The Best Short Hikes Near Calgary

These scenic hikes are all 4 km or less round trip and less than 1 hr from Calgary.

The Ultimate Car Camping Pack List

Everything you need for an awesome camping trip!

Tips for Fun Family Backpacking

Family Backpacking 101 - what to pack, where to go...

Discover Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site

Go back in time and live like a trapper at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, only 2 hours from Calgary.

Why you should visit Writing on Stone Provincial Park

Hoodoos, beaches, and paddling! Need I say more?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What to Look for in a Kid's Bike (3-7 years old)

If you want your kids to fall in love with cycling, you need to start them on the right bikes. Ideally, you would start them on a balance bike around two years old, then graduate to a pedal bike as soon as they are ready. For some children, bike readiness can occur at the age of 3; for others, it may not happen until closer to five years old.

A light bike lets kids ride off trail and up hills with ease.
Here, Big POG enjoys riding the Woom 2.
So, which bike is best? First things first, I always recommend you buy the lightest bike you can afford that fits your child. If your child's bike is too heavy, she will have a hard time maneuvering and getting up hills, and will not be able to ride for very long before being thoroughly frustrated and exhausted. Consider that a five pound difference in weight between a mid-priced and cheap bike is 17% of a 30 pound child's weight, and that 22 pound bike you are looking at is 73% of her weight! Would you ride an 88 pound bike (assuming you were 120 pounds)?? A lighter bike is not only easier to control, and easier to ride up hills, it is also a lot more fun to ride. While my oldest learned on a heavy $5 garage sale bike (because we could not find an affordable 12" bike), she really took off when we upgraded to a much lighter bike (below). 

Big POG and the Spawn Banshee (16")
Other important bike buying considerations follow:
  • Geometry
    • a) The right size of bike is just as important here as the angle of the top tube. Look for a low stand over height for safety and confidence. Can your child get on and off the bike easily (and safely)? 
    • b) The top tube should be long enough to allow comfortable riding. When pedalling, her knees should not go higher than her hips.
    • c) Check out the handlebar height. When seated on the bike, is your child leaning forward, or sitting upright? While you may like low handlebars on your road bike, kids are more comfortable and better balanced when they are sitting upright. Look for higher handlebars, or adjustable handlebars. 
    • d) Sitting low (low centre of gravity) and upright makes it easier to balance and thereby makes learning to ride a bike easier. Get your child to try a few bikes at the same time so you can see what looks and feels best.
The Woom 2's 70 degree seat tube angle and 38.5 cm top tube
makes for an upright sitting position and low centre of gravity. 
  • Size - Kids' bike sizes are dictated by wheel size. The most common wheel sizes are 12", 14", 16", 20" and 24". Check with the manufacturer regarding recommended bike size for your child's height. Typically, 12" or 14" bikes are good for 3 & 4 year olds, while 16" bikes are good for 4-6/5-7 year olds. 20" bikes are good for 7-9 year olds, but depending on geometry and if your child is big for her age, she may be ready for a 20" bike by 6 years old. A good bike shop will measure your child to ensure the bikes you are considering are not too big or small. 
    • Ideally, when seated on the bike, your child can put both feet on the ground (beginner) or reach the ground standing on her toes. Too small and you risk knee and back injury (make sure knees are not coming up too high when pedalling). Too big and you risk a lot more injuries because your child falls off the bike or can't control it. 
    • Many parents are tempted to buy a bigger bike so it will last longer, but a bike that is too big is heavy and difficult to maneuver. While it is costly to get a new bike every couple years, a high quality bike will retain at least half of its value when you go to resell it. 
WOOM #    

