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

Onsight Hiker's Mosquito Shelter from MEC - photo from

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 :)

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)

Families Go Outdoors Begrudgingly?!? When Kids Don't Want to Go Outdoors

By Auntie Shelley

“I’ve tried to get my kids outside more, but they hate it.”  

“We’ve barely made it to the trail and already our kids are complaining.”

“It just takes so much effort to get them out the door.  They fight us the entire time we’re getting ready.”

Sound familiar?  You’re not alone.  

I have some confessions to make.  

Our children don’t always want to go outdoors.

I don’t always want to go outdoors.

There have been many hikes, canoe trips, bike rides, nature walks - insert any form of outdoor physical activity - where we have joked that it would be more accurate if we named our website “Families Go Outdoors - Begrudgingly”.  Our kids can drag their heels, fight about getting their gear on, and audibly express their displeasure with the best of them.  Just ask our neighbours.

The fact that our kids spend a lot of time outside doesn’t mean that they always like it.  We believe they need it in order to be healthy, so just like we make them brush their teeth, eat their veggies, and clean their rooms, we make them go outside.  It isn’t optional.

The thing I’ve learned (ok, I’m still learning it) is that once we get out there we always feel better.  The kids may whine and complain at the start, but a game of forest hide and seek, finding a salamander or snake, a good splash in a puddle, and everyone feels better.  If all else fails, the promise of a treat once we get to a certain point on the hike or on the way home can also help - just don’t forget the treat!

Over the years we’ve come up with a few strategies that help make it easier to get outside with positive attitudes:

  1. It’s not optional.  Once we say we’re going out, we’re going out.  No matter how much fussing, fighting, whining, complaining there is, we are going.  Yes, we have been spotted carrying a tantruming child out into the wilderness.  And yes, Dan has been spotted dragging a sour-faced wife into the forest ;)  Kids will pretty quickly learn that it’s not worth fighting if they never win.  This isn’t to say that we never battle to get our kids outdoors, but it is certainly less of a battle than if they thought there was a chance they could get out of it.
  2. Be prepared as much as possible ahead of time.  The quicker you can get out the door, the more your kids will enjoy going outside.  At some point we’ll share more about how we organize our house/gear to make getting out easier, but for now let’s just say that if a simple walk or day hike is preceded by hours of preparation, searching for gear, parent’s yelling, etc. then kids aren’t going to want to go. 
  3. Invest in the right gear.  No kid wants to end up soaking wet and cold.  They also don’t want to be told they can’t jump in puddles or mud.  Investing in good quality rain gear, proper base layers, comfortable footwear, etc. means that your kids will be comfortable no matter what the weather.  
  4. Be okay with gear getting dirty or damaged.  Proper nature exploration is a full contact sport and kids won’t want to explore if they are going to get in trouble for getting muddy or accidentally ripping their clothes.  We don’t allow our kids to be careless with their gear, but if something gets damaged that’s okay.    
  5. Be ready to explore nature.  A sturdy net, spotting scopes, containers to collect specimens, a nature bag, etc.  Make sure your kids have the tools they need to observe and explore nature and be willing to stop or change plans if they come across a great nature find.   
  6. Anticipate and prepare for challenges.  We know that on long canoe trips there will almost always come a point when the kids’ morale is low and they will need some serious encouragement and motivation.  Years ago we started the tradition of telling “legends” in anticipation of this.  The “legends” are stories that revolve around a group of kids in the wilderness that are facing a challenge.  In order to overcome the challenge they have to be attentive to clues along the way and work together cooperatively.  At the end there is always some kind of reward or treasure.  We prepare for these legends ahead of time and bring the reward or treasure with us so that when morale gets low, we can set up a situation or challenge just like the one in the legend.  When the kids start to see the clues from the legend they are motivated to improve their attitudes and work together, just like the kids in the story.  Of course knowing there’s a reward at the end doesn’t hurt either.

    I also try to remember to stick a lollipop or two in my lifejacket on long paddles so that if a little one has trouble coping I have something to distract them with.  Throwing in a chocolate bar for Dan doesn’t hurt either.

    When snowshoeing I have found that having hand warmers and pocket full of “magical warming jellybeans” can quickly head off a full blown “my hands are freezing and going to fall off wig out”.   
  7. Lead by example.  If we complain about getting ready, our kids attitudes quickly deteriorate.  When we exude enthusiasm our kids are more likely to get excited about being in the outdoors.
If mom's not happy, nobody's happy!

