Introducing 'Run the Mountain'

Our new division, dedicated to all things related to camping and the outdoors

When selecting a project's worthiness in my life, I try and run it thru these criteria: if this was the only thing I did, could I be satisfied? Is this a project that I'm so passionate about that, in late hours and early mornings and at the expense of family time, I would still do? And when it comes to creating content on any subject, how knowledgable or passionate am I in covering it, compared to someone else?  

Camping, more than just about anything, is near and dear to my heart. My parents took me on my first camping trip was when I was just four weeks old, so it's not just an activity for me, but a part of who I am.

Aside from extreme barefoot-running mountain men, I'm a guy who camps more than just about anyone. My wife and I spend collectively about three months out of the year car camping (and yes, my wife likes it as much as I do; I really picked the right person). The rest of the year, all I can daydream about is camping and the gear I want to have for next time.

For instance, long before Goal Zero came around, I had my own goal: to have completely self-sustained power while out in the middle of nowhere. On our last two camping trips (both of which over three weeks) we were able to piece together our own MacGyver-esque solar powered system, and make our own battery housing box, to make our trips fully 'off the grid'. Being able to figure out how to DIY a kit and get it working just the way you want it is a pretty rewarding feeling, and that's the kind of thing I want to share on our website.

Run the Mountain's website keeps in mind the credo 'take only pictures, leave only footprints'. We want a kid a hundred years from now, in his hover car, to be able to look at the same sights and see the same glaciers and gaze upon the majesty of natural landmarks as we see them today. 

If you love camping, want to discover the coolest outdoor tech, or learn about the latest trends in solar or off-road vehicle accessories, this site is built for you. If you like what you find here, please share it!  We're not doing this to make a ton of money (I actually make no money on the site whatsoever), but because we have the passion for all things outdoors, and want to share and get to know the people who feel as we do. Please share your stories and pictures, eventually the site will be very user-friendly.

One other thing (if you read this far I appreciate it) This site is in its infancy. Like any of my projects, it's gonna be much more robust as time goes on, so I appreciate you noticing the flaws or being a little sad there's not enough content. That'll come.  If you're reading this, you are a pioneer, a charter customer, an early adopter. You're our favorite kind of person,  so I'd like to personally welcome you.  My name is Jett Dunlap, and I want to help you run the mountain

Follow us on instagram @werunthemountain

Pros and Cons to Camping in the Sky

A comparison of rooftop tents and their pluses and minuses, from a guy who's owned them

 

First off, don't listen to the recommendations about rooftop tents from anyone who hasn't slept in one for at least a month. I have, so I feel adequately qualified to give you the scoop on the great (and not so great) things about this camping innovation.  A few years back, after seeing some along the California coast, my wife and I became intrigued by the idea. We started looking online at a few different options, and fell in love with the E-Camper---  an aftermarket roof tent installed permanently onto the top of the Honda Element (maker Ursa Minor has since expanded to outfit the Jeep Rubicon, as well). Seeing some amazing images of people parked by the beach, looking out at the ocean while relaxing on a bed on top of their suv; the idea that we could just pull up to a spot, pop the top, and be ready to camp... this was a concept that just about any camper could obsess over. We watched all the video demos: how to set it up or collapse it in under two minutes, how to climb into it from the moonroof, and the features you could get, like reading lights and a power charger. The fact that it was built into the car not only gave it a cool factor, but seemed more convenient for spur of the moment use. We fell in love with the prospect of upgrading our camping experience, and that was one of the driving factors for choosing the Element as our next car.

If you've researched rooftop tents, you probably know that Ursa Minor was one of the biggest pioneers. The idea was an update of those old Westfalia vans, but integrated with a vehicle that is reliable and comes in a 4x4. And because you have to have it custom installed, it is so much integrated into the vehicle that people actually stopped me and asked me if this was a new model they could get at their Honda dealership. Unfortunately, this is not the case: I had to drive down past San Diego to the company's location, drop off the car, take the Greyhound back to LA, and pick it up a week later (the alternative was missing work and staying in a hotel for the week). Once it was on, it looked great. It added only about four inches to the height of the vehicle, and didn't effect fuel economy at all. You can even opt to have roof racks drilled to the top of it, so you could still bring a kayak, surfboards, etc. on your trip.

If you don't happen to have a Rubicon or an Element, another option is to get a tent that mounts onto roof racks. That way, you can use just about any vehicle (I've even seen them put on top of cargo trailers), you can remove it (with some help) when you're not on a trip, and it's considerably cheaper: our Ecamper ran $6,000 while you can get a basic rack-mounted one from Bigfoot or Autohome USA for less than half that. You can only get into it from a ladder, and it won't have cabin lights or a charger that runs off of your car battery, and it's definitely not as cool as a custom one, but I think the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Another major consideration is size. Our roof size allowed the bed to measure a roomy 4'x7'. Plenty of space in concept, and if you're on your own, or on the petite side, it may not pose an issue for you. In my experience, being 6'1" with a 5'10" wife and a lap dog that insists on sleeping with you, I endured more than a few nights tossing and turning through intermittent slumber. And if you have an active bladder, climbing over someone and Parkour-ing off the top of an SUV while half asleep is something you just have to get used to (God help you if you go to bed drunk!). One positive regarding the close quarters: warmth was no problem on cold nights, and if it got too hot, the canvas zipped open to a mesh layer to allow for a bug-free breeze. 

