On this page I want to tell you something about the equipment, that served me very well here in Canada. I am not talking about thins you need to live in Waterloo, but rather about gear that enabled me to go on trips into the Canadian wilderness (although sometimes snowshoes were pretty helpful in Waterloo as well).
|The sleeping bag is one part of the gear that has significant influence on the fun factor of a trip. Especially if you plan trips in winter, you want to think hard about which sleeping bag to buy. There are two different types - down feather and synthetic fiber filled sleeping bags, which vary in weight and maintenance. Both types cover most of the possible temperature range, whereas for extreme low temperatures a down filled bag has an advantage in weight. Beside good compressibility downs have the disadvantage that they don't insulate anymore where a synthetic fiber is annoying but still keeps you warm. Furthermore downs are more expensive then comparable synthetic fibres.||
Thinking of the Canadian winter one has the image of deeply snow-covered landscapes, extreme low temperatures and icy wind. And one should be prepared for exactly that. Temperatures of -45ºC are rare but they are possible. The actual temperature in a case like that might "only" be -25ºC, the rest is caused by the wind chill factor. But that means that by choosing the right (namely wind-shielded) spot to place your camp can avoid some sleepless (cause icy) nights. I brought a pretty old down sleeping bag from Germany already, which when it was new was good for -25ºC extreme range. Within the years down filled sleeping bags loose some of the material or this looses its insulation properties. For somebody who already has a sleeping bag that is good for something around -15ºC to -20ºC (extreme range) it's probably not worth buying a new hyperdyper sleeping bag, which is going to be a pain in summer. But with some simple tricks everybody can increase the temperature range. First there is the question of what to wear during the night, which is a well-discussed topic. Everybody has to find his/her own optimum. The extremes: One wear next to nothing an the sleeping bag can reflect the heat much better (works great for me). The other extreme is to get into the seeping bag completely dressed (preferably with fresh, dry cloth). In between there are lots of other possibilities and everybody should test what works best for him/her.
Two hints what to pay attention to: Crawling deep into the sleeping bag might be really cozy but with the exhaled air humidity is getting into the bag which condenses and diminishes the insulating properties of your bag. So keep your head outside. This leads me to the next point: always wear a warm tug, preferably on that doesn't slid off you head while sleeping. One looses about 80% of body heat via the head and it is easy to minimize this loss. Further possibilities to improve your bag's winter suitability are so-called inlets in shape of the bag. They are available in many different materials such as fleece (warm, but heavy and big), cotton (stores humidity like a sponge) or silk (very light, but expensive). While these go into the bag bivy bags (=>) are being wrapped around it.
Washing you sleeping bag from time to time does not only offer an fresh smell but softens up the feathers and so gets it down a few degrees on the temperature scale. One should use special down detergent and prefer tumble drying (with an old, clean shoe, which softens the feathers) to air drying.
|Bivy bags are available in a whole bunch of materials, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. The cheapest solution are Nylon bags, which unfortunately are not able to transport humidity and condensed water to the outside. The significantly more expensive choice are bivy bags with Gore-Tex (or similar) membranes that on the other hand balance the disadvantages of nylon bag. Who does not want to spent $250 to $350 on the breathable membrane should try his luck at an army shop. I got my dark green, spacious (my cloth into the end, cause it's 2,4 m long), used 3-layer Gore-Tex bivy bag for incredible $100 and wasn't disappointed so far. The bags you get in outdoor shops normally come with a rain lid and a mosquito net, which but do not justify the high price. One can get these details made by a tailor for way more reasonable costs. To get back to its heat conserving properties: Normally a bivy bag is though to be a shelter for camping without a tent, in winter it can be an additional insulation layer within the tent.|
|Another significant influence on the sleeping comfort has the insulating mattress, which provides insulation and levels out uneven ground. Self-inflating mattresses (Therm-A-Rest, or any other brand) have sold like crazy in recent years. Her also, everybody has to find his/her own body length and weight dependent optimum between packing dimensions, weight and comfort. The lightest mattresses start with 1.5 cm thickness and are about 1.8 m to 0.6 m in dimensions. The most thick ones offer 5 cm of foam and are longer and broader. My personal optimum (I am 1.89m tall and weigh 78kg) is a Therm-A-Rest which is 1.96m long , 0.85m broad and the 4cm of foam even level out rocks and roots. Packing dimensions and weight are reasonable, what can't be said about the price. Together with my sleeping bag my mattress shares a middle-sized compression bag.|
