The Under $30 Gift Guide for Outdoor Families

With 4 years of parenting under my belt (what?? when did that happen?) I feel like one thing I have learned is that not many toys or gifts have staying power.  Or I should say don’t have the same appeal as a body of water and rocks. In any case, we love giving gifts but practically speaking I don’t like to spend a fortune if I don’t have to on things I know they’ll either outgrow quickly or grow out of playing with.

This Christmas, we’re hoping to keep to a lower budget and save the extra to spend on “experience” gifts like a family weekend away.  If you’re also looking for some less expensive items for your kiddos, here are my 5 top picks that are all under $30.

Sno Stompers Footprint Makers ($24.99 at Mastermind Toys)

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When my eldest was just 3, we bought her kid MSR snowshoes.  She’s fairly small and they were too big on her to be fun. We’re saving them until she’s bigger but in the meantime, to get her used to wearing snowshoes and encourage fun outdoor play we have these footprint makers. They’re a huge hit with us and her as they’re easy to get on and easy for her to move around in. Not to mention the bonus of dinosaur or bear footprints! They do provide some “lift” in the snow as a snowshoe does but have no metal grips. I haven’t found this to be an issue so far as we are almost always on flat ground. My daughter has used them last winter when she was 3 and is loving them this winter at 4 too. Note, Canadian Tire also sells them for $19.99.

Kombi Animal Family Mitts ($26 at MEC)

kombi mitts

I’ve put this in previous gift guides but have to mention them again as these have been the mitts of choice for both our kids from 1.5 yrs onwards. They are fully waterproof, very warm, and stay on well. The animal faces seems to be the ticket for toddler & preschooler buy in (for us at least). I’m not sure for how much longer my eldest will be into animal mitts but for this winter at least (she’s 4), they’re a hit with both her and our almost two year old. He has hand-me-down moose mitts which my daughter wore for 2 winters prior so they also hold up well. Note, Carter’s also sells them for $30 though they often have sales.

MEC Neck Gaiter for Kids ($11 at MEC)

gaiter

This is essentially a fleece buff but we love it for keeping necks and faces warm in the cold. Both happily wore it from about 1.5 yrs onwards.

Black Diamond Moji LED Lantern ($24 at MEC)

moji

A friend recommended these to us for camping and it’s easily because one of our favourite multi-use pieces of gear! This mini lantern will fit in your palm and you can turn up or down the brightness. We used it this summer as a nightlight when camping (kids don’t like sleeping in the pitch black), and also as a nightlight when we travel. My daughter also uses it in place of a headlamp as she can hold it which is a fun novelty. Since it’s LED the batteries last forever. It lasted through 9 nights of camping easily.

CamelBak Eddy Kids Insulated Water Bottle ($20 at MEC)

camelbakI hesitated to add this to my list as we don’t have them yet but I think they look like good quality bottles. We currently have Foogo insulated straw water bottles which we love and I highly recommend but my 4 year olds drinks more water on a hike than they hold so we want to upgrade to a slightly bigger bottle. These will be the ones in their stockings come Christmas! Note CamelBak also makes an un-insulated version for $18.

ps – all my links are plain old regular links, not affiliate ones.

Looking for more gift guides? Check out these other outdoor families’ recommendations!

 

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Gear Review: Deuter Kid Comfort II

If you’re outdoorsy and want to hike with your baby, a hiking backpack is probably one of the first things you look forward to buying.  I know that’s how I felt! Two kids later, we’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of our pack but there are a few things I think are worth mentioning that I hadn’t considered pre-kids.

I wound up getting the Deuter Kid Comfort II because one of my good friends sold it to me used.  She had gotten it new from MEC back when this was the Deuter pack they carried (now they carry the Kid Comfort III).

Things I love about the Kid Comfort II:

  • The storage is just perfect.  There’s lots of room to put in a few extra layers for baby, water, snacks and diaper changing items.
  • The pad at the front that your baby rests their face on (or drools on) is removable and washable!
  • If you’re looking at all the Deuter packs, this one is lighter than the Kid Comfort III due to the removable sun shade/rain cover (this also means the pack is small enough to fit in a checked suitcase if needed) but the same storage capacity.
  •  The pack opens on the side with a clip to allow side entry. Awesome for getting kids with snowsuits in and out and also great for being able to access the harness for adjustments.
  • It takes no time at all to adjust the shoulder strap height of the pack for different users. Very intuitive, quick and easy!
  • It has a similar design to Deuter backcountry hiking bags which means they are built well and help distribute weight to your hips so it’s more comfortable to carry.
  • The sun shade is very large and provides great coverage for head and arms (you can use a bamboo/light receiving blanket to cover legs.
  • Due to the padded sides all around, the pack does provide some warmth in cold weather.  If you want to up your winter game, you can fit a MEC stroller bag into the carrier for extra warmth (I don’t own a stroller bag to try this with but friends have done it)
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A well used (and travelled) Deuter Kid Comfort II

