Gear Review: ThermaCELL Heated Insoles

Winter in Ontario means you have to brave cold temperatures. Even spring and fall can bring frigid temperatures that leave a person wishing they could hibernate in a warm house until summer. Enjoying the outdoors is a challenge if you find yourself shivering and struggling to stay warm. As soon as my extremities get cold, particularly my feet, I’m done for the day and need to head indoors.

In the past few years I’ve solved my cold feet problem by wearing an incredible pair of winter boots rated to -100 C. Those boots keep me warm on the coldest days, but I find them bulky to wear when doing my outside chores, and they’re too warm for those milder winter days. A perfect solution to combating the variable winter temperatures is a pair of ThermaCELL Heated Insoles.

thermacell

Head to thermacell.com to pick up your own pair.

When I received a pair of these insoles to review, I couldn’t wait to open the package and get them into my boots. Unfortunately, they arrived after our deep freeze of -30C finally ended, so I didn’t get to test them in the coldest weather, but I’ve worn them enough to know that I’ll be happy to have them for the next deep freeze.

ThermaCELL insoles come in five sizes, covering a women’s size 4.5 up to a men’s size 14, and can be trimmed for a perfect fit, though I found mine worked just fine right out of the box. There is a battery in the heel of the insole that runs a regulated heater under the ball of your foot. The Original version comes with a rechargable battery built right into the insoles, while the ProFLEX version has a removeable, rechargeable battery. The benefit to the ProFLEX version is that you don’t need to remove the actual insole from your boot to charge it, just remove the battery. That said, I received the Original version and found it was quite simple to remove the insoles whenever I needed to charge them.

Both products come with a remote to regulate the heat. With three heat settings (no heat, medium, and high heat), it’s like being able to add and remove pairs of socks, without having to take your boots off. I tested my insoles out while mucking stalls and started with the medium heat setting. After getting warmed up, I was able to push a button and turn the heat off when I no longer needed it. After I finished mucking stalls I headed to the chicken coop and spent some time watching the hens play around in their pens. My barn boots provide little protection from the cold and when my feet started to get chilly, another push of a button warmed them right back up.

ThermaCELL heated insoles would be a great product to use while ice fishing. Keep the heat off while walking out to your fishing spot, but turn the heat on once you’re set up and not moving around so much. As a biologist, I spend a lot of time doing field work and I don’t get to chose the weather. These insoles will be a great addition to my field gear and help keep my feet warm on cold days.

Another bonus is that I found these insoles to be quite comfortable. I left them in my boots on warmer days just because they made my feet feel better.

These insoles are not a cheap purchase for many of us, but I feel they are worth the expense. Comfy, warm feet on a cold day makes the day much more enjoyable and bearable.

Until March 31st, 2015, you can get a great deal on these insoles by purchasing them from thermacell.com and using the code HEAT15 at checkout. This code provides free shipping and a $20 discount. As well, the Original insoles come with a free car charger during this promotion. If you’re thinking about purchasing this product, now is the time!

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Disclaimer – This review is my opinion and I received the ThermaCELL Heated Insoles for free in exchange for giving said opinion. I have no association with ThermaCELL and was not reimbursed or paid for this review.

Book Review: Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies by Robert Montgomery

fish, frogs, and fireflies

Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies

There are many wonderful books written about the outdoors. Whether a book takes the form of a “how-to”, follows a long and interesting story, or provides history of a beloved past time, there is sure to be a genre to fits everyone’s needs. To me, there is always a need for collections of short stories and essays about the outdoors. It’s a simple way of sharing ideas, swapping fish tales, and making points. These are the types of books I’ve been looking for more frequently, as I find they fit into the time I have available for reading, and they tend to bring up more emotions than a book focusing on a single subject.

When I saw Teeg Stouffer, founder of Recycled Fish (an awesome stewardship organization you should know about), was giving away a copy of Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies – Growing up with Nature, I immediately put my name in for a chance to win it. Luck proved to be on my side and the book arrived in my mailbox a short while later. To be honest, I asked Teeg to sign the book for Darrell, because I planned to give it to Darrell for his birthday, which I did, but I happened to read the book before he had a chance!

Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies is a collection of short stories and essays by Robert Montgomery and a host of other authors (including Teeg). While the stories cover a range of topics, they all have something to with nature. Most of the stories boil down to life lessons learned thanks to interaction with nature, and why that connection is so vitally important.

