Thursday 17 November 2022

What a Summer!

Well it's definitely starting to feel like winter is on its way; we've bought our ski passes, started prepping the ski gear, the boys are booked into lessons at Mount Washington, and we've sorted a winter location for the RV - exciting stuff to come.  We've even had our first snow fall in Victoria, although it didn't last long!

The earlier dark evenings and wetter weather can make it harder to get out and stay adventurous, but we've managed to make the most of breaks in the weather and make a couple of day trips out to places that we didn't get to over the Summer; including climbing Old Baldy Mountain this weekend to check-out the "Insta-famous" swing.  The views of Shawnigan Lake from the top are worth the climb, although it's not the most exciting of walks.

Our tent camping season began way before Summer with a trip in the Stryker to Discovery Island, just off the coast here in Oak Bay on the 6th of March.  Temperatures dropped to just above freezing over night, which may explain why we had the entire island to ourselves, but we just couldn't resist it when it was such a beautiful sunny day.  The following weekend we were back up to Mount Washington for a final weekend of skiing (or so we thought - keep reading for that wee gem!).

We then spent March Break on an amazing trip up in the Yukon (let us know if you want to hear more about that trip).  

Sarah's birthday is in early April and after two birthdays in lockdown we were keen to get away somewhere.  Ridley hoped to get the paddle boards out but the weather had other ideas and we actually had more unexpected snow. We still had a great weekend camping at Bamberton Provincial Park, thankfully we were in the RV this time!  

By the middle of April the weather was starting to warm up, and we had some great day trips in the Stryker; including our first trip to Pender Island, where we saw our first Humpback Whale.

At the end of April we took the RV up to Rathtrevor Provincial Park, and in the middle of May we had our first visitors.  Sarah's Aunt and Uncle were over from the UK for two weeks, and fully embraced our Canadian lifestyle with boat camping on Newcastle Island (Saysutshun), whale watching with Eagle Wing Tours, RV camping at Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, hiking to Big Lonely Doug and Botanical Beach, as well as a few brewery visits of course!

Orcas in the Straits of Georgia

Orcas off Vancouver Island

Big Lonely Doug

The unusual Vancouver Island weather continued for a bit longer; the snow at Mount Washington had taken much longer to melt than normal, and they opened up for a day of skiing in the middle of June for Father's Day.  A week later Summer weather finally arrived and we were playing on the beach at Sidney Spit.  This was our first full Summer on Vancouver Island, as we arrived in mid-August last year, and what a Summer it was!

We spent Ridley's first Canada Day as a Canadian Citizen in Vancouver.  Exploring downtown Vancouver, Granville Island, Stanley Park, the Capilano Suspension bridge, and a couple of breweries.

Later in July, Ridley's brother and his family also came over from the UK for a couple of weeks.  They too embraced the lifestyle; rainforest walks, trips in the Stryker, attempting to surf in Tofino (some more successful than others), boat camping at Sidney Spit, another trip to Pender Island, more whales and more breweries, are you starting to spot the theme?!

Cox Beach, Tofino

Humpback Tail off Pender Island

The last weekend of July was spent in the Cowichan Valley at SunFest; an awesome Country Music festival, where we won backstage passes to the main stage on Saturday night. 

August found us boat camping at Narvaez Bay on Saturna Island, a beautiful boat/foot access campground with only half a dozen pitches.  On our way there we had the most spectacular display from a pod of around 12 Orca.  Then we were away for two weeks on our amazing trip to Haida Gwaii with Sarah's parents (read more here), and finally camping and river tubing on the Cowichan River

Stryker boat at Narvaez Bay, Saturna, BC

Narvaez Bay Campground, Saturna, BC

Cowichan River

The first weekend in September we were boat camping for Innes' birthday, this time with some great friends from the Island.  This time we camped on Portland Island, and day tripped to Salt Spring and Pender.  Our friends love free diving and spear fishing, so we had some excellent fresh crab, oysters, scallops and fish; all hand caught from the Stryker!

