Before you head out to explore Canada’s magnificent outdoor playgrounds, ensure that you invest some time – and money – to get properly outfitted.
Comfort and safety
Comfort and safety are two key considerations when purchasing your outdoor gear:
- Dress in layers – proper layering of clothing enables you to regulate your body temperature while outside.
- Wear clothing and footwear that fits properly – ill-fitting clothing can lead to chafing or failure to regulate your body temperature; ill-fitting footwear can lead to hotspots or blisters.
- Expect the unexpected – weather conditions can change in a heartbeat, so ensure that you’ve got sufficient clothing to protect yourself from the elements.
- Buy sport-specific – each outdoor pursuit has its own safety considerations and requirements, so get the right gear to meet those needs.
Your choice of clothing and footwear can significantly impact your comfort and safety outdoors. So, choose wisely – you’ve got to be gear smart to be AdventureSmart!
One of the single most important aspects of being warm and comfortable in the elements, regardless of your activity, is proper layering of clothing. Layering is an important concept to follow year-round – not just in cooler weather.
What is “Layering”?
Simply put, it’s a way to combine your clothing layers that will help to regulate your core temperature while you’re participating in your favourite outdoor activities. Your core temperate should stay constant so that you don’t overheat or get cold.
The layers break into three categories: Base, Thermal, and Protective Layers. These three layers work together to trap heat, wick moisture, breathe, block wind, and repel water.
Individually, each layer performs specific functions:
First layer, second skin – your outer layers are useless without a good base, one that promotes both warmth and moisture transfer. The best base layer fabrics are synthetics such as polyester and polypropylene, as they conduct moisture away from the skin and into the protective layer or into the air. Do not wear cotton as a base layer. Cotton holds moisture, which then facilitates the rapid transfer of body heat, causing your core temperature to drop.
The Thermal Layer ensures enhanced insulation and moisture movement from the body. This snug-fitting layer should consist of fabrics that efficiently wick moisture away from the base layer, yet retain your precious body heat. Thermal Layer fabrics should trap your body heat in small air pockets between the fibers – garments made of wool and synthetic materials are ideal.
The final stage – the Protective layer serves as the outer-face of the 3-Layer System; it keeps external moisture out, while allowing moisture wicked away from the body to escape. Ideally, in wet weather, this layer will consist of waterproof breathable fabrics, such as Gore-Tex® or GORE-TEX XCR®. In dry weather, a simple windproof, such as a Gore WindStopper® and N2S shell may do the trick.
To learn more about layering and layering products, visit the MEC website and click on ‘Learn’ in the top menu bar.
Footwear technology has come a long way in the past several years and if you go out shopping for a sport-specific shoe, you’ll quickly learn that there is a broad range of choice for virtually any outdoor activity.
Be sure to invest some time, and money, in proper footwear before you head out. It doesn’t matter if you’re scaling one of Canada’s spectacular soaring mountains, trekking through the rugged alpine backcountry, or exploring one of the beautiful Provincial parks, your choice of footwear can significantly impact your comfort, safety and overall enjoyment.
Watch for specialized technology in your sport-specific footwear. Notice we keep referring to “sport-specific” footwear? Though the name may imply it, a pair of cross-trainers will not carry you through virtually any sport. Many people take their feet – and footwear – for granted and don’t consider the risks that may result from not having the appropriate shoes/boots for their specific activity. The last thing you need is to slip and fall, to get blisters, or to end up with joint or back pain as a result of inappropriate footwear.
Here are just a few examples of considerations when buying footwear for your sport:
- If you’re a trail runner or day hiker, consider ankle support, aggressive tread, cushioned soles, and water-proofing.
- If you’re trekking for more than a couple of days, invest in proper sturdy hiking boots with ample ankle support, thick lugged soles and a rating appropriate for the load you’ll be carrying.
- If you’re heading into the backcountry and are likely to encounter icy conditions, ensure that your boot’s sole is compatible with crampons.
- Heading out on a boat for the day? Ensure that your shoes have appropriate traction for slippery deck surfaces.
- Kayaking or rafting? Protect your feet from jagged rocks and debris beneath the water by wearing adventure/sport sandals or water shoes.
The biggest mistake people make when buying footwear is to buy too small – when you go shoe shopping, be sure that you wear a pair of socks similar to those that you’ll wear during your chosen activity. For walking, hiking and trail running shoes ensure that you have enough room in the toe box to wiggle your toes comfortably. There should be no more than ¼” heel slip.
The bottom line is: don’t skimp on your footwear. Give careful consideration to the environment you’ll be in – including terrain and weather conditions – and the demands of your chosen activity. Invest in footwear that fits properly, is appropriate to your sport, and has the technology to stand up to use and abuse. Inspect your footwear regularly, follow the manufacturer’s recommended care/maintenance, and replace when it’s showing signs of wear and tear.
For knowledge and assistance, go to a sport-specific store and speak to an expert who can help you properly fitted with the right size and type of footwear.
Helmets are the brains of the operation!
