CANOE GEAR FOR THE SUBARCTIC
By Bill Layman
Revised and Updated Dec 01, 2004
"Camping" - the word conjures up a host of memories and a wide range of possibilities. You may reach your favorite camp spot by canoe, by ocean kayak, by car on foot. It may be high in the mountains, deep in the boreal forest, in a secluded campground next to a pristine lake, or on the barrens in Nunavut or the Northwest Territories. Every kind of camping has specialized gear, but if you do a lot of different types of outdoor camping you might try to get gear that can be used for a wide range of uses.  
 
Ostrom Outdoor’s Nanibijou Pack and Barrel Harnesses ready for action
 

If, however, you are really committed to adventuring, you will soon become like me - a gear junkie. And be warned, there are no twelve-step programs for gear junkies so get ready to dump cash into your habit.

I’ve learned a few things about gear for the tundra from my canoe trips in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories with my paddling partner Lynda Holland. We’ve paddled the Thlewiaza, Kazan, Elk-Thelon, Dubawnt, and Coppermine Rivers, and in 2002 we went 1000 miles from La Ronge to Arviat on Hudson Bay. Last summer – 2004 - we did the upper Dubawnt and carried over to the lower Kazan. This summer we will see us on the Hanbury / Thelopn route. We’ve racked up some 7500 plus miles on the barrens and each year our outfit has become more and more fine-tuned as we replace items and tweak others. No doubt there are as many ways to put a workable canoe outfit together as the people who use them, but the gear I describe below is the result of hundreds of days of experimentation.


When you look at gear that you feel is just too expensive, remember what you are spending to get your trip off the ground. From airfare and freight to a hotel room at trip’s end, it’s going to be very expensive if you’re going to the NWT or Nunavut. So why not put the same kind of money into your gear? The first day you’re trapped in a violent 50 mph north-west wind out on the barrens I’m sure there won’t be any amount of money that will get you to part with your new expedition tent or warm down sleeping bag!

 

Boats, Paddles, and Spraycovers

Anyone who has read any of my stories on this site will know I am a big fan of the Prospector canoe design. For longer trips like ours I recommend a 17 foot canoe. We eat like royalty on our trips and we can fit 45 days of food into our 17 foot Novacraft canoe. For people who do shorter trips a 16 foot Novacraft Propsector will do the job.

 
I am a big fan of the Royalight Prospector canoe made by Tim Miller and his crew at Novacraft Canoes. I am often asked if Royalight is strong enough or if the Novacraft Royalex canoe would be a better choice. And here’s my standard answer. The red Royalight Prospector in the following picture has well over 3500 real tough tundra miles on it – I use my gear like I stole it.
 
Still think you can wear out a Royalight canoe? I sold this canoe to an outfitter last summer and he put it out on the Kazan River. As serendipity will have it, we met the men who rented it on the water a half hour from Baker Lake in 2004. I was worried that they might think the canoe was a bit beat up and that because my name and shipping address were still felt penned onto the bottom I would catch flack for “abuse of canoes.” Nope … they said it was better than most canoes they rent back in the Montreal area.
 
Novacraft 17 foot Royalight Prospector
with a Northwater Rescue Spraycover
on Nunavut’s Thlewiaza River
 
A Prospector is really ornery in a cross-wind, but I like the way it dances in rapids and surfs in big waves. There’s lots of rapids and huge lakes on the tundra and a Prospector is in its elements.
 
If you are looking for a lightweight canoe - like I am at age 55 - opt for one of Tim’s new “Bluesteel” canoes. We used a 17 foot “Bluesteel” Prospector last year and I loved it. Made of spectra cloth – like they use in bulletproof vests – these canoes are tough and at 55 pounds are a dream to carry. And to top it all off, it’s real fast in the water. Less weight translates to more money but at my age this canoe may well be a life-time investment.
 
Novacraft Bluesteel Canoe and Northwater Spraycover ready for the Dubawnt
 

 

I don’t even think about going to the barrens without a covered canoe. A spraycover gives you that extra edge in big rapids and on large lakes where wind can come up in an instant. It is also a blessed relief on those really cold days. Remember that any swim in the barrens is potentially life threatening as the water up there is so incredibly cold. I find that when I am south of the tree-line - say in Saskatchewan’s north - where the water is warmer and there is more portaging, I don’t always use a spraycover.