 Perhaps the biggest drawback of a rooftop tent is that you cannot move your car while the tent is up. So if you want to go to town or drive to a trailhead or take your boat to the lake, you've got to remove your pillows and blankets, collapse the whole thing before you can go anywhere. Sure, it may only take five minutes, but you have to set it up again when you get back to camp. If you have more than a few outings during your trip, it can get pretty tedious (if we had gotten a more elaborate fold out model, I would have probably hated the thing after a single vacation). If you're a person who likes to go cross country, stopping off at a different campground every night along the way to your destination, you want to have the easiest set up and breakdown, then this is an awesome alternative and I totally recommend it. But if you're staying at one camp for a while and driving out to visit different spots, a conventional ground tent may end up being more convenient, and a heck of a lot cheaper. When I go camping, we usually stay for a week or two at one campground, taking time to explore the region, engage in different outdoor activities, and see what experiences a nearby town has to offer. Maybe we'll get to a cross-country trip one day, but for now, it turns out that standard tent camping works fine for us.  

In Search of the Ideal Camping Spot

Over many years of camping, through varied landscapes, whether alone or with friends, I have come to realize that what constitutes the ideal campsite depends greatly on the kind of camper you ask. My type of campsite over say, my friend Raul's preference (also a big time camper and outrageously amazing 4 x 4 dude), would differ greatly. 

When I go camping (as well as in my normal life), I'm a bit of a hermit. So when I'm looking for a site, I really want to be as far away from the person next to me as possible. Basically,  I don't want to be able to see any signs of man (meaning paved roads, sidewalks, lights), so I love places like Convict Lake or Rock Creek in the high Sierras. I love places that are a little harder to get to, and may not have the luxuries like hot water or showers. Give me a secluded spot near a creek or a lake, and I am literally a happy camper.

Granted, that's not everyone. My friend's recommendations for campsites are pretty opposite of what I typically go for: he does a lot of group camping and  desert camping. In a community camping environment, a neighboring camper may bring hotdogs, someone else may bring the beer, another may provide chairs, and so on. A lot of the fun is being part of a group, seeing old friends, and sitting around the campfire exchanging stories.

For me, it's more of a personal retreat: I want to be able to do my running or take a long hike, I want to be able to bathe in the stream, listen to the wind through the trees, and dry off in the sun. My goal is to feel like I'm in the woods by myself-- no adjoining campsite, no hum of generators in the distance. I prefer to be completely self-sufficient, using what I bring along with me to build my perfect home away from home. I do have pockets of friends come to visit, but when they do, we have our own spaces. I visit their camp one day, then host at my site the next. 

When deciding on a place to camp (or whether to take someone else's recommendation on a site), the key is to first identify what type of camper you are: Do you like to group camp? Hanging out with your friends, sitting around telling the old stories, maybe singing or playing guitar? Or are you the more solitary type, only wanting to hear the sound the stream and the rustle of the wind going through the trees? When you imagine yourself on a trip, is it in the woods, up in the mountains, by the beach, or in the desert? Or maybe you're more of a backpacker,  leaving everything behind for weeks at a time, forging your own trail. No two sites are gonna be great for the same person. The first step is discovering what you want out of the camping experience, and you can have a lot of fun along the way while you're figuring it out.

 OVERLAND WEST 2016

OBSERVATIONS FROM MY FIRST TRIP TO AN OVERLANDING EVENT

You could say that I didn't know what Overland was and I was not a part of it. I didn't know what the word Overland really meant. I did not know where its roots came from, and I wasn't sure what the parameters of an Overlander was. However, I have been camping since I was four weeks old; I do it for about 2 to 3 months out of the year and true to the Overland community. I even owned a Honda element that I converted with the Ecamper by Ursa Minor. This is something you see a lot of when you visit Overland West. I had an FJ Cruiser (lifted, of course) with an ARB bumper and many other bolt ons, you could drop me just about anywhere and I could camp for an unusually long amount of time. My Dad was a camper, my mom was a camper, my dad's father was a World War II PT boat captain & this guy was a diehard camper, he would bring just water with him on a week-long trek into the woods because that was the sort of thing you did to prove what you were made of. 

     The Overland community is much closer to how I grew up in camping, definitely not the “Glamping” that has recently gained popularity. We get pretty gritty out there, my wife and I; especially after a month. But we simply called this ‘car camping’, meaning we are tied in many ways to our motor vehicle. I've done plenty of backpacking, but by far car camping has always been my favorite. As of last year my wife and I were able to completely go off the grid with solar panels for all of our electricity and propane for our cooking. This was a goal of ours for many years, and the technology has finally become portable and affordable enough to achieve it. Innovation in camping is all about tools and products that are smaller, lighter, faster, and more efficient. We also like to make our own gear just like the overlanders I met at Overland West. We take pride in having parts of our campsite and on our rig that no one else has, and like many of the people I met here, we light up when someone comes by our site and says “wow, that's really cool! Where did you buy that?” Of course, our favorite thing to say in return is, “we didn’t, we made it”, and go on to share the process of how we did.

