In keeping with my “Friday's are for fun” mentality, I wanted to spark your interest in getting outdoors more this year. It's one of my goals. And our simplest way is free and easy – just go for a walk! We've also taken up bike-riding more (hello Pumpkinvine Trail!) and I'm sharpening up my golf game … as if there's any hope.

Listen, if you want to be productive and full of joy in life, then you NEED to not only take a Sabbath but intentionally pursue activities that renew body and spirit. There are many options for what KIND of activities you do, of course, but I think finding two or three are important as you age and want to stay full of vitality.

It's the “dead” of winter currently and that means Kel and I are dreaming about getting outdoors during the warmer months ahead. We skim through catalogs from plant nurseries and we look over our gear for camping, biking, and spending time at her parents' lake house. I “sneak off” to Florida at winter's end to get a jumpstart on the outdoor adventuring. My choice of outdoor fun requires some gear to make them happen. And I hate to waste money on faulty or over-priced gear.

Most of you know that I frequent the Boundary Waters regularly and camp in remote locations in Florida. So, I put gear to the test. And, as I get older and more experienced, I've found that good gear matters. And there's some cool stuff here that you may just want to have because it's amazing. (In fact, my review of the best solar shower you can get still gets the most hits of any blog post I've written!) I know we talk leadership and ministry here, but you gotta' have a hobby or two and get outdoors often if you want to have a balanced life. If you have ANY questions about any of this, just email me and I'll get back with you.

Here are some outdoor items I LOVE and use that you may want to look at for this coming year.

Eureka Midori 6 Tent

My favorite tent is not for backpackers due to its size. This tent is for a family (or couple) who camps a handful of times each year but who want a tent that HOLDS UP IN STORMS without getting them wet. The best all-time was the Eureka Equinox 6-person tent. It's discontinued. In 2016, my favorite was the Eureka Taron Basecamp 6. It's discontinued too. So, now I'm recommending the Eureka Midori Basecamp 6 tent. The Taron is about as weather-proof as you get, which is what usually ruins camping trips, and it's spacious!  They make a 4-person one too, but unless you're backpacking (and maybe if even so!), get the 6-person. It sets up easy, has all the latest bells and whistles – enhanced ventilation, better reflection, and sleeve where you can put an iPad to watch movies in case it rains. You'll want to buy some heavier-duty stakes and a few more lines to stake/tie it off, but this tent will serve you well if you keep it well-maintained. Be sure to put a tarp below the tent and one inside the tent. Just get a large tarp and then custom-cut it to fit the Midori and you'll keep the moisture away from your sleeping bag (or self-inflating mattress pad).

Jet Boil Water Systemjet boil

I mentioned this item two years ago and it's already packed for my upcoming Florida camping trip. I don't know why I was late to this party, but once I tried the Jet Boil system, I was hooked. Kel and I used to use the larger propane-powered Coleman drip Coffee Maker to complete the ever-important “making coffee” task. I love how the Jet Boil packs up and the fuel canisters (you have to buy them separately) last a long time. I am super impressed with this item!

Power Up with an Anker 20100 Power Core

anker power upI have tried a LOT of gadgets over the years, but THIS item may have been one my best finds. In an era where there are SO many “power sticks,” this one has stood the test of time. The Anker 20100 PowerCore is a best-seller for a reason and one goes with me wherever I go. They are large and can charge! I gave one to my podcast co-host, Michael Yoder, on an episode of 37 the Podcast, and he's been using it on his trips ever since. Though it takes a while to charge up, once it's charged it will support all the charge needs you will have for the days. They will keep you and your family's personal devices supplied … and parents know that makes family camping better. I've purchased four or five as gifts and I think you may too once you give it a try.

Thermacell Mosquito Repeller thermacell

People often ask, “What repels mosquitoes?” Well, for years Kel and I have been using this kind of technology in our visits to southern Africa, so I'm very thrilled that it's available in the US. Using a blue pad that heats up, the Thermacell Repeller Device emits a faint odor that is repellent to mosquitoes, black flies, and “midges.” I think it's even effective against no-see-ums. They're powered by butane and they have a very easy ignition system. They're very easy to use.  And they work! Two summers ago the bugs were bad here. One evening at a backyard campfire, I set three of these up around our circle, about 8 feet apart. As our guests stepped out of the “triangle” to get food or do something else, they experienced the difference first-hand; the bugs feasted on them outside of the protection these units provided. They aren't super cheap, but they work and that's worth it for me. Be sure to get a package of the refills too.

The Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth Speaker

Ok, so this isn't really an outdoor item, but it's one you can't pick up locally so I want to share it here. A few months back, one of my students walked into the music studio and sat this WONDERBOOM Bluetooth Speaker on the table to play a demo from his iPhone. I've seen and heard dozens of Bluetooth speakers, but THIS one… wow. The bass that comes out of such a small unit is impressive. I picked up two: one for home and one for work. And I love it. Add in that it's small (5.2 inches tall) and waterproof and, well, the WONDERBOOM goes with me wherever I go. I even use it in my car to play podcasts (be sure to check out 37 the Podcast)!

So, that's it! If you love the outdoors like we do, then good gear matters. These items have made camping and being outdoors even more enjoyable for me. One of my 2018 goals is to be more active and develop a new awareness of what's happening around me (and improve my golf game as well).

Photo by Julian Bialowas on Unsplash