Sunday 21 October 2018

Unboxing an assortment of Mora Knives

I've never heard of Morakniv until a few weeks ago, and since then have done a fair bit of googling and watched more than a few Youtube videos on them - they seem to be almost universally well-liked and highly-praised, and even the low-end knives starting at under 15 Canuck Bucks appear to be as well made as some of the more expensive ones.

Many of their cheapest knives all look identical to four of the ones in this video, and the only variation on the theme is blade width, breadth, and length.  Another neat thing about these knives is that just about every design gives you the choice between stainless and carbon steel.  I chose the latter, and they came plated so I'm sure that plating will wear off before long - but that's OK since I know how to care for a carbon steel blade (basically keep it dry and clean).  Another variable is that for an extra couple of dollars you can buy one of the models with the rubberized compound on the handle - the extra grip you get with these is definitely worth the few extra bucks you pay for them.

The knives are razor sharp out of the package and their handles are close enough to symmetrical that you could use the knives in a "backwards" manner drawing toward yourself if you absolutely had to.  I'm still getting used to this new style of plastic sheath but I think I will before too long.  The funny bump you see on the front of four of the sheaths is a special clip that clips into a groove in the back of the same type of sheath so you string your knives together.  I'm still trying to think of a real practical use for that, but I'm sure there must be one out there.  It is a cool feature.

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Gear Review : Big Al vs Fjällräven Short Pants

I've had both of these shorts for about 2 years now and finally got around to doing a comparative review of them.  Click here to see it including a video review.

Friday 14 September 2018

Autism in the Outdoors

The Scouting year is about to begin again, and this year after 5 years in Scouts (ages 11 to 14) I'm going back to Cubs (ages 8 to 10).  My second oldest is continuing on to Venturers (ages 14 to 18) but said he only wants to continue on if I'm not there.  Which is totally cool by me - in fact pretty awesome honestly.  At the beginning of every Scouting year I always have a meeting with the parents during which I tell them amongst many other things : "the most precious thing I can give to your child is something I cannot give to my own - independence".  As Scout leaders we try to mitigate against this with various techniques - like when climbing mountains in the Adirondacks we try to ensure we are not in the same hiking group as our own kids.  Or for example in the spring on our first canoe trip this past year we were spread across 3 different camp sites on the lake, one of which was a bit further away - and my son was staying on it with two of the outer Scout leaders while I stayed on the other two sites.

Anyway, my next son is moving up from Beavers to Cubs this year, and I'm joining him.  In fact I'm moving into the Akela role - the head Cub leader - even though the program has changed completely in the 5 years since I was Akela last time and I'm walking into something completely new.   This is the new "Canadian Path" in Scouts Canada, for anyone familiar with it.  As much as I am a bit disappointed that I won't get to do some of the more exciting things that I really enjoy like Winter Camp in the backwoods, Canoe Trips, Hiking trips and so on, I am really excited about giving my next son the same sort of experience I helped give the older two when we went through the program together.  And I'm hoping we get to spend the next 6-7 years together just like I did with the older two.

But that's not what I'm here to write about.

Sunday 9 September 2018

Family Canoe Trip to Stratton Lake, Algonquin Park

Packed and ready to launch
A little over 6 years ago I got into a canoe for the first time in my life as part of the Scouting program that my kids were and still are involved in, and I almost immediately got hooked.  Not just hooked, obsessed.  And even though I've been on lots of canoe trips since then even some outside of Scouting involving my 3 boys, and different friends and their boys - until last weekend we still had not done a family canoe trip.  My 8 year old had been on 4 father-and-son canoe trips starting at age 4, but my wife had not been on one since she was a teenager a couple of decades ago.  This year my wife and I finally agreed that we can and should do a trip - so a few months ago we booked a site on Stratton Lake in Algonquin Park, and we started planning.

We chose Stratton Lake mainly because it is the access to High Falls, which is a popular swimming location because the waterfall is a natural waterslide.  Also because the access point is Achray campground, a spot we've been camping at for a number of years now.  Last year during our camping trip to Achray we took 2 canoes and paddled the family across Grand Lake up to the portage into Stratton, so this year we knew we'd be in good shape for a full-fledged trip.  The main complicating factor for us was figuring out what combination of canoes would work - with a family of 7 including kids aged 1, 3, 8, 14 and 16, things can get a bit complicated.  What we ended up with is 2 x 16 foot Prospectors (of course!) along with the new-to-us 16 foot touring kayak I picked up last fall but had not yet had on the water.  It worked well with one of the teenagers in the kayak, my wife in one of the canoes with the other teenager and the 1 year old, and me paddling the other canoe with the 3 and 8 year olds on the front seat.  I borrowed the Scouts canoe trailer and loaded the 2 canoes there, and had the kayak on the roof of my Suburban along with a cargo bin.