Age1.5 - 4 years3-5 years5-7 years7-9 years9-13 years

85-100 cm
95-110 cm
105-125 cm
120-135 cm
> 130 cm
> 51"
  • Crank arm length and bottom bracket height - If the crank arm (pedal arm) length and bottom bracket (where the pedals attach to the bike) height are tailored for kids, your child's knees should not be coming higher than her hips when pedalling. While watching your child pedal, make sure her knees are pointing straight forward (and not sticking out to the sides).
At 107 cm, Big POG can comfortably ride the Woom 2 (above), Woom 3, or Spawn Banshee (below).
  • Coaster Brakes or Hand Brakes? As soon as your child is able, get her using hand brakes. Coaster brakes are downright dangerous, especially when mountain biking. It is far safer for kids to use hand brakes or simply put their feet down on the ground than try to back pedal to stop. They could also accidentally hit the brakes when riding downhill (if using coaster brakes), then end up flipping over. For more information, read here. Teach your children how to use the brakes properly (don't just hit the front brakes!) to avoid endos (flying over the handlebars).
  • Front and rear hand brakes (v-brakes) with kid-sized hand grips -  Ensure your child can comfortably reach and squeeze the brakes. High end name brands have specially-designed grips and brake levers that are made for small hands. Brakes should be easy to squeeze - try a few different ones to see which work best for your child. There is a huge difference between makes!
The hand grips are narrow and the distance to the brake levers is short.
  • Front or full suspension? Suspension adds a lot of weight, so only get it when your kids are big enough to need it (in other words, doing real mountain biking). If you mountain bike frequently and can afford front suspension, it makes for a more comfortable ride, but keep in mind that younger kids' bikes come with wide tires that absorb a lot of shock relative to their low weight, so they do not feel as many bumps as we would on a bike without front suspension. Front suspension is available on some bikes size 20" and up, but I wouldn't recommend it until you get to 24" to give your child the advantage of a lighter bike for as long as possible (again, unless you actually mountain bike!). Full suspension is overkill, heavy, and not necessary for most cyclists, including adults, unless they are downhilling. 
Extras You Do Not Need to Pay For
  • Training Wheels - Please do not let your child use training wheels; they do not teach your child to balance and prolong the learning period. The most pain-free way to learn to ride a bike is on a balance bike. Check out my introduction to balance bikes here
    • Kick stand - I used to think kick stands were a necessity, but have been converted by my hubby who says kickstands are just extra weight. Also, since most do not work that well, more often than not, the bike falls over when it gets bumped resulting in a bruised kid or scratched bike when the bike falls down. It is better to keep bike weight down and lie your bike on the ground (chain side up) or park it in a bike rack.
    • Chain Guard - A chainguard is useful in keeping grease off of pants, but is not a dealbreaker. If I were looking a light bike with no chain guard or heavy bike with a chain guard, I would choose the light bike without hesitation. As a kid, I never had a bike with a chain guard, rode my bike almost every day, and never hurt myself. My children also have never had a problem with their chain guard free bikes other than getting a bit greasy from time to time. 
    The Woom 2 (red) and Woom 1 (blue)
    After considerable research, we found that Woom, Spawn, Kokua, and Isla make the best kids' bikes. We are proud owners of a Woom 3, Spawn Banshee, Kokua Like to Bike, MEC Dash, and Specialized Hotrock, and have tested the Woom 1 & 2. If Woom, Spawn, Kokua, and Isla are out of your desired price range, I would highly recommend the MEC Dash, or looking for any of the above used. 

    Update April 2016: Frog Bikes are new to the market and are light and slightly less expensive than the other top brands. Stay tuned for a review later this year!

    More Information

    Woom 1 Balance Bike Review
    Woom 2 (14") & Woom 3 (16") Review
    Spawn, Kokua & MEC 16" Bike Reviews coming soon

    Friday, April 24, 2015

    Go Yell It On The Mountain (or How to Avoid Getting Lost)

    The air was still and the forest was closing in around us. We had long lost the trail, but pressed on in a southeasterly direction, hoping to connect with the trail or access road. Moving forward, step by cautious step, and hollering "Heeeeeey Beeaaarrr!" from time to time, we froze when we heard an answering sound nearby. Was it a moose or a bear warning us to keep our distance? Hard to tell with all the crunching of leaves and twigs underfoot. I unhooked my bear spray, removed the safety, and directed my friend away from the thicket the mystery beast sound had emitted from. Now we headed due south, not where we wanted to be, but where we needed to be at that moment in time. 

    While I was annoyed by the whole situation, my friend panicked. After berating me for our predicament, she started yelling, "You need to call someone to RESCUE us! Right now! Call someone so they know where we are!! We need to be rescued!!" After calling my husband to let him know we were bushwhacking on the south side of the mountain and would be late for dinner, I calmed myself knowing we were no more than 1-1.5 kilometres off course, and had about three hours of daylight left. 

    After what felt like an eternity, we made it back to the car with scratched legs and bruised egos. Our unintended detour had only cost us an extra hour on the trail, but was a good reminder of the dangers of "dayhike mentality" (Rich Johnson's Guide to Wilderness Survival).