I’ve met a few hardened paddlers who view spraycovers as a frivolous ego booster. Well the long and short of it is that they don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. They are usually the same people who insist that wooden paddles are the only way to go and that bent shaft paddles are for geeks. They probably also have an 8 track player in their car and refuse to believe that the DVD will replace the VHS.


Bar none, the best cover on the market today is the one made by Northwater Paddle Sports. Constructed of 14oz. Hercules cloth, these spraycovers are nearly indestructible and Northwater’s attention to sewing detail is flawless. Give Northwater a phone call and they can walk you through the options you might want on your spraycover. My advice is to opt for two paddle pockets, and consider the split deck option - it makes it real easy to get at your gear. Also consider the zip-open extra large “portage cargo hatch”. Last year I got them to make my new split deck in two colours - yellow at the back and teal at the front. Aside from looking really good this makes it easy to get the deck onto canoe unless you are really exhausted at the end of a long boulder strewn portage from hell. “Yellow goes to the back. Teal goes to the front … or was it the other way around?” Get a light colour for the main body of the deck – like teal. I think the stern paddler would have a really long trip with sun bouncing off of a bright yellow deck for 40 days straight.

Everyone thinks that the lace-on system Northwater uses is going to be a real pain in the ass. Well that’s exactly what I thought when I first saw it, and "it just ain’t so". At lunch, and at night when you make camp, the zip-open “portage cargo hatch” allows you to get at your gear without undoing the cover. And on short portages when it isn’t too windy – the cover acts like a sail in big wind – you can carry the canoe without taking the cover off. You only need to worry about re-attaching the deck at the end of long portages and even then it only takes a few minutes.

Northwater has an excellent selection of other peripherals from knee pads and D-rings to throw bags and Z drags. Go to Northwater Paddle Sports Equipment and take a look.

 
Have you ever done the calculations on the number of paddle strokes it takes to do a canoe trip? Well I have, and here’s the math for our trip from La Ronge to Arviat. Figure about 40 paddle strokes a minute = 2400 strokes per hour. We average about 5 kph so 1600 kilometers = about 320 hours of paddling = about 670,000 paddle strokes for our trip. Our Zaveral bent shaft carbon fiber paddles are about a kilo lighter than the regular wooden club. That’s 670,000 extra kilograms we didn’t have to pick up over the course of our trip! So after this calculation why wouldn’t you have Zaveral paddles for your flat water paddling?  
 
Bill with ZRE paddles after a half million paddle strokes to Baker Lake
 
Go to Zaveral Paddles to see an online catalogue. My recommendation is to buy the whitewater model. We never even think of going on a trip without these paddles.
 
We still take straight blade whitewater paddles for rapids. I can paddle 2 plus rapids with the bent shaft, but it takes a bit of getting used to. The bent shaft tends to get real “squirrelly” when you try to back paddle, and I really wouldn’t want to have to do a serious brace with one. As well, we also use our whitewater paddles as the front corner poles for our kitchen tarp - of course you remember there are no trees on the tundra? There are a hundred whitewater paddles to pick from, but we are thrilled with our Nantahala paddles made by Werner Paddles. From the comfortable roto-moulded T grip, to the positive feel oval shaft, to the large blade that really scoops water, this is an all round great paddle. And these paddles are light enough, that if you somehow managed to break your bent shaft, you wouldn’t have to kill yourself to get the trip done. Go to Werner Paddles and take a look.
 
Lynda carrying an Ostrom Barrel and using the Nantahala Paddle as a walking stick
 

 

Tents and Tarps

If you go the tundra take a good "four season" or "expedition" tent - the winds up there can be beyond belief. We have been in several 60, gusting to 80, kph storms. And if you think a 4 to 5 kilogram tent sounds a little heavy to carry, just remember there is nowhere to hide on the tundra. If you get wind-bound, and you can be stuck for days on end – Paddling icons Eric and Pamela Morse were pinned down for 10 days on the first ever recreational trip on the Thelon River.


We are now using a Marmot Fortress and it has our stamp of approval. This tent is designed for mountain expeditions and it is a well thought out ergonomic design. We fell in love with it on our 2004 Kazan / Dubawnt River trip. From the moisture vents, to the many ample internal gear pockets, to the “gear loft”, to the vestibules, this is a tent that is at home on the tundra.

