Black Hat

Every guy needs a good hat.

Personally, I’ve been a Tilley Hat loyalist since my years as a boy scout in the early 90s, but it was only in the last couple years that I expanded my collection beyond the single version of this Canadian outerwear icon that I’d bought way back when.

And this year I added to that collection with an order of a simple black bucket hat that arrived in a nondescript cardboard box through my mail over the summer.

What object will forever
remind you of 2021?

As with my new one, my previous Tilley hats have all been bought with purpose.

I own a great brimmed hemp hat that I purchased a few years ago and is really a wandering and travel hat, the head gear I wear on hikes and camping, into the woods and out into the wilds.

I also own a great big orange sun hat made by Tilley. This is my backyard hat. I wear it when I mow the grass or work in the garden or sit by the fire cooking steaks, and it keeps the sun off while staying pretty cool.

This past summer. I got it into my head to get myself a local adventure hat. We weren’t going far over the past year, so I wanted a lid that I could take along with me as I walked the dog, went to the park, or stepped over to the farmer’s market without looking like I was about to embark on a wilderness adventure.

I landed on a simple black bucket hat with a floppy brim and a comfortable sense about it.

It quickly filled that role and became my go to hat for summer and fall, and my favourite purchase of 2021.

Forever is a long time, but right now I think the object that will forever remind me of the year we left behind is very simple, faithful hat that I toted around the neighbourhood upon my noggin for the better part of a strange and adventure-sapped year.

Thirty one topics. Thirty one posts. Not exactly a list… but close. In December I like to look back on the year that was. My daily posts in December-ish are themed-ish and may contain spoilers set against the backdrop of some year-end-ish personal exposition.

This is not an endorsement. This is simply commentary on a product I have purchased myself. Do your own research and do your best to buy local products that support businesses that deserve your business.

(Un)inflatable Winter

At the risk of writing a (slightly) political article alluding to some opinions about supply chains and the state of the modern world, I wanted to share what (finally) arrived on my doorstep yesterday.

A box.

In fact, it was a large box, and a box I’d ordered … in June.

In June, we were undergoing record heat, the days were long, and ahead of us were all sorts of free summer weekends filled with plans and potential for getaways to the mountains or nearby lakes or anywhere our pandemic lockdown selves could reach in a car without crossing borders.

We optimistically ordered an inflatable kayak. And not just any old blow-up boat. We did some research, trialed some rentals, talked to people who know about these things, and ultimately invested in a fairly mid-to-high-end kayak made of sturdy materials and meant for real, practical outings.

It never shipped.

We received a notice about it being low in stock, then out of stock, then anticipated back in stock any day, and then a simple we’ll update you about your order when we have more information.

After a month of waiting we cautiously ordered a second (much cheaper) inflatable kayak … if only because we had lodged it into our hearts that we wanted to get out on the water in one form or another. Summer was short. Summer is always short. Had the first one shipped in the meanwhile we would return the second. Or, alternatively, keep it for the kid (there are three of us and a dog, after all.) But it seemed like summer was slipping away while we waiting for an invisible manufacturing or shipping problem to resolve itself.

The replacement arrived quickly, and so July and August were peppered with outings in our bright yellow inflatable dinghy-come-kayak, more of an oblong boat or a canoe-shaped raft toy than a proper adventure tool.

No word on the first kayak.

We went out once in September but already the weather was starting to cool and the risk of falling in the water and chilling too much was not sitting well with my practical sensibilities on the noob kayaker front.

Still, no original kayak arrived.

October came and dwindled. On some of my morning runs I noted that the creeks had a layer of ice on them already as the overnight temperatures consistently dipped into the sub-zero freezing range. I packed up the big yellow kayak into our winter storage space and resigned myself to start thinking about snowier sports.

Then on Halloween, a shipping notice arrived in my email, and a few days later a big cardboard box was dropped off on the front step.

The original kayak had arrived.

Just in time for winter.

Just in time to drop it into my storage space … and dream about next year’s kayaking adventures.

Inflatable Summer

Our adventuresome summer is nearing an end as the last day of August brings that calendar page flip into sharp focus. The final third of the year is upon us once again, a time when the days turn shorter and crispier. And as hoped my writing and posting reprieve has given me a healthy backlog of blogging fodder which I’ll be dishing out over the next month or so.

Case in point: for us it took an unexpected turn into the summer of inflatable adventures.

Early summer, we bought two inflatable kayaks.

Mid-summer, we received just one.

Therein is a whole other story about the modern state of the supply chain and the demand for recreational equipment these days which I am mostly unqualified to write about. But if you’re reading an adventure and lifestyle blog, more than likely you are already familiar with the undersupplied market for bikes, skis, PFDs, things that float, things that grill, and all manner of consumer sporting goods.

