Little Things

Out recently, I was in one of those tuned-out trances that you get into sometimes. I wasn’t really paying attention to much but my mind was idly noticing things. And then I sort of woke up, and realized that I had been counting car exhausts.

I’m not sure why, but I think it was because I couldn’t help noticing that seemingly every other car I spotted had a little chrome, shiny extension on its exhaust pipe. Many cars had two such pipes, and some even had four of them. I knew that, in terms of function, this was pure bling – there was nothing about this bit of ornamentation that had anything to do with making a car safer or faster or more reliable or cheaper. It was just a little look-at-me detail that in truth, most people probably don’t even notice.

Still, it was something to noodle on as I walked. This tiny bling detail on a car must account for some tiny fraction of its purchase price, and for some tiny fraction of the car’s weight. Since the cost of operating a car is a function of the purchase price and its operating costs, and the weight of the car influences the amount of gas needed to get from A to B, it follows that this tiny bit of bling has a tiny but measurable cost to it.

As I walked I kept revolving the numbers in my head. Say that bit of shiny chrome adds at least 100 grams to the total weight of a car – 0.1 kg in other words – and say the car weighs around 1000 kg. That means that tiny bit of bling adds 0.01% to the weight of the car, and quite likely more if there are 2 or even 4 of these things. That doesn’t sound like much at all. But what if a million cars have these? That would add up to more than 100 tonnes of bling on that many cars, and we know that in fact there are hundreds of millions of cars on the road at any given time in North America, so the total weight of this tiny bit of bling being hauled around each year has to be at least ten thousand tonnes over the trillions of km driven each year.

And then when you think about the amount of energy (i.e. carbon) that is involved in mining the materials used for those millions of kg worth of bling, and refining that metal, and manufacturing the parts, and shipping them to the car assembly plants, and then hauling it around for 5 years over the life of the car, that adds up. To a lot.

I got lost in the mental math as I was walking, trying to remember how many Newtons of force are needed to move 1 kg at 1 m/s, and how many Joules of energy are required to generate a Newton of force, and what that many Joules represents in litres of gasoline. There were many zeroes involved, but because I knew that all those tiny bits of energy add up, I reckoned that it had to represent hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of litres of petrol burned each year.

And all that petrol, when burned in a car engine, results in carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere, which is driving climate change, and leading to long term costs and economic disruption and habitat and species loss, and on an on. All because cars have this tiny bit of bling that no one really pays attention to.

As I was coming to that conclusion, I recalled an old proverb that I had heard in my childhood:

For want of a nail, a shoe was lost

For want of a shoe, a horse was lost

For want of a horse, a rider was lost

For want of a rider, a troop was lost

For want of a troop, a battle was lost

For want of a battle, a kingdom was lost

All for the want of a nail.

What does that all mean? There is a theory that the flap of a butterfly’s wings in the Amazon rain forest can lead to a tornado in Texas . A number of years ago, I read a book by James Gleick, about chaos theory, which describes complex systems and how small changes can have large outcomes, and that might have been underlying my train of thought. At any rate, maybe that tiny bit of bling is like the flap of a butterfly’s wings, or the nail that loses the shoe. Maybe we just haven’t yet seen the tornado or lost the battle, and that’s why we think that bit of bling is important, until perhaps we add up all those tiny incremental costs.

And that’s the key point that I settled on as I finished my walk – that little things add up. Go for a walk, get a 100 steps. Keep walking, get a 100 more. Over time, you’ll cover a km, then 10 km, then 100 km. The saying that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step may be trite, and yet it’s true.

So while it feels like we’re stuck on a hamster wheel with COVID, there are little things we do that add up. We all want to get back to normal. And each little decision to skip the mask, to get together with just a few friends, to just live like we used to, adds up. So does each little decision to wear the mask, to wash the hands, to stay home, also adds up.

We all have our tiny part to play in making COVID go away. Little things add up.

Be caring, be courageous, be calm.

Whimsical Walks

So now we’re in lockdown again, with a new state of emergency and a stay-at-home-order in place for Toronto and surrounding regions. We’re allowed out for some exercise and shopping for essentials, but that’s about it.

