the person who put the list together has never even touched any of the gear (Outside Magazine I'm thinking of you as one of the biggest offenders!). I am brutally tough on my gear, I spend days at a time in remote harsh environments where my life literally depends on my gear, and I don't believe in overpaying just for a popular fancy brand name. I do a lot of research before committing to gear because I don't have money to burn (that starving-artist self-employed photographer thing). If I recommend gear, it's because I've field tested it and have verified that it can stand up to my level of abuse.

Goal Zero Yeti 150 Solar Generator and Nomad 20 Solar Panel charging electronics in the field.
Goal Zero Yeti 150 and Nomad 20 charging electronics in the field

Even in non-emergency situations I have a lot of electronics I want to keep charged out in the field - a gps, cell phone, ham radio, lights and camera batteries at a minimum, and often a laptop or tablet. In an emergency situation it becomes vitally important to be able to charge communication devices and your gps if you forgot to bring a paper map and compass. Many people who regularly travel into the back country have solar panels permanently installed on the roof of their vehicle, but that's not an option for everyone. In my case, I prefer my Jeep's soft top over the hard top so I have no way to mount panels. And because I prefer gear to have multiple functions (let's face it, self-employed photographers aren't exactly rolling in cash and what we do have usually needs to go toward photography gear), portable solar seemed to be the best way to go.

When I talked to Goal Zero about my articles for National Preparedness Month, the type of emergency situations that could be encountered while off roading and what gear I needed to be able to charge, they helped me calculate my needs and provided me with a Yeti 150 and Nomad 20 Solar Panel to test and review. The products can be purchased individually or as a kit.

The Yeti 150 is perfect for vehicle travel into the back country because at 7.75 x 5.75 x 6.75 inches it's small enough to fit into a tightly packed vehicle (photography gear plus camping gear means there isn't room to fit much more!) but provides sufficient power to keep vital electronics and communication devices fully charged. Although I do have an inverter in my Jeep, I'm concerned about possibly running down my Jeep's battery if I overuse it even though I have a deep cycle battery. I already did that once, thankfully it was at home during a multi-day power outage. I don't even want to think about what I would do if my Jeep battery failed in the middle of nowhere! Installing a second battery is an option, but if your vehicle breaks down in the back country and isn't running, or you have no way to call for help, or it will take days before help could reach you, charging your electronics off your vehicle battery isn't a viable option.

Goal Zero Yeti 150 Solar Generator
Goal Zero Yeti 150 Solar Generator

I will warn you that it is heavier than it looks. It has a full size AGM Lead Acid battery inside and weighs 12 pounds, not a deal breaker but it's not exactly light weight.

What I love best about the Yeti 150 is the variety of charging ports to cover all of my needs. A key requirement for me is an AC port because some of my electronics only have AC (wall plug) chargers. A 12 volt auto port is also vital in case my vehicle is not running and I can't use my Jeep's accessory port. And if you're anything like me, you probably have a variety of chargers for each of your electronics, which means you have so many that it's a challenge trying to keep them all organized and some times you get caught without the one you need. I have chargers in my home, in my home office, in my Jeep, in my backpack and in three different camera bags so I am always scrambling to find the right charger! The Yeti 150 has two USB ports, two 12V ports (one is an auto accessory port) and an AC port for wall plugs.

Goal Zero Yeti 150 Solar Generator
Goal Zero Yeti 150 Solar Generator

In between outings you keep the Yeti fully charged by plugging it into the wall. You can also charge it using your vehicle's 12V accessory adaptor. The Yeti is a solar generator; it contains a battery that stores the charge which can then be used to charge your electronics. When you are off the grid the Yeti can be charged with solar panels. Goal Zero makes several different solar panels that are compatible with the Yeti. The Nomad 120 is a great match for off road exploring. The solar capacity is 20 watts and it can fully charge the Yeti 150 in 17-34 hours, depending on how much sun you get. If you want to be able to charge the Yeti faster, you can buy a Boulder 30 or 90 solar panel, or chain up to four smaller panels.

Goal Zero Nomad 7 Solar Panel
Goal Zero Nomad 7 Solar Panel

You can also charge electronics directly from the Nomad solar panels. The Nomad 20 has a USB port and solar ports to connect to power packs and generators. The Nomad 7 has both USB and 12V charging ports.

Goal Zero Nomad 20 charging ports

Goal Zero states that a fully charged Yeti 150 will charge a smart phone fifteen times, a tablet six times and a laptop two times. Adding the Nomad 20 Solar Panel increases the number of times you can charge your devices because the solar panel will keep the Yeti generator charged. I left a cell phone, ham radio and gps charging all afternoon while the Nomad 20 was charging the Yeti, and the battery indicator on the Yeti never dropped below full. (A word of caution - make sure to keep your electronics in the shade while charging, not the blazing desert sun. I learned that the hard way when my ham radio shut down because it overheated. I really should have known that would happen!)

What if you don't get as much as sun as we get here in sunny Southern California? When I returned home from field testing I left the Yeti unplugged, no wall charger and no solar panel to see how well it would hold the charge. After three days of light usage the battery indicator still showed three quarters full, plenty of staying power to make it through a few overcast days.

Goal Zero Nomad 20 and Nomad 7 solar panels
Goal Zero Nomad 20 and Nomad 7 solar panels

If you'd rather leave your vehicle behind and explore on foot, a smaller Nomad panel might fit your needs. The Nomad panels are very sturdy and fold up into compact units. I have a Nomad 7 panel for my backpack/camera bag for charging my USB devices. It is only nine inches long when folded and weighs 16 ounces, the perfect size for carrying in a pack. It provides 7 watts of power, enough to charge most smart phones and gps units. It can also be used with the Guide 10 Plus Recharger to keep your AA and AA batteries charged.

