Winter camping!

Yes we did it. With three kids in tow. “I could never!” Is what one of our friends said to us when we got back. When you think “winter camping” you may think that we pulled out our camper went out for a weekend. NOPE! We decided to tackle this adventure in a homebuilt 8 x 12 ice shack.

Those that know us know we love the outdoors. In the summer you can usually find us camping. When days off come we hit the road with our camper and spend the week hiking, fishing, boating, kneeboarding, kayaking, and just about anything else you can find to do outside.

So when fall rolls around and it’s time to put away the camper for the season, needless to say it is a pretty sad day. I mean yes we have all of our outdoor winter activities that we do, but we still miss the days spent away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

A few years ago Troy built an ice shack. Ever since he’s been talking about camping out in it. This thing is a tiny 8 x 12 structure. Only insulated by some bubble wrap and tarp and heated with a tiny wood stove. After spending a few nights in it on his own without the family, he discovered there were some obvious improvements needed to it if he planned to take his wife (who thoroughly enjoys being warm) and three kids with him to camp out on the ice with it.

55480195_2332719163676550_4999489748138459136_n
Our humble abode

Obviously there are some pretty big considerations to take into account when your planning on winter camping. Some of the biggest issues we faced were heat, sleeping arrangements for five, (remember 8×12), food preparations, power supply, and entertainment for the kids, because let’s face it, fishing is just not enough entertainment for the kids!

Bunkbeds! Things are happening!

The first issue we tackled were the sleeping arrangements. Troy built the kids some basic bunk beds (that can be removed easily everyday for more space) and we used the mattresses out of our camper for them. Two of the kids had to sleep in the same bunk, and this plan actually worked out pretty great. They were comfy and warm. (We actually had complaints for being too hot!) For our bed we decided our easiest option was an air mattress on the floor. This turned out to be a not so great idea. What’s one thing we know? Heat rises folks! The floor was cold. Very, very cold. And because it was so cold, our air mattress deflated at a rapid level and left us sleeping on the floor. Lessons learned. We need to build a structure to keep our bed up off the floor. Even a foot up would have made a world of difference in our comfort level. We also need a small fan to circulate air from the roof down. More on this in the next section.

53160441_1506234816176910_4735055032699846656_n

53216109_2087281031325080_8396816103409451008_n
Cozy

Heat! Absolutely unequivocally a top priority. No one wants cold whiny kids (or a cold whiny wife which undoubtedly would have been me had I gotten too cold). So we knew without a doubt we needed to upgrade the tiny little wood stove that was currently in the ice shack. Troy (being the ultimate handyman he is) fabricated a new wood stove from an upcycled 20lb propane tank. The results are pretty epic. It worked amazingly well. It kept the shack toasty warm, cooked all our food and dried out boots and mitts! We brought along a fan that we used on our wood stove at home, it would help circulate some of the heat. It worked well, however as previously mentioned we need to figure out a quiet fan to hang from the roof to push some of that heat back down. If using a wood stove for your winter camping experience bring ample amounts of wood along. Too much is a million times better than running out. We used a mix of fast burning wood and slow, hot burning birch.

Food was pretty basic really. We made a meal plan, pre prepped a few things and brought some extra snacks. We did bring a camp stove with thoughts that we would use it to cook, however everything we made, we were able to cook on the fireplace. Our cooler sat outside, this is something that may have to change as we did run into some things freezing. So in the future we may need to figure out a space for the cooler in the shack itself.

51762739_2166120440385193_6457036562742902784_n

53361285_246013453012191_8982837641892331520_n

For power Troy hooked up two batteries to our solar panel. This provided a trickle charge to them, and we were able to power the LED lights in the shack, the fish finder, and charge Ipads and cell phones. This system works extremely well for us. We use it in our camper during the summer as well when we are camping without power.

I feel it’s also important to note that we built in storage. Lots and lots of storage! We added shelving for food and games and whatever else may land there, each of our helmets has a hook to hang on the wall, troy installed a fillet table that folds down (this also doubles as a counter space when needed). We installed a bunch of coat racks on the back wall by the door to hang jackets and ski pants (these also double as some extra insulation at night.) With three kids in tow there is ALWAYS ample amounts of crap laying around, so we absolutely needed to have places to put things!