Sarah then spent a weekend learning to sail, achieving her Competent Crew certification on a 35ft yacht with Blackfish Sailing (highly recommended).

Our (probably) last tent camping for this year was at the end of September at Pine Point Recreation Site on Cowichan Lake.  After lots of cold water swimming in the Pacific Ocean over the Summer it was nice to be back on a lake and reminded us why we loved Ontario so much!

So, now for winter adventures - lots planned, and lots in the planning, and we can't wait!

Wednesday 9 November 2022

Camping Christmas?

Tent in the snow with Christmas Tree

Is it too early to talk about Christmas???

Sarah says no, so here we go!

We've put together a list of some of our favourite camping gear that we take on our adventures.  Everything on this list is actual equipment that we own and use regularly, so please don't think this is our Christmas wish list, it is just an easy way of us getting our recommendations to you - also don't feel you need to use Amazon, please go and support your local camping/outdoor stores if you can. 

All of these 'little' bits make our camping experience so much easier - some may seem slightly dull, but when you need them they don't feel dull - they give us less worry, better ease of set-up and an organised camp (Ridley loves an organised camp!) and more time to enjoy what we are there for - the adventuring! 

PS. Having found this photo online, Sarah now feels there's a Christmas Camping challenge to be had, who's up for it?!?

PPS. Couldn't get our favourite radios to add to the Amazon list - so try here.

Friday 14 October 2022

Tent Camping Sleep Systems

So, now you've chosen your tent (see previous post), you may be wondering what else you need for a successful camping trip.  

After your tent, the next most important thing is your sleeping system.  Generally this consists of something to keep you insulated from the ground and something to keep you warm.  Most campers opt for some kind of sleeping mat and a sleeping bag.

Sleeping Mats

Sleep Mats or Camping Mattresses can range from simple foam mats, through self-inflating mats, up to air beds.  Clearly there is a trade off between comfort and size/weight.  The key thing to look for is the R-value; this is a measure of the insulation and the higher the number the warmer it will be.  Values range from 1-10; less than 2 is only suitable for warm weather, a value of 2-4 is sufficient for 3-season use, and if you're going to be winter camping you'll need at least 4.5.  
Sleeping Mat R-values seasons
Once you've looked at the R-value, the next thing is the shape and size.  For back-packers, a thin mummy shaped mat will help save some space and weight, but if you are car camping you can afford to go for a thicker and larger rectangular mat.  We prefer rectangular shaped mats, as they can effectively cover the whole floor of the tent so if you (or the kids!) move around in the night you don't end up in a cold spot. 
We seem to have found a happy medium with self-inflating roll mats.  They give good thermal insulation, reasonable comfort levels, and roll up into a manageable size.  There are many versions available, and we've had a couple of different ones over the years.  We've tended to go for relatively cheap versions and although comfortable to begin with, unfortunately, they've all developed leaks at some point, so I can't recommend any particular brand from personal experience.  I've heard good things about Sea to Summit and Therm-a-Rest though!
Sleeping mats inside a tent

Sleeping Bags

Sleeping bags are generally rated by season.  A 1-season bag is only suitable for warm summer nights, a 2-season bag will extend the season from late spring to early autumn/fall.  If you want to start early in the spring and camp right through fall, you will need a 3-season bag, and for winter camping a 4-season.

The majority of sleeping bag manufacturers now also conform to an EN/ISO standard which allows direct comparison between bags.  According to the standard the comfort temperature is the lowest outside temperature at which an 'average' woman can have a comfortable night's sleep, the lower limit value marks the end of the transition range and is the lowest outside temperature for a comfortable sleep for the 'average' man.  The risk or extreme temperature is the survival temperature, a strong sensation of cold and risk of hypothermia exist at this temperature.  If you're really struggling to compare, just focus on the comfort temperature and make sure it's a couple of degrees below the minimum temperature you expect to be camping in.
Sleeping Bag ISO EN Standard
Sleeping bag shapes vary from simple rectangular bags to shaped 'mummy' bags with hoods.  Here are some pros and cons of each shape.  Generally I'd recommend a shaped bag, unless you are only planning to car camp in warm weather.