That depressing thought was tumbling through my head as I was out for my daily perambulation. I was simultaneously anxious to make the most of my time out while at the same time bored with the need to stay close to home which meant I’ve been walking round the same neighbourhoods for months.

I had come down a nearby street called Latimer, walked along Eglinton, and was going down Vesta Drive when I thought to myself that if I just walked along Ormsby Crescent then the letters of the streets I’d travelled would spell LOVE.

Which got me thinking that maybe that’s what I need to do – walk with a sense of whimsy and make a bit of a game out of these exercise outings. Could I complete the alphabet on a single walk? I wasn’t sure. A is easy, since I live on Avenue Road, and nearby Briar Hill, Castlefield, Dunvegan, and Eglinton make short work of the first part of the alphabet. As I went through the alphabet in my head, thinking about a route like that, I got stuck on a few of the letters. Q is a bit hard, at least nearby, though I know that there’s always Queen street downtown. In fact, I think I can cover every letter fairly easily, except X (no street in Toronto that starts with an X) and Z (only a handful of those).

So that’s my idea – whimsical walking. Go for your walk with a sense of fun and see what you can do to make the mundane more interesting. You might want to refer to the City of Toronto street index for help. Here are some ideas:

  • Anagram walks – connect the first letters of streets you cover on a single walk to form words or phrases – and no easy words like “HI”, try something harder like AVAST YE SCURVY PIRATES. There’s a goal, it will take some walking to get all the letters. For bonus points, try to cover the letters consecutively in your route.
  • Visit-the-zoo walks – how many streets can you cover that include the names of animals? Near me are Otter Crescent and Caribou Road.
  • Famous people walks – many public roadways are named after historical figures. Can you put the name with the person when you walk down Frontenac Avenue?
  • Where in the world walks – Toronto’s cultural heritage is reflected in its street names. Many neighbourhoods abound with names reminiscent of Scotland, England, Ireland, Italy, and more. Can you place the country with the street you just walked down?

If we’re going to get through this COVID lockdown, we all need to stay home as much as we can, and when we do go out we need to make the most of our jaunts. Have a little fun and remember that we’ll get through this together.

Tips for Walking – Food and Energy

Over the past couple of years of walking I’ve learned a few things about preparing for and enjoying a good long walk, so I thought would I share some of that knowledge. Hope it helps.

What?: When I’m out for a walk, especially one of more than an hour or two, I’ll often take snacks with me and sometimes will take a full-on picnic lunch. Because I’m also trying to eat healthily before and after I go out, I pay attention to the snacks I enjoy. No two people’s dietary needs are the same, of course, so listen to your body and to your health care providers’ advice. I’m just saying this is what works for me.

Tips: Where, when, how and why

Avoid sugary/salty snacks. I try to avoid things like cookies, chips, nachos, etc. pretty much all of the time in any case, and I especially don’t want to include these as snacks on a hike. They just make you thirsty and while they may be calorie-dense, they are usually nutrient-light. You can do better – save these for the occasional cheat treat.

Mix and match proteins and carbs. When you’re burning energy on a hike, a mix of protein and carbohydrates will keep you fuelled. Think about lean protein sources like hard boiled eggs, or healthy choices like raw nuts and seeds, smoked fish, lean dry hard sausage, hard cheeses, etc. You don’t need a lot, but you do need some protein. As for carbohydrates, whole grains and raw fruits and veggies are great – whole wheat bagels, unsweetened oat cakes, a handful of raw carrots, an apple, and a nice ripe tomato – these all make a tasty snack and combined with a small handful of raw nuts/seeds and a hard-boiled egg you’ve got a light lunch to keep you going.