This book sat on my nightstand for a few days and I looked forward to going to bed each night so I could read a few more stories and let my mind drift through my wonderful memories that have their place in the outdoors.

Some of the stories are lessons on how to introduce others to the joy of the outdoors. They provide interesting insight into the variety of ways you can pique someone’s interest and hopefully start them on their path of enjoying nature. The story, The Ichtymammalia Question, really stands out for me in this context. I won’t ruin the fun of discovering it for yourself, but I will ask, do you know how to classify a mermaid?

Other essays discuss the need for conservation (not preservation), and discuss how we value the natural world, and if it’s possible to put a price on it. What Is a Trout Stream Worth? will get you thinking about the problems we face in trying to promote the values of the natural, and some of the discussion points that can be brought up.

Robert Montgomery has a knack for inserting humour into an otherwise somber tale, sharing the sad moments from a life outdoors, and how they were turned into valuable life lessons. He also shares the fun and joyful moments, the observations that make long-lasting memories and cause people to smile at their remembrance.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the outdoors, and anyone who is looking for a reason to spend more time outdoors. Read some of the stories to a child and give them a reason to go outside. Use it as a tool to teach respect for the natural world. Leave it around the house and hope that someone else will decided to pick it up and get hooked on one of the stories. Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies deserves a place on your bookshelf.

Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies is published by NorLightsPress. You can buy a copy of the book here.

Disclaimer – This review is my opinion and I received this book for free as part of a contest. I have no association with NorLightsPress or Robert Montgomery and was not reimbursed or paid for this review.

Snow Hiking And Colourful Feathers At Harrison Park

For the past couple of months we have experienced record-setting cold temperatures, frigid wind chills, and a steady accumulation of snow. While winter can be an enjoyable season, this year’s weather has made it anything but. Ice fishing outings have involved a lot less moving around and far more time in the hut. And though I enjoy spending time with the horses and chickens, survival instincts have ruled as my visits become shorter and more geared towards keeping everybody warm, including myself.

When yesterday warmed up to -8C, and the sun shone like a summer’s day, Darrell and I decided it was high time we escape the confines of four walls and take a trip to somewhere we could do a little hiking.

Harrison park

Taking a walk through the forest at Harrison Park.

Our destination of choice was Harrison Park in Owen Sound. We’ve been there many times in the past, but our exploring was usually limited to the Harrison Park Inn Restaurant, where we would stop for some battered mushrooms after a day of fishing. This time we brought the dogs and our winter boots, hoping to enjoy the beautiful day. Since we arrived around lunch, we made our usual stop at the restaurant before hitting the trails. The dogs begged for a mushroom but had to settle for carrots.

As we got ourselves organized, vehicles full of children and toboggans pulled into the parking lot, with their young occupants racing towards one of the best toboggan hills I’ve seen in recent years. Some older kids decided to skip the hill in favour of scaling the valley wall and sliding back down in the deep, powdery snow, often tangling up with those that had descended before them. People arrived with snowshoes, heading for the path least-traveled, having some fun with the deeper snow. Laughter, smiles, and rosy cheeks were everywhere.

We set out with the dogs along the portion of the Bruce Trail that passes through the park. Jack and Molly pulled at their leashes, eager to investigate new smells and make new friends. Other visitors had created some side trails, so we took advantage and explored more of the forest. Standing up higher we found a beautiful view of the Sydenham River. The river was nearly frozen over, but the sunshine was working its magic and melting the ice, causing large chunks to break off and go crashing downstream.

Sydenham River

The Sydenham River

I managed to stay upright for most of the hike, until I tripped over a log on the descent and went bodysurfing through the fluffy snow. It was too nice of a day to care about it, so I laughed and righted myself, as Darrell tried hard to get his laughter under control while keeping the dogs from jumping on top of me.

The snowmobile trail travels through the park and we spent a few minutes watching some incredible machines pass by us. We now live in a great area for snowmobiling, and you can be sure a couple of those toys are going on our wishlist.

We walked through the park and I got my first glimpse of where the campsites are located, with Darrell pointing out the sites that his family had preferred over the years. It’s really quite a nice spot with lots of matures trees and a naturalized area following along the little creek.

