Gear

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.

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.

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.  


GSI Ultralight Nesting Bowl and Mug Review (it's great for rehydrating food)

We needed to add a couple of extra bowls to our kitchen kit last summer so I decided to try out the GSI Ultralight Nesting Bowl and Mug.  

 image from mec.ca

image from mec.ca

These guys weigh in at 122g (4.3oz) and hold 590ml each.  The insulated mug nests inside the bowl.  It's a snug fit so there's no rattling around.  They can also be used as replacements for the GSI Dualist Cookset.  

Overall I found that they worked really well for keeping the kids' oatmeal warm on cold mornings.  The lid fits tightly, so there's no worry about spills.  My favourite thing about these was something that I didn't anticipate when I bought them - they are fantastic for rehydrating food.  

They are just the right size for salsa, applesauce, pizza sauce, etc.  I put our dehydrated food in them, added boiling water, gave it a stir, popped on the lid and insulator, wrapped them in a pot cozy, and that was it.  15-20 minutes later the food was rehydrated and still warm.  For added insulation I doubled up the bowls and wrapped them in a pot cozy.

These guys have definitely earned themselves a spot in my minimalist kitchen kit. 

Pros: The lid was nice and tight and stayed in place.  I worried that the insulator might be tough to clean, but it washed up easily and dried quickly.  The insulator does a good job of keeping in the heat and the food didn't end up tasting like plastic. 

Cons:   I couldn't come up with any cons, other than the fact that the “mug” isn’t really a mug.  It’s a bowl with a lid on it.  Personally, I like drinking my coffee from a real mug so I didn't use it as a "mug", but with the tight fitting lid it would certainly do if you were slashing gear.  

I got mine at Adventure Guide, but they are also available at MEC, REI, etc.

First Aid Kits for the Backcountry Family

Uncle Dave

We recently received this question from Matt, a reader who's thinking about venturing into the backcountry with his kids.  Check out Dave's response about what we pack for potential emergencies:

 

Hi,

I have two kids, 3 & 6, and your blog has given my wife and I a boost in confidence to head back to Algonquin...with the kids...I enjoyed reading your recent gear list post, and am wondering what you bring for first aid/emergencies? Do you bring any type of Satellite communication device like a Spot device?  

Thank you kindly in advance for any insight!
Matt
ps my kids love the johnny cake recipe

 

 

Hi Matt,

Thanks for your email.
 

 AMK Backcountry Kit

AMK Backcountry Kit

For first aid gear I like Adventure Medical Kits.  They are well put together with quality supplies that, depending on the kit, cover just about everything you might need.  Each of our families has the AMK Backcountry kit as well as a second smaller kit for day tripping and excursions away from base camp.  


The smaller kit can be one of the AMK smaller kits or you can make your own and fill it with stuff you think you might need.  I like the MEC First Aid Bag for that purpose.  In addition to the stuff that comes with a kit like the AMK Backcountry you'll want to take child specific meds for upset stomach and diarrhea, fever/pain relief, allergic response (anti-histamine), etc.  Add to that a good size tube of antibiotic ointment (e.g. Polysporin) and lots of extra bandaids so you can be liberal with them.  I also like to bring liquid bandage for small cuts on the feet where bandaids don't stay on when kids are constantly in and out of the water, and extra wound closure strips (Steri-Strips) and a Celox pad in case of serious wounds from an errant knife or axe.  If you are planning to use open fires (for cooking, warming, ambiance) then you need to give some thought to treating burns.  With burns an ounce of prevention is definitely worth more than a pound of cure. 

The above should take care of your basic run of the mill emergencies.  For more severe medical emergencies the most important thing you can take with you is knowledge and skills.  The AMK Backcountry Kit comes with a great little first aid manual that serves as a handy reference, but I would highly recommend taking a basic First Aid course or even a Wilderness First Aid course.  The knowledge gained will greatly increase your confidence in being able to deal with whatever first aid situations may arise.  An old adage is "The more you know, the less you have to carry."

As far as a Spot or other satellite communication devices, at present we do not carry these. The main reason is cost.  Good camping gear is not cheap and I'd rather spend my limited resources on equipment that we will use day in, day out, rather that an electronic gadget that you have to keep powered and that will likely never be used.  With small children our strategy has been to camp somewhere with no more than a day's journey out (and to take day trips from there) so that if something should really go wrong we always have the possibility to self-extract in a reasonable time frame. 

That said, the above statements only reflect our personal preferences based on our own comfort levels and the places we travel.  Your decision should be based on your own comfort level and the remoteness of your location.  If we were to undertake trips where getting out meant an arduous multi-day paddle, a satellite phone or emergency beacon would likely get upgraded priority. 

