Archive for the ‘gear’ Category

Upcycling Myself an Insulated Skirt

DSC_0116While I’ve heard of insulated skirts, I have never actually seen one in person.  It doesn’t SOUND like a practical piece of gear, but I’ve come to believe that warm hind quarters and haunches are of the utmost importance.  Being a girl born of the wild and wooly north, I’ve had my fair share of frigid forays into the unwelcoming winter, always resulting in the familiar sting of frozen thighs.  The remedy?  A cozy insulted skirt.  Yes, long johns would work as well, but they are a pain to get under my jeans and a complete wardrobe change must be had when my destination has been reached.  An insulated skirt would be a perfect quick change for all sorts of activities…think skating, cross-country skiing, commutes to work.  Let your imagination take your warm buns where it will.

After convincing myself that I MUST procure this indefectable wonder of warmth, one small detail remained.  Where to get my hands on a reasonably priced insulated skirt.  I could order one off of the internet, but which to choose? How to compare? How to fit it? And how to afford it?  I decided that I would make one.  I could knit one up or maybe sew one from fleece.  Both good ideas, but I wanted water and wind resistance too.  I wasn’t prepared to devote too much time and effort, so I decided to upcycle an old piece…repurpose a neglected vest.  I could have used a jacket or some old snowpants, but this vest suited me perfectly and it matches my jeans to boot.

Here is how I did it and how you can do it too!

1) After you pick your piece, decide how long you’d like it.  I had to remove some pockets because they fell smack dab in the middle of my project.  Be brave and cut.  DSC_0099

2) Measure your waist as well as where the waist will be on your skirt.  Find the difference between the two.  This will be how much you will need to “tuck” into your waist darts.  My skirt was 42″ and I wanted a finished waist of 32″ (make it roomy to fit layers under it).  I had to reduce by 10″.DSC_0102

3) I made four new tucks as well as tucking the existing side seams.  Each tuck reduced the waist by 2″ and each side seam by 1″.  I pinned the material so the layers of insulation wouldn’t shift and then I sewed, doubling back the stitching at both the beginning and the ends.  Tucks must be made to both the lining AND the face fabric.  I made all of the reductions from the side seams and back of the waist, leaving the front of the waist flat.  This makes for a more flattering front AND provides shaping for your backside.DSC_0103

4) After trying on for fit, I ran a line of stitching all along the top to hold all of the layers of fabric together.

5) With the remaining fabric from the vest, I cut strips (I had to use three) to make bias binding.  DSC_0106

6) Sew the bias tape onto the waist to hide all of the rough edges.  Make sure to wrap the tape over the top of the zipper so the zipper slider can’t fall off.DSC_0108

7) Enjoy your new skirt!DSC_0112

Time invested: 2 hours

Money invested: $0

Warmth achieved: pure toasty-ness





Do You Know What I’d Like to Do?

Oh that familiar line of questioning that inevitably lands us smack dab in the middle of our most ambitious adventures.

Just last night I heard those magic words and so a new adventure begins.  Our big hike in Pukaskwa  last spring lit a fire in our tripping bellies.  Our newest plan, hatched by my hubby, will see us clambering over the peaks of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail in Killarney Provincial Park.  Too late in the season to attempt it this year, we plan on tackling it next spring.

Our hike in May of this year has taught us that spring hiking is where it’s at.  While we were plagued by black flies and rain, the temperature was ideal for lugging heavy packs and scaling steep slopes.  While we have visited Killarney many many times, it has always been by canoe.  We did get a small taste of La Cloche when we climbed silver peak in 2011.  It was much harder than we anticipated, but with Pukaskwa under our belts, we’re not concerned whether the boys can do it or not.  We KNOW they can!
We are looking at a 7-10 day route covering 100km and I can’t imagine that we can get our packs any lighter than last time (I’m looking at you Thermarest Neoair XLite, the love of my tripping life), but the boys will be that much bigger and stronger (I picked up a 55 litre pack for Luke!) so Fraser and I will get a little bit of a break on this hike…phew!  We can’t wait and now that I’ve officially agreed to another serious hike after vowing that Pukaskwa was my last (don’t worry, I always swear off tripping after a tough one…lol!) I’ve been told that there are no take-backs.

