Monday, April 27, 2009

Two Thumbs Up

So far everything I’ve done with respect to this trip has been in complete isolation, last night was the first time I actually requested information from anybody.

I sent an email to Swift Canoe & Kayak with a page full of questions with regards to their services and costs, I half expected three outcomes.

1) Response months later, if at all
2) Little information other than check out our website

Thankfully, none of those occurred. Response was prompt, extremely detailed and all my questions were completely answered. When you are relying on an outfitter to provide you with information and equipment it’s nice to see one so helpful. I do think I’m a little crazy though and wouldn’t have flinched had they called me on that one.

Few good suggestions were also added, which was appreciated. Example:

“You should definitely pack your fishing rod and filleting knife! Fresh fish over an open fire - ahhh heaven!”

That one made me laugh, not because it’s “far fetched” or anything, more due to the fact that I’m still not sure if I can sit in a Kayak let alone fish from one.

Rate information as provided. Prices/conditions are subject to change so take this for what it is and confirm directly with them if you are looking into pricing for yourself

Poly: $26 per day
Fiberglass: $36 per day
Kevlar: $42 per day

They have a number of models available and while I had previously decided (based on no experience) to go with Fiberglass, the Poly models they provide have a 3rd day hatch which I kind of want, they feel it might be perfect based on my trip description. Other than that, all models are similar with respect to options, rudder or skeg (based on availability) and bow and stern hatches. Perfect.

Will reserve final decision until I go up in a couple of weeks and check them out, or until I get an opportunity to test drive the different models and see which I prefer. I haven’t forgotten the fact that I have yet to see one let alone sit in one.

The following items are included in the rental (whew)
· Kayak
· Paddle
· Spray Skirt
· Bilge Pump
· Throw Bag

Available for Rental
· Spare Paddle ($5 flat rental fee)
· Paddle Float ($5 flat rental fee)
· Tie Down Kit for Trip Home ($10 rental flat fee)

Not Included but they do sell
· Paddle Leash ($12.95)

Fully outfitted kayak for under $600 plus+ applicable taxes for the 15 days planned for my trip, if I go with my original plan of fiberglass. That’s less than I expected and significantly less than the cost of having to purchase everything, rental just makes sense.

Would have been a very inexpensive 2 week trip if I had all the other equipment required, I pretty much didn’t have anything. Even that hasn’t been too bad all things considered.

Haven’t compared prices with other companies nor do I plan to, these prices are more than reasonable in my opinion and I’m extremely happy with the responses they have provided, they get my business.

They are also more than willing to let me test pack a kayak if they have one available, I will call ahead to arrange before I head up. Cool, will take a lot of the mystery out of how all this stuff is going to fit in it.

Full range of lessons are available as well and I will be taking advantage of that prior to my trip.

Way to go Swift Canoe & Kayak

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Drive By

Been a little crazy at work the last couple of weeks so haven't had a chance to update my blog. I've still been organizing my gear and should be completely done that portion next week sometime, only a couple of items left.

Swift Canoe, which is where I am renting the Kayak from is now open and I will be doing a day trip up to check the "Coffin" out in person. Will be sending them an email later tonight to start co-ordinating and get some additional information.

Still too cold for me to go for a ride without a drysuit but I hope they will let me at least do a test pack of my gear so I can get a better feel for how everything fits, how much room is left if any etc..

Went up to the cottage this weekend and was driving past Swift Canoe on Saturday when the weather was around 30, NICE! There were a couple of Kayakers out on the water, I so wanted to stop and chat but was still feeling the effects of the previous evenings combination of rye, beer, wine & tequilla so wasn't feeling overly social, ouch!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Who Knew…

Now that I have all my gear organized, time to concentrate on what I’m going to eat. Typically if it doesn’t cook in a microwave in under 4 minutes I don’t eat it, I exaggerate for effect but it’s not far from the truth. By comparison, getting all the excursion equipment was child’s play.

As I did with my gear, I’ve created a planning spreadsheet and listed each of the 15 days broken down as follows:

  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
  • Snacks

compiled an itemized list of everything required including condiments, spices and drinks, I don’t want just be drinking water for two weeks.

I won’t need to cook every meal and anticipate there will be some that I stop at restaurants for, even still that’s somewhere between 30-40 meals that I have to pre-plan and carry along.

One of the downsides of doing this trip solo is I have to carry EVERYTHING, I really don’t think there will be enough room for equipment and food for 15 days.

Couple of options…

Pack enough food for around 5 days and re-supply along way, shouldn’t be too much of an issue, there are many places along the Trent to get more supplies. Also means I can vary the menu along the way and can have more days with fresh food like vegetables and non-dried fruit.

Alternative, split food into groupings enough for 5 days and pre-mail care packages to either a specific lock or post office box with instructions to keep onsite with an expected pick up date. I’ve heard this can work really well if you plan properly. Has the side benefit that I could also include more clothes to save me from doing laundry. I can’t take 15 changes of clothes so this way I could take the new stuff out, re-pack with old stuff and ship back home. Logistically I’m not sure if this is too much of a hassle, at least considering it.

I will probably wait until I do a test pack with a kayak, Swift Canoe doesn’t open until may so I’m a couple of weeks away from doing that. Once I know how much room is left over I can make a final call.

Might even bring the fishing rod, fresh fish might be a nice change.