With any activity there is always some risk associated.  When camping with children the key is to focus on the most probable risks and try to mitigate those and not get too hung up on potential scary scenarios that have a very low probability of occurring.  If you start with small and short trips with an easy bailout option, your comfort level will soon grow to what it was before you had kids. 

I hope this helps.  With ski season nearing an end, the activity on our blog should pick up so stay tuned for more posts.  I'm glad to hear that the blog has inspired you to head back to Algonquin with your kids.  Encouraging other families is one of the main goals for our blog.  The experiences you'll share as a family will stay with them for a lifetime.

Happy camping and don't hesitate to drop us another note. 

Sincerely,

Dave


P.S.  We keep all medications and anything other poisonous first aid supplies in our big AMK Backcountry kits.  These kits are stored somewhere that is easily accessible by adults, but out of reach for children in order to avoid poisoning.  Our smaller kits contain mostly bandaids of various sizes, antiseptic wipes, and a tube of antibiotic cream.  It is kept out at all times and is easily accessible for adults and kids.  This way the older kids (i.e. ages 6+) are able to get their own bandaids for minor scrapes, etc.

Gear Lists Updates

We've been going through our trip journals and putting together some gear lists.  Here are two new ones to check out.  

Gear List for Snowshoe Day Trip (with kids)

Uncle Dan's Gear List for Canoe Tripping is a comprehensive list of what we pack in terms of shelters/tents, packs/carriers, tools, canoe gear, nighttime gear, and gear for fun and relaxation.  Basically everything we bring with the exception of clothing, kitchen gear, and photo gear.

Let us know if you think we've forgotten anything!

What to Look For When Buying an Axe

by Cousin Josh - 10 years old

An axe is an essential piece of gear for anyone who is going to spend time in the backcountry.  A proper axe is an investment.  If well cared for it will last for many years.  

 Josh with his favourite piece of gear - the  Gränsfors  Bruk Small Forest Axe

Josh with his favourite piece of gear - the Gränsfors Bruk Small Forest Axe

A good axe should have a solid steel head.  A solid steel head will hold up to years of heavy use.  The axe head should be secured into the handle through the axe eye with a steel wedge.

There are now some axes where the fibreglass handle is moulded around the head (see below).  These axes tend to be a bit less expensive and the head should not loosen over time.  A drawback with these axes is if they break in the wilderness you can't really fix them.

The axe handle should fit comfortably in your hand.  Make sure you can grip the handle firmly and that the end knob is large enough to keep the handle from slipping out of your hand.  The handle can be made of fibreglass or wood.  An axe with a fibreglass handle will often be lighter than one with a wooden handle.  A wooden handle is easier to replace and is more environmentally friendly.  If the handle is made out of wood make sure that the wood was dried before it was turned.  This way the handle won't shrink and come loose from the head. 

While a good axe might be expensive, it is worth the money because it will last longer.  My favourite axe is my Gränsfors Bruk Small Forest Axe.  It costs about $129 CAD and can be purchased at Lee Valley Tools or Canadian Outdoor Equipment

 image from Gransfors Bruk

image from Gransfors Bruk

If you are looking for a less expensive option, my younger cousins and Uncle Dave tested out the Fiskars X7 14" Hatchet this summer and it performed well.  It's under $40 and you can get it at Home Depot.  Or you could get the Gerber Sport Axe II which has a more compact cover.  These axes are made by the same company and are pretty much the same except for the colour, cover, and logo.  These are good axes for kids (and adults) because the bright colours make them easy to find if they get left on the ground and they are lightweight (the handle is hollow).

 image from Fiskars.com

image from Fiskars.com

 image from mec.ca

image from mec.ca

 

To find out more about different types of axes and how to use them you can check out the Gränsfors Bruk Axe Book.

 

Traditional Snowshoeing with Kids

By Auntie Shelley

We love spending time walking in the forest and in the winter there's no better way to do so than on snowshoes.  Thanks to some generous grandparents, our entire family is now outfitted with snowshoes.

We use a combination of traditional and more modern snowshoes depending on where we are going and the age/size of our kids.

In this video Josh and Luke show off their traditional snowshoes and Josh explains a bit about some of our traditional gear.  Josh is wearing a pair of Huron/Algonquin snowshoes and Luke is wearing a pair of Bearpaw snowshoes.  Both use lamp wick bindings that we ordered from Lure of the North.  You'll see in the video why these have quickly become our preferred bindings.

For Christmas we made each of the kids a pair of winter moccasins and a pair of traditional leather mitts with wool liners (more to come on that adventure).  We used these patterns from Lure of the North.  Because I was making sets for 5 kids, and already had some of the supplies on hand, I sourced out my own materials, but you can get everything you need in a kit here from Lure of the North.  