Helmet technology has come a long way over the years and if you want to enjoy your activities safely, make sure your helmet is sport specific, fits properly and is safety approved by the CSA(Canadian Standards Association) or the CPSC(Consumer Product Safety Commission).
Research shows that one of the most effective ways to reduce head and spinal cord injury is by wearing a helmet. For example, bicycle helmets reduce brain injury by 88% and reduce facial injury by 65%. Studies indicate that the bicycle-related head injury declined by 45% in provinces where legislation had been adopted compared to provinces and territories that did not adopt legislation, where there was only a 27% reduction.
Helmets are there to protect your head and spinal cord. Despite various designs and requirements, all helmets attempt to protect the user’s head and spinal cord through a mechanical energy-absorption process. Therefore, their structure and protective capacity are altered in high-energy impacts. Beside their energy-absorption capability, their volume and weight are also important issues, since higher volume and weight increase the injury risk for the user’s head and neck [spinal cord].
Helmets used for different purposes have different designs. For example, a bike helmet would mainly need to protect against blunt impact forces from the wearer’s head striking the road, rock or stump. A helmet designed for rock climbing, however, would need to protect against objects (e.g. small rocks and climbing equipment) such as an ice axe falling from above. Find the helmet for ‘your’ activity and wear it properly and proudly!
For example, dirt bike riders spend most of their time doing stunts, racing, riding up steep hills, even ground and rough terrain, the helmet becomes the most important component of a dirt bike safety gear. Choosing a dirt bike helmet should be based on the degree of protection, safety and comfort it provides.
Proper fit is very important. Many helmets worn today are incorrectly fitted. Have a professional size, fit and inspect your helmet before wearing it for your activity. They will be able to adjust your helmet for your sport and ensure that you are wearing the safest helmet that is manufactured for your chosen activity. Once a helmet has had an impact it will not provide protection. Do not put stickers on your helmet as they hide scratches and dents and you should regularly check for these.
Lifejackets & PFDs
Lifejackets and PFDs Save Lives!
Lifejackets and Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) have changed over the years, but one thing has not changed, “It won’t work if you don’t wear it.”
When purchasing your lifejacket/PFD make sure it:
- Fits properly
- Has Canadian Coast Guard or Transport Canada approval
- Is appropriate for your activity or sport
Most people who drown did not plan to be in the water Instead, they were working or playing on, or near the water when something unexpected happened. When it comes to risk factors, the leading contributor to drownings continues to be not wearing a lifejacket at 94%, followed by being alone at 64%. Being out in cold water situations (26%) and/or after dark (21%) were also cited as factors.
Most drownings result from three major contributing factors:
- Inability to swim
- Effects of cold water (hypothermia & gasp reflex)
The three best ways to prevent drowning:
- Learn to swim and how to rescue yourself and others
- Always wear your lifejacket
- Don’t consume alcohol prior to swimming or while boating
Choosing a Lifejacket / PFD
The type of lifejacket/PFD chosen depends on the size of the person wearing it, their swimming skill and type of activity they are using it for (you may need more than one). Proper fit is enforced by a law stating that pleasure craft must have enough Canadian-approved flotation devices of the appropriate size for everyone on board. A bright coloured lifejacket/PFD allows for better visibility.
You’ll find critical safety information on the label, which has been approved by the Canadian Coast Guard and/or Transport Canada. If you’re planning on swimming, then choose a lifejacket/PFDthat is designed for swimming, if you’re planning on wake boarding, then choose a lifejacket/PFDthat is designed for wake boarding. Sport specific gear allows you to enjoy your activities safely.
Inspect your PFD or lifejacket frequently. Ensure seams are intact, and that snaps, belts and zippers work. If you happen to choose an inflatable type PFD be aware that certain restrictions and criteria apply such as not being used for paddle sports.
Proper Fit = Comfort = Safety
If it fits, you are more likely to wear it. Complete a safety check of all snaps, ties, zippers and buckles when done up, creating a snug fit. Children’s lifejackets/PFDs are required to have a strap between the legs, plus a grab handle on the collar. Once it’s on snugly, ask yourself a few questions.
- Can your arms move freely? (arms should move freely)
- Does it shift above your chin when bending over or sitting in a chair? If so, it’s too big.
Not Just for Boating
Wearing a lifejacket/PFD for recreational purposes such as boating is a smart and safe idea and will assist in reducing drownings. You should also be wearing one if you work in or around the water and when driving a snowmobile or All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) over frozen lakes. Your safety and your children’s safety are increased when wearing them properly and at all times.
Did You Know?
Old lifejackets/PFDs may not keep you afloat, as the materials weaken over time and snaps, ties, zippers and buckles break. Inspect your flotation device for wear and tear, and if in doubt, throw it out!
Always attach a plastic safety whistle to your lifejacket/PFD in case of emergencies. It will allow family, friends and rescuers to hear you as you blast the universal signal for help, which is 3 blasts, break, 3 blasts, break, continue to blow this signal and you’ll be rescued.
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