And the boys, how do they feel about lacing up the hikers again?  Zach says he only wishes that it could be harder.  He wants to set another record.  That’s my boy.

Seasonally Challenged?

The air is cool and full of the damp smell of decay. I’ve spent the morning digging through my basement in search of the sock bin that’s been snubbed for the last four months in favour of sandals. In my humble opinion, the best time of year has finally arrived. It’s fall and along with all of the fabulous smells and sights comes the best time for getting outside.

Don’t let the cooler wet weather keep you and the family inside. With the right gear and clothing, the “off-season” out-of-doors has so much to offer. Pumpkins and apple pies, a couple of wheels rolling over crunchy colourful leaves, evening thunderstorms and early morning misty paddles, these are a few of my favourite things. It’s time to triple up friends with a base layer, mid-layer and wind/rain jacket combo. These will keep you covered from the cold break of dawn through the warm sun breaking through in the afternoon and then back again. Light gloves and a cute hat are invaluable for keeping in the cosy and take up almost no room in your pack or pockets, so be sure to bring some along on your adventures.

Whatever your excursion of choice, be prepared with the right gear. Whether running, cycling, or just walking the dog, remember that night is coming sooner these days and even your commute home could get a little dark. Bring your lights and reflectors and make sure that you can be seen. Staying out overnight? Bring a tarp, a cozy sleeping bag and a full-fly tent and be prepared to fix hot meals and drinks to keep up your comfort level and your spirits.

Now that you’re ready for the weather, get out there and enjoy the changing seasons. And don’t forget to find those socks…you’re gonna need them.

Last Minute Late Nights

It happens every trip.  We think that we’re prepared but we find ourselves up into the wee hours putting together the last-minute details.  Yes we’re still adding to our packs and we are supposed to hit the road in seven hours.  Just par for the course.  Sleepy starts…

As long as I’m up, I thought I’d share what our packs weighed in at for our Algonquin Park 20 day canoe trip launch:

Food barrel #1 – 59lbs

Food barrel #2 – 32lbs

Dry bag #1 – 35lbs

Dry bag #2 (Zach’s pack) – 21lbs

Luke’s pack – 31lbs

Day pack – 15lbs

Canoe #1 – 51lbs

Canoe #2 – 61lbs

We will be carrying (at least to start) 305lbs of gear, food and boats…plus pfd’s, 5 paddles and the fresh food that hasn’t found its way from the fridge into a barrel yet.  No small feat.  It’s going to be hard, but it’s going to be wonderful.  If you’d like to follow our progress, check out our SPOT page to watch our progress real-time and follow my tweets on our Facebook page too.  See you in a few weeks!


Obstacles = Success on Algonquin Hike

The boys are back from their hike in Algonquin Provincial Park. It was a resounding success. While Zach seemed to find the first section tiring, his enthusiasm was reignited when the hiking got MORE difficult! Luke also found that what they referred to on the trip as “obstacles” made the hiking more interesting and took their minds off of their pack loads. Deadfall on the trail, uphills and giant mud puddles traversed by balancing on logs were far more fun than the boring old straight aways.

The weather was perfect and the report back from Fraser was that the gear we have set the boys up with worked perfectly. Zach rocked his new Deuter Fox 30 backpack and Luke took along his trusty MEC Big Squeeze. Both boys were in new hiking boots as well. While they’ve been breaking in them in for a while now, this was the first real hike that they were tested out on and there were no complaints. Luke sported Keen Targhee II Mid’s and Zach’s Timberland’s provided blister free comfortable feet.

With our longest and most challenging hike to date just short of three weeks away, my mind is now at ease that our boys are well prepared and looking forward to the fun. And there won’t be any lack of obstacles in Pukaskwa, the terrain will be one challenge after another. So obstacles beware, we’re coming to get ya!

Now THAT’S an obstacle!

I Said Zip It!