Sunday 26 August 2018

Making Kayak Hatch Gaskets from Silicone

Kayaking is brand new to me, and so I don't know much about it, or kayaks.  So when I posted about my new-to-me sea kayak on one of the canoeing forums, people pointed out that this kayak originally came with neoprene hatch covers, and the firberglass covers went over that to make a tight seal to prevent water infiltration.  I did not have neoprene covers nor any reasonable means to make them, so I improvised a gasket with a tube of silicone and some kitchen cling wrap.  All-in-all I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out.  Of course as always the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so we won't know how well it works until we get it on the water.  So I'll report back after we've taken it for spin.

Sunday 19 August 2018

Swift Caspian Sea Kayak

Last fall when I was making my regular rounds of kijiji a nice looking kayak came up at what seemed to me to be a pretty reasonable price.  16 foot Swift in fiberglass - older but still in great shape.  I don't know the kayak market like I do the canoe market, and I don't think I'd even been in a kayak before except maybe once, but I did know that much like canoes plastic was cheaper and heavier, fiberglass lighter and more expensive, and kevlar lighter and more expensive even still.  So when I saw a 16 foot Swift Caspian Sea for $750 I wanted to go see it.  But it came up at a time when I was extremely busy with vacation and then Scouts, and as such I really could not take the time to go see it.  So after exchanging a few emails weeks passed - 5 or 6 weeks to be exact - and by then of course I figured the guy had long-since sold it.  Then one day out of the blue I get another message from him - was I still interested for 500 bucks!  Well I was still interested at 750 so sure I'd take it for 500 - I went right over to check it out, and took home my first kayak.

Saturday 11 August 2018

New Article - Canoe 101

I spent a lot of time over the last few days putting together an intro article to explain the basics of canoes - mainly geared toward someone buying their first canoe and wanting to get up to speed on what all their options are and what all the different terms mean.  You can see it linked in above but here is a link to it as well : Canoe 101

Tuesday 7 August 2018

Hike to Cape Split

Cape Split is a narrow little jutting peninsula of land which is part of the larger Cape Blomidon. Together they jut out into the Bay of Fundy between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and divide the Bay of Fundy from the Minas Basin. It is often said that the Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world - though I believe more correctly the Minas Basin does. The numbers you find online are that the tidal range in this area is about 16 meters or about 53 feet. When you experience this with your own eyes it is really quite spectacular! The hike to Cape Split gives you a perfect opportunity to experience these tides first hand. It is a relatively easy hike if you stick to the main trail, and one that 5 and 6 year olds regularly accomplish with their families. If you hike at a fast pace you can make it to the split in just over an hour, but more realistically most people probably want to allot 4 to 5 hours for the return trip. It is about 6.5 km each way if you stay on the main trail.

My apologies if I misrepresent this piece since I've never heard it told directly by a member of the local Mi'kmaw First Nation, but Blomidon is supposed to be the home of the Mi'kmaw god Glooscap, and the tall pieces of Cape Split broken off the end of where you hike are referred to in local lore as "Glooscap's fingers".  I would love to hear more about this from someone knowledgable.

I was first exposed to tides in this area in University - at Acadia University in Wolfville NS a standard part of the "frosh" program for initiating freshmen was to take them out onto the mud flats of the Wolfville Harbour during low tide and have them slide down the 30 and 40 foot natural mud slides. Of course everyone got completely covered head-to-toe in mud, which is why arrangements were always made with the local fire hall to pay a visit there afterwards to get hosed down.

Cape Split was originally private land which from 2002 through 2007 got acquired by the Province of Nova Scotia and turned into a Provincial Park. In 2009 the province released a 20 year management plan with details on where they wanted the park to go.

Sunday 20 May 2018

Fabrics for Outdoor Clothing

I've been spending the last week or so on this and finally put it up on the site - a little something about the different types of fabrics used in clothing, and their suitability for outdoors activity. Please have a look at this page and by all means please leave a comment if you agree or disagree with me on anything.

