It's that time of year when celebrations, gatherings, indulging and gifting are in full swing! As a mom that camps with kids, it's the perfect time of year to dream up all of the wonderful gizmos, gadgets and gear that we could have on our adventures to “make life easier”.
But do they really? Like many other product categories, especially during the holiday season, outdoor adventure would have you believe you needs all the shiny new things. I'm here to suggest that probably you don't. So, in keeping with a fantastic concept circulating on social media, I will apply the “4 gifts only” rule to our camping purchases this year.
Want. Need. Wear. Read.
We all really want a small kayak. We are a family of four and since 2008 have been travelling all in one canoe. However The Boy, our eldest, is now a teen and already 5'8” with no sign of slowing down! That makes 3 adult sized people, a child-sized person and all our gear in one canoe a bit... snug. Tucking one of us into a secondary boat would be ideal and it would allow each of the kids to go paddling on his own while we're adventuring. Is a kayak in our budget this year? No. Instead, we can solve our conundrum by purchasing a gift certificate for a kayak rental. Check!
A new rain tarp. Every year we experience some level of rain on our adventure. Sometimes drizzly showers, sometimes torrential downpours. Hanging a tarp as a secondary shelter to the tent, increases living space on rainy days and with kids, elbow room beats cabin fever every time! To date we have used a bulky, tatty, blue tarp from a hardware store. Since we are on a continuous quest to streamline our gear - to become minimalist campers – I think a lightweight, packable, suspended tarp system is a necessity for comfort during our adventures. Check!
Hiking boots. Kids grow. Enough said. Check!
Books are the items we are not minimalist about on our trips. We haul loads of books! And it's amazing how much reading we actually get done while we are camping. After a 12 km hike, there is nothing better than lounging in the hammock with an exciting or hilarious story. For the kids when they were younger, it was piles of storybooks. Now they are older, I look for comics or graphic novels, a chapter book that is part of a series (think “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” or “Harry Potter”), and a chapter book that challenges them, perhaps by being beyond their reading level, or a more thoughtful topic that we can read together. The Boy loves reading non-fiction on our trips – history and biographies – the peace and tranquility of reading outdoors in nature really provides him with laser focus.
Do I know what they want to read this year? No clue. Bookstore gift cards so they can choose their own? Check!
As I reflect on this little list it's clear that each item is going to be greatly appreciated. These will be fun gifts to give, open and receive, allowing us to start daydreaming about the next big adventure. And that, dear reader, is priceless.
My first foray into a “real” hiking-backpacking-Canadian-outdoor-experience was a disaster.
Despite all of my pre-planning, organizing, education and work in environmental sciences and field studies, the trip was a total fail.
In 1996, I was a single young woman fresh out of university, with a degree under my belt and a passion to save the environment! I was working as a Trips Coordinator for a non-profit nature conservation organization, so surely you would expect I'd know what I was doing. My boyfriend at the time said “this is your thing, but I'll come along. Let me know if you need help”. I declined all help and proceeded to menu plan, accumulate camping equipment, and purchase topographical maps of the Bruce Peninsula. We were going to hike nearly 80 km in five days with all of our equipment on our backs.
We arrived at an upscale B&B in Wiarton, enjoyed a lovely dinner and had a restful sleep in a plush bed. We enjoyed a hearty breakfast with our hosts and then hopped on the trail. And that's where the magic ended. Within an hour we'd lost the up-to-date trail markers, hit a dead end, doubled back at least twice and likely trespassed on private rural properties that we weren't supposed to.
By nightfall, I was bleeding from my shoulders, hips and heels, having acquired completely wrong sizes and styles of backpack and hiking boots. We'd not reached our first assigned camping site. Not by a long-shot. My boyfriend set up our tiny tent, pitched most of the fresh food I'd packed deep into the woods and made a couple pb & j's. I sat and sulked, overlooking a pasture of cows. We were squatters for the night.
At some point in the night I heard the cows from the pasture lowing. “Odd”, I thought and drifted back to sleep. At sunrise we emerged from the tent, with wounded shoulders and more deeply wounded pride. It was at that point we discovered quite a lot of bear scat around our tent. That wasn't cows I'd heard... it was bears! We packed up hastily, used the map to approximate an exit from the woods toward a logging road and started walking. Within an hour we'd reached the road. Within 30 minutes a pick up full of teens stopped for us. Within 20 minutes we were back in Wiarton! What had taken us a full-day of hiking was a mere 20 minute drive on a country backroad. Crushed.
I was too mortified to go back into the B&B to get our car keys, so my boyfriend did and simply said we'd had a change of heart. We got in the car, and drove to his family's cottage where we enjoyed a quiet few days sitting outside watching the water. It was still too cold for swimming, so we just dipped our toes.
My bruises and bloody spots healed. Eventually, I learned to laugh at the absurdity of it all. I could have spent these intervening years looking back and feeling defeated. Or I could decide to use these hard-earned obstacles as opportunities to do it differently next time. I chose the latter... over and over again.
Lisa has a degree in biology and environmental science as well as a 750-hour certification in Hatha Yoga, obtained from the Esther Myers Studio in Toronto. Hailing from Guelph, Ontario, she has been teaching yoga as her primary career since 2008 with focus on children, youth and family practices. Lisa's passions include wilderness camping with her family, refurbishing thrift store finds and creating healthy, environmentally friendly products