  • Be careful with energy bars and energy drinks. I use them too, like most people, but not as my primary energy source. I usually keep an energy bar in my back pack as an emergency source of calories. My main snack will be something more everyday, like a whole wheat bagel with cream cheese along with a piece of fruit. As for energy drinks, I avoid them unless it’s really hot – I prefer just plain water, but sometimes in the heat I need energy but I’m too hot to eat food, so carrying a chilled small (500 ml or less) energy drink can help me get over the hump. Besides, energy bars and drinks can mean wasteful, non-recyclable packaging which is bad for the environment.
  • Invest in green packaging. A few years ago, my wife found a company that makes storage packaging made of beeswax-coated cloth. This is reusable for months, keeps things fresh, and when it’s time to move on it’s biodegradable (or makes a great back-country fire starter). Other options include reusable silicone jars or bags or tubes, or just plain parchment paper. By having some of these items in the home, you can package healthy snacks and avoid plastic, with the bonus that you know exactly what’s in it.
Reusable, resealable silicone pouches
Reusable beeswax cloth for wrapping snacks
  • Eat well before you go out. For most of my walks, especially under 2 hours, I simply eat a proper breakfast or lunch before I go. For me that means carbs like oatmeal or whole grain breads, some cheese or smoked fish or a hard-boiled egg, and some fruit, and perhaps some yoghurt if I want some extra protein.
  • Cool down with a healthy snack afterwards. When you get back after a long walk and need some refreshment, reach for the fruit bowl. An orange is refreshing and helps to rehydrate you. If you still need something more, then move on to things like bananas, some raw veg, or a handful of nuts or seeds, or similar proteins. Your before and after snacks should be just as healthy as your walk snacks.
  • A picnic can be fun. The longer the walk I’ve planned, the more I’ll think about a proper picnic. That often includes a homemade sandwich, fruit and/or raw veg, and a little sweet treat like some dried fruit. It can also include dinner leftovers like salads or pasta or grilled meats, and I’ve sometimes used an insulated thermos to take a hot lunch like soup or chili or chowder. Just remember, all that stuff adds weight to your pack.
  • Carry out your crap. It drives me up the wall to be out on a lovely nature trail and come across an energy bar wrapper or worse, fast food packaging. If you’re bringing something to eat on your walk, then carry out the waste afterwards at least as far as the next garbage bin. The only exception, maybe, is an apple core or something similarly biodegradable, but even then it’s better to hike these home because these items often just result in habituating wildlife to people and creating a people=food association, which leads to raccoons, skunks, etc. prowling near trails and garbage cans.
  • Typical snacks for 6-8 hour hike
    • morning snack – a banana or a bagel
    • lunch – a homemade sandwich (how about cheese, lettuce, tomato, and pickle on whole wheat bread), along with fresh fruit and/or veg
    • afternoon snack – about 50-100 grams of raw pumpkin and sunflower seeds with about 25-50 grams of dried fruit
    • just in case snack – an energy bar

Disclaimer: All opinions contained in this post are my own. I’m not a nutritionist, physiotherapist, or doctor. Take my advice as given – caveat emptor.

Holiday Walks

Every New Year’s Day, I try to get out for a walk. Partly it’s to mark the changing of the calendar, partly to reflect on the year past, and partly just to start the year right with some exercise in hopes of setting a pattern for the year.

And this year, what with things like pandemics, wars, floods, fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes, it seemed an especially appropriate thing to do, there being much to reflect upon. And yet, when I was actually out walking, I didn’t want to think about all those things.

Instead, I kept noticing little signs of hope, little reminders that slowly but surely things will get better, spring will return and with it warm skies. I walked past the swimming pool in nearly Eglinton Park and thought about sunshine to come.

I walked past the hill in the park and heard the shouts and screams of happy kids sledding and sliding down the hill, along with the rumble of a tractor resurfacing the ice on the outdoor rink.

There was just enough snow to stick to the trees, and it was still fresh enough in most places that it had that innocent sense of fun, and here and there I noticed little decorations that people had hung in the trees.

There are going to be dark days ahead, to be sure. But I wasn’t thinking about those days. I was just happy to be out for a walk.

Happy New Year.

2020 in the Rear-view Mirror

Since it’s coming to the end of the year, it’s natural to look back and reflect. I did that by taking at look at the view stats for my posts over the past year. I guess, unsurprisingly, that it makes sense that the top 10 list of most-viewed posts on this blog over the past year includes most of my favourite Toronto walks.

