Two Red Canoes
Camping and canoeing resources.
The following camping tips are simply based on my personal experiences and the experiences of those I've enjoyed camping and canoe trips with. Some are specifically related to canoeing or kayaking and some may apply to any outdoor adventure. I hope you enjoy reading them and perhaps you will learn a trick or two that you can use on your own wilderness adventures, whether as a trip organizer or as a participant.
- Be responsible for your own safety. Know your personal limits and don't do something if you are not willing to take personal responsibility for the consequences.
- Every trip participant should have their own "personal" first-aid kit that contains commonly used items such as ibuprofen, aspirin/Tylenol, a couple of band-aids, mole-skin for blisters, allergy medicine and any other health-related items you routinely need. At least one larger, more complete "group" first-aid kit should be brought on the trip for the group.
- Participate to your full ability in all aspects of the trip - cooking, collecting firewood, hanging food, pumping water, loading and unloading canoes, navigating, setting up a tarp, camp cleanup. It's that stuff that makes a trip both challenging and memorable.
- Stay together as a group. Going off on your own may compromise your safety and make other group members uncomfortable.
- Most campsites have limited number of suitable tenting sites - arrange to share a tent with someone if you will be with a large group.
- Rarely will everyone get the "perfect" tenting area. Upon arriving at a campsite, those tenting solo should wait for those sharing a tent to find a suitable space first (since they will need a larger flat surface).
- Tents should be sized appropriately. Reserve your large "family" tent for "car-camping". Two people will be plenty comfortable in a 2 or 3 person tent.
- Do not store any type of food inside your tent. Food - even small amounts - can attract bears and small critters like squirrels and chipmunks. Even a tiny chipmunk can cause damage to an expensive tent if it smells peanuts or other snacks inside!
FOOD AND DRINK
- Make meals appropriate for the type of trip. Some meals may need to be "fast", others "cold" (i.e. no stove available).
- It is usually okay to bring beer or wine on a trip but never bring glass containers. Bring aluminum cans (unless banned where you are going) or plastic bottles. At home, pour a bottle of wine into a "platypus" type plastic container and squeeze out the air before putting the cap on.
Alternatively, wine can now be purchased in Tetra-Paks (which reduce packaging waste abut 90% over bottled wine and costs much less to recycle than coloured glass). A collapsible Lexan wine glass helps set the mood.
- Bring your own hot chocolate, tea, or other drink flavouring. Coffee is often organized on a group-basis but don't count on it - check with the trip organizer.
- One or more water filters should be brought on a trip. At least two water filters should be brought on a lengthy and/or more remote trip in case one fails.
- Bring one or two 1-litre or larger containers to hold water. Bringing too small a water bottle (a 500 ml plastic water bottle for example) will require that water be pumped too often and bringing too much water will make your pack heavier than it needs to be. A 1-litre Nalgene bottle is a good choice.
- A collapsible bucket is handy to have along on a trip. One use is to make pumping water more comfortable. Fill the bucket with lake or stream water and then filter water into waiting water bottles from the comfort of your camp chair.
- Bring your own snacks (raisons, peanuts, candy, etc.) to eat in between meals if you get hungry.
- Check with all participants about special diets and accommodate where practical. Inform the trip organizer well in advance of a trip what your special diet requirements are.
- Do not bring disposable plates, bowls and utensils. They are not environmentally friendly and take up too much space. Bring a non-breakable plate and/or bowl and metal or Lexan utensils.
- Where possible, repackage food that you bring in zip-lock bags and/or reusable/washable plastic containers. Doing so will minimize the amount of garbage to be burned or carried out.
- Always bring emergency food in case you are out longer than planned. You might get lost or weather may turn bad and prevent you from returning. A zip-lock bag full of instant oatmeal packages are a convenient, high energy emergency food that should come along on a trip.
- For more food ideas go to the Camping Food page.
- Single burner stoves that burn white gas (Coleman fuel) are the best. Stoves that use fuel in disposable canisters (such as propane or butane) are discouraged due to the extra weight of the fuel and the impact of disposable canisters on the environment. The trip organizer will generally arrange for one or two stoves to be brought on a trip. Not all participants are required to have one.
- When camping in a large group situation tents should be shared and should be reasonably small 2-3 person tents. Unless car-camping, leave the big "look I can stand-up", multi-room tents at home.
- To be suitable in rainy weather the tent's fly should cover the entire tent almost to ground level.
- Most of your clothes and equipment should fit in your backpack or be attached securely to it. Unless otherwise stated, you and your canoe partner should be able to carry all your equipment (including the canoe, paddles, PFDs, water, and backpacks) in a maximum of two trips of a portage. On some trips you may be required to do single-trip portages due to time constraints. In this case you may need to reduce the amount of clothing and equipment that you bring.
- Camp chairs are acceptable on most trips and make sitting around the evening campfire more enjoyable. The best types are small, compact and fold up flat. Just remember that you may have to portage your chair along with all your other equipment.
- Bring a small sheet of plastic (poly) - perhaps 1.5 metres x 1 metre - to use as a clean surface when preparing meals. A single large garbage bag brought for this purpose also works well.
- Always have a roll of duct tape on a camping trip. It can be used to prevent blisters, temporarily fix all sorts of equipment failures, and even patch a hole in your canoe. Heck, you can even make yourself a wallet - watch this video to find out how. Don't buy the cheap stuff - spend a bit extra for a brand name.
- You've probably heard it before: cotton kills! Look for quick drying synthetic alternatives or wool for colder conditions. Fleece rocks!
- Clothing brought on a trip should be adequately warm and quick drying. In general you should not bring cotton pants or shirts - especially if it will be cold. Also bring rain gear and appropriate footwear.
