The Camp List

River of the month #57

author: Pat Reilly
date: February 2003

Another mid winter column will likely find some of you locked in the warm security of your home, forgetting all about canoeing until the first warm breezes of April blow your way. Now what kind of way is that for a boater to spend the winter? Paddling is a year-round sport, ya know!

So now hear this! Turn off that game. Put down the remote. Get up off the couch. Head to the garage to pack, we’re going canoe camping. Yes I know it’s cold but this season has its advantages. With a limited number of folks venturing out, it’s very peaceful out there and winter offers better water levels than summer. Plus you don’t need any ice to keep your beverages cold.

Don’t give me that, ‘I don’t know where to start’ or the old, ‘I don’t have the proper gear’. It really doesn’t take that much. Just keep it simple. For those that don’t know where to begin, this month we present ‘the List’. This list used to be my starting reference, but is now mostly just a final check to make sure I didn’t forget anything. This version is the winter list, for warmer weather just subtract items.

I realize this list is bare bones but that’s the way I like to go. One can add to it as they see fit. It is the result of years of returning from canoe camping trips, unpacking and discovering items that weren’t used. After lots of paring down I finally got to the point where I found myself in February of 2002 on the Delaware River. It was a simple one-night trip in windy, rather cold conditions. I ended up using every piece of gear I had along and, more importantly, I needed nothing that wasn’t along. It was a good trip, ranked high in satisfaction, as I had a most comfortable night in spite of bringing only the necessities. This list is basically the items I had on that trip.

**The boat:**
Don’t laugh, it needs to be on the list, I’ve driven off without it already. Usually use a racing K-1 for a solo trip, as I’m a speed freak and like to cover a lot of distance. The problem with the racing boats is that the performance goes south when you start to load them up, which is one reason I like to pack light. If in a canoe or touring K-1 weight is not as much a factor.

**Boat gear:**
Spray skirt Depends on conditions. Took one and needed it on the Delaware trip. But you won’t always need one. Dry bags 2 - big one for camp stuff, little one for personals. Paddle no spares, be careful with the one you bring! PFD I’ll sometimes use an old horse collar PFD just to save weight, but only in flat water. Your PFD is also your pillow for sleeping.

Tent - Don’t have a tent? Pick up a 10x12 piece of nylon tarp for a few bucks at the local hardware. A tarp is quite versatile as it can be pitched in a variety of configurations. I used one for years, even though I had tents. The disadvantage of a tarp is the cold. My experiments have shown that you can expect a temperature difference of 10 to 20 degrees warmer inside a tent, even more with multiple bodies. Now I have a new high tech bivy sack and I’m down to less than 2 lb. for solo sleeping quarters. I used it for the 2nd time on the Delaware trip. Since most of my trips are one-nighters I often don’t take a tent at all. If it doesn’t rain you can sleep under the stars on just your bag and a pad. One of my more memorable mornings was waking in a snow-covered sleeping bag watching big soft flakes float downward and feeling them melt on my cheeks.

Lines Always bring nylon lines of varying length (especially if camping with a tarp). Use as clothesline, tether, towrope, for emergencies, etc.

Sleeping bag I have a trusty old LL Bean that worked at 10 below once, but it weighs in at a burdensome 5 lbs. Recently I’ve been experimenting with just the bivy and a wool blanket for warmer weather.

Sleeping pad ‘Ridge-Rest’ is great, being very light. Also have a ‘Therma-rest’ but usually don’t take it on a streamlined trip and it wasn’t on the Delaware trip. When river camping you often have the option of bedding down in soft sand.

Crazy Creek chair This on-the-ground camp seat is one luxury that I afford. Doubles as an additional sleeping pad. I’ve had back problems for years and this fold-up chair gives you the necessary support to really relax that back after a hard day of paddling. It only adds a pound or two.

Stove Almost never take it. Cook over an open fire. This business about the impact of campfires on the environment applies a lot less here in the east where we get ample rainfall. It also applies less in riparian areas that get flooded regularly. And I keep my fires very small (unlike Kris Wolpert). What about rainy weather? Making a fire in wet weather is a welcome camp challenge.

You can also use a fire.….

  • to repel bugs – a small fire really helped with mosquitoes on one Thailand trip.
  • for warmth – you must get completely out of the wind and keep your fire small so you can curl up next to it.
  • to dry clothes – if trip is more than 1 night, you’ll need to dry out your pile

Small grill Tiny backpack grill adds little weight and is much easier than balancing your pot on 2 logs or rigging a hanging pot on a hobo stick.

