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?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Celebrating Outdoor Families Magazine's 1st Birthday With a Vacation Giveaway

Outdoor Families Magazine is an amazing online resource for outdoor families. Whether you are seeking tips for family camping, or travelling internationally with children, you will find what you are looking for. I get a serious case of wanderlust every time I read an issue, but aside from that pleasant side effect, have learned so much over the past year from Outdoor Families Magazine (OFM) and look forward to more good reads in 2016.

Some of my favorite OFM articles include the following:
To celebrate OFM's first birthday, and to thank their lovely readers, they have partnered with Thomson Family Adventures to give away a 6-night family adventure worth over $10,000! For more information, including the entry form and complete rules and regulations, please visit:

Good Luck! Contest closes January 31, 2016.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Jabra Sport Pace Wireless Headphones Review & Giveaway

When I work out, I perform better with music. With my power playlist, I can go faster and further, and somehow work through the pain better. Having made do with standard earbud headphones and dangling cords for years, I didn't think wireless headphones would make that much of a difference until I tried them. After testing the Jabra Sport Pace Wireless Headphones, I'm hooked! 

The Jabra Sport Pace headphones have eargels (soft earbuds), plastic loops that fits snugly over your ears (one on each side), and a single reflective behind-the-neck cord with control buttons on one side. It took a couple minutes to get the right fit, but once I changed the eargels, the headphones were comfortable and secure and connected quickly and easily to my cell phone. My husband and I have tested these headphones indoors and out while cleaning, cross country skiing, walking, running, and cycling and have enjoyed good sound quality and being wire-free.

What We Liked


Wireless headphones are very convenient. With no dangling cords to get tangled up in, removing layers doesn't mean you have to remove your headphones. You can also use your phone for other applications while listening to music. For example, you can easily take it out of your pocket to take a photo and not have cords in your photo or limiting your reach.  

During testing, we noticed that the headphones work over a pretty long range so if you're worried about damaging your phone in your pocket (while lifting weights for example), you can leave your phone in your bag on the other side of the room, and still listen to music! I was able to stream music to my Jabra headphones from the other side of the house when my phone was downstairs!


The Jabra Sport Pace Wireless Headphones connected to all devices in our home. While I was happy at how quickly they connected to my phone,  my husband went a little crazy testing these headphones and tested them with every device in our house. I'm happy to report that the Jabra headphones connect well to our Moto X smart phone, Asus laptop, Mini Mac, Samsung Galaxy S3, iPhone 3, and hp Pavilion laptop. 

The Jabra Pace headphones come with a fitness app (Jabra's Sport Life), but also work with popular apps like MapMyFitness. I use the latter and was pleased to get my pace and distance updates while cross country skiing and listening to music.

Ease of Use

I was able to connect the headphones to my phone and use them without referring to the instructions. Once your headphones are charged via USB cable, put them on so you can hear the setup prompts, but don't turn them on yet. Next, turn on Bluetooth capability on your phone, THEN turn on your headphones. Hold the multi-use button down for 5 seconds (until it is blue) and within seconds, your phone should detect the headphones. Select the Jabra headphones on your phone. Some phones may require a password; follow the voice prompts from your headphones.

The multiuse button allows you to turn music on or off, or answer the phone. A double tap allows you to redial the person you spoke to last.

Volume controls are on either side of the multiuse button. Double tapping them allows you to go to the next or last track in your playlist.

Cross Country Skiing with the Jabra Sport Pace Wireless Headphones

Battery Life

The battery life is listed at 5 hours on a full charge. For my use in moderate temperatures, this sounds about right. My husband, however, listens to music at a higher volume, so he was getting less battery life on one charge. I also found battery life was shortened when I worked out in cold weather (below 0C), but this is typical of any battery in cold temperatures. A micro USB cable is included with the headphones for easy charging.

If you don't have time to fully charge your headphones, a 15 minute charge provides 1 hour of battery life. I like this as I am quite last minute when I decide to go for a run or bike ride!

The box says standby time is 10 days. I cannot confirm this as the headphones have not sat unused for 10 days yet!


The Jabra headphones are light (only 22 grams!) and comfortable despite being bigger than earbuds. I hardly notice them!


The headphones are shock, dust and water resistant, so they can handle sweat and being tossed in a gym bag. I would still recommend putting them in a cloth bag to keep the eargels clean. A bag is not included with the headphones.


The Jabra PACE wireless headphones come with 3 sets of eargels (small, medium and large) so you can get the perfect fit. Since I have tiny ears, the mediums wouldn't stay in my ears, but after changing to size small, the eargels stayed where they were supposed to be. The loops fit comfortably over my ears and held the headphones in place even when I was wearing sports sunglasses and a toque. Sweat and moisture resistant materials prevent slippage for a secure fit throughout your workout.

Sound Quality

I did a sound test of the Jabra Sport Pace Wireless Headphones against the other headphones in my house and was pleased with how they performed. As expected, the Jabra headphones weren't as good as my high end over the ear headphones, but they also cost only half as much. Compared to my Apple and Samsung earbud headphones, I liked the sound of the Jabras more. The sound is fuller and the bass is enhanced, but I like this when working out. 


I love the look of these headphones! The reflective strip across the back is a nice safety feature. Choose red, blue, or yellow for a pop of color!