    The summit register says "Jesus loves you!" but somehow we still got lost. 

    What Went Wrong? 

    A number of things went wrong on this moderate scramble:
    1. My friend took off ahead of me down the scree run, west of where we should have made our descent. Not wanting to lose her, I followed her into a snow filled gully.
    2. Our best option would have been to go back above tree line and find another way down, but we were too lazy to regain elevation, and my hiking buddy didn't have the footwear to go through snow, so we veered southeast through the trees (toward the parking lot) and hoped we would rejoin the trail. 
    3. Since I had done the hike before, I had assumed we wouldn't get lost and hadn't taken the precautions I take in unfamiliar territory or longer trips. I had a detailed topographic map, but no compass. Once we were below tree line, it was hard to navigate by sight.
    4. There was cell phone reception, but both of us had low batteries, so we held off on using the phones for navigation (in case we needed to make an emergency phone call). When we finally checked our coordinates, we were on the right track and only 1 km from the car. I will be sure to carry a compass and backup phone charger next time! 

    How Can You Avoid Getting Lost (and Yelled At)?

    • Pay attention to landmarks, especially at unmarked junctions, or where the trail is undefined (on slab and scree, above treeline). If you're on and out and back trail, look back once in a while so you will recognize landmarks on your return. Things look different from a different direction. Also, your compass will  not know there is a turbulent river or cliff between you and your destination, so it is important to be aware of the terrain you are traversing.
      • Good landmarks are geographical features that are unique and easy to recognize like bodies of water, canyons, man made structures (bridges, roads, towns in the distance, etc.), interesting trees.
    • Follow the leader (within reason). If your hiking buddy has done the hike before and you have not, follow her. This does not mean you should be oblivious to your surroundings however. Make mental note of landmarks and question your trip leader if you think you are going the wrong way.
    • Stay on the trail. Sometimes it is hard to know where the "real" trail is when you are on slab or scree (above treeline) or numerous hikers and animals have made multiple trails. Stay on the trail that looks widest and most used. Refer to landmarks, and your map and compass frequently to make sure you're still headed in the right direction.
    • Carry navigational devices on every hike:
      • A detailed topographic map and compass are the best items to bring as they don't require batteries. Compass Dude has instructions on how to read a compass.
      • A GPS with extra batteries is helpful, but even fully charged gadgets can malfunction. You should always pack a compass for backup and know how to use it. 
      • Take a compass bearing from the trailhead pointing towards your car, and/or record your starting waypoint on your GPS.
      • Make sure you are comfortable navigating with a compass and/or GPS unit.
      • If you lose the trail, return to the last known point before you go too far in the wrong direction. Stay calm, get your bearings, and try again. Now would be a good time to get out the GPS or compass. If you need to, find an open area or higher ground so you can determine look for landmarks. After bushwhacking for quite a while, we made our way out of the spruce trees to an aspen forest where we could determined we were headed in the right direction, but too far south of the mountain. Worst case scenario, we would have continued south until we hit the highway, then walked to the parking lot, but getting that glimpse through the trees saved us an extra hour of walking. 
      Always bring a compass and map! 
      I have been lost a few times hiking with others, but fortunately never too far off course to require rescue or an emergency stay in the mountains. My biggest "getting lost" adventure was descending the east side of Grotto where there is no official trail. It was an epic adventure, but we chose to do it and were prepared. Stay tuned for wilderness survival tips in case you have to camp out! 

      Have you ever gotten lost? What happened and how did you make your way back?

      Tuesday, April 21, 2015

      Earth Runners Minimalist Running Sandals Review

      Introducing Earth Runners

      Earth Runners are minimalist running sandals inspired by an ancient huarache design. While the sandal design has been updated with Vibram soles, no-slip laces, and copper grounding inserts, they remain surprisingly simple, light, and comfortable. “Simplicity in the design makes for the ultimate minimalist footwear experience. The lacing system allows for maximum breathability while offering adequate security for nearly any application.” (Earth Runners)

      Earth Runners Alpha X
      Since the Vibram soles offer excellent traction and support, and the straps stay in place, Earth Runners may be used every day for walking, hiking, or running. They are also built to last. These high quality sandals are expected to last 400-800 miles and several happy customers have run marathons in them. 

      "Do anything while staying connected to the earth.”

