EOG V3 Pocket Bellow

Getting a fire going in wet weather can be tricky.  We should know because we've been on a lot of rainy trips.  This pocket bellow makes starting a fire a lot easier.  It's also great for increasing the heat when you want to get water boiling quickly or burn off garbage.

The EOG V3 pocket bellow is made of stainless steel and packs small.  They are a staple in our fire kits.  

You can pick them up at Canadian Outdoor Equipment for $19.95.

Let's get the kids to make breakfast!

One of our goals on our trips is to get our kids as involved as much as possible.  This year Eva took it upon herself to become our breakfast cook.  In today's post she explains how she makes breakfast when we're in the backcountry.

When we are camping we have oatmeal for breakfast and guess what!  I make it!

I go under the tarp and make breakfast for everyone, even when it is raining.

It is really fun to see everyone's faces when I hand them breakfast.  Usually they are sitting under the tarp as I make breakfast.  Sometimes I even make breakfast for some of my cousins. 

It is so much fun.

Grace enjoying breakfast.  Photo and breakfast courtesy of Eva.

Grace enjoying breakfast.  Photo and breakfast courtesy of Eva.

So how do I make breakfast? 

The night before Mom and I put instant oatmeal packages in the breakfast cooler.  We also put in packages of hot chocolate and coffee.  Then we boil water and put it in the Stanley thermos.  

The next morning when I get up I get the breakfast cooler that has the breakfast food in it.  I also get the thermos.   Then I take out the day’s breakfast and ask the kids what type of oats they want, but before I make the oats I make the hot chocolate. I pore one package of hot chocolate in each cup then I add hot water and I mix it up.  Then I add a bit of cold water to cool it down. 

Then I make the oats.  We use instant oats and the flavours we have are peaches and cream, apples and cinnamon, maple and brown sugar, and regular.  I pour whichever type of oats, let’s say Josh wants, into the bowl and then I add hot water and mix it up.  Then I add cold water, so it’s not too hot, and mix that up and then give it to Josh.  That is how I make breakfast.

Eva enjoying her hot chocolate after making breakfast.

Eva enjoying her hot chocolate after making breakfast.

Turtle Rescue

On our last camping trip in Algonquin Park we rescued a turtle. The turtle was found while Dad, Uncle Dave, and I were canoeing close to shore filming Josh soloing his canoe. Josh spotted the turtle and noticed that there was something stuck on the turtle’s right forefoot. It was a clam!

"Zoom" the turtle trying to swim with a clam stuck to his right forefoot..

"Zoom" the turtle trying to swim with a clam stuck to his right forefoot..

Luckily Josh had his fishing net with him, so we scooped the turtle up and I grabbed it out of the net. The turtle wasn’t too happy to be picked up and held in the air, but Dad quickly pried the clam open with his Griptilian knife. Once the clam was off, the turtle (who we named Zoom) calmed down and we were able to take some pictures of him (we could tell he was a male by his long front claws).  

We also removed a couple of leeches that were attached to his shell.  Zoom was then released and swam off to hunt and be a happy turtle. 

In hindsight we think that Zoom had actually asked for help.  Normally turtles swim away from people, but Zoom actually swam towards Josh's canoe and circled around the canoe until we scooped him up in the net. Also, after the clam was pried off he didn’t freak out and struggle to be put down. Instead he was calm and allowed us to take pictures of him. Afterwards, he didn’t swim frantically away like a frightened turtle would, but stayed around the canoes for a little while before swimming off. Overall this was a very exciting adventure!

Zoom waves goodbye as he is released back into the water.

Zoom waves goodbye as he is released back into the water.

What About the Bugs?

One question we get a lot about camping is, "What about the bugs?"  I used to worry about how my kids would handle being out in the wilderness during bug season.  Would the bugs drive them crazy?  Would they end up hating the wilderness?  Would they refuse to come out of the tent?  Would we accidentally burn their skin off with Deet?  

It turns out that camping with kids during bug season isn't as bad as I thought.  For the most part the kids are on the move so much that they don't notice the bugs and the bugs tend not to follow us out onto the water.  We do however, have a few tips for wilderness camping during bug season.  

Tip # 1 - Suck it Up :)

If you are backcountry camping in Canada there will be bugs.  Since kids learn by example, if the adults can suck it up and have a good time in spite of mosquitoes, black flies, no-see-ems, etc., the kids will too.

 

Tip #2 - Prevention

We keep the kids in river pants and long-sleeved shirts, socks and shoes or Bogs.  They wear Buffs to protect their necks and hats to protect their heads.  This means that there is very little exposed skin for the bugs to get at.  The odd time when things have been really bad they have worn bug shirts, but typically they find them too hot and don't like how they obscure their vision.