Jabra's Sport Life App

After downloading the app for Android or iPhone and setting it up on your phone, you can activate the app by pressing the button on the left earpiece. Select your workout type and subworkout to receive in-ear coaching, or simply track your movement. You can listen to music concurrently and turn Sport Life App voice prompts off at any time. While it's a pretty cool app, I didn't use it a lot as I already use another fitness app.

The Verdict

I'd happily recommend these headphones to an active person who requires sturdy but light, wireless headphones that stay on well and have good sound quality.


Please note that this giveaway is open to Canadian residents only. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Where to Buy

In Canada, Jabra products are available at Best Buy, Walmart, and many cell phone retailers.


I received a free pair of Jabra Sport Pace Headphones to test and review, but all words and opinions are my own.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Ice Falls and Caves of Fish Creek Provincial Park

Did you know Fish Creek Provincial Park has ice falls and caves? Less than a kilometre from the Bow Valley Ranch Visitor Centre, the "cave loop" (as we affectionately call it) offers hours of fun for little explorers. 


Parking: Park at the Bow Valley Ranch Visitor Centre (put 15979 Bow Bottom Trail into your GPS, then follow the park signs to the Visitor Centre - it will be a right turn off of Bow Bottom Tr)
Distance: 2 km loop (700 metres to the ice falls)
Stroller Friendly? Yes 
Trail surface: pavement and gravel
Washrooms? Yes at Visitor Centre, but check their hours before heading out.

Map to Ice Falls and Caves at Fish Creek Provincial Park
(Google Maps)

Route Description A (no creek crossing required)

From the parking lot, head south (opposite direction from Visitor Centre) and cross the bridge.

Cross here!
Turn right to do the loop counterclockwise so you see the ice falls first! (We almost ran out of time on our visit because the kids had so much fun in the caves.) With the creek on your right, keep going straight until you reach a bench; the cave is on your left and the falls are straight ahead.

Fish Creek
The cave is on the left, the falls are straight ahead
The cave!
If you're lucky, there will be ice falls on the cave! If there's no ice, continue a short distance down the trail to see the big falls (~4 metres high). While it is possible to hike up close to the falls from the upper trail, I don't recommend it without good boots and ice cleats. It is slippery! If you would like a good top-to-bottom view of the falls, it is possible from the creekbed or other side of the creek. At the time of our visit, the creek wasn't frozen, so we stayed off the ice.

Trail to the Ice Falls - slippery with a dropoff, please don't bring little kids here!
Image Credit: Kathryn Fisher Molcak
Fish Creek Ice Falls
Image Credit: Kathryn Fisher Molcak
Fish Creek Ice Falls
At this point, you can go back the way you came, or go back to the fork in the trail and take the trail on the right to see two more caves! Use caution when exploring caves - there could be rockfall or wildlife inside. On our visit there was a bunny in the cave, so we were confident there were no predators there.

Another Fish Creek Park Cave
Fish Creek Park
Love the cottonwood trees!
Snow fun at Fish Creek Park

Route Description B (shortcut - creek crossing required)

Turn right here!

The shortcut to the falls involves crossing the creek which can be in various states of freeze and thaw with our weather. Head out from the visitor centre, turn right at the bridge, and very shortly, you will see the beautiful falls across the creek. If the creek is low and frozen, you may venture across for a better look. *FOR SAFETY REASONS, I CANNOT RECOMMEND GOING ON THE FROZEN CREEK OR IN THE ICE CAVE. DO SO AT YOUR OWN RISK.*

Exploring Further

The Visitor Centre and nearby heritage buildings are well worth a visit! The exhibits inside the visitor centre, and plaques outside, describe the area's rich history. There are also several beautiful sculptures  in the Artisan Gardens near the Ranche Restaurant.

Tipi in the Fish Creek Visitor Centre
Annie's Cafe
We were hoping to visit Annie's Cafe for a treat, but they are closed for the winter. You can, however, still enjoy their treats at the Bow Valley Ranche's Afternoon Tea (Bow Valley Ranche Restaurant - not to be confused with the Visitor Centre)!

One of the many beautiful sculptures in the park.
Old wagon 
Bow Valley Ranche - beautiful building and great eats!

I hope you have as much fun at Fish Creek Provincial Park as we did!

Disclosure: I am an Alberta Parks Ambassador, but opinions and words are my own!

More Fun Family Hikes

Waterfall Valley, Douglas Fir Trail, & 3 Cool Spots in Nose Hill Park  (the pond, big rocks, and Medicine Wheel)

Landmarks to Look for in Calgary Parks

Inglewood By Bike - Day Trip Itinerary

Ice Hikes Near Calgary (Johnston Canyon, Grotto Canyon, Jura Canyon)

Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park (near Cochrane)

Family Fun in Bow Valley Provincial Park (near Exshaw)

Friday, January 15, 2016

Staying Active With Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

It's normal to feel a bit sluggish when the temperature drops and the days get shorter, but what if you keep spiralling down, down, down into a funk? If you feel more than blue, for more than a few days each fall, you could be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This seasonal depression is more common in northern nations and affects "2-3% of Canadians... in their lifetime. Another 15% will experience a milder form of SAD."1

My experience with SAD began four years ago after a year-long battle with postpartum depression. I was just feeling normal again when the seasons changed. I noticed a drastic change in my energy levels and was terrified that I was slipping back to "the dark side." The first thing I noticed was not wanting to go out and do the things I usually enjoy. I made some lifestyle changes and was able to weather the winter without medication, but it wasn't easy. The steps I took to safeguard my emotional well-being required discipline to be effective. If I stuck with the program - slept well and exercised regularly - I was mostly ok. If I stayed up too late several nights in a row or didn't exercise for a few days, I could feel myself getting worse. The following tips are what helped me stay active with SAD, and I recommend using them in conjunction with conventional depression treatment (not as an alternative). Being active was the hardest thing to do, but what helped most in making me feel and get better.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and recommend you first seek the advice of your family doctor if you think you are suffering from SAD or depression. 

