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.

mecpants

 

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.

thermos

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?

Baby carriers for the first 2 years

As I dust off Little Bear’s baby items and get ready for cub #2, it reminded me how many carriers I’ve gone through of various types for all the stages of baby and toddlerhood.  In the beginning, I was pretty clueless as to what I’d need and when I’d need it.  As with my winter gear summary for babies, I thought I’d go through the carriers that worked for us and when we used them.

A well used (and travelled) Deuter Kid Comfort II

A well used (and travelled) Deuter Kid Comfort II

Baby Buddha (stretchy wrap-style carrier)

This was a hand-me-down from a friend which I only received when Little Bear was 2 months old. I wish I had been able to use this sooner as it seemed like it would be super handy with a newborn.

What I liked

  • I was able to get the best “fit” with this carrier, likely because it was so stretchy and it was fairly easy to use once you watch a few videos and get the hang of it.
  • It’s really compact and easy to throw in a diaper bag.  This also meant it was very easy to fit under a roomy winter jacket.
  • Little Bear loved this carrier!

What I didn’t like

  • Because it’s so stretchy, once LB got close to 15 lbs (which was around 3ish months) I felt like after 15-20 min it was too loose as it had stretched out.
  • It’s pricey to buy new.

When did I use it? up until ~3months

Bottom line? I definitely plan on using this again although if I had to buy it, I would likely choose a cheaper stretchy carrier like the Boba wrap.

Trying to keep cool with the Baby Buddha in Las Vegas

Trying to keep cool with the Baby Buddha in Las Vegas

Boba 3G

I bought this carrier before Little Bear was born and only recently retired it at 21 months as she was too big.  Hands down one of the best investments I made!

What I liked

  • This might be the best endorsement: as soon as LB could talk she would ask for it “Boba! Boba mama!”
  • It can be used from birth (sort of – see below) to toddlerhood
  • It’s very simple to get on/off and adjust
  • A good fit for shorter parents (not sure how it fits taller parents but it worked great for us!)
  • Very comfortable to use.  Because of the padded waist belt and the fact baby’s weight is close to you, it’s surprising how heavy a kiddo you can carry without feeling it.
  • No need to buy an infant insert – its adjustable for newborns.
  • It adds some warmth and a wind block for baby.  There is also a hood you can clip on.
  • The purse snap! I loved this feature to clip your purse strap onto the carrier so it wouldn’t slide off your shoulder.

What I didn’t like

  • Although it adjusts for newborns, I found I got a better fit with a stretchy carrier though this be due my inexperience with carriers at the time (I’ve also heard the 4G is much easier to use with a newborn)
  • We reached a point around 3-4 months when LB was too big to be comfortable in the infant position but too small to sit in it with her legs out.  A carrier with a smaller “seat” for baby might have helped or perhaps I just needed some tips on how position LB.
  • Soft-structured carriers with hipbelts and clips are rather bulky.  I liked bringing mine everywhere but it was a tight squeeze getting it into my backpack diaper bag (~20L) along with everything else.
  • It can be hot in the summer for both wearer and baby since it’s canvas and you’re both touching.

When did I use it? From newborn to 21 months although it got the most use from 4-5 months onwards and much less before that.

Bottom line? If you’re a hiking/outdoor parent I’d highly recommend a soft-structured carrier like the Boba.  Other similar brands are the Beco, Ergo, Onya and Tula.  While I am definitely a Boba fan, I think fit is a large part of this so I’d recommend trying them out with your baby or going to a baby carrier specialty store to have them help you choose based on your body type (If you’re in Calgary, Babes in Arms is great!)

One of my favourites, the Boba!

One of my favourites, the Boba!

Deuter Kid Comfort II

We were super lucky to have a friend sell us her Deuter pack secondhand.  I’m not sure what we wound have chosen if we had to pick one ourselves but were very happy with the Deuter.  One thing I didn’t realize before having a baby was that backpack carriers are only good once baby can sit up on their own.

What I liked

  • Very comfortable for the wearer and adjusts easily to different sized parents just like a regular backcountry Deuter pack.
  • The sun shade provides good protection from sun and branches while not impeding baby’s view.
  • Lots of space in the storage compartment
  • Lots of side pockets for snacks
  • For a framed carrier, it’s relatively compact and light.
  • Lots of air flow so good for using on hot days

What I didn’t like

  • While it’s light for a framed baby carrier, the weight adds up.  By the time Little Bear was 22 lbs, I found that her weight, plus the backpack (~7 lbs), plus miscellaneous food/water/gear (~3-5 lbs) was too much for me to comfortably carry.  My husband was ok with the weight but we also were on very easy trails that were <5km with <150m elevation gain.  Unfortunately this would be the case for any framed backpack carrier.
  • I would have liked to see a bigger water bottle pocket on the side as the pockets there were too shallow for bottles.
  • There’s no pocket on the hipbelt (where am I supposed to put chapstick?)
  • A little mirror to check on your passenger would have been nice
  • There are no foot straps – though I believe all later models come with them now.  Not a huge deal since by the time Little Bear could have used them, she was never in the backpack for long.