    Rectangular        Rounded        Mummy

    Roomy           Moderately roomy Close fitting

    Cheaper           Mid price range More expensive

    Bulky to pack Lighter and more compact Very light and compact

    Summer use only Suited for 2/3 Season use Best for 3/4 Season use

If you've filtered your search by comfort temperature and sleeping bag shape, it is then worth comparing packed size and weight.  Modern sleeping bags have come along way in the last few years and can now pack extremely small and still be comfortable.

We've been really happy with our Mountain Warehouse bags, and found Summit ones that could zip together to make a double (back in the day when we were young and in love!). However, we have just upgraded from the Summit to the Extreme version, due to it's very small packed size.  Sarah is always cold, so we also take a small packable outdoor blanket if we're expecting low temperatures.  We have some nice ones from Eddie Bauer.

Camping Pillows

We don't have a huge knowledge of camping pillows, Ridley only relatively recently agreed that they are a good addition having always insisted that our clothes would do just fine! Sarah, however, has always been more of a camping wimp and always used stuff sack style camping pillows. Sarah uses 2, the rest of us all have 1 each. They are certainly way more comfortable than their inflatable counterparts (or your clothing!) and take up way less space than a standard pillow, however for car camping if you have space do consider a pillow as a stiff neck can ruin a camping trip. If anyone has come across a great solution for this do let us know!

Thursday 22 September 2022

Choosing a Tent

Choosing a tent can be confusing; there is a huge range of tents available, with different styles, features and prices.  Here's some guidance on what we look for in a tent.

Tent Size

This is the first decision you need to make.  Are you looking for a solo backpacking tent for one, or a large family tent that can sleep 6 (or even 8-10) with a separate living room?  

Tent manufacturers generally include the recommended number of people that the tent can sleep in the name of the tent. For example our Omega 350 is officially a 3-person tent (with a bit of extra room - hence the 50), while our larger family tent sleeps 5 and is known as the Icarus 500.  Most online tent retailers will let you filter your search results by sleeping capacity, and this will usually be the first question a salesperson in store will ask you, so start here.  If you want a little more space you can always go up in size by one or two above your actual numbers.

Bear in mind that a smaller tent will warm up faster, and stay warmer over night, due to body heat, so if you think you will be camping in the cooler shoulder seasons, you may want to choose a smaller tent.  Some of the National / Provincial Park sites are also too small for our biggest tent.

Omega 350Vango Omega 350 Layout  
Icarus 500Vango Icarus 500 Layout


Intended Use

Once you've decided on the number of people you want to sleep, the next consideration is what you plan to use the tent for.  Your intended use will determine the style of tent and let you focus on weight and packed dimensions.  If you plan to only use the tent for 'Car Camping', where you drive right up to your pitch, then you can afford to go for a bigger and heavier tent, which will likely give you more space and probably greater head room.  If your plan is to backpack, or bikepack, carrying all of your camping equipment with you, then you will obviously be more interested in a compact packed size and lightweight tent.

Backpacking Tent        

Car Camping Tent

This is how we've ended up with 4 tents!  A large family tent with living room for car camping, a medium size tent for boat camping or walk-in sites, a lightweight backpacking tent which all four of us can just about squeeze into, and an even lighter 2-person backpacking tent.

Weather conditions

Depending on where you live, and how dedicated you are to camping, weather may be important to you or not.  As our camping has been in the UK, Ontario, and British Columbia we always expect rain!

A tent's water resistance is usually measured as Hydrostatic Head or HH.  This is the height of a static column of water which the material of the tent can withstand before leaking.  Usually measured in millimetres, the higher the number, the more waterproof your tent will be.  For reference our Omega 350 has a rating of 5000 mm HH, which is one of the highest ratings from Vango.