  1. Exercise regularly.  Studies show that regular, moderate aerobic exercise is an effective treatment for depression2 (however please see a doctor before self-treating and seek emergency medical attention if you feel like hurting yourself)! Take up something you enjoy so you will stick with it. Going to weekly yoga with a friend helped me when my postpartum depression was at its worst. As I started feeling better, I increased the intensity of my physical activity. I feel best when I get that runner's high a few times a week (and research indicates higher intensity exercise is more effective), but do what works for you!
  2. Exercise outdoors. Getting more sunlight can be helpful to sufferers of SAD. Morning sunlight is most intense, but if your schedule doesn't allow for a morning walk, try getting out at lunchtime. Start a noon hour walking club, so you have company and something to look forward to.
  3. Set fun, attainable, active goals. Choose something fun you enjoy or have always wanted to do and commit to do it. If you like to run, signing up for a 5 km or 10 km race with a friend will encourage you to train. Start small to prevent undue stress and injury, then work up to longer distances. If you have always wanted to learn a new sport, do it now! For example, when you register for indoor climbing classes, they provide all the gear and training, so you don't need to buy or bring anything. This year, I've signed up for a cross country ski race, so I will ski more often during the week. I'm excited to challenge myself to do the longest ski of my life! 
  4. Try light therapy. 60-80% of people with SAD are helped a lot by light therapy3. The key to success is finding the intensity of light that works best for you, and using the lamp at the same time every day when you first wake up. I like to use the lamp first thing in the morning while I do some stretches or in-place exercises (sit-ups, push ups, squats).  Start at a low setting as too high will cause you to feel edgy. Some people may need to use the lamp all fall and winter, while others may benefit from a shorter duration of use. I use mine in early fall when the days get shorter, and usually don't need it once ski season starts.
  5. Manage stress. Easier said than done; this goes hand in hand with managing time and priorities. That sinkful of dishes CAN wait until tomorrow. If you need to go for a walk, GO!
  6. Establish a regular routine. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day and ensure you get the optimal amount of sleep.
  7. Ensure you get 8-9 hours of sleep a night. Getting too little or too much sleep can trigger depression, so aim for the amount that makes you feel refreshed. For most people, that amount is around 8 hours. 
  8. Eat a healthy diet. Limit processed foods as much as possible, drink plenty of water, and cut back on alcohol as it can make your mood worse. While it's long been recommended that people reduce or eliminate caffeine for mental health, recent research shows that there is a lower rate of depression amongst women who drink 4 cups of coffee a day.I find I actually feel better drinking two cups of coffee a day (as opposed to one), but cannot tolerate more than that! Listen to your body and try not to drink caffeine after noon as it can affect your sleep and optimal sleep is important to keeping depression at bay.
  9. Build a support network. If you don't have a support network, join a group - walking club, outdoor club, parents' group - and try to do something with them at least once a week. Surround yourself with positive people (and likewise avoid negative nancies), get lots of cuddles from loved ones, and be your own cheerleader. Instead of putting yourself down (something depressed people do a lot; I know from experience), give yourself a pat on the back when you do good. 
  10. Don't be afraid to seek professional help. If you feel really down, please speak to your doctor. I know that it is hard to ask for help, but you CAN and will feel better! If you feel like you are a danger to yourself, please call 911 immediately. 
Have you ever suffered from depression or seasonal affective disorder? What helped you?

I use the Verilux HappyLight when the days get shorter.
Available on Amazon (affiliate link).


1, 3. Canadian Mental Health Association. (n.d.). Seasonal Affective Disorder. Retrieved from
2. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. (2013, July 1). Is exercise a viable treatment for depression? Retrieved from
4. Borland, S. (2011, September 27). Coffee is good for you: Women who drink 4 or more cups a day are less likely to be depressed. Retrieved from

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Camping in Shuswap, BC - Herald and Shuswap Lake Provincial Parks

During last summer's epic road trip, we explored six provincial parks and three national parks in southern BC. From the western tip of the country to Canada's third highest waterfall, we found something to love at every campground. Read on to see what you should know about camping at Herald Provincial Park and Shuswap Lake Provincial Park.

Herald Provincial Park

Herald Provincial Park has three quiet campgrounds, all side by side, not too far off the Trans Canada Highway that offer boating, beach time, and a pleasant hike to scenic Margaret Falls. Its sand and pebble beach is pretty and shaded by Bastion Mountain for much of the day; a good thing in very hot weather, and not so good on cooler days. Pack your wetsuits in case it's windy or cool. If you do go swimming, stay within the swimming area as there are a lot of motor boats in the area.

