Premier Gentle Leader

I have had the Premier Gentle Leader Headcollar for about a year now. We have a somewhat rambunctious Bearded Collie (which is to say, a typical Bearded Collie). And whenever we walked him he would go somewhat bananas pulling at the leash or jumping off in random directions no matter what we tried: treats, collars, harnesses, even that “CHHHHT!” noise that Cesar Millan recommends. Nothing kept him consistently manageable.

The Gentle Leader, on the other hand, just works. It is some sort of black magic from the Animal Gods.

Actually, it’s not; it works based on how it’s put together and how it attaches which is in such a way that if the dog pulls or jumps, his nose is GENTLY tugged downward. It turns out dogs do not like this, so they quickly learn to avoid it by walking at your pace calmly.

I went from a leash that was as tight as piano wire on most walks, requiring a lot of upper body strength to keep our 45lb Beardie in check, to a pretty much completely slack leash — allowing a much more leisurely, less tiring, and more enjoyable walk.

-- Steve Coallier  

Premier Gentle Leader
Different sizes available for different breeds
$13

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Premier Pet

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Insta Raised Bed

You never seem to have an inflatable bed when you need one. Then you buy one and the piece of crap leaks or is really uncomfortable. This one works well. A typical two-prong power outlet nearby lets you fill the Insta Bed quickly with the mattress’s built-in air pump — and this is key — it quietly keeps it inflated to your desired pressure all night. You also deflate it via that pump. Folds into a small twin pillow-sized bundle for storage. It is firm enough to fool me, doesn’t lose air very fast either. Guests have commented on its comfort. Returning guests pick the room with that mattress over a guest room with a real queen-sized bed for some reason.

Insta Raised Queen Bed
$170

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Insta Bed



Envirosax

About five years ago, I moved to a Delightful European Country, and was surprised to discover that my local supermarket intended to charge me for plastic grocery bags.  They were very nice, study, thick plastic bags, but perhaps not quite worth the regular fee. I popped next door to a bag shop and bought some reusable bags – you know the ones: nylon bag, stuffs in a little pouch, tucks in your handbag.

That purchase was not my wisest. I promptly lost the little pouches, so the bags ended up overtaking my handbag. The bags were on the small side, but the straps were skinny, so even their little load dug into my shoulders for the few hundred metres walk to my Tiny European Apartment. It took me a few months, but I eventually upgraded to Envirosax.

I’ll admit, I was first drawn to Envirosax because they’re just so pretty. They come in all sorts of beautiful patterns. The fact that they’re definitely a Cool Tool is seriously just a nice bonus.

Envirosax are nice and large (the manufacturers claim they hold two plastic bags worth, and my experience backs this up) but fold up nice and small. The straps are thick, so they’re very comfortable to use for long periods. They’re corralled by an attached strap, which can’t be lost like a separate pouch (even if neatly folding and strapping them can be a little tiresome). They’re very sturdy and very strong – I load them up regularly and even my five year old ones still look pristine. They’re also really pretty.

I’ve subsequently moved on to A Land of Free Grocery Bags, but I still swear by Envirosax. I always have two tucked in my handbag, which helps me decline plastic bags at most stores. (Yes, environment-schmironment, but mostly it’s because my plastic bag cupboard is perpetually overflowing.) I always have them with me when I travel – they’re great for a beach trip, bakery run, unexpected suitcase blow-out or emergency carry-on.  I’ve probably given a dozen as gifts. And they’re really pretty.

-- Ilana Smith  

[Note: Like Ilana, I have a few five-year old Envirosax bags that have held up extremely well even while hauling heavy loads from the grocery store. These bags along with the previously reviewed IKEA totes comprise most of my reusable stuff carriers.--OH]

Envirosax
$12 for 1
Available from Amazon
$40 for 5
Available from

Manufactured by Envirosax



Doidy Cup

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We discovered this cup when our second child was having problems gulping from a spouted cup or bottle causing her to choke and vomit. A Doidy cup was suggested and it immediately solved the problem, as she could suddenly see what she was doing.

With our third child we have used them since starting him on solids, and they are also much easier for the parent or caregiver who is feeding the child to see what they are doing. I even hear good reports of this being used to top a newborn up with milk whilst breastfeeding is still establishing. A fantastic, if simple, idea. And they come in lovely jolly colours too; my son is particularly fond of his pink one!

-- Nathalie Marshall  

Doidy Cup
$10

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Doidy Cups



Kelty Pathfinder

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I’ve used this kid-carrier backpack from Kelty, called the Pathfinder, nearly every day for the past year. For instance, just today I took a bird-watching hike with my 16-month-old son, Ivan, who loves traveling in the pack. Previous to the Pathfinder I was using an expensive Phil-and-Ted Backpack for a few months, but it was inferior. It is attractive and stylish and it has what seems to be a more comfortable seat for the child, but the adjustments are limited for positioning the child. It’s essential when using one of these packs that the kid’s weight is well-balanced over the wearer’s hips, and not too far back. I find that the Phil and Ted’s pack isn’t adjustable enough, so that my child becomes cantilevered too far off of my back. In contrast, the Kelty pack’s adjustments allow me to place my child in such a way that his weight rests on my hips and doesn’t put too much strain on my back and neck.
 
The previously reviewed and recommended Ergo Baby carrier is an outstanding product, if not the best overall child carrier. It’s great for wearing young infants in front, and it can—like this Kelty— be used to wear a larger toddler on your back. However, the kid is directly against your back, so any type of serious hiking would be out of the question because it would be too uncomfortable and sweaty. I like to get a workout in while I’m out with my son, and with the heat he generates having him directly on my back would be miserable.
 
Like the other packs in this class, the Pathfinder is designed to balance a lot of weight (up to 44 lbs.), so that it feels comfortable for the wearer and for the child while you are really hiking. The pack itself is lightweight, and comes with a very useful sun/rain canopy. The padding on the back and the positioning of the child both keep my back from getting hot and sweaty. The Pathfinder has two hip pockets accessible while you’re wearing the pack, and the main storage compartment that rests behind the kid detaches as a small daypack, diaper bag. 
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What sets the old Pathfinder apart from the top-of-the-line Ortlieb and Deuter models — and the current Pathfinder 3.0, Kelty’s current top-of-the-line version  –  is simply its low price. Functionally it’s the same as, or at least very similar to, the high-end newer models, but with out-of-style colors.
 
You can get these classic packs cheap on eBay because parents receive them as gifts but then never use them. It requires some effort to adjust them properly, and more importantly it’s simply hard to carry 32 pounds (my kid + cargo + the pack itself) on your back if you’re not used to it, especially hiking uphill or on uneven terrain. So there’s an abundance of high-quality inexpensive used backpacks in excellent condition. I bought mine unused for $65 through Craigslist, versus about $275 for the new Pathfinder 3.0.

-- Elon Schoenholz  

Kelty Pathfinder 3.0
New from $280

Available from Amazon

Available used from eBay

Manufactured by Kelty



Real Kid Shades

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We bought these kids sunglasses about 2 months ago (at REI), when my son was 4 months old. Before that we had about given up going out during the day, as my son would become agitated within a few minutes of going out. Now going out of the house is one of our best times.

I was a bit concerned when buying these, figuring my son would knock the glasses out of place continually. However, after a very short period he acts like the glasses aren’t even there, only complaining when they are askew.

Reviewers on Amazon have complained that the strap is too big for a 4-month old. 4-months is probably near the lower limit on age for these. We needed to adjust the strap to the smallest position and use them with a hat for them to fit. But we also found that they didn’t need to be very tight to stay in place.

I bought this brand because it was carried by REI, who I believe carries quality merchandise. I’m not sure if I would trust the UV protection of the cheapest model that Walmart sources at the lowest price (poor UV protection in sunglasses being worse than no protection at all).

Besides the UV protection and ability to be out in the bright sun, there is also the cool factor, which was really unexpected. Every time we go out walking, I’m amazed at the number of turned heads and comments we get about the shades. The words “cool dude” are used frequently. I’m also now aware of the parents who are out in the bright sun with sunglasses while their infant or toddler is left to squint.

-- Michael Nystrom  

Real Kid Shades (0-to-24 months)
$15

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Real Kid Shades



Kidco PeaPod Plus

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The PeaPod is a travel bed for kids. My kids have outgrown it now, but this was the best thing when they were little and we were on the road a lot.

It replaces the traditional travel crib (sometimes called a pack-and-play). We had one of those, and it was huge and heavy. When my daughter was young, I think we flew 14 times her first year of life. The first few times we checked the old travel crib. It was heavy, bulky, and difficult to deal with when we had her as well. Impossible if it was one of us traveling with her.

The PeaPod folds up and is no bigger/heavier than a large diaper bag. It will pack right in with a car seat when traveling by air. When traveling on the road or even just across town, it packs and unpacks easily. It afforded us a much more convenient and easy way to travel with kids. It’s usable by one person with no hassle, and the footprint is less than a traditional travel crib. We’ve even taken it camping and set it up inside our tent.

