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This is a list of all the gear that is needed for a wilderness canoe trip. This is not the be-all and end-all list, since I may have forgotten something, and also because everyone has a different style of tripping. Hopefully this page will at least steer you in the right direction when shopping for tripping gear.

To see this list of gear without the links and descriptions, go to my Check List page. It is designed for printing off, so it has check-boxes to help you pack.

...we are a nation of canoeists, and have been since the earliest days, paddling our way up the St. Lawrence, across the lakes, over the portages of the Shield, west along the North Saskatchewan through the Yellowhead gap and thence southwest by the Columbia and Fraser rivers to the sea. When somebody asks you how Canada could exist as a horizontal country with its plains and mountains running vertically, tell him about the paddlers.

Pierre Berton Why We Act Like Canadians

Clothing | Food, Kitchen | Equipment

A wide brimmed hat such as a Tilley Hat to keep the sun off of your face. Also take a toque for fall or spring trips, made of wool or fleece. Good ones will have Gore Windstopper to keep the wind from cutting through like it does in normal fleece. Wear it to bed if you are cold! Make sure your warm hat has good ear coverage, as you'll want something to block the wind, and hoods are uncomfortable to paddle with.

A bandana is useful for many things: washcloth, hotpad, sling, etc., as well as it's original use.

I have to admit; I have a bit of a sock fetish. I love wool hiking socks! I've worn a lot of really great socks, but find that Smartwool are still the best! I've got a pair that are now 11 years old, and still going strong. I'm slowly replacing all my socks with good quality wool hiking socks. If you're allergic to wool, you can still wear wool socks...just buy a pair of thin synthetic sock liners to put underneath. These also help to reduce blisters, as they reduce friction on your foot.

For canoe trips, use lightweight hikers (leather and nylon). For backpacking, all leather boots are better. Don't even bother trying to keep them dry, and make sure you get used to pulling on wet boots every morning. I have found that footwear tends to be a very personal decision, so I guess it's really up to you! Whatever works best is what you should use. However, rubber boots are a very bad choice. If you happen to upset your canoe wearing rubber boots, they will fill with water very quickly, and weigh you down. Of course, all footwear will weigh you down, but rubber boots are just like strapping buckets to your feet! Recently, I've been wearing Asolo boots, but the key is to find somethign that fits your foot!

Camp shoes/sandals:
Lightweight running shoes are much more comfortable than boots for around camp, they also harm the environment less than heavy, thick soled hiking boots. Just about anything will do, including the $5 jobbies from you local discount store, or an old pair of running shoes. These are great because your boots will get wet, and it's nice to have dry shoes for the end of the day (just make sure to keep your camps shoes waterproofed in a plastic bag). Sandals are great for tripping in warmer weather/water, because they dry very quickly and are quite comfortable.

You may wish to take a pair of gaiters if you plan on lots of muddy portaging and/or wading in shallow waters. They're great for keeping mud and water from seeping into your boots on portages. I wear Outdoor Research Crocodile Gaiters and they are completely bulletproof! I expect these will last the rest of my life, and maybe a lot longer!

The most cost-effective and practical option for most is a set of coated raingear. Nylon is the most common fabric since it is very abrasion resistant, yet polyester is much more UV resistant. Look for parkas and pants, not ponchos and look for a good quality set (ponchos leave your arms uncovered when paddling). However, coated nylon is not breathable, so you'll work up quite a sweat wearing this stuff. Look for venting features like pit zips and large zippers on the chest to vent warm air. It's also a nice idea to have a lightweight, breathable (uncoated) windbreaker for the times when it's windy and cold but not raining. The more expensive option is a windproof/waterproof/breathable fabric like Gore-tex or it's many competitors. I've never used much Gore-Tex, although many people say that it doesn't work as well as advertised. I'd suggest you read up a bit on the subject before you spring for that nice new Gore-Tex rainsuit.