Measuring Hydrostatic Head HH

Strong winds are another factor we always consider.  A good tent will have plenty of guy (or guide) ropes for additional stability.  The Vango tents also have an internal Tension Band system, which consists of additional bracing straps inside the tent which can be deployed in strong winds.

Tension Band System

It's not all strong winds and rain though!  Ventilation is a key factor in tent design, not only in hot sun but also to prevent condensation build up inside the tent.  Mesh openings in doors can allow improved air flow, while keeping out the bugs, and I always look for at least two vents in the outer flysheet for through flow.

Many modern tents now come with blackout bedroom areas which not only allow you to sleep longer in the morning by blocking out some of the light, but can also help to keep the temperature down inside the tent.

Other Features

As we always expect rain, we only consider tents which are erected with the outer flysheet first.  In many tents the poles are fitted to the inner part of the tent first, and then the flysheet is added over the top.  We don't like this design; if you are putting the tent up in the rain there is no way to avoid the inner tent getting wet.  Most tents which are fly first, also allow you to leave the inner tent connected making them faster to put up.  The only advantage we can see to an inner first design, is that you could leave the flysheet off in very warm weather, if you are confident it's not going to rain!

A sewn in ground sheet is essential for us, at least for the bedroom area.  The ground sheet should also extend up the lower sides of the inner tent, sometimes known as a bathtub groundsheet.  This keeps the bedroom area dry and bug free.  Look for a higher HH rating in your groundsheet.  On a recent trip to Bon Echo Provincial Park in our large family tent there was a huge thunderstorm overnight.  We woke in the night to find our bedroom area floating like a water bed!  Our groundsheet had a HH of 10,000mm though so we remained completely dry.  When we got up in the morning we were the only tent left in what had been a full Provincial Park. 

We prefer a tunnel tent design, rather than a dome.  You tend to get a much larger porch area to keep your bags and shoes dry in a tunnel tent, plus you can align a tunnel into the prevailing wind to maximise strength.  

Comparison - Vango Omega 350 vs MSR Elixir 3

As a quick example of choosing a tent, here's a comparison between the 3-person tent we use and a comparable tent available on the Canadian market.

Vango Omega 350 Tunnel Tent      
MSR Elixir 3 Dome Tent 

The table below shows some of the key features we have just discussed for the two models.  


Vango Omega 350

MSR Elixir 3

Sleeping Capacity




Fly first

Inner first

Rainfly HH

5000 mm

1500 mm

Floor HH

6000 mm

3000 mm

Packed Weight


3.19 kg

Packed Dimensions

49 x 20 cm

51 x 20 cm

Floor Area

4.3 sqm

3.67 sqm

Vestibule Area

~3.8 sqm

2.22 sqm


£240 ($360) incl tax

$400 (£260) + tax

We are massive fans of Vango tents, so much so that when we were looking for a larger family tent we had Sarah's parents post us one from the UK.  Hopefully you can easily see from the specifications above why we choose Vango.  

Which would you choose?  

Tuesday 6 September 2022

Haida Gwaii (Part 2)

Our next stop after the Moresby Explorers tour (see previous post for details) was at Haida Gwaii Glamping:

Haida Gwaii Glamping

Haida Gwaii Glamping is a beautiful new set-up overlooking the beach in Tlell.  With 10 luxury glamping tents, a social geodesic dome, covered BBQ deck, and cedar hot-tub; we couldn't have found a better spot to stay for a couple of nights.  We had a beach front tent, with a couple of additional cot beds.  The owners have really thought of everything; the site is incredibly well equipped from hammocks and kayaks to guitars, and has a really laid back atmosphere.  The Glamping comes a close second to Moresby Explorers in everyone's favourite part of the trip. 