We have had a chance to test our gear out in some pretty cold weather (i.e. -30 C) and I was surprised at how warm the moccasins and mitts actually are.  They have quickly made their way to the top of our winter trekking must-have gear list!

2014 Gift Giving Series - More Ideas for Outdoor Kids

BY AUNTIE SHELLEY

Orienteering and map reading skills are essential for anyone spending time in the backcountry.  I recently came across the following books that are great for introducing map skills to kids in the 4-7 year old range.  

Package these two books with a little compass like the Terra Kids Keyring Compass and you have a gift to inspire mapping skills in your 4-7 year old.

 

For older kids a compass like the Silva Trekker 420 is in order.  Combine that with a book like Be Expert with a Map and Compass, some maps of places you plan to explore in the coming year and their own SealLine Map Case and you'll be ready for adventures in 2015.  Stay tuned for our next instalment. It's my favourite - gifts for the outdoor mom!

 
Be Expert with Map and Compass
By Bjorn Kjellstrom, Carina Kjellstrom Elgin
 

The Scrubba - Revolutionizing Laundry in the Backcountry

By Auntie Shelley

One of the challenges when camping with families as large as ours is minimizing gear.  Kids, especially younger kids, tend to go through a lot of clothes on a trip.  In the past we have tried doing laundry in the backcountry in an effort to save on how much clothing we brought.  It never worked out well.  It was always labour intensive and the clothes never really came out clean.  We had resigned ourselves to the fact that we would just have to bring extra clothes for the kids.  That was until we discovered The Scrubba! 

Uncle Dave is the one who discovered the Scrubba earlier this year.  Dave is always up on new and exciting gear.  This summer on our 12-day trip we had the opportunity, actually several opportunities, to put the Scrubba to the test.  I think I can safely say that it has earned a place on our essential gear list.

So, what is the Scrubba?  According to their website, it is “the world’s first pocket-sized washing machine” and it weighs less than 5oz.  Imagine a dry bag with a see-through window and an internal washboard made of little nubbies – that’s The Scrubba.  It’s a modern, backcountry version of my grandmother’s old-fashioned washboard.

It’s quite simple to use.  You fill the bag with clothes, water, and a bit of soap, then close it up the same way you would a dry bag – roll the top down 4 or 5 times and clip the ends.  Next you open the air valve and push on the bag to remove the air from it.  Close up the valve then press down and rub the clothes against the internal washboard.  Depending on how dirty the clothes were we found it took anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes to get everything clean.  This is where the little window comes in handy.  It allows you to see whether or not the clothes are clean enough.

Once everything was clean we drained the water.  On their website, Scrubba says that you can rinse your clothes with fresh water in the Scrubba, or under a running tap or shower.  We tried rinsing the clothes in the Scrubba, and it worked well, however it was a bit time consuming given the volume of laundry we were dealing with (we had 9 kids on the trip).  Lisa came up with a system where she would wash the clothes in the Scrubba and then rinse them in her Sea to Summit portable kitchen sink.

One thing I would recommend is to start with a small amount of soap (i.e. just a few drops).  On his first load Uncle Dave added a bit too much soap and there were a lot of bubbles.  It took several rinses to get it all out.  Start with a couple of drops and then add more if you need it.

I will admit that I was a bit skeptical about how well the Scrubba would actually work, however after testing it out we were all really impressed.  I’m quite excited because I think it will really allow us to cut back on the amount of clothing we need to bring on longer trips.  I can definitely see how it would be a great item to bring when backpacking or trekking and have no hesitation recommending it as a great piece of gear.

For demonstration videos you can check out the Scrubba YouTube channel.  I think this one is my favourite.

 

 

 

Make Your Own Tubular Bandana

by Cousin Eva (Age 7)

One of my favourite pieces of gear is The Buff.  The Buff is a round tube of cloth that you can wear on your head as a hat or around your neck as a cowl.  It keeps your ears warm and it can keep them from getting mosquito bites. 

Cousin Eva wearing her Buff while camping in the backcountry.

It comes in different colours like blue, black, red, pink, yellow, orange, and patterns too.

After I found out about the Buff, I decided to try to sew one.  I bought some fabric that was soft and stretchy.  Then I washed the fabric to get it ready.  I cut out a rectangle and I folded it in half.  Then I sewed a seam down the side.  I tied off the threads so the seam would not come undone.  I pulled the seam flat and then I was done.  It was so easy that I decided to make some for my brothers and cousins too.

Cousin Eva cutting out her tubular bandana.

Cousin Eva sewing together her bandana on a serger.

Here is the tubular bandana!

Cousin Eva wearing the tubular bandana she made.

 

*A note from Eva’s mom:

The rectangle that Eva cut out was 19 inches by 19 inches, with the stretch running across the width of the fabric.  We used our serger, but if you don’t have one you can make this using a zig zag stitch on your sewing machine.