Kayak Safety

Not often you find the Government very useful (half joking) came across a PDF file published by Transport Canada on Kayak Safety, it’s 60 pages long and contains a lot of useful information specifically related to Kayaking and Safety.

  • General Kayaking Information
  • Equipment/Clothing
  • Dangers/Weather
  • Regulations
  • Kayak Regions in Canada
  • Trip Planning
  • Navigation
  • Safety & Rescue
  • Important Websites
  • Important Contact Numbers

PDF can be downloaded from Transport Canada website

Counting Sheep…

Sleeping Bag

I already have good 4 season sleeping bag now but it’s way too big to bring along, probably wouldn’t fit into the kayak hatch opening at all and if it did, would take up way too much precious room.

Went with a reasonably priced synthetic mummy bag called the ASOLO-Silva. Stayed away from down filled because they take forever to dry if they get wet and I don’t want to have to deal with that drama. They are also hugely more expensive than synthetic equivalents.

This is a compact ultra-light sleeping bag which also comes with it’s own compression sack, amazing how small it actually packs up and how light it is, around 1/4 or more the size of my 4 season and only weights slightly over 2lbs.

3 Season - rated to 0°C, not an issue given this will be July/August timeframe. I did want the blue one but they were out of stock and only had the blue/green (puke green) I’ll get over it, just didn’t feel like going somewhere else or having it ordered.

I haven’t used a mummy bag before and hope I don’t find it too claustrophobic, I like to move around when I sleep, it’s smaller than a rectangle bag and I was going for size and weight, suck it up.

Bag Liner

Also picked up a silk bag liner to go with it, my thought process was that if it gets too cold out then this can be used to add additional warmth of up to 10 degrees. If it’s too hot out then I can just use this as the sleeping bag.

They had cotton liners as well but cotton when wet takes forever to dry, silk is quick drying and packs up smaller anyway. Cotton ones were relatively cheap but the silk one was almost as much as the sleeping bag itself, ouch.Wasn’t a surprise, all the reviews I read said they were pricy but well worth it.


If only I could bring my real pillow (my favorite) settled for second best, picked up a Compression Pillow, went with large so it’s a little bigger than something I could probably get away with but would rather be comfortable. Went with ThermaRest midnight blue. Couldn’t do the whole paisley thing that looked like it should be sitting on the end of a couch somewhere.

Sleeping Pad

I have a very comfortable self inflating one already, it’s probably the biggest item i have so far which is kind of funny. I’m going on the assumption this should fit in the kayak and will decided if I need to get a different one once I get a chance to pack up a Kayak and see how everything goes.

This one is great, 2” deep fully inflated and 1/2” memory foam. Has a nozzle you open on top and it just puffs right up in under 2 minutes, close the valve and go to sleep, open the valve and roll it up when you’re done. It doesn’t fold and is somewhat bulky but damn, it’s comfortable and I don’t want to feel like I’m sleeping on the ground.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

TrackStick Review

I’m such a gadget guy. This one is pretty high up on my cool factor and I give it two “thumbs up” a commercial grade GPS Tracker called Super TrackStick.

They seem to put a focus on marketing towards Law Enforcement “The best choice for government agencies, police, intelligence, and homeland security personnel.” Website also has uses listed for tracking your kids and for those jilted lovers, where is your husband now type stuff, not what I had in mind and that’s kind of scary now that I think about it.

Can also be a great adventure tracking device which is why I want it, if you have a GPS unit, probably provides much of same type of waypoint tracking but I doubt you will find it anywhere close to the historical capture, ease of use and battery life this thing provides.

Depending on where my budget ends up I may pick one of these up, a little pricy at around $225 CDN, they have an entry level version for around $150 which does essentially the same thing just not as versatile and missing a few functions. I will call out the differences at the end of this “Couch” review.

It’s a low powered GPS receiver that runs on 2xAAA lithium batteries for 6-8 weeks of usage, it has a built in 4GB memory card which is capable of storing 16,000 waypoints. They appear to sample once a minute so that gives you about 30+ days of continuous data gathering, realistically you aren’t moving 24x7 so you can get months worth of data saved before you need to clean it out. Connects to a system of 24 satellites and tracks up to 12 at a once providing resolution down to 2.5 meters at speeds of up to 300mph, it also tracks temperature readings in case you needed that too.

It doesn’t provide real time updates and stores everything locally on the internal memory card, when you get home, it has a built in USB adapter to connect to your computer and download all the data and has full integration into Google Earth, supports GeoTagging on your pictures so you can also include those in your map.

Not waterproof but does come with a weatherproof case so can probably deal with a couple of splashes from rain, would have to put it in a waterproof pouch of some sort around the water. Vibration activated so when you aren’t moving it goes into power save mode and comes with a magnetic adapter which allows you to attach it to metal surfaces.

I just like the fact that you can turn the thing on and forget about it, get home and get complete detail of your trip.

The smaller version called the TrackStick II has only 1GB of memory and abysmal battery life, no waterproof case, no vibration activation and no temperature readings and no magnetic adapter. Other than that they work the same way, for the extra $50-75 I would go with the Super TrackStick

Monday, April 13, 2009

PLB Review

Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

My longest post yet and not even getting one, sigh... If I was going to be in some remote region I would probably give this more consideration but no matter what I do I just can’t justify the cost and will not be bringing one along.