  1. Favourite Toronto Walks – Don Valley Trails
  2. Favourite Toronto Walks – The Beltline
  3. Favourite Toronto Walks – Cedarvale-Nordheimer Ravines
  4. Favourite Toronto Walks
  5. Favourite Toronto Walks – Rosedale Rambles
  6. Favourite Toronto Walks – Martin Goodman Trail
  7. Favourite Toronto Walks – Mid-Town Cemeteries
  8. Favourite Toronto Walks – Tommy Thompson Trail
  9. Favourite Toronto Walks – Mid-Toronto Loop
  10. TO Places – Moore Ravine and the Brickworks

With COVID-19 curtailing our activities, people are looking for places to go for a walk to get some exercise. If my suggestions helped you out, then I’m glad.

In looking forward to 2021, I am sure we’re all hoping to break out of our COVID-19 shell. It’s going to take a lot of patience this winter to get through this, and probably a lot of walks to have something to do. Stay safe, stay healthy, and enjoy the great outdoors.

Looking west from the tip of Tommy Thompson Park

Walks Past – Munich December 2013

2013 started out as a very good year. I turned 50 as did several other close friends, and we had a joyous laughter-filled and wine-fuelled collective birthday party in the spring. My wife and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary that year as well, in Paris, strolling hand in hand. And we had a couple of lovely little summer city breaks, to Montreal and to Chicago, where we explored and soaked up the sun.

And then the year went to shit, to be blunt. First my wife Ann was diagnosed with breast cancer late that summer, and just as she was recovering from a partial mastectomy, our dear friend Paul passed away suddenly in the autumn.

By late autumn, we were exhausted emotionally and physically, and desperately in need of a break. Since I had a business trip scheduled to Munich in early December, we decided to go as a family. And so, noses alive with the scents of Glühwein, we set out to explore the city.

I had been to Munich several times previously on business, and knew my way around somewhat. For my son and my wife, it was all new and all worth exploring. I had business meetings during the day, so they would go out exploring and quickly fell in love with the city, a feeling I shared. Munich is a great place to visit, any time of the year.

Then in the evenings we would go out together and wander through the glorious Marienplatz, alive with winter market stalls, humming with people, ringing with music, and redolent with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg from the spiced cakes, cookies, and drinks on offer.

After my meetings wrapped up, I had a couple of free days which we spent toodling about the city, visiting the markets, nosing into shops, and trying out our limited German – danke, bitte. One outing took us to the BMW Museum, where we had fun playing what if ….

Since my son was taking a few days away from school, his teachers had given him an assignment to look for historical features of buildings, especially gargoyles, so on another day we spent several hours wandering around with our noses in the air, looking up at churches to see who could spot the most freakish and frightening examples.

And of course, all that wandering about left us ready for warming cups of hot chocolate, which the many cafes were happy to oblige.

It was a magical few days, a relief in many ways, and a reminder that there are times when you have to simply seize the opportunities that arise along life’s journey. The events of the previous few months had taught us that carpe diem is the best way of dealing with the unexpected.

Over these past few weeks, as we lurch from lockdown to lockdown and huddle inside, waiting for spring and for a COVID-19 vaccine to open the world back up, I’ve been thinking about that trip once again. It helped us heal as a family then, and recalling it now is a reminder that despite the shocks and roadblocks that the world will put in our way, there are always little things that can brighten your mood.

Stay healthy, hug your family, smile at your neighbours, and enjoy the sun when it shines. Happy Holidays!

Hand-made card from my friend Fiona who has used her COVID cloistering to become a very good painter

A Simple Quest

The duration of winter in a place like Canada is measured by the length of time your snow-clearing service runs – mid-November to mid-April, in our case in Toronto. And it was a dreary, early winter’s day with leaden skies and squelching mulch, puddles amongst the remnants of dirty snow, misty rain and gusty chills. A nasty day for quest.

Not long back, my in-laws had moved into a senior living apartment. While it’s a lovely spot, cozy and warm with big chairs in which to sit and enjoy a cup of tea, the latest COVID-19 lockdown had prevented them from getting out to stock up on biscuits. And so, a simple request – could we pick up some HobNobs for them?