Use cotton in warm weather, because it cools you off by evaporative cooling. In cold weather, use a polyester or other synthetic shirt, because they insulate much better, and also wick sweat away from your skin. Do NOT wear any cotton in cool or cold weather, because it takes a long time to dry, and will suck the heat out of your body, causing hypothermia. Just about all outdoor clothing companies make some sort of a lightweight synthetic t-shirt that would work well.

Only necessary in warm weather, unless you're one of those people who wear them year round over long underwear. Some people never wear shorts as they don't protect their legs from sunburn and scratches...it's up to you! Take nylon shorts, because they dry quickly, and are lighter. The same pair can also be used as a swim suit. Again, almost all of the major companies make excellent shorts.

Take at least three layers of warm clothes, more if it is colder. Warm layers should be made of polyester pile (fleece), goose down, synthetic insulation (Thinsulate, Primaloft, Thermolite Extreme, Polarguard 3D) or wool. The more compressible, the better, as they take up a lot of space. Shirts, jackets, pullovers, and vests are all good choices. Again, no cotton should be used. Some of the best in this category is Malden Mills' line of Polartec products. Polartec is a polyester fleece, which comes in lots of different weights, types, etc. Windstopper fleece sandwiches Gore Windstopper between two layers of Polartec. Polartec Bipolar has a dense outer knit to stop some wind while the inner has a fluffy soft knit to trap warmth and wick sweat. Don't look only at Polartec, as many other companies have excellent products as well (eg. Burlington Mills, etc). Make sure that all of your layers fit over top of each other and that they don't bind and constrict. Many good choices here!

Take a pair of tough leather work gloves to use for pot lifters, firewood handling, etc. Also, in spring or fall, take a pair of warm gloves or mitts. (fleece, wool, etc.). For paddling in extremely cold weather, like the days just before or after there is ice on the lake, take a pair of neoprene (the stuff used in wet suits) gloves. They will keep your hands warm in water that still has ice in it.

Take nylon pants, as they are quick drying, lightweight, and comfortable. Jeans (and other cotton pants) are a terrible choice, as they get wet and stay wet. They will suck the heat out of your body very quickly, even in quite mild weather. In very cold weather, take a pair of polyester fleece pants as well as your nylon ones. Pants with lots of pockets and large belt loops are good, as you will likely have stuff in your pockets (matches, compass, firestarter, knife, etc.) or on your belt. Take a spare pair of pants in case one pair gets wet. The pants with the zip-off legs that convert into shorts are becoming quite popular. If you're an ultra light fanatic, and don't want to carry pants AND shorts, then these may be your best bet.

Take polyester or polypro underwear. They wick sweat away from your skin, and keep you warm. Get ones with flat seams so that they don't rub your skin off when you get a seam under a backpack strap. In cold weather, take long-johns, and a long sleeved shirt (crew neck, turtleneck, Zip mock turtle neck, etc.) made of the same materials. Polypro tends to smell very badly after one wearing, and the smell never really washes out. Most of the polyesters are much better in this respect, and also tend to be more comfortable against the skin as well. You can get underwear in different weights, depending on the temperature and activity level:
Lightweight: for warm weather, and/or high activity levels in cold conditions.
Medium weight: for cool weather, and/or high activity levels in very cold conditions.
Expedition weight: for extreme cold with high activity levels, or cold with low activity levels

Only if you intend to go swimming. Some people just use their shorts so you don't have to take two pair.

Bug hat:
A must if there are bugs! Take it anyway just in case. Can be as simple as a full hood that covers the face, made of mesh, or a hat with a built in pull-down mesh.

Useful for hanging stuff on your waist (knife, flashlight, compass, etc.), as well as for keeping your pants up. Can also be used to lash extra gear to the outside of packs, or any number of other uses. A thin belt made of nylon, like a strap on a backpack is best, because it doesn't dig into you when you put your pack on, and it's strong enough to use for other uses as well.

Clothing | Food, Kitchen | Equipment
Food, Kitchen

Water bottle:
Nalgene Bottles are the best. Don't let anyone convince you otherwise. Get the ones with the wide mouth to make mixing drinks easier. You might want to consider getting an insulated cover for them to keep your water or drink cold (or warm). Always carry at least one water bottle for everyone in the group. If you are canoeing, always fill the bottles from the middle of the lake, not near the shore to avoid some of the dirt from the bottom getting into your filter. Always remember to use a filter! Check out my review of the Nalgene Bottle on my Product Review page.

Buy a good one, and know how to use and repair it. Always take along spare parts, and the instruction manual. Boiling water for 1-2 minutes is also a good way to treat water, but it takes a lot of time and fuel. If you are on a long trip, take a spare filter in the sterile package. Ceramic filters are better for longer trips or larger groups as the filter cartridges last much longer, and can be field cleaned. The high initial cost of a ceramic filter might be a shock, but the filters last so much longer that you save money in the long run. I use and love the MSR MiniWorks.

Take cups, bowls, plates, knives, forks, spoons, Mixing spoons and a pancake flipper. Use plastic or Lexan as it is lightweight, and easy to clean. Some people prefer to use a bowl for everything instead of talking both plates and bowls. I feel that this is the best method. However, you may still want to take one or two plates just for preparing food, etc.

Take a small, lightweight backpacking stove, and be sure you know how to use and repair it. White gas seems to be the best, in my opinion. Some stoves burn a variety of fuels and this is great if you run out of one kind. I use an Optimus Nova.

Take a little bit more than you think you will need. Always pack it separate from clothes, food, or anything else which it may damage. Use special fuel bottles only, with a positively leakproof seal. Don't trust the cans you buy the fuel in, as the caps come off (trust me on this one :-)

Take lots of matches, and hide some all over so that you always have some nearby. Pack them in zip-loc bags, or plastic match boxes. I prefer non-safety, wooden matches, as they light on anything, which is good when the stupid striker gets wet.

Cheap Bic type lighters or a Zippo type are fine. However, the best ones are windproof, waterproof and specially made for the outdoors. Unfortunately, they cost $40 and up though. :-( Check out the Essential Gear page for info. on these lighters.

Drink 2 litres a day or more and make sure you know were to get it. Fill up your bottles at every opportunity, even if they aren't empty. This shouldn't be a problem on a canoe trip. :-)

Cooking Pots:
If weight is important, take titanium (expensive). Otherwise, use stainless steel or aluminum. The number and size of pots depends on the size of the group. Take at least 2 pots and a frying pan with non-stick coating. Some sets have a lid that doubles as a frying pan. This is good if you are worried about weight. I've got a collection of MSR pots and pick and choose based on the menu and group size.

Go to my Food page for information on food for canoe trips.

Clothing | Food, Kitchen | Equipment

For canoe trips, you should take a large pack with no frame so you can stuff things in it easier and so that the pack fits easily in the canoe. Since the portages are not nearly as long as a backpacking trip, a frame and expensive suspension system are not as important. It is nice to have padded shoulder straps and waist belt, and some people like tumplines. If you have lots of stuff, put all of the stuff that has to stay dry in a large waterproof pack, like a SEALline dry bag. A large Cordura pack can hold loose gear which can get wet, as well as dry bags of things which have to stay dry. A good system is to have each person pack their clothes/sleeping bag in a waterproof bag, and then put two or three of these into a large Cordura nylon bag. Some canoe trippers still swear by a large canvas pack, also know as a Woods pack, or a Duluth pack.

Many people don't like to take tents, but I recommend one because they provide more shelter from rain, wind, snow, and insects, as well as allowing you more room to sit up and move around than a bivy sack does. A tent with a large vestibule is useful to keep things dry and out of the way while you sleep. Look for bathtub floors and good quality aluminum poles. Polyester is a good fly material because it stands up to UV better and breaks down slower than nylon. Nylon is stronger and still the most common fly material. Some tents use a nylon/polyester blend which is a compromise between both. Single walled tents are not the best choice as they cost much more than a double wall tent, are harder to set up and are not all that much lighter.

Sleeping bag:
Down is very warm, durable, and compressible, but it is also very expensive. The best synthetic alternatives are Polarguard 3D, Thermolite Extreme or Primaloft. The best shape is a mummy shape, with a well fitting hood. Lining should be polyester or nylon. Outer shell should be nylon or polyester. For canoe or kayak tripping, down bags should be stored very carefully to prevent them from getting wet, as they provide no insulating value when they are wet. If you do take a down bag, make sure it has a waterproof stuffsack. Also, a waterproof breathable shell, such as Dryloft is great, but adds a lot of cost. This is overkill for anything other than watersports or other wet weather camping, and costs considerably more than the same bag without the waterproof/breathable shell.

Sleeping pad:
An self-inflating pad is the most comfortable, but most expensive, and prone to tears and holes. Pads can also be made of closed-cell foam, which do not inflate. Some things to look for in a sleeping pad are; no-slip surface, so that you don't find yourself on the cold, hard ground after you roll over; and a protective cover to keep the water, dirt and sharp things out. Make sure you take a repair kit if you're using a self inflating matress.

Whatever kind you prefer, and the one that is best for the type of trip you are going on. This is a very personal decision for many people, so I won't get into it here. Check out my review of the Swift Algonquin 16. There are many good manufacturers of canoes.

Required Equipment:
The following equipment, in this orange box is now mandatory in all canoes. See the Canadian Coast Guard website for more info. Thanks to Brent Kelly, for informing me of the new regulations.

One for every person, and a few extras. An ottertail is excellent, as is a beavertail. Take a look at my review of the Ray Kettlewell Modified Ottertail. Take an aluminum and plastic as a spare because they are unbreakable and can be used to push off rocks, chop ice, etc. Some of the best paddles are made by Ray Kettlewell. Definitely check out his homepage if you are shopping for a paddle. (or even if you aren't)

One for every person, and maybe a few extras for larger groups. Wear them! Buy a good quality one, and make sure it fits. Must be approved by the Canadian Coast Guard!

Take a small, tough, waterproof flashlight, with extra batteries and bulb. Some people prefer a headlamp because it leaves both hands free for doing things. Must be a floating flashlight to meet the new regulations.

Throw Bag:
A minimum of 15 m of floating rope. A throw bag is a good idea, but not essential.

A bilge pump (expensive, heavy, bulky), or just a simple cut off jug that is capable of scooping water out of the canoe. The best method is to take a large bottle, like a vinegar bottle, and cut it into a scoop shape. Another great idea is to use the plastic milk jugs which are meant to hold the plastic milk bags. Also, stuff a big sponge in the bailer. This will help to clean up that extra little bit of water in the bilge, or dry out your tent should it leak. (Thanks to Guy Giroux for this idea)

Sound Device:
That's what your whistle is for! See info on whistle, below.

Take one good quality folding, locking knife to use for small camp chores. Keep it sharp, because sharp knives are safer than dull ones. A small belt pouch or clip on the knife keeps it close at hand and prevent loss. Take a look at my review of the Spyderco Delica. As well as the knife, take a pocket tool similar to a Leatherman. These tools have pliers, knives and many other tools which are useful.

You need about 30 m (100 feet) to hang a bear bag, and to use for other camp chores (ie clothes line). Military parachute cord (approx. $7/100') is great for almost all uses.

Take lots of matches, and hide some all over so that you always have some nearby. Pack them in zip-loc bags, or plastic match boxes. I prefer non-safety, wooden matches, as they light on anything, which is good when the stupid striker gets wet.

Take a cheap Bic type lighter or a Zippo type. The best kind though, are windproof, waterproof and specially made for the outdoors. They cost $40 and up though. :-(

Take a good quality plastic (so it doesn't freeze to your lips) whistle, for signalling purposes. Three blasts of the whistle means HELP. Keep the whistle on a lanyard around your neck at all times.

Take a good topographic map of the area you are in. You can put them in large Ziploc bags, or buy special cases for them to keep them dry. Know how to read your map!

Take a good quality map compass, and be sure you know how to use it.

Might be useful for longer trips or on large lakes like Huron or Superior. Make sure you know how to use it, but definitely be an expert with map and compass before trying this. Don't depend on it only for navigation (always have a good compass and topo map).
(Thanks to Brent Kelly for this idea.)

Bug Repellant:
Take whatever works best for you. Some people prefer to use mesh pants, jackets and hoods instead of the nasty chemical variety of repellants.

Medical Kit:
Buy one of the good quality medical kits made for outdoor recreation, such as an Outdoor Research, or Atwater-Carey kit, and then talk to your doctor about what else you should put in it. Taking a course on the subject is a good idea.

Whatever kind you like. Take a strap to keep them on your head. Take polarized glasses as they cut the glare off of the water, and help you see under the surface, which is very useful for canoeing.

Prescription Glasses/Contacts:
If you need them. Take a crushproof case and a cloth to clean them on. Take whatever else you need if you are using contacts.

Whatever kind you like. Waterproof/Sweatproof is good. SPF 30 or higher.

Lip Balm:
Good for sore, chapped lips due to sun, wind, and cold.

Ziplock Bags:
Take a lot, and keep anything that has to be dry in them.

Take a small, metal or plastic mirror for shaving or use your signal mirror.

Take a small viscose one. Viscose dries fast; can absorb lots of water, and can be wrung out almost completely dry.

Toothbrush and toothpaste
Brush teeth in an area far from the water and don't spit on rocks because it leaves an ugly white mark.

Take biodegradable soap that can be used for body, hair, dishes, and clothes. Make sure to wash and rinse on shore, since biodegradable soap can only break down on land, not in water.

Keep a small package in a ziplock bag, or, better yet, use a handkerchief.

Shaving kit:
Keep it small, and light, or just don't bother shaving at all.

Pen and notebook:
To keep notes and draw sketches. Take a small notebook, and maybe a mini pen or pencil. Keep them in a Ziplock bag to keep them dry.

Unscented Deodorant:
If you are going to use deodorant, make sure it is unscented. Unscented keeps the bears (and chipmunks and squirrels and ...) away, and still keeps you smelling fresh.

Take a small, lightweight one if you care to.

Garbage bags:
Take a bunch! They are useful for garbage, and also for keeping things dry.

A small deck of cards can save a rain or wind-bound trip.

Take a guide book, and also novel(s) if you like to read.

Take one if you want. Remember to take extra batteries, film, and flash, and whatever else you need.

Fishing stuff:
If you like fishing, take a small telescopic rod, and ultra lite reel. Also, take a small container of lures that you think will work in the area you are going to.

Duct Tape:
Useful for repairs, and also works good to cover up blisters in an emergency. Can make a totalled canoe almost new (not quite). Wrap it around something smaller (ie pencil or nail) so that it isn't as bulky as the full roll.

Take a long-burning survival candle. It is useful for light, fire starting, heat, etc.

Toilet Paper:
Keep it in a ziplock, or coffee tin so it stays dry. Don't forget it! Most often you don't need the full roll, so just take some! Do ensure that you have some extra though. Please please please do not leave TP on the ground! If you're not too grossed out, pack it out with your garbage (in a ziplock bag of course), or at least burn it or bury it.

Survival Kit:
Read my survival kit contents list. Remember to have it on you at all times.

Repair Kit:
Take some soft yet strong brass wire to "sew" together a smashed canoe. Duct tape can also be used to repair damage. If you have a fibreglass canoe, a fibreglass repair kit is handy for whitewater or longer wilderness trips. Also take a few climbing "figure 8's" to rig up a z-drag to free pinned canoes. (Thanks to Layn Hayes for this idea)

Clothing | Food, Kitchen | Equipment
Remember, this list is just a suggestion of what to take. One thing to keep in mind: If you need it, take it! Also remember to bring back everything you took with you! It's also a good idea to pick up litter that you see sitting around in the wilderness!
  This page was last updated on August 15, 2011 at 01:56 AM