Today we hiked around Keller Lake (Maplewood, MN), through swamp and snow, in search of a bald eagle. Growing up in the central valley of California, where sightings are rare, the national bird is a legendary mythical creature, like a unicorn. Seeing one would be an omen of prosperity, or it would give you raptor powers – we weren’t sure. Turns out they’re common to the Twin Cities area, and they don’t give you special powers, though I did nearly wet myself when they made eye contact with me.
With a big year of camping ahead of us we’re trying to gather up some of the essential personal gear for our kids. The mess kit has a simple purpose, to get food from point A (the cookware) to point B (the mouth). We’re keeping it simple and affordable: two pieces, no moving parts, under 2$.
When I say mess kit, I’m referring only to the personal pieces, not the skillet, kettle, or espresso machine. In the minimalist, recyclist motif, ours consists of old plastic-ware and the skeleton of an infant/toddler fork.
A sierra mug is my plate/cup/bowl of choice, followed closely by the iconic blue enameled mug, aka hobo cup. Both cost around 5$ and are nearly indestructible, but the metal will get too hot for kids to handle. Instead, durable plastic is best, e.g., old tupperware or plates with monkey faces on them.
The only downside to the fork is it’s not a spork, otherwise it includes multiple clipping/lashing points, it rivals the ultralight utensils in weight (0.7 oz), and it destroys them in price (plastic utensils cost around 3$, titanium 9$). The steps are simple. If you want a full metal handle, find a fork or spoon with two pieces of plastic on the handle, like in the picture above. Then, hack the plastic off with a sharp knife. For utensils with a single molded piece of plastic, as in the pic below, you can drill a hole in the end for cords and carabiners.
There’s a lot of movement in the urbs at night. Who are all these people driving around at 2AM? Aren’t their kids going to wake them up soon, demanding breakfast? They must be out getting pedialite or emergency wipes.
Besides the cars, there’s a train or a jet going by every few minutes, so it’s hard to forget your tent is pitched in the city, not the woods. Still, it was a good time. The kids tested out their custom sleeping bags, giving them pretty good reviews: Me, with much excitement and encouragement – Do you like your awesome new sleeping bags? The kids, nonchalant – yeah. Can we have some more hot chocolate?
We told stories for a couple hours, about biscuit the bear, carbuncle the crab, and an anonymous ostrich, all of whom were good friends and very helpful to one another. Around 9PM my son and I dozed off while my daughter continued telling us about the volcano that was going to boil, which would feel really hot:
And there was a big rock that was going to roll into it and fill it up and then the planet would crack because the hot lava couldn’t get out.
[Laughter, followed by what sounded like a monkey, dying…]
I was talking like a funny monkey. Dad, can you do something for my finger to feel better? For my finger to be, um, not ripped?
She had a hangnail. That’s all I can remember.
Occasionally people ask us what it’s like to go from n to n + 1 kids. The occasion is a couple, with one fewer kid than us, considering having another, which they’re afraid may be impractical and illogical, maybe even irresponsible. The simple answer is, it’s not as bad as going from n – 1 to n.
Mathematically, the more kids you have the easier it is to increment because you’re adding a difficulty factor of 1/n. From 0 to 1 you’re increasing by an impossible, infinite amount, 1/0; from 1 to 2, by 100%; from 2 to 3, by 50%; etc. So number 1 is a dramatic shock, but the proportional increase gets smaller the more you add.
That’s what people like to hear. It makes sense, and it sounds feasible. Keep in mind, the main assumption of this model is that your next kid will be of similar difficulty. Instead, kids usually differ in temperament, where one is an angel and the next is their alter ego or, worse, their arch nemesis. Just when you’ve got things under control with n kids, changing diapers one-handed, the nth + 1 shows up and you’re changing diapers no-handed. Chaos. Anarchy. Then you figure it out again. Then you have to potty train, again.
So, overall, in the long run, on average, the next kid is easier than the last. If you can make it to n = 6 you’ll hardly notice the change.
Warm, backpack-worthy sleeping bags for young kids are hard to come by. They’re either designed for youth, much larger and heavier than necessary, or they’re designed for slumber parties, more to showcase the latest superhero or princess than to keep warm. The ideal solution would be to tailor a bag from scratch, but a simpler, cheaper option is to repurpose an adult bag.
- Sleeping bag – The shape and type aren’t important, as long as you can hack it open and fit the layers back under the sewing machine needle. Winter bags may be too thick. A mummy bag is fine, but a rectangular one can be rearranged into two cozy kid bags.
- Scissors – sharp ones, maybe kitchen shears, as you’ll be chopping through some thick insulation.
- Sewing essentials – A sewing machine, regular thread, and familiarity with doing a basic stitch. I’m a novice and the hardest part for me was spooling the thread. From there you’ll only need three long seams to complete the first bag.
- Embellishments – Drawstrings, velcro straps, and cinching straps are optional.
- Measuring – I started with a double hand-me-down rectangular adult bag, measuring 72 × 32 inches, about 16 longer and 16 wider than necessary. My five-yr-old son is 42 inches tall and 12 wide at the shoulders. His new bag tapers from 23 inches at the head to 15 at the foot, with a length of 58 inches. These cuts left plenty of material for a bag for my three-yr-old daughter, who is 36 inches tall and 10 at the shoulders.
- Cutting – The more loft the more difficult it will be to cut. Ours had only an inch and a half of loft per side, so the cutting went quickly. Once the shapes are cut, you may need to remove half an inch from the edges of the insulation all around so there’s enough fabric to sew the layers back together. If you’re only making a single bag it makes sense to reuse the original zipper and opening at the head, making your cut from the foot, zipper side, across and then up to the head.
- Sewing – First, I sewed each layer back together, starting at the foot. Next, I sewed the two layers together, inside out.
- Zipping – The first recycled bag is much easier than the second, since you get to reuse the original zipper. The only snag is creating a new zipper-stop, which will keep the slider from flying off at the bottom, and keep the zipped portion from unzipping itself. A few options are to get a zipper kit, reattach the original zipper-stop, or sew the zipper together at the bottom.
Making your own bag becomes less practical as kids get older. Synthetic 20° sleeping bags range in price from $70 to $100 (e.g., North Face – Tigger, Mountain Hardwear – Mountain Goat, ALPS – Desert Pine) and they typically fit up to 60 inches while still being as light or lighter than a homemade version. Plus, they have new, lofty fill, as opposed to matted, second-hand insulation. They’ll be warmer, they’ll last longer, and you won’t have to do any sewing.
But, for kids under, say, 45 inches, maybe 2 to 5 years old, a tailored sleeping bag is ideal. My son’s weighs 2.4 lbs, down from 5.5, and packs to 11 × 5 inches. My daughter’s weighs 1.5 lbs and packs to 9 × 5 inches. They’re small and light enough for the kids to carry themselves, and the snug size also means there’s less empty space taking away body heat on cool nights.