As much as canoe journeys like our summer-long, 600-mile expedition in northern Quebec are defined by nomadism, we spend as much time (or more) stationary in camp. That reality makes gear like shelter, cooking gear and cutting tools just as important as canoes, paddles and packs in ensuring safety and enjoyment. Here are a few items that kept us comfortable in camp.
Read Part 1 of Expedition Tested here.
Seeming incompatible criteria must come together in an expedition tent: A good shelter must be spacious, lightweight and bombproof in wind and rain. The Sierra Designs Convert 3 tent ($599.95) scores high points on all counts. Unlike most three-person tents, the Convert 3 lives up to its capacity rating with an impressive 45 inches of headroom and 40 square feet of useable floor space. Two vestibules add another 29 square feet of storage space. The tent served as a comfortable oasis for waiting out bad weather for the two of us. Weight-wise, it's a reasonable seven pounds and packs down nicely in a 10-liter compression bag. Removing the front vestibule saves an additional pound and, more practically, makes it fit on irregular ground. The Convert 3 remained dry through weeks of rain and—especially when pitched with its tail into the wind—stood up to relentless tundra gales. The only caveat: Pack earplugs because the tunnel-shape, four-pole design rocks and rolls noisily in a strong wind, even with all eight guylines tied taut.
We were thrilled to field test the brand-new Helle Wabakimi knife ($199), a traditional fixed-blade. At first glance, the handcrafted Wabakimi certainly lives up to the Norwegian manufacturer's legendary reputation for making beautiful knives. But on a canoe trip, the Wabakimi's supreme versatility takes precedence over its good looks. Daily tasks for the razor-sharp, 3.3-inch blade forged in Helle's durable triple-laminated stainless steel included preparing tinder and kindling for cooking fires, cutting cheese and bannock, and gutting fish. It's no surprise the Wabakimi was designed by survival expert (and veteran canoe tripper) Les Stroud. The curly birch handle fits well in the hand and the knife carries securely and comfortably on a belt in a deep leather sheath.
UCO Stormproof Sweetfire strikeable firestarter ($5.99 for 20) were our secret to instant fire on soggy days. "Strikeable tinder" is an apt description for these oversized matches: They burn hot for upwards of five minutes, providing ample opportunity to light a pile of split kindling with minimal fussing and cursing.
A full-size axe like the Hults Bruks Akka ($189) is a critical practical and survival item on a canoe expedition in Canada's boreal forest. The Akka's 24-inch handle makes it safe and efficient for blazing portages and the 1.5-pound head splits rounds of wood for the campfire. In a pinch, it's comforting to know that I could even use it to carve an emergency paddle—at least on the forested southern portion of our route.
Weighing barely two pounds, the football-sized combo of the Hilleberg Tarp 10 ($190-210) and Hilleberg Mesh Box 10 ($205) affords a dose of sanity in an onslaught of biting insects. Both the 11.5- by 9.5-foot tarp and two-person mesh canopy are impeccably crafted and thoughtfully designed—granted we had to get creative in our pitching strategy when trees became scarce. Hilleberg's exceptional tents and tarps are an investment, but they're worth every penny when nature is at its most adverse. Get a closer look at the Hilleberg tarp and pitching tips in this C&K video.
Our favorite campfire meals like quiche, bannock and muffins were produced in a Swedish Reflector Oven ($74.98) and Paderno Carbon Skillet ($11.98), available online from Michigan-based bushcraft expert Ben's Backwoods. The reflector oven is a simple, lightweight and compact means of efficiently preparing baked goods in the backcountry. Meanwhile, the value-priced nine-inch, deep-sided Paderno skillet serves triple duty for frying, baking and boiling a variety of meals for two to three campers. Like any carbon steel cookware, it's important (and easy) to season the pan before use and protect it from moisture.
More Expedition Tips and Gear Reviews at CanoeKayak.com:
— Conor Mihell opens up his wannigan (aka grub box)
— Check out the newest gear for 2018
— Search all things gear at CanoeKayak.com