It can sometimes be a slog, trying to fill your days in the off-season.  This winter has been a bit of a bust in the snowsports department and spring seems so far away.  In my house, we just drag around looking at maps and planning future trips.  Quite frankly I’m tired of looking for things to do.  I know what I SHOULD be doing, but it’s hard to get motivated.  What drives me though, is that I don’t want to be one of those people who drops into a shop the day before a trip begging for help to fix an important piece of gear that has been put away all winter.  Why do we wait until the last-minute to deal with maintaining and repairing our gear?  Because it isn’t fun, it isn’t glamorous and it isn’t on our minds until we need it.  Well I’m here to tell you that this is the perfect time to go through your stash and pull out all of the pieces that need a  make-over.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but I actually used to work in a gear repair shop.  I was a seamstress for many years and have repaired so many jackets, tents and sleeping bags that I’ve lost count.  Not to mention that in my day job, I fix any number of pieces from stoves to water filters and everything in between.  You can trust that I’ve seen a lot over my decades of gear repair, so I thought that I might share a few simple repairs that you can do for yourself at home.

Lets start with one that I see on almost a daily basis.  The best part of this repair is that it seems difficult, but is in reality super easy and puts a useless piece back into rotation within minutes.  Lets talk zippers.  I know far more about zippers than any one person should.  I could put so much information into this post that it would cloud the simplicity of the repair, so I’ll try to keep it simple.  There basically two kinds of zippers…coil, which are made of a continuous pieces of thin plastic wrapped into, well, a coil, and then stitched to the fabric with a straight row of thread.  The second is a tooth zip, where individual teeth made of either metal or plastic are attached to the fabric.  You likely won’t find metal teeth on modern gear as they can corrode with exposure to the elements.  Coil zips are most often used when it is sewn around a curve like a backpack because they stay aligned regardless of the curve.  Teeth are independent little creatures that can go their own way when curved, so they are reserved for things like jackets where the zippers stay relatively straight.   A lot of technical jackets also use coil zip, particularly if they are made of lightweight material and need small gauge zippers.

coil zipper on the left, teeth on the right

The number one most common problem with zippers…SPLITTING.  What I mean by this is that when the slider (the pull or handle if you will) is pulled the zipper reopens behind it.  Zippers usually split when the slider is worn out.  If the slider is dealt with quickly, you are good to go.  If it is left too long, it in turn damages the teeth or coil and the whole zip needs to be replaced, so act quickly.

A slider wears in two ways…it runs over obstacles like dirt, or getting caught in the fabric and its back-end starts to become splayed out…it becomes too wide on its back side.  Secondly, from continuously running over the teeth/coil, a small groove gets worn into the inside of the slider.  In both cases, the box that usually meshes the two sides of the zipper together becomes more spacious than it once was and in turn doesn’t marry the two sides together the way it should.  A quick fix?  Try pinching the back of the slider (hint: the back is  flat while the front is rounded) with some pliers gently making that box smaller again.  This will help until you can replace the slider.  If you can find the parts, replacing the slider is an easy job to do yourself  if the zipper is in a jacket or sleeping bag as these zippers come completely apart and are not sewn in on both ends like backpacks.  Simply pull or snip off the zipper stop (little bits of metal or plastic at the top of the zip, NOT the piece that the sliders sit on when the zipper is undone) and pull the old slider off.  Put on the new slider and pinch on an aftermarket stop.  It really is that easy.  The tricky part is finding and choosing the correct replacement parts.  Most alteration places (try your dry cleaners), repair shops or fabric stores should have a selection of the most common sizes and should be able to advise you which one you will need.  If not, you can cannibalize a new zipper for the parts.  This is still a much cheaper option than having a repair shop do the work for you.

top stops on jackets. clip these off to remove slider, but don't damage the fabric.

How to tell what kind of slider you need.

There are usually numbers and letters printed on either the back or lead (nose) of your slider.  Simply copy them to get the right fit.  Standard size for a jacket 5.  Standard size for a sleeping bag 8.  Coil sliders will have a C after the number.  Sometimes they will have other letters, but these don’t affect the use, they usually denote things like what they slider is made out of (for example an N means it’s nickel).  Tooth sliders will have either a V or a VS.  As a general rule V and VS are not interchangeable (although sometimes poorly manufactured ones are).  V’s have more of a rounded nose and VS’s are more heart shaped.