Dave and Chloe tried the vitamin B patches one year.  These are patches that slowly release vitamin B1 into the dermal layer of the skin.  The vitamin B is then slowly released through the pores and is supposed to produce an "invisible, odourless shield" that only mosquitos and black flies can smell.  Apparently the bugs don't like the smell and although they might land on one's skin, they will leave before biting.  Dave and Chloe spent the week walking around smelling like the cotton from the top of a vitamin bottle.  This attracted a lot of health conscious bugs, who apparently did not mind the smell of Vitamin B.  Unfortunately for Dave and Chloe, the health conscious bugs were not vegans.  

 

Tip #3 - Bring a Hanging Mosquito Net and/or Bug House

Onsight Hiker's Mosquito Shelter from MEC - photo from mec.ca

Onsight Hiker's Mosquito Shelter from MEC - photo from mec.ca

If you can justify the size/weight, you might want to consider purchasing a large bug shelter like MEC's Hootenanny, North Face's Homestead Shelter, or the REI Screen House Shelter.  We have had our eye on Cook Custom Sewing's Silicone Tarp Tent for awhile, but so far haven't been able to justify the expense.  

We always bring this mosquito net with us.  It's lightweight, but big enough for two or three kids to sit under and .  We have a couple of kids who really attract bugs and this net gives them a nice reprieve when they're eating, reading, or drawing.  We also used it extensively when we had babies, both for nursing under and for draping over the canoe or hammock during nap time.  

 

Tip #4 - Get Kids in the Tent Before Dusk

As much as possible we try to get our kids ready for bed and into the tent before the bugs come out.  This protects the kids and helps keep the bugs out of the tent.  

 

Tip #5 - Stop the Itch

Toothpaste is my secret weapon when it comes to dealing with itchy bites!  A small dab of toothpaste rubbed on a bite will stop it from itching more effectively than products like Afterbite or calamine lotion. 

Dave and Lisa use the Therapik with their kids and have had good success.  It works by increasing localized blood flow to the bite and neutralizes the venom by heat.

 

Luke and Noah - covered in bites and still smiling!

Luke and Noah - covered in bites and still smiling!

Tip #6 - Take Comfort

In the end, when all else fails, we take comfort in the fact that we're building character in our kids :)

Making a Canoe Yoke in the Wilderness

Ray Mears has said that, "one of the key skills if you're making a canoe journey is being able to replace a paddle if it gets lost or broken."  But what happens when you're in the backcountry and the yoke on your canoe breaks?  We found out this past summer.  Thankfully Josh was up to the challenge!


LittlBug Senior: A Wood-burning Stove for the Whole Family

By Uncle Dave

Over the last few years, our families have become very interested in fire cooking using wood burning stoves.  In this post we want to share with you the wood burning stove that we recommend for backcountry families.

The wood burning stove category has exploded over the last decade and there are all kinds of wood-burning stoves on the market. Most of them are geared to the solo hiker or hiking pair sharing a cook kit. The vast majority of these are too small to do any meaningful cooking for a group.

One stove that stands out from the crowd is the Littlbug Senior. The senior version of the Littlbug is large enough to hold a 4-6 L pot or even a 12” Dutch oven making it possible to cook meals for the whole family.

The Littlbug consists of 4 curved panels made from stainless steel, which stack together, and nest nicely around your pot set. Littlebug Enterprises sell a separate envelope style nylon pouch that is handy to keep soot off the rest of your cook kit and we recommend purchasing it with the stove.

The Littlebug can be used as is in an existing fire pit or with the optional fire pan to practice leave-no-trace and avoid leaving a fire scar. We have the old fire pan, which was basically a steel pie plate type unit. The old fire pan was heavy and prone to rusting, and we really can't recommend it. However, Littlebug Enterprises now have available a new fire bowl which appears to be modular and made of stainless steel. Once we've had a chance to test out the new fire bowl we will report on how well it works.

Besides the optional storage pouch and fire pan, there is available a chain for hanging the stove off the ground while cooking - an option which we don't consider viable with small children ambling around camp. There is also available a pot sling designed to lower your pot deeper into the stove for use with an alcohol burner - an option which we haven't tested.

Setup

Assembling the stove is easy and intuitive. For wood-burning mode, simply attach the pot supports to the upper closed slots in the stove sides, and then connect the sides together making sure all three edge tabs go inside the stove and all three assembly rivets enter their respective holes. 