Don't get caught off guard without power! Goal Zero products are designed for active lifestyles. They are rugged enough for me and they are beautifully designed. In addition to the many power packs, generators and solar panels they offer, they also have many accessory products like solar lanterns and flashlights, speakers, and trickle chargers in every size from ultra compact to heavy duty. You are sure to find something to fit your needs!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Bench with the words A Great Love Story

Wow this summer just flew by! I've been so busy the past couple months that I haven't even had a chance to do much personal photography. I never even made it out to the desert to shoot the Milky Way which breaks my heart, but I'm still holding out hope that I'll be able to fit it in this month...if this record breaking heat wave ever breaks!

Working with clients and sponsors requires a tremendous amount of behind the scenes work that most people can't even imagine. A lot of people think it's just a matter of showing up with a camera and clicking the shutter and have no idea of the planning, coordinating, scheduling and rescheduling, researching, phone calls, e-mails, making contacts and building relationships, and trying to figure out what to do when a wildfire is actively burning the trails on which I had planned to shoot that is involved, not to mention all of the work that comes after the shoot. But I love every minute of it, even when it means I have less time for social media and my house is a disaster!

Since most of my writing (and much of my photography) about off road adventures, including trail reviews, has been published on Nitto Tire's DrivingLine instead of my own blog, I've created an index of my articles to make them easier to find. The index also includes trail reviews I've shared on my blog over the years, and you can check it out at Lori Carey - Published Articles.

Articles recently published on DrivingLine are:

Off Road in the Santa Ana Mountains
A wildfire is currently burning in the Santa Anas and the four main trails through the mountains are closed. At one point the fire was at the intersection of Main Divide and Bedford Canyon, the trails mentioned in this article. These are my close to home, "backyard" trails and I'm saddened to think that it will probably be several years before they are open again. At least I was able to get out there one last time before the fire.

Big Bear's Holcomb Creek Trail
Climbing Up Big Bear's John Bull Trail

I had an awesome time in Big Bear with 4 Wheel To Heal and the Misfits Offroad Club in July. We did two Black Diamond (most difficult) trails and I reviewed both of them. I really count on my husband as co-driver when I'm photographing trails because I end up walking most of the trail while he wheels my Jeep (a good trade off for him!). These steep rocky trails gave me a good workout!! I love my SpiderHolster when I'm doing this kind of shooting! Having the weight of my cameras on my hips make such a big difference in this terrain. I had sprained my ankle right before the trip, so even though I had it wrapped well all of the scrambling on the rocks was brutal. And to top it off I got stung by a bee! But we got some kickass wheeling shots, those Misfits really know how to have fun!

Preparing for Off Road Emergencies - Part 1
Preparing for Off Road Emergencies - Part 2

September is National Preparedness Month and I did a two-part series on being prepared for off road emergencies. This is such an important topic; every season we hear tragic stories of people who weren't prepared when something went wrong in a remote area. Even a casual day trip with the family can turn deadly if your vehicle breaks down in a remote area with no cell phone signal to call for help. If you do any technical wheeling the risks are even greater; over the past few years I've seen two deaths at off road events and came across one guy whose bike went off a cliff on a steep canyon trail where there wasn't even room for a helicopter to land. A few years ago a friend snapped an axle on a flat easy desert trail and we had to McGyver the axle well enough to be able to tow his rig out, another time a friend got two flat tires at once when we were exploring an area with sharp volcanic rocks hidden under the sand...there are too many things that can wrong out there. You need to be self sufficient and ready for anything for out there. Don't get caught off guard!

The day after Part 2 published I received this note from one of my followers:


What Would Lori Do?

I read every article you post. I even remember the story you shared where you were out on another adventure and your water pak leaked. You thought you were a gonner... I remember you mentioned something to the effect of you can never have enough water.

The Tuesday right after Labor Day weekend I decided to hike Granite Mountain Lookout up here in Snoqualmie, WA. I knew it was over eight miles roundtrip of steep, rocky, punishing terrain. This time I carried a gallon of water in my pack; I never carry anything more than two 20oz containers for shorter day hikes. Anyway, on my return I came across a 14 or 15yr old kid that was doubled over and complaining of cramps. His face looked green (remember the Mr.Yuck Mouth stickers?). He was completely out of water. He told me his friends took off without him. I really don't know if he had anything other than his iPhone... I stayed with him for about 10 minutes to assess his condition. The good news is I still had a lot of water in my reserve one gallon so I filled his empty container. I nursed that kid back to health by giving him my Tums, an energy bar, and even my crackers spread with Nutella haha.

So thanks for your tips. Thank you for reminding me to plan for the unexpected.

That note made my day! The story he is referring to is one I posted on GooglePlus last summer, The Day I Almost Died, when I talked about the time my hydration sprang a leak on a long desert hike and I fought a dangerous battle against dehydration and heat exhaustion. It is scary how quickly things go downhill without water in the desert. Many others chimed in on that post sharing similar experiences and their stories are worth reading.

There's so much more going on but I don't want this blog post to become a novel (and I need to get busy!) so I will save the rest for next time!

The first and last photos on this post are from Cachuma Lake in Santa Barbara County. Not my typical place, it was very crowded and I'm not big on organized campgrounds but I was up there to shoot for the SURTHRIVE+THRIVE article. I managed to sneak away on my own one night and one morning. During my scouting in the evening I had decided that the best shots were going to be in the morning and I had my locations all picked out. It's always fun heading out in the dark, never knowing exactly what you'll see when the sun rises. I wasn't expecting the heavy fog that didn't burn off until midday but it wasn't a complete disappointment as I loved the way the earl morning sunlight broke through the fog and reflected on the lake.

Lake Cachuma at Dawn