When did I use it? From 6 months onwards (still using it at 22 months).  I used it a lot in the summer (6-8 months) when it was too hot to use our Boba.  Also, until Little Bear could hike at least 60% of trails, we used it a lot.  Now that she is mostly hiking on her own (21 months) and only needing a ride to take a rest, I find that we use it a lot less as she’s heavy to carry and it’s quite bulky.

Bottom line? Definitely worth purchasing! Though I don’t think we’ll use it for as long as we intended, it was a key piece for us to get out hiking with.

Little snoozer enjoying the backpack

Little snoozer enjoying the backpack

Tula Toddler Carrier

Now that Little Bear is more excited to hike than be carried and winter is fast approaching, we picked up a toddler carrier to help get us through this stage.  So far it’s great as it can be stuffed in a backpack, yet is comfy and warm enough for Little Bear to hitch a ride on cold fall days when she needs a rest.  Once I’m able to test this out a bit more I’ll update the page.

Is there a carrier you couldn’t live without? I’d love to hear what you found worked best for you and at what stage!

How to dress babies and young toddlers for winter play

Winter with a newborn was surprisingly not as hard as I thought (Staying active outside with newborn winter babies).  Little Bear’s second winter was harder as she was ready to start exploring on her own.

Outdoor gear can be pricey so I always appreciated hearing what other families used for their kids and how it worked. In that spirit, here is what I bought and how it worked for Little Bear from late fall/early winter (~8 months) to early spring (~15 months).  During this time she went from crawling, to finger walking, to walking independently.

Warm and snug in her Chariot after a walking in a snowstorm

Warm and snug in her Chariot after a walking in a snowstorm

What we bought

Base layers

  • Patagonia baby capilene base layer set in size 12 months
  • Cheap fleece sweater and pants (from the secondhand store)
  • Whatever cotton socks fit her, layered with my own wool socks on top (infant wool socks are probably best but also pricey!)

A walk around the boardwalk

Out for a walk

Outer layers

The toaster suit worked best when LB wasn’t walking (it’s bulky) and the down bunting was the most versatile and my favourite.  I had a MEC fleece bunting but I found that more useful in the fall/spring and never used it over the winter.

Boots

Hats/mitts

  • Matching hat and mitt set from Superstore. The mitts were a double layer of fleece with no thumb and the hat also had a double layer of fleece, ear flaps and straps that velcro under the chin.

I tried a few other brand name mittens but found the cheap ones I bought worked well given she was never out using her hands for long.

Miscellaneous

I had a small (1m x 1.5m) down blanket from Eddie Bauer that I used whenever she’d be carried or pushed to help insulate and block the wind.

How we used it

During the winter, we would dress Little Bear in her base layers, drive to the trailhead and add layers as needed depending on the weather.

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Enjoying a snooze in her MEC toaster suit

Riding in a backpack/Chariot (no walking)

  • Patagonia base layer
  • Fleece pants and sweater (optional depending on temperature)
  • Wool socks over cotton socks
  • MEC toaster suit or Molehill bunting (both worked well)
  • Stonz booties
  • Down blanket in case it was cold
  • Fleece hat but no mitts (I folded the cuffs down on her snowsuit so I didn’t have to worry about lost mitts)

In and out of a backpack/Chariot (walking as well)

  • Patagonia base layer
  • Fleece pants and sweater (optional depending on temperature)
  • Cotton socks
  • Molehill bunting
  • MyMayu boots & liners (plus Stonz booties to slip on top when being carried)
  • Down blanket in case it was cold
  • Fleece hat and mitts

I really liked the Molehill bunting for anytime LB was walking or playing as it didn’t seem to restrict her movement.  I worried initially that it wouldn’t keep her as warm/dry in the snow as the toaster suit but never found that to be the case, perhaps because at that age she wasn’t in the snow long enough for it to be an issue.

Short walks or playing outside (no carrier/stroller)

  • Patagonia base layer
  • Fleece pants and sweater (optional depending on temperature)
  • Cotton socks
  • Molehill bunting or MEC Cocoon bunting or MEC Cocoon jacket depending on temperature
  • MyMayu boots & liners (plus wool socks if it was cold)
  • Fleece hat and mitts

As soon as LB started walking, we rarely used her toaster suit or Stonz booties as she seemed more stable on her feet when she had less “bulk” on.  I worried that she might get cold, but walking must be quite the workout because she always came home warm.  That being said we were never outside for too long, or in very cold temperatures.

