Archive for the ‘tips’ Category

The Smaller the Better – When to Introduce Kids to the Backcountry

I was just having a conversation with a friend about when the best time to start backcountry camping with the kids is.  I’ve sort of touched on this before, but the conversation has inspired me to address it again.  In my opinion, the younger the better.  I haven’t read any studies on this topic, but based on my experience with my boys, this is why I think they have taken to it so readily.  Keep in mind that getting your kids out whatever their age is important and beneficial, so don’t be discouraged if you’ve waited to do it!  Also…safety first.  Don’t get yourself and the kids in over your heads.  Start slowly and build to epic…don’t just jump right in 😉

Camping in the snow with uncle Scott…age 6.

1) They don’t know any different (suckers).

When my guys think of fun and recreational activities, their minds don’t (often) wander to movies or theme parks.  They don’t lust after luxury rooms in fancy hotels or exotic foods from exotic places (except sushi of course, but who doesn’t?).  They dream of the backcountry because that is what they equate with fun and family.  Before they could even talk, they could trip.

2) They measure themselves with a tripping yardstick.

When they were little, they were told that they were too small to do some things like paddle the canoe or carry the portage pack.  As

Setting up the tent…ages 2 and 5

they have grown, they have taken on greater responsibilities and challenges and it makes them feel grown up.  They keep wanting to go back to prove to themselves and to us just how far they’ve come.

3) They still think you’re the coolest (because I am).

You think the backcountry is awesome and they think you are awesome.  When they are little, the sun rises and sets with you so they love what you love.  It’s a great big love fest.

4) Exercise.

This one is self-explanatory.  Active youngin’s turn into active teens who become active adults. No arm twisting necessary.

5) It impresses their friends.

When the boys are well versed in first aid, how to do boat rescues, get to start fires, when they’ve learned how to fight off bears and they get knives for their birthdays, they are the talk of the schoolyard…in a good way.

6) It’s hard to get them down.

Little ones put far less pressure on themselves to get things right the first time (relative to angsty teens who take a “who cares” stance when they don’t master something on the first try).  Sure they can get discouraged.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve certainly seen backcountry tantrums and tears.  The older the kid though, the quicker they are to give up on a task that makes them feel weak or slow or is difficult and seen as not being fun.

7) Everything is fun.

Teenagers think everything is boring and beneath them.  Little ones think everything is fun.  Plain and simple.  A two-year old will collect rocks and dig in the dirt with a stick for hours.  They will happily gather firewood, or peg tents or fetch water because everything is a game.  Teenagers will sit on a log staring off into space and occasionally grunt that “this sucks”.

8) Dirt.

Little guys naturally want to play in the dirt.  Give them a chance and they won’t get all squeamish about getting their hands or clothes

Swimming in Algonquin ages 2 and 5

dirty.  Sitting on the ground, wiping their hands on their pants and picking bugs out of their food before chowing down are all things best taught early. Exposure to dirty stuff helps build a strong immunity and keeps your kids healthier in the long run.

9) Community.

The outdoor community is an awesome one.  Friendly like-minded folks hanging out and going on trips together or simply sharing tips and ideas.  But nobody likes being the new kid in class, I mean where are am I going to sit?  I won’t know anybody!  Start them young and they will make life-long friends and tripping buddies.  It’s harder to break into a group that’s already got history and a couple of trips under their belts.

10) Never too much of a good thing.

Getting your kids outside for exercise and fresh air is good for them.  Nurturing a connection to the environment and a sense of empathy for nature and its creatures is good for them.  Spending time as a family without the distractions and trappings of the city is good for them.  Nurturing a family bond that will hold up under the pressure of daily quibbles and bigger squabbles is good for them (and you).  If all of this is good for them, then the longer they get to do it, the better!

There you have it.  When should you introduce your kids to the backcountry?  RIGHT NOW!  Don’t wait, no excuses, take them out and take them often.  By the time they’re “big” they’ll be superstars of the outdoors and happy, healthy, well-rounded nature-lovers.  Who wouldn’t want that for their kids?

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.

A Bucket List For Kids…

I’ve been making reference to the National Trust’s list of “50 Things to do Before You’re 11 3/4” kid’s bucket list a lot lately. Everyone wants to know what’s on the list, but to see it you have to sign-up on their website and quite frankly it’s a bit of a hassle. So here is the list for quick reference. Try to check off as many things with your kids as you can before the warm weather is gone again. Enjoy!

