Category Archives: simplicity

The Grey Owl’s Expedition Gear Guide

Since we are still planning to do a hike to Grey Owl’s Cabin in June, we have been picking up some gear for the trip.  A lot of people have been asking us what we are taking so here is the quick list of gear that is going.

North 49 65 litre backpack with an internal frameBackpacks: To carry the gear, we have some frameless backpacks with hip straps.  You can spend a lot of money on these and after reading around, we think we found the right balance between comfort, durability, and price.

I am carrying a 65 litre pack.  It is lots big enough for an overnight trip and this way Mark and Wendy don’t have to carry as much stuff.  It will hold Wendy’s and my tent, the cook set, and sleeping back with a lot of space left over.  I won’t use all of that space but it is there.

If I was walking the Appalachian Trail, I would definitely have purchased a more expensive backpack but it’s only a day and we are only taking so much stuff.  Mark and Wendy have some smaller bags that I bought there bags on clearance for a combined $30.  They are 40 litres and have the external straps they need.  They should do the job.

Tents: Wendy and I are staying in a three man tent we bought for $16 from Wal-mart.  They had a loss leader going last winter and we got it then.  It’s light and just big enough for the two of us.   The tent opens up and hopefully we will be able to sleep under the skies rather than under the fly.  If it does look like it could rain, we’ll be fine underneath it.

Ozark Trail 3-Man Tent

If I was going camping rather than backcountry hiking, we would have gotten something larger and higher quality.   Weight and size are a factor.  Also the price was insanely cheap ($16 on sale).  If it doesn’t last, no harm done but the reviews online were pretty solid.  It’s no where near as durable as a tent from the North Face but then again, it won’t be asked to do much more than keep the mosquitoes or drizzle off of us.  If it was just me, I would got with a two person tent but this way there is just enough room for us and some of our gear.

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Mark is staying in a one person tent from Eagle’s Camp.  It is small but it will be only him and his bag. Either way it is really light and since Mark will be carrying it in and out, he will appreciate the weight.  We bought some ropes to add as guy wires which opens it up a bit.  It’s small but it is light.

We did waterproof and seal the seams and upgraded the tent pegs to something lighter and more likely to stay in the ground.  If the weather is miserable, we should be okay.

Sleeping bags: Mark had a sleeping bag but Wendy and I wanted new 1.5 pound sleeping bags.  We will have foil covered sleeping foams as well and inflatable camping pillows at well which are small, light, and are more comfortable than our bags.   We also bought some compression straps so the sleeping bags take up as little as room as possible.

For lighting both Mark and Wendy have headlamps and lanterns  We also have tactical flashlights and Nite Ize LED zipper tags on our backpacks so if we wander out in the dark, we can be seen.

For the kitchen, we have a Primus Classic Trail Stove and Primus fuel canisters.  Stoves have their own fanboy culture which I understand but for the price, it can’t be beaten.  I know this isn’t the stove to use when it’s winter but since we are doing the hike in June, we should be okay.   It also has a five star review on so it seems to be doing the job.

Primus Classic Trail Stove

As for the camp kit, years ago Lee gave Wendy a great camp set.  We picked up three sporks and we are set to go.

Carmanah Large Cookset from Outbound

As for water, I have talked to a lot of people who had drank right out of Kingsmere Lake with no side affects.  There are giardia warnings about the water so we will have some water filters.  It’s way cheaper using purification tablets but I am told they are disgusting.  Since we are walking along side the lake, we will be using collapsible water bottles to keep weight and volume down.

Food: Basically MRE’s.  We have been to Cabela’s weekly testing out one or two of them each time.  We will eat some snacks on the way in, have a nice dinner (well away from the campground to keep the bears away) and then a big breakfast in the morning on our way out.  Hopefully we get going in time to be back in Waskesiu for a late lunch before heading back to Saskatoon.

Clothes: I went out and invested in some decent hiking shorts and shirts this summer.  As a friend of mine told me that chafing is not something that you will want to do while on the trail.  We also went to Cabela’s and got tested by the Dr. Shoal’s machine for the kind of insoles we all need.  While the custom Dr. Shoals insoles are right there, a row over are competitor insoles designed the same way for a fraction of the cost.  They make hiking boots feel a lot more comfortable and will hopefully make the trip more pleasant.

