Monday, April 30, 2012

Family camping made easy - Warm sleepers are happy sleepers

I occasionally get questions from readers about camping and how to make it more fun for kids.  If you're a seasoned camper or have that RV all set up to keep everybody toasty warm and as comfortable as they would be in the city, you may not need the tips I'm going to share below.  For the rest of us though, camping with kids - especially babies and toddlers - can be incredibly intimidating!  This will be our third season camping with our son and it still terrifies me.  Therefore, I can hardly call myself an expert in the area and my husband will be the first to broadcast that I'm a bit of a camping princess.  I'll plan the trip, make the bookings, find the group, pack and unpack but when I'm in camp the work falls on my beloved camping savvy husband.

Honestly, there is no "right" time to introduce the family to camping.  Many would argue that it's best to start early and that kids are easiest to camp with as babies.  I would highly agree with this personally but then again, I don't have twins.  I don't have a child that will disappear or try to escape out of the tent while sleeping.  I don't have a child that is terrified of using an outhouse or needs a fixed routine every day.  Only you will know when it's the right time to try camping with your family.

Here are a few things I have learned though in our last few years that may make that first, second, or fifth trip a little more comfortable and enjoyable.

Warm sleepers are happy sleepers


Buy a small three season tent

If you are planning on tenting (which you can continue to do even with a baby) buy a small tent.  Don't buy that gigantic tent with three rooms from Canadian Tire or your will freeze your butt off.  I guarantee it.  Body heat keeps everybody warm and that will only happen if you are sleeping close enough together to actually tell there is another body near by.  It's my personal opinion that nobody needs their own bedroom when camping.  The whole joy of tenting is that it brings the family closer together.  You sleep together, side by side, and listen to each other breathing.  You can put your arm around your child, cuddle them to sleep, and even snuggle under the same blanket.  Otherwise, you might as well go buy that tent trailer or RV if you want personal space.

Bring blankets

You aren't backpacking so there's no reason you can't bring blankets along.  We each have our own down filled sleeping bag but no toddler is going to stay inside his or her sleeping bag all night.  They move around too much.  I don't even like to be wrapped tight inside mine.  I need room to sprawl.  We bring an old comforter and throw it across my son and I.  I can sleep with my arms outside my sleeping bag and wrap an arm around my son for comfort.  He on the other hand will toss and turn all night, warm and snug under the blanket I ensure stays over both of us.

Use snowsuits, bunting suits or sleep sacks for babies

When my son was a baby we would layer him for sleep much like you would layer a child to play in the snow.  Below are the layers that my son wore his first two years camping and backpacking:
  • Fleece blanket sleeper with feet
  • Fleece bunting suit or snow suit
  • Quilted sleep sack
  • Tuque, winter hat, or something to cover the head
  • Mittens if the bunting suit doesn't have hand covers

This baby was definitely toasty warm in the tent (Photo: G. Duncan)

Bring a down jacket

I like to sleep in a down jacket.  That way I can keep my upper body out of my sleeping bag and have more freedom to move around.  If you don't sleep in your jacket you will still want it for that 2am feeding, the 6am wake-up call when your toddler insists he is all done sleep, or for general camp use.  It's cold in the Rockies in the evenings and mornings.  If you are going to stay up long enough to enjoy the campfire after the kids go to bed or get up and make breakfast in the morning before the sun reaches your campsite, you'll need that warm jacket.  Note that it can take until 10:00am for the sun to get over the mountains and reach your tent.  Most kids aren't going to stay in the tent that long so you will have to brave the cold morning air.

More stories to follow in this series on family camping made easy.  To read the next one, follow this link to Family Camping Made Easy - Baby Adventures.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Friday's Gift - FAMILY



Noah and Grandma

Today I give thanks for family.  I have a fabulous husband who's currently reading my son stories while I have quiet time and write.  I have a beautiful boy that I love more than life itself.  And last but certainly not least, we have a large circle of extended family that have been there for us time and time again.  When I was rendered unable to walk for most of my son's first year, my mom moved in with us and selflessly cared for the two of us while my husband worked.  She has become a second mom to my son and watches him while I work, stays the night when my husband and I go away together, and gives us plenty of days and nights off so we can go out for dinner alone, go on an adventurous trip to the mountains, or just go skiing without pulling a child behind us.  We are blessed.

Thanksgiving brings family together

Safe in Great Grandpa's hands

Enjoying a push  from Grandpa

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ode to Spring

Looking through all the photos I took last weekend on our trip to Fairmont Hotsprings, BC I was unable to really come up with one central theme or story - other than "Yay, it's finally Spring."  We didn't do anything super adventurous, I don't have any big stories to tell (other than that I got bit by my first tick - stupid bug!), and I don't really feel like writing a formal review for Fairmont Hotsprings or the Columbia Valley.  Therefore, all I'm going to do is share my photos with you in what I think is a fitting tribute to Spring.

