Head Protection for Curling & Skating

November 8th, 2018 by Potato

Concussions are no joke. The more research we do, the more caution it seems we should be taking. We’re learning about the dangers of second impacts, and concussion protocols are more common in lots of sports, and after a suspected concussion players are getting benched more consistently. Helmets for more and more things are becoming a bigger part of our lives.

I’m good with that trend for the most part. I was wearing a bike helmet at school in the 90’s, before it was mandatory and when it was still kind of dorky (though that quickly changed with the help of the law). I still wear my helmet every time I go out on my bike. It just makes sense, and it’s totally socialized now to be the norm: you protect your lid on your bike.

I go years between falls in curling, and have never hit my head… so far. I fall more in recreational skating, but despite slapping a helmet on my kid, don’t wear one myself in either sport.

Plus, as such things go, a friend had a concussion (not from curling, but it still makes you think) and I had one of my rare, once-in-a-hundred-games fall a few weeks ago (not on my head, but again, it makes you think). There were some cases in the news, reminding us that while you fall less with experience, even pros take a tumble, and in rare cases they can be deadly. This year I’m playing mixed doubles, too, which involves more jumping up to sweep your own rock and generally more sliding around without a gripper on, which I figure is slightly more risky. So I think I’m ready to once again be the dorky kid protecting my noggin before it’s totally cool, which is helped along by my birthday present from my very generous parents: they gave me money for a whole new set of curling gear: new shoes, new pants, new brush head, and a head protector.

Recently, some head protectors that are not helmets have come out for curling and skating: some variation of a hat or headband with extra padding. And I’ve seen more being used on the ice (still a small minority of players, mostly older or newer players, but it’s moved beyond the “that one guy” phase to a growing trend).

And even without a standard to say exactly how much they help, any one of the options should be better than nothing (indeed, the warning label on one says that it’s not designed to be a helmet, just to be better than nothing). The different companies have tested their gear, with the two Canadian ones passing (of course) the test hockey helmets use for falls. I don’t know if I can reproduce the testing results they sent me, but roughly speaking these will cut down the impact of a fall by about a third to a half.

My research turned up three companies to look into:

So I ordered a few for myself, and for Wayfare for skating… enough to fit out a whole team so I could share with friends (with medium-to-large heads) when I inevitably try to drag them out to learn to curl at a funspiel, and of course write about them for the blog!

Ice Halo

I tried a flexfit ballcap style Pro-Hat and a Halo HD. For protection, Ice Halo uses a high-density foam: this will compress and spring back into shape if you give it a firm squeeze, but it’s for higher impacts, so this is not like a squishy pillow. The halo is, as the name implies, a ring all the way around, and will stretch to fit a few different head sizes. The had just has foam in an arc around the back and part of the sides, about half the thickness of the Halo HD. Both the hat and Halo HD use elastics cleverly built into the product to keep it snug on your head, and it does fit snug. Which, I suppose it has to in order to stay on your head in the event of a fall. The hat didn’t bother me while wearing it, but I was left with a bit of a mark from being tight on my forehead. I found the Halo HD could get uncomfortable after a while, especially if I tried to wear it right against my ears (and thus my glasses). However, if I positioned it just right, the gap where the two arcs open for size created a nice little nook for the top of my ears and the arms of my glasses. To be fair, I’m right at the upper edge of what the medium is supposed to fit (though Wayfare also thought it was snug and she’s in the lower end of the size range). The instructions say to pull at the front, which does loosen it up, but the elastics will tighten it up again in a minute or two, so you kind of have to constantly do that.

I didn’t mind it without my glasses (indeed, all of these options will be fine for people who use contacts to sport or who don’t need vision correction), but then I can’t play like that.

The Ice Halo products had no weird chemical smell when arriving, and coming from within Canada the shipping was the fastest. Though the impact testing results for all options look to be in the same general range, the Ice Halo HD did look to have the greatest cushioning of the options here (which fits with intuition, as there’s the most foam there to compress), but I’m not sure how meaningful the difference is — in my non-expert view, finding a head protector you’ll actually wear consistently may be the best criteria.

An Ice Halo HD on my head.
It’s a slightly thick headband that I’m not wearing over my ears.

An Ice Halo ProHat ballcap on my head.
It looks like a ballcap, with a bit of a bulge.