 
A five pole design, this tent uses a combination of clips and sleeves. Two clipped body poles, two sleeved body poles, and a sleeved brow pole. The two clipped poles make this a fast tent to set up. Sleeves are always a pain in the ass and two is lots. And take a close look at the extra attachment points for guy-outs on the fly and all stake-outs on the body of the tent. I think you could stake this tent out in a hurricane!  
 
Marmot Fortress at home on the tundra – where a good tent really counts
 

I also like the way the fly attaches to the tent body. Once the tent is up and staked out the fly attaches with “fastex” plastic ladder buckles. This is a real bonus when it’s windy. Throw the tent down on the ground and stake out the front. Insert the sleeved poles and pop the tent up. Stake the whole affair down, put on the clipped poles and clip on the fly at your leisure. Lots of tents use a system where the fly is fixed to the tent by attaching it to the tents poles. This means pulling up the tent stakes one at a time to attach the fly. Not a real big deal but when you are exhausted and the wind if blowing at 80 kph believe me you will love the Marmot system. One hint that makes life in the wind easier. Take some bright red flagging tape and put a piece on the right front tent body stake-out and another piece on the right front fly stake-out. Now you can always get the fly and the tent lined up the first time every time.

Marmot makes a great selection of tents and is supposed to have a complete new line for 2005. Take a look at Marmot for great tents

 
On the subject of wind, I finally bought a wind gauge from Dwyer Instruments . It’s light, very accurate, and fun to play with when you’re windbound. I learned long ago that when the wind traps you that it’s fun for about 24 hours as you get to rest up. After that you get anxious to make miles. Suddenly the wind looks like it’s letting up. And you start to let your head play games. “I think we should get ready to go. Look the tent isn’t moving at all (DUH… it’s a four season tent stupid.) Don’t the waves look doable now?” Now when I get like this I just pull out the wind gauge. “Cripes! Can you believe it? The wind is still gusting to 45 kph! We better wait a bit. We’d be nuts to head out in this!” I confidently explain as I slide into the warm security of my Montbell down sleeping bag. Go to Wind Gauge and order a “Number 460 air meter.”
 
Dwyer Instruments Wind Gauge
 

A screened kitchen tarp is mandatory on the tundra. You might think you’ve seen mosquitoes and blackflies but if you haven’t been on the Thelon or the Dubawnt you haven’t seen anything yet! I have looked at and used several manufactured tarps but just haven’t found one I really like – and that includes the “Mantis Tarp” that Mountain Equipment Coop makes. It’s ok but has a lot of little bugs that I don’t like.

 
Years ago I made the first proto type of the trap we now use. Starting with a MEC Guide’s tarp I have finally come up with a largely finished experiment - Bill’s Bughouse. I can’t count the number of times Lynda and I have crawled under the tarp and said, “How do people survive out here without one of these?” I got so tired of explaining how to make the trap I did a story for Kanawa Magazine (Summer 2003) about it. This article and other gear articles of mine appear on their web page at Kanawa  
 
Bill’s Bughouse in the Land of Little Sticks
 

As well as allowing us to get out of the plagues of flies and the wind and cold, this tarp is great for providing much-needed shade on real hot days. Several groups of Inuit have shared our tarp in the last many years and every time they want to know where to buy one - now there’s a testimonial!


Kitchen Gear and Food

We pack our kitchen into an Ostrom Nanibijou pack and we love it. In fact we love it so much I did a story about it for Kanawa (Summer 2004) - the story is on the Kanawa web site at Kanawa It’s a dream to carry and easily handles our entire kitchen, a few day’s food, our Crazy Creek chairs, and the kitchen tarp. The bulk of our food is packed into our canoe barrels and nightly we re-supply an olive barrel in the Nanibijou. At lunch we only have to haul out the pack and there’s our entire kitchen (place it under the zipped opening of your Northwater spray cover for easy access). I could go on forever about what we have in the pack, but kitchens are as diverse as those who use them so I’ll leave it to you to pack your own pots and pans. If you care to see what we use it is all listed in the above Kanawa article.