      What distinguishes Earth Runners from other minimalist sandals is their earthing capability. Earthing, or grounding, was a new concept to me, but I have learned that earthing shoes allow you to reap the benefits of going barefoot – getting the ground feel, sensation of wind in your toes, and health benefit of sharing the electrical potential of the earth - without exposing your feet to natural or street hazards. How do they do this? "Copper inserts and conductive laces ground you electrically by allowing electron transfer from the planet... to your body.” For more information on earthing, please read this page.

      Another fantastic feature of Earth Runners is that you can customize your shoes. Options you can select for your shoes follow:
      • Thickness of tread (6 mm, 8 mm, 10 mm, or 11 mm)
      • Vibram (6 mm, 8 mm or 11 mm) or Birkenstock (10 mm only) tread
      • Bedding: select no bedding and nylon straps for vegan sandals; otherwise select suede bedding
      • Copper inserts or not
      • Laces – leather (fully adjustable, most comfortable for every day use), nylon (fully adjustable, recommended for running), slip-on (more convenient but not as secure as nylon adjustable laces), conductive nylon/leather laces
      • Size. If your feet are an unusual size, Earth Runners will custom make you a pair of sandals! A custom foot trace is only $12 extra!

      I was already in love with my Earth Runner sandals (Alpha X review follows), but loved the company even more when I saw how they give back to the global community. For every ten sandals sold, they will donate a pair to SevaSandals, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing protective footwear to children in India.

      Earth Runners was founded by Michael Dally and is based in the Santa Cruz mountains in California.

      Alpha X Earth Runners Review

      I have always preferred lightweight footwear, and have barefoot runners, so I was thrilled to get the chance to review Earth Runners. As soon as I opened up the package from Earth Runners, my gear hound husband said “Those are awesome!” They reminded us a lot of another brand of sports sandals which are great for paddling, but I think Earth Runners are a lot more comfortable. 

      Since I have extremely sensitive skin, blister prone feet, and suffer from a condition known as shoe contact dermatitis (shoe glues or chemicals in some leathers cause severely itchy rashes), I slowly acquainted myself with my Alpha X sandals just in case. I wore them 15 minutes the first day, indoors, then wore them for an hour, and was pleased to have no reactions.  

      Once our snow melted, I went hiking in my Alpha X Earth Runners. I found the sandals to be incredibly comfortable, which is amazing considering how many shoes give me blisters!

      What I Like
      • The Custom molded 11 mm Vibram Woodstock tread provides plenty of cushion whether you are hiking or running.
      • Excellent traction on dirt trails; I forgot I was wearing sandals.
      • The straps are fully adjustable for a perfect fit, so there were no hot spots to cause blisters. I have worn the sandals all day and hiked several kilometres in them with no discomfort.
      • Light weight!
      What I Would Like to See
      • Conductive inserts would be a nice option (they are currently not available for this model of Earth Runners).
      The Verdict

      I would recommend Earth Runners to anyone looking for light, comfortable, high quality sandals. You can walk, run, or hike in them in comfort. The price point is very fair considering the excellent quality! A complete pair of Earth Runners comes in at slightly less than Birkenstocks, but they offer superior fit and traction with fully adjustable straps and Vibram treads. I will be purchasing a pair of bedding-free Circadians for playing by the beach!

      Where to Buy

      Buy Earth Runners online here (affiliate link - I receive a small portion of sales).


      I received this product for review, but all opinions are my own.

      Have you tried barefoot/minimalist footwear? What do you like best about it?

      Monday, April 20, 2015

      Car Camping Pack List (Epic Road Trip Planning Part 5)

      The size of your vehicle, number of passengers you have, and type of activities you want to do will determine what you can and can't bring on a car camping trip. Before kids, our epic road trips were done in a 1995 Honda Civic hatchback. Since it was just the two of us, and we were used to packing light, we had plenty of room for everything we needed. Bikes or skis could go on the roof; everything else could be safely stowed inside. When we had kids, we lost the back seat and needed more room for all the baby gear. We sprang for a small SUV, installed a hitch, bike rack, roof rack, and roof box and were finally ready to travel in style. With this setup, we could bring everything we needed for long road trips. 

      MEC Hootenanny Bug Shelter and MEC Wanderer Tent
      If you don't have a large vehicle or extra storage space, it is imperative that you differentiate between necessities, consumables, and luxuries. What can you do without? What can you buy along the way or at your destination? My downfall is packing half the pantry when it would be easier to buy groceries in a few days. The pack list below is broken into several categories with essentials at the beginning and nice to haves at the end.

