Whenever I meet new people while canoeing I usually look over what brands and types of equipment they are using. Often the conversation around the campfire turns to what tried and true piece of kit they have and why they love it. Of course, sometimes it’s what gear has disappointed or failed to meet the rigours of backcountry canoeing.
I have also noticed that as you meet other campers you discover that you share a lot of the same equipment choices. Over time the accumulated wisdom of those who like to get out and enjoy nature seems to head in the same direction. Word spreads about reliable gear choices and what new invention is actually worth purchasing.
In no particular order, here is a list of common gear required for backcountry canoeing and what the current group recommendations are for that item.
For the past few years the favourite air mattress seemed to be the Big Agnes, especially their Insulated Air Core model for those who go tripping in the shoulder seasons. More recently reports of Big Agnes mattresses having leaking issues have sent buyers back to Therm-a-Rest products like the NeoAir XLite.
When shopping for an air mattress you want one that’s comfortable, easy to inflate and packs small. For early Spring or Fall camping you should get one with insulation as well.
Sleeping bags are one equipment item that seems to have more possible choices. But those who have moved on from buying big, bulky bags at Walmart seem to concentrate on lightweight down, mummy style bags for warmth and compactness. Here in Canada MEC is one of your go to stores for sleeping bags.
A tent is sometimes the only thing you have to protect yourself from the elements while camping, luckily there are ton of tents to choose from. Again, lightweight and reliable is what you are looking for. Most major manufacturers are good choices, especially the MEC Tarn or Eureka El Capitan, but there are others. The right choice depends on your style of exploring – base camping, easy tripping or hardcore multi-week expeditions. Look for features that compliment your style, but a vestibule is always a good idea. Check out MEC’s Choosing a Tent for some basic understanding before choosing.
Old timers will swear by the folding sleeves that could turn their thermarests into a camp chair, but the craze for the last couple of years is the new Helinox Chair One. A real chair that’s light enough to go on almost all, except the most difficult, canoe excursions. There’s nothing like relaxing around the campfire in one of these.
An important consideration while camping is drinking water. While Ontario has lots of pristine lakes it is still recommended to treat your water against bacteria and viruses. Fortunately it is easy to do; your choices are mechanical or chemical treatment. Mechanical options include a pump or the more popular gravity bags like those by MSR. Chemical treatment only requires a few tablets which are easy to use and have on hand. Popular choices here are Micropur and Pristine.
Also check out MEC online store – they have a wide variety of water filter choices to choose from.
Meal prep ranges from the camper that only boils water to full on gourmet, but you still need a stove. Most common are liquid gas stoves, you can choose single use canister or refillable models. Canister stoves are easy to use but fuel is more expensive and knowing how much is left can be tricky. Refillable fuel stoves are simple to use, fix and sometimes take more than one type of fuel. They are usually the choice of frequent trippers. Quite popular but no longer readily available are the Coleman single burner stoves, they have achieved cult status for some. Also, check out some stove collection from MSR
Everybody needs a tarp when out in the woods, the bigger the better usually. The most popular tarps are made of lightweight silicone treated nylon. Another item that has been creeping into people’s packs is a tarp/bug shelter combo. They can make dealing with an onslaught of blackflies a lot more enjoyable.
Seriously, these things are great. You see a huge variety in eating utensils, some take a full cutlery set when car camping, some eat with only their knife when solo. A nice compromise that you see everywhere in the backcountry is the titanium spork. It’s my personal favourite.
You don’t have to go out and buy every item on this list. I know people that still sleep on the ground with a piece of plastic over their canoe and don’t believe in Therm-a-Rest s. But trippers learn over time what equipment works and is reliable enough to depend on. If you are in need of any of these items you can’t go wrong following their advice.
By Scott Rogers
Scott Rogers, an IT Coordinator, provides support to a non-profit organization. Camping is a natural escape for Scott from his technology driven workplace. Over the past 15 years, Scott has connected with many outdoor enthusiasts while planning and taking numerous outdoor adventures. To connect with Scott check out his web site at https://www.smedleyco.com