|Some of you are going to ask what that talking about packing dimensions is all about. That leads me to the next really important part of the equipment, the backpack. It is rather difficult to provide the key to the right backpack. Too different are demands and expectations. That's why I want to offer more general hints. Usually it doesn't make much of a difference if you go on a weekend trip or if you plan to stay for a week or more (not regarding the food supplies). A 75 L backpack offers a lot of space, but think of how much of it a camera equipment for example might need (not talking about its weight ;-)) So you better buy a bigger backpack, one does not have to fill it all up (which only goes for those who can limit themselves ;-)) Most of today's available backpacks offer an extension of about 15-20L, but which is rather supposed to be for light stuff (like cloth) only.|
In the shop you should pay attention that the carrying system (frame) suits the expected weight of the backpack (20-30kg) and the body height. For that I recommend to ask the personal in the shop for professional advice. One shouldn't feel falsely safe when looking at the prices. Even qualitatively questionable backpacks are rather expensive (~$200). For carrying heavy weights (25-30kg) one can easily spend $350 to $450 for a suitable frame. Here, too, I recommend to look for used material, you can find prices around 50% of the new for rather unused equipment. Most outdoor retailers offer a board for gear swap.
The best backpack can be a pain if it is packed the wrong way. Heavy parts (camera, lenses, water bottles, food) belong tightly to the back, whereas lighter stuff can fill the rest. A insulation mattress can even be fixed to the outside of the bag. Light, small bags help to keep the inside tidy and minimized time searching for stuff. As a particularly good feature I enjoy the lid on my backpack (Aeroflex by Dana Design, 85 + 20L) which normally takes the rope while climbing or mountaineering. But it also takes jackets, a tent fly or big pots with easy access.
|About tents I don't to say too much and honestly, since I have my bivy bag I never really though about buying a tent anymore. Who is looking for information should go to a retailer and ask for advice. Just a few hints for pitching a tent. It's kind of logic to look for a site that has no big roots or rocky ground, but take even a closer look for that the ground is even. The chosen site might be only slightly obliged, but in the night even that can already be a pain, especially when your sleeping bag tends to slide on the mattress. In that case some adhesive rubber strips help a lot.|
Concerning the right site you want to think about pouring rain and what happens to your site. A depression is rather bad as water can gather in it. And if the bottom layers of modern tents are described as waterproof I wouldn't give too much on that. Who wants to look after his tent might be interested in getting an additional plastic sheet to put the tent on in order to avoid odour and fungi growing on it (especially on extended trips). One doesn't have to buy that one at an costly outdoor retailer (where you sometimes get layers that are already cut down to the shape of your tent), but spare a lot of money and get it from Canadian Tire and cut it down yourself. But consider that is shouldn't overlap the actual tent bottom (water running down the fly would gather on it...), but be overlapped by 5cm all around. While in winter you better look for a wind-shielded spot in summer it can bring relief from heat and insects as well.
Following I listed what else can be on a checklist...
|Stove - gas driven stoves (by MSR, Primus etc.) dominated the market and offer to burn kerosene and diesel as well. These stoves are much more powerful than any stove that burns propane for which one has to get the suitable tanks. Prices and quality vary depending on application.|
|Pots - those with anti-stick surfaces are recommended, but expensive as well. For more than 3 people one should consider to bring a big pot (~8L) or eat in shifts...|
Crockery and cutlery - sounds a bit exaggerated, thinking of the outdoor kitchen. A bowl fits everything (cereals, soup, rice or pasta), a cup (for winter time a insulated cup might be preferred), fork and spoon. Somebody who is paying attention to the weight might want to consider the purchase of a foon or a spork respectively ;-)) A knife, of course, should not be missing. I personally like the French Opinel knives (inexpensive jack-knife with blade lock and a great wooden handle), but a Swiss army knife might have some more features.
|Rain cover (for the backpack) - different models are offered. The more simple ones are being pulled over the backpack and fixed by pulling a string. The more sophisticated ones are design like a bag that has a lid that covers the straps during the transport. The cheapest solution are heavy duty garbage bags.|
|Tools - one can be lucky and
find some dry wood that is already cut down. Who doesn't
want to rely on that should consider to take along a
collapsible saw and a hatchet. For branches (up to 10cm
Ø) a small foldable saw might be alright, whereas for
bigger trunks a two-hand-saw that comes apart is the
better way to go. The hatchet is good for getting rid of
small branches, for testing the woods quality or for
preparing kindling. In winter it can also be used for
testing the ice thickness of a frozen lake.
|Waterproof Roll-lock Bag - a multipurpose part of the equipment. Not only great for storage of water and humidity sensible tings (camera, food...), but good for putting food (brown, black) bear proof and racoon proof into a tree. It's water and odour proof and therefore doesn't attract animals that much.|
Fire starters - see camp fire
|Orientation - Who wants to go on a trip should know a bit about the region he/she is going to enter. That needn't to be time taking task, but should include some important things. Maps are of particular importance - even if you only want to follow a marked trail or paddling. These maps should have a reasonable scale (1:25,000 to 1:10,000) and at least one grid (Longitude/Latitude, UTM). In order to carry the maps safely and use them even in rain one should consider purchasing a transparent, waterproof map cover.|
|People who want to play safe, means to determine their position pretty quick in case of emergency should also think of buying a GPS device. I carried along my Garmin Etrex on most of my trips even though I never really needed it. In case of emergency it can save you a couple of precious minutes. But even so it is perfect for planning and carry out trips. Especially on unknown ground it can be important to know how far it is to the next planned camp spot or to proof if one is still on the route.|
|Flashlight - in order to find a
suitable flashlight out of all offered torches there are
some points to be considered. A good flashlight should be
waterproof, light and handy. Normal torches might be ok
for searching something in your backpack but for
everything else it is rather annoying to have it in your
hand. Those flashlights that you can wear on your head
have some major advantages. You have your hands free and
wherever you look, it is enlightened - ideal for cooking
and night hiking (at new moon). The bigger and the more
illuminating flashlight get the heavier they are and the
heavier the batteries are. The small MAG lights are quite
good, one even gets a headband to mount it like a
headlamp, but energy consumption is pretty awful.
|Especially a t temperatures below -10ºC batteries are used up after a short time (~2h), another weight, environmental and cost factor. LED flashlights don't have that problem as they need only a minimum or power. I recommend the model Tikka offered by Petzl, which burns 150h with three AAA batteries (-12h bright, 13-24h light, and the remaining time still enough for cooking and reading). I made the experience that these flashlights are not affected by low temperatures as they need only a minor current.|
|Telescope Hiking Poles - many will say now, hey, I am not that old yet, that I actually need hiking poles. But however once made the experience on using them on a multiple day hiking trip will be glad to have them to support the knees and gain better balance. Especially when snowshoeing with a heavy backpack you will get convinced about them soon.|
|Water bottles - On outdoor trips one tends to dehydrate quite easy, means you don't drink enough. The body dries out and looses its strength. In winter it is even worse as one normally doesn't notice the thirst as much as in hot summer. So, always make sure bring enough drinking water and water purifier. In which container you carry the water is of no relevance, but who is already thinking of buying a bottle, should think about purchasing a water bag with an attached drinking hose. These are easy to store in the backpack (close to the back, of course), but you have the water (and I wouldn't fill anything else, no sugar, flavours or colors) handy. This enables you to drink more continuously, smaller sips, but more over time.|
Outer Wear - another important topic. During the last years the boom of functional cloth reach the cheap retailers as well and nowadays everybody runs around with a Jacket that is wind- and waterproof and breathable, too. But, who ever is looking for a high quality jacket that has detailed features like (zipped breathing vents underneath the arms, a detachable hood and pockets on the right spots) still has to pay a lot. The same goes for rain pants and other active wear.