Puddle splashing

Puddle splashing

Other options

Here are some other tips for outdoor gear as well as blog posts on the same topic!

Happy winter playing!  Let me know if I missed any great baby winter products.

Taking road trips with tiny toddlers

It’s been a quiet past 3 months in terms of posts which is due to it being a very busy past 3 months in our household!  As summer winds down I’m hoping I’ll have more time to write.

Most summers, we try to do a family road trip to the Okanagan.  Getting to the there from Calgary involves a solid 8 hrs of driving which translates into 9 or more hrs on the road depending on pit stops.  We’ve had two very successful trips that we’ve done with friends and their children so I thought I would share what’s worked for us!

In particular, these tips are geared towards the tiny toddler crowd.  Little bear is almost 20 months and is old enough to need entertainment and toys but not quite old enough to play by herself or watch a cartoon.  There’s a big variation in sleep patterns/preferences and development in toddlers so your mileage may vary with some of these tips :)

Destination: Okanagan!

Destination: Okanagan!

 

Planning

After several overnight and weeklong trips with a kiddo, I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way) that the further ahead I plan and pack, the more relaxing a trip will be.  Many of the items we bring are ones that we use everyday so I start with lists.  Many, many lists.  My favourite way to keep track of lists is using Google Keep.  Every time I use a list, I’ll label it (ie “Toddler Overnight”, “Toddler Weeklong”, “Toddler Camping”, etc), color code it (all toddler lists are one colour, adult lists another colour, etc) and then archive it.  That way on my next trip, I can easily find the list that most closely applies to my trip, make a copy of it, re-name it and reuse it!  This saves time as I create my lists fairly quickly and edit them as needed.  Then I can check things off the list as I pack them throughout the week and see in a glance what I’m missing before I head out the door!

Packing

The day before a road trip, I pack the car up with as much as I can so that come the next morning, I just have to grab a few last minute items and head out the door.  To help with this, I’ve bought doubles of toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, etc … so that I can pack those without waiting for bedtime.  It’s also key to be as fully packed as possible the night before so that …

Getting an early start

The best way to make a long trip with toddlers feels shorter is to ensure they’re sleeping for a large chunk of it!  How do you get an active, wiggly toddler to sleep? Well, one answer is to drive through the night.  For us, we didn’t feel comfortable doing this as the Trans-Canada through the mountains is full of wildlife, is not twinned for a majority of the trip, and involves driving up and down several mountain passes with no shoulders and extremely steep drop-offs.  Instead, we leave around 4am which allows us to leave the city and hit the single lane section right when the sun comes up.  We set our alarms, finish any last minute packing and the last thing we do is wake up Little bear, change her diaper, buckle her in and take off.  It usually takes LB 30-45 minutes to fall back asleep and she’ll stay asleep for 2-3 hrs.  For us and our friends, this little trick has worked every time for all three kiddos (19 months, 26 months, 4 yrs).

Snacks, snacks, snacks …

At home, we have a routine for meals and snacks and try to limit sugar and processed food.  On road trips, all of that goes out the window! We pack a variety of fruit, cheese and yogurt (which we try to offer first – ha!) but also bring copious amounts of favourites (Multi-Grain Cheerios, yogurt melts, fruit pouches, rice rusk cookies, homemade protein bars with generous chocolate topping, juice boxes, etc).  Little Bear is old enough to tell us when she’s hungry so it’s a good time killer to go through the snack pack and find something that suits her.

Toys!

Often, hubby and I will intentionally pack less for ourselves so we have more room for toys and games.  I’m ok with wearing the same thing a few days in a row but I’m less ok with running out of things to do in a car!  We try to bring a bag of favourite toys, a bag of books and a bag of new toys that are bought specifically for the trip.  Some toys that worked well at Little Bear’s age are Mr. Potato Head (my childhood fav!) and a Crayola coloring book and markers (we went for markers that will only colour on Crayola’s books).

Pit stops

Once Little Bear is awake, we found ~2hrs is the sweet spot for how long she can happily be entertained.  After that, we try to plan a break or if she falls asleep, we keep driving until she wakes up.  This makes it hard to predict where where’ll stop so part of my pre-trip prep involves finding a kid-friendly restaurant and or/park every 1-2 hours on our route.

Other

If we’re lucky, grandma will join us on our trip. On other road trips we’ll rotate who is driving and who is on toddler duty to give everyone a break.

Have any other tips for road trips with toddlers? Know of some good places to stop on the Trans-Can? I’d love to hear!