An Ice Halo ProHat ballcap on my head, more rear-view than the previous.
You can see the bulge of the protective foam from the back.

Crasche

Crasche builds their products around modular protective inserts, backed by strong polycarbonate and lined with neoprene, which would be reusable after impact.

I got a Crasche Curler touque, which has two thinner protective elements in the front and two tall, regular thickness ones in the back, as well as a Middie (designed for skating, but I might also wear it curling sometimes). The Crasche products are soft material with special pockets to hold the protective inserts, which you can easily slide out to clean or to adjust the fit (e.g., they suggest turning some pads upside-down to make your middie fit tighter, and presumably you can sacrifice some to make it fit looser).

Though the protective elements are rather different from the Ice Halo, for the Middie the look from the outside is quite similar: a black headband of about the same thickness. I found the Middie a touch more comfortable, despite their size guide suggesting my head was too big for the size I got. On my head it naturally sits just a bit above my ears (and glasses), and the segmented nature let me adjust the front a bit independently of the back (i.e., it could bend a bit in the middle to go around my ears while still being low on the back of my head). However, the harder inserts do play greater havoc with glasses if the fit does put them over the ears.

The touque I found quite comfortable to put on for short periods. However, it had a tendency to skootch up my head when I tilted my head far back (for instance, when throwing a stone) so I had to keep pulling it down. The band around the edge is also fairly tight (which I suppose it has to be to stay on your head in a fall), and the hat wasn’t quite big enough to totally cover my ears, which was awkward and meant that as I was adjusting it, I’d often end up screwing up how my glasses sat on my ears, which would lead to a cycle of adjustments. Wayfare thought it fit her well, so even though my 23″ head should fit the 21.5-23″+ size, it might be just a hair too small for me, which is affecting the comfort. I might try it with just the rear pads installed and update later.

A few nitpicks on the choice of neoprene: the Crasche products smell strongly of neoprene when they first arrive, which may be an issue for those with sensitive noses — they may need some time to off-gas (after about a week the smell is not noticeable to me). Neoprene also doesn’t absorb moisture, so if I’m doing anything more energetic than holding the broom, I’ll find droplets of sweat lining the pads (on the flip side, they’re easy to wipe down).

Also, the site also says that Canada is duty free for shipping, and while that’s technically true (no duties or crazy brokerage fees thanks to using USPS for shipping), I did have to pay HST to pick it up at the post office, so be prepared for that.

A Crasche Middie on my head.
The segmented plates let this bend around my ears a bit, but otherwise it looks very similar to the Ice Halo HD.

A Crasche Curler hat on my head.
In terms of style/look, the Crasche Curler was actually my favourite. Despite my lack of photograhy skills making this look black, the hat is their dark grey option.

Goldline

The Goldline headfirst line uses expanded polystyrene (EPS, the hard foam in bike helmets) to make their pads, which go inside a variety of holders — hats, bands, or visors. Whichever style you choose, the pads all cover the back of the head only.

This is by far the most common style I see other players wearing, perhaps in part because Goldline has a store on this side of town so people can buy in person rather than ordering online, and their products are also available at Spokes & Sports in Toronto.

A Goldline headband and Ice Halo Pro-Hat side-by-side on a table.
Side-by-side photo of the Ice Halo Pro-Hat and Goldline protective pad in a headband style.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find one in my size to show side-by-side with modelled on my head, but their marketing photos do a good job of showing what they look like. I did borrow one to show side-by-side with my Ice Halo pro hat how much thicker the pad is.

Summary

Really, any of these is likely better than nothing when out on the ice.

I preferred the hat styles to the band styles, and have the Ice Halo Pro-Hat and Crasche Curler in my curling gear bag to try out further, though after a few games I’m quickly gravitating toward the Ice Halo hat as my main choice. After all, a ballcap style is a very natural style fit for me (I often wear one anyway). I do want to give the headband styles (Ice Halo HD and Crasche Middie) some more game time, as they do seem to offer a bit more protection than the ballcap, and I like the idea of having some padding on the front as well as the back. However, while I shouldn’t be able to feel shame at this point my life, and certainly not about curling fashion, I’m not sure the headband is a look I can pull off.

I have to say that all three companies were responsive when I bugged them for more details, and you should be able to find something that works for you from one of them.