We managed to snag one kayak from that panic, so for that I am grateful because the kayak we did receive quickly became a driving fixture in our weekend and holiday plans, stuffed in the back of our small SUV and pulled out at a dozen opportunities, both planned and emergent.

We inflated that bright yellow tandem boat beside multiple lakes, lakes in the mountains or on the prairies, out on open beaches, or pebble scattered shores, or on the grassy, wasp-swirled picnic areas while picnickers looked on curiously.

We bought the dog a floatation safety vest and she seemed to have found a curious comfort nestled between my knees as we rowed across the still waters of many random lakes.

We bought life vests, paddling gloves, and started talking seriously about things like paddle length and water clarity.

That first kayak has turned out better than I had hoped when I held my nose and clicked the “buy” button. After all, I had been comparison shopping kayaks for a few years, weighing the pros and cons of higher-end inflatables versus simple hard shells, comparing costs, transport and storage realities, quality, price, and a hundred other little things. The first kayak was us settling for something “cheap” because of those supply chain issues I alluded to earlier. We took what we could get.

The second kayak, the one for which the stalled shipping status never did change to a tracking number (and is still sitting in a vendor fulfillment queue somewhere!) is a kayak of marked superiority in both quality and function at least compared to the basically-a-toy rubber first kayak we did receive.

Yet the first kayak has brought us a heap of entertainment over the last month or so. I still check the delivery queue for the second almost daily, even as the days get colder and the kayak opportunity dwindles alongside the wait, but I’m all-but resigned to the one we have.

If I have learned anything of note from the experience of “settling” for a lesser product (and I don’t intend for that to sound entitled, merely that putting good money into bad equipment has always sat poorly with my frugal mindset) not getting the one you thought that you wanted after a couple years of thinking, planning, saving and eventually buying something, it is this: mediocre equipment is better than no equipment.

It is better to be sitting upon the water of a gorgeous mountain lake rather than standing on the shore watching. It’s better to have that inflatable summer than not.

Gear: Skin 4 Hydration Vest

As the summer runs get longer (and hotter) I’ve picked up a new bit of gear to assist with the ever-present runner’s dilemma: hydration.

I don’t think I need to write too many words on the subject of why water is important to … um … being alive, but certainly the effort of carrying enough fresh water (or other fluids that both fuel and hydrate) on a long distance run is a complex challenge for anyone who is out there on the trails.

Water, of course, is heavy and clumsy.

A bottle in the hand is something that needs to be carried, balanced, and on the trails two free hands are more useful than one might realize. On a short run taking a small bottle along is just fine, but an hour into a longer run the last thing I want to be carrying is a half-full plastic bottle that’s sloshing around in my hand.

I’ve used water belts in the past, but sloshing along with a couple plastic containers on your hip is a moderate inconvenience. And I have yet to do a race a not see multiple dropped belt-bottles littering the course, usually in the first five hundred meters of the race when someone’s carefully planned hydration plan is now just garbage and an obstacle for the next hundreds of people who run by.

I’ve tried a couple hydration packs in the past, the key differences from a hydration vest being the kinds of shoulder straps and the location of pouches. A pack is basically a light backpack with a water pouch. And my biggest problem with my previous pack solution was that usually within ten kilometers into a run I was running with my thumbs hitched up under the thin straps to limit the whole apparatus from that chafe-inducing jostling that was already well underway.

Last week I pried open my wallet and ordered myself what is probably the sports-car-equivalent of hydration solutions: a Salomon Skin 4 Hydration Vest, a snug fitting, light-weight, multi-pocket four-liter backpack-slash-vest designed to hold water bottles, a water bladder, gel packs, cell phones, car keys, and whatever else a distance runner might need quick access to while on the trails.

The new pack arrived yesterday and I wore it for our regular Wednesday evening adventure run.

The advantage of this pack, or so the logic of the purchase goes, is that it is snug. I have no honest comparison, but I assume it’s a little like wearing a sports bra overtop of a running shirt. This tight fit is both deliberate and a feature. It keeps the whole system from moving, shaking, jostling, and rubbing, and is meant to wear comfortably and securely for hours of running while keeping the hands free for trail navigation.

Our adventure run took us deep into some rolling river valley trails, the kind of terrain where your legs are slapped by branches as bumble through the trails and as you scramble up over steep dirt paths, grabbing onto tree stumps and protruding roots. I only carried a bit of water, as it was a short sub-ten kilometer run, but a set of car keys, my wallet and an iPhone tucked neatly into the pack and

… well … success!

I barely noticed the pack after the first few minutes.

A better test will come this weekend, as temperatures creep into the mid-30s Celsius and our distances move into the longer-than-a-half-marathon slogs through that same heat. I can’t say I’m not nervous about both the heat and the mileage, but at least now I’m pretty certain I won’t die of thirst.

*This is gear I've purchased for myself and not a paid endorsement of this product.