Let’s take a look at what you’ll need for your trip. Below you’ll find a list of things to aquire through begging, borrowing, stealing, or failing that, renting. No matter where you are going, there’s bound to be an outfitter close by, or at least on the way there. Most will rent you just about anything on a per day basis. If you find yourself missing a lot of gear, consider renting an all inclusive package. Most outfitters offer some kind of package that consists of everything you’ll need for your trip for a daily charge. Some even pack it up and deliver it for you.
As for choosing which gear you’ll want to bring, this is going to be a personal decision. There are going to be things that aren’t necessary that you’ll find – personally – that you just can’t do without. Remember though, that each item that is brought with you is at the cost of space and weight. If you’ve never gone portaging before, I’d recommend making sure you’re not travelling too far, and erring on the side of bringing too much. When you get back you’ll find out quickly enough which items were worth bringing, and which clearly were not.
These are the things you absolutely need:
- Canoe: This is listed as a need by definition. Without one, you’re going on a swimming trip. Also, you want the right type of canoe.
- Paddles: Also pretty obvious, and if you’re renting a canoe, they usually come with the rental.
- PFD: (or depending on how old you are, you may still be calling these Lifejackets). I think we’re past the point where I need to tell you that you must always wear your PFD at all times you are in the boat.
- Canoe Safety Kit: This too usually comes as part of a canoe rental.
- Pack: Unless you’re not planning on carrying anything, or juggling, I’d say this is a necessity.
- Sleeping Bag: I’m listing this as a necessity because even if you’re travelling in the peak of summer, it’s still a good idea to have the option, because it gets significantly colder at night. You’ll sleep better. If you do get wet out, whether by accident or the weather, you’ll appreciate a means to get warm quickly.
- Stove and Fuel: You may be able to cook over a fire, and even under the most extremely wet conditions you have the ability to create a fire that will burn even the wettest wood you can find, and you may know for absolute certainty that there will be firewood enough at the spot in which your going to break for lunch and dinner. Unfortunately there may be a fire ban in the area in which your going.
- Food: And a lot of it. You’ll be exerting yourself and you’ll need to maintain your strength.
- Flashlight: This is another item that you might think you can get away with not bringing, but I wouldn’t. It’s very necessary if you find yourself out there unexpectedly when the sun goes down, but it’s also essential for signalling for help if need be. There should be one in your canoe safety kit, but for safety reasons, I’d leave that one where it is and bring one for personal use.
- Water Treatment: This might seem like an odd necessity, considering how much water you’ll be surrounded by, but you’ll need some way to purify water just in case.
- Map/Map Case: If you’re like me, you’ve jumped into the 21st century and bring a GPS. Even still, bring a topographical map of the area in which you’re paddling as a backup. A map case is some kind of water proof method.
- Shelter: This is usually a tent, but because portageurs are always trying to travel light, there are some alternatives. Either way, you need to make sure you have a reliable means of getting out of the elements.
- Matches/Fire Starter: It doesn’t matter how you’re planning on starting a campfire, or even if you’re not planning to create one. In an emergency, you’ll want to have a pack of waterproof matches, a good lighter or some other igniter method, just in case.
- First Aid Kit: This is a no-brainer. Stuff happens.
- Multi-tool: Ever watch Survivorman? He never leaves home without one.
- Clothes: You definitely want to bring clothes. If you don’t, you should reconsider, or at least do everyone a favour and get to the gym a few times. Seriously though, you need to bring the right kind of attire.
These are the things that you really should bring:
- Cookware and Utensils: I often bring with me a bowl, a collapsible spork because all the meals I bring are astronaut food. If you’re not into that, or prefer to cook something, or even share your astronaut food, you’ll need some cookware. Look for something light, and that doesn’t take up too much space, and even may be stored inside of each other like those Russian dolls. Also make sure not to bring anything you won’t need, but all that you do. Make sure everyone has a plate, bowl, cup and/or a fork and knife. Also consider some biodegradable soap in which to wash the dishes.
- Bug Repellent: Some people don’t like the smell, others don’t like the sticky feeling, but no one likes being bitten.
- Tarp: There are so many uses for tarps, the main one being to keep things dry (and even clean).
- Saw: Keeping a good fire going is all about getting the right wood. Also, snapping and breaking wood into pieces can cause cuts and slivers that will – at the least – make your trip uncomfortable.
- Proper Footwear: You really should at least have one good pair of hiking boots for the portages. Better would be two pairs of shoes: One for water and one for land.
- Knife: You’re bringing the multi-tool, but a good size knife is also very useful for so many reasons.