If mom's not happy, nobody's happy!

Finally, if all else fails and your kids still don’t want to be outside at least you can take comfort in the fact that you’re building their character ;)

Books that Inspire Outdoor Play

By Auntie Shelley

Our kids love to read.  While we all know that reading is good for kids because it exercises their brains, improves their concentration and imagination, increases their vocabulary, etc., one thing that’s often overlooked is how reading can actually encourage outdoor play - if you pick the right books.

Chloe & Eva ready to thwart the Sheriff of Nottingham's evil plans

Chloe & Eva ready to thwart the Sheriff of Nottingham's evil plans


Over the years we have come across many books that really inspired our kids to play outside for extended periods of time.  Most of them have been classics that involve some kind of adventure.  Thankfully our neighbourhood backs onto a protected woodlot where our kids are free to run about slaying dragons and orcs, searching for hidden treasure, and outwitting the Sheriff of Nottingham.  Queen Jadis and her sledge have also been known to make an appearance or two, but so far we haven’t run into any talking beavers.  

Here is a list of some of our favourites:


The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkein

Hobbits, dwarves, wizards, trolls, goblins, elves, dragons, giant spiders, magical forests, battles….these books have inspired hours and hours of forest play for our family.


The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Set in the fictional realm of Narnia, this series tells the adventures of children who play pivotal roles in battling evil and restoring the kingdom.  There are enchanted forests, talking animals, mythical beasts, an evil witch, and Aslan, the Great Lion.  We found The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and Prince Caspian particularly inspiring.


Robin Hood

An outlaw and his band of merry men, a beautiful maiden, an evil prince, the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham, bows and arrows, sword fights, and it all takes place in a forest.  What more could you need?


Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss

A shipwrecked family that goes on to build themselves a huge tree-house to live in.  This is a classic adventure story.  Wyss wrote this book as a way to teach his sons about the natural world and self-reliance, as well as the importance of frugality, cooperation, love, etc.  The book provides detailed lessons about the natural environment, farming, animal husbandry, etc.  


Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

This is another classic tale of a shipwrecked castaway, only this time some cannibals are added to the mix.


Lost on a Mountain in Maine by Donn Fendler

This story is based on the author’s true account of being lost in the Katadhin Mountains for almost 2 weeks when he was only 12 years old.  This story definitely influenced Josh’s obsession with survival skills.  Just make sure you get the original version and not the recent graphic novel version which is awful.


The Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London

These are great books to read in the winter since they are set in the Yukon and involve dog sledding.  After reading these our kids made their own dog sleds out of Rubbermaid bin lids and string.  The older ones spent hours pulling the younger ones up and down the snow covered streets.


The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

These classics are sure to lead to raft building and searches for hidden gold.


While the novels listed above probably most appropriate for school-aged kids, Play with Me by Marie Hall Ets is one book that I love for toddlers.  It is a sweet little story about a girl who goes out to look for animals.  Each animal she tries to catch runs away from her - until she sits still by the pond.  Then they all come back.  I have found this book really helpful in teaching toddlers and preschoolers how to sit still and observe nature.





A Few Final Notes:

Eva with her  Lord of the Rings  inspired "Camping Cloak"

Eva with her Lord of the Rings inspired "Camping Cloak"


  • I have found that if we add one or two simple “props” from the book, outdoor play lasts even longer.  One of our favourites is what is now known as, “The Camping Cloak.”  When we read through The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings the kids were constantly raiding the linen closet, stealing blankets to use as cloaks.  We ended up sewing some real cloaks and the kids have spent countless hours running through the forests with them.  


  • A big spool of heavy string is a worthwhile investment.  It can be used to tie rafts together, as spider webs, to catch goblins, to make bows, etc.  It might seem simple, but the possibilities are endless.


  • If these books are above your child’s reading level, consider reading them aloud or have them listen to a recording. has great recordings of them.  


  • Although many of these books have been made into movies, I recommend avoiding the movies at least until your kids have read the books.  My observation has been that the books always inspire more imaginative outdoor play than the movies do.  


Have you found any books that inspired your kids to play outside?  If so, please share them with us in the comments section below.

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


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

2014 Gifts Giving Series - Ideas for Outdoor Kids

By Auntie Shelley

Christmas is quickly approaching and we've been busy putting together our wish lists.  We have come across some neat ideas for the outdoor family.  Over the next few days we'll be posting some Christmas gift ideas.  