Sites are large and clean with a mix of shaded spots and unshaded spots. We had a gorgeous spot in the Reineker Campground (forested) that backed onto the Margaret Falls Trail. The Bastion Campground has some unshaded sites, and most of the sites in Homesteader are unshaded.

  • Hiking - The lovely Margaret Falls hike starts at the campground and is well worth a visit! We also did part of the Lower East Reineker Creek Trail. View a map of the Reineker Creek Trail System here
  • Boating (there is a boat launch), paddling
  • Swimming - The beach is about 1 km long so park visitors aren't crowded together in one spot!
  • Fishing

  • Margaret Falls Trail, Herald Provincial Park
  • Water: yes
  • Power: no
  • Showers: yes
Special Notes:
  • There are shaded and unshaded sites, so be sure to check when you reserve to ensure you get the type of site you prefer. 
  • Biking is not permitted in the campground.
  • While Margaret Falls is a very popular hike, the other trails are not heavily used and are full of wildlife (we heard loud noises in the bushes and turned back). Take extra care to be bear aware. 
Bottom Line: The campground is well maintained, not as big or busy as some other Okanagan campgrounds, and isn't too far off of the TransCanada Highway, so it makes a pleasant and easy to access lakeside destination. I would recommend Herald to boaters, couples, or families with older children as there are no playgrounds or interpretive programs.

Shuswap Lake Provincial Park

Our favorite Okanagan campground by far, this campground is family-friendly and bike-friendly. There is great programming at the amphitheatre and Nature Hut, and the sandy beach is lovely. Although it is a very popular beach, its size (1 km!) ensures that there is space for all whether you would like a patch of shade on the beach or a picnic table. 

Shuswap Lake Provincial Park Beach
  • Hiking - We enjoyed the Nature Walk by the Nature Hut! For a longer hike, head over to Copper Island (only accessible by boat).
  • Boating - there is a boat launch
  • Paddling - Paddle close to short, or paddle 1.3 km to Copper Island and hike its 2.8 km trail!
  • Swimming 
  • Fishing - Due to the number of kids playing near shore, I don't imagine the fishing from shore would be great, but there are some fun free Learn to Fish programs during the summer. 
  • Adventure Playground
  • Nature Hut 
  • Nature walk (adjacent to Nature Hut)
  • Amphitheatre Programs
  • Water: yes
  • Power: yes
  • Showers: yes
Special Notes
  • Book three months ahead to get a spot! Any spot at Shuswap Lake is good! There are plenty of trees to provide shade.

For a complete trip writeup, please see this post.

Bottom Line: For a family camping destination, it's hard to beat this campground. They have thoughtfully planned out activities for all ages (Jerry's Rangers, Learn to Fish, evening amphitheatre programs) and have a great beach and adventure playground. We only wish there were more hiking and biking trails in the area, but nevertheless, we've enjoyed staying at Shuswap Lake two years in a row and will be back.

Shuswap Lake Provincial Park Picnic Area
Shuswap Lake Provincial Park Dock
Where do you like to camp in the Shuswap/Okanagan area?

Other BC Camping Destinations

Our Favorite Vancouver Island Campgrounds: Goldstream Provincial Park (Victoria), Bella Pacifica (Tofino), Wya Point (Ucluelet), Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park (Parksville)

Camping in Glacier National Park, Revelstoke, BC

Backpacking the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail WITH KIDS

10 Tips for Backpacking the West Coast Trail

Monday, January 11, 2016

Cross Country Skiing at the Canmore Nordic Centre

Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park is an amazing winter playground! Originally built for the 1988 Winter Olympics, the park boasts a 70 km network of world class ski trails (groomed for classic and skate skiing), fatbiking trails, snowshoe trail, disc golf course, orienteering course, biathlon range, outdoor ice rink, and tobogganing hill.

Canmore Nordic Centre
I am ashamed to admit I had never been to the Nordic Centre before because I didn't want to pay the ski trail fees and didn't know what advantages the Nordic Centre had over free groomed trails in Kananaskis. The first thing I noticed was the gorgeous view!  Perched above Canmore on the side of Mount Rundle, there are fantastic views of the surrounding peaks from the Day Lodge. Next, I was impressed at the quality of grooming. While the Kananaskis trails are very well maintained in general, the Canmore Nordic Centre has consistent conditions throughout the park due to snowmaking (on 20 km's of trails) and more frequent grooming. Other noteworthy features of the park follow:


The Day Lodge has flush toilets and showers, lockers, an information desk, and concession! I love the cozy seating by the fireplace! There are also meeting rooms and private ski wax rooms to rent. If you need a rest stop or restroom along Banff Trail, there is the newly constructed Meadow Warming Hut 2.6 kms from the Day Lodge.

Trail Sports, just across from the Day Lodge, has equipment rentals and lessons.

Sunset at Canmore Nordic Centre Day Lodge

Family Friendly

Banff Trail is a 5.5 km green trail that is perfect for kids or beginners. It's wide and double track set in both directions so you can ski alongside your child if it isn't too busy, or tow a younger child in a Chariot. 2.6 km down the trail is the Meadow Warming Hut and outhouse, which makes a nice destination for new little skiers. Pop in for a hot chocolate break, then head back to the Day Lodge, or do the whole trail for a nice 11 km ski.

