Reviews

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.

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.

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.

Review: Stanley Thermos

By Auntie Shelley

On cold fall trips I have found that the sooner I get a warm cup of hot chocolate into my kids' hands, the happier they are.  On cold mornings it can take awhile for water to boil, so this year I decided to try bringing a thermos with us.  My hope was that if I filled it up with boiling water the night before it would still be warm enough to make hot chocolate in the morning.  I didn't have much time to research it so I went to Adventure Guide, our trusted source for great gear, and picked up the Stanley Classic Vacuum Bottle.  I purchased this one because the label said it would keep liquids hot for 24 hours and because it was the biggest one they had.

As you will see in my video review, it actually worked!  On our recent trip the temperature dropped to about 1 degree Celsius at night.  We filled the thermos up with boiling water in the evening and we were happy to find that the water was still steaming in the morning!  Check out the video review below.  BTW: I had some professional help from Grace (Age 2) :).


Why Now I Like BOGS Even More!

By Auntie Shelley

I’ve mentioned in the past that BOGS are a standard piece of gear for both kids and adults when we are canoeing. 

Each of my kids has a pair and over the years they have put them to the test.  The first pair I bought ended up being worn by our 2 boys for at least 2 years each.  That’s 4 years of heavy use.  Those BOGS have been on canoe trips and walks in the woods; they've been worn around town and dragged on the ground to stop scooters; they've been involved in outside winter play and coated in mud more times than I can count.  I’m sure you get the picture.  These things just hold up!  We experimented with cheaper knock offs once or twice, but they never held up and in the end they are more expensive because they had to be replaced within one season. 

So this year I was surprised when on one of our trips Josh mentioned that one of his boots was leaking.  I was also a little disappointed.  He had only had the boots about 8 months.  They hadn’t been worn that much and given my past experience with BOGS, I had expected them to hold up much longer.  I also didn’t feel that the particular problem was due to carelessness or overuse on Josh’s part, so I decided to write to BOGS to see if there was anything they could do. 

I was blown away by their response.  They replied to my email within hours, requesting that I send a  couple of photos of the defective part and the label inside the boot.  Within hours of me sending the photos they responded, stating that they would replace the boots at no cost.  Not only that, they gave me a selection of boots to choose from and will be shipping them directly to my home.  That’s what I call amazing customer service!

I liked BOGS before, but now I like them even more.

Eva wearing her BOGS.

 Uncle Dave emptying his BOGS boot after falling into the drink.

Uncle Dave emptying his BOGS boot after falling into the drink.

Note: We are not affiliated with BOGS. 

Swedish FireKnife Review (by Cousin Josh: Age 10)

Josh reviews Light My Fire's Swedish FireKnife

The Swedish FireKnife is made by Mora and Light My Fire. This fixed blade knife has a comfy black rubber handle with Swedish fire steel in the pommel. The rubber handle prevents the knife from slipping out of your hand when you are working with it. The knife’s stainless steel blade is sharpened to a 30-degree angle. The knife comes with a plastic sheath that has a drainage hole in the bottom. The sheath has a sturdy belt clip that stays in place.  The knife comes is a variety of colours. The bright colours are good for younger kids who tend to forget where they set down their knives.

The Swedish FireKnife is useful in the camp kitchen.  It can cut meat and produce and is easy to clean. The sharp blade is also good for scraping bark to make fire tinder.  The steel can then be used to create sparks to light the tinder. To create the sparks you scrape the back of the knife blade along the fire steel. The fire steel also allows you to light gas stoves. This economically priced knife ($29-35 range) is good for any bushman and is available at MEC, Lee Valley Tools, REI, and Adventure Guide, or directly from Light My Fire.

Rain, Rain and More Rain (by Auntie Shelley)

Grace at two years of age in the MEC Newt Rain Suit.

A few years ago we went on a trip with 7 children under the age of seven.  It rained for seven of the eight days we were out there.  Almost everyone who asked about our trip thought that we might be crazy.  They wondered how we could consider this to be a vacation.   The disbelief grew when we said that we actually had a great time in the rain.  This year we did a twelve-day trip with 9 children and it rained for 10 days.  It was an awesome trip!  Really, it was.  What people often don’t realize is that children thrive in the wilderness, even when it’s raining, as long as their parents have a positive attitude and everyone has proper rain gear.

Proper rain gear and a good tarp system are what make the difference between a disaster of a trip and a great trip when there’s a lot of rain. 

Rain gear is one area where we don’t cheap out.  Everyone in our family has high quality rain gear and for the younger children we bring back up sets as well. 

For babies/toddlers I highly recommend the Newt Rain Suit from MEC. The suit may seem a bit pricey, but we usually buy one size larger than we need and find that we can get 2-3 years out of one size.  They have held up through several children and heavy use since we use them at home as well.  We usually bring two pairs of rain boots for the younger children so they always have a dry pair when they happen to get a soaker.