Technology: We won’t be taking much technology along although we will have a GPS, compact binoculars, and some rugged cameras.  We will have our multi-tools and a hatchet with us but I don’t know if that is considered technology or not.  In case we do get some rain, we have some gadget bags which are essentially waterproof zip lock bags for gear.  It says that you can submerse them but I’d rather not.  What they do a good job of doing is if a tent or bag does leak, your stuff will still be safe.

We bought everything local.  While MEC had a good price on some stuff, by the time we calculated shipping, it was less expensive to get something at Cabela’s and Wholesale Sports.

Let me know if you have some suggestions in the comments below.

Joseph Abboud Brown Elastic Front Pocket Wallet

For years I have used a leather wallet with a zipper around it.  To be honest I hate dropping my wallet and cards going everywhere.  This wallet works fine for it and lasts about five years before it needs replacing.  Lately Jeff and Sean have been going on and on about their Umbra Bungee Wallets which look cool but I have never liked carrying.  They have been going on and on about how slim they are which is something that is kind of important.  No one wants to have George Costanza wallet.

George costanza wallet

Last week I lost my wallet.  I am 99% sure it is in our house but I fear that it was tossed out by Oliver or Mark while cleaning.  I was going to swallow my pride and get one of those Umbra wallets but that would mean that I value Jeff and Sean’s opinions on accessorizing.  The next you know I’ll be taking council’s advice on how many bridge lanes the city needs.  It’s a slippery slope.  I was seriously thinking of getting a Bellroy Wallet but $60 for a wallet is more than I wanted to pay.  

Instead I looked around and found a Joseph Abboud Front Pocket Wallet which as you can see, is extremely thin and compact and minimizes the bulk of most wallets.  I bought it for $8.  In case you are thinking that I have lost it and have gone off the deep end, Walmart has a large selection of front pocket wallets, which I don’t know if that helps my point or destroys it.

Joseph Aboud front pocket leather wallet

Of course it is extremely thin now as all I have in it is my temporary drivers licence and my BMO Debit Card.  I hate losing wallets.  

In case you want to slim down your wallet, Bellroy has some excellent tips but I also discovered Stocard which really what Apple’s Passport should have been.  It scans and keeps track of all of my reward cards in one place.  Here is the screenshot of what it holds (and you now know what reward programs that I belong to)


Once you enter in your member number (or let it scan in your card’s barcode) all I have to do is fire up the app and let the store scanner scan the barcode (or if that doesn’t work, touch the screen and your member number comes up right away).  Like most of you, I always have my phone on me so there is no point in carrying it and a wallet full of reward cards).  It’s free and you can get the app for iOS and Android.   I can’t recommend it enough.  That and it’s not an Umbra cardholder so we all win.

The (new) Hedge Society

The Hedge Society has been re-launched as a group blog.  It’s a little blog about a lot of things and I will be posting some of the fun stuff from Jordon Cooper Outfitters over there as well as some of the stuff that may or may not end up here.  I’m kind of excited about it because it’s other contributors are some of my favourite people online and I can’t wait to see their contributions.  You can also follow Hedge Society on Twitter @hedgesociety

Affordable Rental Suites in Winnipeg

For all of the news about affordable housing in Saskatoon, most of the affordable housing units are still over $200,000.  There is still a huge need for low rent units.  A company in Winnipeg is solving both the problem of creating low rent apartments and finding a solution for how to build on narrow abandoned lots called Pocket Houses.

Pocket Houses

Pocket Houses

At 210 and 243 square feet these aren’t exactly built for families and all of the suites have had to make sacrifices for space.  They are however a unique and cutting-edge alternative to conventional rooming houses. These narrow buildings on infill lots fit well with the City of Winnipeg’s inventory of vacant lots in residential neighbourhoods.  Each building is two storeys high and has 8 units each with separate entrances, private washrooms, and separate ventilation systems. Each Pocket House features three barrier-free suites and one fully accessible suite on the main floor, with four other suites on the second level accessible by two outside staircases.

Each suite has a built-in cooking area complete with mini-fridge, microwave, sink, hot plate, dishes and cooking utensils. Suites also feature a single bed, a built-in table and a chair. The fully accessible main floor suite has modified doorways and a large roll-in shower for wheelchairs.