Things to consider about the Kid Comfort II:

  • I found it finicky to adjust the child’s seat height. This is good in that you never have to worry about the seat slipping down. It does mean if you need to adjust the seat height, plan to do it at home, indoors – not on the trail when you’re in a hurry!
  • Ours didn’t come with foot straps though I believe newer models do now. Best to check before you purchase.
  • The sun/rain cover must be purchased separately with this model.
  • The mesh pockets on the outside seemed too shallow and if the pack tilted, heavier items like a water bottle slid out. They were ok for granola bars or mittens though. Newer models seem to have different pockets which has hopefully fixed this!

Things to consider about any backpack carrier:

Here are some tips that I hadn’t thought of before I had kids and are worth mentioning given the hefty price tag of almost all backpack carriers.

  • They are designed to be used once a baby is sitting independently.  This would likely be around 6 months for most babies.
  • Their max carrying capacity includes gear + kid + pack. For the Kid Comfort II, the max capacity is 48.5 lbs.  If you subtract the weight of the pack (7.2 lbs) and gear/food/clothes (~8 lbs) this means you can carry a child up to 33.3 lbs.  Depending on how large your toddler is this could be anywhere from 2-4 years old.
  • While the pack can weigh up to 48.5lbs, you may or may not be comfortable carrying that much weight. The general rule is that you should carry no more than 30% of your body weight (If you weigh 100-150lbs this is 30 – 45lbs, if you weigh 150-200lbs this is 45-60 lbs). How much weight you can carry comfortably depends on your fitness level as well as the length/elevation gain of the hike.
  • There is great variability in how long toddlers enjoy sitting. Some prefer to walk and be carried occasionally while others are ok sitting an entire hike. This obviously depends a lot on the age of your toddler, how often you go out, how long you’re hiking and their individual temperament.
  • Try it on before you buy it! You’ll want to make sure it fits whoever will be wearing it and this can’t be tested online.
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Baby Bear getting his hike on. Seriously though, I need someone to take pics of me hiking with this pack! I promise I have done it!

Final thoughts

We started using our backpack when Little Bear was 6 months old for summer hiking. It provided her with a nice view and an escape from the summer heat. In the fall and winter, we hiked with her in the pack in her snowsuit. During the next summer when she was 18 months, she stopped sitting in the pack the whole duration of a hike and wanted to walk until she tired herself out.  That fall, I retired the pack as Little Bear disliked sitting for long periods and I found the weight of the pack wasn’t enjoyable (>30lbs all in). So far we’ve had the same usage pattern for Baby Bear.

While I may not have used our Deuter for as long as I thought I would, it’s been invaluable in getting us out hiking with both kids. It was virtually the only carrier we used for hiking from 6 months until almost 2 yrs so I felt the purchase was 100% worthwhile. And really, your mileage will vary in how long you can use it depending on your toddler, their weight and your comfort level. It’s not unreasonable for some families to expect to use it until they max out the weight!

Although I didn’t do any research into other backpack carriers prior to buying, I’m really happy with our choice and would recommend it.  My only regret is we don’t have the newest model which looks like it has some awesome improvements!

Want to do more research into backpack carriers? Check out these reviews of other brands/Deuter models:

You may also be interested in a full review of all the carriers I used for Little Bear’s first two years.

Gifts to last from Baby to Toddler

With an almost 3 year old and a baby I’ve realized that outdoor gear for kids can get expensive, fast! They have this tendency to outgrow all the things, all the time. The worst age for this is baby to toddler. Not only do they grow size-wise but also in abilities and interests. If you’re having a baby anytime soon or shopping for someone with a baby, here are some items that have lasted us from baby to toddler.

Boba baby carrier

We bought this carrier before Little Bear was born and used it with her until she was ~20 months and then have been using it again with Baby Bear since he was born.  The Boba is awesome because it comes with an insert for newborns (no extras to buy!) and also has leg stirrups if you’d like to use it well into toddler years. There are lots of comparable carriers (Lillebaby, Tula, Ergo, etc)  so check out a local store that specializes in babywearing for help picking the best one.