As much as I’m high on the idea of something is better than nothing, I need to be clear that it’s hard to protect against concussions, and hard to test for that. There’s no guarantee that wearing one of these will prevent one.

There’s still a lot of research to do on concussions and how they happen and what a safe level of impact might be. There still isn’t, to my knowledge, a standard way to test for reducing concussion risk: the standards for hockey helmets and the like are designed around reducing traumatic brain injury and skull fractures. Don’t get me wrong, that is also good and should likely help with concussions, too, but for curling I’m not quite as worried about severe traumatic brain injury because it isn’t hockey: falling is the big risk, not getting beaned by a slapshot or checked into the boards at high speed or taking a skate to the forehead after falling in a tangle. So perhaps soft impact-dampening padding/foam is more important than a hard shell for mTBI. All products are careful to say that they are not helmets, cannot guarantee that they will prevent a concussion, and are designed simply to be better than nothing.

Note: All gear was paid for by myself or my parents, or borrowed from fellow curlers for pictures.

Another helmet option, not tested is from Asham. Consider this a kind of honourable mention

New RDSP Options

October 29th, 2018 by Potato

For the longest time, TD Direct Investing was the only game in town if you wanted to invest in a low-cost way in an RDSP. Big Cajun Man detailed the quirks of these accounts (and has provided lots of info on RDSPs in general).

Fortunately, there’s some competition now: National Bank Direct Brokerage is now offering RDSPs.

And NB is Nest Wealth‘s custodian broker, which means that there’s now a robo-advisor option for RDSP! I’ve long thought that the robo-advisor method would be really welcome for RDSPs, but it just hasn’t been an option for the first several years. I’m glad to see that it’s now possible, though there will be some manual processes to make it happen on Nest Wealth’s end (so you won’t yet see a link on their site — you’ll have to contact them and ask).

A few details: RDSPs are only available to those on their top-tier, $80/mo plan. That’s normally for accounts over $150k in assets, though you can opt to pay it if you want to open an RDSP even without the assets. Of course, you’ll have to decide if it’s worth it vs. using TDDI or NBDB (or high-fee mutual funds with other banks) if your accounts are small. There’s a $100/yr admin fee for additional accounts, and since your RDSP isn’t likely the only account you’ll have with Nest Wealth (e.g., if you’re opening one for your kids, then you may have your own RRSP/TFSA as well), you should expect that as well when doing your cost-benefit analysis. Still, that should be welcome news for a few people!

Disclosure: I’m a member of Nest Wealth’s affiliate program and have used the affiliate link above — see the side bar for more.

Robo-advisors and Taxable Accounts

October 25th, 2018 by Potato

Let’s make it clear up front that I like robo-advisors as an investing solution for many people — lots of people might save money learning how to DIY, but that is certainly not for everyone.

One lingering point of uncertainty was how they would deal with taxable (or “non-registered”) investment accounts. Once you’re out of TFSA/RRSP room, you’re left to invest in a taxable account, which means tracking and reporting requirements. Typical robo-advisor portfolios have upwards of 10 ETFs, and if you’re automating your contributions with bi-weekly contributions, you could be looking at hundreds of transactions to track for tax purposes. Their websites were certainly not clear on the point — if addressed at all, the language tended to say that they would “provide all necessary information” for taxes, which to my reading sounded like they would just dump the transaction reports from the custodian broker in your lap and tell you to handle it. That could be more work than the robo-advisor was saving you in the first place, and you might be better off with Tangerine or a simple 3/4-fund ETF portfolio on your own.

I had heard from a few users of difficulties along these lines, but didn’t have hard data, so I put some general warnings in the book and in a Because Money episode and left it at that — after all, most people will have plenty of RRSP and TFSA room and never need to worry about adjusted cost base (ACB) or realized capital gains/losses. But hearing some horror stories, it looks like a few are really falling down here and making life hard on users who are specifically trying to avoid this kind of complication when investing.

So I reached out to people on Reddit and my newsletter subscribers for user experiences, and also contacted several robo-advisor firms to learn more about how they handle this. I don’t want to bash anyone here for not stepping up, and I did not reach out to every firm so this is certainly not exhaustive, but I’m happy to say that there are at least three good options for those with taxable accounts:

Justwealth

I spoke with Andrew Kirkland of Justwealth, and they saw that the tax documents produced by the custodian broker would leave their users with some work to do. They wanted to go above-and-beyond, so they produced more usable realized gain/loss reports. At this point that is a manual process for them, but they’ve had two tax seasons as a firm to give them experience, and are working toward automating this.