Usage

When lighting the stove there are several options. Since the stove has no bottom one can simply light the tinder bundle, place the stove on top and then continue feeding it from the top. In case of a strong wind one can place the tinder bundle in the stove, light the stove while it is on its side, and then tip it upright once the fire has started (my preferred option). With a long match one can also light the loaded stove through one of the air holes along the bottom. In all these scenarios there is no need to stick your hand down from the top while lighting the stove - a definite plus.

The Littlbug will accept all manner of fuel collected from around camp from small twigs to pinecones etc. Our boys love splitting wood to make fuel for the stove and since the fire is nice and controlled we don't mind letting the kids get close to put sticks in to keep the fire burning.

Our main use for the stove is to boil water, purifying it for drinking, washing dishes, rehydrating meals, and, of course, for the required hot beverage on cold mornings. The stove is fast and effective at boiling water thereby saving a lot of fuel for our white gas and canister stoves as well as saving wear on our water filters.

With practice one can learn to control the heat output quite effectively and when I don't mind the extra work of operating the stove (vs. canister/white gas), I enjoy using it to cook my morning eggs. The stove is definitely capable of serving as your primary stove if your fire skills are up to the task. In practice, we use the Littlbug as a supplemental and backup stove to our white gas or canister stoves, and it fits that role nicely.

Drawbacks

If there are any downsides to the stove they are the typical ones associated with this whole category. One must possess sufficient fire starting skills to light and sustain a small fire - no small feat when it has been raining for days and all available fuel is wet. The stove needs a steady source of fuel to keep it going but is considerably more fuel efficient than an open fire. Also, fire cooking is inherently messy as your pots will get blackened with soot and there will be a little soot on the pot support panels of the stove. In the event of a fire ban the stove would likely be classified as an open fire, relegating it to serving as a pot support for an alcohol burner. More specific to the Littlbug: since the top of the stove is open it is not possible to cook your day's catch directly on the stove without some sort of additional grill.

Summary

That said, the Littlbug is a joy to use. Besides its practical cooking capability, the Littlbug easily provides that uplifting campfire ambiance when there is no time to collect large quantities of wood for a larger fire, and it provides a surprising amount of heat on a cold and dreary day. We love the way the little bug engages the kids in meal preparation and how it provides a controlled environment to teach the principles of fire starting and fire cooking. At 585g (including storage sac) it can easily save you that much and more in white gas/canister stove fuel on a longer trip, and it provides a maintenance-free backup in case of gas stove failure. Over the years this stove has earned a permanent place in our tripping kit.

Government plans to give away Philip Edward Island

Philip Edward Island

I recently received the email below from good friends of ours. Philip Edward Island is one of our favourite paddling destinations (see the pictures in this gallery) and the news below comes as a bit of a shock. If you would like to help please check out the links below:

Like this Facebook page to spread the word about the Wiikwemkoong Land Claim.
https://www.facebook.com/savegeorgianbay/timeline

Sign this petition: 
"Kathleen Wynne: Stop the Giveaway of Georgian Bay Islands to First Nations Community" 

Update: According to the information on the Georgian Bay Association website the deadline for public consultation is October 16, 2015.
http://www.georgianbayassociation.com/wiky-land-settlement/
Note: The three letters to the MAA that are linked on that page are very informative and the sample letter provides a great start to getting involved.

-------

Dear Friends
 
We need your help!
 
Bill and I have had a very busy summer in Georgian Bay due to a large First Nations Land Claim that was presented to us the beginning of August. We are both on the board of our local cottage association where this land claim affects every single private land owner. We own property in a very remote, water access area of Georgian Bay with the closest town being Killarney and are surrounded by crown land.
 
The Wiikwemkoong on Manitoulin Island have made a claim of 41 fishing islands that the government has agreed they have a right to. We do not oppose the island boundary claim. We sympathise with the past wrongs our government has imposed on the First Nations people.
 
However, one of the islands within this claim is Fitzwilliam (off the south east shoreline) a very large island (15,000 acres) and privately owned. The American owner does not want to sell. The government does not expropriate land for land claims. The Wiky do not want the fair market value dollars offered but rather want land and will not compromise, according to the negotiator for the province. 

The government is proposing to exchange Fitzwilliam for the most beautiful, unique island and all its’ hundreds of surrounding islands .... Philip Edward Island ... across the bay from Manitoulin and outside the island boundary claim agreed on by the Wiky and the governments. This is crown land owned by the province. It will cost the provincial government zero cents to transfer it to the Wiky. The islands in question are freely used as crown land by thousands of kayakers, canoeists, yachts, campers, cottagers and the local residents and businesses of Killarney every year.
It is a pristine wilderness, easily accessible like no other in all of Canada. The government had plans of making this whole area a coastal parkland. Now it will all become a First Nation Reservation.
 