- Except maybe during the hottest part of the summer it is a good idea to bring a toque and gloves just in case it gets cold. Even in the middle of summer in Canada a cold rain can make you feel chilled and the nights can get cold.
- I like to bring a pair of light-weight half-length gaitors to wear over my pants and hiking boots when it is raining. It keeps the water from dripping down into my boots - especially when sitting in a canoe during a heavy rain.
- You should always bring your own toilet paper (TP) stored in a zip-lock bag.
- If a campsite does not have a "thunder box" then your solid waste and toilet paper should be buried as deep as practical and a large rock placed over the area. Even better, return your used toilet paper to camp in a brown paper bag and burn it in the evening fire.
- Feminine hygiene products should not be buried or thrown into a "thunder box". Instead, either keep in a zip-lock bag or put in a paper bag and burn later in the fire.
- A small bottle of hand sanitizer should be brought - always use it prior to meal preparation. Also use it as a refreshing face wash.
- I always bring a few "flushable" (biodegradable) wet wipes in additional to the more traditional TP. You'll appreciate the extra cleanliness that a wet-wipe provides after a few days without a shower or bath!
- Clean your hands often with soap and/or rinseless hand sanitizer especially before eating or food preparation. Doing so will help reduce the risk of being infected with or spreading Giardiasis (a.k.a. "Beaver Fever").
- Don't use soap for dishes or personal cleansing in or near a water source. Soap is biodegradable in soil - not in the water. Use a collapsible bucket or large pot to bring water to a suitable cleaning area well away from the water source.
- When over-nighting with a sea kayak you will want to pack your stuff (sleeping bag, camp mattress, clothes, personal stuff, etc.) in lots of small water tight bags rather than one big backpack. It makes it much easier to store you gear within the small compartments in a sea kayak. A couple of dry bags will be good - especially for stuff that should never get wet such as your sleeping bag. A strong garbage bag inside an inexpensive nylon stuff sack is a inexpensive option for other gear.
- A spray jacket (or water proof wind jacket) is helpful to keep chilly water off of you - especially in windy conditions. A pair of neoprene gloves is also helpful.
- A small soft-sided cooler fits nicely in the center compartment of a tandem sea kayak. Bringing a small cooler greatly increases the food options available to you.
- Your tent poles can be separated from the rest of the tent and stored up in narrow front of the sea kayak to maximize space usage. I found a cardboard tube to put the poles into first as a means of protecting them from breakage.
- Make use of the stretch cording generally installed on a sea kayak's deck to increase the amount of gear you can bring with you. Twenty litre dry bags generally fit nicely lengthwise on the deck.
- A little extra length allows you to store clothes at your toes to keep both your feet warmer and to ensure you have warm clothes to put on in the morning.
- Women sleep colder than men. A women's bag rated at -12C has more insulation than a man's bag rated at the same -12C.
- If your budget allows, consider 2 sleeping bags: 1 for spring, summer and fall and a really warm one for winter. -7C to -12C is fairly warm on all but the coldest winter nights. A -20C or better bag is better if doing a lot of winter camping.
- Down loses insulating value when wet. Always carry it in a dry bag (even a garbage bag will do). New hybrid sleeping bags (containing both down and synthetic insulation) are a also good choice and are less expensive.
- A compression sack will greatly reduce the size of the sleeping bag in your pack - especially a down sleeping bag.
- On really cold nights you can stay warmer by wearing fleece pants, fleece top and warm socks. I always wrap my feet in my fleece jacket before getting into my sleeping bag. If you can keep your feet warm the rest of your body will feel much warmer as well.
- Bring a fleece hat to wear at night. Even spring and fall nights can be cold enough to wear a hat while sleeping.
- On the really, really cold nights it helps to use a self-heating hand-warmer or foot-warmer. These are small pads filled with iron, charcoal and other stuff that chemically react to produce heat when removed from their sealed plastic outer bag. Try placing a 10-hour version between two layers of socks just before going to sleep. They really do work!
- Sierra Designs - a maker of quality sleeping bags - has some additional tips on sleeping warmly.
- I have found that a 70 litre pack is the minimum size required for most 2-3 day camping trips but my 115 litre canoe pack is great if on a canoe trip. Err on the side of too big if you are unsure - you don't have to always fill your pack.
- When deciding on a backpack consider what activity you will be doing most. If you are backpacking (i.e. hiking) then you can consider a tall, narrow pack with a good internal frame. If you are canoeing consider a shorter, wider pack. A tall narrow pack may not fit sideways in your canoe and may interfere with your ability to portage the canoe while wearing the backpack.
- Line your pack with a thick industrial strength garbage bag to keep the contents dry.
- If on a canoe trip consider bringing a plastic barrel instead of (or in addition to) a backpack. The type of barrels used for camping/canoeing are water tight (great for white water canoe trips) and keep odours in (and thus critters out). Although not bear proof should a bear wish to get in to one, the accepted logic is that they won't become a target of a bear since they won't be able to smell the food inside. If you don't mind taking a bit of a risk you can generally get away without having to hang your food in a tree when storing your food in a barrel. Make sure that you rinse off any food or liquid that may have spilled on the barrel during food prep! Just to be safe don't store your food barrel near your tent at night. For more tips on food storage go to the Hanging Food page.
- Bring a small pulley to make hanging your food bag easier and is less damaging to the tree. Light weight pulleys are available in the climbing department of your favourite sports store. Using a pulley to hoist a food bag requires two ropes. For more information go to the Hanging Food page.
- I like to bring a pillow case with me on trips. It is small and lightweight but when stuffed with a fleece jacket or extra clothes it makes a great pillow (and keeps your dirty hair off your clothes).