So you want to go on a wilderness
adventure, something like a week in the North Maine Woods,
the Boundary Waters, the Adirondacks
or maybe the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT).
Trips like this can be lots of fun, but if you donít
prepare properly, they can be your worst nightmare.
If youíve never done this type of trip before the
best advice you can get, is to do your research.
It is always
advisable to have at least one experienced paddler on a
option is to hire a guide.
Find out everything you can about the area
you plan to visit.
Then start planning the trip.
We will point out some of the basics, but the rest is
up to you. If
you need more information, there are some good books you can
buy or borrow.
might also be a good place to start. We
are assuming that this will be a canoe/kayak trip so your
choice of boat will be important.
Once you decide where you want to go, you
need to find out everything you can about your journey.
The more you know the safer it will be and the more
fun you will have.
Get maps and guide books. Visit message boards or
talk to someone that has already done the trip.
You should have
everyone in the group review the material so there is a
Then get together and start your planning.
Will you carpool and if so who will drive?
How many vehicles will you take?
Once there, will you need to run a shuttle?
Can the shuttle vehicle(s) carry all the boats and
equipment? Not planning this properly can add an extra day
at each end of the trip.
Remember that if the first night's campsite is an 8
hour paddle downstream that you need an early start.
You may want to stay in a motel the first night after
you complete the shuttle.
Review the route and distance to be
traveled each day.
Remember to figure extra time for portages.
Donít try to set records for distances paddled.
Remember, this is an adventure, not a race.
Locate possible campsites and alternatives for each
day. Plan each
day so everyone will be comfortable and relaxed when you
arrive at the campsite.
Make sure that there will be plenty of daylight for
setting up camp and preparing the evening meal.
Check the River Flow level.
Too much water will cause floods and can make it
Too little water may mean a dry riverbed and lots of
walking and carrying equipment.
Both of these extremes need to be avoided.
Review all obstacles such as dams, rapids
Get information as to routes through rapids. Does a broken
dam have any hazards that need to be avoided? Is there a
good portage trail and is it cartable? Will everything need
to be carried and how many trips will it take?
Are the rapids runable by everyone in the
someone need to portage some of the rapids?
If someone gets separated from the group is there a
plan for finding that paddler?
One of many things I learned in the Boy
Scouts that has come in handy on many occasions, is the buddy
another boat that you want to buddy up with and always keep
that boat insight.
Regulations and permits
Many of the wilderness areas have
requirements that must be met.
we had to wash our canoes and get an Aquatic Nuisance
inspection sticker from the local harbormaster.
Crossing into Canada and back into the US, we had to
report to customs and were issued a permit number. In the
North Maine Woods, we had to get camping and fire permits and
pay a road use fee.
What will you be paddling?
Well that depends on where you go and how
long a trip you are planning.
Letís say we are going to the Allagash Wilderness.
Will you be paddling just the lakes or is this going
to be a down river trip?
Will there be a lot of portages? Are you paddling
tandem or solo?
you planning to base camp (same site every night) and
paddling lakes or stream on day trips? If so you really
donít need to be as concerned with weight, so a heavy canoe
or low volume kayak will not be a problem. If you plan to
camp at a different site each night, you will need room to
carry all your equipment and may want to pack a little
If you are planning a downstream paddle
and will have portages, remember that you will need to carry
the canoe and all your equipment at every portage.
On a Saranac River
trip we had as many as four portages on several days.
That meant loading and unloading the boats five times
on a single day.
Will you paddle long distances each day?
Remember a short wide
boat is not only slower but takes more energy to paddle. If
everyone else is paddling long narrow boats, you might not
be able to keep up.
The bottom line is, all boats should be similar or at
least be able to maintain the same pace.
Equipment will you need?
If there is one thing you can say about
our sport that is, it can be very wet.
If you accidently tip
a boat on a downriver trip and your equipment is not
protected, you may be in serious trouble.
Dry bags are a must for most of your equipment.
I normally have several changes of clothing in sealed
baggies, which are then inside a small dry bag.
This is then put inside my dry bag backpack.
The same thing applies to my sleeping bag. It is
stuffed into a medium size dry bag, and then into the dry
Tents should be packed in a manner that
will keep them dry as well.
If the inside of your tent gets wet, so will youíre
sleeping bag and anything else you put into the tent.
At least carry a towel to dry it out if it wonít fit
into a dry bag.
Speaking of tents, does everyone bring
their own or do you share tents.
If you are on a long downriver trip you may want to
share your tent as well as other common items.