The public in-put consultation period is about to end (Oct. 2.) We have been given a mere 50 days to comment. You as tax payers and owners of the crown land have not even been informed that this transfer is being considered.
 
Please email richard.aniol@ontario.ca (corrected) with an objection. He is the Senior Negotiator with the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and is negotiating on your behalf. I am providing you with several statements to chose from if you wish to simply copy and paste to his email.
 
        “I am adamantly opposed to the exchange of Fitzwilliam Island with Philip Edward Island and its’ archipelago in the Wiikwemkoong Islands Land Claim.”
 
OR
                    
       “The islands between the French River and McGregor Bay are deemed the most unique and beautiful in Canada with a rich history from before the first explorers described them and into this century.
         They should continue to be preserved for all who have freely used them in the past and present for future generations.
         I am adamantly opposed to the provinces proposed alternative islands selection in the Wiikwemkoong Islands Land Claim!”
 
If you would like to ask him a question he will be more than happy to answer it. If you would like to send him a letter please do.
 
Thank you
Freda and Bill


Stinky Sandal Solutions

By Auntie Shelley

Our kids love to wear Keen sandals, and Anna and I love our Vibram 5-Finger Shoes.  As a result, I know a thing or two about stinky sandals, and  I know a lot about long van rides with kids with stinky sandals.  Not good.  So this summer a few days before our first canoe trip I decided to be proactive and I ran all of our sandals through the wash and dried them in the sun.  

The day before our trip I sprayed them with this spray which is supposed to "break down and eliminate organic residues that cause odours."  I was proud of my foresight and that for once I was ahead of the game, but you know what they say about pride, it comes before the fall.

Later that day we put several pairs of those "clean" sandals into a dry bag and then sealed it up.  The bag was placed in our canoe trailer that night.  It spent the next day in the hot sun and by the time we got to the launch point it really should have had a warning label on it.  Like the ones on the bleach bottles that warn you not to mix bleach with ammonia because of the toxic vapour the mixture will give off.  The spray did NOT work and our sandals smelled like a nasty mix of the spray and some kind of stinky foot bacteria on steroids.  And the worst part, the stinky spray smell only got worse throughout the course of the trip.  

When we got home I conducted exhaustive and in depth research (i.e. I did a search on Google) and then tested out some of the recommended solutions.  Here are three of the solutions that worked for us.

 

Solution # 1 - Nikwax or Granger's

I picked up a bottle of Nikwax's Sandal Wash ($8.50).  I also got a bottle of Granger's Footwear Cleaner ($5.25) and their Odour Eliminator Spray ($5.50).  The Nikwax Sandal Wash bottle claims that it deodorizes.  Granger's Footwear Cleaner does not make this claim, which was why I picked up their Odour Eliminator Spray.  All of these products got decent online reviews, so I figured they were worth trying.  I took four pairs of sandals (at varying degrees of smelliness) and washed each of the left foot sandals with Nikwax and each of the right foot sandals with Granger's (I figured I might as well run a controlled experiment).  I followed the directions on the bottles for how to use the products and let the sandals air dry.  After washing and drying the sandals I found that the ones washed in Nikwax smelled better than the ones washed in Granger's.  The ones washed in Granger's still smelled a little bit, but after spraying them with the Odour Eliminator Spray I found the overall results were comparable to Nikwax.  I used about the same amount of each product.  4 individual sandals used up half a bottle of product (unfortunately by the fourth sandals the spongey applicators on the bottles were ripping off).  I still have more than half a bottle of the Odour Eliminator Spray (which can be used on bike helmets and other stinky gear).  Since the price of Nikwax's Sandal Wash is comparable to Granger's Footwear Cleaner and Odour Eliminator Spray together I would say that these products are about even in terms of performance and value.  The benefit of having the separate Odour Eliminator Spray is that, unlike the first spray I mentioned, I have been able to use it a couple of times to freshen up sandals when I don't have time to do a full on washing.  

So, how long did these sandals stay stink free?  About 2 weeks, regardless of which product was used on them.  By the end of our second canoe trip all of the sandals washed with these products were getting pretty stinky again.  

Apparently sandals and Vibram 5-Finger Toe Shoes should be washed about every two weeks, so I don't think these products really bought me any extra time in terms of keeping the stink factor at bay, but they did work.

**On a side note, I really owe my gym partner an apology because I can't remember the last time I washed my Vibrams, and I work out in them at least three times a week.  Sorry, Shannon.