- Rope: Again, there’s just so many uses.
- Dry Bags: These water tight bags keeps things dry in the wettest circumstances.
- Hard Shell Case: When something absolutely has to stay dry, recoverable and unbroken. I have a small one that will fit my car keys wallet and phone. It’s water tight, floats and takes a pounding.
- Duct Tape: Another just-in-case multi-use tool, duct tape can get you out of a lot of binds, repairing virtually anything enough to get you home. It’s also helps repair boredom on a rainy night. Check out what these people are doing with duct tape here, here and here.
- Hat/Sun Screen: You should probably bring both, and all things considered. I’d have a tough time figuring out which one I’d sacrifice.
- Emergency Radio: If you can find a small, light weight radio, you’ll have access to news and weather in emergencies. The best ones for portaging are the crank powered ones, so power is never an issue.
These things will make your life a lot easier:
- Sleeping Pad: I wouldn’t recommend an inflatable mattress when portaging. They’re too heavy for the amount of good they do. Imagine after a long day on the lake spending 15 minutes blowing up an air mattress. On the other hand, a good thin pad or self inflating mat will help you sleep much more comfortably. Not only will it protect you from rough or uneven ground, it will create a barrier from the ground that helps you stay warmer. They’re also designed to be light and compact.
- Stuff Sacks: These are a great way to separate and organize your gear. Not only will they allow for better packing, but you’ll be able to identify and pull out needed items from you pack without having to dump out and re-pack everything every time you need something.
- Compression Sacks: These little devices are bags that you can compact your stuff exponentially, to save space.
- Bug Hat/Jacket: Sometimes the repellent isn’t effective enough, or there are just too many of them. It’s also a good alternative to being sticky and stinky (from the bug spray at least).
- Camp Chair: This is a luxury that size and weight often doesn’t justify, but often sitting on a rocky campsite will certainly make you think about it. There are a few alternatives though.
- Rain Gear: Even when you sure of the weather, it’s often a good idea to tuck a poncho in the bottom of you bag. There are plenty of alternatives.
- Personal Bag: This bag can take a lot of forms, but basically it is a smaller bag you can keep all the little things that you need to have access to quickly and conveniently, without having to unpack everything from your main pack. This is especially important when in the boat. This can be a smaller shoulder strap bag, or a fanny pack, or even a thwart bag that connects to and stays on the boat. I have a pack that will attach to the outside of my barrel pack, and detach and keep by my side while paddling.
- Binoculars: Aside from viewing scenery and wildlife, a good pair of light weight binoculars will help spot trails and portages and allow you to scout potential dangers like rapids and rocks. They can also help you find your gear and even friends floating down river after an accident.
- Medicinal Comforts: Stache a few ant-acids, laxatives, and the like, just in case.
- Carbiners: These little handy little binders make attaching things together, making organizing your pack much easier for one. Combined with ropes, you’ll find hundreds of uses for them.
- Gloves: I’d recommend two types of gloves. Paddling gloves will keep away blisters from a day’s paddling, and light work gloves will keep them away working around the campground.
- Trip Back Clothes: Grab an outfit for the ride home on the last day and keep it in the car. It’ll be a lot more comfortable trip for you and your travel partners, and make you feel comfortable enough to stop for a well deserved dinner on the way home.
These things should stay at home:
- Canned food: It may seem like a good idea at home, because there are a lot of soups and prepared meals that come in cans. Unfortunately, the cans make them heavy. Also, you’ll have to haul those empty cans back out with you, which is not fun because they’re now dead weight, and they don’t exactly collapse. Depending on where you’re travelling, there may even be restrictions for bringing in cans anyway.
- Bottled Drinks: Again, these are a no-no at provincial parks, and they are also much heavier and less compact than other options. They can also break that can cause tears at best and injuries at worst. Consider a plastic option when you can, or even replace prepared drinks in bottles with add-on options like flavored powder that you can just add to water. What makes things complicated is alcoholic drinks. I don’t recommend bringing them at all. While in the boat or travelling on a portage, you don’t want impaired judgement, and with all the effort, you don’t want its dehydrating effects. That said, if you feel you want a well deserved camp-side drink, consider mixed drinks from a small plastic bottle that the group can share.
- Entertainment systems: These include radios, CD players or other noisy electronics that, aside from annoying other campers, will add too much bulk and weight, and are too easily destroyed by bumps and water. Some might be tempted to bring ear-plugged devices, but again they’re just too easily broken. Besides missing out on the sights and sounds of the wilderness you’ll be missing, often not being able to hear your surroundings can be dangerous.