By Mark Scriver
The joys of going for a day paddle are picking a craft and a paddle and heading out on the water. (Okay, there’s a PFD, throw bag and a few other odds and ends, but work with me here). The fun of a 2-week wilderness river trip is that you can spend countless hours in the prior weeks and months planning and dreaming about it and what to take.
When I first started going on these trips, it was a matter of what gear I could make, scrounge, borrow, substitute or do without. Now, my dilemma is more often picking from several different models of pot sets or sleeping mats that are in my basement. I thought that I’d share my top 10 pieces of gear that I would take on a whitewater canoe trip to rivers like the Hood, Nahanni or Bonnet Plume Rivers in the Canadian Arctic.
Barrel pack: The barrel pack is a real game changer for wilderness tripping. It is a completely sealable, 60 liter plastic barrel with a carrying harness. The advantage over a large dry bag or an old school canvas Duluth pack packed with dry bags is that the barrel pack is quick to access, completely waterproof and crush proof and makes a great chair to sit on.
Tarp: Get the one with reinforced loops at the corners and sides and a pocket for a pole in the center, it should be 15’ x 15’ if travelling in the U.S. and 4 meters x 4 meters if travelling anywhere else in the world. It offers a comfortable kitchen and living room for the outdoors. It’s a wind break, a sunshade, a great vantage point for rainstorms and a sail on a windy day. Setting it up is a hobby unto itself. A couple of people can have it set up in a few minutes. Double that time with a couple more people helping.
Another tarp: For more than 6 people I’ve started taking a second tarp. The setup time is about the same. Clip the 2 tarps together along one side, and it provides a kitchen area and a dining and living room.
Spray cover: I like the kind with a raised hoop to deflect water in front of each paddler’s open cockpit area so you can get in and out easily without having a dangerous drawstring around your waist. You can roll part of it back in warmer weather but a lot of people like it for rainy or cold days.
Rodeo rescue kit: If you’re using spray covers, this is the best way to rescue a capsized canoe. Clip onto the overturned canoe with a couple or 3 throw bags clipped together, paddle to shore downstream and pendulum the boat to shore. The throw bags are not attached to the rescue canoe for safety reasons but you can hold the bag under your knee if you end up towing a canoe with it. As with any rescue technique practice, understand it before using it.
Standup paddle: I’ve started bring a SUP paddle along to standup paddle on the flats or current or even class 1-2 waves. It’s provides a nice break to stretch your legs. It has the advantage of a better viewpoint for boat scouting or viewing wildlife.
Wannigan: The modern version of this traditional wooden box is a blow molded sealable plastic box carried by handles or a tumpline. It’s a more convenient way of carrying pots, the spice kit and kitchen equipment. The mini version efficiently carries all the Nalgene containers of cooking oil, coffee, sugar and other staples.
Satellite phone / In reach / Spot: Regardless of how connected you want to be while travelling in the wilderness, these technologies give you emergency communication to change a shuttle location or date or when something goes wrong. Leaving email at home may be one of the attractions for some so leave it off unless you need it, but for others it may make it possible for them to get on these trips.
Wilderness first aid kit and a wilderness first aid course: The course and a first aid manual are as important as what is in your kit.
Pelican 1400 case: I prefer this size and brand of case to keep my camera, extra lens, and binoculars shockproof, waterproof and quickly accessible for that wildlife, scenic or action photo for the next cover of canoe & kayak magazine.
Drysuit: For years, I wore wind pants and fleece and a rain suit exclusively on these trips. On a challenging day of whitewater, a drysuit gives you an extra margin of safety and comfort if you capsize or if you’re doing a rescue. Also, for those cold and wet days, a drysuit or paddling suit keeps you warmer and more comfortable than a rain suit. There have been days when I’ve worn it from leaving the tent in the morning until turning in at night.
Lime press: Eat, sleep and travel is all you need to worry about out there so make the most of each of those activities. Unless you’ve got a lot of portages and weight or space is a concern, plan a tasty and nutritious menu. You’ll have lots of time to prepare almost anything that you can prepare at home. The lime press is essential to prevent scurvy (and prepare a proper margarita).
Dutch oven / Outback oven: Baking really adds variety to your menu. Cinnamon buns, muffins, cakes, Lasagna, and even yeast bread are easy and welcome additions to your menu. There are several baking methods. When cooking on a fire, I prefer the Dutch oven but, a reflector or box oven provide similar results. With a stove that has good simmering heat control, the Outback oven is lightweight and compact and allows you to bake in a shallow pan.
Firebox / Stove: Whenever cooking with fire, I use an environmental firebox to contain and concentrate the fire and avoid leaving a fire scar on the rocks. You can also move the fire if the wind changes, put it under the tarp if it rains and dispose of the coals (well soaked and buried at the edge of the river.) There are many types and brands of stoves for barren land trips or where fires are restricted or impractical due to lack of firewood. Even when using a fire, I take a stove as backup or for quickly heating soup or hot drinks when a fire isn’t possible or practical.
A Cookbook: I might humbly suggest Camp Cooking in the Wild. This is a shameless plug for a book I co-authored that will help pay for my next trip. It has suggestions for equipment, packing and menus as well as tried and true recipes.
So there is my list of top 10 things to bring on a trip. Okay, I know there are 15 items but a great campfire debate for your next trip is to narrow that list to 10. In fact, the last evening of your trip is the ideal time to revise your checklist of everything to bring as well as plan your next adventure.
Mark Scriver has been guiding wilderness trips with Black Feather Wilderness Adventures for over 30 years and has co-authored several books including Canoe Camping: an Essential Guide and Camp Cooking in the Wild published by Fox chapel/Heliconia Press.