Yes, that's grass - and it's green!!
Hiking at the Fairmont Hotsprings Resort
Waterfall below the Fairmont Hotsprings swimming pool
Throwing rocks in the creek at Fairmont Hotsprings
A child can spend hours playing in a creek

We took a trip to Findlay Falls - our first visit and a beautiful spot (wear good shoes for the hike in - not sandals)
Beginner bouldering at Findlay Falls
Jumbo pine cones on the Findlay Falls trail
Hiking with Daddy
We don't have this kind of pine tree in Alberta and I think they are so beautiful

First flowers of the season
Next time you think you're having a crappy day - think of this poor little tree
Taking a walk in Canal Flats
Noah's sweet ride, the Piggy back carrier
Playing in the grass outside our hotel room at the Fairmont Hotsprings Resort
Digging in the flower beds - I gave him the idea so it's my fault.
Soaking in the hotsprings
Sweetest playground at Kinsmen Beach, Invermere

Playing in the sand - Summer will be here soon and we'll be swimming too!
Pussy Willows spotted in Canmore on the way home
Noah had never seen pussy willows before
Coolest trail in Canmore along Policeman's Creek - and short!  (it also ends at a pub with a playground - the Rose and Crown)


I'd love to hear your favourite thing about Spring.


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Snow, Puddles, and Mud - Oh My!

We went for a hike in the city a couple weeks ago and soon had "snow, puddles, and mud - oh my" as our trip mantra.  Welcome to Spring in the Rockies!  One day you can be outside in a T-shirt and the next day you are back in your winter coat complete with mittens, a hat, and boots.  It's a mixed season challenging the most prepared parents when it comes to dressing the kids for outdoor play and adventure.

We aren't experts by any means when it comes to outdoor clothing and keeping children dry, warm and happy.  However, we have learned a few things here in our land of ice and snow.  What we have learned, I pass on to you. 

One - Keeping kids dry and warm doesn't have to cost a fortune

My son's spring outdoor wardrobe consists of the following items:
  • Thomas the Tank Engine rain boots from Walmart ($12)
  • Fleece sweat pants that can be bought absolutely anywhere for $10
  • Rain pants from Walmart ($10 and absolutely waterproof against puddles or mud)
  • Any long sleeve shirt, cotton or not (He's 3 and honestly I'm just not all that worried about him sweating buckets on a little hike or romp at the playground)
  • Any fleece hoodie (again, cheap and available anywhere!)
  • A three season jacket (These can get a little pricey but your child will wear it all Spring, Summer and Fall.  Buy it big and they'll wear it for two seasons.  We got ours on sale and also convinced Grandma to buy it.  If you can't find a good deal, look for second hand jackets.  The key is fleece lined, water resistant on the outside, and warm enough for variable weather.)
  • Mittens and a hat (that you'll have from winter anyway)

Don't be the parent who tells their child to get out of the puddles - be prepared!
Warm in a simple three season jacket and fleece pants

Two - Don't buy into the idea that you child has to be wearing official outdoor clothing for simple outdoor play

You can go down to REI or Mountain Equipment Coop and buy all the big name brand clothes for your child but why?  Honestly, my son's cheap Walmart rain pants are amazing and almost every child in our Outdoor Playgroup has a pair.  They might not last more than one season, but for $10 who cares!  And, would your child fit any pair of pants for more than one season anyway? My son has jumped in puddles that went over the top of his boots and finished walks with his cheap rain pants absolutely soaked.  When I take them off though the fleece pants underneath are 100% dry every time.  And his socks - dry too.  Don't underestimate the quality of something just because it doesn't come with an expensive price tag. 

Furthermore, I could write a whole story about hiking pants and why your child doesn't need them.  When it's cool out, my son wears fleece pants with a waterproof layer over top.  When it's warm, he wears cheap, thin cotton pants from Old Navy.  They last one season and again - that's all you need.  Bring a pair of rain pants along if you fear your child will get muddy or wet - all good!  My son has gone backpacking, stood on top of cold windy mountain summits, spent numerous weekends camping in our chilly Rocky Mountains, and done more hikes than I can count - all in simple pants that come from a department store.  I'm definitely not sold on zip-off pants because I've seen my son run and fall down on almost every one of our walks.  I'd be putting band-aids on his wounds every time we went for a walk if I let him go exploring in shorts.  What I do like is pants that have buttons at the bottom so that you can roll them up a bit and hence protect the child from tripping on long pant legs.  If it's hot outside, we dress our son in thin cotton pants to prevent against overheating and we're all good.  