If you aren’t familiar with HobNobs, then I can only suggest that you find some and try them – they’re a delicious oatmeal cookie aka biscuit from the UK, and back when we lived there I developed a taste for them too. Since my in-laws are originally from Ireland, these are a taste of home for them to have with tea.

I had been searching for them for several days. Over grocery runs to various stores, we kept coming up empty. I could remember buying these in years past but not where I’d bought them, and this time, perhaps because it was close to the Christmas holidays, they weren’t available in our usual shops.

What about further afield, the deli in our old neighbourhood? – hadn’t we gotten them there in years past? I was sure of it, so one day I walked over to pick up the HobNobs, but again, no luck – the shop had stopped selling the plain variety and only had the chocolate-covered ones, which while delicious, were not what my in-laws wanted.

Ok, this was getting annoying. How can such a delectable treat not be in the shops? Leaving the deli, I walked to different a couple of other shops along the way home. No luck again. Hmm. A couple of hours out for a walk and still no HobNobs.

This was getting personal. The next day was dreary, wet, and cold, but I was determined to find them – a simple request had become a quest of honour. First up, was a grocery store in a few km away in a different part of town where they carried a small section of international foods including those from the British Isles. Branston Pickle, Heinz Salad Cream, Chocolate-covered digestives, yes, but still no HobNobs. The next closest possible source was another few km up Yonge Street, and after waiting in a COVID-19 queue to get in, I realized that this store too had an appauling dearth of HobNobs.

By now, I had worked up a head of steam despite the weather. Turning west, I splashed through puddles for several km across to what was now shop #6 on my quest, this one an independent store that carried many European products. I barged in, bug-eyed above my COVID mask and headed straight to the biscuit isle. A momentary panic, not seeing them, and then looking down – success! The familiar label caught my eye and I promptly scooped up 3 packages. At the cash, the clerk asked if I’d found everything I needed – Hah! everything I needed indeed.

HobNobs now tucked safely into my knapsack, I walked the several km home, stopping along the way to pick up a bottle of Irish whisky – something to fortify and restore myself was in order, I thought. At least they had that in the first place I tried.

And so now I sit, drying out and sipping a toddy, staring out at the rain that’s continued all day. It’s a grey and dismal day, with one little glow from the corner where the golden flash of Hobnobs is like a log on a fire.


Tips – Hydration

Over the past couple of years of walking I’ve learned a few things about preparing for and enjoying a good long walk, so I thought would I share some of that knowledge. Hope it helps.

What?: Here are some ideas for staying hydrated and comfortable when you’re out for a walk, whether it’s round the block or an all-day hike. Please note that this applies to areas where clean water is available – for back-country water tips, I suggest consulting a good source like Mountain Equipment Co-op.

