I started this post while sitting at a picnic table at Wagener County Park, on Lake Huron, about 60 miles north of Port Huron. Ruth was coming to meet me for a resupply, and I had 90 percent of my gear piled on the table. I only managed to list about a quarter of the gear before she arrived, and didn’t get around to finishing until I completed my trip. Which is just as well, as it meant my kit underwent more thorough testing. I spent a lot of time prior to the trip surfing the web, reading articles and scouring e-Bay, Craig’s List and Paddling.net for information and deals on new and used gear. No one sponsored this trip; it was entirely funded by Ruth and myself, and was most intentionally No-Logo. That said, all of the gear mentioned below performed very well, and I’ve included links to manufacturers or reviewers for those seeking more details. So, in no particular order, here’s the gear that accompanied me around the lake:
On my head is a GI boonie hat. One of my favorite items, and one of the few things on the list not made of plastic, Kevlar, titanium or synthetic fabric. One hundred percent cotton, it keeps my noggin and protuberances shaded, crushes up and pops right back. It has a simple string to put around your chin to keep the wind from blowing it off, and a webbed hat band, to which I can clip a white LED light for night paddling. Another GI item that’s working well is my medium-size All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carry Equipment rucksack. Better known as an A.L.I.C.E. pack, it’s my “day-use” pack. The main pocket holds two Ursack bear-proof bags (with odor-proof/waterproof Opsak liners), one of which holds kitchen and bathroom (more on that later), and the other holds lunch and snack foods. The three pockets on the back hold fuel bottle, stove windscreen (left pocket), small cup and insulated tea cup (center), and mosquito net, DEET, flashlight, extra water bladder (right pocket). The pockets have slots behind them; I attach the tripod by slipping two legs into two slots. Clipped on the outside of the pack are a small shovel, folding saw, field compass, rope and knife. Leather gloves go in the top flap pocket. This pack is probably too fussy for most canoe trippers, who don’t want a bunch of straps and anything projecting which could hang up on the boat, but I like that it lets me compartmentalize gear. Uncle Sam doesn’t make them anymore, but they’re readily available at surplus stores and online. In the canoe, I keep this bag behind my seat, for easy access. I carry my sleeping bag and pad, clothes, tent and electronic cords in a lightweight dry bag, which goes into a McHale backpack. The McHale is to packs what Kruger is to canoes: As tough and expertly made as they come. Designed for hiking and climbing, when fitted with a waterproof liner, it’s a great canoe tripping bag. It has the best hip belt around (literally!), and very clever shoulder straps. It morphs from small summit bag to monster hauler, so if I have to hike to a campsite I consolidate stuff in it to minimize trips back and forth to the canoe. As much as Verlen admired the man who walked on water, I’m sure he’d be impressed by Dan McHale, who not only climbed El Capitan, but walked on fire. I keep most of my food in a pair of Garcia Backpacker’s Cache bear canisters. Heavy (2.7 pounds each), but what do you expect from a piece of gear that crush proofs your food, doubles as a bucket, and makes great camp furniture? I carry the Garcias in two Patagonia haul bags I bought at a closeout. The bags have a couple of vertical loop straps and daisy chains, so they’re easy to carry, and there’s extra room for my tarp and ubiquitous miscellany. For a camp chair, I use a Crazy Creek folding cushion, which I put on top of my hard shell camera case. I also use this to stand on when changing clothes. I put some Velcro on it, so I can add it to my ¾ length Therm-A-Rest ProLite sleeping pad (to which I affixed mating Velcro tabs).
Besides my boonie cap, my clothes include a couple of pair of nylon Ex-Officio convertible pants. I’ve had one pair for 15 years, used them on countless trips prior to this one, and they’re still in great shape. This exact style is no longer made, but I bought another pair on e-Bay. I wanted a matching pair, so that I could interchange the legs, in case I had any problems with zippers, but both pairs held up. I also have a pair of 13 oz. RailRider Weatherpants, a very simple and sturdy pair of nylon long pants with reinforced seat and knees. I have three long-sleeved nylon shirts, my two favorites are old-school Patagonia with a sort of shoulder cape that covers a mesh back and deep front pockets. I have a couple of pairs of nylon underwear, although they don’t get much wear, as I don’t wear underwear when paddling. For warmth, I have a merino wool pullover shirt and a pair of merino long underwear. Footwear consists of four pairs of wool socks, Teva Proton water shoes, Keen sandals, and a pair of Neos Trekker over boots.