Entertainment for the kids. For us, we must keep our kids occupied with something, otherwise things can hit the fan pretty quickly. Of course we decided the perfect camp out weekend would be during an extreme cold warning. Overnight temps dipped to -40 with the windchill. For those that don’t know this means that frostbite can occur to exposed skin in as little as 6 minutes. Yes, we brought their Ipads along so they could watch some movies. There is no way we could just kick them out to play outside. This would have of course been the ideal situation. Go outside and play, head out snowmobiling for the day (which was our original plan). That didn’t work out so well. So they watched some movies, and fished a bit. We brought some games along as well (checkers, a deck of cards, and Uno). This kept them entertained and generally well behaved. Very surprising for being in an 8×12 box for two days! They didn’t even fight all that much. To me this is a great success!!

All in all, even with the cold we had a fantastic time. We didn’t have any horrible mishaps, and everything went pretty smoothly. Would I do it again? Yes, I would. I would hope to resolve our sleeping issues if using the ice shack again to camp out in. This experience was one for the books. It has me thinking about maybe not putting the camper away for the winters. Why can’t we use it year round really? If we can figure out a way to keep it warm without power. Which really shouldn’t be too difficult, I would definitely head out winter camping with it, especially on the warmer weekends.

Do you head out winter camping? We would love to hear everyone’s tips and tricks, that you have found to make it successful! Leave a comment or shoot us an email! Got questions for us? Let us know!

Cataract Creek 2018

Cataract Creek Adventures

Calgary snowmobile club

28618979_10155914341985865_120954516200497683_o
Family Day out.  Quick stop for a break and taking in some of the views.  This is right before the eldest sons sled started to have issues.

 

If you ever get a chance to check out Cataract Creek (Calgary Snowmobile Club) I highly suggest you do!  My husband and I have been wanting to check out this area for a while now and it finally worked out for us to go! Cataract creek is located southwest of Calgary in the foothills of Kananaskis. Offering mountain views and tons of snow, this was a dream day out for us.   We started out on Saturday with our three kids in tow.  However, our eldest sons sled had some mechanical issues so we didn’t venture very far that day.  (Only about 18km!!)

 

The next day my husband and I were able to get out and explore for the day on our own.  There are two staging areas for you to unload at.  We chose the first, Etherington Campground.  However, you can continue down the road a few KM and go to Cataract Staging area.  For our first time out, we weren’t very sure what to expect.  The “upper trails” as I call them were awesome!  Family friendly, easy going trails.  They were a lot smoother and offered short distances between junctions.    The “lower trails” we found a bit more technical in some areas.  I would take my kids on them but be prepared for slow going in some areas. They were also a lot rougher and slow moving for us through some areas, although I’m not sure how long it had been since the groomer had been out when we were there.   We were breaking trail through a good portion of them.

28055755_10155885366895865_5178004976191581026_n
One of the best things about the trails.  They pop you out in some pretty spectacular viewpoints.

The lower trails offer some of the best views!  If going, do not miss out on the Skyline summit trail.  It pops you up on a ridge that gives you some of the most amazing views.  We happened to be out on a cloudy, snowy day and it was still awesome! There are also tons of little meadows and places to play.  We may have gotten ourselves stuck a few times on our adventure.  (Remember to bring a shovel!!)  For this outing, I knew we would be working and playing a bit more, so I decided to go with my less insulated gear the DSG Craze.  My DSG (Triple 9 Optics) polarized goggles worked amazing on this snowy, cloudy day!  The polarized lens has been a game changer for me.  I have very light sensitive eyes and I find these polarized goggles help me tremendously.

 

There is only one warm up shack, so be prepared to have bonfires or head back to your vehicle to warm up.  If you stage at cataract it is central to both the upper and lower trials making it a convenient pit stop.  Both staging areas have signs and maps so make sure to grab one before you head out.  One of the nicest things about Cataract creeks is that even though it is in Kananaskis, its location in the foothills means that there is no avy danger and packs are not required.  (As long as you stay off the trail to Fording pass).  Many of the people we have talked to don’t even realize this amazing trail system exists.  Cataract creek has gone through some tremendous changes in the past few years.  They have recently seen an increase in their membership numbers, which means more funding, which means the trails are better taken care of so people like myself and my family can enjoy them.  So, if your heading out, buy a membership, or drop the club a donation.  I’m excited to see what these trails have in store for them in the future!

 

Sledding Family?….like ..with 3 kids!?….

So like… you guys all sled?

Yes….

So like…. you take all 3 kids out all day?

Yes……

Like in the cold?

Yes….

All day?

Yes…

And no one complains?

Well…. not exactly…

46485925_198506634397827_8698929591978295296_n

 

 

 

We have had this conversation more times then I can count.  So many people are taken aback when they see us load up our three kids and head out for a days adventures on our snowmobiles.

“I saw you guys leaving early this morning and you didn’t come home until after dinner!  Like holy s!*+!!!”       Yes well……  We do absolutely head out for the entire day sometimes.   We pack up and head out first thing and not come home until way after dinner time.

The thing with sledding is that the season only lasts so long.  Add in that it is stacked up with busy work schedules, school and other weekend activities!  Also lets not forget the costs associated with running 5 snowmobiles. So when we do get out, we have to make the most of it.  When we are including all 3 kids (Ages 11, 8 and 5) into the mix we most definitely need to pre plan our day.  It doesn’t come easy or flawlessly to us, but like many things we do in our lives if we plan it out well, the day can go pretty smoothly.  Of course some things can not be avoided!  This comes with the territory of being a parent.  The inevitable…… It will happen!  Plan for it!  Prepare for it! and expect the unexpected!  (As cliche as it sounds).

So what do we do to prepare?  How do we handle our kids out on the trail?  Well your in luck!  I am about to dish out our best tips and tricks to keeping everyone happy and non whiny (mostly) throughout the day.

28618979_10155914341985865_120954516200497683_o.jpg

 

STEP 1

Proper gear!   This goes without saying, and rings true not just for kids but for adults alike.  Kids absolutely need to be geared up well.  Warmth is key.  If they are not geared well all your going to hear is that they are cold, that their fingers are freezing and that you will most likely have to amputate toes because they are about to fall off.  This has taken some time to get right with our kids.  Boots and mitts are our biggest issues.  Our boys handle their own sleds so their hands are generally warm, however our daughter is still a passenger so she gets cold.  Dont’ scrimp out on boots and mitts. this has been one of our failures in the past. High quality is key for warmth and these extremities are the first to get cold.  We use high quality moisture wicking socks, and those dang shaky packs can save your life! We always carry ample amounts of them and tuck them everywhere! This year I am highly considering the battery operated insoles or socks for the kids.

Gloves:  The verdict is still out…..  we say this because we have yet to find gloves that seem to work in the different temperature ranges.  For our daughter a good leather mitten would probably be best although we have failed on that aspect and have just coated her hand with shaky packs and a low price range mitt.  As for the boys, their hand are either too hot or too cold.  We have yet to find something that works well in a variety of temperatures. but yet somehow we still get through our day!  A good tip here would be to possibly carry a decent finger glove for the warmer day and in your tunnel bag carry a good leather mitten for cold days and nights.

Base layers:   Proper base layers…. definitely a must have! So spend the money and get them, and not just long johns from walmart! (though these can work as well). This is the lesson we have learned so far on the hundreds of km we have put on with the kids! Merino wool is a great option,  moisture wicking is a must!  On top of their base layers, we mid layer! Usually this is a hoodie and some sweats.

Then the outer layer….. This year our kids are rocking some TOBE OUTERWEAR  (full review on this to come).  However our preliminary reviews are coming in that this is some amazing gear for kids. 100% Windproof and 100% waterproof.  These are musts, but at a cost! “is it worth it you ask?”  At this point, going from low-range snowsuits, to mid-range snowsuits it’s worth it.  So that being said, on the mid to high range jump, the verdict is still out!  But one thing we have learned so far is that higher quality comes at higher cost, and typically give higher gains. Remember full review is to come on this one.