Thought I would do a post on it anyway because I find them very interesting, also found some very misleading information on new lower cost options which market the same functionality but aren’t the same thing at all.

406MHz PLB will run between $500-1,000+ and they serve one purpose, press the button and someone is going to come get you. There are some lower cost products around $150 that call themselves a “PLB” (and I guess they are, using a loose definition) but they don’t transmit on 406MHz which is extremely important, you will see why in a minute, wouldn’t bet my life on them just to save a few bucks. SPOT tracking device is one of those products and what sounds really cool when you initially read it, has some major drawbacks and hidden costs, I'm not a huge fan of subscription based services.

Will highlight the differences from my perspective and why they may be important, might be a little long winded and boring but oh well, it's my blog.

First, how a real 406MHz PLB works

When you buy your unit you register it with search and rescue services (no cost) and provide full contact information, each device also has a unique number associated to it and YOU. When you activate your PLB in life threatening situation it transmits two signals one on 406MHz @5W, powerful enough to reach satellites through stormy weather or heavy tree-cover and another on 121.5MHz at much lower power which is actually a homing beacon. If the PLB is also GPS enabled, which I highly recommend, then the signal includes Lon/Lat co-ordinates as well as your Unit Id.

Now what?

There are a series satellites called the COSPAS – SARSAT system, COSPAS is an acronym for the Russian words "Cosmicheskaya Sistyema Poiska Avariynich Sudov," which means "Space System for the Search of Vessels in Distress, "SARSAT is an acronym for Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking. You may have guessed from the terms, whole purpose of these satellites are to monitor distress signals on 406MHz, same ones used by commercial marine vessels and aircraft so proven technology.

COSPAS-SARTSAT system is made up of two different satellite systems, Low Earth Orbit Search and Rescue Satellites (LEOSAR) and GeoStationary Search and Rescue Satellites (GEOSAR) both are designed assist in detecting and locating activated satellite beacons, there are some differences in how this works depending on whether you have GPS enabled device or not.

There are 6 LEOSAR satellites which orbit the earth, when a satellite detects a distress signal it uses Doppler Rader to get fix on your position which is accurate a 5 mile radius. Because they are orbiting the Earth there can be dead spots as it takes something like 2 hours for a full orbit, when the signal is first detected the emergency distress is sent to ground receiving station called a (LUN) they then try to fix the location but may need to wait for the next satellite to come into view before they can get a position so there may be a delay unless you have GPS enabled device. .

There are 24 GEOSAR satellites in fixed position around the Earth which provides 24x7 coverage for the entire earth except the poles themselves, when a satellite receives the distress, forwards instantly to the LUN, if no GPS on the unit then the LUN still has to wait for the LEOSAR to get a Doppler fix but at least they get notified quicker and can start organizing the rescue. If you do have GPS enabled unit then the GEOSAR satellites will send this information right off the bat which means response time is that much quicker. Make sure your unit has GPS.

Ground Station then forwards to a mission control station tries to verify the emergency by contacting you and then will co-ordinates rescue efforts. With GPS info the rescue team can get within 100 meters of your location, without GPS this is where the 121.5MHz homing beacon comes into play, rescue team goes to the 5 mile radius provided by the LEOSAR system and then they monitor the 121.5MHZ frequency to home in on more exact location, still can only get to about a football field range but that’s pretty close especially if you're the one in the water yelling pick me, pick me.

Note: Older PLB’s only transmitted on 121.5MHz but the satellite system no longer monitors it as of Feb 1, 2009, they still use the 121.5MHz for ground monitoring and homing in but that too is being phased out, make sure your unit is 406MHz capable.

There are many versions of these, some are waterproof, some activate when they hit water or other impacts, some have strobes etc, ALL of these 406MHz PLB’s use the COSPAS-SARSAT system.

Now the SPOT (and others like it) in my humble opinion as a life saving device is has some flaws and more marketing hype than anything else, decide for yourself but based on what the above does, would you trust your life to this method? Better than nothing I suppose.

Device itself costs $150 dollars, read between the lines, requires additional subscription of $100 a year and if you want unlimited tracking then another $50 a year on top of that. Includes the following services:

911 Locator

You register your product online and like the 406MHz PLB’s they have a unique number and are GPS enabled. They use a private satellite system that is monitored by the company itself (Atlanta) who then forward the distress to appropriate authorities who you have to setup before hand. The unit takes up to 20 minutes to send and has less coverage area, that could be the difference between life and death. They don’t transmit on 406MHz so you have to go through a 3rd party and need to subscribe to their service, may work once without subscription I think but then cost of additional suport is quite significant.

Ok Feature

Sends pre-configured emails so when you press the button it sends the email to the people you assigned it to, kind of neat but seems to be only available if you have the subscription package.

Help Me Feature

Sends a pre-configured email to personal contact that you need help from, and they know where you are how? Hope it includes GPS info. Seems to be available only with the subscription package

Tracking Feature

Allows you to track GPS waypoints online and need to reset every 24 hours unless you subscribe to unlimited tracking. Don't know many people with ready access to Internet while on extended trips, need the subscription to take advantage of this.

To activate the SPOT you press the 911 button, which is recessed into the
unit, I can see accidentally hitting that one a few times, don’t have one to try it. With most 406MHz units they have a protected switch cover that you have to open to activate which should prevent this.