Tips: Where, when, how and why

  • Water, just plain old tap water, is best. First and foremost, healthy hydration starts here and for me, that’s usually all I need.
  • Collect water bottles. I have a small collection of reusable bottles, ranging from 500 ml to 1 litre in volume, and in a variety of formats and materials. Some are insulated stainless steel, and others are either soft squeezable plastic or hard polycarbonate. That way, I can choose the one(s) that will match conditions, and I can take multiple bottles if I’m going out on a hot day where I know I’ll need more than a litre of fluids.
  • Be green, reuse and recycle. I avoid buying bottle water whenever possible, preferring to simply carry a refillable water bottle and topping up wherever I am. There’s usually a water fountain someplace, and if you ask nicely coffee shops or fast food places will fill your bottle for you, especially if you pay some rent by buying a bagel or a snack.
  • Be careful with caffeine. I usually avoid it during a walk because it’s a diuretic, which means it will increase fluid loss since you’ll want to pee. Also, because caffeine is an ingredient in some energy drinks, it’s another reason to avoid those. I do like my morning coffee, so if I know I’m going to be doing a big walk that day I’ll limit my caffeine intake before I go out to avoid the need for a quick early pit stop.
  • An insulated thermos bottle can be handy. On a hot day, filling it with cold water helps a lot to avoid heat exhaustion. On a cold day, filling it with hot drinks can be the warming boost you need. Just be careful with caffeine and remember that this kind of bottle is heavier than a plastic one.
  • Water adds weight. There’s no way around it, you need to stay hydrated, but remember that 1 millilitre of water weights 1 gram, so that full 1 litre bottle is going to weigh more than 1kg once you count the bottle itself. On long hikes, I carry two of these if I’m not near a water source, so by the time I add some snacks, sunblock, blister pack, rain gear, and a change of shirt/socks to my pack, I’m usually carrying more than 4 kg, at least half of which is water.
  • Plan your water stops. The further afield you are, the more you need to be aware of where you can refill water bottles. In Toronto, there are water fountains in most parks, but they are turned off between late October and early May. Check the web ahead of your walk so you know where you can fill up.
  • Look for unexpected water refills. For example in Toronto, many of the cemeteries have water taps used for groundskeeping and these are often accessible for refills, plus they are often available for more of the year than water fountains in the public parks. Outside the city, you may meet a friendly person out watering a lawn who would be happy to fill your water bottle in return for a smile and a thank you. Be respectful, and ask if you are not sure if you can use a refill source like this, and make sure you turn off the tap as well.
  • Avoid sugary drinks. Sugar can give you an energy boost, short term, but it wears off quickly and too much sugar can actually make you thirstier. Many energy drinks contain a lot of sugars along with salts. A little of that goes a long way. If you are going for a long hike on a hot day, a small (500 ml or less) water bottle filled with an energy drink is sufficient as long as you also have at least the same amount or more of plain water.
  • Add some flavour with fruit. I often put a slice or 2 of fresh lemon or lime into my water bottle on a hot day. It gives it some flavour while avoiding sugars.
  • Make flavoured ice cubes. On a hot day, a cold drink can be super satisfying. One way to do that is to take a small slice of lemon or lime, or a few raspberries, and put them into each cell of an ice cube tray and then fill it with water. A couple of those frozen flavour bombs in your water bottle will chill it and give you a lift at the same time.
  • Green tea is a great compromise. Hot or cold, green tea is both pleasantly refreshing and a bit less caffeinated than regular black tea or coffee. A thermos of that along with a bottle of plain water is a great way to either warm up or cool down while still packing water for straight hydration.
  • Frozen water bottles can chill your snacks. On a hot day, you may need to keep a sandwich cold so save weight by freezing a partially full water bottle (make sure it’s no more than 3/4s full) and using that as an ice pack. That way you’ll have a nice cold drink ready along with your snack.
  • You need water any time of the year. Even if it’s -30 out, you’ll still need to stay hydrated. An insulated water bottle is great because it will keep your water from freezing in your pack. I find I drink less when it’s cold, but I still need some water.
  • Remember, what goes in has to come out. I tend to hydrate lightly before I go out, so that I don’t need a pee stop just after I get going. The more you drink as you walk, the more you’ll need to plan your bio breaks. However, you also shouldn’t skimp on water either to avoid pit stops – too little fluid intake makes you sluggish at best, and can lead to dehydration or heat stroke at worst. If you aren’t in need of a pee every 2-3 hours, you’re probably not drinking enough water.
  • My hydration rules of thumb for hot weather walks, i.e. above 25 C
    • 1 hour or less – a 500 ml insulated water bottle filled with cold tap water.
    • more than an hour – a 500 ml insulated water bottle with cold tap water plus back-up water, about 500 ml of water for every 2 hours I’ll be out, e.g. 4 hour hike means carrying at least 1 litre of back up water, and more if I know I’m going to be far from refill sources
  • My hydration rules of thumb for cool weather walks, i.e. below 5 C
    • 1 hour or less – I’ll have a drink before I leave home and then skip taking water with me as I won’t perspire much
    • more than an hour – an insulated 500 ml water bottle filled with plain room temp tap water. For 3-4 hour hikes or longer, I’ll add either a 500 ml or a 1-litre back up bottle. When I am taking a snack I’ll sometimes add a 500 ml insulated thermos filled with hot green tea.