5CN zip left, 5VS zip right

Just to make things more complicated, modern construction has seen designers sewing coil zips in backwards.  That means the coil that was once visible from the outside is now sewn facing the inside.  This makes for a cleaner look and more water and abrasion resistance, but it also adds another element to the slider mix.  Teeth occupy the same amount of space on both the top and the bottom of the fabric that they are attached to, so the slider can face both inside or out and it will work just fine.  Coil zips have the teeth sewn onto only one side of the fabric and the other side is simply flat.  Because of this, there is a right and wrong side to the slider.  Depending on which way your zipper is sewn, you have to get either a regular or a reverse pull slider.  If you choose the wrong one, the handle that you pull on will be on the inside of your coat!

top slider is a reverse coil, bottom is a tooth

Your zipper still occasionally but not always splits from the BOTTOM and the jacket is too new for it to be worn out.

Okay, here is the most likely reason.  Tooth zippers will only do up when they are properly aligned.  If you haven’t put the pin on one side all the way into the box at the bottom of the other, it just won’t move.  This is where you try again and everything is good with the world.  Coil zips are not so agreeable.  Or really, they are too agreeable.  Even if you haven’t lined up the pieces correctly, the zipper slider will still pull up.  This leaves a mismatch of teeth and they will split open when give a good tug.  So the answer is…YOU DIDN’T DO YOUR ZIPPER UP PROPERLY.  There is nothing actually wrong with it.

the coil zipper was done up incorrectly allowing it to split from the bottom

Your daypack zip is splitting.

Sorry folks, you are out of luck.  The number one complaint of daypack owners is that the zipper isn’t working.  Well, the tighter a curve sewn into a zipper, the faster it wears out.  Unfortunately it is a moving part and after running over and over the stitching holding down the coil, that stitching wears off.  It is not the sign of an inferior zip, it’s all about how many times that poor stitching can take your punishment.  The tighter the curve, the harder that slider is rubbing on the thread holding it on.  Once the stitching has rubbed off completely in a spot, the coil can pull away from the fabric, it then gets distorted and the slider can completely pull free of it, causing it pop off one of the sides.  Sound familiar?  Yeah, that’s because if something else doesn’t kill your pack first, this will happen in 100% of cases 100% of the time.  This is just how these zippers wear out.  You can have the whole zipper replaced (it’s very expensive) or you can just call it a night and replace the whole pack.  It was time for a change anyway, right?

There.  I hope that wasn’t too much information to swallow.  Believe me, I could go on and on.  I do hope though, that this helps save some of your precious gear.  If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line.

Past Tents…An Adventure in Classic Camping

Last night I hatched a completely ridiculous plan. Fraser was telling me about how horribly out of date one of our Algonquin tripping books was with its references to travelling shoes and canvas tents. We giggled about its advice to bring moccasins for in-camp comfort and other old-fashioned notions. I admit that in the best of conditions, I wouldn’t mind bringing mine along, but…not super practical otherwise. And it’s been almost 20 years since I’ve hauled a wanigan on trip. It was nearly in the same breath that I expressed how much easier modern camping is, that I pronounced it might be educational if not downright kooky fun to plan and execute an authentic old-school camping trip.

It will mean collecting all sorts of impractical gear and researching retired camping methods. I’m pricing out canvas tents and wool bed rolls, tin plates and canteens. The pictures are going to be priceless! Fraser insists that this must be a fair weather trip and we are both worried about a cold and rainy night turning my experiment into a soupy disaster. I can’t wait! I’m talking vintage Pendleton shirts and red laced 15lb boots. I’m picturing sitting around with a coffee pot in the fire and a lantern to find our way at night. It’s going to be epic!

And so I’m sending out the call…does anyone have some treasures hidden in their basement or attic? Do the folks still have their old gear packed away in the garage just waiting to see the light of day again? If you can help me out, I’d love to borrow or adopt your fabulous vintage gear and give it new life. Spread the word… we’re going olde timey camping!


Does This Mean I’m a Grown-Up?

Fraser sprung it on me a few weeks ago. It wasn’t good news. I’ve always fancied myself as a “cool” person.  I won’t admit that to many people. I confess, I’m vain. Unfortunately my progeny have adopted my hipster tendencies, refusing to wear anything dorky in favor of skinny jeans secured with studded belts.