 

Solution #2 - Mouthwash

While I was conducting my "extensive" research into this topic I came across a very old thread on a forum where someone said that Teva recommended that they mix 1 part Listerine Mouthwash with 2 parts water, soak the sandals in the solution for 15 minutes and then rinse them well.  This solution made sense to me since the stink in sandals is caused by bacteria and Listerine is antibacterial.  So I took our stinkiest sandals and soaked them in watered down mouthwash for 15 minutes.  I rinsed the sandals and the stinky feet smell was gone.  Now a word of warning about this, rinse the sandals REALLY well.  If you don't the next morning when you go to church you will be able to smell your son's nice minty sandals even though he's two pews over.  Sorry, Josh!  The mint smell did dissipate within a day or so, but it was pretty strong at first.   

So, how long did these sandals stay stink free?  Well, it's been over three weeks and they are still pretty much stink free.  And the cost of this solution?  The bottle of mouth wash cost me $3.49 and I still have half left.

 

Solution #3 - Vinegar and Baking Soda

There are a few variations for this cost effective solution.  Wash your sandals well.  While they are still damp sprinkle baking soda all over them.  Let this sit for a few minutes and then spray with a mixture of equal parts vinegar and water.  Let that sit for 15-20 minutes, rinse well, and then air dry (preferably in the sun).  I found that sandals washed this way stayed stink free for 2-3 weeks.  

Another alternative is to wash the sandals well and then once they are dry liberally sprinkle baking soda all of them.  Let the baking soda sit overnight and then dust them off in the morning.  The drawback to this solution is that if you don't get all the baking soda out, and this can be hard to do, you get baking soda all over your feet.  If this happens with a pair of Vibram 5-Finger shoes that you happen to workout in you will end up with a slimy baking-soda-sweat-paste all over your feet which really doesn't feel very good.

I read on another forum that if the sandals are really bad you can soak them in the vinegar water solution overnight, douse them with baking soda, let that sit for awhile, rinse and finally dry them in the sun.

These are just a few of the solutions that we've tried.  If you have any suggestions please share them below in the comments section.  We'd love to hear them.

 

A New Addition to Our Fleet: The Nova Craft Prospector

By Uncle Dan

At the beginning of this season we replaced our old Voyager Prospector with a new red Nova Craft 16' Prospector (purchased from MEC). The boat was meant to be used primarily by our kids and it served its intended function remarkably well.  

Anna and Eva in the 16' Nova Craft Prospector.

The Nova Craft Prospector strikes a perfect balance between ease of maneuverability (due to its 2.5 inch rocker) and straight tracking on flat water (partly due to a full length keel). The kids liked the maneuverability when soloing the boat and when they were exploring islands or fishing.  They also appreciated the relatively straight tracking of the boat when we were on the flat water (on a recent trip we paddled for roughly 11 km on just the first lake.)

Josh soloing the Nova Craft Prospector.

The boat is exceptionally stable, which is important when it is primarily being used by kids. On numerous occasions (when the kids took it to go swimming, exploring, or fishing) the boat was filled to the gills with kids and the movement of the kids in the boat did not pose a noticeable problem; the boat handled considerable side-to-side wobble without ever coming close to tipping.

The Nova Craft Prospector is a very stable boat even when put to the test by energetic kids.

The symmetrical shape of the boat allows the boat to be paddled backwards as easily as forwards, which is useful when one wants to solo the canoe from the front seat facing the stern.  The absence of a thwart behind the front seat also makes this possible. 

Josh soloing the canoe sitting in the front seat facing towards the stern.

The 16' Nova Craft Prospector boasts a centre depth of 15 inches and a centre width of 36 inches.  The upper end of its load capacity is 1000 pounds.  We were able to comfortably fit two 60L barrels (with harnesses) side-by-side between the front seat and the yoke, and two small 30L barrels and some day bags between the back thwart and the yoke (see photo below).  There is also room under the seats for smaller items such as camera gear and water bottles.  The boat could easily handle all of the gear for two people going on a one- or two-week backcountry trip.

The loaded Nova Craft Prospector.

One of the features that I rather like about the Nova Craft Prospector is the relatively meaty aluminum gunwale design (you can get ash gunwales at an additional cost).  The solid gunwales make it easy to pick the boat up from the side and ensure that the seats, thwart and yoke are firmly attached.  We opted for the aluminum gunwales over the ash upgrade because the aluminum gunwales require less maintenance and have greater longevity when the canoe is stored outdoors.  

