Longtime canoeist Douglas Wipper, the former director of the National Canoeing Schools of Canada, has instructed canoeing for universities and private camps for more than 30 years. With extensive experience in the Canadian Arctic watershed, he once even spent a summer canoeing the Church Hill River with Cree aboriginals. “I started the journey by smoking deer meat on a tripod with a native,” says Wipper, who was given the name “Two Ravens” by the Cree. “A human jaw bone had eroded from the sand behind us from an old grave site. We weren’t far from an old Hudson Bay post left over from the fur trade days. The experience changed my life forever.” In short, aside from skull part identification books, he knows what to bring on a wilderness canoe trip. We caught up with him for advice on his top pieces of gear for a wilderness canoe trip. “They include a spare paddle, canoe repair kit, quality first aid kit, waterproof match container with strike-anywhere matches, map case with USGS 7.5 minute maps (with mirror and compass), and a space blanket. And one luxury item of sourdough starter,” he says. “These items are essential for basic survival if a mishap occurs.”
Spare paddle: The spare paddle, first aid and canoe repair kit will provide insurance that you will be able to get to the end of your route. The extra paddle ensures that you have a backup propulsion system. When you get far enough north there’s not enough good-sized wood to whittle one if you need it. It’s far easier to paddle out than walk.
Waterproof match container (with strike-anywhere matches): The ability to make a fire is so important. Hypothermia can occur very quickly if a canoe upset occurs. Matches and a space blanket can avert life threatening situations. Food, fire and shelter are the three basic necessities for human life. Matches, space blanket will help when the unexpected happens. It is best to make sure more than one craft has these items.
Maps: You need good maps to glean information about your route to keep you out of trouble. What you don’t know can be fatal. Good maps will also help you set your pace. You have only so much food and oftentimes a scheduled a float plane to meet, to pacing is paramount. Quality maps also help you avert such surprises as waterfalls or the distance high tides go up river mouths. They’re also essential if you need to walk out to safety. And make sure more than one craft carries them.
Repair kit: A good repair kit for your canoe is even more important today than it was in the past. A lot of times you need specialized materials to be able to fix modern hulls. In the old days it was relatively easy to fix a cedar strip canvas canoe, but that’s not the case with Kevlar or Royalex. Make sure you have the right material and bonding agent with you at all times.
First aid kit: When you’re on the trail for months, looking after even minor cuts is super important. An infection can become a really bad problem even from a seemingly minor break in the skin initially. I’ve had to set broken arms on the trail with still several weeks to go before we completed our route. There is no time out when you go to the fringe; you need to deal with whatever comes along.
Space blanket: Long canoe journeys take you into areas of extreme conditions, oftentimes with cold water and air temperatures. Keeping warm and dry is essential. You do this with proper clothing, but also a space blanket for emergencies. It’ll trap the heat when you need it most.
Sourdough starter and flour: This is one luxury item I always take along. Sourdough starter can be kept growing in a jar under the front deck of a canoe. It’s used to make sourdough bread, biscuits, bannock and even pie crusts for fresh berries you pick during your paddle. Bread gets moldy under the best conditions in two weeks. The starter ensures good fresh bread out of the reflector oven even in the middle of nowhere. To make it, visit kingarthurflour.com
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