A cacophony of screeching grabbed my attention and Darrell told me there was a little area set aside for geese, swans, and ducks. And oh yeah, there were pheasants. Had I seen the pheasants? No, of course I hadn’t; why hadn’t he mentioned them before? I love birds!

Harrison Park

Look at those colours!

Owen Sound

This Lady Amherst’s Pheasant was stunning.

Harrison Park

This Reeves’s Pheasant was super neat. Not only does he have amazing colours, but he was curious as could be, coming up the wire and chattering away. He didn’t seem perturbed in the least.

Since the dogs were not allowed within the bird sanctuary, we had to take turns walking through, but wow, it was worth it. The pheasants were beautiful. So many different colours, so much variation – I could have spent the entire day observing them.

We concluded our day with a walk down the Freedom Trail, a nice pathway that follows the river and provides some exceptional views.

Owen Sound

The Freedom Trail

Owen Sound

A perfect day.

Owen Sound

There’s nothing like a walk through the trees.

Harrison Park proved to be the perfect destination on a lovely winter day. I can’t wait to go back.

A Long Way To The Back At Island Lake

For years I’ve heard stories of big fish coming through the ice at the back of Island Lake in Orangeville. “I caught the big crappie on the edge of that hole” I was told. “There are some monster pike back there” said others.

This one deep hole in the entire lake is a decently long boat ride with an electric motor, so I’ve never felt the desire to hike back there on foot, with an ice hut and fishing gear. But today Darrell wanted to give it a shot, and failing to find a good excuse, I found myself trudging through the snow, towing the lighter of the two sleds.

island lake

It was a pretty winter day.

The hike would not be so bad when the ice is clear and the sun is shining. As luck would have it though, a good 15cm of fresh snow blanketed the ice, rendering the ice cleats useless except for the odd occasion when my legs would slide out from beneath me and only the chance encounter of a cleat on the ice kept me from going down. Add in the ice pellets that scraped my face, weighed down my hat, and turned my mitts into icicles, and you had less-than-ideal conditions for the walk.

Only the sight of the bridge convinced me to keep going, knowing the hole was just around the corner. Park staff had done a great job of setting up stakes to guide anglers on a safe path under the bridge and around the island. I was grateful to see those stakes, they made me feel like we weren’t the first to venture this path.

Upon reaching our destination, I was in need of a break, so I let Darrell drill several holes while I took a very leisurely time setting up the fish finder. Depths started at 9-feet and dropped to 14, then 20-feet. We had definitely reached the hole. The finder failed to mark any suspended fish – a shame really, since I would have loved to spend the day targeting crappie. It did, however, mark movement on the bottom, and dropping the camera down the hole I suddenly saw several perch swimming across the screen. Perch are really quite adorable on the camera.

We setup the hut and started fishing, with Darrell landing a nice perch on a spoon. After seeing several perch back there, I have to say that the average size seems bigger than in the main lake area. Unfortunately, the perch were not in the mood to eat, no matter what else we tried tempting them with. I settled for watching them on the camera (which is the greatest invention ever and my only real form of television).

Darrell was eager to search for active fish and drilled an insane amount of holes with the gas auger. I, on the other-hand, did not feel like greeting the cold and chose to stay in the hut, fighting with the heater every time it decided to quit working. That heater is getting replaced.

island lake

Darrell looks like he’s all alone out there.

While the fishing was slow, I have to say that it was super nice to have that part of the lake all to ourselves. There was no one to be seen, no other huts in view, no other augers running. It was just snow, trees, houses, and us. I loved it.

I did get a scrappy little pike while fishing for perch. I had wondered what I was marking on the finder since it was rare for a mark to follow that high if it was a perch. My ultralight rod bent right over and let me have a nice little fight with the fish.

island lake

Itty-bitty pike day for me.

The hike back succeeded in reminding us that we’re not as young as we once were. Both of us were absolutely done by the time we reached the truck. I have a feeling that a few muscles will make their presence known shortly.

Was the hour-and-a-half round trip worth it? Hard to say. Though the fish didn’t cooperate today, I do think there’s a chance to get some very nice ones from that area. And though the hike was a pain, it was also good exercise (that we both clearly need) and it let us having a fishing spot all to ourselves, something I never take for granted. It was quite beautiful and peaceful out there. Will we do the hike again next weekend? Nope. I need a crappie fix and we’ll either pick some waypoints from previous trips to Island Lake, or we’ll head to one of our other crappie lakes.