      Car Camping Pack List

      (Disclosure - product links below are Amazon affiliate links. I receive a small percentage of sales but there is no additional cost to you.)

      Shelter / Sleeping

      1. Tent + Footprint

      Get a tent with footprint/groundsheet, reinforced "bathtub" floor, and fly that goes down to the ground. More information on getting the best tent for your budget can be found here: Choosing a Tent.

      Pro Tip: Set up your tent before you go so you can set it up properly in any conditions. You will appreciate knowing how to set your tent up fast when it's dark, a storm is rolling in, or you are surrounded by biting insects! Learn how to peg the fly out so you aren't surprised by water in the tent after a night of rain. The most expensive tent will not keep you dry if you fail to put the fly on right.

      MEC Wanderer Tent

      2. Sleep System 

      Most of the time, when I ask people why they don't like camping, they say it's because they don't like sleeping on the ground. There is no reason to be uncomfortable just because you are sleeping in a tent! There are several good options for sleeping pads/mattresses, but unfortunately, the most comfortable aren't cheap. Keep in mind, however, that a high quality sleeping pad, self-inflating mattress, or cot will last for several years. We like down mummy bags and Therm-A-Rest self-inflating mattresses. We are using Therm-a-Rests that are over 10 years old and likely have at least another 10 years to go!

      My comfy set up: Thermarest Luxurylite Ultralite cot, Trailpro sleeping pad, MEC Raven (now sold as Aquilina) sleeping bag, and Thermarest pillow. The kids and my husband do the same minus the cot.

      Learn more about camping sleep systems (sleeping bag + sleeping pad) and what baby should sleep in here.
      Therm-A-Rest LuxuryLite UltraLite Cot - just got it and love it!

      4. Clothes and Sleepwear
      • Bring 1 pair of socks and underwear for each day of your trip, and clothes that mix and match and dry quickly. Don't forget a midlayer and waterproof/windproof layer. 
      • Sleepwear: Bring a change of clothes, sleeping hat, socks, and liner gloves. Do not sleep in the clothes you wore during the day; for bear safety as well as hygiene. Since it's so chilly in the mountains at night, I usually sleep in Patagonia Capilene 3 or microfleece long underwear.
      • Baby sleepwear: Dress babies and toddlers in PJs and a wearable blanket or fleece bunting suit with foldover mitts and booties. If necessary, put booties and mitts on baby's hands and feet. We loved a blanket sleeper with the MEC Ursus Bunting Suit. Columbia and North Face also make quality fleece bunting suits.
      5. Camp Kitchen
      • Something to make coffee in: I like a stainless steel to-go coffee press or FORLIFE Tea Infuser . Neither require a paper filter, they aren't breakable, and since they fit in a travel mug, they do not take up extra space. 
      • Cooler & block of ice (lasts longer than cubes): For extra cooling capacity, get the 12V plug-in type by Koolatron or Coleman. We have the Koolatron 52-Quart Krusader Cooler and find it works well and reduces the amount of ice we need to buy. A convenient option is to freeze (clean) milk jugs full of water so you have drinking water when they melt.
      • Camp Stove: Camp stoves are preferred for car camping for stability and simmering capability. The Coleman Classic Propane Stove has been around forever as it is affordable and reliable. Ours is almost 20 years old and still going! If you don't have room, the Coleman PerfectFlow 1-burner stove is excellent and reasonably priced. We also have this single burner stove and love it. You can simmer on it, it is very stable, and the propane cans can readily be found at hardware/outdoor stores and even some gas stations in the summer.
      • Stove backup: In the event your camp stove fails, it's good to have an extra stove, folding emergency stove, or hotdog sticks and grill to put over the fire. Since campfire bans are common in the summer and we can't rely on cooking over a fire, we bring a backpacking stove (our MSR Whisperlite Liquid-Fuel Stove or Optimus Crux Stove ) in addition to our Coleman and hotdog roasting sticks.
      • Fire making kit: Lighters, waterproof matches, flint and steel; purchase or make your own fire starters and pack them in a Ziploc bag or sealed plastic container; small ax
      • Water filter/purification device: For family or group camping, I like the Katadyn Combi Microfilter and SteriPEN Handheld UV Water Purifier . Bring extra batteries for the Steripen. Other alternatives are to boil or treat your water with chlorine or iodine. Even if drinking water is readily available at camp, it is useful to carry a water filter in hot weather so you can refill your water bottles on a long hike.
      • Clear plastic bins for your nonperishables. Shopping bags rip or allow your cereal and chips to get crushed. Clear bins allow you to find things quickly without unpacking the whole bin. Remember spices, cooking oil, and your favorite beverages (somehow I always remember Baileys but forget my tea). 
      • Dishes, cutlery, and cookware should go in a separate bin from your food for convenience. Don't forget a tablecloth, can opener,spatula, cutting board, colander, sharp knife with cover, potholders, cooking oil, and spices. Learn how to make a cutlery roll here (saves space and can be brought on picnics).
      • Cookware: Backpacking pots that nest inside each other save space! If space/weight are not an issue, a cast iron skillet can be used over a fire. 
      • Dishwashing kit: Bring biodegradable dish soap (Campsuds in Nalgene) and a small dish scrubber in a ziploc bag (dries faster than a washcloth and some are made of antibacterial materials); Collapsible bucket (Seattle Sports Jumbo Camp Sink ) for hauling dishwater; quick drying dishtowels or camp towels 
      • Roll of aluminum foil
      • Roll of paper towels
      • Hotdog roasting sticks: Get telescoping roasting sticks (Coghlan's 9670 Telescoping Fork) to keep kids a safer distance from the fire.
      • Ziploc bags of varying sizes for packing lunches or snacks
      • Small/medium sized garbage bags (bring extra for dirty laundry)
      • Nylon rope and clothespins for a camp laundry line
      • Nylon rope and waterproof stuff sacks (Outdoor Research Durable Stuff Sack) dedicated for food, toiletries, dishes, and garbage, and carabiners if you are doing walk-in/backcountry camping and must make your own bear hang. Put food items at least 100 metres from your tent and never cook near your tent. Best practice is to also hang up clothes you have cooked in.
      • Finally, FOOD! Another post dedicated to food will follow. Pro Tip: Pack several extra dehydrated meals in case of emergency. Also good for when you want to camp an extra day but don't want to drive back into town for groceries. 
      Coleman Classic Propane Stove - reliable and affordable