The whole thing is self-contained like those hoop style sun shades. There’s an elastic strap that goes across the diameter of the hoop. When you take the strap off, it pops right open like a self-opening tent because it actually is a self-opening mini tent. It’s just as easy to break down. Two-to-three minutes max to put it up and break it down. You can check out this video to see what’s involved.

It also comes with a sleeping bag that fits perfectly. Depending on the model, it may come with an inflatable mattress. The lower end ones don’t have a mattress (the P201 does). The middle tier come with an inflatable mattress and a manual pump (which is what I use). The higher end units come with a self-inflatable mattress like a Therm-a-rest.

I’m not kidding when I say that it changed the way we travel. I’ll even go so far as to say that we made several international trips with small children that made their sleeping arrangements an afterthought rather than a major concern simply because we had a peapod.

I know baby gear isn’t a typical cool tool kind of post, but it is pretty cool. Overall, it’s just a better solution to the issue of having a safe place for your child to sleep when you’re away from home.

-- Chuck Balog  

Kidco PeaPod Plus P201
$75

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Kidco



Tiny Diner Portable Placemat

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I am a grandmother who enjoys taking her grandchildren out to eat. Many times I’ve wanted to push the booster seat or high chair (without the tray) up to the table, cut the food up, and serve it to my grandchildren on the table with me. This tiny diner placemat covers the table and provides a clean eating surface that also catches spilled food, and has been my favorite take along tool.

It rolls up and fits in my purse, washes off easily, and helps me control the cleanliness of my grandchildren’s eating surfaces. I have seen disposable models, however they do not have the trough for spilled food, and are not re-useable and therefore more expensive. I have used this mat for 2 years, and take it with me anywhere I take my grandkids.

-- Constance Smith  

[This mat is made out of a material called Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE) and is a non-latex, non-PVC, non-phthalate, non-BPA material. --OH]

Tiny Diner Portable Placemat
$11

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Summer Infant



Tangleteezer

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I’ve used this fantastic hair detangler for a year now. This is not a typical tool that many people might obsess about, but I have a lot of very fine, very long hair. There’s a lot of it, and this brush has made it much more manageable! It used to take me half an hour on a good day to comb through my hair after I had washed it. Now it takes me about seven minutes, and it doesn’t pull out my hair like other models. This thing looks like a horse’s curry comb but made out of plastic.

I bought one on the recommendation of my expensive London hairdresser and have raved about it ever since. I recently bought five as gifts for friends, and every person I gave it to has gone out and bought it for other people. I have tried everything on the market for detangling long hair for the past thirty years: combs, special brushes, hair treatments, and this brush is the only solution I can call incredible.

This is a cool tool. It is one simple gadget that has made a everyday life a little less painful and a little bit simpler.

-- Anne Hitchcock  

Tangleteezer
$10

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Tangleteezer



Pawz Dog Boots

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I have 6-year-old basset hound who loves to be outside. Unfortunately, in a Minnesota winter, his paws can’t take the freezing temps very long. This means no walks in the winter, and on extremely cold days he can barely manage to go to the bathroom before his paws freeze.

My wife and I have tried a couple different types of dog boots from REI, and Amazon.com without any luck. These boots were made with fleece insulation inside of thick canvas fabric with rubber soles. My dog absolutely refused to move one step with them on. We had given up hope on dog boots until I saw Pawz brand dog boots at a local pet store. Pawz dog boots are essentially large rubber balloons. There isn’t any padding or fabric insulation, just bare rubber.

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We tried them out and after a very short period of awkward walking our dog forgot he was wearing them. The difference between these boots and other boots is that the dogs can still feel the ground underneath their paws. We were worried that with the lack of insulation, they wouldn’t allow him to be outside much longer than without the rubber boots. It is obvious that the insulation of the more expensive boots isn’t really an issue. Our dog managed to stay outside with these boots on for hours on a recent trip to U.P. Michigan, with temps well below zero. Unlike other boots that tend to fall off rather easily when the dog runs in the snow, we have yet to have one of these boots fall off. It also helps keep the very sharp salt on the sidewalks from cutting his paws or drying the pads out on walks in the city.

Pawz dog boots are 100% biodegradable, and come in packs of 12. Even though they are considered disposable, we have yet to wear out our first set of four. They are extremely cheap considering the alternative, and are very easy to use

-- Tyler Coper  

Pawz Disposable Reusable Dog Boots
$10

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Pawz Dog Boots