As you can see in the image below, the paddler of the Nova Craft Prospector sits relatively high above the waterline and so it is advisable to use a paddle with a slightly longer shaft.  The bow height of the Prospector is 23 inches, which is aesthetically appealing and useful when faced with large waves, but can be somewhat of a challenge in strong wind conditions.

Anna paddling the Prospector (left side of the image).   

In terms of build quality, I am happy to report that the Nova Craft Prospector has a solid and reliable build.  The boat is available in several layups (fiberglass or the new TuffStuff material amongst others).  While I would have preferred to go with the amazing TuffStuff, I decided to ultimately go with the much cheaper fiberglass version.  I gather that nowadays fiberglass boats are considered to be mostly cottage boats, primarily because of their weight, which makes them somewhat difficult to portage (the 16' fiberglass Prospector is about 68 pounds in comparison to the TuffStuff version which is about 54 pounds).  However, I don't mind carrying the extra weight on my shoulders when portaging, and the fiberglass version is much lighter on the wallet (which is important when your family has 7 people and the cost of camping gear is quite high).  On our last trip, I portaged the Prospector for a total of roughly 1.3 km and it wasn't really a problem.  Keep in mind that "back in the old days" most of the canoes were fiberglass and portaging a 65 pound canoe was a routine event.  While I would recommend that you go with the TuffStuff layup (or even another lighter layup such as the aramid lite or the blue steel layups) if you have the cash, if money is an issue, just hit the gym during the year to make sure that you are made out of tuff stuff before canoe season begins so you can carry the fiberglass version :).  The fiberglass version we purchased held up very well even though it made frequent (and sometimes somewhat careless) contact with rocky shores of the lakes in the Temagami region.  

If there was one thing I would ask the good folks at Nova Craft to change about the boat it would be the yoke.  The yoke included in this entry level boat is not really much of a yoke (it's more like a thwart), likely because, as I noted before, fiberglass boats are no longer meant for serious portaging.  However, a deep dish yoke would be really helpful for those of us backcountry trippers strapped for cash, especially given the weight of the boat.  In order to portage the boat, I had to resort to the old tried and true trick of lashing paddles between the yoke and the back thwart and carrying the boat on the cantilevered paddle blades (which was much more comfortable -- in fact, I actually like that better than the deep dish or contoured yokes on my other canoes).  While MEC sells a deep dish yoke (for about $100) you can install yourself, I found that the ends of that deep dish yoke were much narrower than the ends of the yoke included with the boat, and I worried that there would just not be enough "meat" on the outsides of the screws to securely hold the yoke in place when the boat is on my shoulders. Also, what's the point of going with a cheaper boat if you have to spend hundreds in post-purchase upgrades?   While I'm making suggestions, I should also mention that the kids complained a little about the comfort of the seats and the handles on the bow and stern; seats made from wide webbing would be preferred and more rounded handles would be much appreciated.  Again, seats made from wide webbing can be purchased at MEC, but at an extra cost.

All things considered, however, I give the fiberglass/aluminum-trim Nova Craft 16' Prospector two thumbs up!  It's a wonderful all-around backcountry canoe for the kids.

Fantastic Photos By Young Photographers

On our most recent backcountry canoe trip to Temagami our young photographers captured some wonderful images.  Below are a few of our top "pics".

Photo by Chloe (Age: 10) using the Nikon D3300 (ISO 400, f/1.8, 35mm lens)

Photo by Anna (Age 13) using the Nikon D3300 (ISO 100, f/22, 18-55mm lens)

Photo by Anna (Age 13) using the Nikon D3300 (ISO 400, f/1.8, 35mm lens)

Photo by Luke (Age 6) using the Nikon D7000 (ISO 400, f/5.0, 18-200mm lens)

Photo by Eva (Age 8) using the Nikon D7000 (ISO 200, f/5.0, 18-200mm lens) 

Photo by Chloe (Age 10) using the Nikon D3300 (ISO 400, f/1.8, 35mm lens)

Photo by Eva (Age 8) using the Nikon D7000 (ISO 280, f/8.0, 18-200mm lens)

Photo by Anna (Age 13) using the Nikon D3300 (ISO 800, f/2.8, 105mm lens)


The Five W's of Food Storage While Canoe Camping in the Backcountry

By Uncle Dan

Anna carrying the food barrel out of the forest on a sunny morning.

Recently, we received several questions about how we pack and store our food when canoe camping in the backcountry.  These questions have inspired us to write this post aimed at addressing the five W’s of food containment and storage in the backcountry.

1) Why should I be concerned about how I store my food in the backcountry?