Saturday 12 May 2018

Canada Bans Most Folding Knives

My about-to-turn 8 year old has his birthday coming up shortly, and since he is rounding out his time in Beaver Scouts this year and moving up to Cubs next year, I was going to buy him a pocket knife for his birthday.  I was at Mountain Equipment Coop just now and was looking for something and really surprised to see they did not seem to have a single folding knife other than Swiss Army knives.  As a Scout leader my recommendation to kids has always been to forego the bling factor of a mulit-tool style knife, and instead to use just a dedicated knife with a single folding blade.  The reason for this is really simple - a knife that is designed to just be a knife generally fits the hand better and is therefore safer to use.  All those extras on a Swiss Army tend to get into the way of the basic function of the knife.

Confused as to why they did not seem to carry a single folding knife except for Opinel, which I've always found to be really terrible knives precisely because of the odd hand grip, I asked the guy at the knife desk.  That's when I learned that Canada recently banned the import of just about all folding knives because most of them are classified as "assisted opening".  Wow.  Sometimes it is an outright embarrassment to be a Canadian.  Not often fortunately, but this is definitely one of those rare times.

Thursday 10 May 2018

Canoe Legend Phil Cotton Passes Away

I've been sitting on this for a few days now because I really wanted to write something to honour Phil Cotton but I felt like it was not my place because I did not know him.  I just know of him.  I believe we only exchanged words one single time on the MyCCR forums, so that was the closest I ever got to him.  But wow it is difficult to be passionate about canoes and not know who he is - he is right up there with Bill Mason and in some ways his accomplishments in the canoeing world are possibly even greater.  It is probably just because his stompin' grounds were in an obscure remote location - Wabakimi Provincial Park - that most people had never heard of him.

Phil spent his entire life advocating for the preservation of our wild spaces, and was just at home in meetings with government officials as he was in the classroom where he spent 40 years as a music teacher.  But it was not until he retired from that profession that he did something which truly elevated him to the status of "legend" - in 2004 he started the Wabakimi Project to map historic canoe routes in the park and the crown lands surrounding it, and 10 years later in in 2014 he founded Friends of Wabakimi to carry this legacy forward.

At a point in his life when most people are considering slowing down, Phil Cotton made the decision to spend most of his summers in a canoe living his passion for the outdoors.  And really I think it is best to use his own words to underscore what an incredible impact he's had.  In January of this year he posted his annual message to the MyCCR forums soliciting volunteers for this summer.  Sadly, this was to be the last year of the project, so Phil never got to see it to the end.  Here is what Phil wrote in January, and you can follow the link in the previous sentence to read the entire thread.

Monday 7 May 2018

First Night in a Hammock

The first time I saw a camping hammock was back in 2012 when I hiked the Kenomee Canyon loop in Nova Scotia with a friend and another friend of his. We hiked in to Murphy Brook and camped at the bottom of the big steep hill right on the brook, for anyone familiar with the area. Oh, and if you happen to have been there since 2012 - we were the ones who built the lounge chairs out of the big flat boulders. I'll see if I can dig up some pictures of them. Anyway, my friend brought his Hennessy hammock, and I ended up pretty intrigued by it mainly because it was so much lighter and smaller than even a small tent. Fast forward 2 years and I moved up from Cubs to Scouts with my oldest son, and discovered that the Scout troop had a couple of the same type of hammocks for use by Scouts on camping trips. Indeed, the hammocks were always and still are a very popular option for Scouts, and there is always a higher demand than supply.

As five years with the Scouts draws to a close I've seen the hammocks used quite a bit. And more recently one of the other Scout leaders picked up a really nice custom hammock from Little Shop of Hammocks in Saskatchewan. Being the cheapskate that I am I did not really want to shell out the price of a new hammock ( over $250 when you include taxes ) for the sake of trying it out, but being a kijiji junkie I was eventually able to find a great deal on one. Last summer a good Hennessy came up for $100 and was listed as used only a couple of times. When I went to check it out I confirmed that it sure looked barely used, and was the deal I'd been looking for. I knew that in the worst case both of my older boys loved using a hammock since they'd both used the ones in Scouts, so even if I did not like it we'd use it on our family camping trips. I picked that one up late last summer and had not had a chance to try it out before winter set in.