Katrina Cottages

The Katrina Cottage

I just blogged about this over at The Cooper Cabin.  They are Katrina Cottages and are low cost but significant upgrades over the FEMA trailers designed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  As soon as I saw them and some other low impact houses over the years, I can’t help but think of them as a solution for homelessness in Saskatoon (and other urban centres).

I would give residents a chance for low cost home ownership with a mortgage that is half of what rent would be for a small house.  You could set up a development like that like a condo board in that you could define qualifications for home ownership as well as conditions on reselling.  I know a lot of urban centres have concerns with developments like this but it is all in how they are maintained.  I have seen gorgeous trailer parks over the years who looked a lot like suburbia everywhere else in the world.  Plus, a lot of these cottages are the same size as hundreds of small homes in Mayfair, Riversdale, Pleasant Hill, King George, and Westmount so it isn’t as if small housing is a new thing.

At $45, you could offer housing for under $30,000 a house plus land.  With the right urban planning, you could create a great addition to the community and help a lot of low income families out.  The low mortgage payments would be fed back into the community in the form of discretionary income, be able to be set aside for retirement, or be saved up for future housing as the families grow up and their housing needs change.

My favorite designs from the Cooper Cabin blog

The Cooper Cabin Weblog When we bought the cabin, I put up a quick free blog hosted on Blogspot to post photos to so we could show the changes the cabin has gone through.  While we have done that, I have posted a lot of design and architecture links to it as well which has generated a growing amount of traffic over the years. Over the last year the site has been linked to by several architectural firms, some classes, and some publications as a niche architectural design resource which has been really cool.  I am not an architect or a designer but it’s nice that my curation efforts are recognized. 

As I was looking for something today and I had a lot of fun looking back at some of the amazing buildings, boats, and structures found in the architectural section of the site.  Here are some of my favorites.

  • The Saskatoon Hayloft :: This is a fun post because I saw it being created day by day as I walked or drove by it on my way to work.  What started as a Safeway store in the 20s turned into a home and performance space that is one of the jewels of Caswell Hill.
  • Floating Home on Lake Huron :: When I think of projects like this, I don’t think of them being located on the Great Lakes.  When you do take a look at both the design and the location, you realize how it all fits together (although I am not sure how the ice doesn’t tear it apart in the winter).
  • The Shack at Hinkle Farm Unplugged :: A series of cabins who are all off the grid.  While some are a little over the top, the Shack at Hinkle Farm is a long time design favorite.
  • Rustic Houseboat by the Sea :: If I was single and lived near a large body of water, I would love to have a place like this to get away to.  It’s a little rustic by my standards and I doubt it would be comfortable on a really hot day but the idea is a great one.
  • Home Office Cube in Chile :: This is quite high end but what a great concept.  The contrast between being open and closed is incredible.
  • Compact beach chalet in the U.K. :: While I get a kick out of how close the English can put beach front cabins together and I am not sure if I would want to live like that, I do really like how this cabin is designed on the inside, now if it could only generate some elbow room.
  • The Cube :: How great would it be to have a home office on the side of a mountain, especially one that seemed to blend right into the mountain and at the same time disappear while you are in it.
  • Chen House :: This is an interesting design that strives to integrate life inside and the surrounding environment together.  It also has an interesting flexible engineering structure designed to move with the wind and the rains rather than stand up to them.
  • A lo-fi urban private club :: A fun post about a private urban country club in New York.  Why more of these don’t exist, I don’t know.  Before you ask, I have tried to get one for the parking lot at work and was vetoed.
  • A wonderful weekend getaway An off the grid weekend getaway :: This is nothing more than a repurposed boat shed in the middle of nowhere but what a great layout.  It inspired us to open up our cabin and rearrange the layout and design of it.  While we are definitely on the grid, it does show you how little you need to get away from the city and enjoy the weekend.  I think of all of the projects I have linked to, this is my favorite.
  • A Hermit’s Cabin :: I keep thinking I am going to build one of these for Mark and Oliver at the lake.
  • Emergency shelter’s made from pallets :: As I have posted before, I am not sure why these aren’t used in places like Haiti and other places where there are large scale refugees needing quick, cheap, and stable emergency housing that can be improved over time.