      Other Necessities
      • LED headlamps - one per person + extra batteries
      • LED lantern + extra batteries (far nicer than making do with headlamps); battery lanterns can be brought in your tent at night, gas powered ones cannot.
      • tarp and lengths of rope for a rain shelter. Deal: blue tarp, Splurge: Siltarp. 
      • car charger(s) for cell phones and tablets
      • daypacks - for a daypack checklist, click here. Don't forget a first aid kit, bear spray, rain poncho or emergency blanket, and signalling devices (whistle and mirror).
      • water bottles or hydration packs - one each
      • camp towels or bath towels, washcloths 
      • coins/tokens for showers, shower sandals/flip flops
      • toiletries -soap or body wash, shampoo and conditioner, razor
      • sunscreen and bug spray
      • baby wipes
      • rope and clothespins to make a clothesline 
      • potty or bucket for emergencies
      • duct tape
      • hand sanitizer
      • folding camp chairs or stools
      • dust pan and broom
      • tarp/mat for tent/trailer entrance
      Black Diamond Orbit Lantern - compact, light, and brighter than our regular-sized lantern.
      Did I mention it doubles as a flashlight?!

      Nice to Have
      • bug screen house - we like the MEC Hootenanny
      • solar gear for recharging cell phones etc.
      • Fishing gear & fishing licenses
      • firewood hammock
      • air compressor for filling air mattresses, balls, rafts
      • Raft/air mattress, floaties, snorkelling gear, wetsuits for lakeside trips
      • pie iron
      • hammock
      Coleman Camp Cooker - so much fun!

      Fun Stuff
      • Your camera, with extra batteries and memory cards, and charger
      • Sturdy digital camera so kids can take their own photos. Create a photo scavenger hunt and make a photo book after the trip for priceless memories.
      • Coloring books, sketch books, pencils, crayons, markers
      • Binoculars, magnifying glass
      • Bikes and helmets if you have room; at the very least, bikes for the kids make getting around camp quicker.
      • Smartphone, iPad or tablet loaded with bedtime stories. There's no need to give up a good bedtime routine.
        • Apps to consider: c:geo for Android (geocaching app), Merlin Bird ID, The Night Sky
        • audiobooks for the drive
      • Phone / tablet chargers
      • Board games or cards 
      • For the beach: Life jackets, sand toys, inflatable beach ball, kite
      • Soccer ball, frisbee, bubbles
      • Funky Flames
      • Glow sticks
      Finally, don't forget car safety kit & essentials such as battery booster, cell phone charger, and first aid kit. Pump up your spare tire too. See here for more details on getting your vehicle ready for an epic road trip.