These types of units I view more as a neat gadget and when you factor in the subscription costs I personally wouldn’t waste the money, would spend a little more and get something that is monitored by rescue people themselves.

SPOT System has rescued 4 people since 2007 (according to one site) 406MHz has done 74 just for PLB devices alone since last year, 24,000+ rescues worldwide since 1982.

Search and Rescue Satelite Website

No matter what choice you make, common sense prevails. Distress signals should only be used in situations of grave and imminent danger, and only as a last resort when all means of self-rescue have been exhausted. There are huge fines and possible jail time coming your way from deliberately misusing one and wasting time of rescue people who could be saving people in actual danger.

If you accidently activate one you need to cancel it and call the Rescue Service to let them know it was a false distress, otherwise they are sending people out and it could get a little sticky if you're sitting on the dock enjoying a beer on a sunny day when the helicopter shows up.

Article I read somewhere pretty much says it all.

“To truly accept the idea of a personal locator beacon (PLB), you have to accept the idea that every spot on the Earth can now be seen by the network of satellites in orbit. There is no longer any place that is truly wild, unexplored, or free from the reach of technology, which flies in the face of the concept of adventure and self-reliance. But the upside is that when you find yourself staring down death somewhere in the back of beyond, a satellite beacon the size of a flashlight may well call in the cavalry”

Power Trip

My equipment list includes Blackberry, IPod and camera. Even though I have spare batteries at some point they are going to run out of juice and I will have a re-charging issue.

I’ve packed USB charging cables and a portable USB mini AC adapter so I do have the option to charge along the way and should be able to “borrow” an AC outlet. With 2 hour charging times per device I think I'd be spending most of my time sitting and watching the battery meter indicator so this is more a backup plan, I need something more convenient.

There are some interesting hand crank devices which provide enough output to charge a cell phone, downside is these are meant for emergency use, takes 2 minutes of cranking to get about 5 minutes of talk time, might be sufficient for making that last minute phone call, definitely not going to be enough to power up the phone for GPS and the IPOD for tunes.

Also looked at a number of portable solar chargers, the concept is great and I was all for going “Green” except for the fact they all seem to have serious limitations with the way they work. Unless you’re willing to spend some serious coin, the portable versions available today range between $100-200, not cheap either but definitely lower than ones that probably work. None of them I found are waterproof or even water resistant, some allow you to pre-charge using USB so that’s only good for the first time, after that you have to rely on the Sun. You need 8 full hours of direct sunlight and at specific angles to charge the unit properly, might be able to pull it off if I was sitting on a dock at the cottage for the day but not out on the water and not enough sunlight left when I get to camp. Just won’t work for an extended trip on water, in my opinion of course.

Solution, Energizer has a couple of products which take 2xAA batteries and will charg a cell phones and IPods. I can bring spare batteries and pick up new ones along the way at any marina or store. They are reasonably priced and give me exactly what I’m looking for, charge in the tent at night when I’m sleeping instead of searching out AC outlets or sunshine.

My only complaint is that the Cell Phone charger comes with 18 different cell phone connectors, everything except for the iPhone/iTouch, means you have to buy two different devices but they are both under $30 bucks each and small enough that it isn't that much of an issue. Instructions for the iPod charger don't list the iTouch as a compatible device but it does work with it. I can't confirm the iPhone and as long as it fits on the adapter base then should charge fine. Overall very impressed with it.

With 2 fresh Lithium AA's, iPod charger completely charged a completely dead battery in just under 2 hours. I then drained the battery until the 20% warning light came on and then charged again, took 1 hour 40 mintues to fully charge. That was about it for the batteries though, died at about the same time as the iPod hit 100% full. The specs say 2-3 charges and seeing as the iTouch is bigger than the ones it supports, good enough.

With 2 fresh Lithium AA's my Blackberry Curve charged in slightly over 2 hours from almost dead (battery was flashing and about to die) I then charged my Blackberry Pearl (yes i have 2 ok, 3 phones) battery was at 15% and took about an hour to charge to 75% before the batteries ran out of juice. Specs say 1 charge per set and I got almost 2 so happy about that.

If i don't let the devices hit much below 50% battery that's about 4 charges out of a set of batteries.

Duracell also has a full product line of similar devices. I like the Energizer Bunny too much to jump ship, excuse the pun.


Made final decision on GPS, not buying a new one and going to use GPS provided on my Blackberry for tracking my trip.

Should work out pretty well, provides Lat/Lon coordinates and I tested it, accurate to within around 20 feet at least around the building here at the office which has good satellite coverage.

Here is where I am right now (work),+-79.378510

Cellular coverage should be good along the Trent and seeing as the GPS functionality uses Satellites, having no cellular coverage shouldn’t impact the GPS portion. I haven’t confirmed this yet but as long as my wireless connection is up the GPS should work independent of having Cellular signal. Can’t confirm until I’m in an area that doesn’t have cellular signal.

Extra bonus is that if there are no satellites in range it will triangulate to the cell towers as a fallback, not as accurate, better than nothing.

Blackberry (IPOD+Camera) will be stored in waterproof bags, lots of different versions out there but I liked the DRYPAK ones.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


3 months left until my trip unless I push the date up.

I was reflecting today, it’s been a month since I started this blog to track planning for my trip, while I do have a lot left to organize I’ve made significant progress so far, way ahead of schedule and almost completely packed.

Big difference from when I first got the idea back in February and was like, where do I start?

My Charting System

Final decision on charts, made my own charting system using Google Earth. I concentrated on the open water sections as smaller channels are well marked and navigation will be straightforward. My charts should work well for Kayaking because I only need general direction and don’t have to worry too much about water depth. Added benefit is they are printed on 8 ½ inch paper which I can just throw away when done, will have a backup of the graphics on my phone and iPod just in case. Try that with the $180 set of Nautical Maps.

Charts are made up of a series of reference points. Basic principal, as long as I have two known reference points I can figure out a compass headings. First, I choose a reference point in the distance then charted specific compass readings along my route path which show bearings to that reference point. I tried to stay with within 2km for my reference points and picked landmarks which should be easily distinguishable when I’m out on the water. I also included distance markers along the way so I can calculate km/hr in my head while I’m paddling to track progress, 1km = ~15 minutes.

Google Maps is amazing but unclear if compass readings are True North or Magnetic North. Either way I will have to adjust bearings out on the water due to annual/local deviations. I plan to first do this when I come out of the Port Severn Lock, Google Earth compass bearing from the Port Severn Lock to the tip of the main dock at Severn Boat Haven marina is 30 degrees. I will take a compass reading and then will have my variation, i.e. if it comes back 45 degrees then I know I have to adjust all bearings for +15 degree declination. I will continue to take similar adjustment calculations at various points along the way. I’m not crossing oceans with no horizon and my reference points are less than 2km away, being off +-5 degrees is not going to be a factor, will still get me to the general area. I will still have by BlackBerry which has GPS if I need it.

Each section of the Trent contains various maps, first I include an overview of the section I’m mapping so I can see the entire area. I include another overview of the section which includes major roads and highlighting which areas my detailed maps cover off, each sub-section is numbered with the associated detailed map. I then zoom down into a specific sub section of the map to get more detail, including minor roads and marked reference points, bearings and KM markers.

Posting the first section, Port Severn to Big Chute so that you have an idea of what I did. If interested in the full Trent Waterway set I created send me an email and I will send it along,

My Legend - HTML won't let me past the symbols
Compass Rose = Reference Point
Circle with a Cross = Compass Bearing to Reference Point
Boxed X = Distance Marker (km) from last marker

Click Maps to Zoom In

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Gear Update

Thought it was time to give an update on where I stand on gear. I’ve been stockpiling, organizing and packing for a few weeks now and I would say that I’m almost to the point where I could go on my trip, could definetely go camping with what I have now. Three months until my trip so I'm on track.

I have a detailed spreadsheet for tracking all the items and costs for this trip. Once I have the list completed I will post list of everything together. I’m currently running ~$300 below my original estimated cost for the items I’ve purchased so far so that’s good.

My remaining items list is getting smaller, few I haven’t picked up yet or undecided if I’m going to at all.
  • Kayak – Still renting and will pop into Swift Canoe next time I'm up north so I can figure out what is included in the rental. Think I will have to pick up a couple minor items like extra skeg cable and kayak repair kit, that should be about it
  • Lock Pass – Will purchase at the lock in Port Severn when i'm closer to the date
  • Charts – Undecided, might not need
  • GPS w BlueChart maps – Undecided, might not need
  • Compass – Deck mounted, haven’t found one yet
  • Sleeping Bag – Have one but don’t think mine will fit in kayak, think I will have to buy a new one and will go with a compact synthetic
  • Sleeping Pad – Have a perfect self inflating one and it's very comfortable, not sure if it will fit, think so, it's about the same length as the tent but a little higher and thicker. Will find out when I do the first trail pack in a real Kayak
  • Water Transport – Have water filter but need to carry some, how much or soft vs hard shell container, not 100% sure, thinking 2x2.5 gallon soft water containers. More flexible for getting into kayak
  • Compact Folding Chair – Luxury item but want something to sit on
  • Spare Batteries – Flashlights and VHF, bunch of AAA
  • Solar Charger – Not sure yet, lots of places to charge along the away and have read many mixed reviews on these for extended trips, they require direct sunlight for a day before they hold the charge, I can't really leave it out on the kayak while paddling so may be useless.
  • Waterproof Headphones/IPOD case – Undecided, bringing IPOD for campsite use just not sure about while paddling yet, had a discussion with someone about other boats not seeing kayaks well and don't want to have my hearing impared.
  • Dry Bags – Have 2x10 liter and a 5. Need at least 3x20 liter for tent, sleeping bag and clothes, will pick them up as needed
  • Food - Planning Breakfast, Lunch and dinner meals, will start to put some stuff together that isn’t perishable and fill in the rest before the trip
  • Clothes – Probably need a few things, hat, shoes, synthetic stuff etc, haven’t done a list yet but budgeted for it

My Igloo

This is a lengthy post.

Let’s just say that tent technology has changed dramatically since I was a kid and had one of those pup tent thingies with the two poles sticking up at either end, blew over in the wind and held more water than my bathtub.

I knew I wanted something bigger than a single person tent, specifically to have extra room for gear storage and not feel like I was going from one “Coffin” to another at the end of the day, want to at least move around a little or sit up comfortably. I looked at both 2 person and 3 person tents, in the end I went with a 2 person because it’s smaller, provides enough room and easier to put up and tear down once a day by myself.

Picked the Marmot Limelight 2 Person, 3 Season. They have a 3 person tent of the same model and the only difference is size obviously and the 3P has a door on either side vs. just one in the 2P. I went with the Marmot because it also came with a tent footprint, full waterproof floor, built in storage pockets inside, a hanging hammock to store items, window to see out of, lots of ventilation, zippers that are silent in the wind and won’t snag. Simple design and very light, 5 pounds. 32 sq/ft floor space and 9 sq/ft vestibule for covered storage outside.

When they say simple design (not cheap design) they weren’t kidding, I can put up the full tent in less than 5 minutes and the way it goes together makes it easy to do in the wind, which I might have to do at some point.
Now when I said I can put it up in under 5 minutes, that’s after spending close to an hour the first time, why? Because it doesn’t come with instructions (or so I thought) and not being familiar with everything, no clue what went first and in some cases, no idea what something was for.

First I opened up the package and pulled everything out of the nice nylon bag, looked inside to make sure it was empty then tossed to the side. Everything was rolled up together so once I unrolled that it includes Tent, Footprint, Fly, Gear Hammock, 1 smaller nylon bag that has all the poles and another nylon bag that has pegs, rope and a bunch of plastic thingies with 3 holes in them and a 4” piece of tent pole, huh.

I spread out the footprint and the four sides have straight forward places to insert the poles and one half of a belt buckle locking attachment at the end, at least I know where the poles go now. Staked the footprint to the ground (was a windy day) then laid out the tent over top of the footprint and wouldn’t you know it, four matching tie down straps with the same buckle locking thing, doesn’t connect with the one on the footprint.

So far so good, I pick up the bag of poles which are broken down into 18” pieces, turn the bag over and over and don’t see any clue whether it matters which one goes into which, uh oh. Take them out of the bag undo the elastic holding them all together.

It’s actually two long poles joined together in the middle with a little adapter thing and there is stretch rope going through each pole. Just pull and insert each piece in order and voila, tent poles assembled, to attach to the tent you just adjust the poles to form an X over the tent then just slip each pole into the appropriate notch where the tent is pegged to the ground, forms a nice arch. Tent itself has a bunch of connector things on it and you just grab and clip onto the bar everywhere you find one and the tent is up, very simple.

Now for the fly, there were two left over poles about 18” each and curved, snap together and put over the top of the tent where the two other poles meet, each end pops into a little nylon pocket to hold them in place and there are two more connectors on the tent that you attach to the cross pole. Drape the fly over the poles and there are connectors at the four ends that snap into the belt buckle on either the tent or the footprint. I attached to the footprint but I guess if I wasn’t using it that’s what the buckle on the tent as well is for. All that’s left is to tie down the fly so it expands out around the tent. I didn’t go through the trouble of doing that but fairly easy, tie down spots are there where they need to be.

Ok, now for my IKEA moment, parts left over and I don’t know what to do with them, I search all over the tent and can’t find any spot that looks like it might need a 4” piece of tube attached to it, scratch my head and give up. Figure the plastic things are for the ropes somehow so turn my attention to Google. I find out the ropes are actually called Guy Lines and the plastic things are called Guy Line Tension Adjusters, nowhere can I find out how they actually work. I finally come across a picture of one and play around a bit until I figure it out. Basically you weave the string through the 3 holes, over, under, over and tie a knot at the end of the string when it comes out the last hole. Then you pull the string between the second and third hole to make a loop and that goes around the peg. Now you can move the plastic thing up which shortens the line causing more tension, simple once you know what it does and it allows you to adjust the tension without having to retie knots all over the place. Neat.

I finally come across an obscure article where another guy was just as confused as to what that little pole is for, he said nearest he can tell it’s for pulling the pegs out of the ground, I try it and it works like a charm. Whether what it’s for or not, that’s what it’s going to be used for. The guy also mentioned the instruction in the bag were text only and didn’t say what it was for. Instructions, what instructions? I look back in the bag and yep, sewn into the side of the bag are in fact instructions, didn’t see them the first time because of the angle I was looking into it. Read through them and they might as well be IKEA instructions, useless.  UPDATE (Have later found out that the 4"tube is actually a repair tube in case a pole breaks, you can use it to place over the break and save the day)

I get in and check out my newly erected tent, hang the little storage hammock (four hook clips) and looks perfect. Now can I get it back in the bag? Very simple, just detached everything, folded up the poles, laid the tent on the footprint, fly on the tent, folded it all so it was about 18” wide, put the poles at the end and rolled it all up. Slide back into the bag with minimal effort, hate when you can never get it back in the way it came out so happy about that.

Did it all again and was a snap, up in just under 5 minutes now that I know how it all works. Very impressed and think it will serve me well on my trip.

UPDATE:  After 2 years the tent is still like brand new.   Bought the 3 Person (same brand) as well for when not solo.

GPS Debate

Still undecided but have been debating whether I’m going to pick up a new GPS unit or Trent Waterway Charts at all.

Trying to limit gear purchases to things I can reuse after the trip. Most of the Trent Waterway is quite narrow and channel markers should be easy to follow without Charts or GPS. They do provide water depth as well but not worried about that in a kayak with no engine to hit rocks with.

Full set of Nautical Maps has 10+ different maps, I have to worry about storing them all and keeping them dry, they aren’t little compact things that you can just put in your pocket. Once I finish the trip I have no use for them anymore. I already have Georgian Bay charts and GPS in the boat, that’s where I usually go anyway, don’t think I will be kayaking the Trent a second time and think it’s a waste.

Do I need another GPS device just for this trip? I already have GPS in the car and boat, too bad they aren’t portable enough to bring in a kayak.

My Blackberry however, is small enough and I’m already bringing it along (waterproof case and 2 spare batteries+charger) it has full GPS and I will be in areas with full cellular coverage, doesn’t show water depth but I’m not concerned with that. I can also use it to track progress and that was the primary reason I wanted GPS anyway. My Blackberry provides Lat/Lon coordinates and the new Google Map tracking application is pretty decent.

Still covered off from a safety perspective, I really only need to know direction to nearest land mass, my Blackberry can give me that if I need it. I also don’t care if I get lost, as long as safety isn’t an issue, that’s half the fun.

I’ve also been working out compass bearings on paper and will cross check with boat GPS when I can get to it, will see where I end up with that before I make a final decision.

Scout Flashback

Knew those scout badges would come in handy one day. I know how to tie a few basic knots but figured might want to brush up a little, never know when you need to tie a knot, tent tie downs, hanging stuff up off the ground, securing kayak, just handy to know.

Lots of great sites on the internet which go through all the various knots and their common use and benefits, I can tie around 20 or so now without thinking about it and learned at least two in each following knot categories, some I can tie with one hand if needed.

Main Categories
· Stopper Knots
· Hitch Knots
· Fixed Loop Knots
· Sliding Loop Knots
· Mid Line Loop Knots
· Bends (join 2 ropes)

Concentrated on marine knots for the most part but also learned some general purpose ones, climbing and safety/rescue knots, who knows if you ever need to make a quick waist harness. I practice while I watch my favorite TV show, 2 ½ Men, yeah I know, pretty geeky.

Personal Gear

I’m not leaving things to the last minute, my plan is to have everything ready to go long before my trip including fully packed. That way I just have to hop in and off I go with no worries about whether I have forgotten anything or missed something. I have put together my personal gear bag, separate clothes bag not done yet. These are things I need once I get unpacked at camp.

Everything is zip locked in separate bags for added protection and then packed in a 10 liter XPS dry bag.

Packed in Dry Bag:


· Micro Fiber quick dry towel, might end up keeping this separate
· Little overnight bag to put most of the stuff in
· Biodegradable Soap
· Biodegradable Toilet Paper
· Toothbrush (2 just in case)
· Toothpaste
· Toothpicks
· Dental Floss
· Deodorant
· Razor
· Duct Tape
· Mosquito Coils
· Mosquito Coil Safety Burner
· Q-Tips
· Pencil/Sharpener/Pen
· Logbook
· Sudoko puzzle book (addicted)
· Deck of cards
· Two paperback books

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ditch Bag

If you have been following along, I have really started to “Gear Up” and my living room is starting to look like an outfitting store, remember when I mentioned I’ve become addicted?

I won this little Swiss Army pack/bag at a golf tournament a couple of years ago and never knew what to use the thing for. Makes a great little ditch bag, small, very light, can store quite a bit and fits over my shoulder if I need to swim with it. It’s also small enough to fit behind the Kayak Seat for quick access. It’s made of nylon so while it isn’t waterproof, doesn’t absorb water and everything in it can get wet or is waterproofed.

Haven’t added some traditional “ditch bag items” like fishing hooks/line and clothes but good enough, I’m not in a remote region where I will end up being stranded for days. In addition to emergency items, also using it store things I need quick access to while out on water as I can’t get to the dry hatches. Dual purpose works for me.

This is what it looks like fully packed, the strobe and whistle attach to my PFD not the bag.

This is everything inside, lots of stuff but packs up nicely and only weights ~2-3 pounds

  • First Aid Kit
  • FireSteel
  • Waterproof Matches in Waterproof Case
  • Vaseline Cotton Balls
  • Signal Mirror
  • 50’ Rope
  • Pen Flares (3 flare, 2 Bear Bangers)
  • 4 Energy Bars
  • Spare Whistle
  • Leatherman Multi-Tool
  • LED Flashlight
  • LED Headband Light
  • Mini-Binoculars (8x21)
  • Tylenol
  • Tums
  • After-Bite
  • DEET Mosquito Spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Solarcaine
  • Lip Balm
  • Credit Card/Health Card/License/Bank Card/Money
  • Black Berry/Camera (in Water Proof Case)

First Aid Kit

Debated just making up my own First Aid Kit, in the end it isn’t any cheaper, reasonably priced, not to mention it comes packed by people who know what they’re doing, I figured important distinction given this is First Aid equipment after all. I went with the Life Systems Solo Traveler, made sense seeing as that’s what I will be, more I just liked the pretty packaging. It is a slightly larger kit and wouldn’t be taking it on hikes but I’m not carrying it so rather have more stuff just in case.

Really does have everything, half I have no idea what it’s for or how to use it, i.e. I don’t really see me needing (I hope) syringes, hypodermic needles and scalpel but hey, if I do and somebody knows how then I’m covered. Wasn’t that much of a difference in price or size from the more basic kits so went with more is better philosophy.


Flashlight - Princeton Tech Amp 3.0 LED, 40 Lumens.
  • High: 30 meter range, 60 hour burn time
  • Low: 20 meter range, 90 hour burn time

Compact, rugged design, not sure if waterproof but does have a sealed 0-Ring so should at least be water resistant.