Friday 30 March 2018

Programming Maps with Perl

So far in my map making endeavors I have done quite a bit with Google Maps, made some introductory strides into Google Fusion Tables, and done a bit of dabbling with QGIS.  Let's be clear I am only just making some baby steps into map making, and having a really great time doing it!  All of these tools will require more and investigation on my part.  Another tool that probably not many people think about is programming directly with a language like Perl or Python.  I'm an old guy so I'll use the former.

A neat thing about maps is that a couple of the most common map formats are in XML.  This includes both GPX and KML.  And languages like perl and python have libraries for parsing and using XML files.  I've never done any XML programming in the past so this was all new to me - but a bit of googling and I found enough information to get me going.

Sunday 18 March 2018

Canadian Canoe Museum

I had to make a business trip to Toronto, and since it was March Break for my kids I took the two oldest with me and set them loose on the Toronto subway while I was at the office.  They had a great time exploring the city for the first time and got to visit the CN Tower, Ripley's Aquarium, and the Eaton Center.  We drove down in the family vehicle and part of my plan from the beginning was to drive back through Peterborough so we could visit the Canadian Canoe Museum.  As much as I know the boys love to paddle, I was not sure whether or not they'd really be in to a canoe museum but as it turned out they had as great a time as I did, and I actually had to peel them out of the place so we could get on our way back to Ottawa.

Having never been in the area before we relied on Google Maps to find the museum.  Since we were staying in a hotel in Markham we started out eastbound on Highway 7, and followed Google through highways 3, 20, and finally the 115 which is a modern 4 lane split highway that took us into Peterborough.  The route along highways 7, 3 and 20 was a nice back-country drive which had a few interesting points along the way that would have been worthy of a stop if we'd had more time.  Mainly along the lines of small town restaurants or general stores.  About 90 minutes after our departure we were pulling into the parking lot of the Canoe Museum.

Sunday 4 March 2018

Geeking out on Maps

It has been a pretty productive 10 days or so - I started on Friday February 23rd manually entering data into a google map from the La Verendrye Park maps. I've long bemoaned the fact that there was next to no good data out there for this gem of a park for paddling enthusiasts, so I decided to do something about it. After 4 days and probably about 20 hours or so you can see the results linked at the top of this site. It is not perfect and there are still a few maps missing, but it is in my opinion a pretty useful tool for planning trips.

Saturday 10 February 2018

Temperature Data Loggers

Why a Temperature Logger?

Ever since my first winter camp when someone told me how much warmer it was inside a quinzhee, I wanted to have a way to measure that to quantify exactly what the difference would be.  I'd searched half-heartedly since then for a cost-effective solution, but it was not until just before our Scouts 2nd fall camp in November past that I really start searching in earnest.  And luckily I found the perfect item - the Elitech RC-5 USB Temperature Data Recorder.  These devices are used in the medical supply and pharmaceutical industry when drugs and other biological supplies are shipped and have to be maintained at a constant temperature otherwise they cannot be used.  One of the data loggers get packed into the box with the item being shipped, and then the data is read from the device at the other end to ensure the supplies were always kept within the required temperature range.

Aside from knowing the temperature differential inside a quinzhee or igloo, I also just find it generally useful to have a log of temperatures over the course of a camping trip or other outdoors outing.  I like to keep notes on my camping trips on what conditions were like, what gear I used, and how the gear performed.  A key part of knowing how well your gear performed is having accurate temperature data.  For example, it is useful to record in my notes "my brand X sleeping bag was a bit chilly overnight", but it is far more useful to know exactly what the temperature was.

Saturday 6 January 2018

Gear Testing a Eureka Amarok Winter Sleeping Bag

When you get a new piece of gear that you are going to rely on during a camping trip, you should always test it out at home in the back yard, or at a local park or a friend's place if you do not have a back yard.  This is especially crucial for something like a winter sleeping bag.

Believe me, I know, because I've been caught at winter camp in a sleeping bag rated to -30C but struggled to keep me warm at a mere -17C.  It was definitely a bad choice on my part to have gone to camp with an unknown bag, but my rational at the time was that the bag rating was considerably better than the lowest temperature we were going to see, and that even if the numbers were embellished they would not be embellished by that big of a margin.  Well, I was totally wrong on that one but lucky for me I ended up just having a very chilly night and not in great danger.