1. Climb a tree

2. Roll down a really big hill

3. Camp out in the wild

4. Build a den

5. Skim a stone

6. Run around in the rain

7. Fly a kite

8. Catch a fish with a net

9. Eat an apple straight from a tree

10. Play conkers

11. Throw some snow

12. Hunt for treasure on the beach

13. Make a mud pie

14. Dam a stream

15. Go sledging

16. Bury someone in the sand

17. Set up a snail race

18. Balance on a fallen tree

19. Swing on a rope swing

20. Make a mud slide

21. Eat blackberries growing in the wild

22. Take a look inside a tree

23. Visit an island

24. Feel like you’re flying in the wind

25. Make a grass trumpet

26. Hunt for fossils and bones

27. Watch the sun wake up

28. Climb a huge hill

29. Get behind a waterfall

30. Feed a bird from your hand

31. Hunt for bugs

32. Find some frogspawn

33. Catch a butterfly in a net

34. Track wild animals

35. Discover what’s in a pond

36. Call an owl

37. Check out the crazy creatures in a rock pool

38. Bring up a butterfly

39. Catch a crab

40. Go on a nature walk at night

41. Plant it, grow it, eat it

42. Go wild swimming

43. Go rafting

44. Light a fire without matches

45. Find your way with a map and a compass

46. Try bouldering

47. Cook on a campfire

48. Try abseiling

49. Find a geocache

50. Canoe down a river

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.

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 😉

Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?

I’m afraid that I’m going to incur the wrath of some with this next statement… I’m so glad that the summer has come to a close.

A gorgeous drive home from Algonquin

Summers can be hectic times.  Schedules are all thrown out of whack.  The kids are off from school and the house becomes a giant clubhouse filled with stinky boys and all of their toys.  And the heat! My god I hate the heat.  My time of year is Fall.  I’m in my element in the Fall.  It must come as no surprise then, that my favourite time of the year for tripping is upon us.  Cozy fleece jackets and bug free nights around a warm fire.  Hot chocolate and frosty mornings.  I’ve been checking out the Fall leaf report for Algonquin, and the leaves they are a changin’.  Break out the calendar, it’s time to start counting down the days to our annual September trip to Algonquin, ye ha!

The view from our canoe access site September 2010 – Algonquin

Next weekend we are heading up for a fun-filled get-away in the park.  We are going to canoe in to a site on Rock Lake for a night and then paddle over to the other side of the lake the next day to meet up with some of Fraser’s family including his folks.  It couldn’t be more convenient.  Rock Lake has both canoe access and car access so visitors of all skill levels and interest can enjoy it together.  It’s become a tradition.  It’s a nice laid back affair with some solitude to launch the trip and family and friends to wrap it up.  Fraser’s mom and dad always cook up a storm and I’m looking forward to bacon and eggs and fried mushrooms and steaks and homemade jam and pies and I’m bringing s’more fixings.  It’s going to be a blast.

Even Lambie needs a sweater in September – Algonquin

So what makes “shoulder” season tripping different from summer trips?  The weather of course.  The thermometer may say 10c but it feels much cooler when it was 30c just last week.  Bring warm clothes, a warm sleeping bag and if possible, plan for cooked meals and hot drinks.  Once a chill sets in, it’s hard to warm up your body and you want to be comfortable.  Also, only the bravest of souls will be

swimming for entertainment, so plan to spend your days participating in other activities.  How about hiking, leaf collecting, art projects, photo shoots, reading…eating?  Personally, I like to take up some yarn and knit up a small project.  I’ve already got a bunch of lovely knitted items named for the parks that they were made in.  I plan on making an Algonquin leaf scarf on this trip.  I swear I’m a lot cooler than I come off in this post!

The Saroyan Scarf – photo and pattern by Liz Abinante http://www.feministy.com

My point is this… Don’t put away your paddles just yet.  Canoeing season isn’t over until the ice is on the lake.  In fact, we have plans to squeeze in another trip to the park before it’s time to trade in our pfd’s for skis.  Stay tuned.

File Under F for Fun

I’m sure everybody’s post trip routine is different.  Ours goes a little something like this… unload the car and put some, but not all of the gear away.  Who’s got enough energy for a full clean up?  The rest lives in the dining room for a few weeks.  We all just pretend not to see it.  Next, I rush over to my computer and plug in the memory cards from my camera.  I love taking pictures.  I usually have at least 600 of them. Yeah, I know… it’s a tad bit excessive.  Then the best part, I troll through the pics and select the best of the best.  I don’t always choose the most beautiful.  I pick out the funniest and most memorable moments and I take note of the number that has been assigned to them.  Finally, I go to one of those photobook websites and I upload all of the keepers.

i think this one is a keeper – killarney mini island

We have a lot of book shelves in our house and when those all got filled up, books began piling up on dressers and desks and even the floor.  But our trip photo books have a special home in our coffee table alongside our collection of Kevin Callan’s wisdom.  It’s fun to show them off to guests, but we get the most pleasure out of poring over them ourselves.  Reliving past trips in the down time between them keeps all of the memories fresh in our minds and inspires future conquests.  We sometimes stumble on the kids giggling over the pictures, having pulled out the books in lieu of staring at the tv.  You can’t beat that.

So having just arrived home and characteristically dumping some gear next to the dining table, it’s time to go and make this years book of the family trip to Killarney.

some of our family photo books

%d bloggers like this: