This article is intended to make you think before your paddle hits the water in cold weather. It is not a survival manual. If you intend on going out in Spring and Fall, you should always let people know what your route is and you should avoid the middle of big lakes and windy situations. Stay close to shore and pack your common sense.
Canoe camping in this type of weather (some of you will be venturing out this week in early May) demands that you set off into the wilderness prepared for anything that could happen. Hypothermia is a killer and traveling this time of year without extra clothing, warm layers and a reliable source for quick fire starting is unacceptable.
What does that mean? About fire starting, you ask? Well, although we live in a modern world, the wilderness is still “wild” erness. Right?! If you get wet by flipping your canoe in water this time of year, you’ve got to get warm and dry and get warm and dry fast. You’ll need to start a fire to do that. You’ll have to get out of all your cold wet clothes and into warm, dry clothes. This is why you need spare clothing in a waterproof bag. This is also why synthetic, quick dry clothing and/or wool is preferred to cotton. It can dry out by your fire faster along with you. Cotton can be a killer when it gets wet and temperatures are low.
These are the facts… the water is cold. In the case of many lakes, the ice is just going out or has only been out for a matter of days. The water temperatures are in the 30s. They won’t warm up to the 40s and 50s for weeks.
A reliable source for a quick fire needs to include multiple sources in different places on your body and kit. All of these sources need to be packed in some kind of waterproof container. The reason for having more than one is so that if one is compromised or lost you can still make fire. To make a fire quickly and correctly you need to have the following:
Waterproof Matches (Stormproof Matches)
Firestarter (like safestart gel or wet fire tinder)
Traditional Tinder (dry birchbark, dry tree bark duff, cotton fluff, etc)
You also have to be practiced at not only starting the fire but building one and growing one. It is a good idea to try this a few times at home in a safe environment (and a legal one) before you find yourself like one of Jack London’s characters with one match left trying to start wet wood under branches that hold enough snow to put out your fire… if you get it started.
Knowing how to find dead, dry branches, pinecones, birchbark and larger fuel on the forest floor quickly is key. Thinking these scenarios out before they potentially end a trip or a life is good practice.
Of course this is only one aspect of being prepared.
If you are going canoe camping in the Spring or Fall,
you need at least the following preferably in a Sealine Pack or other Waterproof Pack that is always easily accessible (especially if your canoe flips):
Proper Footwear and good wool socks
Fire tinder, starter, waterproof matches, weatherproof lighter
(more than one set of fire starting material in multiple places)
Extra set of dry clothing in waterproof packs
Rain Gear, Fleece and Windshirt
Quick Source of High Energy Food
and always WEAR your LIFEVEST!
There's more, like Boat Tape, Xtra Paddles, First Aid Kit, Xtra Warm Socks... but above is a short list that easy to remember. Always pack your Common Sense! Don't take chances. Error on the safety side of things always.
Good, reliable footwear heads the list and includes:
Caney Fork Portage Boots,
Chota Breathable Socks and
Chota Hippies Waders