Top 10 Tips I Forget Not Everyone Knows

Quite regularly, I forget how much time I spend camping, canoeing and portaging compared to most other people. I want to say this in the least obnoxious way possible, but sometimes I don’t realize that certain things that are (by now) habit for me turns out to be a helpful tip to someone else. And it’s that very avoidance of being obnoxious that I don’t go around shouting all these things out at people. I mean, there’s some obvious knowledge to convey to beginners. I’m not talking about that kind of stuff. What I’m talking about is the stuff that makes some of your friends – the people with whom you’ve been on countless trips over the years – that say to you “Man that would have been helpful to know a lot sooner. Why are you holding out on us?” (While other friends might just respond with “Duh?”)

So here is a small list of random things that you may or may not know. But just in case, I’ll run them down anyway. Each of these things were realized by or conveyed to me at some point and I thought they were simple but brilliant, wondering why I hadn’t thought of that sooner. Some I’ve known for a long time, others not as long. (As much as I don’t want to be obnoxious, I don’t want to be embarrassed either, so I won’t tell you which I learned when.)

1 – Stabilize. Often.

See how the pack aligns along my back? Pull those stabilizing traps.

See how the pack aligns along my back? Pull those stabilizing traps. Most backpacks have them, not just packs with barrels.

Stabilizing straps are the little ones that are on your pack’s shoulder straps, sometimes called “load lifters”. When tightened, they pull the top of your pack closer to your back, making it vertical and so more properly able to distribute the weight on your waist and shoulders. Or to put it another way, they make your pack more comfortable to wear. These are not necessarily meant to be set once and forgotten. To allow taking your pack off and putting it back on more easily, loosen these straps before you take it off. As soon as you get it back on, connect your belt clip and whatever else you have do, then yank on those straps. (Ever wonder why they’re often a different colour than the other straps?) You’ll notice immediately that you’re much more comfortable, as most people who don’t (regularly) tighten them often hunch over, fighting the pack from pulling you from behind. Bonus tip: You know that strap that goes across your chest (on some packs)? It’s normally called a sternum strap. It’s there just to keep your shoulder straps in place. It’s not supposed to be pulled tight. That just makes it harder to breath, and so uncomfortable. (Also, if you’re helping a woman fit their pack, let them do the sternum strap themselves. Trust me, it avoids the risk of some rather awkward explanations.)

2 – Folding can stuff it!

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Fire Bans July 2012

This weekend (July 20th, 2012) there is currently a Fire Ban in many Ontario Provincial Parks – or what the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) calls a “Restricted Fire Zone” – including the big three: Algonquin, Killarney and Temagami. I just got off the phone with a representative from Algonquin Provincial Park to confirm some information and figured I’d share that with you in a quick post. I wanted to confirm whether or not I could bring a wood (stick) burning camp stove instead of gas during a fire ban, but kinda knew what they were going to tell me.

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Going Solo In a Tandem Canoe

Paddling by yourself in a canoe meant for two can be relatively easy on a flat lake on a calm day, but when doing so in less than ideal conditions, here are a few tricks to help make life a lot easier. (more…)

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Repelling Bugs

It may be great advice to avoid bugs, doing whatever you can not to attract them, but just like those boring chatty guys at parties, some of them will eventually find you. Basically biting bugs are attracted to carbon dioxide and heat, both of which you expel regularly and by necessity. So often your only choice is to bring out the big guns and find some way to repel them. So let’s discuss some of the ways to keep those bugs away. (more…)

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Avoid Attracting Bugs

There isn’t much you have to do to attract bugs. They like you just the way you are, and they’ll find you. What makes you particularly attractive, aside from your bubbly personality, is the indicators that you have tasty warm blood running through you: Warmth and carbon dioxide. You give off those signals all the time. You can’t help it. When you speak, sweat, or just stand there, you’re emitting CO2. When you’re active, out in the sun, or again just standing there, you’re emitting heat. Unfortunately there’s no real safe way to stop being so attractive (e.g. not breathing) there are some ways to minimize just how attractive you could be to bugs.

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Keeping Away From Bugs

If you’re out there in the woods, there’s going to be bugs. (Sorry, but it’s true.) Your first step in dealing with bugs is to be away from the areas they like best. Basically, they like to be damp and cool (but not wet and cold). It’s all about knowing your enemy and its likes and dislikes.

Bugs Like It Damp

Stay away from swampy areas, or places with a lot of wet vegetation. When making camp, choose sites away from these areas for sure, but because they like standing water, make sure to get rid of any standing water left in rocks, logs or anything else that might hold a puddle. For ticks in particular, stay away from areas with tall vegetation and anywhere known to attract birds (they like them). You’ll also find that camping along the river or on the lake, obviously you’ll find a lot of wet areas that soak up and hold water. Check for sites that border the water with sand or rocks. These areas either won’t hold water or will at least drain it away a lot easier than soil and vegetation. Sites that are raised well above the water level are also a good idea.

Bugs Like It Cool

Conversely, they don’t like heat – they dry out. If you can, stay in sunny areas. In the heat of summer, this might not seem like a great alternative, but it’s one of the great outdoor dilemma: Bake in the sun bug free (relatively), or cool down in the shade while the pests snack on you. If you can, make camp somewhere that has some open areas, so even if you don’t want to hang out in the sun, you can at least step out and get a bit of a reprieve.

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The One and a Half Method

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Canoe on Canoe Rescue

It has happened to the best of us. You’re wet, floating in a lake, your canoe is upside down, and you’re wondering what went wrong. Suddenly, you don’t care how this happened, you just want back on your boat because your paddles and gear are slowly bobbing up and down making their escape down the river – probably laughing at you.

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How To Hang Your Food

You’ll hear this a lot, but the best way to keep nuisance animals from eating your supplies (food or otherwise) is to hang your food up a tree. Stuff your food in a pack, grab some rope and pull it up out of reach of those critters who’d love an opportunity at a free meal. Easy right?

Well… if you’ve never done it before, you’ll find some small problems that you may not have thought of until now. Below you’ll find a list of those problems and some quick and easy solutions.

How High is High?

Depending on who you talk to, you should hang your food bag between 9 and 13 feet. Might as well be safe and make it as close to 13 as possible. An easy way to figure out how high that is: double your height and add a couple of feet. (If you’re shorter than 5’10”, maybe add a few more.) Basically, you want to hang the pack high enough that the bear can’t use your pack as a piñata. Make sure you have enough rope packed. It has to make it up a tree and back down.

What Needs Hanging

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You’re Warm When Your Head’s Warm

A very simple trick to keeping warm in those chilly nights is to bring a toque with you. You can stuff it in the bottom of your sack and it doesn’t cost much weight, but it can be very useful for keeping warm on those unexpectedly cold nights. See if you can find a light weight skull cap style to save even more space. You’d be amazed at how much warmth you can save by keeping your head covered, because of just how much heat you lose through your head. My grandfather spent a lot of winters in the freezing bush, and would often tell me that he’d rather wear pajamas and a warm hat than a snowsuit without one. That’s probably a bit extreme, but you get the idea.

Any time you find yourself suddenly cold, whether it’s because of unexpected weather or an unwanted dip in the lake, break out the toque and put it on because it will also help raise your body temperature relatively quickly. In extreme situations the toque can be used as a supplemental first aid tool for this reason.

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