      Is there anything you would add?

      Related Posts

    1. Epic Road Trip Planning Part 1: Vehicle Check
    2. Epic Road Trip Planning Part 2: Budgeting Tools & Tips
    3. Epic Road Trip Planning Part 3: Embrace the Journey
    4. Epic Road Trip Planning Part 4: Deciding Where to Stay
    5. How to Choose a Tent
    6. Camping Sleep System 411 - recommendations for what you and baby should sleep in 
    7. Walk-In Campgrounds Near Calgary
    8. Where to Camp in Alberta & BC
    9. Wednesday, April 15, 2015

      Keeping Warm in Spring: Have the Best Spring Gear, Keep Moving, Keep Hydrated and Fueled

      Spring in Alberta can mean t-shirt weather, snow squalls, or rain - sometimes all in the same day - so keeping warm is a challenge. How do you keep warm when the weather can't decide what it's doing? You've got to have the right clothes, activity level, and input (food and water).

      Disclosure: I am a Brand Ambassador for Keen Canada, Terramar Sports, and Stormy Kromer, but all opinions and words are my own.

      1. Clothing and Footwear

      Keeping wind and moisture out will ensure heat stays in. It is also important to wear breathable layers that wick moisture when you get warm so you don't get a chill from damp, sweaty clothes. We dress our girls in a long sleeved shirt (quick dry shirt or long underwear), fleece hoody, rain jacket/soft shell, and down vest.

      Base / Mid layers

      • Base layers made of technical fabrics or merino wool are best to wick moisture and retain warmth. I like Terramar Sports base layers, Patagonia Capilene 3 and Helly Hansen Warm Freeze, and MEC long underwear. 
      • A mid layer of fleece or wool may be necessary. Look for tops with a half or full zipper for temperature regulation and easy layer removal.
      • In warmer weather, convertible pants that zip off to make shorts are great for managing temperature. Another option would be to wear cycling leg warmers with shorts but they are not as abrasion resistant as convertible hiking pants, so don't take them scrambling!
      • In mild weather, my favorite trick is to wear a quick dry t-shirt with cycling arm warmers!
      • Stash a down sweater or vest in your pack for light, compressible warmth. It comes in handy year-round in the mountains!
      Terramar Sports Base Layers, MEC Fleece Hoodies, Stormy Kromer Caps
      Stormy Kromer Woolover &
      Terramar Sports Cloud Nine Full Zip Top

      Outer Layers

      For hikes in the Rockies, you should always pack a windproof and waterproof shell.
      • My first choice is a Goretex hard shell. My second choice would be a hybrid soft shell jacket. 
        • A good shell should have a hood with a laminated brim to keep rain out of your face, a fully adjustable helmet-compatible hood (so you can use the jacket for skiing, cycling or climbing), wrist gaiters, pit zips for ventilation, taped seams, storm flaps, and drawcord on waist to keep cold air out.
        • Although Goretex shells are pricey, they are light, waterproof, and breathable.
        • When buying a jacket, try it on with a base layer and midlayer to ensure you get the right size.
        • Some soft shell fabrics will have waterproof ratings; look for ratings greater than 6,000 mm. The higher the rating, the better the garment will resist water under pressure. Maximum rating is 20,000 mm. 
      Outdoor Research Alibi Hybrid Soft Shell Jacket
      • More affordable options include Hydrofoil rain gear, nylon rain gear, and rain ponchos
        • MEC Hydrofoil (Jacket $149, Pants $99) is light and rolls up small, but it does not breathe as well as Goretex; be sure to use the vents so sweat does not build up inside. It is not extremely durable either, so carry a patch kit (duct tape works but isn't as pretty).
        • Nylon rain gear with DWR finish and polyurethane coating is affordable and effective, but not very breathable. It is good for keeping you dry at camp or when you are not moving fast. 
        • A poncho will cover your backpack and provide your legs with some protection also. For emergency one-time use, keep an emergency rain poncho ($1-3) in your pack. For longer use, get a PVC ($5) or nylon ($25) poncho that will not rip as easily.
        • Money Saving Tip: If you are 5'4" and under, consider buying Kids' size 14 or 16 rain gear to save money. 
      MEC Hydrofoil Rain Gear (on me)
      • Good kids' options for rain gear include the following: 
        • We love the MEC Reflective Rain Jacket ($59) and MEC Rain Bib Pants ($33). Bib pants provide more coverage than regular rain pants so your munchkins won't get wet backsides when they're leaning over playing boats in the stream. Buy bib pants in the next size (one size too big) and you can use them for 2 years! Very good value for the price! 
        • Two piece vs one piece? We have also used the MEC Newt Rain Suit ($66), a great one piece rain suit, but only used it a few times as potty breaks are inconvenient in a one piece. If it's pouring rain and your child has to pee on the side of the trail, it's preferable if she can keep her jacket on while she squats! 
        • Other high quality makes of rain gear include: Ducksday USA and Oakiwear.
      MEC Reflective Rain Jacket and Hatley All Weather Boots