On our visit, I skied part of Banff Trail and Banff Loop with my 6 year old. Although it was Christmas vacation, the trail didn't feel overly busy as there are so many tracks and trails!

Big POG on Banff Trail, Canmore Nordic Centre

Skate Skiing

Skate skiers rejoice! All trails are groomed for classic as well as skate skiing! With few places available to skate ski, the Canmore Nordic Centre is one of the best options around for skate skiers. My husband loves skate skiing here. 

Night Skiing

Night skiing is available on 6.5 kilometres of well lit trails from 5 pm - 9 pm. My husband made use of this both nights we stayed in Canmore. Be sure to bring bear spray as cougars do not hibernate. It helps to bring a friend too!

Early Season Skiing

Frozen Thunder, a 1-2 km frozen ski track, opens in late October each year to give skiers a head start on the season. It's made from snow stored from the previous ski season and is one of few such tracks in the world. It is reserved for ski teams in the mornings and open to the public (for a fee) in the afternoons. Note that admission to Frozen Thunder is not included in a Season's Pass.


While you have to go a dozen times for an adult season's pass to pay for itself, a family pass pays for itself much sooner. For our family (2 adults, 6 yr old, 4 yr old), we would only have to go 8 times for a pass to pay for itself. If you're a frequent skier, a season's pass is the most economical way to go.

Cross Country Skiing at the Canmore Nordic Centre


  1. Do I need to pay admission fees for all activities? No. At time of writing, there are only trail fees for skiing and the biathlon range (biathlon range pass). The ice rink, toboggan hill, snowshoe trail, fatbiking on designated trails, and disc golf course are free. Please note that biking or snowshoeing are not permitted on ski trails.

  2. Are there washrooms onsite? Yes, there are washrooms and showers at the daylodge and there is an outhouse at Meadow Warming Hut on Banff Trail, 2.6 km from the daylodge. 

  3. Are equipment rentals available? Yes. See TrailSports (across from the Day Lodge) ski, Chariot, skate, and fatbike rentals. Call ahead and reserve gear to avoid disappointment.

  4. Is the Canmore Nordic Centre open in summer? Yes, the Canmore Nordic Centre is open year round! Come summer, the park is a great place to hike, trail run, mountain bike (trails and skills park)!, roller ski, play disc golf, or practice orienteering. Best of all, there are no fees to use the park during the summer!  
The big snow piles and tobogganing hill provide hours of fun for little ones!
We had such a great day, I can't wait to go back! Stay tuned to hear about my fatbiking adventure at the Canmore Nordic Centre! 

For More Information

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Keeping Kids Warm in Winter

It's easy to spend a lot of time outdoors in winter when you're dressed right! The trouble with dressing kids for cold weather play, however, is that they don't know how to dress right or just don't want to. Hollering "Mittens! Get back here and put your mittens on!" is a daily occurrence around here. The same goes for hats and boots. Somehow my little one thinks that ballet flats and snowpants are the perfect ensemble for a big dump of snow. Big POG (6.5 years old) has thankfully figured out how to dress herself for school, so hopefully I only have 1 more year of winter wrestling to go. Here's what's helped us keep our kids warm in winter.

Disclosure: Please note that this article contains Amazon Affiliate links meaning that a small portion of sales goes to support this website at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your help! I am also a Brand Ambassador for KEEN and Terramar Sports, but only promote products I have tested and approved.

Hat Tricks

A good warm hat prevents a lot of heat loss, so you can stay outside longer! If your child refuses to wear a hat, let her choose her own or get one with her favorite animal/cartoon character on it. My girls love their Abby Cadabbie and Minion beanies! For babies and toddlers, get a hat with a chin strap and buckle, so it doesn't fall off (or get pulled off and tossed in the snow).

On baby: Barts Giraffe hat, MEC Toaster Suit, Combi Mitts
On me: Ambler toque, MEC down jacket, MEC soft shell pants, MEC Shelter mitts
(The Shelter mitts are not warm; I prefer my Black Diamond Ankhiale mitts)
What to Look For: 
  • Look for nonitchy fabrics such as fleece. Fleece-lined wool hats are excellent for warmth and comfort (and wool doesn't get stinky like some synthetics). 
  • Get hats with ear flaps to keep little ears cozy.
  • Chin strap with buckle so the hat will stay on.
  • Avoid white hats - they are so hard to find in the snow!
  • Pompoms and ears/antlers etc are not ideal as it's hard to pull a hood over them in extreme weather, but if they make the difference between hat or no hat... get the hat your child will wear (and keep a pompom-less beanie in your pack).
Product Recommendations: We love Barts and Ambler (Canmore company, available at MEC) hats, but have picked up some great, inexpensive fleece toques from Joe (Superstore) and George (Walmart) too.

Warm Hands

While mittens are best at keeping hands warm, they are downright annoying when you're trying to pick up small things or touch stuff, so it's no wonder that kids are quick to take them off (and lose them). Try gloves or micromitts for playtime or snacktime, and pack thick mittens and hand warmers for when your child's hands need warming up. 

If you have a staunch mitt hater, try character/animal mitts. Sarah from Rockies Girl recommends the Kombi Moose Mitts: "These moose mitts have been a huge help in getting Little Bear to keep mittens on.  They’re most effective when talked up (“Do you want to take your moose hiking?”) and I love that they’re warm and water repellent."