Our older kids have the MEC Reflective Rain Jackets and the MEC Rain Pants. MEC has child and youth sizes for these suits, and again, if you buy a size up you can get a couple of years out of them.  I have also found that they hold up well and can be passed on to younger siblings.  The only potential drawback is that these suits aren’t breathable, however we haven’t found this to be an issue.

Dan, Dave, Lisa, Anna and I use a mix of MEC and North Face Rain Gear.  For us, it is important that the suits are both waterproof and breathable.  I can’t stress enough how important it is for parents to keep dry as well.  If you’re cold and wet, staying positive takes a lot more effort.

For footwear we use Bogs Boots for everyone other than the toddlers and babies.  We like to bring Bogs on our camping trips because they not only keep our feet dry, they also keep our feet warm, even in the off chance that you happen to get them wet inside.  For the kids, I prefer the Kids’ Classic High without the handles because they give better coverage, but we also use the Kids’ Classic Highs with Handles. The ones with handles are easier to find in stores and they come in larger variety of colours .  Our kids end up wearing their Bogs three out of four seasons and we’ve found they hold up well.  I believe they are definitely worth the investment.

Good rain wear is necessary, but not sufficient when it comes to rainy trips.  To enjoy a rainy backcountry trip, it is advisable to have several high quality tarps.   Over the years we've invested in a set of tarps and our favourite and most useful ones have come from Cook Custom Sewing. I’ll leave it to Uncle Dave to write a review of these tarps because I won’t do them justice.  Let’s just say that they are amazing.  We have one that we use to store any gear that is not in use.  Then we have a second tarp that we use for cooking, playing games, and hanging out under. 

One of our tarps from Cook Custom Sewing.  We store our gear under this one.

We also bring a small tarp to hang up over the bathroom area.  We have found this to be invaluable when you have little people who often need help with toileting.  Finally, we always bring a cheap tarpaulin from Canadian Tire to hang up over our fire area. 

Our toilet tarp.  This one was purchased at MEC.

So, what do we do when it’s raining?  Because we’ve invested in good gear, we pretty much carry on as usual. 

The kids drawing while sitting under a tarp.

Over the years our kids have learned the importance of a warm fire, especially when it’s raining.  They love to gather wood, even in the rain.  They will spend hours collecting and preparing firewood.  The older boys are at the point where they look forward to the challenge of starting a fire with wet wood.  The younger kids enjoy sawing wood with their very own little saws.  With our cheap tarp over the fire area the kids can prepare wood and sit by the fire while staying warm and dry.  A few marshmallows to roast and life is good!

Luke at 1.5 years of age playing with water dripping from the tarp.

Our toddlers often entertain themselves with the water that drips off of the tarp strings.  I usually give them a couple of spoons, a cup and a bowl, and they will spend hours amusing themselves with the dripping water.  And who knew that stuffing wet pine needles into a pot and then dumping them back out again could be so much fun?!?

On our last trip we had a lot of drizzly rain, with virtually no wind, which meant that the lake water was calm.  The calm water made trolling for fish easy.  It also made practicing sterning the boat really easy.  The kids spent hours on the water and by the end of the trip we had four new sternskids. 

Luke wearing his rain suit while fishing on a rainy day.

Josh taking Grace out for a spin in the canoe during a momentary pause in the rain.

One of the often overlooked benefits of rain is that it can force us to slow down.  When the weather is “perfect” we are more apt to want to travel around and take day trips, all of which takes a lot of effort.  When it rains we don’t feel the same push to keep going.  We spend more time doing things like reading, telling stories, drawing, practicing tying knots, sipping on hot chocolate, and just enjoying creation.  Sitting under a tarp in the rain might not sound like much fun, but let me tell you, in the backcountry the view was amazing.

Review: Salus Bijoux Baby Vest (by Auntie Shelley)

Anna was 3 months old when we took her on her first canoe trip over 12 years ago.  Being a former lifeguard and a new mom, her safety around the water was a major concern for me.  Unfortunately, back then there weren’t really any lifejackets for infants.  The smallest one we could find was for kids weighing 22lbs.  We used it, but it was far from ideal.  She was not comfortable and was quite vocal about her displeasure.  I found it stressful because the jacket didn’t fit as snuggly as I would have liked and there was no easy way to nurse her with it on. 

By the time Eva was born (5 years later) Salus had introduced their Bijoux Baby Vest and it revolutionized our canoeing experience.  I have used it with our youngest three kids and I absolutely love it.  Auntie Lisa has used it with her youngest three and also loves it. 

Auntie Lisa holding Caleb who is wearing the Salus Bijoux  Baby Vest.

Baby Grace wearing the Salus Bijoux.

This jacket is for babies 9-25lbs and is manufactured right here in Canada.  According to the Salus website, “the front design ensures that baby turns face-up from a face-forward position. The collar cradles the head when lifted by the strap or while floating. Mesh harness and short front enhance comfort sitting upright, lying down, or in a baby carrier.”