      • Waterproof hiking boots are a must. I love my Keen Durand Mid WP boots! I have also had good luck with the Vasque Breeze and Salomon Elios GTX boots.
      • If you don't have waterproof hiking boots, bring plastic bags and extra socks. When your socks get wet, change them and line each boot with a thin plastic bag. Keeping your feet dry keeps them comfortable, warm and less prone to blisters.
      • For short walks on a wet day, rubber boots have the best puddle power. Rubber boots with neoprene uppers such as Bogs, Hatley All Weather Boots, or Oakiwear are warm as well as waterproof, and more comfortable than typical rubber boots.
      • Wear Goretex gaiters to keep mud, rocks, snow, and debris out of your boots. Get Goretex gaiters for comfort and year-round use (the non-Goretex ones gave me heat rash in the summer as they don't breath).
      • Keep extra footwear and socks in the car so you have dry footwear after the hike.
      • If trails are icy, bring ice cleats or microspikes. I recommend Kahtoola MICROspikes.
      Kahtoola MICROspikes
      KEEN Durand Mid WP Boots

      Hats and Gloves/Mitts

      Keep a hat and gloves/mitts in your backpack just in case the weather turns. Technical fabrics or wool are breathable and warm. While synthetic materials are easier to care for (wash and wear), wool does not get smelly as quickly, so there are tradeoffs. If you take photos with your phone, like me, look for gloves that are compatible with touch screens.

      PACKING TIPS: Bring extra clothes for the kids in case they get wet. Last but not least, carry an emergency rain poncho if you do not have a waterproof jacket.

      2. Activity Level

      If it's cooler than you would like, keep moving or increase your pace. Ways to keep the kids moving include scavenger hunts, geocaching, and "walking worms", or a combination of all three. "After we find the next geocache, you can have a gummy worm." More tips on fun hiking can be found here.

      As you warm up, be sure to remove layers before you get sweaty or you'll catch a chill. Add layers when you stop for a break or begin the descent.

      Dinosaur Geocache - Treasure Inside!

      3. Input 

      To keep your furnaces burning hot, make sure everyone is well hydrated and fed. Keep grab and go snacks handy; ideally finger foods that don't require stopping to eat if it it's chilly. Bonus points if you can eat the snacks with gloves on!

      It's always important to stay hydrated, but dehydration can make you feel colder, so make it a habit to sip water regularly. We often mistake hunger for thirst, or we do not want to drink something cold because it's cold out. To deal with the latter issue, pack a hot drink in a thermos!

      The Best Trail Mix (recipe in link below)

      Food and Drink Tips:

      • Pack a thermos of hot chocolate, apple cider, herbal tea, or warm water. Bring a small bag of mini marshmallows for perfect hot chocolate!
      • Soup always hits the spot and replenishes electrolytes lost during high output activity.
      • Trail snacks: homemade fruit & nut bars, oatmeal cookies, trail mix, chocolate, apple slices, cheese strings, snap peas, beef jerky. More quick and healthy snack ideas are in this post.
      • If there's still snow, you can save water weight by bringing a backpacking camp stove, fuel, small pot, and matches so you can make cuppa soup or a hot drink on the go. Don't forget cups for everyone!  For big trips in cold weather, I highly recommend packing a stove in case of emergency.

      What are your favorite pieces of spring outdoor gear?

      For More Information

      To view my Pinterest collection of Best Spring Gear, please visit: