Friday, November 21, 2014

Gift Idea: Choose your own adventure

Anyone out these want to give experience gifts rather than "stuff" this Christmas?  Me too.  Like a lot of you guys I'm constantly striving to have less stuff and more adventures in my life.

As his birthday gift this year Mountain Man decided that he wanted me to plan an active weekend away for the two of us.  To increase the fun quotient (and to help me narrow down the infinite possibilities!) I turned this into a Choose Your Own Adventure gift.

Here is what I sent MM on the day of  his birthday:

Translation: hiking, biking, or paddling; staying in a brick-and-mortar accommodation or camping; just the two of us or a group of friends; Washington or BC.  Based on MM's choices we ended up biking our way around Seattle.

The concept is simple.

  1. Create a certificate that includes a bunch of either/or options,
  2. The giftee makes choices,
  3. You plan the final experience.

This gift could work well for your partner and also for kids who are old enough to enjoy giving input (perfect for tweens).  It works well for a trip or a day on the town.  Imagine a gift for your niece or nephew with options such as Aquarium vs Sports Event vs Snow Tubing and Burger Joint vs Cupcake Shop vs Sushi.

I used Microsoft Publisher to design the certificate and bought the icons on (each icon cost $1 or less to purchase, some were even free).   Publisher is a user friendly program that you may already have if you own the Microsoft Office suite on a PC (sadly they don't make Publisher for Mac).  If you've never played with it, give it a try.  It's about 10,000 times easier to use than Adobe suite products.

December is almost upon us...happy Christmas shopping!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

How To: Store outdoor gear in an appartment

I'm an apartment dweller and an outdoor lover.  This leads to one big problem: storage.

Back when I was looking for my apartment I was hoping to find something with a large storage room or extra closets.  In the end I found a place with great light, new floors, and reasonable rent...but no dice on the extra storage.

Luckily, these days there is a simple solution to our gear storage woes.  Take yourself down to Ikea and buy yourself a wardrobe.

Or two.  (What?  I have a lot of stuff.)

I got these two bad boys at Ikea for $250 each.  They don't sell this exact model anymore, but they have lots of options at a variety of price points.  Because I'm fancy I added a set of knobs from Anthropologie.  Ok, let's be honest.  Because I had a gift card I added the knobs from Anthro.  I mean, $8/knob?  Yowza.

To maximize functionality I added some simple S-hooks (available at hardware stores) to the hanging bar to accommodate my backpacks and panniers and a set of plastic drawers for small items (Craigslist for the win!).

It may not be as beautiful a built in or as spacious as a garage, but it's presentable, functional and rental friendly.  Have you found a storage solution for all your outdoor gear in your small space?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Camino de Santiago: this girl's packing list

As I mentioned here, I spent two weeks hiking the Camino de Santiago from Leon to Santiago this fall.  In the (very brief!) time that I spent planning my trip, I was thankful to the packing lists and tips that I found online I figured that I'd share my packing list and reflections.  

How light will you go?

Since you don't need to camp on the Camino (at least not on the section and at the timing that I completed it) and no need to carry a significant amount of food or water, it's possible to carry an extremely light pack...or to treat yourself to a few luxuries.  
I decided that I'd prefer to carry a few extra pounds rather than go totally spartan.  And you know what?  I was happy that I did.  Everything I read online says that you'll curse yourself and toss out half of your belongings, but I was extremely happy with my burden.  Even with luxuries in tow it weighed only 15 lbs which is comfortably less than 10% of my body weight (a much cited and sensible guideline for an upper limit).  This may not be the right choice for everyone, but it worked for me.

Also keep in mind that this isn't a wilderness trip.  While that means you’ll save weight on camping and cooking gear, you’ll want to bring a few extras like toiletries and a set of clean clothes.   That said, nearly every albergue provides sinks for hand washing and clotheslines for hang drying, so you can wash out your essentials regularly.

A few notes on the “right” gear

Footwear.  While your shoes are critical, there is no consensus on the perfect footwear.  No matter what anyone swears by, what works for them is just that: it works for them.  You'll find people who love their footwear and had no foot issues wearing everything from heavy leather backpacking boots to minimalist running shoes...and in each category you'll find many people who hated their shoes!  The best you can do is choose something that works for you on your regular hiking routine.

Pack.  It's important to find a pack that fits you well.  Don't be shy about spending a few hours at your local outdoor store trying on all the packs that will hold the correct volume, loading them with weight, and walking around. (Pro tip - if your outdoor store doesn't have weight bags for testing packs, ask them if you can use a climbing rope.)  Ignore the pack’s look and price to start with and just find what fits.  I am unrelenting about finding a pack that sits snugly on my hips and hardly touches my back and shoulders.  I think this makes me a weirdo?  Whatever.  After years of backpacking I know that this works for me.  If you already own a bag that will work, all the better.

Clothing/Textiles. Obviously you want to choose quick drying versions that will dry overnight. If you want to test your gear for drying speed in advance, make sure to wring it out by hand instead of putting it through the spin cycle, since this is the method you'll be using on the Camino. Hand-wringing leaves your clothes with a LOT more water in them than a centrifuge spin cycle!

Basic Caminio Packing List (aka - What I actually packed).  
Total pack weight 15 lbs, total skin out weight 18.4 lbs.  I traveled in late September and early October on the Camino Francis.

  • 1x tshirt
  • 1x long sleeved merino wool base layer
  • 1x shorts. I found shorts with pockets to be ideal for keeping my wallet handy.
  • 1x pants.  I chose to go with a pair of soft shell pants that would work in the rain and also as a comfortable pair of pants for cold weather.  I re-treated them with a technical waterproofing spray before leaving for good measure.  They weren't the lightest pants in the world, but I already owned them and didn't want to buy something new.
  • 1x sundress.  I chose to wear a sundress as my “clean” outfit for the evenings.  It was lighter weight than bringing a top and bottom combo, easy to change into after a shower, and looked really cute.  I got a TON of comments to the effect of “why didn't I think of that?” and “aren't you fancy!”  I highly recommend this option.
  • 1x fleece pullover
  • 1x base layer leggings
  • 1x rain jacket
  • 2 pairs wool socks.  Guess what?  Wool socks don’t dry overnight.  They don’t even dry within 24 hours.  These were a pain in the ass. They were also too hot for these Canadian feet in the Spanish afternoon sun.  Therefore, I bought...
  • 2 pairs synthetic socks.  Much more useful than ^
  • 4x synthetic underwear
  • 2 bras
  • 1x sleepwear.  You are sleeping each night in a room with 4-50 other people of mixed gender.  Some people sleep in their underwear, but most wear either their clean clothes or sleepwear.  
  • 1x Buff.  This was a great multi-functional item.  I used it as head-ware when it was cold, an eye mask while I slept, and a hair wrap if it was cold after a shower.
  • Hat.  I used a running style baseball cap that I already owned, although most people prefer a wide brimmed hat to keep the sun off their neck.

  • Hiking boots.  As I mentioned, there is no perfect footwear.  I wore my light hikers which were well broken in, but if I did it again I might try trail runners.  The hikers don’t have a lot of cushion which sucks on the frequent paved roads and I had problems with my feet overheating in the afternoons. That said, they were excellent on the muddy, rocky, and steep sections so maybe the grass is always greener?
  • Flip flops.  These were my evening shoes and also functioned as shower sandals and slippers to wear around the albergue.  Often you are not permitted to wear your hiking boots inside the albergue.  (Fair enough since, in some areas, you hike around a LOT of cow shit.)

You can refill pretty much whatever you need along the way, so just bring a travel sized and pick up a new one if you run out.
  • Toothbrush and paste
  • Miniature hair brush
  • 3 hair elastics
  • Castile soap used for body wash, shampoo, and hand washing laundry.  Note, this worked terribly on my hair.  I’d just bring a travel sized shampoo next time.
  • Conditioner.  If you colour your hair at home, save one of the conditioner squeeze tubes that comes with your hair colour.  It’s super concentrated so will go a long way.
  • Face wash
  • sun screen
  • lip balm
  • deodorant
  • large sarong used as wrap for going to/from shower, towel, etc.  This is sort of a luxury item, but it was SOOOO useful that it would have been one of the last things I gave up.  I was able to avoid having to dress in a tiny, wet shower stall (often with no place to keep your clothes dry!) and simply wrapped myself in this sarong then go back to the room to (semi) discreetly dress under the wrap. I wish I could tell you what my wrap was made of because it dried in a flash, but it is actually an old scarf that I bought at H&M and I removed the tag from it years ago.  It was cheap and is very soft, so I’m guessing it’s rayon?
  • Small terry wash cloth - used for drying body after shower
  • Half oz micro towel - used for same purpose as washcloth but I was indecisive when planning for trip and brought both!
  • Mini first aid kit.  Bring a little of what you use at home for each of the following.  For me it was...
    • Pills - ibuprofen, tums, pepto
    • Blister care - moleskin, bandaids, mini scissors
    • Disinfectant - polysporin, hand sanitizer
  • Nail clippers

  • Backpack.  I chose a 40 L full featured model (aka, not lightweight) that fit me well enough to make the load feel like nothing.
  • Summer sleeping bag.
  • Fitted sheet treated with permethrin.  I was paranoid about bedbugs and this item allowed me to sleep soundly.  I would cover the entire mattress and pillow with the fitted sheet and never touch the mattress, pillow, or provided blanket.  I was never affected by bed bugs. Who knows if it was luck or the chemically treated sheet!
  • Headphones. I didn't actually use them, but most people do.
  • Safety pins. Use them as clothes pins in windy conditions and when securing gear to your backpack if it didn’t dry overnight.
  • Mini notebook & pen
  • 1x mesh packing cube. I used this to keep my clothing organized. It can also double as a pillow if there isn't one provided by the albergue.
  • Camera & charger.  Although I typically use a micro SLR, I was happy I chose my pocket sized point and shoot for this trip.  Most people keep the electronics low profile, so this fits in a little better. Also, since it was small enough to keep in my pack’s hip pocket I didn’t have to stop to grab it and snap a photo.
  • Phone & charger.  Some people enjoy doing the camino without a phone, but most prefer to be able to check in with family in the evening.  Wifi is prevalent at albergues.
  • Guidebook.  Anyone who knows me knows I love a good guidebook. Most English speakers carry this book which is excellent and often called the “Brierley Bible.”  It's a pretty detailed guide, which is a useful luxury in my opinion. You can always tear out the unneeded pages if you want to go more light weight.
  • Water bottle.  One 750 ml biking style bottle worked well for me since there are frequent fountains that you can use to fill up along the way.  If you encounter a stretch where you’ll need more than one full bottle handy, just pick up a disposable plastic bottle from a store or bar.
  • Earplugs. Enough for a new pair every 2 nights.  Good noise blocking ear plugs are essential for your sleep. Make sure you learn to insert them correctly (roll tight, set them deep in your ears, then hold them for 30 seconds until they expand) so that you'll actually get solid noise blocking.
  • Mini knife.  Useful for picnicking.

  • Passport
  • Camino document
  • 2x credit card (the one you plan to use and a backup, kept separately in case of theft)
  • 2x debit card (the one you plan to use and a backup, kept separately in case of theft)
  • Mini wallet
  • Mini purse.  Weird?  I know, but my dress for the evenings did not have any pockets so I needed a practical way to carry my valuables.  The purse I bought was a tiny cloth thing that only weighed a few ounces and could hold my wallet, phone and camera.

Lightweight Camino Packing List (aka - How I'd amend my packing list if I wanted to lighten up)
If I were to amend my packing list to go lightweight, here is what it would look like.  Removed items are shown with a strikethrough and added items are in bold.  

  • 1x tshirt
  • 1x long sleeved merino wool base layer
  • 1x shorts
  • 1x pants
  • 1x sundress
  • 1x fleece pullover
  • 1x base layer leggings
  • 1x rain jacket
  • 2 pairs wool socks
  • 2 pairs synthetic socks
  • 4x 3x synthetic underwear
  • 2 bras
  • 1x sleepwear
  • 1x buff
  • Hat
  • Hiking boots  Trail runners
  • Flip flops

  • Toothbrush and paste
  • Miniature hair brush
  • 3 hair elastics
  • Castile soap used for body wash, shampoo, and hand washing laundry
  • Conditioner
  • Face wash
  • Sun screen
  • Lip balm
  • Deodorant
  • Large sarong used as wrap for going to/from shower, towel, etc
  • Small terry wash cloth
  • Half oz micro towel
  • Mini first aid kit
    • Pills - ibuprofen, tums, pepto tabs
    • Blister care - moleskin, bandaids, mini scissors
    • Disinfectant - polysporin, hand sanitizer
  • Nail clippers

  • Backpack.  Drop the size to 30-35 L.  If I could find one that felt right I would go with a lightweight model, such as something from GoLite.  But if the fit wasn't right, I'd stick with a full featured model. In my opinion a little weight in the form of structure on your backpack tends to pay off by making your load feel lighter than it is, reducing fatigue in your shoulders.
  • Summer sleeping bag. Hostel sheet treated with permethrin.
  • Fitted sheet treated with permethrin
  • Headphones
  • Safety pins
  • mini notebook & pen
  • 1x large mesh packing cube
  • Camera & charger
  • Phone & charger  
  • Guidebook, tear our unneeded sections.  
  • Water bottle 
  • Earplugs. Enough for a new pair every 2 5 nights.  
  • Mini knife


  • Passport
  • Camino document
  • 2x credit card (the one you plan to use and a backup, kept separately in case of theft)
  • 2x debit card (the one you plan to use and a backup, kept separately in case of theft)
  • Mini wallet
  • Lightweight purse

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Camino de Santiago: who should go?

I had a little spare time this fall, so I took off on a whim to hike the Camino de Santiago.  I hiked 300+ kilometres of the Camino Francis from Leon to Santiago over the course of 14 days.

My 330 km trek far from makes me the most experienced peregrino out there - most pilgrims hike for 800+ kilometres walking the entire way across Spain.  Regardless, here are a few thoughts for those considering embarking on the trip.

If you haven't heard of the Camino de Santiago, here is a brief rundown

  • The Camino is a pilgrimage to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.  Technically you can walk there from anywhere, but there as several marked routes.  The most common route, by a long shot, is the Camino Francis.  This route originates in the French Pyrenees and crosses straight across Northern Spain.
  • The Camino is popular...and has been for 1000 years.  It was one of the most important pilgrimage sites during the middle ages and started to see a resurgance in the 1960s.  Thanks in part to several books, movies, and documentaries traffic has been increasing year over year.  In 2013, 215,000 people completed the Camino.
  • While this is technically a Catholic pilgrimage most pilgrims these days come out for other reasons.  Adventure, fitness, and spiritual growth are probably the most common reasons you'll hear from people taking the journey today.
  • You can walk, bike, or ride the trail on horseback.  Most people walk.
So brief isn't exactly my strong point.   Anyway.  Moving on.

Who should do the Camino de Santiago:
  • People who are multilingual will have the richest experience because they can connect with a larger variety of people along the way.  Spanish, French, German, and Italian are the most useful languages other than English.  (I'm assuming if you are reading this you speak English!)  That said, it's not essential - I'm super lame and don't speak any other languages and I got by just fine.  
  • People looking for an active vacation that also gives them an opportunity to experience a new culture, see some sights, and meet lots of friendly people.  The social atmosphere is great.  Since you are traveling primarily in small towns pretty much everyone out there is a pilgrim and your are never much more than a "hola" away from starting a conversation with someone new.
  • People who want to have an active adventure but would also like the luxuries of a bed, shower, and hot meal every day.
  • People looking for a thrifty vacation in Europe.  Daily on trip costs were about 5-10 Euros per night on accommodation, 15-30 Euros per day on food and very little else.   Travel costs to get out there are a whole different ball game of course.
  • People who are religious or spiritual and who gain value from the religious significance of this historic pilgrimage.
  • People with a decent amount of time available.  Most people hike from St John in the French Pyrenees all the way to Santiago or Finisterre in western Spain which takes approximately five weeks.  You can do a shorter trip, but for those coming from outside of Europe you'll likely want to dedicate a minimum of two weeks given the travel time you'll have to dedicate to get to Spain.
  • Solo travellers who want to do something that's fun and safe to do without a travel buddy.  I chose this trip since I was traveling on my own (poor Mountain Man had to work) and it was a great fit for a lone travel.  Not only was it nice to set my own pace and distance per day, but social opportunities were prevalent so you are never lonely.  Well, at least this is true of the Camino Francis (also known as the French route) which attracts the vast majority of pilgrims.
If you are thinking about doing the Camino one of my favourite sources to get started on planning - such as choosing which of the many routes you'll walk - is this website.

Who shouldn't do the Camino de Santiago:

There is an article that you are likely to come across when searching for info about the Camino called 10 Reason Why the Camino de Santiago Sucks.  While I think the general tone of this article is completely melodramatic (hello click bait title!) it has some points worth considering and does point out that this is not the be-all-end-all perfect trip for every individual.
  • People looking for solitude.  At the very least, don't do the Francis if what you want is solitude and alone time.  Other routes, such as the Primitivo or the del Norte may be a better fit.  Or better yet, head to the mountains.
  • People wanting to get away from civilization.  On the Camino you will pass through a city every few days and a small village or town every few hours.  Most people consider this a  luxury (warm showers, lighter pack, etc).  However, this also means you often walk on or near roads and highways and don't get any serious wilderness time. 
  • People looking for mind blowing natural vistas.  While much of the Camino is very beautiful, it doesn't compare to the spectacular views you can get way up in the mountains.
  • People with serious dog phobias.  Maybe this is a weird one?  Here's the deal: You walk though small farming villages regularly and practically have to step over their big scary looking (but seemly always tired and disinterested) german shepherds and other assorted large dogs.
  • Light sleepers.  Staying in albergues (hostels for pilgrims) means sharing your room with 3-50 other people, a certain percentage of whom will snore, get up in the night, toss and turn, and cough.  If this makes you insane, you will lose your mind.  Ear plugs and a relaxed attitude are your best friend.  Of course, you can always stay in hotels rather than albergues, but it will add significant cost (30-80 euros per night rather than 5-10) and detracts from the social experience.
Have you done the Camino?  Thinking about doing it?  I had a great experience and my only regret is that I couldn't go for longer!


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