We were a week into our canoe trip down the Gataga River, a wilderness river in British Columbia, when I popped a “guy” question capable of spurring hours of discussion–what were their favorite canoeing accessories? Part 1 of this article covered footwear, ponchos, and spray decks. Now John Marshall, Gordon Congdon, and Andy Dappen weigh-in.
John Marshall, a Wenatchee-based professional photographer, has taken several long canoeing trips to the north and paddles frequently around the Northwest. John has trouble pinpointing favorites. Naturally he doesn’t waver if the question applies to wives, but when we’re talking canoe accessories he briefly mentions several darlings he has along on the trip: 1) his low-profile, four-gallon water jug 2) his inexpensive orange box from Hooked on Toys for books and sundries 3) the waterproof blue barrels used to pack and protect our food.
Thinking aloud reminds him of one of his true loves – his tarp. For any multi-day canoe trip John views a tarp as important group gear and he’s particularly pleased with his 10-foot by 12-foot, coated-nylon tarp made by Cooke Custom Sewing. It has nylon tape around the perimeter to reinforce the edges and corners, is colorful (good for photos), and has sleeves at each corner that couple with paddles or poles and speed the set-up process.
Why are tarps so great? On hot, summer trips, they provide well-ventilated shade. When the weather is miserable they offer shelter for cooking, socializing, and waiting out the rain. In miserable conditions you can also have warmth and shelter by building a fire just outside the highest edge of your tarp. Furthermore, once it’s pulled out, all the men in a group will congregate to render their opinion on how the tarp should be pitched. With six men you’ll get six opinions…and it will take six times longer to complete the task than one man going it alone. That, of course, is a good thing because then those men don’t have to field any of those touchy-feely questions like, “Was it infidelity or flatulence that brought about your divorce?”
The other truly favorite accessory John highlights is his wooden, bent-shaft Boundary Waters paddle made by Wenonah ($110, http://www.wenonah.com). The blade — made from laminated butternut, white cedar, ash and basswood — is beautiful. And because the blade is sandwiched between layers of fiberglass and has a urethane tip for fending off obstacles, it’s tough. The paddle is also ridiculously light, which is why John cranks off two strokes with less effort than the rest of us exert completing one stroke with our heavier Hammerhead paddles made by Grey Owl. John is normally out ahead of us as we paddle the Gataga River, but during this voyage his arms are actually atrophying into the arms of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Those of us who pump thousands of strokes each day with Hammerheads develop Arnold arms.
Gordon Congdon, the former Executive Director of the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust, has been paddling wilderness rivers in northern Canada and Alaska since he was teenager, so we are all interested in his favorite accessories. He agrees with Robbie that Chotas are high on his list but, with these sweethearts already been spoken for, he highlights two rather unusual picks.
First he finds a pair of synthetic (e.g., nylon) pants that are bugproof and absorb relatively little water when you take waves in the lap, particularly pleasant companions for canoe trips. Many manufacturers produce rugged, high-quality synthetic pants but Gordon uses and likes Mountain Hardwear’s Canyon Pant ($60)because they are lightweight (around 11 ounces), have articulated knees (nice for walking, sitting, and kneeling), come in colors like ‘chaparral’ that can be filthy yet look fine, and come in regular and long lengths (Gordon has stork legs). Gordon also likes the Canyon Pant because it has a drawstring closure at the bottom of each cuff, a useful feature that keeps ankles from becoming a soda fountain for ‘skeets.
The second item Gordon particularly values is a small fanny belt for the sundries he wants handy while paddling—a few energy bars, sunscreen, TP, knife, matches…. Gordon’s not so much married to the brand of belt as he is to the concept and what he uses is similar to the Hip Wing ($20, 1.5-liter capacity) and the Swift ($30, 3-liter capacity), both made by Granite Gear.
Gordon’s fanny belt is handy but not waterproof. If you end up in the drink while running whitewater, items like a point-and-shoot camera will end up in the trash. Like Gordon I also use a fanny belt on canoe trips but my Seal Pak from Seal Line ($30) has a roll-and-snap closure and taped seams so it is completely waterproof. Access to my pack is marginally slower than Gordon’s solution, but my camera is always safeguarded.
Which brings the discussion around to my other favorite canoeing accessories. Being not just a canoeist but a kayaker, climber, backpacker, skier, and more, I’m particularly enamored with products that span addictions. On this 11-night excursion down the Gataga River I loved my Exped SynMat 7 (31 ounces, $95), a sleeping pad I have also loved on overnight ski tours and family car camping trips. Gordon and Gary both made the grave mistake of stretching this pad out over a bed of cobbles and then lounging on it for awhile–now they have serious cases of pad envy. We reviewed this sleeping pad last year so read that review for more details.
My other favorite picks all focus on waterproof luggage. For starters, I’ve long used and long valued Seal Line’s waterproof Zip Duffle 75 ($140, 75-liter capacity) for canoeing, rafting, sea kayaking, and car camping. Made of 19-ounce vinyl and sporting a beefy waterproof zipper positioned diagonally across the top, this duffle fires on many cylinders for me. The fabric takes plenty of abuse, the zipper is ultra convenient and has given me no trouble whatsoever over a decade of sporadic use. Once zipped, you can sit on the bag and not a wisp of air escapes – which means no moisture is getting into this sucker either. I find the duffle perfectly sized: It’s big enough to swallow all my personal gear for a month-long trip, small enough to make me a little discriminating about what I pack, and contoured nicely to nestle in a canoe. The duffle is not actually designed as a pack but its hand straps slip comfortably over my shoulders when it’s time to portage (adding a makeshift sternum strap improves how the duffle rides on my shoulders). The duffle’s one downer is its price: the waterproof zipper that makes the product so convenient also makes it expensive.
I’m also impressed with the Hydroseal Dry Sacks (Outdoor Research), Barrier Dry Sacks(Outdoor Research), and the AirVent Reduction Drybloc sacks (Granite Gear). Simply put, these are all waterproof stuff sacks with taped seams, roll-top closures and durable coatings. We stuffed all of these different sacks with gear (warm shirts, first-aid supplies, snack food) that needed to stay dry but also needed to remain handy. Then we stowed the sacks under our canoe seats each day. Even though these sacks frequently sloshed around in puddles for hours at time, the contents remained dust dry. Of course canoeists can buy waterproof bags of all sizes made from heavier, sturdier materials like vinyl, but the beauty of my sacks is their absence of weight — a stuff sack sized for a 3-season sleeping bag weighs about 3 ounces if it’s a HydroSeal Dry Sack, 2 ounces if it’s a Barrier Dry Sack, and 1.5 ounces if it’s an Air Vent Drybloc sack. That makes any one of these products a drysuit for your sleeping bag and spare clothing when you’re backpacking, climbing, or backcountry skiing. You could be trekking through a monsoon and the goods stored inside might as well be in the desert.
All of these stuff sacks also help you squeeze possessions into petite packages. I can compress a paddle jacket, warm shirt, sunscreen, energy bars, cell phone, matches and fire starter into football-sized bundle that nestles into a nook behind the seat of my whitewater kayak. The same items packed in heavy-duty bag doesn’t fit the space well. One stuff sack, many uses…I’m such a sucker for this kind of versatility.
This post was originally published on 8/15/08.