Of course, if you have comments or other suggestions that you think would fit in, let me know in the comments.

One year later

A friend of mine asked me the other day if we had any regrets about purchasing our cabin last summer.  The discussion revolved around the size, the restrictions on use, and the idea of the being permanently anchored to one place for vacation.

The Size

There are four of us using under 300 square feet.  As you can imagine, it is a bit crowded with three beds, four people, and two dogs.

Instead of planning any addition, we are working at adding some outside space.  The gazebo will feature two resin Adirondack and two Cape Cod chairs along with a small coffee table.  The cabin isn’t insulated which means that it gets pretty warm in the summer.  We added a dual action window fan which makes a big difference in cooling down the cabin at night but the gazebo is where we plan to spend our evenings.

For the mornings, we are adding a small patio in the front.  We had talked about building a full deck but we settled on paving blocks.  The patio won’t be any larger than enough space to put a bistro table and two chairs out front.  I know that doesn’t leave Oliver and Mark with a chair but we won’t worry about that until they star drinking tea and coffee to start out their morning.  Plus, it may not be the worse thing to have a portion of the property that is for adults, at least for part of the day.

During the dry summer months, Mark crashes outside in his three person tent where he seems happy.  Of course once he gets too much older and his feet hang out of the end.  When that happens we will either explore the idea of adding an out building, putting up a Boler or a tent trailer, or just getting a bigger tent.

Some have asked if the four of us could live up there and with some interior renovations we could in that amount of space.  We have talked about adding a loft and with one it would work okay.  It would necessitate a much simpler lifestyle but as many have shown, it is possible to live in something smaller than a McMansion.

Restrictions on Use

One of the conditions on the lease is that it is alcohol free.  I don’t really have a problem with that.  Arlington Beach was originally a Free Methodist camp and it is a part of the holiness movement heritage.  Wendy and I very rarely consume anything alcoholic and so to be alcohol free is no big deal.  The upside of this is that I don’t have to worry about Mark getting into any alcohol or getting harassed by some drunk while he is walking to the washroom.  While people are up late sitting around a bonfire or drinking coffee, it is a different kind of noise that you get when the booze is flowing freely.  The only impact it has is on my plans for beer can chicken at the lake.  Of course I have been told by several beer drinkers that one should never waste a beer on a chicken and one can get the same impact from alcohol free beer or even water in a can.

Attached to one place

I love to travel with the family so I thought this would really bother me but it hasn’t.  The ability to get away to another place is a big plus for us.  We had talked about buying a Boler, small RV, or just tenting equipment before we got this but in the end, this was the right investment for us (I am not a big fan of tenting and I am not sure the idea of a Boler and a campground was going to work either).  We are still planning to get away to Victoria in the fall but it does give us a place to spend our vacation time this summer without worrying about expenses.  It also serves a base to attend Saskatchewan Roughriders games with it only being an hour away from Taylor Field Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field.  As I mentioned Regina is an hour away and the drive to Moose Jaw through the Qu’Appelle Valley is stunning.  If you haven’t seen the book Scenic Saskatchewan Drives, it offers several amazing day trips around Saskatchewan and many of them are easily accessible from the cabin.

So a year later and I don’t have a lot of regrets in making the investment.  The cabin is pretty modest and it fit our budget. It was recently appraised at being worth $2,000 by the local R.M. and even with having a large lot, it is worth well under $5,000 which is many times more money than we paid for it.

While last year it felt like we were still heading to a vacation property, this year it has become more like home.  The paint is ours, Mark has his own bed, the other beds and kitchen have been upgraded and improved.  While not quite the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis, Massachusetts or the Bush Compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, it is ours and for right now, it’s a pretty good fit for the family.

Interior of the cabin in 2009 Interior of the cabin in 2009  The Gazebo going up in 2009 The kitchen in 2009 Saskatchewan Roughriders BBQ cover in 2009 Mark at the marina in 2008 Mark at the marina in 2008 Maggi at Arlington Beach in 2008 The backyard of the cabin in 2008 Oliver and me at the cabin in 2008 The painted after it was painted in 2008 The painted after it was painted in 2008