There are two primary reasons why you should carefully store your food when you are in the backcountry.  First, anywhere you go, there will likely be various animals sniffing around, searching for opportunities to dispossess you of your food stores and to line their bellies with your jam, peanut butter and chocolate.  Second, some animals – bears in particular – might not be satisfied with consuming your jam and chocolate, and might decide to complete their feast by having you or one of your group members for dessert (actually a very unlikely event, but certainly worth mentioning).   

2) Who (or what animals) should I be worried about?

When discussing issues of food storage in the Canadian backcountry, the first animal that comes to mind for most people is the bear. Leaving exposed food in your campsite can attract bears and this can become a problem especially in places that are frequented by less than careful campers. Bears (like other animals) quickly learn where they can easily access human food and so they often look for food at specific campsites where they have found food before.  That being said, in all of my years camping in Canada, I have never seen a bear in our campsite nor have I seen any evidence of a bear trying to get at our food supply.

A rather cute chipmunk eating our breakfast!  Photo by Anna

While bears readily come to mind when discussing food storage, in most cases, food theft is far more likely to be perpetrated by much smaller, less scary and more common animals such as raccoons, skunks, squirrels, chipmunks and birds.  If you leave your food exposed or improperly stored, particularly at night, chances are that one of these little critters will help themselves to your food supply.  Sometimes I think that when squirrels and raccoons see (or hear) campers pull into a campsite they believe that animal Starbucks has come to town (again)!  I remember one time, as we pulled into a (highly frequented) campsite, we could see the beady little eyes of raccoons peering down from the surrounding trees, just waiting for an opportunity to pounce on our food.  In my time camping, I have experienced a number of situations in which raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks and birds have accessed our food – even in broad daylight while we were at the campsite!  These are the real thieves you ought to be worried about!

3) What food container should I use?

The answer to this question depends on where you are backcountry camping.  In some areas, such as the Bowron Lakes in northern British Columbia, each official campsite has a strong steel food box with an animal-proof latch.  In areas such as this, food should be kept in these steel bear-proof food caches at all times (unless you are eating).  This system is in place to prevent bears from learning that they can obtain food from campsites, which in turn discourages them from visiting campsites often.

In areas where steel bear-proof food caches are not provided, it’s up to you to bring the appropriate container.  I have seen many different containers being used for food storage during backcountry trips: plastic coolers, regular backpacks, and even Rubbermaid containers stored in backpacks.  While these containers are easy to come by, all of them are problematic when it comes to animals stealing food.  These containers are typically not scent proof, allowing animals to readily find them.  In addition, they are not very strong.  I have seen a group of squirrels easily chew through plastic Rubbermaid containers to get at the food inside.  It seems that squirrels in particular get their kicks from gnawing at Rubbermaid containers; its almost as if for them it’s a sport! Raccoons are also surprisingly dexterous and can open all sorts of containers or chew through cloth packs.  As such, we strongly recommend you try a different option.

A ring placed through the latch prevents even the most cunning of animals from opening the food barrel.

Our top choice in terms of food storage on canoe camping trips is the food barrel.   The barrel featured in the photo at the beginning of this post is made by Recreational Barrel Works, but other companies, such as Eureka, make them also.  The barrels typically come in two different sizes: 60L and 30L.  These barrels are optimal for food storage because they are pretty much scent proof, which means that animals will not be attracted to it by the scent of the food inside the barrel.  To optimally take advantage of this feature, it is advisable to avoid preparing or cooking strongly scented food on or around the barrel, as the scent will then be present on the outside of the barrel, thus undermining the scent-proof feature.  The barrels are also waterproof (which is useful in a downpour or if you tip your canoe).  The construction of the barrels also seems to deter animals from getting in to them.  To prevent those creative and skillful raccoons from opening the barrel, you can place a ring through the latch (see above photo)– with the ring in place, even the most prodigious of raccoons will not be able to open the barrel.  It is important to keep in mind that these barrels are not fully bear-proof, however, and a highly motivated and heavy bear sow could crack it open if she so desired.  This is why it is important to not only consider what you put your food in, but also were you place it. Which brings us to the next question. . . 

Our food barrels placed far away from our campsite.

4) Where should I place my food containers?