MEC Toaster Mitts in action in -20C!

What to Look For: 
  • Light Gloves: Fleece lined running gloves with grippies work well in fall or mild winter days. The grippies allow kids to grab things better and also help little hands not slip when cycling. Gloves should not be too long or you defeat the purpose of having them. Stretchy material will fit best and allow you to use the gloves longer. 
  • Ski gloves: Pockets for hand warmers are a nice feature. Velcro wrist straps help keep snow out and warm air in. Water resistant coatings will also keep hands warm by keeping them dry.
  • Mittens: Long gauntlets with elastic cuffs and velcro wrist straps help keep snow out and warm air in. Thick padding retains warmth and water resistant coatings will also keep hands warm by keeping them dry. Pockets for hand warmers are a nice feature. 
Pro tip: Have your child try the gloves/mitts on with her usual winter jacket to see if the gloves/mitts fit over/under her jacket (your preference). The advantage of mitts over sleeves is that they act as gaiters and keep snow out! Many people prefer to wear mitts under so they stay on better (but it depends on the kinds of mitts you choose). If mitts/gloves are to fit over jacket sleeves, ensure the gauntlets are long and wide enough and that they have an adjustable elastic cuff. 

Product Recommendations:
  • Mild days: Micromitts or microgloves from Walmart or the Dollar Store, or fingerless cycling/climbing gloves
  • Cool days: Chaos Mistral fleece gloves from Mountain Equipment Co-op are warm, stretchy, and grippy.
  • Cold days: 
    • Kombi Moose Mitts and Gordini Prima II Mitts are water resistant and very warm. 
    • MEC Toasty Mitts are also very warm, fit well over jackets, but not as water resistant as others we've tried (but we like them because they are so warm). 
    • Kombi Rail Jam II Junior Ski Gloves are waterproof, warm, and have handwarmer pockets.
    • Outdoor Research Mitts
  • When handwear isn't cutting it, use hand warmer packets! No batteries required!

Toasty Toes

Keeping the extremities warm and dry means no tears and more fun! Thick wool socks will make even mediocre boots feel warmer, but I recommend getting the best boots you can afford. Carry toe warmer packs for super cold days as well as extra socks and plastic bread bags in the event that snow gets in your child's boots. Change socks and line boots with bread bags to prevent the new socks from getting wet. 

What to Look For:
  • Boots: There are several considerations when buying boots, but these are some of the most important.
    • Temperature Rating / Insulation - Temperature ratings are simply a guide; activity level can really affect how warm or cold your extremities get. If you are frequently outside in -15C, look for temperature ratings of -20 or colder. Regarding insulation, there are many types. Felt is measured in thickness (mm), while other insulation may be measured in grams. The higher the number, the warmer the boots.  My 200 g KEEN Riesen boots are warm to -20C! 
    • Type - I recommend traditional insulated winter boots rather than rubber/neoprene boots (like Bogs) for cold climates. We have neoprene/rubber boots and while they are rated to very cold temperatures, they are only warm enough for spring or fall weather in Calgary. The wide opening at the top has a lot to do with this (lets heat escape) as well as the amount of empty space that needs to be warmed.
    • Height - For every day boots, I recommend mid-height to tall boots for warmth. The taller the boots, the less chance snow will get in. Taller boots you can cinch up are usually warmer due to increased coverage, but not suitable for hiking long distances (and can chafe on the calf). Since younger children don't usually hike too far, tall boots may be ok. We opted for tall boots (mid calf instead of slightly above ankle) for school/play this year and have been really happy with them. No snow in the boots and no wet socks! **For hiking and snowshoeing, invest in mid-height (slightly above ankle) winter hikers for better fit and less chafing.**
    • Waterproof boots are the way to go since dry feet are warm feet. Since DWR coatings can wear off over time, boots that are a combination of rubber and synthetic/treated leather uppers (think Sorels) are great. The tradeoff compared to all synthetic/leather uppers is that they are heavy. We use them for every day boots, but prefer lighter boots for hiking. 
    • Fasteners - Boot that laces/cinches up will be far warmer than boots that are open at the top.  Open tops let heat escape and it's easy for the boots to fall off too. Laces will provide the best fit but take time to do up. Bungee lacing systems provide the great fit that laces provide, but are quicker to do up and kids can put them on and take them off by themselves. If you go for boots with straps, the more straps there are, the better fit you will get; get a model with at least two straps (above ankle and top) to keep the boot on and keep warm air in.
    • Soles - Look for aggressive treads (like snow tires). If the bottom of the boots look flat like sneakers, they will not provide good traction.
  • Socks: Wool or wool blend socks provide warmth even when wet and don't get stinky like cotton socks. Invest in some good winter hiking socks and you will notice a difference in how much warmer and comfortable your child's feet are! For additional warmth, consider liner socks or boot liners. My favorite liners are made of sheepskin and were bought at the Farmer's Market. You will likely need to buy a size larger boots if you go this option, but in really frigid temperatures, they are well worth the money!
We hiked all afternoon in -14C and both girls were warm.
Big POG (left) said she was hot!