Head Lamp - Princeton Tech Fuel LED, 35 Lumens.

  • High: 38 meter range, 74 hour burn time
  • Medium: 26 meter range, 120 hour burn time
  • Low: 20 meter range: 167 hour burn time
  • Blink: 38 meter range, 134 hour burn time

Level 1 Waterproof which means resistant to water splashes and quick dunks. This will also serve as my tent lighting, quite bright and enough to do or see whatever I need to at night, means I don’t need any sort of lantern.


Marine Flares were way too big to carry along and be anywhere near accessible if needed. Came across some mini flares called Pen Flares, essentially it’s a pen with a spring loaded hammer, you screw on the flare and flip the hammer and boom, flare. They are good for 4-6 seconds of burn, only go 50-60m but better than nothing and they fit into any pocket so they are always handy if needed.

The pack I bought comes with 3 flares and 2 Bear Bangers (suppose to scare off Bears). Came with the package and hope I don’t come across any Bears but hey, now I have a Bear Banger too.

Inspector Gadget

Nothing makes me smile more than getting cool really cool stuff. This one definitely falls into that category, needed a good multi-tool knife for the trip, picked up the Leatherman Wave. Probably a little more than I expected to pay but once you line them up side by side you can really tell the difference in quality. I lost count of all the tools, 17 or something
  • Standard Blade
  • Serrated Blade
  • Saw
  • Scissors
  • Different Files
  • Needle Nose Pliers
  • Standard Pliers
  • Bunch of Wire Cutters and Strippers
  • Can/Bottle Opener
  • Ruler
  • Screw Drivers



Picked up the Standard Horizon HX270s, has all the features required

· Selectable 5/2.5/1 W transmit power output
· US/CAN/International channel support
· Programmable Scanning (Priority and Dual Watch)
· NOAA Weather Channels
· NOAA Weather Alert Support
· 5 minute transmit timeout
· Submersible to 3 feet for 30 minutes
· Rechargeable battery, AAA battery pack

After playing with it for a couple of days (listening to weather forecasts) really like it, relatively small so will fit nicely in the PFD and manufacturing is very rugged, don’t have to worry about dropping the thing. Only negative feedback I have seen so far is that it doesn’t have a loop for a Lanyard and a few people have dumped theirs in the drink as a result. I will probably MacGyver something so I can at least attach it to something so I won’t lose it.

In Canada they have relaxed regulations on VHF usage for recreational users, although you still require a VHF operator licensing to transmit on VHF. I most likely will not be getting the license as I’m using it more for weather forecast updates and don’t plan on transmitting unless an emergency. In that situation, I don’t care whether I have a license or not and I do know proper procedures for distress.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Water Equipment

I am going to be on the water for over 2 weeks in the middle of summer, not a lot of room in a Kayak for water transport, sure maybe 2-5 gallons but with drinking and cooking that isn’t nearly enough. There are places along the way to top up but last thing I want is to get sick from some nasty bad water. Water Filter is pretty much mandatory as far as I’m concerned.

Lot of different products available for water filtration and was a tough call on which one to go with, after reading a number of reviews and YouTube videos I went with the MSR MiniWorks EX Water Filter system, have tried it a few times at the house and it works great, fits onto my water bottle and does about a liter a minute.

Also picked up a few other water related items, 1000ml Nalgene water bottle (black), Gription spill proof lid for bottle from Guyot Design and a collapsible water bucket from Camco for carrying water at campsites. Already have a camelback water hydration pack for my dirt bike so didn’t have to buy that one.

Stove Selection

Went with MSR WhisperLite International stove, I liked the reviews and decided on the international version over the standard because it’s a multi fuel stove, can run on white gas, unleaded gas, kerosene and diesel fuel, this might come in handy if I run out of white gas seeing as there aren’t many places along the way to find white gas, can always find a gas station. Also bringing two 30oz fuel bottles, specs rate it for 110 minutes / 20oz so two bottles works out to ~22 minutes of cooking per day, roughly 7 minutes per meal for 15 days. Should be enough fuel as I’m sure I won’t be cooking every meal every day.

There are some good videos on YouTube which show how to properly use and maintain the stove, I have been playing with it for a couple of days now and have it down pat, happy with the purchase and so far, recommend this stove.

During my reading on different stoves I came across a whole group of people “ultralight backpackers” who have found some ingenious ways of making alcohol stoves to reduce weight. Spent a couple of days and made 3 different versions. Open Fuel, Pressurized and Side Burner, they all work very well and I lean towards the Side Burner version although it was more difficult to make. FYI, you can make them out of coke cans in about 5 minutes. I spent an hour on mine to polish them up etc.
Fun side project, decided to buy a commercial stove anyway because it’s more fuel efficient but is worth consideration if you are only going away for a day or two. Many YouTube videos on how to make and just search alcohol stove. They primarily run on Methanol and the most readily available source is denatured alcohol from camp stores or HEET from Walmart (brake line de-icer in the yellow bottle)

WARNING… Methanol burns invisible so make sure if you light this stuff you do it outdoors and around dusk, you can’t see the flames in daylight, TRUST ME on this one and I won’t go into my first hand experience, take my word for it. I did come across an article somewhere about adding something to make the flame visible but could never find it again.
This is the side burner version.