Sand Free Is the Way to Be


Kids are messy. So is life. CGEAR Sand-Free Multimats can help. A lot.

Sand is, of course, more commonly known as ‘desert spice.’ It’s the onmi-present grit in even the most jealously guarded sandwich, the other surprising ‘crunch’ in your scrambled eggs, the bane of every zipper. It camouflages micro-trash and coats your Paco pad, tent floor and the back of your legs. It drives toddlers and parents crazy, and it just gets…everywhere.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with getting absolutely filthy on any given day in the outdoors. I fully encourage it. But as a mother of three kids under six, whether we’re camping in the high country or rafting western rivers, the constant management necessary to maintain a very basic level of hygiene takes tremendous effort.

I was excited to try CGear sand-free mats this summer and put them to the test with my own hot mess of a camping family in the hopes that I could simplify things just a little. As a quick summary, they’re designed as durable alternatives to traditional tarps. They allow sand and grit to fall through while trapping everything else from cracker crumbs to dropped batteries and blueberries. You can walk across them without building up piles of dirt as it sifts through quickly. Even wet sand passes through with some gentle pressure.

After getting a chance to take out both the largest and smallest size mats for the season, I’ve identified three major ways this super neat invention improves camp—and life in general— especially with little kids.

CGear as a Kitchen Mat
I was most familiar with using a mat (of sorts) in the camp kitchen when this experiment started. It’s the tried-and-true best way of managing micro-trash and significantly lessening the impact of any group camping experience. Whether you’re camping in a sensitive riparian area, or in a heavily trafficked site, kitchens are the areas most notorious for leaving behind ‘traces’ of all types.

Because the sand mats allow sand and grit to pass through, while trapping almost everything else, they’re they perfect catch-all for food detritus without requiring you to also dump a full pound of sand into your trash bag. With the large-sized mat laid out under the prep tables and set up as a floor mat for some of your more hands-on eaters (.e.g. toddlers and your drunk cousin), dropped bits of grated cheese, upended pasta bowls and even wrong-side up fallen sandwiches are fully contained and salvageable if you subscribe to the five-second rule.

For us, the trial by fire was a four-day camping trip through Labyrinth Canyon on the Green River with two other families for a total of seven kids under seven. Needless to say, meal times were a bit like the sort of feeding frenzy you see with carp off the dock of a restaurant on Lake Ozark. Toddlers with plates of food in various interpretations of upside down, with faces and fingers fully coated in whatever part of the meal they had deemed worthy of their attention. 

I also got to give it a try with an all-ladies Westwater overnighter. The campsites for Westwater are, of course, highly trafficked and, over the last five years or so, have begun to write the end chapters of what happens when even tiny crumbs from a thousand meals get left behind. The ants, then the mice, then a variety of reptiles. But our group was able to run a totally clean camp and saw neither scale nor whisker of the alleged varmint interlopers despite the notoriously messy food item garlic bread.

CGear as a Welcome Home Mat
This was the use which really rocked my world this summer, possibly changing the way I camp with the family forever, if I can be a little melodramatic.

By laying out the sand mat in the vestibule of our behemoth Big Agnes Tensleep Station 6 (remember, family of five plus large dog), I was able to drastically reduce the amount of dirt trafficked in and out. Suddenly there was a lovely little place to take off shoes and even wipe feet clean without having to do the AssinTent UnShoe yoga pose generally used for such activities. Whether we were desert rafting or camping in the high mountain areas around our home in Glenwood Springs, the transition from inside to outside was smoother and cleaner. And when I crawled into my sleeping bag at night after wrestling the kids for half an hour, I didn’t feel like I was getting a full body exfoliation at any point.

Dry bags, or damp bags, were left comfortably outside the tent to stay protected and clean. Even our half-blind dog tramping in and out didn’t track in nearly as much mess.

CGear as a Staging and Play Arena Mat
If you have an infant, a crawler, or a kiddo (or friend!) who is highly sensory, getting constantly covered in sand every moment you sit on the ground is more than a minor annoyance. The CGEAR mat gave me a place to put my smallest kiddos and their toys and books outside, minus the grit for just a minute. I was also thrilled to experience the joy of a sand-free diaper change in the backcountry!

With or without toddlers, packing up gear and tents often involves the familiar roll/brush/roll/brush to remove grit from surfaces of tents or sleeping pads. We found on our Labyrinth Canyon float trip that laying out the sand mat first was a great way to keep damp gear from picking up more dirt as we set up camp, and, after a brief rainstorm in the early morning hours, it was easy to clean off the tent and paco pad before rigging them onto the raft.

As a side note: these mats could be a huge help to any parent with a highly sensory child. Camping in a world full of unexpected sensations and constant dirtiness can be extremely stressful for both children and adults with certain disorders. The sand mat, if that texture is acceptable, allows for a clean place to brush off dirt, rest and re-center. Even essential soft toys and blankets can be kept relatively clean.

A note about size. The sand mats are not light and fast. They are a little bulky and heavy. The largest size took up significant space in our rigging plan for the raft. But for car camping and rafting trips, especially with high impact groups, they’re worth their weight in guilt-free leave no trace practices and dirt management.