Third, the concept of official long underwear is foreign to us.  Seriously!  We are pretty hard core as far as families living and adventuring in the Canadian Rockies go and our son doesn't own a pair of long underwear.  If we feel the need to put a warm base layer on him, he either wears fleece pjs, or a two piece fleece pants and sweater set, again from any department store. We've had friends ask us where we got our son's amazing fleece hiking set.  I laughed as I told them that it came from Walmart and that it cost $10.  We check our son's feet and legs when we come inside and he's always been warm.  (a challenge when you are outside in -20C temperatures)

My son does not own a pair of official hiking pants. 

Three - Save your money for a few important items needed for serious outdoor adventures

If you are the kind of parent that plans to take their child outside in the middle of a torrential downpour, you'll be doing backcountry trips where the potential to get wet is high, or you generally do a lot of activity in the mountains all year round, it is worth it to spend the extra money to get a few pieces of technical clothing.  My son has a one piece rain suit from Mountain Equipment Coop and when we hit the mountain trails on cool or wet days, he wears that.  Walmart rain pants are fine for mud, puddles, and walks close to home but I'm not going to venture out into the backcountry in a cheap pair of pants and risk my child getting hypothermia.  My child also has proper waterproof hiking boots and if we are going hiking outside the city he always wears warm hiking socks I picked up from REI.

Even when looking for those select items that tend to cost more money, you can still save a penny by buying second hand rain suits, jackets, or boots.  My son's first boots were bought off a friend and they were awesome.  And, it's still a good idea to have a price in your head that you won't go over when choosing outdoor clothing for your family.  I bought my son's newest boots from Pay-less Shoes because I can't justify paying more than $30 for a pair of shoes my child will wear one season.

The amazing one-piece rain suit my son often lives in

A few final notes:

  • The sun is getting stronger with the warm days so make sure your child is wearing either sunglasses or a big floppy hat to cover their eyes if you are going to be outside for an extended period of time.
  • Bring out the Sunblock now that Spring is here - if you haven't already been using it for snow sports.
  • Always buy rain pants and rain suits a size larger.  No child is going to be happy playing outside in pants that are too tight to climb up a slide, run around, or move freely in.
  • A light puffy jacket (preferably synthetic and not down) is excellent for cool mornings.  My son has been wearing his all winter and still wears it when we are going to be outside for a long time.  Be warned though that they are not cheap!  Buy large so you will hopefully get two seasons out of it or try to find one second hand.
Mr Cool in his sunglasses and his North Face light puffy jacket

I hope this inspires you and frees you to get outside this Spring with your children.  Worst Case scenario - bring a change of clothes and a new pair of shoes for the car ride home.  Most kids will hardly notice if they're wet as long as they are having fun and if your children are young, chances are your adventures won't be longer than a couple hours anyway.

Notice the first child on the left is wearing hiking boots, the second one is in everyday city shoes, and the third is in rubber boots.  The kids are wearing simple sweaters and jackets.  Two of the three are in waterproof pants from Walmart.  Each child hiked 4km and wet or dry - were all happy!

Today's linked in blogs

Tales of a Mountain Mama - Our No-Cotton Philosophy + Gear - Day1
Wilderness for kids - Having a Soaking Wet Good Time: How to have fun with kids in the rain

Check out these blogs and don't forget to check out the daily contest at Tales of a Mountain Mama.  Each day this week there will be a different contest to enter with awesome gear to be won.  Each contest lasts 24 hours only so check daily for the next give-away.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Redefining the defininition of Outdoorsy

 A week ago I came across a contest for Outdoorsy Blogging Moms through a social media site called Circle of Moms.  The contest is called "Top 25 Outdoorsy Moms, 2012."  I heard about the contest through my friend Amelia with Tales of a Mountain Mama.  She asked fellow outdoor writers to vote for her but also encouraged us to participate in the contest if we wanted with the promise that she would vote for us as well.  Several of us threw our hats in the ring because of the opportunity to have our blogs promoted to six million readers.  I never expected to win or even finish in the top five because though I am definitely outdoorsy, I know there are so many deserving moms out there.  Amelia and her blog above are pretty much household names in our house because of how much inspiration I draw from the blog.  In no way do I even think I should be in the same contest as her when it comes to being an outdoorsy mom.

When I think "Outdoorsy Mom" I think of another great girl named Tiffany who created a camping blog called "A little Campy."  I consider her to be a camping guru and if I ever needed advice on anything from camping on a budget to teaching a child how to fish - I'd go straight to her blog.  When I think "Outdoorsy" I also think of all the climbing moms that haven't given up their passion but still get out to the crags with their babies, toddlers, and kids in tow.  These hard core moms are simply inspiring and I have to say more than a little intimidating.  Check out Haley's blog, Climb, Run, Lift Mom if you don't believe me. If biking is more your thing, check out Jen's blog, Velo Mom.  Jen's style of riding isn't your average urban bike ride around the local park in your neighborhood.  We're talking single track trails through the Moab desert.  Oh and when she isn't riding, she can be found surfing or ice climbing.  Hard core chick!