The general load/unload drill is: At the end of the day, I take A.L.I.C.E., the two haul bags, camera case and cushion, to where I intend to cook and eat, and I take McHale to where I’ll pitch the tent/hang the hammock. After breakfast, the process is reversed. At my lunch stop, A.L.I.C.E. comes out, along with the camera case and cushion. My cooking kit includes a small plastic sandwich box in which I have a titanium soup spoon, lighter, folding 1/3 cup measuring spoon and a Swiss Army knife. Also in the box are a pair of cut-down chopsticks, a small cutting board I made from a piece of plastic, and a small “picnic blanket” I made from a piece of Tyvek. I carry water in a 4 liter MSR Dromedary bag. These bags are well suited for riding on the bottom of a canoe, as they don’t roll around. I also like that I can hang it from a tree, using the flip-cap as a gravity-operated faucet, and it makes a great pillow.
I have two cook stoves: a Bushbuddy and a Trangia. The stainless steel, 6.5 oz. Bushbuddy burns finger-thick pieces of wood. I simply pull sticks from a pile of driftwood, or break off dead branches from a tree, then break them into about 2 inch lengths. To start the stove, I put some tinder in the bottom, then tiny sticks, then the finger-sized pieces. For a guaranteed start, I add a teaspoon of alcohol (don’t try this at home …) I can’t say enough good things about this stove. Its double-wall design preheats combustion air, generating a much cleaner burn. The base remains cool, so it doesn’t scorch the ground, and you can pick it up if you have to move it. It also serves as a small campfire. When it’s burned out, all that’s left is a fine ash. It does smudge pots, so I keep it in a small nylon bag. The brass, 3.5 oz. Trangia burns alcohol. While not the lightest alcohol burner (you can make ultra-light version out of a soda can), I like the Trangia for its sturdiness, excellent capability to simmer, and its cap, which allows you to save unburned fuel. Despite only producing about ½ the BTUs of gas fuel, I prefer alcohol stoves over pressurized gas stoves because they are so quiet, there are no moving parts, and its fuel is less toxic. Its quiet and nearly invisible flame, however, mean I have to be very careful when lighting and tending the stove. I purchased mine with the quite clever Clikstand pot holder. I’m not carrying the Clikstand, however, as the Bushbuddy works as a pot holder and stand for the Trangia burner. When using either stove, I wear leather gloves when igniting, tending, or moving them, and when taking off cooking pots. I used about 1.5 liters of fuel on the trip.
A few things usually stay in the boat while I’m camping, including my two bent shaft paddles: the 9 oz. Zaveral carbon fiber with an 8 inch blade, and the 15 oz. Whisky Jack (“Whisky Jill” model) cedar with a 7 inch blade. I use the Zaveral in calm water or when I have a tailwind, and the Whisky Jack in choppy conditions. If the wind is 10 knots or greater, and behind me, I attach my WindPaddle Cruiser to the front deck, and sit back and enjoy the ride. Behind the seat, I have a stuff sack with my raingear. My rain pants are lightweight Gore-Tex, with zipper and patches of Velcro up the entire length of the outside of the legs, and elastic and Velcro at the cuffs. They’re easy to pull over shoes, easy to get at the pockets of pants I’m wearing under them, easy to ventilate. Color is digital green/tan camouflage. They’re GI, and I bought them at General Jim’s military surplus in Clare, Mich., for 30 bucks. I love them. My raincoat is a Kokatat Paclite anorak. Like most Kokatat stuff, it’s well designed and expensive. Gore-Tex, neoprene cuffs, and large enough that I can pull it over my PFD. Bright orange, which is great for when I want to be seen, but very bad for when I want to blend in, which is most of the time. So I also have a simple nylon anorak, navy blue. I also have the amazing 3 oz. Patagonia Dragonfly pullover, which I keep in a bag next to my seat, that blocks the wind, sheds a light rain, and breaths very well. Unfortunately, Patagonia no longer makes the pullover version; I have a trap set for one on eBay, and will pounce if one appears. My PFD is a Kokatat SeaO2, a hybrid inflatable/foam life vest. If I’m in the canoe, I’m wearing it. Uninflated, it provides 7.5 pounds of flotation. A pull of the ripcord on the front releases the contents of a CO2 cartridge, inflating air chambers in the vest and increasing the flotation to 22.5 pounds. It can also be fully inflated with three good puffs on a tube mounted on the front. Its mesh back accommodates the canoe’s seat back, and the thin (when uninflated) profile makes for unencumbered paddling. Nice pockets, too, in which I can carry my iPhone, SPOT device, rescue mirror, and a few snack bars or the VHF radio. Which brings me to the pile of electronic gear I’m carrying.
The SPOT is a GPS device that tracks my progress, and, if I push the “911” button, will alert rescue services to my location. There’s also an “OK” button, which I push at the end of the day to let Ruth know all is well. I haven’t had to try the 911 function, but I can say the tracking function works well. The company has since come out with a lighter unit. I carry the Icom VHF radio for safety, too. If I need to, I can use it to send a May Day to the Coast Guard or nearby boats, and it’s the best source for marine weather reports. I keep it clipped next to the seat, and check for updates a few times a day. I haven’t used it to communicate, and only have it on maybe a total of 15 minutes a day. That said, I only charged the battery once. The iPhone is amazing. Not only a phone, it’s a 2 megapixel camera, notebook, voice recorder, map, dictionary, radio, GPS, weather station and a zillion other applications. I have a waterproof Aquapac bag I carry it in. I carry a GPS, too, the Garmin 60csx. Works well, and is waterproof (though I carry it in an Aquapac to be safe), but it’s not as easy to use as the iPhone. The Google map application that comes with the iPhone uses a wi-fi or cell tower connection to get a fix, but the cost of data transmission once I crossed into Canada was prohibitive, so I didn’t use it much. However, you can download map applications onto the iPhone that work off its built-in GPS, so I bought the Navionics Great Lakes Maritime application. This was one of my best $9.99 purchases: It quickly finds my location, and easily lets me plot and measure a course. So that I wouldn’t have to chase electrical outlets around the lake to power my electronics, I took along a Brunton SolarRoll 9, and the Brunton Solo 7.5 storage battery. On sunny days, the waterproof 17 oz. SolarRoll bungees neatly on the foredeck, and I run a cable from it to the 2 lb. battery, which I store in a small dry bag hanging in the front of the cockpit.
A major component of the electronics department is my camera. I’ve been using Nikons for the past 20 years and, for the sake of continuity and compatibility, I purchased a Nikon D-300 for the trip. Considering the conditions I’d be in (and since I could only afford one camera body), I didn’t want to be changing lenses, so I purchased the 18-200 f/3.5-5.6 Nikkor VR zoom . I’ve been very happy with both. I wish the lens were a bit faster, and had a macro function, but other than that it pretty much covers all the bases. I have two Cokin filters: a neutral density and a polarizer. The built-in camera flash is pretty good, but I want to be able to bounce the light, so I bought the small and simple Nikon SB-400. I have a Velbon MaxiSF Tripod, which I purchased for a trip to the Grand Canyon five years ago. It’s no longer made, perhaps because the legs fell off, and the ballhead was a piece of junk. Since I epoxied the legs into main socket and added a Bogen ballhead, however, it’s held up surprisingly well. Only weighs a little over 2.5 pounds, and extends to four feet. I carry the camera gear in a Pelican 1450 case.
From the start of the trip at Mackinaw City, Mich., to Tobermory, Ont., I used a Moss Starlet tent. A bit heavy, at 5 plus pounds, it’s roomy and keeps me dry. I also carry a Moss Heptawing tarp, which I set up for cooking on rainy days. Moss was purchased by MSR a few years ago, and the Starlet and Heptawing are no longer made, although the tent’s two-pole design, and the tarp’s catenary curves, live on in new products. One of several cool features of the Kruger is that the seat can easily be removed, making it possible to sleep in the canoe, which is great if I need to pitch camp in a hurry, or the terrain is too rocky or hilly to pitch the tent. I rig the tarp over the cockpit, using a pole to lift one end, tying the main lines off to the bow and stern. I lay out the sleeping pad and, to keep the mosquitoes at bay, slip my sleeping bag into a one-pound Austrian bivy. As I progressed north along the Bruce Peninsula, the coast became quite rocky, and I was told Manitouin Island would be more of the same. While the bivy worked, its Gore-Tex fabric and small bit of mosquito net over my face made it hot and claustrophobic. A light bulb went off when I recalled my friend’s Tim’s favorite shelter: the Hennessy Hammock. So, during my two-week layover, when Ruth and I went to a family reunion in Seattle, I stopped by REI and purchased a Hennessy Ultralight Backpacker Asym. The shelter features a hammock with an integrated mesh roof, covered by a tarp. You enter the hammock through a slit in the bottom; it seals with a Velcro closure when you’re laying inside. It also works as a one-person tent, and I can set it up in my canoe: I drape it along the inside, and suspend the end with the slit (which becomes a “door” in this configuration) from the pole holding the tarp. Using the 1 lb. 15 oz. hammock, and leaving behind my tent and bivy, meant I was able to reduce my shelter weight by 6 or 7 pounds. I did need to keep my sleeping pad, for padding in the canoe and for insulation in the hammock.
Ruth, who’s an R.N., packed my first aid kit. It includes bandages, gauze, adhesive tape, alcohol swabs, duct tape, antibiotic cream, SAM splint, space blanket, 10 ml irrigation syringe, water purification tablets and a small fire starter kit. I also have a small bottle of super glue, which is great for closing up small cuts, as it “bonds skin instantly.” Medications include acetaminophen (for pain relief), ibuprophen (a.k.a. “Vitamin I,” used for pain and reducing inflammation), caffeine (to stay awake during emergency), diphenhydramine (for bee stings, bug bites, allergic reactions). My tool box contains a multi-tool, sewing needles, thread, nylon patches, vinyl patches, vinyl glue, screws, bolts and nuts, wire, parachute cord, bungee cord, spare spray cover snaps. I also have two 12 foot straps and a couple of foam blocks, in case I have to transport the canoe on the roof of a vehicle.
Last, but certainly not least, is my Kruger Sea Wind canoe. The moment I first sat in it, it was clear Verlen Kruger had spent a lot of time considering the design, and paddling it. A canoe seat doesn’t get any more comfortable than this; it can be adjusted to 4, 6 or 8 inches above the bottom, to accommodate a variety of conditions. In rough water, I feel quite safe sitting on the bottom, and that’s also the most comfortable position when the sailing. Six inches is right for mildly choppy water. I set it to the top on calm days, and when the wind is at my back. Attached to the bottom of the seat is a shoulder yoke, so all you have to do to set up for a portage is flip the seat, and you’re ready to go. The hull comprises 10 layers of Kevlar, and the canoe weighs about 65 pounds. It’s very stiff, and takes bumps and scrapes with aplomb. I was told by canoe builder Scott Smith, who helped Verlen make it in 2000, that it’s the only all green Kruger canoe. A guy in California had listed it on Craig’s list in 2006, and I snapped it up. He was up for a road trip, so Ruth and I met him at Dead Horse State Park, near Moab, Utah, to complete the deal. Ruth had earlier purchased a used Mad River Monarch (a Kruger design), and we inaugurated our boats with a paddle down Utah’s Green River, through Canyonlands National Park. I purchased a spay cover from Cooke Custom Sewing. It keeps the waves and rain out of the canoe, keeps the sun off my legs, and greatly reduces wind drag. The canoe also has horizontal tubes through the cowling at the front and the back of the cockpit, through which you can slip a pair of aluminum pipes and attach them to another Kruger canoe, turning the two canoes into a catamaran. One of the best features of Kruger, of course, is that it easily swallows all of the gear listed above, while leaving plenty of room for the “motor”.
Wow. That’s a lot of stuff. But it all worked to keep me safe, warm and dry, fed, and on my way. I suppose I might have been able to trim five to 10 pounds somewhere. But, guess what? When I stepped on the scale at the end of the trip, I’d lost 10 pounds.