With the range of products now on the market, there’s no real right or wrong when it comes to gearing up for a canoe trip. It’s more about asking the right gear questions to find the good gear answer. Here’s the next installment of “A Beginner’s Guide to Solo Canoeing,” by adventurer Tori Baird.
By Tori Baird
Everyone seems to have certain pieces of gear that they prefer over others when packing for a camping trip. While some people like to bring a heavy-duty single burner Coleman stove, others like to cook over the fire. While some bring a top-of-the-line lightweight aluminum camp chair, others are fine sitting right on the dirt.
There are so many options to choose from and the problem is, there is no right or wrong answer; it’s all dependant on what works, or doesn’t work, for you. But when it comes to canoe-tripping, there are a few things you have to keep in mind when writing out your packing list.
Travelling on water increases your risk to exposure. Dumping your canoe could result in losing or soaking all of your gear and also put you at risk of hypothermia. Having to complete a long and challenging double-carry portage also puts you at the risk of being separated from some of your essential gear.
Being prepared with the right type of gear makes all the difference when it comes to safety and overall enjoyment while in the backcountry. Here’s a few things to keep in mind.
Your Canoe: things to consider
Buying a canoe can be a very exciting moment in one’s life. Just like buying a vehicle, there are many different things to take into consideration before making such a large purchase. How many people will you be travelling with? Are you a family of four with a dog, or do you plan to do a lot of solo tripping?
What kind of trips do you plan to go on? Will they be mostly short flat water trips with minimal portages, or do you plan to do as many portages as you have to to get as deep into the backcountry as you can? Will you be doing a lot of river travel that may include whitewater?
READ more Tori Baird’s “Beginner’s Guide to Solo Canoeing”
How much gear do you typically bring? Are you an ultralight traveller, or do you like to bring the luxuries?
Canoes come in many different sizes, shapes and materials, and what you end up with should be based on all of the above. And although buying a canoe can seem expensive, they will last you a lifetime with the proper maintenance and TLC.
Ask a paddler how much they’d be willing to sell their canoe for and you’ll learn quickly the sentimental value they can hold. But if you’re not in a position to purchase a canoe, there are many outfitters that rent them out in provincial parks and other popular canoeing areas.
Based on Transport Canada regulations, in your canoe you should always have a life-jacket, a bailing device, 50 feet of buoyant heaving line, a whistle that can operate underwater, and a flashlight. I also always have a rope tied to the bow or stern of my canoe (or both) in order to tie up my canoe, or to easily grab the boat and tow it to shore if I dump.
Waterproofing your gear is always a good idea when travelling on water, and canoe packs are the ideal solution in keeping everything dry. The nice thing about canoe packs is that you don’t have to pick up the most expensive one on the shelf to guarantee impermeability. Repairing a used canoe pack with a few holes can be a great way to save a few bucks and to make use of what would be someone else’s waste. You can buy a patch kit at most outdoor outfitting stores, and even at some hardware stores.
An easy way to check for holes in a dry bag is to close the top of the empty bag and push down on it to listen or feel for any air escaping. If air can get out, water can get in. Before buying a used bag, check for wear and tear along the seems, and test out the waterproof coating, as you don’t want to buy something that is beyond repair.
Another option for added protection is to line the inside of your dry bag with a carpenters garbage bag, which is a thick, heavy duty garbage bag; it may not be the most aesthetically pleasing, but it’ll do the trick.
As a matter of fact, lining any of your waterproof bags with an extra layer of protection isn’t a bad idea. For example, the waterproof coating on the inside of a dry compression sack will wear off faster the more frequently you stuff clothes and materials into it. Lining it with a plastic bag will help reduce the amount of friction and therefore help make the bag last longer.
Bears are always a concern when you’re travelling and camping in the backcountry. And although bear attacks are extremely rare, it’s always important to be smart about where and how you store your food.
Food barrels are a great option for canoe tripping because they are air-tight, which means they float so you’re less likely to lose all your food if you go bottom side up. They are also meant to be bear and scent proof, so although you should still carry it a-ways away from camp at night, they don’t need to be hung which can save a lot of time and energy.
Giardia or “Beaver Fever” is something (an infection) you want to avoid, so making sure you have a proper water purification system is key. There are a lot of options these days; gravity filters, water pumps, water tabs, Lifestraw, and water bottles with filtration built right in.
My personal favourite would be the latter, because it’s fast, easy and convenient. From my personal experience, I’ve found water pumps can break fairly easily, and if it’s your only option you could be in trouble. Gravity filters are great for around camp but are not the most convenient when travelling, and water tabs are a great back up, but they don’t filter out whatever chunks you may have scooped up.
First Aid Kits are essential but the size and contents will differ depending on the length of your trip, how remote you’ll be and how many people you’re travelling with. The more remote you are, the longer it will take for help to arrive so it’s always wise to be prepared for the worst.
A standard “Paddlers First Aid Kit” will likely suffice for most trips, but for the longer more remote ones you’ll likely want to add a few items just to make sure you have all bases covered, such as prescription antibiotics in case of infection, dental repair kit, and extra strength or prescription Tylenol for severe pain.
In the off chance you do get separated from your gear for whatever reason, a survival kit is great to have on you at all times in case of an emergency. A survival kit could include: bear bangers, flares and pen launcher, emergency blanket, water tabs, PLB or satellite communication device, fishing line and hooks, snare wire, signal mirror, compass, whistle, and lighters/matches.
I would typically keep these items in a double waterproofed pouch in a fanny pack around my waist any time I’m travelling.
Other Must Haves:
Duct Tape: great for “fixing” many things!
Carabiners: clip things together, to your canoe, or to your packs for easier transport.
Gear Ties: tie down paddles, fishing rods and more to your canoe during a portage.
Parachute Cord: it’s always good to have extra rope; parachute cord is small, lightweight but very strong. [[Here’s an example from MEC, but it can be found at most operators that sell outdoor gear and equipment.]
Ziploc Bags: easy and cheap waterproofing option for smaller items.
Multi-tool: very handy to have on your belt at all times.
Trail Tape: for difficult to follow trails or unused portage routes. [Here’s an example of trail tape at Canadian Tire, but it can be found at any outdoor gear and equipment or hardware store.]
Alfred Wainwright’s saying “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing,” can also apply to canoe tripping and gear. Things can turn from bad to worse fairly quickly when you’re in the backcountry, and preparedness can make or break a trip for even the most seasoned paddler.
And no matter how many videos you’ve watched on YouTube, building a bushcraft shelter is not that easy, especially when you’re in a real survival situation. So make your list and check it twice, because you don’t want to find yourself up a creek without a paddle.