I am a big fan of Coleman stoves and have used several different Peak models. We now use the Apex 11 Exponent stove that runs on white-gas (naptha). To say we liked it is understating the case. This is a great product! I could go on and on about it but just trust me. Buy one! Lots of BTU output, easy on fuel, a stable wide footprint, and a simmer to die for, this is now our stove of choice. One hint good for all white gas stoves is to take a tube of priming paste. Use the gel to pre-heat the generator where it passes over the stove burner. This way when you light your pre-pumped stove it will instantly go to a blue, 100 percent efficient, flame. Because the stove is starting at 100 percent efficiency it will use less fuel. As well, always use a wind-screen to retain heat. This is another good reason to have a kitchen tarp since it allows you to keep your stove out of the wind. We find that with no fires at all, one litre of fuel lasts four days - and we bake lots! And you won’t believe the amount of heat that will be retained under the tarp on those cold days. Go to Apex II Stove and have a look at the Coleman Apex 11 Exponent stove. Good cheap bulk priming paste can be bought from Kel Kem Ltd. Available at many hardware stores, a 16 oz. Bottle runs usually runs under $6.00 Canadian. Go to Fire Starter and contact them for a local supplier.


The same paddler who told us to use priming paste told me to use plastic pop bottles to store naptha. When I looked somewhat doubting he answered. “Ever seen a full pop bottle break?” Well I haven’t and I now use his method of fuel storage and have never had a bottle leak yet. Good news for me, bad news for MSR. Such is life. When the bottle is empty we burn it in a tiny garbage fire with our bits of chocolate bar wrappers and the like.


Last year I took a Sierra Zip stove along to play with. These are real neat units and are about the only workable way to burn wood on the tundra unless you want to spend hours a day hunting for twigs. The stove works on the principle of a forge using a single AA battery to power a tiny fan that blows air onto the twigs in the burner pot. Heat intensity is controlled with the fan which has three speeds - off-low-high. On our 2004 Kazan / Dubawnt trip to Baker Lake we used the stove just about every day.


The Zip Stove will boil water almost as fast as our Coleman stove – within a minute actually. I was so impressed I am going to use this stove on every trip now and have just finished an article about it that will run soon in Kanawa Magazine (hopefully on their web site). Used for the decidedly decadent pleasure of boiling water for bucket baths and for heating the kitchen tarp it also serves as a spare stove. Using it to heat all our water – for coffee, for pasta, for dishes - we saw 1 liter of naptha lasting up to 9 days last summer. The very minimal weight of the stove is more than made for up by the weight of the naptha we no longer have to carry.

 

Take a set of pruning shears to gather up tiny dead branches from arctic willows and snip off stove-sized pieces as needed - a large Ziploc bag full of twigs will boil lots of water. I only have one complaint with the stove. The square base it sits on is just too small. I immediately modified mine to make a triangular base that uses a set of Coleman folding legs to give it a larger stable footprint. The “how-to” is in my Kanawa article.

Go to Zip Stove and have a look. Give Jeannie a call and pick one up. You won’t be sorry you did. we have pretty much given up using open fires for cooking when we are in the forest down south opting for this stove instead. The big bonus is that you can have a fire under your tarp and keep out of the mosquitoes! The final word on the stove goes to the Inuit man in Baker Lake who saw me using it. In typical understated Inuit fashion all he said was, “That would be good to have on the land.”

 
Bill luxuriating in the heat from the Zip Stove
 

If you haven’t got a Micro Jet Mini-Torch – made by IRODA - go get one now. These are starting to appear everywhere now and I got my first one from Radio Shack. This gizmo is nothing more than a regular butane lighter in special plastic case. The lighter’s flame is shot out in a high intensity flame and better, you can start a fire without burning your thumb like I always seem to do with a regular lighter! And to top it of the lighter can be re-filled as many times as you like. Bonus! Take a look at Iroda Lighter


We are big fans of the outback oven that can be used to bake on the top of a gas stove. I gotta’ tell you that this thing has revolutionized our diet. We now bake pizzas, cinnamon buns, and cakes. You can get one from Mountain Equipment Co-op MEC Trust me - it’s worth taking one along.


As to the typically boring canoe diets of beans and rice, then pasta, then more rice and beans, go check out Bear Creek Country Kitchens Yummy Food Their soups are beyond belief - White Cheddar Broccoli, Salmon Bisque, Tortilla, to name a few - and the baking products are decadent pleasures to die for - Chocolate Chip Fudge Brownies, Lemon Poppy Seed Cake, Poppy Seed Amaretto Cake, Spinach Parmesan bread, etc. And aside from being great food, these folks are primarily in the institutional and restaurant market so their price per serving is ridiculously cheap. You can get all the soups in sizes up to 115 liter barrels! Try their Chicken and Dumpling supper and their "Damn" Good Chili for a real treat. Lynda told them that she would have to quit canoeing if we couldn’t get their cakes as part of our food list.