The jacket is fully adjustable so that I can get it on the baby snuggly regardless of what the baby is wearing.  This was probably one of the biggest selling features for me because I don't have to worry about my baby popping out of the lifejacket accidentally.  The front padding stays in place and doesn’t ride up into the baby’s face, which means that a mom can easily nurse the baby while the baby is wearing the jacket.  It also has two little mesh pockets on the front, which are great for storing soothers or safety whistles.  The fabric feels thick and is durable, showing no signs of wear after 7 years of use.  The padded collar makes a nice headrest and the mesh back allows the baby to lie down comfortably.  There have been many trips where our little one would take a nice long nap in front of me in the canoe.  My babies never “complained” when wearing this lifejacket and regularly fell asleep with it on, so my guess is they find it quite comfortable.

I tested this jacket out at our local pool and am confident that it would keep my baby floating face-up should we ever capsize.  It should be noted that this lifejacket is not Transport Canada or Coast Guard approved, but my understanding is that this is because they don’t test/approve lifejackets for anyone under 22lbs, not because it doesn’t work.

While the price tag may seem a bit steep (it retails for about $79.99) I believe it has been well worth the money.  Ours still looks like new even though we’ve had ours for 7 years, it’s been through three kids (1-2 seasons per kid) and we have lent to several friends.  You can often find them on Kijiji or in consignment stores for $30-$50.

Overall I would give this product 5 stars out of 5.

What canoes do we use? (by Uncle Dan)

Over the years our family has used many different canoes.  Early on, when our family was rapidly growing, our canoe needs changed from year to year and so we opted to rent canoes to meet the specific needs that came up each year.  This gave us a chance to test different canoes from several manufacturers including Swift Canoe and Kayak and Mad River Canoe.   By far, our favorite models of canoes were the Swift designs.    Initially, we were able to fit our family and all of our gear into a single canoe.  This was good because when our children were small, only Shelley and I were available to stern a canoe and Shelley always had to tend to the youngest child (baby or toddler), which left only me at the stern.  We needed a relatively large boat that could fit everyone (and everything) and one that could move relatively quickly and efficiently over flat water (since most of our trips involve flat water paddling).  We found that the Swift Winisk best met our needs.  The Winisk was designed by boat designer John Winters and falls in Swift's 'Canadian Touring Canoes' class.  This boat boasts a length of 17 feet and 6 inches with a maximum width of 36 inches and a 14 inch bow height.  It has an asymmetrical design and is built for speed and stable tracking on the flat water. The photograph below shows us packed in the Winisk with only inches of freeboard (the distance between the water and the gunwale of the canoe). 

Two adults and four children and all of their gear in a single canoe (the Swift Winisk).  Photo by Dave Smilek

While it's probably not a good idea to load a boat to this level, we had to make do since we were not yet able to take multiple canoes.  The Winisk served us extremely well and we recommend it enthusiastically.  If you need a large touring boat you might also check out the Swift Tamagami, which has the same length as the Winisk but a slightly greater maximum width and a larger load range.

In 2011, our children were older and this allowed us to start using two canoes, with Shelley at the stern of one canoe and with me at the stern of the other.  At this point, we decided that it was time to purchase rather than rent canoes because rental costs were getting quite high and we knew that we would use the boats we purchased for the foreseeable future. We purchased one of the canoes at a Swift sale in Guelph, ON.  Fortunately, at this sale we were able to procure a lightly used Swift Algonquin 17" fiberglass canoe at a great price.  Our decision to go with the Algonquin was based on the fact that it is known to be a great performing yet very stable canoe, which are useful features if the canoe has to efficiently transport fidgeting kids across large wavy lakes. 

Anna sitting beside the Swift Algonquin.

For our second canoe, I decided to take the plunge and actually build one!  So, in the summer of 2011, with some help from Shelley, the children, my brother Dave and a good friend named Mike, I (we) built a cedar strip canoe.  I decided to go with the Kipawa designed by John Winters (and also sold by Swift).  The Kipawa is 16 feet and 6 inches long and has a maximum width of 36 inches.  It is an asymmetrical canoe designed for speed and tracking at the expense of a little stability.    I bought the plans and the materials at Noah's Marine in Toronto ON.  The good folks at Noah's also gave me lots of useful tips.  My main sources of guidance for building the canoe, however, were the following two books:

Below is an image of Shelley paddling the cedar Kipawa. 

Shelley paddling the cedar strip Kipawa on a misty morning in Algonquin Park.

Together the Algonquin and the Kipawa were our primary work horses until this year, when our family, now with five growing kids, finally needed a third canoe.  For our third canoe, we fixed and resurrected an old Voyageur Prospector canoe that my brother Dave and I used when we were teenagers (the canoe is now roughly 26 years old).  Below is a photo of my daughter Anna soloing the old Prospector.

Anna soloing the refurbished Voyageur Prospector.

Going forward, we hope to replace the old Prospector with another canoe from Swift -- maybe the 16 foot Keewaydin or the tough Dumoine!  We'll keep you posted.