I was casually informed that my trendy tendencies would have to fall by the wayside come next summer. We are embarking on a three-week canoe trip with the kids complete with 49 portages (so far) and days packed with long stretches on the water. We’re gonna have to get some proper sun hats, I was told. Baseball hats aren’t gonna cut it for a three-week summer trip. What?! At best I’ll sport a beat up trucker hat or my overpriced, pre-abused straw cowboy hat (I won’t even tell you what I paid for it to come with an “authentic” frayed brim). How will I be able to look at myself in a mirror sporting one of those wide-brimmed, side-snapped numbers I swore I’d never wear? Simple, where we’re going there are no mirrors.

I suppose I have to admit that I’ve arrived at a place in my life where it’s time to make choices based on different criteria. I can’t  be the teenager standing at the bus stop with my coat open and no hat or mitts in sub-zero temperatures. I’m the mom and it’s my job to set a good example. Ugh. Did I just say that? We can’t risk getting burns or heat-stroke, so I’ve launched my search for the perfect hat. I’m starting now to give myself plenty of time to get used to the idea.

So which hat to choose? There is the safari style, the oiled canvas, the waterproof tripper, the one with the embroidered flowers, or maybe a built-in bug net?  So many choices.  Whichever one I finally decide on, I have every intention of making it look good. I’ll add it to my tendency toward socks with sandals and shorts over long underwear while on trip and I’m going to have to admit that I’m a full-on camper. I predict that camper cool is gonna be the next “it” thing though and I’m going to rock it. And if it doesn’t catch on? At least I can rest easy in the knowledge that my boys and I won’t spend our nights peeling burnt skin off of each others noses. And I take comfort in the fact that there wont be any evidence of my leap into the responsible. I’m the photographer 😉

Wifi in Provincial Parks

So I got a message the other day from a writer at  She asked if she could interview me about camping and technology.  Sure I thought.  No biggy.  Our conversation was casual and friendly and I didn’t think much about it again.  Well, a friend just tweeted me a link to the article.  It did indeed capture my personal feelings about using wifi in the park…I wouldn’t.  I’m an old-fashioned camper and I’d rather just enjoy being alone with my family while I’m out there. Of course I was being asked whether I would take advantage of that technology myself, not whether I thought  it should be disallowed…

Well who knew that so many people would get worked up about something like this!  The comments went on and on.  Why is it that folks that comment on articles are always so angry?  I guess it’s because they must feel super strongly one way or the other, or they wouldn’t bother adding their two cents.  I can’t think of many things that I feel THAT strongly about, certainly not where strangers should be using their phones and laptops… Anyway, comments seemed to be split  pretty evenly for and against.  For the record, I am neither for NOR against. And although I would personally not partake of the internet out there,  I can appreciate a lot of the comments that were in the “for access” camp.  Here are some of the things I said (quite possibly not word for word) that didn’t end up in the article…

I backcountry camp and rarely run into other people.  If they were accessing the internet, it wouldn’t affect me at all.  To each his own.

I think getting into the park and having to do a little bit of work, is better than not getting into the park at all.  It’s a shame that some people aren’t able to fully get away and experience it work-free, but I can understand that is the reality for some.

I will be getting a Spot (personal tracker satellite gps messenger) next year for our three-week trip so that I can contact emergency services if something goes awry.  Satellite phones are prohibitively expensive, so if the Spot technology wasn’t available, I’d definitely want to be able to use my phone if I had to.  Wifi would be helpful in that instance.

I guess what I’m saying is, wifi is fine with me, I just wouldn’t choose to use it myself.  And for those that say just use self-control… anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I have no self-control.  I can’t just eat one chip, I have to eat the whole bag.  I can’t add just one picture to Facebook, I’d be on my iPhone all day long!  So if wifi hits my favourite park in the future, I’ll be leaving my phone at home.  I don’t care if you do or not.

I Saw London, I Saw France…

the tripper 16' out the doors at nova craft and onto our jeep

So I’ve been asked what the mystery trip to London was all about.  Because I’ve made you wait so long, it seems like it should be something super exciting.  Well, it was exciting to me, but not as exciting as all of the guesses you threw out!  Fraser and I went to London to pick up our new canoe direct from the Nova Craft shop.

Here is a link to a piece that I wrote about the experience… enjoy!


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