Product Recommendations: We have tried and like Keen, Salomon, Sorels, Timberland, Naturino Rain Step, and Merrell children's winter boots. Sorels and KEEN Elsa boots are good for every day use; the others are suitable for hiking. For socks, we are big fans of SmartWool and Bridgedale. Carry toe warmer packets for super cold weather (or when kids are not moving much - in the Chariot or baby carrier).

Base, Mid, and Outer Layers

Dressing in layers allows you to control your temperature. Being too hot is not only uncomfortable, but dangerous in cold weather. Of course being too cold isn't good either. I've found by wearing a base and mid-layer and packing an extra layer (usually a down sweater), I am ready for any activity in any weather. When my hands start to get cold, popping on an extra mid layer warms me up enough that I don't need to use hand warmers (warm core = warmer extremities).

Base Layers should fit close to the skin, be made of synthetic materials or silk/wool blends (not cotton!) that wick moisture, and have smooth "brushed" surfaces so it is easy to put mid/outer layers over them. Antimicrobial fabrics reduce odor, but wool also works well in this regard. Our kids have lightweight technical base layers, midweight base layers, and fleece base layers for the coldest days. Mock neck models keep more heat in; just be sure the neck isn't too tight.
  • Product Recommendations: Terramar Sports Power Play (lightweight, great for cross country skiing, available on Amazon), MEC Midweight, Patagonia Capilene 3, MEC Cozy Crew & Cozy Tights (fleece, midweight) 
Terramar Sports Power Play Base Layers
(These are her sister's and are a bit big; they should fit closer to the skin)
Mid Layers should fit over base layers comfortably and easily, but not be too baggy (or it's hard to put a jacket on top). On mild days, kids might wear only a base layer or mid layer under their jackets. On cooler days, they wear a base and mid layer, and on super cold days (or days they are not doing high output activities), they sometimes wear a base layer and two mid layers. Our kids usually wear a fleece hoody as a mid layer, but in very cold weather, wear a down sweater. Zippers allow for easy clothing changes and temperature regulation - we like full zip and half zip mid layers, but quarter zip are also good. Again, look for technical fabrics (synthetic, wool or silk blends) that retain heat but wick moisture. Wool will retain heat when wet, but when combined with synthetic fibers, will wick moisture.

  • Product Recommendations: MEC Yeti Hooded Jacket, Patagonia Down Sweater (could also be an outer layer on mild winter days).
On left: Patagonia Down Sweater, MEC Toaster Bib Pants, and MEC Essential 5 Mitts.
On right: Ambler toque, MEC Yeti Hoody, Kombi Rail Jam II Junior Ski Gloves, MEC Toaster Bib Pants, Old Navy Vest
Outer Layers should be insulated, windproof, and water resistant.  Other features to look for include: good zippers (on jacket, check that they don't stick to the storm flap and that there is a decent storm flap; on pants, a side zip makes for easy footwear changes - snow boots to skates/ski boots for example) with zipper pulls so kids can do up/undo jacket on their own, powder skirt on jacket (prevents warm arm loss and cold air getting in), wrist gaiters on jacket, internal gaiters on snowpants, adjustable hood to keep heat in (helmet compatible hood nice to have but not available on most younger kids' jackets), soft fabric around face and fold over chin guard (so metal zipper doesn't touch face when jacket fully zipped up). Down provides the most warmth for weight, but will not retain warmth when wet unless you get treated down (Downtek or other brand) which costs more. Synthetic fills can be very warm, and are still warm when wet, but tend to be bulkier than down. Be sure to look for jackets with a DWR coating or Goretex shell to keep little ones warm and dry.

  • Product Recommendations: MEC Toaster Parka & Toaster Bib Pants, or MEC Toaster Suit. These have the most insulation of any winter gear we've tested. 
For more reviews on children's outer wear, please see this post. 

Dollarama Toque, MEC Toaster Jacket and Bib Pants, MEC Neck Gaiter,
MEC Toasty Mitts, Cougar Boots, MSR Tyker Snowshoes

Other Items to Keep Kids Warm

A fleece neck warmer/gaiter or Buff are good to keep in the pack for when the temperature drops or the wind kicks up. They keep your neck warm and can be pulled up to provide face protection. (MEC Neck Gaiter shown above)

Now just to be confusing, I will also recommend (leg) gaiters. These puppies go over the bottom of your snowpants to keep snow out and warm air in. They are a good solution if the internal gaiters on your kid's snowpants are not that great. They also help during that period that your child is outgrowing her snowpants and every time she bends over or crouches down, her snowpants creep up above her boots. If children's gaiters are not available (or pricey!), for big preschoolers and kindergarteners and up, you can try short adult gaiters, size small. The MEC ones are only $9! I use the short ones year round as they keep debris out of my hiking boots. Pro tip: If you would like to buy long gaiters for year round use, splurge on the Goretex ones. The long nylon ones gave me heat rash in summer.

Short gaiters

We keep a down sweater or down vest for each person in our packs year round. Light and compressible, they don't take up much space but are good to have in case you encounter bad weather or are delayed due to unforeseen circumstances. MEC and Patagonia make nice ones.