Disclaimer: All opinions contained in this post are my own. I’m not a nutritionist, physiotherapist, or doctor. Take my advice as given – caveat emptor.

Tips – Clothing

Over the past couple of years of walking I’ve learned a few things about preparing for and enjoying a good long walk, so I thought I would share some of that knowledge. Hope it helps.

What? When I first started going out for long walks/short hikes, I would just wear the regular clothes I already owned – cotton T-shirts, jeans, running shoes, etc. I quickly learned that those weren’t the best choices, especially if the weather tended to extremes of hot or cold, so over the years I’ve acquired a walking wardrobe that helps me prepare for most conditions.

When? These tips apply to any season, bearing in mind that the clothing choices you make can vary a lot by temp and weather conditions.

Tips: Where, when, how, and why

  • As Shrek said to Donkey, ogres are like onions because they have layers. Your clothing choices should be like that too. Being able to add or subtract a layer on the fly while you are walking can make a big difference in comfort.
  • Layers with zippers are handy – for example, a zippered fleece sweater under a rain jacket can be enough warmth for a 5-10 C day, and if you get too warm you can just open it up without having to take it off
  • Breathability is key. Look for things like zippers under the arms on rain jackets, or armpit air holes, or breathable water-resistant materials like GoreTex. There’s nothing worse than working up a sweat and feeling that moisture trapped against your body because your clothes won’t let it evaporate.
  • Avoid cotton, it traps moisture as you perspire and that can lead to chafing and blisters. Damp or wet cotton also wicks heat away from your body, which is bad news when it’s cold – you don’t want to work up a sweat while wearing a cotton T-shirt and find you’re chilled when you sit for a rest break.
  • Look for natural fibres like wool and silk. These breathe well, they wick moisture away from your body, and keep you warm even when wet. I like Merino wool because it’s light and soft. Try to use these as your base layers next to your skin.
  • Synthetic fibres like fleece work well too, like the moisture-wicking materials used in exercise gear that also often have some elasticity to allow you to move and stretch easily. Just remember that these materials shed plastic micro-fibres every time you wash them which eventually work their way into water systems creating long-term environmental problems. So yes, they work, but natural materials are best.
  • Try then buy. I like to buy one example of something – socks or underwear or whatever – and wear it a few times on different walks in different conditions. If that works well, then I buy more of the same thing.
  • Remember your pack. It’s important to try on clothes, especially outer layers, with your backpack. You don’t want to find out there are pinch points or chafing areas after you’ve bought the clothing item. Take the pack with you to the clothing store if you can and try on both together. This also lets you fiddle with zippers on jackets and fleecies to see how well that will work while wearing a pack with a waist belt and sternum strap.
  • Especially in summer, it’s amazing how many sets of clothes you can get through over a few days. I usually come in dripping so everything goes straight into the wash, and unless we’re doing laundry constantly I find I need at least 3-4 pairs of underwear, socks, etc. in order to go out everyday.
  • You get what you pay for, in clothes as in anything else. Good stuff will cost more but it will last longer, so over time it’s usually better value.
  • Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather be comfortable than stylish. I look like a middle-aged guy in hiking gear when I’m out, because I am a middle-aged guy in hiking gear. So what.
  • Start with your feet. Your shoes or boots will make or break your comfort on a walk, and blisters can stop you in your tracks, so to me it’s more important to spend money on footwear and skimp on the other clothing layers if needed. You can always take off a layer of clothing if you get hot or add a layer if needed, but you can’t take off your footwear and keep hiking. I look for wearability and comfort first of all, and style is way down my list of priorities.
  • For a moderate 10 km hike, my clothing choices will be something like this
    • Spring
      • Base layer – workout underwear, top and bottom – moisture wicking synthetics
      • Upper body Insulating layer(s) (the colder the temps, the more layers) – long sleeve work out T-shirt, and/or light merino wool jumper, and/or light zippered fleece jacket
      • Lower body – synthetic breathable hiking pants with lots of cargo pockets. If the temps are above 15 C, then walking shorts, also in synthetic material with cargo pockets
      • Outer layer – water resistant rain jacket, non-insulated if it’s above about 5 C, or a light down jacket if it’s below that. Also light running gloves, if it’s forecast to be below about 5 C.
      • Socks – compression fit, light merino wool
      • Footwear – hiking boots or running shoes depending on weather and terrain
      • Head gear – water resistant baseball style hat, with a backup light toque if it’s under 5 C
      • Optional – if there’s rain in the forecast, I’ll wear or at least carry in the pack a pair of light rain pants
    • Summer
      • Base layer – same as spring. I’ll carry a spare T-shirt if it’s over about 30 C so I have something dry to change into if needed. If it’s especially sunny, I’ll use a SPF 40-50 rated exercise T-shirt
      • Upper body insulating layer – none, unless it’s forecast to drop below about 15 C
      • Lower body – synthetic breathable hiking shorts
      • Outer layer – light rain jacket in the backpack unless there’s about a 0% chance of rain in the forecast
      • Socks – compression fit, synthetic materials. I might carry a spare pair if I’m going to be out for 3-4 hours or more so I have change to dry ready
      • Footwear – running shoes
      • Head gear – baseball-style running hat or a broad-brimmed sun hat, depending on forecast.
    • Autumn
      • Overall, same as spring. Layers adjusted depending on forecast temps, keeping in mind that it gets darker earlier so the temperature drops can hit you earlier than in spring
    • Winter
      • Base layer – usually the same as other seasons, but if it’s below about -10 C and particularly if there’s a significant wind-chill, then add merino wool long johns.
      • Upper body and lower body layers similar to autumn, adding a layer of winter rain pants if it’s wet or below about -15 C
      • Outer layer – down-insulated winter parka + light running gloves with down-filled over mittens if it’s below – 5C
      • Footwear – hiking boots, with gaiters if it’s really snowy/slushy
        • Bonus tip – non-slip crampons for street walking work well over your boots, to give you grip on ice
      • Head gear – toque usually, or else a rain-resistant baseball style cap that fits under the hood of the parka