I received sample reports and for what it’s worth the information you need for your tax reporting is summarized and easy to find.

Nest Wealth

Their unique flat-fee cost structure makes Nest Wealth better-suited for large accounts, where you might be more likely to have used up your TFSA and RRSP room. So I’m glad to have heard from them that they also help simplify reporting by tracking ACB and producing a simple realized gain/loss summary. They also sent me a sample of their reports to review and confirm that in my opinion a typical user would be able to find the information they need for taxes.

Wealthsimple

As the most popular robo-advisor, it’s good to see that Wealthsimple is tracking ACB for its clients. However, I have to add a tiny, itty-bitty asterisk to that, because some of their clients don’t seem to know it.

Documentation is comparable to regular broker. They will prepare a report with all transactions for the year. The ACB calculation you have to do yourself.

Most of the responses I got were about Wealthsimple, so it’s possible that there’s a PBKAC issue, or that older accounts (the account’s age, not the client’s) are on a different brokerage platform (because behind-the-scenes, Wealthsimple bought their own custodian brokerage but started on VB and some clients might have still been there in the last tax year and, well, it’s a long story). It’s also possible that their user documentation and guides just aren’t super-clear even when they are doing the work.

For example, they use non-standard terminology, which I mean I can’t totally fault them for because “non-registered” is just the worst descriptor for an account ever and writing for a lay audience is a constant challenge, but calling taxable accounts “personal” accounts is not super-clear either. To quote one user who got back to me:

They use “Personal, Joint, Corporate, and Smart Savings”. As a person who knows nothing, that confuses me. I don’t know what my accounts are. They’re all ‘Personal’ to me.

But of course, many people have no problem with it:

They track everything for me. Taxes this year was a breeze.

I’d say that if you’re starting from now, odds are good that if you go with Wealthsimple, they will track your ACB for you and make tax reporting easy.

Giant Caveat

For some reason, a few people like to spread their money out: opening accounts with multiple robo-adviors, or dabbling in DIY investing while also having a robo-advisor invest for them. A robo-advisor or brokerage or any firm cannot provide you with adjusted cost base information if they don’t have access to all the transactions that are happening for you. So if you’re out of RRSP/TFSA room and open up multiple taxable accounts, you are setting yourself up for a fair bit of work, as whatever numbers your robo-advisor provides will no longer be accurate. It will be up to you to track across your accounts.

To put the caveat more plainly, try to stick to one brokerage/robo-advisor if you have a taxable account. Having multiple accounts means that you will be the only one able to track your ACB/capital gains and you will have to ignore the figures a helpful robo might provide you.

Quick disclaimer: I am a member of referral programs for some of the robo-advisors mentioned — see the sidebar for affiliate links and deals. However, this is not in any way a sponsored post, and in at least one case the causality worked the other way around.

That Kleenex in the Wash

October 17th, 2018 by Potato

I’m a big advocate of keeping your portfolio simple and easy to manage. As I was doing laundry and found, yet again, that I’d left a Kleenex in the pocket of a pair of pants and had to pick out little bits of fluff, it got me thinking of this.

It’s so easy to over-estimate our ability to handle a little more complexity, to think that even when you’re busy it’s not big deal. Then you find that Kleenex in the wash. Again. This isn’t even an unforseeable or unavoidable error. It’s happened before, and yet it’ll probably happen again. Probably before the year is out, even.

It’s another reminder to me that we have to arrange things in a way that accounts for the fact that we all have periods of inattention or sleep deprivation, and even at the best of times human error happens. If the plan is to ignore things for a year or to at a time, there’s less room for execution risk.

A simple portfolio is more robust to negligence and human error.

Never Weight — Q3-18 update

October 1st, 2018 by Potato

On August 29th my pants fell down while walking around the living room. So yeah, I’m feeling pretty good about my weight loss this quarter.