Sleeping bags are also a very important
item. In the warmer weather you may only need a lightweight
bag, however in the early spring or late fall, your sleeping
bag should be rated for the coldest nights.
There are many items that you may want to
you bring your own water filter?
A group of three or more campers should have at least
Itís always nice to have an extra just in case one stops
working or becomes clogged.
Camp stoves or burners can also be shared.
With large groups of campers itís nice to have a
always carry spare fuel.
Maps are another shared item, but again,
what if the group gets separated or a map is lost.
Again itís nice to have an extra copy.
Even if youíre using a GPS, what if it stops working
or runs out of batteries.
Itís always good to have that map and compass handy,
just in case.
What about those minor injuries? Is there
a First Aid kit handy?
Does it have everything you might need? Again, every
boat should have at least some basic First Aid items such as
Will there be any white water on this
trip? Think about items such as throw ropes, carabineers, web
Depending on the rating of the river you may want to be
prepared to dislodge a pinned boat.
Word to the Wise Ė Donít Feed the Animals
are wild animals in those woods and they like to eat.
They like many of the same foods you enjoy. If you
leave your food around the campsite, they may help
Donít invite them into your tent.
Keep all food, snacks and candy out of your tents.
Invest in bear proof containers.
Hang your food away
from your tents and high enough (15 feet or more) so a bear
canít reach it.
The first campsite at the start of a trip
is the most likely to be the one where the bear learned
about our food.
Donít start and end your trip there. Take care of your food.
Food and Drinks
On my first wilderness trip we paddled
mostly lakes with very few portages, so weight was not a
problem. So we
brought mostly fresh food and drinks in a large cooler.
The first three or four days our cooler kept most
items frozen and fresh, again, weight was not a problem. We did share all the
food and drink, so the menu was agreed on long before the
Most trips since then have been river
trips with lots of portages and every ounce counts.
For these trips most of the food was freeze dried and
very light weight.
We only filtered/pumped enough water for a day.
In the evening when setting up camp, we filtered
water to be used in our meals. With freeze dried, everyone
can pick and choose their own meals.
My normal breakfast was usually Oatmeal
with raisins and milk, and coffee (from coffee bags) with
cream and sugar. Lunch on a short break was fruit and nut
bars or small cans of tuna and crackers as it was quick and
easy. Dinner was
freeze dry meals, just add water.
Always try to have a snack handy that can be eaten on
Having enough clothing without having too
much excess can be another balancing act. I usually bring
enough clean underwear for each day with a couple changes of
necessary, Iíll wash clothes in the river and hope to have
enough good weather to dry them overnight.
Just remember that if you go for an unexpected swim
you need some dry clothes to change into.
I always leave a complete change of clothes in the
vehicle (shuttle vehicle) left at the take out.
Donít forget to plan on layering your
clothing in the cooler weather.
Spring and fall trips may require a few extra items
just in case the weather turns cold.
And donít forget to
wear layers which can be added or removed as needed.
A wet or dry suit
might not be a bad idea either.
You never know what will happen on a
wilderness trip, so itís best to be prepared for most
possibilities. It is
always a good idea for everyone to take a First Aid course
prior to the trip.
A Wilderness First Aid course would be even better.
Does anyone on the trip have a medical
condition that might require attention?
If you have a diabetic on the trip and their blood
sugar drops would you recognize the condition and know what
to do. The best
thing you can do is talk about this ahead of time.
It is also suggested that everyone carry a
medical card with them explaining any conditions, medicines,
Does anyone have any physical limitations?
Your friends can only help you if they know what you
Do you have all your required medications?
You should always bring an extra day or two supply just in
case the trip is longer than planned.
Carry at least one good First Aid kit,
plus a small kit of band aids, etc., in each boat.
discussion items that you need to talk about:
Determine who is going
will get there
put in and take out
Determine how to run a shuttle
Determine trip length
to travel each day
Obstacles such as dams, portages, rapids
Regulations and permits
Nuisance Inspection Sticker
and travel permits and fees
width (Speed) and weight for portages
to hold equipment
or Solo - Extra Paddles
(Sharing or individual)
bags (Light weight or cold weather)
Rope & Equipment
Food & Drink
food verses Freeze Dried
meals verses Individual
water each day
based on number of days
for cooler weather
clothing in case of swims
footwear for Paddling, for Portaging and for around the
clothing and shoes left in vehicle at take out
Information Card with conditions and/or limitations
about anything that might become a concern
first aid kit in each boat