I don't have much experience with functional underwear as I was always repelled by high prices. I can imagine that it is nice to have fast drying cloth, but I survived without so far ;-))
|Hiking Boots - Here I want to direct the readers to specialized outdoor retailers for their professional advice. There are only some points about one should think about, material and shape. For the shape I prefer some high boots that cover and stabilize your ankles, as a sprained ankle almost certainly is the end of a trip and it might even become dangerous, if that happens 3 hiking days away from help. Concerning the material it doesn't matter, if you decide on pure leather or any functional membrane, as even normal leather (when well maintained) is waterproof and breathable, probably even better than any synthetic material.|
Snowshoes - A particular fun way to do a hike is by snowshoes, as one isn't restricted to any available trails, but can wake on those even if the snow piles up high. If you tried before to walk in deep snow you will know how exhausting or even futile it is. Image the same scenery with an additional 25kg of backpack and that's where it normally ends. But not only on normal trails snowshoes are necessary in the Canadian winter, they even provide a better safety on frozen lakes as they distribute the weight much better (that shall nobody drive to step of ice of a freshly frozen lake!).
There are two types of snowshoes, the classical ones (made out of wood and tendons) and the modern ones (made out of aluminium and plastic). While one can purchase the classical ones from $80 (new) without any great differences in quality, the modern ones sell from $150 on, asking at least $200 for some good ones. Special details are rotating mounted foot plates (cheaper one sell with a heavy duty rubber band), bindings that are superior to the classical leathers trips, steel or aluminium claws (enable to walk on ice) and smaller dimensions. On a frozen lake, which is covered with a water drenched snow layer the classical ones are superior to the modern snowshoes as they tend to sink less and don't built up ice junks as on the aluminium frame.
|Gloves and Mitts - At extreme low temperatures one shouldn't wear gloves, but mitts, except when worn underneath. But the best glove doesn't help much, if the person is already cold. As a good solution very thin gloves (so that you can still feel what you touch) have proven which are best worn underneath waterproof mitts.||
|Gaiters - They prevent no only snow from falling into your boots, but also rain water dripping down your rain pants. They are available in different qualities (Nylon from $30, Gore-Tex from $40).|
|Snow Shovel - If you want to pitch a tent in snow you better make sure to dig a whole down to the ground to put your tent in. It prevents you from sleeping on a icy ground and there is less melting water wetting the tents bottom.|
Cooking - In order to spare gas (on longer trips for example) one should collect the water you cooked your pasta in and reuse it for another round of pasta or to prepare a hot beverage or soup. Normally you don't taste the pasta past ;-))
- an evening in the Canadian wilderness without a warming
fire? No way, especially when you are drenched by rain or
sweat and want to dry your stuff quickly. In case you run
out of gas for your stove you can even cook on a fire,
but then you have to accept that your pots will endure a
In order to start a fire birch bark is of great help as it even burns very well when wet. That it burns that good also means it is gone pretty fast. So you better have prepared some kindling. For the case that there are no birches or for emergencies (or lazy people) one should bring some fire starters. There are some many different kinds from fire paste to chemical tablets. The best - cause without any chemicals that are toxic or smelly - little paper cups filled with paraffin and wood shavings have proven to work even when wet and provide 30 minutes to start a fire from the flames.
Recipes - Outdoor meals are supposed to be quickly prepared, with healthy and power spending ingredients. Oh, an they shall taste good, too. Pasta and (instant) rice are very light basic ingredients. Sauces don't need to be difficult. A yummy cheese sauce (recipe from Sabine) is made easily with some hot water, flour and junks of cheese and even serves as a dip for vegetables the following day ;-) Meat isn't recommended (if not in a can), but for the first day you can take along some pre-fried, pre-spiced ground beef. Alternatively take vegetables, which on the other side are heat sensitive and heavy as well. Fresh fruit is good for the breakfast (with oatmeal) and in between, but does have the same disadvantages as the vegetables. Ready-made outdoor meals are light, but expensive.
|Drinking Water - Even if you are on a trip only for a few days you don't want to take along all the water you will need. Water of Canadian lakes normally is quite ok, but sometimes micro organisms are found that cause beaver fever, which means the end of your trip and a break from outdoor adventures for several month. So better don't risk too much (you can still go for a swim in a lake) and first treat the water you are about to drink. Water that is to be boiled anyway (for pasta, tea) is safe after 5 minutes of boiling. For drinking purposes water can be treated with several available chemicals. Not recommended are the tablets that contain iodine as iodine accumulates in your body (unhealthy, when taken for longer than 2-3 days) and has a aftertaste. Much better are silver ion or chlorine based purifiers which are neutral in taste and can be used unlimited. In winter snow is a good source for safe water, as long as you don't take the yellow snow ;-))|