Friday, May 22, 2015

BAK Gear: Playmobil Superset 4013 Penguin Habitat

I've been absent from the blogging for a while, mainly because business has been pretty busy with renewed interest doing bad things to bad people in bad places. But, also partly because as my girls are transitioning from toddler into pre-school, the "gear" that BAD and BAM needs to haul around seem to be less and less - we can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The girls are really into the Lego, Playmobil, anything shark, and anything Superman right now. They have interests in other kinds of toys, usually the flavour of the week (Rainbow Loom, now its Shopkins...); however, their core interests lie in the aforementioned.

So today, I will review one my youngest's favourite toy, the Playmobil Penguin Habitat Superset. Out of the box, there is some assembly required, but its fairly simple, and if your 2 or 3 year old is good at puzzles, they'll be able to figure it out. This particular set is meant to contain water in the penguin splash pool so it's a fun toy for the kid. I like that this playset is relatively compact, not like the Princess ones, where the castle takes up the entire Ikea table.

We have a couple of Playmobil playsets so all the pieces have merged together, but as far as I know, it is suppose to come with 2 figurines, a couple of penguins, a pail of food, eggs, and a tree.

Just a note, that there are quite a few small pieces (penguin eggs, baby penguins, and fish) that have a super interesting texture and shape that are just the right size for curious mouths. So beware - hence the labelling for 4 years +.

For some reason, this set seems to get the most play, and I think its because there's a slide, water, hidden nesting area and animals. Alot of scenarios can be had from it, plus after seeing live penguins at the zoo, there's some context and the kids can relate and make their own stories.

This is definitely a toy I would recommend if your kid is already into Playmobil and animals. If your kid is anything like mine, they will start introducing sharks into the tank, and start eating the penguins and zoo keepers (Jaws 3 anybody!?!)

Monday, January 5, 2015

BAK GEAR: MEC Dome Daypack 9L for Kids

As my little kidlets begin to sprout, it seems not only are they getting bigger, but their packing needs are also increasing. Previously we have been using the Little Life daypacks for travelling and booting around tropical places. And for all its intent and purposes, it's served really well. I've written about the Little Life packs before and we really like it, mainly because it's ergonomically correct for little torsos and it serves to teach my bad ass kids the joys of "one man, one kit".
My only two contentions with the Little Life daysacks are the small bottle holder pockets, and the limited volume options. Even with a 6L sack, it's not sized to properly hold something like an 8.5"x11" notepad. Nor is the bottle pocket nominally useful for a toddler or school-aged child to stuff a proper bottle into. The test being the ever popular Contigo water bottles.

So we looked into something that would not only meet the current shortfalls but also the future needs of my kidlets, that is, to increase capacity of payload while remaining hi viz. Enter the MEC Dome Daypack for kids. It's total capacity is approximately 9L and it can actually hold notepad and pens. It weighs about 900gms, and features an exterior mesh bottle holder, sternum strap with whistle, a tactical grab handle, and a few pockets. Here is what MEC says:

  • Comfortable and breathable 3-D mesh back panel and shoulder strap lining.
  • Main compartment has a name and address tag inside.
  • Secondary zippered pocket on back for raincoats or mittens.
  • Top grab-handle makes the pack easier to carry when it’s not being worn.
  • Sternum strap buckle has a built-in whistle.
  • Reflective treatment on shoulder straps for nighttime visibility

This pack is priced at about 50% (15CDN) of what a Little Life goes for, and is backed  MEC's Rocksolid Guarantee.

We liked this pack so much we got one for each kid. It holds EVERYTHING each kid requires for a day's worth of tripping. Usually that means hydration, lunch, snacks, extra layers, "I'm bored" activities, sunscreen, hat, gum and shit. I like that we can machine-wash this lightweight, simple and "rugged" pack. Now, "rugged" is relative to what my kids would consider as hard use. For them, it means throw it around on the plane, in the taxi, and lately - at each other.

Some reasons I like this pack is that it is made of a 420-denier Velocity nylon which is closer to the ballistic side of nylon, its a denser weave with a smoother surface which means it can withstand more higher abuse-ish situations. It also features a mesh back and should strap - presumably to increase airflow.

The sternum strap (chest strap) is pretty key to the fit and function of this pack. Having tried other kid-sized backpacks, other than the Little Lifes (which also features this strap), this pack was the most comfortable when heavily laden. It has both vertical and horizontal adjustments, and uses a combination of standard nylon webbing plus some elastic to increase the comfort. As you can see there's also a whistle - perfect for locating missing parents.

We made the mistake of trying it out at a holiday beach, and everybody looked to the surf simultaneously for dorsal fins.

One of the major reasons we opted for this pack was the ability for my kids to shove their own water bottles into the holder. What's the point of "One man, one kit" if we have to help them pack. We found with the Little Life, it took a bit of gumption and engineering to shove a Contigo water bottle in (we did rip the mesh on the Little Life) - it cannot be done. With this pack, it can be. Just note that some Contigo water bottles have rubberized bottoms that although is good for stabilizing grip on flat surfaces, sucks for sliding into tight pockets. Once it's in there though, it is secure. I suppose the other option is just to put it into the main compartment.

Which brings me to the next feature, the main and secondary compartments. Generally the main compartment is organized so that hardest and flattest items are closest to her back, then the fluffy and odd-shaped knickknacks are stuffed outboard. The secondary and smaller zippered compartment holds her miscellaneous stuff like gum, gloves, sunglasses, torch, stuffy and other small things. Things that can be dirty.

All in all, for about 15 bucks, you get a solid kids daypack backed by a solid guarantee. You can't even get a shitty Disney backpack from Walmart for that price. Note that the kids use this pack for day trips and travelling. They use a different pack for going to school mainly for capacity reasons. I highly recommend giving this pack a go if you are in the market for a daypack for your kid. My eldest is 6 and she continues to use this as her daytripper. By abstaining from buying a larger capacity pack, we're teaching her to pack wisely and necessarily.

If I have to say one thing missing from this pack, would be a high viz strip or two located outboard, so its visibility is increased from the back as well as the front.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

BAD Gear: Chaco Z2 Z/2

It's been a while since I reviewed a personal item. So today I will review my favourite pair of sandals: Chaco Z2. In fact I've given up on other types of sandals or outdoor hi-venting shoe including Keens. I'll go into that later. I won't even talk about Crocs. pphhhhhh

I bought this pair of sandals in 2011 and its still going strong. The webbing straps are just now starting to fray at the edges (nothing a lighter couldn't fix). I've just re-soled them with another set of Vibrams, thereby saving money on a new pair of sandals and supporting a local cobbler (oh yeah, I'm probably being environmentally friendly be recycling, reusing, and reducing).

I paid $95 for a pair of these back in 2011 at VPO . I had them resoled including labour was about $50.

The original Z2 soles are Vibrams and feature a deep lug grip. The foot-bed is contoured and provides support for those with pronation. I wear custom orthotics in work boots and exercise sneakers, but for sandals I was very hard-pressed to find anything remotely supporting my bad genetics...until I discovered Chaco Z2's.

There are different models of Chacos ranging from Z1 (open toe) to Fathom (traditional) to Updraft (raised heels for the short guy). I chose the Z2 because I found I needed the stability and forefoot control the wrap-around toe loop gives me. It also features custom adjustment webbing straps that dries fast and maintains a consistent fit.

I've travelled all over the tropical and desert world with this pair and it is a very reliable and rugged. The original out-sole was a Vibram TC-1 rubber which featured a 4-5mm lug depth and was high traction (including wet) and self-cleaning as well as being non-marking. The grip is exactly what is needed from difficult trekking to multi-sport. Because of its thinness, the feedback is communicative about grip and geometry of terrain thereby prevents slipping and tripping. I find that these soles are a better compromise between performance and comfort than Keens.

The new soles also being Vibram, I am expecting the same type of performance I have with my previous soles. There was a requirement to fill in some areas at the heel where I had worn right through the outsole and into the mid-sole. All in all I haven't noticed any performance degradation in my testing of wet traction, and long'ish hikes.

The new soles seem to be performing just fine, and although the out-sole lugs are differently shapes, I am still quite happy with them.

Now the reasons I really like this as compared to other sport sandals, is because I have options for quick in and out. I don't have to utilize all the straps, I don't even need to put my toe in.

I've tried wearing Keens, and although they are a great sandal/shoe, I find that when wet, there's too much friction. Also the webbing starts to stink. And I don't like to whole covered toes thing. Keens do fulfil another type of market, but for what I do, the Chaco's are just fine. Also, Keens, don't offer me that contoured foot-bed, and I found my feet tired and ached due to lack of support for pronation.

Now my kids, they were Keens. I'll probably do write-up about Keen Kids shoes later, but for my Bad Ass Kids, Keens are sufficient. They don't slip off easily, they provide wet/dry interface traction, as well as good cushioning at all-day or multi-day affairs such as Disney, or Cuba, or Mexico, or even at home. For myself however, I prefer the Chacos

In terms of terrain and geography, these sandals have handled everything from white sandy beaches in the tropics, to basaltic lava rocks, to shit-covered rocks in Nigerian streams. I think I even went through some sort of rainforest with them. I know for sure I've climbed a comms tower with them. Did I mention these work perfectly on land and submerged underwater?

One thing to note, if you are travelling, is that they do have a bit of weight to them, about 2lbs for the pair vs 1lb12oz for a pair of Keens. We're talking about 4oz extra of booze you can't put in your carry-on's amenities kit.

Another thing to note, that is a plus, is that the webbing itself is a polyester material, not a nylon, which makes it super fast to dry, and polyester is doesn't present with  much friction when wet, unlike nylon webbing uppers found in the Keens.

So, about the webbing straps. I think it is actually constructed out of one length of webbing for the top that loops in and out of the mid-sole and uses a buckle for cinching. the back heel straps is a separate length. How you "customize" the fit, is to tug each exposed strap starting at the front and working your way to the back (like shoe laces), until you get a snug fit. You pull on the buckle to tighten everything up.

It really is an infinitely adjustable system because it uses this pull-through design to secure the fit without the necessary bulk of extra buckles and straps.

Seems pretty darn easy. Once it's set, it stays in place because of friction within the rubber midsole. To loosen I just have to release some tension from the buckle and I can easily slip my feet out.

These are also machine washable, or even better find a brush, some baking soda and some water. The open-air design really does enable me to clean these sandals more effectively than a close-toe design.

The last comment I want to make is the contouring of the foot-bed. It's what Chaco calls a BioCentric design with moulded arches that offer extra support, reliable stability, pronation control and all-day comfort. All of which are very true and I have proven it. In fact, it carries the Seal of Acceptance from the American Podiatric Medical Association - which probably means that it's good for you - just like fluoride toothpaste is endorsed by dentists.

So, some things I don't like, nothing really. Weight can be an issue if you are approaching that weight limit threshold for carry-on. They still will get stinky if you trudge in seawater, so will every other shoe, but this is by far the easiest to clean and quickest to dry.

So yes, every bad ass dad should have a pair of Chaco sandals. Because Bad Ass Dads don't let Bad Ass Dads wear Crocs.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

BAK Gear: Chicco Poly High Chair

Have you ever bought a high chair where your kid couldn't sit at the table without knocking knees or pinching their leg fat?? When we first realized we were preggers, we went straight out to the store and bought the first Graco high chair we found. It functioned. It lacked some features but it worked. Plus, it was cheap. However, as she got bigger, our child couldn't sit at the table comfortably without some sort of injury, whether its pinching her fingers between the underside of the table and the high chair or her leg fat getting squished.

Now, enter the birth of our second kid, and things are a little different. We got some lessons learned from buying a cheaper high chair with limited functionality. We started looking for a more useful high chair that would serve our kid from the first time they sit down for a meal at the table, to at least when she can get on and off her own chair. Plus, for you pansy male designers it should fit the decor and design notes of the house right? As a conversational piece, it should draw in and complement colours of the surrounding area right? 

The Chicco Poly High Chair came in many textile design options and layouts. BAM opted for this red/orange paisley combo matching some artwork and brings out the warm brown and orange hues in the flooring and dining table. Plus it hides shit really well - especially tomato-based sauces - so you won't have a white-coloured high chair with the faint orange staining that you see at second hand stores. We bought this off a garage sale in near mint condition for cheap. Normally it retails around $150 at ToysRus but I still wouldn't pay that much for a chair. For that price, I'd rather the kid sit on stacks of medical textbooks strapped in with a shemagh scarf. So buy it on sale - or used.
Apparently this chair is Italian-designed (although probably mass produced in China and sold at a premium). So if you want to be chic and hip you want this chair. Almost everything about this chair can be operated one-handed - good, bad, meh - it helps.  Ok, so why do we like this chair so much. First here's the marketing text straight off the website:
The Chicco Polly 2-in-1 High Chair Features:
Ultra-slim fold
Two vinyl easy to wipe clean seat pads
7 seat heights, 3 seat reclines, and adjustable footrest
Convenient tray insert and tray storage
5-point harness with shoulder pads and 4 wheels with brakes
What we really like though, is the fact that its vinyl so we can wipe shit off of it, or just stick it outside, and hose the damn thing down - with the kid strapped in.

We also like that it folds into a compact size. Well as compact as any high chair could be squished, but it's out of the way, and out of site (and it won't fall over). I like that it has all sorts of doodads to adjust, whether its armrest, or seatback position, height under table, footrest, seatbelt positioning, It's like being in the driver's seat of a Land Rover.

On the back of the high chair, there's actually some additional features that make it a well thought out product. So if you're like me, you often wonder, "so now WTF are we suppose to do with the tray table if we don't use it?" Well, along the rear posts, there are hooks to keep the tray in place when not being used. There's also netting available which we use for holding myriad bibs and shit like that.

Ok, so now onto the sitting piece, the vinyl. I can't really figure out why they made it a two-piece affair, other than giving it some design contrast. Not a big deal but it works. Although, I suppose if the top layer becomes a Pollack painting, it can be removed leaving another underneath. As with other high chairs with vinyl content, when doing a field strip and clean be sure to run your fingers into the nooks and crannies to rid the chair of dried noodles and shit. Removing both covers for laundering is as simple as unthreading the seatbelts from the eyelets, and voila they both come off easily. Because its vinyl, its also very easy for our dog to do some pre-cleaning.

For the tray table itself, its also a two-piece affair with the main tray table affixed to moveable chair arms by means of sliding it along the rails on the arms. There's plenty of leg room between the tray and the seat, there's also a crotch block to keep your slippery kid from sliding down, if you're not using the seatbelt. The tray insert really is quite helpful with those inevitable spills, just lift off the tray insert, dump and re-attach. All the while keeping your kid in place. The underside of the tray really does look like the Starship Enterprise.

The tray insert is a semi-transparent plastic piece with shallow partitions for water cup, an entrée section, and some side sections. I like that its a solid piece, with no holes (unlike the Graco which had holes to accommodate plug-in toys) - making it much simpler and easier to clean. It also fits in our dishwasher. Not sure of the recommendation but I always follow my rule about, if its kid stuff, and its not machine washable I ain't buying it. We never actually used the tray, because our kid sat at the table

So the last bit I'd like to review is the height adjustment capability. We already know that you can lay this high chair almost flat so your kid can sleep while you eat. Or for an infant who can't hold their head up yet. When we went out looking for another high chair, seat height adjustment was a big performance factor. We needed something that would fit under our table while enabling our child to sit there comfortably without pinching her leg fat.

This chair enables her to sit at the table. With a few height adjustment options, we can essentially let the chair "grow" with the kid, enabling her to remain at our table, and perhaps not having to buy a booster or make her squat on adult chairs for height.

I'd recommend this chair for anybody who requires more control of the adjustment of their high chair to suit their family requirements for having their kids at the table (we didn't use the tray at all). As always, evaluate what you really need. We went through two separate Graco high chairs before we got this one. That's not to say Graco doesn't make a useful high chair, we just found it didn't' slide into our table too well with the kid in it, and when collapsed it actually had a weird weight distribution making it prone to falling over.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

BAK Gear: Gro-Clock - children's clock

Sorry folks its been a while since my last legit kid's stuff review. I've been out saving the world and getting a tan at the same time. This review is on the Gro-Clock, a clock designed specifically for aiding your kid to learn when to sleep and when to get out of bed. My little bad ass kids haven't learned to tell time yet, but timings are important to me, probably much more so than love, respect and scotch.

We searched for a perfect system, reading online on how to teach kids how to tell time, and honestly none of that shit works. Not really. Not unless you put your kid into 5 minute horse stance timeouts enough times, that they can guestimate when you say "don't wake up for another 3 horse stances" Well, that only sort of works. The Gro Clock has a countdown timer in the form of sunrays or moonrays, that gives the timings some visual context.

We started out first kid on the Gro Clock when she got into a toddler bed which coincided with her new-found ability to get in and out of bed on her own. Sleep training with this clock enabled her to gain increasing responsibilities and freedoms while decreasing her dependence on us. If she wakes up before the screen turns to wakeup (orange) and the audible beeps, its her responsibility to stay in bed or in her room until it does turn to orange and beeps.

The Gro-Clock really fit with what we were looking for, which were:

  • Visual representation of sleep (indiglo blue) and wakeup (yellowish orangey)
  • Intuitive Countdown timer
  • Dual wakeup times (one for nap and one for night)
  • Silent and/or audible tone
  • Double as a nightlight
  • Adjustable backlighting
  • Child lock out
  • Sleek and sexy

The product itself has a built in battery that "freezes" all the settings, including the main time; therefore if the power is off/on a few minutes it shouldn't be off by much. However after 3 or 4 hours, the battery drains. It also uses an LED backlighting, so power consumption is quite low, in fact it also has a built-in energy saving mode, the clock will turn off the LED after wakeup. There are two sleep modes, using different icons. One is a sun, the other a moon - perfect for daytime nap and night time sleep. We liked this clock so much that we picked up another for our 2-year old - who just transitioned from crib to toddler bed.

Here are the rest of the features from the product website:

  • ​Glowing screen shows images of stars and sun to communicate 'sleep' and 'wake-up' time
  • Includes fun bedtime story book
  • Stars go out one-by-one during the night to show the passing of time
  • Key-lock option
  • Option to set two separate wake-up times (weekday/weekend or night-time/day-time nap)
  • Adjustable screen brightness
  • Silent operation
  • Optional audible alarm feature
  • Mains powered (adapter included)
  • Suitable from age 2+ years
  • Conforms to highest applicable British and European Standards
  • Educational option of showing digital clock during the ‘stars to sun’ countdown
  • "Mr Star" night time graphic
  • Beautifully illustrated bedtime storybook

Now this ain't the magic bullet that will turn your hellish satanic kid into a sleeping heavenly cherub over night. This great piece of hardware used, in conjunction, with consistent parenting and disciplining will yield great results. Now if you just slap this onto their table, and tell them " don't wake up till it shines, or I'm a beat your ass" That's probably not going to work well for you - especially if you just lazy and want to sleep in till 10am. We use sticker charts as a reward system - over a 7 day period. The Gro-Clock becomes part of her nightly routine, and as long as she accomplishes them all - she gets a sticker beside each task, and when she fills the chart she can pick out of a box some useless dollar store trinket. The key here is consistency and a good understanding of Pavlovian Conditioning.

We bought the clock from Toys R Us Canada for $50 CDN.


Full Disclosure: Unless noted, Bad Ass Dad has not been compensated in any means to review this gear. It is all his own, procured through pro-channels, retail, or issuance.