Boy playing guitar, Haida Gwaii

Boy in hammock, Haida Gwaii

Haida Gwaii Glamping Hot Tub

Masset / Tow Hill / Beach Cabin

After a couple of relaxing nights at Haida Gwaii Glamping, we travelled to the north of Graham Island to an off grid cabin overlooking South Beach.  We booked the 'Waldorf' cabin at Haida Gwaii Beach Cabins.  The cabin was seconds from the beach along a short trail through the sand dunes.  With a double bed downstairs, a double mattress in the open loft, and a double sofa bed there was plenty of room for the 6 of us.  The on-demand hot shower from a propane fired heater in the outhouse was a pleasant surprise, and our host Kevin supplied plenty of fresh water for drinking and showering. 

Waldorf Haida Gwaii Beach Cabins

South Beach is a beautiful stretch of sandy beach within Naikoon Provincial Park, with views of Tow Hill to the North East.  The water was certainly refreshing, but watch out for the Lions Mane Jellyfish, I got a light sting on my ankle from one while swimming.

From the cabin we explored South Beach, North Beach and Tow Hill, including the famous Blow Hole.  There's a pleasant 1.5km (each way) trail to the top of Taaw Tldáaw (Tow Hill).  The trail is fully board-walked with lots of steps, but the views of the beaches and Rose Spit are worth the effort.  

View of Rose Spit

According to Haida history, North Beach is the creation site where Raven discovered the first Haida people inside a giant clam shell.

The Blow Hole is found on the beach at the bottom of Tow Hill, and is apparently formed from a whale sent by the evil Tow to swallow Hopi, but Hopi turned the whale to stone and all that remains today is the blow hole.  On a rising tide with moderate swell the blow is very impressive.  By chance we arrived at just the right time and were lucky enough to see the blow in action.

We also explored Masset and Old Masset; visiting some Haida art galleries, stocking up on groceries and drinks, having lunch at Daddy Cools Public House, and takeout from Charters Food Truck (both highly recommended!). 

Golden Spruce Trail

The Golden Spruce Trail starts around 5km beyond Port Clements (partially on logging roads, but easily accessed in a standard car).  The trail is an easy 1km round trip along the banks of the Yakoun River.  The Yakoun is the largest river on Haida Gwaii.  At the end of the trail there used to stand a magnificent, rare, Golden Spruce tree known as Kiidk'yaas.  Despite its beauty and cultural significance to the Haida people, it was cut down in 1997 in an ironic protest against logging. 

Totem Raising

On our final day in Haida Gwaii, we heard there was going to be a new Totem raised in Old Masset.  Opinions varied on whether the pole was going to be raised on Thursday (our last day) or Friday, but we decided to go and check it out.  It turned out that the confusion was caused because the pole was being delivered to the site on Thursday and raised on Friday.  We arrived at the site just as the Totem was being offloaded from the lorry.  Some of the carvers continued to make final adjustments to the pole after it was safely off-loaded.  It was hugely impressive to see the magnificent 63ft new pole being delivered to it's future site, although disappointing that we missed out on the raising ceremony and Potlatch! 

Old Masset Totem Pole

Carvers working on new totem pole in Old Masset

Totem Pole hole Old Masset

Haida Heritage Centre

The Haida Heritage Centre at Kay Llnagaay just outside of Skidegate is a must visit.  The centre is built on a traditional Haida village site and is designed to resemble a collection of long houses in traditional Haida style.  We actually visited the centre before our Moresby trip, and we were glad we had as the Haida sites we visited on the trip made much more sense with a bit of background understanding.

Haida Heritage Centre

Boys with totem at Haida Heritage Centre

Reflections on our trip

Haida was a truly life enhancing trip, we have explored a lot of Canada but we really felt we had learnt so much and grown as people following this trip. It is hard to explain exactly why Haida had this effect on us but the combination of wonderful nature, extraordinarily friendly people, fascinating history, and an education in how First Nations can really make change adds up to a really enriching experience. Haida, the place and the people, will stay with us forever.