I am a fan of pre-made portioned meals rather than bulk food that has to be made up into a recipe each night. The former method is much easier - all our recipes are pretty much add water and stir - and at the end of a real day it’s nice to spend your time relaxing rather than trying to dream up a recipe and finding all the ingredients. I came to this conclusion on one bulk food trip where we found we were using Gatorade in our coffee for a week because we thought it was sugar. As well as ease, with pre-packed meals you are always sure how many day’s food you have used and how many days are left.


For years I wanted to try a Crazy Creek chair, but Lynda kept talking me out of it. She viewed it as a discretionary luxury for canoe yuppies. But then she sat in another paddler’s chair one night on the Thelon River and she was an instant convert. The Crazy Creek chairs are beyond comfortable after a long day in the canoe, and Lynda now insists that they’re mandatory equipment on all of our trips. We showed ours to an Inuit lady in Baker Lake. She sat in it and she smiled. "Where can I get one? This would be nice on the land!", was her only comment. Go to Crazy Creek to look at the luxury that Crazy Creek can offer up to you!

Lifejackets, Clothing and Such

Clothing is simple. Take lots of fleece, polypro, and Gore-Tex and you’ll be fine.

Most of our favorite clothing comes from Montbell. I just discovered these people in 2004. Montbell is from Japan - anyone who climbs in Japan knows all about them - and they are just making a push into the United States. This company is all about function and quality and their motto says it all – “Function Is Beauty.” I took a whole new wardrobe from them – from Goretex to fleece – along with new sleeping bags last year. Lynda and I both loved everything and I now have a lot of old used canoe clothing for sale.

And for the best boots I have ever used in a canoe, you have to try Northwater Rescue “Kodiak Work Boots.”. After thousands of miles, and hundreds of days on these boots, they are still good for more trips. These are a must-have item for a major canoe trip. NRS is primarily a River Rafting supplier but they have a wide selction of clothing and accessories that arctic canoe people will like. Take a look at the NRS light weight HydroSkin - the fabric is exclusive NRS - sport shorts and hot heads (to be worn under a helmet or toque). Ideally you would wear a dry suit on a cold water trip - NRS has lots of them - but lets face it, wearing a dry suit all day long every day isn’t practical except on the worst of rainy days. Remembering the amount of heat lost through your groin and your head, a less effective but more comfortable option is to wear the sport shorts over regular undies, and to put on the hot head under your toque right before major rapids. We use a sherpa style ear flap toque that ties under the chin so that if we swim we have a chance of keeping it on. If you have a cold water swim the shorts and the hot head-toque combination could well save your life. Go to NRS at Northwater Rescue Supplies and Montbell at Montbell and salivate as you look at the gear you want Santa to put under your tree next Christmas!

 
There is virtually no shade in the arctic so you should take a broad brimmed hat along. As well, a broad brimmed hat is a must for the bug net hats I talk about below. The best hats we have found are the well-known indestructible ones made by Tilley Endurables. We have been using Tilley’s "seen everywhere" canvas model for many years and many thousands of miles and thought they couldn’t be improved on.  
 
Lynda Holland wearing her Extrasport Life Jacket
and Tilley Hat wondering how we got through a real nasty rapid.
 

Not so! In 2003 we tried the “Lighterweight LT6” model and in 2005 I used the “TH4 Hemp Hat.” With a broader brim either of these are the hats to take. They also have the decided advantage of "popping" right back to shape no matter how hard you cram and stuff them into pack pockets and the like. On real hot days I just soak mine and it keeps my head cool all day. Go to Great Hats and have a look at these hats. You won’t be sorry if you buy one and how can you argue with a lifetime guarantee? As well, take a look at their hiking socks. We took two pairs each and after 55 days this summer they were still in great shape.

As well, in the sock department, go to any running store and look at the Ultimax Socks – the Ironman is a good bet – if you want socks that won’t wear out. I had one pair for 3 trips – 110 odd days and 2200 miles – and they are just now beginning to show signs of fatigue. Go to Great Socks and have a look.


We use TEVA Guide Universal sandals for our camp shoes. Truth is these sandals would get you from trip’s start to end if you ever managed to wreck you NRS Kodiak Workboots – say if a grizzly bear eats them or they fall in a fire. The TEVA Spider rubber on the soles has the most awesome grip I have ever seen - now if I could just get that rubber on the bottom of the NRS Workboot! Go to Great Sandals for a look at the Guide Universal sandal.

 

Here’s a sample list of the clothing we take.

1 Lighterweight LT6 Tilley hat
2 pair Tilley “quick dry” underwear
2 Tilley “quick dry” t-shirts
1 pair Lifa gloves (MEC)
1 hooded wind shell (MEC)
1 fleece neck warmer (MEC)
1 pr “warm” fleece socks(MEC)
1 Wave Lite shirt (NRS)
1 Wave Lite pants (NRS)
1 pr Work Boots (NRS)
1 paddling gloves (NRS)
1 HydroSkin shorts (NRS)
1 HydroSkin hothead (NRS)
1 pr TEVA sandals
2 pr Ultimax triathlon socks
1 Torrent Flier Gore-Tex coat (MB)
1 Torrent Flier Gore-Tex pants (MB)
1 Climalight Light Shell Jacket (MB)
1 Climalight Light Shell Pants (MB)
1 pr Sunnyside Stretch pants (MB )
1 Microfleece Chameece toque (MB)
1 Microfleece Chameece inner gloves (MB)
1 Ultra Light Down Inner Jacket (MB)
1 Zeo-Line 3D long sleeve shirt (MB)
1 DEET style bug coat
1 "Original-Bugshirt" jacket
2 bug nets (homemade)


NRS = Northwest River Supplies MEC = Mountain Equipment Coop MB = Montbell


 
I prefer the bug coats that are made of a heavy mesh and can be impregnated with DEET, but since the ever wise Canadian government has banned DEET at anything over a 30 % level these coats are now impossible to find. So this year we tried a couple of the lightweight bug shirts made by the Original Bugshirt Company. And am I happy to report that they work and work well! Don’t leave home without them folks! Go to Mosquitoes Suck to take a look.  
 
A “happy camper” wearing an Original Bugshirt Co. Bugshirt
 

As to DEET, take lots and get it in the pump spray bottles. I rarely spray it on my skin preferring to spray it liberally onto my clothes. But on long real bad buggy portages I rub it on my ears and neck and exposed skin. With a canoe on your shoulders there is nothing worse that a bunch of black flies that get your number and start munching away inside your ear. I take lots of DEET - 3 bottles per person for 35 days - and no I don’t drink it! In spite of what everyone seems to want to believe DEET is a very safe product. With over 40 years of study there has never been a problem yet detected in even those users who use it day after day.

I saw a funny vignette about DEET on TV. A broadcaster who made no bones about declaring her anti-DEET bias was quizzing a chemist about the product. When told it was a safe product she blurted out. “But it melts plastic!” The chemist looked at her and said slowly, “Well it’s a good thing we aren’t made of plastic then isn’t it?”

As to bug nets, I make them by the tens and pack them all over the place. Just like matches, lighters, and bottles of DEET, you can’t have too many. Take a look at my article Spring 2003 in Kanawa. Wear the bug hat over your Tilley hat and under the hood of your wind shell. Draped down to your neck when the bugs are real bad, or held up on the front brim if you’re eating lunch this is a great way to foil the blood sucking nasties.

We use Extrasport Avenger lifejackets, but what can you say about a lifejacket? I mean after all, it’s one of the things you really need to have but don’t want to try out on the trip! What I can tell you is that these lifejackets are real comfortable and well-designed. We both love them. On real cold days we wear the jackets all day and they don’t interfere with our paddling at all. This is one of the few companies that designs a lifejacket that fits a woman comfortably. From the lash points, to the great and easy to use adjustment system, to the neoprene shoulder straps, you can tell this front zip "rodeo-style" vest has been designed by paddlers for paddlers. I don’t want to do a big swim in the Arctic but if I do at least I know I have a great lifejacket on my team! Go to Extrasport and have a look.

725 Fill Power Goose Down UL Super Stretch Down Hugger Montbell Sleeping Bags (wow that’s a mouth full!) and 3/4 length Ultralite thermarest pads make for a great sleep at night. And remember that your Crazy Creek chair can be folded out and placed under your feet when it gets really cold. Down still has the best weight to warmth ratio and is easier to compress for packing – the Montbell squishes down to fit into a Granite Gear extra small air compressor stuff sack Granite Gear Air Compressor When it’s packed the bag is about the size of a big loaf of bread.

For those who are worried that a down sleeping will be wrecked if you have a swim here’s my read. By the time the sleeping bag is squished into the Granite Gear sac it has a density approaching that of a golf ball. If you throw it into a bathtub you’ll see that it not only floats, but that it is virtually impossible for water to get in. And since I keep the bag in a plastic barrel that is totally waterproof I figure there is a better chance of loosing the whole outfit in a swim than ending up with a wet sleeping bag

Portaging

The bulk of our gear is packed into 60L and 30L blue plastic barrels that are near indestructible, and totally waterproof. Aside from being good for storing gear these barrels give the canoe great floatation since they act like giant float bags. The only hassle is portaging a round barrel on a flat back. I have used all manner of jury rigged harnesses on the barrels. Whether they were store-bought or self-made, they all sucked big time. Youth and vigor was the main ingredient in getting us over the portages. Well that all changed in 2001 when I took one of Ostrom Outdoors Deluxe barrel harnesses. I have to tell you that it revolutionized my portaging. If you haven’t tried one you owe it to yourself! Contoured to your back, and well padded, this is the only harness I have ever seen that stops the barrel from rolling around on your back. From the pre-curved and well-padded shoulder straps to the tump line I love this harness! I now have two of these harnesses for our big barrels and two for our small barrels. And as I told you already, we love the Nanibijou pack that we use for our kitchen.

 
Take a look at World's Best Packs and give Bill a call for information and a catalogue. He and his wife Anne paddle and their gear is bombproof and well thought out. We now have over 3500 miles on our Nanibijou Pack and not a single seam has even begun to show signs of stress. They are a small custom shop and are one of the few companies I have dealt with that listen when you make comments on possible ‘tweaks’  
 
Lynda Holland smiling as she portages with an Ostrom’s Nanibijou Pack
 
And lastly since we are talking about portages, a short discourse on tump lines. They are supposed to be used with another load on top. Without the top load you just hurt your neck muscles. The trick is to get the length of the tump line adjusted so that when you throw the next barrel or pack on top you don’t pull your neck back too far back or leave too much slack. Practice at home and you will know the magic length when you find it. Mark it with a felt pen so you can readjust quickly on a blackfly-plagued portage if need be. A quick short "dog trot’ is the speed you want. Alternate between the full load on your back and stooped over so that the weight is over your legs and try to think of how good that cup of tea will taste when you’re done! As to those who insist on a pack on your back and another on your front, I just don’t get it? I tried it once and I didn’t like it a bit. It was way harder than carrying the same load with the tump line. And besides, the history of thousands of voyageurs who used tump lines is a good enough testimonial for me! I carry a full big barrel and throw a small barrel on top and it works as well as anything can be expected to work on a portage.

Radios and Rescue

OOk I’ll admit it. I am real fed up with people who get to the arctic and have no downside plan. And worse than those are the people who tell me that taking high tech rescue devices compromises their wilderness experience. Do you really think Samuel Hearne wouldn’t have taken a satellite phone if he could have? I mean he took a 10 kilogram quadrant so he could orient for god’s sake!

Remember one thing if you insist on not taking any precautions. The days of vanishing into the wilds like John Hornby and starving to death are long gone. If you are overdue - whether lost, hurt or dead - a rescue will certainly be started on your account. And when no one has any precise idea how to find you, the search will be incredibly expensive. Do the rescue people and the Canadian taxpayer a big favour and plan for the worst. Use what I call double redundant planning - have a second plan for when your first plan fails.

Go to People who should Bowl to see my rant about people who get lost each year in Canada.

Lynda and I follow the advice of the great Actic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefannson who said:

"An adventure is a sign of incompetence …If everything is well managed, if there are no miscalculations or mistakes, then the things that happen are only the things that you expected to happen, for which you are ready and with which you can therefore deal."

We have never had trouble on our trips, but if we do, we are prepared. We carry a Globalstar satellite phone, and a Personal Locator Beacon. The phone is our first line of defence and the PLB for if the “shit Hits the Fan.”

In a total emergency our "last line of defense" is our Gypsi 406 PLB made by A.C.R Electronics, GYPSI PLB When the Gypsi is activated, a dire emergency SOS signal is sent to Canada's National Search and Rescue Centre. Each unit has a coded signal, so when one is set off the Center not only has a pin-pointed location, but knows who you are, and how you want to be rescued. As soon as the PLB is activated, a rescue based on what your pre-trip instructions to them were is initiated. In my case, since we are doing a different trip each year, I ask that the Center phone my home-town La Ronge RCMP where I leave detailed trip notes. In the highly unlikely event that the Center can't contact the RCMP, they will initiate immediate rescue based on your location, and the best means they can establish. Go to ACR’s website to have a look at the Gypsi and other rescue products. These are not a cheap purchase but what is your life worth? I have seen a lot of Inuit hunters with them and they swear by them. Tony Otuk, an elder from Arviat, told us that his PLB saved his life when he had a heart attack while whale hunting on Hudson Bay.

As an example of my trip plans, on our 730 mile Dubawnt River trip I filed a package with the La Ronge RCMP, the Stony Rapids RCMP (my departure point) and the Baker Lake RCMP (my end destination). In this package, I included a route map, our departure and expected arrival dates, colour of our canoe, tent and cooking fly, and a list of our survival communications (Globalstar phone and PLB). As well, I indicated that my PLB is strapped to my life jacket, and that if it is activated, we are in DIRE NEED OF ASSISTANCE, and that all other means of communication have been lost - say in a canoe capsize - or are being utilized simultaneously. As well, I provide the RCMP with a list of logical phone numbers to seek air support from. That year I gave them the numbers for Selwyn Lake Lodge, Tukto Lodge on Mosquito Lake, and Kasba Lake Lodge. These people are "bush smart" and would probably be the best bet for us in an emergency as they are close and know the area. As well, they know how tough the Arctic can be and will bend over backwards if there is an emergency. I have often thought that getting a big pre-trip cash loan from the camps along my route would guarantee that they would find me real fast!

Orientation and Tech Toys

I use a Silva Ranger Compass for day-to-day orienting. I also take a Garmin Etrex GPS. The latter is fun to play with on wind bound days, is great in fog or at night, and most importantly it can get you back onto your map if you get yourself horribly turned around. I use it to plot a route across large lakes by plotting in a series of way-points that I am going to pass on the next day’s paddle. When I set off in the morning, I use the GPS to get my canoe pointed to my first way-point. Once I have the canoe going the correct way I orient the compass to the same bearing, I turn off the GPS, and off we go! I check the GPS every hour or so and re-orient as needed. When you get to the first check-point, just ask the GPS to point you to the next way-point and off you go again! But my advice, for what it’s worth, is to use the GPS as a secondary tool since it is an electrical piece of gadgetry and can break. Use your compass and orienting skills as your first and last lines of defense. And if you don’t know how to use a compass and read maps you’ve got no business up on the large lakes of the barrens!
One last hint. When you buy your GPS it will likely be set for latitude/longitude. Go through your menus until you find out how to change the lat/long to UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator). Take a look at any 1:250,000 scale map and figure out how to use UTM - its far easier to work with than lat/long.

As to maps, I use 1:250,000 scale maps and for those real "busy" sections with lots of rapids and braided channels that could lead you astray, I get some 1:50,000 maps. In the tricky spots, for me at age 52 and having to use reading glasses, it is real nice to have the large scale to see just what the heck is going on. Go to World of Maps Maps for your map needs and my last hint for the year. Buy the map titled INDEX 2 Maps of the National Topographic System of Canada. It is great for figuring out which maps you will need for your adventure.

One final must buy is the Pentax WR105 point and shoot camera. With a 38 - 105 mm. zoom it is a little lense-challenged for those long shots, but you have to love a camera that has instructions that say it is supposed to be cleaned under the kitchen tap! When I read that in the instruction manual I was hooked!

Miscellania

A final thought about peeing. Stumbling out of the tent at 4 a.m. to whiz isn’t much fun and when this results in the tent filling up with thousands of mosquitoes and blackflies, it’s clear an alternative has to be found. We tried plastic grocery bags, but the potential for disaster - particularly for Lynda as she knelt on my sleeping bag - was a major deterrent. Finally we hit upon the perfect solution - our Javex bailing jug. We never go to bed without it. Javex is now one of our major corporate sponsors and each year they more than generously send us two 4 liter bottles of bleach that we use and then cut into a handy bailing jug. Go to Pee Jugs (KIDDING!!!!!!!)

Anyway folks. That’s it. I hope a few of my ideas are useful to you.

 
 
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