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Hiking the Fullerton Loop with Little Bear when she was a baby

Stonz Booties

These booties are great for two reasons. Firstly, on a non-walking infant they stay on and provide a generous amount of leg coverage that’s water-resistant and windproof.  On a walking baby/toddler, they’re great to layer on top of fleece socks or fleece slippers for when your kiddo is stationary (ie in a carrier or Chariot). I only bought the booties but there are also liners you can purchase as well.

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Baby bear on the right with his Stonz Booties. Ok one bootie and one mitt because mom was distracted.

Travel Cubes

After staring down my diaper backpack and wondering how I was going to organize everything for two kids, I came up with the idea of travel cubes! I bought the MEC versions and love them as they’re cheap and well made. I keep one cube for my son and one for my daughter.  This enables me to find things easily but also re-pack into a different bag quickly without forgetting things.

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His and hers bags for the diaper backpack

Down Blankets

I have had our down blankets from Eddie Bauer for a while but have gotten the most use out of them since kiddos came along.  They keep kids warm in the Chariot and in the backpack carrier and also make great car blankets or camping quilts to throw over your sleeping bags. I can’t find the exact ones we have but these on the Eddie Bauer site are close (Costco also sells their own down blankets!)

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Down blankets for the win (and warmth)

Thermos

My first beloved Thermos is 8 years old and going strong. It’s been our go-to for hot chocolate for ourselves and for the toddler when she was old enough to indulge in a post winter hike bribe beverage. A Thermos is also great to store hot water in for either formula or heating up a bottle of breastmilk, as the case may be. A good Thermos is fairly pricey but if taken care of properly they’ll last a long time and can be used by everyone!

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Old vs new Thermos

If you’re like me and like reading what other families love enough to recommend, check out these posts!

A few favourite items

Whenever I get together with friends, it’s inevitable that someone pipes up with their discovery of a new item they just can’t live without. I’ve bought some cool things based on recommendations so I thought I’d share the last few things I’ve purchased that have made getting out/life with kids that much easier. Hopefully it’s somewhat interesting :)

Chariot Cougar 2

I wasn’t sure if we’d need a double stroller or what type I’d want so I waited until baby bear arrived to see. In the beginning it wasn’t necessary as I felt more comfortable with our BOB single stroller (review) for the toddler and baby bear in a carrier. BUT around 3 months I went out and got the double Chariot Cougar. Life changing, seriously! This is like the SUV of strollers. Yes it’s big and takes up a lot of trunk space but I can fit in two kids, a toddler bike and helmet, diaper backpack, purse, toys, snacks, drinks, an extra carrier, etc… Admittedly the toddler doesn’t like to sit in it much with a very grabby baby but it’s perfect for hauling baby, gear and coffee while little bear walks. I was debating getting the Chariot CX2 since it has a hand brake but I have yet to miss the hand brake at all (we have the CX1 <- review as well so I was used to the hand brake). Best part is the weight is quite reasonable for a double. I highly recommend this if you’re outdoorsy and want one double stroller than can do it all!

chariot

Cover Me Poncho

I was reading Michelle’s blog a while back and discovered these ponchos. I bought them but admittedly they sat around for quite a while until summer rolled around. Calgary’s hot/cold weather swings got me to try them out and I’m in love with them! They are perfect to throw on with leggings or shorts and a tank top underneath. It’s like a really stylish cardigan. And yes, they can be used as a nursing cover too though I find them a bit hard to use as such. But they look so cute that I will probably just wear them as a top long beyond nursing.

Giro Scamp Kid’s Helmet

We originally bought little bear the MEC Genio kid’s helmet but couldn’t get a proper fit with it. No matter how we adjusted it, it would slip back and expose her forehead. We headed to our local bike store and picked up a Giro kid’s helmet. Much better. This one has easy adjustments, isn’t bulky, sits perfect and little bear likes it! Best of all it wasn’t that much more expensive than her previous helmet.

helmet

 

Little Goat Carrier Cover

I won this carrier cover and quickly fell in love with it! It made spring hiking so much easier when I could keep baby bear in a sleeper and sweater and pop the carrier cover on our Boba. As the day got warmer I could stick his little legs out of the cover or take it off easily. On windy, warm days I use the windproof part. Overall I really like this and plan to get a lot of use out of it in the fall. The only thing I’d change would be to make the inner warm lining polar fleece so the whole things weights a bit less. And did I mention the cover has lined pockets for you to put your hands in??? Awesome!