Cook kit Keep it simple, take just what you need for what you’re cooking. I usually take just a single pot and a spoon.

Headlight How did we ever camp without headlights? I’m down to taking one LED headlight and one small penlight backup. The new LED lights last forever but don’t give off a lot of light. That’s okay though because you don’t need much. I try to keep it off as much as possible and get ‘into’ the dark. Both lights use the tiny triple-A batteries.

Candle lantern Always take it, good for reading and the candle can help start a fire in wet weather.

Pile Use 2 sets, one to start with and one to keep dry for camp. Then rotate the 2 sets for multiple days.

Shells one pants, one top.

Helmet liner better than a wool hat which gets snagged on strainers.

Baseball cap for rain.

Gloves pogies on the paddle and light waterproof pair for under the pogies

Heavy pair kept dry.

Socks Socks, socks and more socks, I don’t skimp here. 4 or more pair of wool socks and at least 2 pair of waterproof socks. My motto – ‘It is not a successful camping trip if your feet get cold.’ I also take a pair of goose down booties for in the sleeping bag; they’re light and warm.

Shoes Footwear was always problematic in a kayak. Heavy boots are, well .. heavy, and bulky to carry in a K-1. On the Delaware trip I came up with the answer - those new long neoprene booties - mukluks, if you will. Again, how did we live without them! I cut and stuffed an extra layer of neoprene onto the bottoms (Kris Wolpert’s idea), and wore them with heavy wool socks and waterproof socks. Since they are pliable enough to wear in the kayak, you can use the same footwear for paddling and camping! Your feet can get cold in this set up but not if you ‘stay ahead’ of the cold. It’s important to immediately change all wet gear as soon as you land at your campsite. Then with dry cozy feet set out doing your camp chores, the work should keep your feet warm. When settling down to cook, eat and relax use the fire to keep ‘em toasty. If they start getting cold, change socks again, put on the down booties and stuff ‘em in the sleeping bag. Sometimes it seems like the entire trip is organized around keeping my feet warm!

Dinner Seldom use freeze dried. Usually take rice or pasta with some spicy sauce/flavoring and maybe a fresh vegetable.

Breakfast re-warm leftover dinner (make sure to cook enough for 2 meals).

Lunch I don’t like to stop for lunch, use dry carry along snacks - Powerbars, granola bars, gorp.

Water take one quart to begin with. Then re-fill with river water using iodine purification tablets. I’ve been doing this for years on many different rivers and never had a problem. The only camping river that I couldn’t bring myself to drink from was the Schuylkill.

Powdered sport drink to add to the water. The electrolytes prevent muscle cramps.

Most of the following items reside permanently in my small dry bag

  • Sun block
  • Iodine tablets
  • ‘Leatherman’ knife and tool
  • Handkerchiefs used as camp rags, T-towels, pot holders, for first aid, etc.
  • First aid items Ibuprofen, band aids, antiseptic creme
  • Pearl drops for keeping eyeglasses from fogging
  • Soap environmentally friendly castille soap in a film container
  • Floss, toothbrush and paste toothpaste also in a plastic film can, floss wrapped around it
  • Duck tape Small piece wrapped around one of the film cans
  • Deet Obviously not needed in winter but it’s always there in the dry bag
  • Luxuries: Besides the down booties and Crazy Creek chair already mentioned, I may or may not take some of the following luxuries. Only the camera was along on the Delaware trip.
  • Camera
  • Field glasses
  • ‘Walkman’ radio
  • Fishing equipment
  • Scotch whiskey strictly for the bad back of course, and to help sleep
  • Reading material
  • Note pad get an early start on your log entries

I like to think that the true essence of camping is doing without the luxuries. My friend Dave (a.k.a. Mr. Know-it-all) taught me the proper mental attitude on a wilderness trip in Quebec back in the 1980s. We were on a small island in the middle of a lake near the end of our week-long trip. It was about 40 degrees and raining steadily. All our scotch was gone and our magazines were read. We had slept in as long as we could and made a big production out of lunch. The cold rain made my hands numb when I tried to fish and Dave wasn’t into paddling just for the sake of paddling. Feeling quite bored and somewhat anxious, I looked across our wet smoldering fire at Dave and asked, ‘So what do we do now?’. The relaxed and mellow Mr. Know-it-all looked thoughtfully into the trees and replied in slow deliberate words , ‘Think happy thoughts.’

Pat Reilly

Copyright © 2003 Pat Reilly. All rights reserved.