Choosing the right food container is only a part of the story.  A central component of proper food storage in the backcountry is choosing the right location to place your container.  Unless a bear-proof steel food cache is provided at the campsite, our main recommendation is to store your food well away from your campsite.  Some people recommend taking the food container(s) 200 meters from camp.  While it might be tempting to leave your sealed food barrel in your campsite overnight, this is decidedly a bad idea.  Although the barrel might be scent proof, and although you might have been careful to avoid cooking food near or on the barrel, placing the barrel in your campsite overnight might still be a problem, particularly in places where large animals are used to frequenting campsites to find food.  A bear might think the barrel is just another cooler (with which it might have had good success in the past) and give it a go. The outcome might be less than optimal for you and your food stores.  When you are in the backcountry, watching a large bear enthusiastically dancing on your food barrel right beside your tent at five in the morning might not be as humorous as it sounds right now. No matter what container you use, always store your food away from your campsite. 

Having taken your food container well away from your campsite, the next issue to consider is how to place the food container.  One view is that your food container ought to be suspended on a rope between two trees, high above the ground.  When I was younger, we would often spend hours finding the right two trees and trying to get our ropes high enough above the ground.  We tried various ways of attaching the ropes and numerous ways of pulling the food pack high up into the air.  The assumption was that bears would not be able to get the food packs if they were properly suspended.  You might be surprised to find out that suspending your food will not prevent sufficiently tenacious bears from getting your pack down.  Take a look at this video if you are not convinced. 

And, to witness how quickly a bear can scramble up a tree, take a look at this eye-opening video (not for young viewers as it contains a swear word, however if ever there was a situation that calls for an expletive, this would be it).  In addition, I have also personally witnessed suspended packs being torn open by several industrious squirrels.  So, hanging your food packs, though often recommended, is a tedious and somewhat ineffective solution.  Since we have begun using food barrels, we now just place them under some trees far away from our campsite.  And, I’m happy to report we have had no robberies thus far. 

5) When should I place my food in a safe place?

Finally, we come to the question of “when” to store your food.  We typically keep the lids on our barrels (sealed) when we are not directly using them.  This prevents little critters like chipmunks from helping themselves to our food when we are not looking.  Trust me, it only takes a moment of inattention and those little guys are in the barrels feasting away.  If you are planning to be away from the campsite for a longer period, it’s probably best to place your food containers away from the campsite.  In the evening, we typically take our barrels into the forest before it gets dark.  Going to place your barrels into the forest while it is still light ensures that you don’t get lost and that you don’t get discouraged by darkness from taking the barrels the full proper distance from the campsite.  If you are at a campsite that has steel bear-proof food cache containers, you should keep your food in them at all times except for when you are eating. 

As a final point, we suggest that you always do your research regarding the recommended food storage procedures in the area in which you plan to camp.  


The Ultimate Survival Kit for Backcountry Moms

by Shelley

In this post we are going to talk about something very important – a survival kit – but not just any survival kit – the mom's backcountry survival kit. 

We all know that we need to be prepared in case of an emergency and if you do a Google search for “ backcountry survival kits” countless results will pop up.  They all contain slight variations of the same things.  Compass, knife, light, fire starter…you get the picture.

If you search for “mom’s survival kit” you will also get numerous links to kits that contain “fun” mom stuff like, baby wipes, nail files, hair elastics, bandaids, hand sanitizer, etc.

Do you know what happens if you search for “backcountry mom’s survival kit”?  You get nothing.  Zilch.  Zip.  Zippo.

I have decided to remedy this glaring omission.  After 5 kids, 13 years of canoe tripping with kids, and countless hours of research and product testing, I am happy to introduce you to The Ultimate Survival Kit for Backcountry Moms

The Stanley Thermos 
This is a vital component.  Boiling water takes time in the backcountry and it cools down far too quickly.  This thermos will keep water hot enough to make coffee for 24 hours.  If you fill it up when you are making supper in the evening the next morning you will have hot coffee within minutes of getting out of your tent!  Need a cup in the middle of the afternoon?  No problem, just pull out that thermos full of hot water and you’re good to go.  You can see my video review of the Stanley Thermos here.

The Aeropress
This handy little press makes the best coffee ever and is my favourite system for the backcountry (and at home).  Really.  It makes the best coffee ever.  See here and here for more information.

Before we head out on a trip I grind my beans and then package double servings in little Ziploc baggies.  Why double servings?  Because Lisa needs coffee too.  We mom’s have to look out for each other.

Starbucks Via Packs
For those times when you need a hit fast!

Hot Chocolate 
Hot chocolate is a dual-purpose item.  Almost any child in the backcountry can be bribed with a hot chocolate or you might need a café mocha.  Either way, you’re covered.

Insulated Mug 
Because coffee cools down way too fast in the backcountry and backcountry moms often get called away from their coffee.  

Good Chocolate 
No explanation needed.

 

Sometimes being a backcountry mom is really tough, but it's worth it!