    So what exactly is Overland, and what sets it apart from what we classically called car camping? Or 4x4ing? I had a great opportunity to be embedded into the Overland community for a weekend, at the Overland Expo West event in Flagstaff, Arizona. It’s like a highly creative and diverse car show, a festival, and a camping experience all in one. From the outset, the vehicles look and perform drastically different, and the amount of money put into the rigs varies drastically. You could see vehicles there with a few nifty modifications, or a pricey eye-catching add-on, crazy elaborate roof-top tents, to over the top rigs worth a million bucks. Some bought the best of the best, while others have spent 10 years creating their own ultimate personalized vehicle. After my interviews with some of the attendees, I found that what brought these people together in a mutual love for the community of Overland. These are people who like to live like a turtle, in a way; they like to have everything that is necessary for human existence in or on their vehicle, and most of them want to sleep in or on top of it, too. These are people who would build a spaceship if they could. These are people (like me) that, when they drive down their favorite road or a road they've never seen, or over a rock or ridge, they take pride in their gear and their ingenuity. The folks in the Overland community from what I've seen are adventurers. Cowboys who have replaced horseback with horsepower. Whether their breed of choice is Land Cruiser, Hummer, Toyota, Ford, or something more exotic, you get to see the passion that these people have in being able to ride through and camp in areas other people have never seen, because those people lack the technology, know-how, and desire to explore beyond the beaten path.

    Why is the Overland community growing? I think, in part, it can thank the economic crash and subsequent recession of the last decade. In leaner times, the vacation budget is the first thing to get cut; all of a sudden people stop going to hotels and resorts, they don't feel secure enough totake the family to Disney World, or have money to travel to Hawaii, Las Vegas, Florida, or abroad. After the housing crash, when the breadwinner was looking at their bank account and could see their options were narrowed, somewhere in the back of their mind they said, “you know, I remember having a good time camping. I wonder if we can still do that. I wonder if the kids would like that.” And camping technology has changed so drastically since they’d last gone camping, they found that could be far more comfortable and convenient. Gone are the cumbersome tents with the fiberglass poles, that were not only a chore to assemble, but had you picking fiberglass out of your fingers afterwards. Now, almost every tent brand has an easy set up version, that folds out and you stake down in under five minutes. Back-crippling hammocks and cots are no longer a concern with self-inflating mattresses and high-density foam. Not only is all of this new-fangled equipment better designed, more convenient to lug around, and cheaper than it used to be—- it’s actually sorta cool, too. This way, a family could spend more of their vacation with each other, and the price-point extended the option to the subgroup of people who previously were spending more of their time in hotels and poolside or maybe only going out for day trips with their 4 x 4. 

    Another reason Overland culture is growing is that, beyond just word of mouth, off-road websites and camping blogs, internet forums, and social media have provided overland enthusiasts the outlet to share the amazing things they are doing. My wife and I, for example,  saw the pop-up tent for the Honda Element and we thought it was the coolest thing the world. It’s a lot like a Westfalia van, but with good gas mileage and without the risk of breaking down 30 miles into the trip. We searched it online, talked to people who had it, and eventually decided to buy an Element specifically to have an Ecamper installed on it. We jumped on forums and saw other mods we could do, posted our own pics, and realized that there was a whole group of people bonding over their cars. And there's another big reason the Overland community that exists today could’nt have existed 10 years ago: I have access right now to products at cost that was impossible before. Before, not only could I not find the exact lighting housing I wanted for my new vehicle, but if I did find it, it would have been prohibitively expensive. There was not a mass distributor for aftermarket off-road bumpers. If you wanted a rooftop tent, there was one location, you had to drive there and be without a car until the accessory was installed, and it was a major buying decision (which made for a very small market). Now, the Internet had allowed for people to access affordable ways to customize their vehicle, bit by bit. Maybe one year they pay for a cage on their truck, the next year get an ARB bumper and then the next year they get a rooftop tent. The vehicle becomes an evolution and if you talk to anyone at the Overland event, they will tell you exactly where they bought it, why they chose that type over the other, what they’re looking to do next, and so on. The Excitement is contagious. I talk to folks who had never even been camping before, who got caught up in the joy of this activity you can't help it. It’s our generation’s version of the hot rod. 

     So is overlanding for you suffer everyone at the event winds were amazingly high. Sand was blasting us in the face. it was dry. This is not always the case, but he candy we are the astronauts of Earth land astronauts earthbound astronauts we are community that loves the difficulty of it because what happens is our brain has to engage in away that it doesn't in the office we have to be sharp we fast. We love this overland experience because it brings us back to something much simpler. A time were everything you needed was right there with you. You could go anywhere and you were tied to nothing. In a world that tries to define you by your job, and your house, keeping your existence within socially acceptable parameters, being an overlander is like being a modern cowboy. Where, for however long, the journey is the goal, andwe can walk away from society and run our own universe.