High Adventure Canoe Trip 2 – Gear and Clothing

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Any high adventure canoe trip requires selecting the right gear and clothing. I am pretty specific about what we carry on our trips because I know one thing for sure; in the case of where we are going:

It’s All About Portaging
In a place like Algonquin you’ll be traveling from lake to lake, and the lakes connect by trails called portages. When the crew arrives at a portage they empty the canoes of all their gear, carry the gear and the canoes over the portage to the next lake, re-pack the canoes, and continue paddling. A portage may be a few yards or a few miles, you may have one portage in a given day of travel or several.

Nobody likes portaging (at least nobody I have ever met!) so it’s important to get through them as efficiently and painlessly as possible. We’ll typically portage our gear a total of five or six miles, sometimes more, during a week-long trip. Every portage take us deeper into the park, farther away from  crowded, easily accessible lakes. There’s a feeling of accomplishment in meeting the challenges of every portage, it’s a great team building exercise – but nobody likes portaging.

On my first canoe trip we made a real pig’s breakfast out of packing and portaging. We had too many dangling, loose items, too many trips back and forth on the portage and way too much fuss and bother. Since then we’ve developed a single trip portage method by taking a hard look at the gear we bring and the way we pack it.  To make this happen everyone in the crew must have an iron-clad list of personal gear packed in a particular way.

Portaging in some comfort (okay, ‘comfort’ is a stretch) is a big factor for any trip. Our ideas and methods have served us well but I am not expecting anyone would (or should) slavishly replicate our way of doing things.

Mountainsmith Lumbar Pack
My favorite choice for a day bag

SealLine Clear Dry Bag
A clear dry bag makes it
easy to know which is yours.

Day Bags – Dry Bags
Every crew member packs a day bag and a dry bag. The dry bag holds clothing, toiletries, etc. and goes into the portage pack; the day bag holds what you’ll want to have to hand during the day (rain gear, water bottles, sunglasses, bug dope, sunscreen, camera, binoculars, whistle, compass, maps and an emergency pack of basic first aid and fire starters).

The day bag is a small book bag type backpack or lumbar pack that can easily be carried with the canoe or pack while portaging. The bag itself does not have to be waterproof so long as the contents are packed in Ziploc bags or something similar. Bay bags mean we don’t have any loose stuff kicking around in canoes; everything must fit in a day bag and be carried by the owner.

We set a maximum of eight pounds for each dry bag and having the smallest, lightest one in your crew is a point of pride.

Fishing poles  are disassembled and lashed bow to stern to the canoe thwarts well out of the way so they don’t have to be carried separately.

Keen Men’s Mckenzie Watersport Shoe
Merrell Men’s Barefoot Trail Glove

Water Shoes
Everyone wears water shoes so they can hop out of the canoe into the water and get things moving down the portage trail right away. These aren’t flimsy slipper-like shoes, they are  substantial and comfortable enough to walk rocky, wet portage trails. Sandals will work for this but they must have toe protection. I carry a pair of neoprene socks for cold conditions.

Columbia Long Sleeve Shirt

Columbia Convertible Pant

Proper clothing is crucial. If you  get soaked and can’t get dry when the temperature begins to drop during a windy, overcast rainy day it’s not only uncomfortable; there’s a real danger of hypothermia. Over the years we have seen temperatures as high as ninety plus degrees during the day down into the high thirties at night, so we need to choose clothing that will keep us comfortable and safe in these extremes.

Originally we  just strongly recommended that no one wear cotton clothing because once wet it’s hard to get dry.We learned that if someone is reluctant to get wet and is finicky about getting in and out of canoes we slow everyone down. A few years ago we decided instead of recommending we’d require everyone to wear non-cotton clothing – so a commonly available long-sleeved nylon shirt and pants with  zip-off legs is now our standard paddling outfit.

If we get caught out in the rain, if someone slips and falls into the lake or dumps a canoe we can get them dry relatively quickly. We require everyone to pack a set of lightweight polypropylene long underwear and a rain suit (jacket and pants, no ponchos). Layering the polypro long underwear as a base, nylon shirt and pants next with rain gear as the shell I am confident that I can keep everyone safe and reasonably comfortable in the worst conditions we are likely to encounter. These choices are  lightweight and compressible – less weight and bulk are big factors in packing and portaging: and it’s all about the portaging.

This article is second in a series discussing our high adventure canoe trips;  part one is an overview of the trippart three describes the details of portagingpart four describes our canoe kitchen.

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