This past summer, my wife Kim and I embarked on our longest canoe trip yet. We packed eight weeks worth of supplies and headed to northern Quebec, planning on a 600-mile, unsupported journey across a vast wilderness. In the end, we paddled 53 days—starting on the icy coast of Hudson Bay in late June before heading upstream into the interior, where we made over 100 portages to stitch together a labyrinth of waterways across the tree line to reach the source of the rarely paddled Innuksuac River, which flows back to saltwater.
The trip tested our physical strength and strained our mental stamina—and served as the ultimate trial for our gear. Here are a few items that floated, carried and fuelled our travelling days.
In the case of my beloved handcrafted wood-and-canvas canoe, our 2018 journey wasn't so much as a test as a confirmation. In capable, careful hands, Headwaters Prospector 17 canoe ($2,375-$4,000 depending on construction and options) is the finest expedition canoe available. Veteran tripper and Headwaters founder Hugh Stewart pulled the lines from original Prospector canoes built by Canada's legendary Chestnut Canoe Company. The result is a deep-hulled, buoyant canoe with balanced rocker for maneuverability in whitewater and adequate speed. There are few contemporary canoes with the capacity to transport eight-weeks worth of food and gear without a spraydeck on big water. Planning on packing even more? Headwaters has the original century-old building form for the original 18-foot Prospector, aka the Workhorse of the North.
Kim and I each packed pairs of Kokatat Hydrus 3.0 Tempest pants ($199), thinking that dry legs and feet would be an asset on the icy water of Hudson Bay. But once we headed inland, we worried that they would be deadweight. Turns out these wading waterproof-breathable pants with built-in socks were our go-to traveling wear for much of a summer of cold, windy weather. Kokatat's Hydrus fabric proved reasonably breathable, stood up to the rigors of rock and brambles on dozens of portages, and remained waterproof for the duration of the trip.
We were excited to put Yeti's Panga 75 dry duffel ($349) to a serious test. This large, rubberized gym bag-shaped duffel with 75 liters of capacity features an easy-opening drysuit-style zipper. Right off the bat, it was clear the legendary cooler manufacturer had applied its same exacting standards in the Panga's construction. Since it's waterproof and airtight, we used it as a pantry to carry snacks, drinks, lunches and other food items needed on a daily basis. Unlike hard-shell food packs like barrels, duffels like the Panga have the advantage of burping air and getting smaller as the trip progresses. For shorter trips (and smaller canoes) try the slimmer Panga 55 model.
Astral's unassuming Brewer/Brewess 2.0 shoe ($110) boasts seriously grippy soles, which were tested repeatedly while wading rapids and portaging across slippery rocks. What's more, this low-top drains well, dries reasonably quickly and doesn't collect grit. The fit is about a half-size small.
A nice antidote (or complement) to carbo loading, FBOMB nut butters ($25 for 10) add a serious lipid injection to your snacking routine. These compact and convenient squeeze tubes work best like an energy gel; they are a bit too liquidy for spreading.
Cookie Monsters rejoice! Larry and Lenny's Complete Cookie ($13.99-21.95 for 12) served as a welcome and impressively healthy change from energy bar overload. Whether you spring for the single serving (about 200 calories and eight grams of protein) or double serving packages, expect to eat the entire cookie in one go. Warning: The peanut butter varieties tended to crumble after a few weeks in the food pack.
Stay tuned to CanoeKayak.com for Part Two: expedition-tested camp gear.
More Expedition Tips and Gear Reviews at CanoeKayak.com:
— Editor-at-large Alan Kesselheim explores gear decisions for backcountry tripping
— Goods for the long-haul: Must-have canoe kit for the Northern Forest Canoe Trail
— All things gear: Boats, Blades and Accessories