For the most part we have tried to keep all of the items under $100.  Many are under $20 and would be ideal as stocking stuffers.  For the kids we have tried to focus on items that will encourage them to develop their outdoor skills and inspire them to get outside.  

So here's our first instalment.

Knot Tying Kits

Terra Kids Knack of Knots Kit

Knowing how to tie various knots is an essential outdoor skill and it's a great to practice during the winter months.

We recently came across this Terra Kids Knack of Knots Kit.  It retails for $16-$20 and comes with everything kids need to know how to tie various knots.

On its own this kit would be great, but you could add a book on knot tying, like My First Book of Knots.  

A great stocking stuffer for older kids would be ropes of various sizes/weights, a carabiner or two and the PROKNOT Outdoor Knots Cards.  This set contains twenty of the most common knots.  They are illustrated on waterproof plastic cards and held together with a grommet.  

They would easily fit in a glove box, backpack, or purse and could be used as a quiet activity during the year on car rides, etc.  

For those with anglers on their lists, they even have the Fisherman's Ultimate Knot Guide cards.



I would round out a knot tying kit with this Nature Facts Knot Tying Bandana.  


Stay tuned for our next instalment - Gifts to Inspire Orienteering Skills.

Hammocks - An Essential Piece of Gear for Naptime and Beyond

By Auntie Shelley

When we first started camping with toddlers, naptime was a bit chaotic.  Our naptime ritual went something like this: I would head to the tent for a “rest” with the little people.  The plan was for us to cuddle up, read a book, and then the little people were supposed to fall asleep and I would have some free time to paddle, read, drink coffee, etc.  In reality we would climb into the tent and the little people would immediately push all of the sleeping bags and gear into one big pile.  They would then proceed to launch themselves head first into the middle of the pile.  This would go on for at least half an hour.  Eventually, after much effort on my part to get them to settle down and sleep, I would pass out from exhaustion while they continued to roughhouse.  Yes, that was naptime.  It was fun for the little people, but not so fun for me. 

Then a few years ago on a last minute trip to Adventure Guide, I picked up a hammock.  Oh how the hammock changed things.  Luke was 2 on that first trip with the hammock.  When he started to look tired I asked him if he wanted to swing in the hammock with Mommy.  He hopped right in, snuggled up and within 5 minutes was out cold.  I think I fell asleep about a minute later.  A new ritual was born.  

Cousin Luke and Auntie Shelley enjoying the hammock.

I have found that my little ones will nap longer in the hammock compared to the tent and often when they wake up they are content to hang out there and watch the trees swaying above them.  I usually put a pad or blanket down underneath them for warmth.  Typically they like edges of the hammock folded up over them so that they are in a little cocoon.  If we’re out during bug season I will drape a mosquito net overtop.  I have also found that on the rare occasion when I don’t fall asleep in there with them, it’s pretty easy to sneak out without waking them up. 

Now, I will admit that when I bought the hammock I wasn’t really thinking about naptime.  I had visions of myself relaxing in it, enjoying a picturesque view of the water while my children canoed and explored the campsite.  In reality, I only got to use the hammock when I was putting Luke down for a nap in it.  The rest of the time it was full of children squirming, giggling, swinging, snuggling, reading, chatting, etc.  There were six or seven children on that trip and I think at least one of them was in the hammock the entire time.  At one point I did try to take back my hammock from the children, but I was out numbered.  They knew it and so did I. 

Since that trip the hammock has become one of our “must have” pieces of gear when camping with little ones.

Cousin Anna lounging in the hammock on a 2010 backcountry trip.

This year we ended up bringing two with us, which was a good thing since Grace staked her claim on the older one the moment it came out of its sack.  She’s rather small, but she is the fifth child and knows how to hold her own.  We all agreed it would be best not to mess with her.

Our latest addition is the ENO DoubleNest.  I picked this one because of its size.  Inevitably three or four kids want to be in there at once and the DoubleNest can easily accommodate them all.  It comes with two carabiners and an attached compression sack and packs down to the size of a softball.    

Cousin Josh in the ENO DoubleNest.

We have lots of webbing kicking around from climbing, so we use that to attach them to the trees, but the Atlas Straps would be worth picking up if you don’t have webbing already.

We have been interested in trying out hammock camping for a while now.  On our recent fall trip, Cousin Chloe tried it out for the first time.  I will let her tell you all about that experience.  For now let’s just say that I think hammocks will be showing up on some Christmas lists this year.