Headwear:  Our kids of course wear moisture wicking balaclavas under their helmets.  Our boys are hidden behind some tall windshields while they are driving their sleds, so they rock the helmet / goggle combo with no complaints.  My only hint here is to make sure you are purchasing winter helmets and goggles, not summer or MX ones.    Our daughter (who rides in front of me or Troy) has a full face helmet.  Our sleds don’t have much in the way of  windshields so the full face offers her full coverage and keeps her warm as she takes the full blast of cold air     **hint** (benefits of windproof gear).

 

44827865_10156677006130786_463679755833573376_o

STEP 2

When we are riding on the trail we try and plan our routes according to where the shelters are and know that we will be stopping at every one of them.   We don’t try to push our luck (most of the time)! and just skip on over to the next one.  Our plan will surely always fail!   When stopping we are prepared to start a fire quickly to get the shelter warmed up (if it isn’t already).   We always carry waterproof matches, fire starters, a few bits of paper.  Usually the warm up shelters we stop at are fully stocked and ready to go, but just in case, we carry them.    Stopping at shelters is vital to our success.  It gives the kids a break to run around, have a drink, eat some food, use the washroom and warm up.  Even if the shacks are close together we stop in quick and make sure the fire is going and stoked so that if we loop back around or another group of snowmobilers stops in, we know the shelter is warm.

 

 

STEP 3

FOOD!  Whatever you do, do not forget the snacks! We pack what the kids would normally eat in a day and then we triple it.  We know our kids will just waste away if they don’t constantly have some form of food shoved in their mouths.  We pack lots of higher protein snacks like,  granola bars, pepperoni sticks, cheese and trail mix.  We also bring sausages, and hot dogs to fry up on the fire, burgers work great as well.  We don’t carry buns, they are too bulky, so we take tortilla wraps instead.   We also take stainless steel water bottles with water and warm them up on the fire for hot chocolate.  If your starting to think we must pull a uhaul along to carry all our stuff, you are wrong!   I only have this little set up on my sled  ⇓ and Troy usually has a backpack.

 

 

STEP 4

We let them rest!  We don’t push them too hard (all the time), we know that they are probably tired and worn out after a few hours.  This kind of ties back into stopping at the shelters but I feel its a key component and needs its own paragraph.  Letting them take a break to recharge and enjoy the scenery and take it all in off of the sled, is absolutely essential!  If you do not give them enough time to recharge when you stop you will be in for meltdowns later on.

 

STEP 5

We let them have some fun!  Our kids (like their parents) get bored of the trail riding.  While yes, it’s beautiful and fun, we find we need to get them off trail to play around and have some fun on their sleds.  We often dip off into meadows or lakes and let them go.  They get to race around, practice their skills, try out each others sleds, and watch their parents do the same.  It’s a fun time for everyone to just kick back and enjoy themselves without having to worry about the rules of the trail.

 

 

 

A few other points about riding with our kids:

  • Our daughter generally rides in front of Troy or myself.  For this reason she has a Tek Vest.  It’s important to consider this for your children if they are riding in front of you.  If something head on happens, she is taking the full impact plus the potential of us slamming into her. Tek Vests are  a good choice for any rider! Safety first.
  • We feed our kids a huge breakfast before we head out for the day.  Bacon and eggs, toast, pancakes, fruit, etc.  Things to fill them up.  It is most definitely not a morning to pop a piece of toast and go.
  • We let them help.  When we stop at shelters they generally want to help get the fire going, help chop wood, bring in the snacks.  Keeping them busy and making them feel like they have jobs to do keeps them happy.

We have probably left out some key points but all in all, the main thing is that they are happy and having fun.  Whatever we can do to make things enjoyable for them we do!  So in closing, yes we do go out with all 3 kids for full day adventures, and most of the trips turn out on a positive note. One thing we keep in mind is that not every plan goes according to plan.  Not every preparation we take will aide in our kids being warm and happy.  Ultimately at the end of the day its how well you roll with the punches will determine the outcome of our daily adventure.

 

%d bloggers like this: