The importance of a good pack and how it relates to great camping

A few weeks ago I knocked the majority of the dust off my gear and exposited that I loved the 100+L pack I was using.  Now I’m looking around for my own pack and the benefits of having one are quickly becoming apparent.  I’ve got my eyes on a completely watertight 115L portagin bag, and it’s beginning to look more and more sexy every day.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of HUGE packs.  Not just tall, but also wide.  When you’re hiking or traveling your pack will be tall and skinny because it’s easier on your lower back, but it becomes pretty self explanatory once you’re in a boat why a fat and stout pack is best.  It’ll fit snuggly into the welcoming gunnels of any canoe, either width or length wise, and sit good and low in the canoe which really stabilizes the hell out of the boat.

115L of watertight awesome

What’s more, you’ll be able to do portages a lot easier with everything in one or two big bags.  Especially if the portage is short, you can hop out, grab a pack, and throw a canoe on your head while the other person carries a pack and whatever else was in the boat (paddles, water, maps, etc.).

Note the handles to move and handle the pack in and out of the canoe.

Seriously, with a properly packed bag (heavy stuff at the top, bulky stuff at the bottom, portaging 1-3 km are easy as pie and not nearly as bad as some people make it out to be!

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How to Right A Flipped Canoe Properly (With Illustrations!)

Canoeing is a low-impact and incredibly safe way to cross flat water.  However, as with any watersport, there is an element of danger if things of awry, so here’s a few tips and tricks on what to do concerning a flipped canoe!

Firstly, you should tip a canoe at least once in a controlled environment with warm water and a safety crew standing by.  It’s the only way to be properly prepared for the real thing.  Also, before going out either snap your pack’s waistclip, lumbar strap, or some other clasp to the yoke or a thwart so that if you tip, your gear won’t lie at the bottom of a lake or river.  An even better way to do this is to tie or carabiner a rope through all the packs’ lifting straps (or any strong point) and tie them off to one strong point on the canoe so that you can perform the next steps more easily (read on and you’ll understand).

Let’s say you’re out on the water, just getting from point A to B, when suddenly, you’re partner sees a shiny dabloon in the depths below!  “What luck!” they’ll proclaim, reaching hazardously over the side.  The next thing you know, you’ve got water up your nose and your friend has become a mild annoyance.  What to do?  There are a number of ways:

Screw you, I’m not an artist! What do you think this is, Deviantart?

Hopefully you’re close to shore, like, 20 feet from being able to touch bottom.  You don’t want to haul your canoe upside down and full of water far (not to mention your now-soaked gear), trust me.  But let’s say you can.  Simply have the canoe upside down, lift one end out of the water then the other.  Once you have the upside down and relatively water-less canoe above your head, flip it and carry on like nothing happened.

Of all the things to happen, this one is the most shameful but easiest to remedy.

If you flip in the middle of a larger body of water, or during a crossing or something where you can’t get to shore, but have some friends in another boat or canoe nearby, then you’re in luck.  Getting a boat out of deep water with another boat nearby is one of the easiest things to do with a bit of practice.  Once your asshole friends have stopped laughing at you, basically all you have to do is put your sunken canoe over top of the rescue boat perpendicularly so the water drains out.  Pushing down on the side away from the rescue boat helps getting on the other craft, and then you flip it (once it’s dry) and off you go!  I actually had to do this exact maneuver to help out some young folks who had tipped at dusk on the French river last week, and it just goes to show how handy this kinda crap can be.  Remember, your gear is holding on for dear life under the canoe and you should get it out and into your rescue canoe first!

Swimming lessons and “eggbeater” water treading really pay off here.

God help you if you flip in the middle of the lake with no other boats in the area and can’t make it to shore.  Flipping the boat can be done, but it’s certainly no picnic.  Basically you do the same operation as when you bring it to shore, but since there’s no ground to push against, you’ve got to support the weight of the canoe by spin-kicking like a mofo.  Remember to do one end at a time, try to utilize your lifejacket as much as possible by snugging it down to as low as it’ll go on yourself, and remember to give it all you’ve got because your life legitimately could depend on it.

I’ve seen entire rescues go back to square one because the people didn’t know how to get in the boat. I laughed.

A quick note on getting into canoes in deep and shallow water.  No matter where you’re launching from, whether it’s a beach, rock, or dock, step into the middle of the canoe first and try to put a paddle across the gunnels so that you’ve got a more solid boat to get into.  Hands down it’s my biggest pet peeve when someone tips a boat because they’re too high up and expect a canoe to work as a floating dock.  In deep water, you can’t leverage yourself against the side to get in, it just won’t work and you’ll get water back in the boat.  Instead, have one person wrap themselves around the bow/stern of the canoe, acting as a stabilizer, and hop over the opposing end by hoisting yourself up and over the point.  Once you’re in the canoe, make sure you make the canoe as stable as possible so your partner can do the same.

Safe paddling!

Fishing the North Channel of the French River

Well folks, I just got back from a long weekend fishing trip to the north side of 18 Mile Island and boy howdy it was exciting.  Being about a 5 hour drive north of Toronto it had better have been.

Weeks of planning in advance made the whole thing much easier to pull off, and as the days got closer and closer it became apparent that everything was going smoothly.  We got there around noon on Friday, left at about 9AM on Monday, and fished the shit out of everything in between.  We even managed to get in some time for swimming (and on May 24!).

But on to the fishing!  As usual, I picked up one lure from Bass Pro and hoped that it’d work for everything, and this time I was right.  I grabbed a medium-sized perch-like sinker.  This little beauty sank and ran about 7-10ft under the water.  With the incredibly deep nature of the French, this worked well.

Out on the water we saw that the shore dropped off quickly from the waterline, so we had to troll incredibly close to shore or down-rig in the middle.  Since we didn’t want to look like morons in the middle of a stream with cannon-balls over the side of our boat, we stayed nice and close to ground.  I was running the One True Lure and managed to catch the first muskie I ever managed to get in a boat (small for a muskie, 6lbs 11oz), a few bass that were out of season and small, as well as a clean and small pike.

The real treat of the weekend was when I managed to grab a five and a half pound walleye (or pickerel if you want to call it that).  It tasted terrific too, but as usual it fought with the pep and vigor of a mud-covered stick.  Still, it’s the biggest walleye I’ve ever got.

According to the locals though, it was a very slow weekend for fishing.  But by using the One True lure it was a great trip for myself.  I caught all of the four big types of fish (bass, pike, walleye, muskie) and damn if it wasn’t great.  Pictures coming soon!

Poker Lake Camping

So the time has come, I officially declare summer camping season…OPEN!  Huzzah!  That’s right, I’ve knocked the dust off my gear and taken it out into the bush.  It was a good time, I was with first-time campers (which was both aggravatingand a good thing for my confidence as a camper), and the sun was shining.

We put in at the Poker Lake put-in on Highway 118 in central Ontario.  It’s a tough put-in to find if you don’t know what you’re looking for, but the “Watch for People Crossing the Road” yellow signs are a dead give-away.  It’s about halfway between the firehouse at the end of Bird Lake road and Carnarvon.  We went south into Big East Lake, and after a 150m portage down a hill steeped with Canadian Shield granite we were on our way.  The paddle was short but scenic, and we had the whole lake to ourselves.  A broken yoke and weaker paddlers meant that I pretty much gunned the 3-4 odd kilometers as fast as I could just to get off the water (which is disappointing, I love the paddle/adventure).  We pulled into a rather steep and rocky take-out on site # 15 and I set to work setting things up.

My tent, a 2-pole 4-person MEC number, went up easy as pie and despite a few hours of solid rain remained bone dry.  I was very pleased with it.  The same goes for my new MSR pot set, which handled chili and mixing bowl duties quite nobly.  I was most impressed, however, with the Trailblazer Take-down Bucksaw I was borrowing from a friend.  That little tub of aluminum, with a flourish and some know-how it turns into a handy-dandy saw to hack up some firewood.  It was incredibly helpful and I was glad to have it.  One last piece of equipment I took out for the first time this year was a huge 110L backpack, which was tremendously awesome on the quick portage down to the put-in.  When you engage Beast Mode, put the pack with all your equipment/tent/sleeping bags/etc. on your back and then the canoe on your head you can move a whole ton of gear easily and quickly.

Like I’ve said, the weather was a mixture between good sunshine, calm wind (which kept the bugs away), and a bit of light to moderate rain.  I didn’t both putting up the tarp to keep the rain off because it would have been too much of a hassle.  The firewood I found was generally rotted rubbish, so we didn’t have a roaring blaze.  The wind DID however blow an ember out of the fire and I had to use my drinking water to stop the forest from burning down.  Fishing was a wash, I didn’t try anywhere outside of the site (as there was much to do), and the water was still quite cold which meant that they were very lazy and not biting.  We saw and heard a loon calling and fishing, which was magestic as ever.

All in all, it was a good trip.  Nowhere near one of my best, but better than working (amirite?).  It was good to get outside for whole days at a time and validating to see my coveted gear in action.  I’ve got only a few things to buy now before heading out in earnest, and I can’t wait to share it all with you.  If you have questions, route info, or any other info you want to share, please leave a comment!