Bambu Swiss Coffee Substitute

I’m a coffee addict.  I could drink coffee pretty much all day long. But at some point I start worrying about dehydration setting in so I drink something else. Enter herbal coffee substitutes. My mom brought this over to my house one day when she was trying to cut back on caffeine and I was skeptical but intrigued.  A few cups later I was sold. It’s not decaffeinated, it has zero caffeine because it’s herbal. The ingredient list is very odd and sounds like it would taste terrible.  I’ll be honest it doesn’t taste like a nice americano but it’s passable for an instant coffee which is good enough for me. I get mine from Sobeys but I’ve seen different brands in different stores. If you want to feel like you’re drinking coffee all day long minus the caffeine this is a great option!

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ps – I bought everything myself except the carrier cover which I won. All the links are just plain old links I put up in case you want to see what I’m talking about :)

2015 Gift Guide for Outdoor Families

I don’t often hold back on buying good winter gear because I think being warm and comfortable is the best way to enjoy winter.  BUT the holidays always seem like a good reason to replace an aging item or invest in something new.  Since I always enjoy reading what other families recommend as outdoorsy gifts, here are some winter themed items that we’ve enjoyed so much I’d recommend!

1. Kombi Moose Mitts

If you’re a parent of a young toddler and your kid likes wearing mitts…wait, does that even exist?! Surely it must but I’m guessing many can relate to the difficulty of keeping mitts on.  These moose mitts have been a huge help in getting Little Bear to keep mittens on.  They’re most effective when talked up (“Do you want to take your moose hiking?”) and I love that they’re warm and water repellent.

moosemitts

2. Good quality toddler winter boots.

In my experience, good footwear is key for outdoor toddler play.  While there is a large variety of winter boots for older toddlers or preschoolers, it can be difficult to find a warm, waterproof and lightweight boot for a young toddler.  Our favourite boot is the Ecco Snowride which has a gore-tex lining and is insulated.  While we love the boot, what I would really recommend is going to a specialty kid’s shoe store.  A good store will listen to what you’d like to use the boots for, how much you’d like to spend and measure your toddler’s foot and assess the boot fit. My favourite Calgary store is Little Footprints.

eccoboot

3. Patagonia base layers

These might be my favourite and most recommended item.  They’re warm and wick moisture away, and while they run big, they fit a large range of sizes properly.  We bought Little Bear a set in size 12 when she was 13 months and they still fit at 22 months.  I imagine they would have fit her prior to 13 months as well.  I love that the top is a onesie so her back is never exposed when she wears a jacket.  There are also extra snaps in the crotch you can open up for more length.

baselayers

4. Patagonia down sweater

My husband and I wear our down sweaters year round in Calgary (as do many of our friends) so we thought Little Bear could use one too.  We bought a 2T for her at 18 months and while large, it was still wearable.  It’s thin, warm, not too puffy for car seats, and you can layer under it for colder weather.  To save money, look for last season’s models (we did this) or try to buy it secondhand.

downsweater

5. MEC Cocoon insulated pants

We bought these in 2T for Little Bear at 20 months and while large, the cuffs roll up well and stay up.  They are great to slip on over leggings for a quick walk or over base layers for a longer hike.  They’re inexpensive and easier to slip on/off for dry, cold weather.

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6. Thermos Bottle

A post-ski hot chocolate on the way home has always been my thing but now I make sure I bring some, along with mini marshmallows for the whole family.  If you want hot chocolate and not warm or cold chocolate, make sure you look for a thermos with a screw on lid.  If the thermos will be out in the cold (ie not indoors) a good tip is to pour hot water in it, let it sit for 2-3 min, pour the water out and then make your hot chocolate in it.

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7. Tula toddler carrier

I love that this carrier is made for toddlers and packs down into a backpack.  Also, because the carrier is up against your body, it’s warm for your child.  We’ve found that with the cooler weather, we use this more often than our backpack carrier since Little Bear doesn’t like to be carried much and this provides a warm break.

tula

8. Kahtoola microspikes

We use our spikes so much in the winter that they are now permanent residents of our car trunk.  Many of the trails you’d take a baby or toddler on are at lower elevations or are well travelled, both of which make them prone to getting packed and slippery. A good set up spikes makes carrying babies/toddlers that much easier with no fear of slipping. These spikes seem to hold up to the most wear and tear, don’t slip off and are comfortable.

spikes

Want to check out more gift guides?