After the last update, a few things came together and I finally just did the thing I knew I had to be doing all along (but didn’t because it was hard): I started tracking everything I ate. I used measuring cups and a scale, and put it all into the FitBit app’s calorie tracker function (I had several recommendations for myfitnesspal, but I already had FitBit there to track my steps, and it worked well enough). I started eating a lot more fruit (helped by the fact that Ontario peaches and nectarines were in season so I just bought cases of those) and veggie sandwiches, and tracking, and paying attention especially near the end of the day as I was running out of calories in my budget. I bought just an absolute fuck-tonne of chewing gum, and had light breakfasts and lunches when I wanted to leave the ability to have pizza for dinner. And even on vacation, and even with all-nighters as a grant deadline came up, I stuck to my budget (though on vacation I was aiming for calorie balance for the week rather than a deficit, and with the all-nighters I chewed so much gum the artificial sweetners caused… umm… intestinal distress).

The final score: DOWN 19 lbs BABY. WOO!

I posted 7 days in about how hard it was to fight the cravings, but I stuck it, and it got better. I only have bad cravings every few days (and mostly after about 12:30am), so it’s become routine enough that it doesn’t take a tonne of conscious willpower any more. My habit is to check FitBit — can I eat that? Computer says no. Also, it wasn’t like full intermittent fasting, but I did delay or skip breakfast most days and put a limit on eating after midnight (pretending, as one does, that I was a mogwai), which also helped.

It’s still a total mystery though why I managed to actually do it this time. Yes, I had some extra motivation (a bad score on my cholesterol test, my dad going into the hospital, another quarter where the same-old wasn’t really cutting it), but I don’t think I was all that lacking in motivation before. I did have a bit of a mind-shift internally where I realized how much of my eating was not due to physical hunger, but I really can’t put my finger on how I managed to flip the switch to knowing that chocolate is not an emotion. That’s a bit disappointing because it makes it harder to help other people find that last bit of motivation or mindset or whatever, and also worrisome because I don’t know how easy it will be to stick to better habits for the long run (or re-start the diet after the inevitable future slip-up).

Of course, even this is a relatively minor achievement in the grand scheme of things. I hit my goal for the year, but the loss is still a fairly small change, percentage-wise — few people would notice if I didn’t tell them, and I’m a long way from being described much more charitably than having a “dad bod”. My BMI is still not great, and I have to continue being good for a lifetime to keep it off. And the “never weight” was something I set back in grad school as like a “ok, it would be ridiculous if I got that fat” level. So even losing ~20 lbs from that point still just puts me at about where I was in grad school — and no one was mistaking me for skinny then.

Looking ahead, the final quarter of the year features Thanksgiving, my birthday, Halloween, and Potatomas. I’m going to keep tracking, and the itty bitty candy bars may be a good way to have some treats but not bust the budget — I’ll have to see if I can be trusted, or if total abstinence is the only way to go. Either way, I’m going to take the season into account and adjust my budget & target to be a minor deficit (and I won’t freak if it averages break-even some weeks). I’m less than two pounds off my original goal for the whole year, but if I can make it through to New Year’s holding steady at this weight, I’ll call that a win for the year. My next plan is to get down to the “overweight” range according to my BMI by June next year, which means losing another 15 pounds, more gradually. And then keeping it off for a lifetime.

Anyway, goal reached, so start the countdown: the price of the course is going back up!

One thing that I was amazed with when losing weight is how fast some of my other health issues settled down. FitBit tracks my resting heart rate, and that’s come down almost 10 bpm in just three months. I also used to have heartburn a few times a week, and last month only had it twice (though that is likely less losing weight and more the fact that I’m not eating a bunch of chocolate, chips, and other heartburn-inducing foods right before bed). If I go to a life expectancy calculator, I’ve lost enough weight this year to add a year back to my life (whoops, gotta adjust the savings plan now ;)

Footnote:
I noticed that I started calling it a calorie “budget” and not a “diet” or “allocation”, and that tracking let me immediately see my “funds” left each day. I’m explicitly trying to leverage my ability to be good with money to be good with food, but I needed an easy-to-use electronic tracker to get there. Also, I’m eating a lot of convenience-esque food: almonds that are packaged in small servings, so I know I get 170 cal/serving and don’t have to weigh them, etc. It’s more than double the cost for almonds vs. just buying the big jug, but I think it’s a non-negligible component to success so I’m more than happy to pay for it.