Family Camping in Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington, USA

The term "Outdoorsy" has always involved nature in my mind - be it hiking, camping, fishing, walking through the forest, mountain biking, trail running through alpine valleys, or skiing.  Anything that gets you out of the city and off pavement.  If you're lucky, you live in a city like Calgary where you can actually forget the city exists due to the abundance of natural areas and parks within city limits.  It's easy for us to retreat to nature just by walking out our back door.

A peaceful hike with my son

Since becoming a mom, my definition of "outdoorsy" has also grown to include outdoor play - playing in the mud, sand, water, or looking for butterflies while out on a walk.  Today we went for a walk and the biggest excitement of the day wasn't the rocks we thought our son should climb but the flowers we saw since it's crocus season finally.  Pine cones were also a big thrill as were the sticks we found.  Before becoming a parent I barely stopped to look down when I was outside because I was too busy climbing to the top of something.  All I ever saw was scree, more scree, and then, even more scree.  Imagine my surprise upon having a child and slowing down to learn that there are flowers in those mountains!  Wow!

Exploring with children is magical

I've had a lot of good mentors in the area of Outdoor Play and I encourage you to check out the amazing blogs listed on my blog roll.  One mom that especially impresses me is Lindsey with Outside Mom.  Lindsey is an Environmental Educator and in her words, "The outdoors is infused into everything we do."  You don't get much more Outdoorsy than that. 

Finally,  you can "like" the outdoors and be an "Outdoorsy person"  but to truly be an "Outdoorsy Mom" it has to be bigger than you.  It has to be about your whole family.  When you add the word "Mom" - you are implying  that you are not alone in something but that your kids are somehow involved.  I admire families that get outside together, as a family.  I think it's our responsibility as outdoor parents to pass on the appreciation of nature to the next generation starting with our own family.  I'm sure it's hard if running is your thing and you have toddlers at home to raise who can't join you in your races yet.  And professional climbers can't exactly take their kids with them on all of their adventures.  However, if you are truly passionate about nature, you will find something outdoors that you can do as a family.  I am always surprised by how much I love toddler hiking for example.  We've given up downhill skiing for a couple years here but we've done a lot of cross country skiing because we can take our son with us in a sled.  We even still go backpacking with our three year old - we just choose easier shorter trails.  One mom that inspires me in this area is Alyssa with the Kid Project Blog.  When they go camping, they bring their climbing gear, their bikes, their friends, backpacking gear, hiking boots - and pretty much their entire collection of outdoor gear it sounds like.  Awesome!  They go as a large group and everybody gets to participate - be it on their Strider Balance bike or on the climbing walls.

Camping with friends is always more fun

I'm not going to ask you to vote for me because it's becoming apparent that the contest is just a large popularity contest between running groups.  If you want to vote for me that's awesome and I'd appreciate it but please consider voting for some of the amazing girls listed in this post.  And whether you vote for them or not, please visit their blogs when you get a chance and be inspired as I have been.  Check out the other blogs on my blog roll too and support your Outdoor Moms.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday's Gift - SNOW


Yes, it's April and many of you are already wearing shorts with sandals.  Most of the comments I get on my blog though are from people captivated by the amounts of snow we get (and continue to get) here.  Therefore, today I dedicate Friday's Gift to all of you Southern men and women.  Here is a look at my life in the Canadian Rockies where we learn at a young age to either love snow or move somewhere else.  


Skoki Lodge, Lake Louise


Winter Camping at the HI Kananaskis


Doesn't everybody make snowmen in March?


Our backcountry trip to Elk Lakes Provincial Park
Spring hiking in Jasper National Park


This was the the night of the Summer Solstice on Moose Mountain several years ago, Kananaskis


This is how I spent Canada Day last year  - yes I'm crazy!


Lake O'Hara in Summer with fresh snow that had fallen the night before


Fresh snow in Larch Valley, Lake Louise


Hiking in Sundance Canyon, Banff National Park



Snowshoeing at Elbow Lake, Kananaskis


Skiing in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

To quote a comment I got on my last post, Snowy Adventures in Elk Lakes Provincial Park:
 Love the pictures of all that snow. It looks like so much fun. But coming from the southern U.S., I have to ask-- When does your snow start to melt? When is your summer season? Here in Georgia, we are already in shorts and sandals.

The answer:
I'm not sure we know what Summer is.  Even when it is warm and sunny, we still seem to choose snowy adventures that take us high up in the mountains where the snow never really melts.  We've found ways to embrace our cold weather and have learned to love skiing as much as hiking.  We go camping year round but choose to stay in cabins when there's snow on the ground.  It's a special climate we have here and it is certainly not for everybody but we've grown to enjoy it most of the time.