Disclaimer: All opinions contained in this post are my own. I’m not a nutritionist, physiotherapist, or doctor. Take my advice as given – caveat emptor.

Grey Skies and Nursery Rhymes

This is the way we wash our hands,

Wash our hands

Wash our hands

This is the way we wash our hands

On a cold and frosty morning.

Traditional rhyme

I was walking recently and as often happens, idle thoughts strayed to old rhymes. COVID-19 case numbers are climbing again in Ontario, and Toronto has allowed itself to slide back down the curve from Orange alert to Red, and now to a near-full lockdown as we had last spring.

So I guess it wasn’t surprising that my subconscious mind recalled a childhood nursery rhyme that seemed appropriate to our current state of affairs. When my conscious mind realized that I was reciting this to myself as I walked, I reworded it to something appropriate to our situation today.

This is the way we wear our masks,

Wear our masks,

Wear our masks,

This is the way we wear our masks,

On a cold and COVID morning

Traditional rhyme adapted to our times copyright Robert Bradt 2020

And while I was thinking that, I was also reflecting upon the fact that the weather gods have come back from holidays and brought with them more traditional November skies and temps. Cold, rainy gusts and gloomy rambles seem appropriate.

Of course, another way to look at COVID is to remember a different nursery rhyme:

Half a pound of tuppenny rice,

Half a pound of treacle.

That’s the way the money goes,

Pop! goes the weasel!

Traditional, as found in Wikipedia

Each time we think we have pushed COVID back into its box, we relax our behaviours and let our physical distancing, hand-washing, and mask-wearing standards slip, and then Pop! goes the weasel indeed.

Never a thought for somebody else,

Never a thought for others,

That’s the way the case count grows

Pop! go the numbers!

copyright Robert Bradt 2020

Stay safe everyone. Remember the 3 W’s: Wear a mask, Watch your distance, and Wash your hands.

Visit the City of Toronto website to learn how you can help control the spread of COVID-19.

96d5-TOR_20111_TSA_I_Miss_My_Life-optimized.jpg (1080×1553)
From the new City of Toronto Safe 6ix campaign