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Essential Canoe Expedition Tips

By Rosemary Powell

When embarking on a big open canoe expedition like our recent one to Temagami in Canada, there are many new and exciting challenges to overcome. Here are a few of the things I try to keep in mind in order to make things go smoothly.

General Tips

Essential Canoe Expedition Tips

* Keep the things that you want during the day, for example water, snacks, sun cream, sun glasses etc., in a separate bag, a bum bag is handy for portages.
* Pack your food and cooking equipment separately. It makes it easier to bear proof your camp, keeping all food substances separately.
* Pack your bag so that when you arrive at camp the things that you want first are at the top of the bag.

Packing Yout Boat

Essential Canoe Expedition Tips

* Only take what you need! It is nice to have a few luxuries but too many and you loose to chance to be at one with the wilderness!
* Paddle tandem - half the effort on and off the water!
* Practice paddling a loaded boat before you set off.


Essential Canoe Expedition Tips

* Limit the number of items in your boat.
* Put any bits and pieces in your boat in one bag so that you don't end up juggling on the trail.
* Limit the number of times you have to walk the trail - First time with a bag and paddles to check out the trail (it is frustrating doing this with a boat on your shoulders) then second time with the boat.
* When paddling tandem (highly recommended!) you can alternate who carries the boat, and operate a 3-bag system.
* Take rests when carrying the canoe - on your first walk of the trail look for places where you can prop the boat up and climb out from underneath without having to put it on the floor
* Strip the boat down before carrying - it is heavy enough without swim lines and throw lines hanging off it.
* Make sure you leave your boat well up from the water so you don't come back to find it floating away.
* Leave the beginning of the trails free from clutter so that other paddlers can access the portage trail.

Arriving At Camp

Essential Canoe Expedition Tips

Try to have a pattern that works, particularly when paddling in a big team - this is my suggested order:

* Unload everything from the canoe
* Put the tarp up - you can then put everything under it if it is raining
* Put a brew on!
* Set up your tent / bivi away from the kitchen area and fire
* Sort out a fire - collect wood etc. (see fire-lighting tips)
* It is nice to have a swim and wash you clothes ready for the next day
* Cook dinner - it is nice to do this on the open fire, but it does tend to take longer - take stoves as a back up

Bear-proofing Your Camp

Essential Canoe Expedition Tips

It is essential to keep your campsite clean and tidy to ensure you don't have any unwanted visitors in the night:
* Cook in only one area- you only have to clear up one up then!
* Keep all food and toiletries away from your tent - barrels make a good bear proof container.
* If hanging your food bags in the tree, make sure you do it before it gets dark!
* Get into the habit of tidying the kitchen and brushing your teeth at dusk, so that everything is ready to hang in the trees, and you don't remember your toothpaste at 10 o'clock!
* Ensure that you don't drop any food on the floor.
* Burn all food rubbish on the fire- it is possible to burn orange peel as long as you have a good fire going.
* Collect 'grey' water (washing up water and pasta water etc.) together and dispose of either into toilet box or dig a shallow hole away from camp.
* Gut any fish caught well away from the camp area.


Essential Canoe Expedition Tips

* Get everything ready before you start.
* Collect a good collection of wood, kindling, birch bark and pine cones.
* Use the birch bark to get the fire going, put the pine cones on top, then the kindling.
* Go on a bushcraft course!
* Leave the fire pit stocked for the next person.

On The Water

Essential Canoe Expedition Tips

* Get used to the scale of the map - 1:80,000 is common.
* Make the most of the wind being in your favour by sailing.
* Stay hydrated by keeping your water and water pump handy.
* Keep some snacks close at hand if you are like me and want to continually graze.

Tarp Rigging

Essential Canoe Expedition Tips

* Make sure the tarp is big enough for the group.
* Rig a ridge line down the centre.
* Make one end lower than the other so that the water runs off.
* Use a material which is multipurpose, for example tarps make good ground sheets, sails, table cloths etc.


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