Hand and toe warmer packets are so convenient and have allowed us to keep going in chilly temperatures. We don't have to use them often, but when we do, we are thankful to have them. Keep a pack per person in your pack! You can save money by buying these by the case at Costco. If you buy just one type, keep in mind that toe warmers can be used for hands, but hand warmers are too big to fit in boots.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Best of 2015 on Play Outside Guide

As I reflect on 2015, and scroll through thousands of photos, it's hard to choose favorite moments or trips.  We had so much fun and the year was full of many firsts for our family: first time backpacking (as a family), first summits, and Little POG's first time seeing the sea. Little POG learned to ride a bike and Big POG crushed blue runs on the ski hill! It is truly amazing what children can do when given the chance! As parents, Play Outside Guy and I learned the value of ultralight backpacking gear, brushed up on wilderness survival skills (just in case), and acquired extra warm winter gear for moving at the kids' pace.

The blog grew, thanks to you, and I was fortunate to partner with some amazing companies (Potable Aqua, Stormy Kromer, and Terramar Tribe) and organizations (Active for Life, Alberta Parks). As an Active for Life Ambassador, my role is to promote physical literacy. I hope our outdoor pursuits inspire you to get outside, get active as a family, and try something new! As an Alberta Parks Ambassador, I will have many trip reports on our beautiful Alberta Parks to share in 2016! 

Now presenting the best of 2015 - your favorites and ours! Happy New Year!!

Top 10 Blog Posts

  1. 3 Family Hikes in NW Calgary: Hike to a small waterfall, visit our favorite places in Nose Hill Park (including the new Medicine Wheel), and explore the Douglas Fir Trail - a forest escape in the city! 
    Waterfall Valley, Bowmont Park
  2. How Geocaching Improves Your Moral Compass: What do you do when no one's watching? How this activity can be a helpful teaching tool.

  3. Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park - So Close to Calgary, So Much to Do: Only half an hour from Calgary, this beautiful park in the Foothills is worth a visit (or several). Great biking, hiking, and interpretive programs.
    Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park in Fall
  4. Save the Slopes!! (Why the Paskapoo Slopes Should Not Be Developed and How You Can Help): Besides being a mountain biker's paradise, the Paskapoo Slopes are historically and culturally significant.
    The Big Rock, Paskapoo Slopes
  5. 5 Myths About Ticks and Tick Safety Tips: Did you know putting your clothes in a hot dryer (before washing!) can kill ticks? Learn more to protect yourself from Lyme Disease and other tickborne illnesses.

  6. 5 Must-Haves for Better Camping: Therm-a-rest Luxury Lite Ultralight cot for the win! And 4 other amazing items we can't do without!
    Therm-a-rest Luxury Lite Ultralight Cot
  7. Car Camping Pack List: We car camp at least one month a year and I think this is the best car camping pack list ever! 
    This bug screen house has been a lifesaver!
  8. Falling For Winter: A guide to winter activities in Calgary, Bragg Creek, Kananaskis and Banff. Find out where to cross country ski, downhill ski, skate, snowshoe and more! 
    No one loves winter more than my munchkins!
  9. 7 Leave No Trace Fails and Remedies: Don't be that person. Learn how to minimize your impact on wild spaces.
    Graffiti is an obvious no-no, but what about dumping biodegradable soap in streams?
  10. Camping Sleep System 411 - How to choose camping bedding (sleeping bags, sleeping pads, travel cribs, camp cots) for the whole family.
Which post was your favorite? One of the above or a different one? What would you like to read about in 2016?

Your favorite instagram photo

This is the uncropped version of my most liked photo on Instagram. Taken along the Bow River Loop, Lake Louise, Banff National Park.

To see more photos, please follow me at

Our favorite day trips

Ptarmigan Cirque - The Best Short Hike in Kananaskis

Ptarmigan Cirque
Our Favorite Kananaskis Bike Path (Bill Milne Trail) - it's paved and you can ride to Wedge Pond for water fun!
Bill Milne Trail

Middle Lake, Bow Valley Provincial Park

Healy Pass, Banff National Park

Our favorite summer adventures

Backpacking the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail This was our biggest adventure of the year! Check out the route we took so you can see the best parts of the trail and skip the most strenuous sections (if hiking it with kids or limited on time).

Mystic Beach, Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, BC
Backpacking to the Point Campground, Kananaskis A short hike brings you to a beautiful campground near the water. We went with good friends and had good times. Great fishing too!

Near The Point Campground, Kananaskis

Our favorite memories

The whole family agrees that seeing a pod of orcas and a humpback whale frolic through the Juan de Fuca Strait was the best part of our 3.5 week road trip! Biking and swimming at Shuswap Lake Provincial Park were some of our other favorite moments, as well as camping and hiking with friends.

Our favorite winter adventures

We love to downhill ski and spend a lot of time at Calgary Olympic Park and Nakiska. See what we love about Nakiska here.

Learning to ski at Nakiska
We're also big fans of cross country skiing. Check out our favorite family-friendly cross country ski trails in Lake Louise here
Bow River Loop, Lake Louise
We love going on ice hikes too! For details on 3 great canyon ice hikes near Calgary (Grotto Canyon, Jura Canyon and Johnston Canyon), please see this post.

Grotto Canyon

Your Favorite Giveaway Prize

    The numbers have it. With 552 entries, the prize that generated the most excitement was a couple's set of Terramar Sports Technical Base Layers! Expect more product reviews and giveaways this year! 

    If there are any topics you are interested in hearing about, or you have any questions, please feel free to leave me a comment or send me a tweet. There is no greater joy for a blogger than interacting with readers!