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Planning Your Next Paddling Adventure

An experienced Ontario backcountry paddler gives tips and guidelines to best prepare you for a successful and safe backcountry canoe trip

As the COVID-19 virus continues to rage around the world, people are continuing to feel more and more restless staying indoors and are looking ahead to plan their post-quarantine adventures. These include outdoor activities such as hiking, paddling, skiing, biking, and many more. There are so many great places all around Canada to explore and one of the best ways to do so is from the seat of a canoe on a backcountry trip.

In Ontario alone, there are countless beautiful locations for canoe trips, including Algonquin Park, Killarney, and Muskoka, to name a few. Planning and executing a backcountry canoe trip is a big undertaking not without risk, and one that needs careful planning and thorough preparation. Today, we will be reviewing important things you need to know in order to prepare for a successful backcountry canoe trip.

Developing a Route Plan

Creating a route plan is a crucial first step that is often overlooked. A route plan can include an abundance of information, that provides you as the planner, and anyone who might see it, as much information as possible on the extent of the expedition. This includes the contact info for all participants of the trip, a detailed explanation of the route, a meal plan, and a shopping and packing list. As an extra measure of safety, especially if you are going on an extensive trip in remote areas, it is a good idea to give a copy of your route plan to someone who will not be joining you on your trip. Having your personal/contact information on the plan comes in handy if anyone needs to contact you, or needs info about allergies or past illness. Providing a detailed description of your route includes the total distance travelled and distance per day, coordinates of campsites you will be staying at, and emergency evacuation points.

Having a meal plan can prove very useful when trying to remember what you were supposed to cook on your fifth day on the water, when your food barrel is filled with bags that all look the same. Including a shopping and packing list in a route plan is not mandatory but is a good habit to get into, as it ensures that you do not forget important items to bring with you. The last important thing to include on a route plan is all the necessary contact info for emergency services closest to the area you will be staying within. This includes local law enforcement, local hospitals, park rangers if you are within a provincial or national park, and family members in case they need to be contacted in an emergency.

Preparing Food

Preparing the right food has a direct correlation between the success and general happiness of a trip. The first rule of packing food is it is always better to overpack food than to under pack. Even though you may be worried about saving weight, especially if you’re anticipating many portages, nothing feels worse than trying to get through a day on a canoe trip underfed. It is a good rule to have a balance of food groups on a day-to-day basis. This also means making sure you have enough protein and carbs every day. Try and avoid eating multiple dairy meals per day. Consuming too much dairy can cause problems with your bowel movements like constipation, which can be troublesome on canoe trips.

If you are planning a trip longer than four or five days, it is a good idea to start dehydrating ingredients. When left unrefrigerated, most perishable food tends to go bad between days four and seven. However, if you remove the moisture from those foods by dehydrating them, they can sometimes last for multiple years. In addition, this process will drastically cut down on the weight of your food. The easiest way to dehydrate at home is to place the food on a pan overnight in the oven. However, it’s important to know how long to leave them in for, as different foods vary in dehydration time depending on the moisture level of the food. Dehydration times for different foods can be found online like this article from The Salty Pot. Preparing meals is always a matter of preference, but it’s always nice to diversify meals to keep your cooking interesting through the duration of your trip.

Freshly Baked Cinnamon Buns, Killarney Provincial Park


The gear you bring on your trip is just as important as the food you take. Yes, it’s easy to get gear acquisition syndrome (GAS) and want every piece of gear you can get your hands on, and that is in no way necessary. If you have all the essential gear you need, it will make your life on a canoe trip that much easier. When packing clothing for your trip, it is important to bring appropriate layers for the expected temperatures you’ll be living in. When on the water, I like to have one full set of wet clothes with a couple of extra replacements for high use articles such as underwear and socks. Examples of good wet clothes include neoprene, polyester and other synthetic quick-drying material. Depending on the length of your trip, bring at least two sets of dry clothes. Fleece, cotton and insulated articles of clothing make good dry clothes. Make sure you bring two sets of shoes, one exclusively for wet conditions and one for dry conditions. Even in warm summer weather, it is important to stay as dry as possible throughout the day. Make sure you have a working raincoat and a pair of rain pants, or at least quick-dry pants. It is also nice to have a brimmed hat to keep the rain out of your face.

Having proper cooking equipment, including a stove, pots, pans, cutlery, and oven mitts will make a world of difference when you’re preparing meals. One piece of gear that is often overlooked is a proper tarp. Setting up a tarp on your site for the night could be the difference between waking up the next morning with dry gear and a place to make breakfast or soaking wet gear and a cold, wet bowl of oatmeal. Out of all your gear, the three most important pieces of equipment to keep with you are maps, a phone/SPOT device and a water purification system. Being able to properly navigate using maps on canoe trip can make or break your trip.

When it comes to communication devices, it depends on the remoteness of your location. If you are in an area that is not too remote, a simple cell phone should suffice. However, many rural areas don’t have reliable cell service, which is where satellite phones and SPOT devices become essential. SAT phones rely on satellite for connection and have much more reliable service than cell phones. While they’re not actually phones, SPOT devices also use satellite connection and can send text messages with coordinates for emergency situations. Most freshwater in Canada is not immediately drinkable, with a risk of bacterial infections like Giardia. Solutions include pump filters, aqua tabs or simply boiling the water. All of these methods work, as long as you are following proper instructions to ensure your safety. With safety in mind, any form of trip that involves boating also needs to include the use of a life jacket or PFD. This is a piece of gear that might save your life.

All of these rules and tips make canoe trips sound pretty strict. But the joys of canoe tripping are abundant. Beautiful landscapes, wildlife and so much more can be found on a backcountry canoe trip. Disconnecting from the outside world in order to connect with nature around us is an irreplaceable feeling. Those are the important things and what should be the focus when you’re out there. Following these tips and guidelines will only make your life on trip easier and will give you more time and energy to focus on the things that matter.

Petawawa River, Algonquin Park