Packing for a Wilderness Trip

I am accustomed to bringing everything I need and then some on weekend trips. I am planning my first two-week Canadian wilderness canoe trip and know that I need to re-think the way I pack. Is there a site where I can get some good pointers on what to bring and what to leave behind.

Do folks typically depend on the freeze-dried foods? How much drinking water do you carry? I imagine that you can bring the water treatment kits. Does boiling the river water usually take care of the microbial problems.

I am open to suggestions.



You may want to consider
buying a dehydrator and drying your own food. Less sodium and more tasty. Check out a book called Lipsmackin backpackin

I have stored the food in ziplock freezer bags. Just add hot water to rehydrate.


All you need to know
is at


I use…
a filter for maintaining water supply. Freeze dried helps when I’m packing light; pack light freeze at night…

Pack like a backpacker

– Last Updated: Feb-25-08 11:51 AM EST –

For 2 weeks, pack like a backpacker. Check out some backpacking sites and look there for advice.

Dried food is good. Also things like packages of instant mashed potatoes, Success Rice, those new foil sealed chicken and tuna dishes (I think Bumblee makes them), dry soup, Zartarians rice dishes in foil packets are good too. Hard cheeses like cheddar will last several days (it's still edible even though it may look like crap after a couple of days) and can make a good lunch along with crackers, or perk up your dinner by adding some chunks while it's cooking. I also like to bring along dried sausage like pepperoni, soprasatta and chorizio.

As far as water, bring a filter and you always have drinking water. Treatment tablets make the water taste like crap, and boiling works, but wastes fuel and time.

Expedition Canoeing
Check out the book Expedition Canoeing by Cliff Jacobson. All I every wanted to know and more.


I use mostly freeze dried food or.
dehydrated foods and steer clear of greasy foods. I find that I don’t like hassling with all the cleanup required when cooking a more complex meal especially in bear country where you have to extra careful so you don’t have an unwanted guest. I even eat a freeze dried meal in the morning so that I can get on the water before noon. I find with all the extra time it takes to cook, and with the cleanup afterwards; I don’t get on the water very early cooking anything fancy. Greasy pots and plates are hard to clean. Usually, in the morning, the water is the calmest so I don’t like wasting time cooking.

For lunch I snack since unloading the canoe and cooking wastes a lot of time. When you finally camp at night after a long day of paddling in bad weather eating a freeze dried meal just requires boiling water with a minimum cleanup – just licking the spoon. I do make some meals that are more complex in preparation; however, I save them for when I have a short day.

I don’t think backpacking when on a canoe trip. If there is not any portaging then I bring a table and chairs, etc. since all I have to do is unload the canoe at night. But in any case I always bring a thicker sleeping pad and bigger tent on a canoe trip than on a backpacking trip. I do have to watch myself though or I can get stupid and bring too much.

I guess you have to figure what’s important to you concerning food and comfort. If you’re a foodie then spending the extra time required with cooking and cleaning makes sense. If you have ambitious plans and plan to cover a lot of miles in a day, then cooking complex meals doesn’t make sense because you’ll spend too much time on making the meals and with the cleanup.

Food becomes a problem on a longer trip and starts taking up more room and adding weight. Do a practice portage at home and you can get a better idea what is too much. You don’t want to have to make three or four trips on a portage. Anyhow, it’s better to go lighter when in doubt. But, a canoe does allow for more comfort. Where to draw the line is a personal decision.

Bring a water filter
Water weighs 8 lbs per gallon. Paddling in fresh water, there’s no point in carrying more than a day’s worth at a time. A water filter is light and not large, and it frees up a lot of space that would be used by stored water.

If you’re going solo, you should consider what your backup water treatment will be in case the filter goes bad. You can carry an extra filter element (expensive), boil the water (requires more fuel and time), or carry purification tablets (effectiveness varies depends on which type you use). I prefer the latter, because the tablets are tiny, light, and the Katadyne pills (NOT iodine) will kill even cryptosporidia, a very common pathogen.

As for food, I bring a mixture of freeze-dried foods, dried foods that I repackage for lower bulk, and a few home-dehydrated and vacuum-bagged things. Mostly freeze-dried stuff for dinner, energy bars and peanut-butter cheese crackers for lunch on the go. Beef jerky, Triscuits, dried fruit, and peanut butter are staples. If there is at least one other person with me, I bring a packet of real bacon bits and a can of “French-fried onion rings” to add to the dried fare; you’d be surprised at how good this extra touch tastes. (The quantity is too much for one person, and I don’t like to keep leftover meat unrefrigerated.)

Definitely not gourmet fare, but on trips I am not picky about food, and nutritional-value-to-bulk ratio matters a lot. I do bring fresh fruit for the first few days, knowing how much I will come to miss it later in a long trip.

"I don’t like wasting time cooking."
Yup, the trip is about paddling and seeing nature, not about doing mundane chores (my personal loathing is more about washing the dishes than cooking). FD meals solve both problems.

Not to say that those who enjoy more elaborate fare in the boonies should not. But it’ll take more space and more time. I do like to have something other than FD on a layover day.

Weight and bulk
I am assuming that you are taking a portaging trip…

I use a few large bags…sleeping bags and tent and tarp get drybagged and then put in a pack with a water proof liner. Sometimes with two of us we do have to take two of these bags…stove, pots etc, baking oven. Thermarest, Thermarest chair adaptor.

Food goes in a blue barrel usually. You can get two weeks in if you dehydrate your own.

Water is not an issue except make sure you drink while portaging. Dehydration amidst all that water is too common on trips. A waterfilter is useful. There is no reason for it to stay broken. Get one that you can fix and practice on it. Mine is in the bush over eight weeks a year, and I know how to field fix it.

You only need one change of clothes for two weeks. See if you can get all your clothes including raingear and fleece into a 20 liter drybag. Wool sox will be your best friends.

There is a whole website devoted to Cadadian wilderness tripping. I know you will have more questions and there are lots of folks who can help.

I find that boiling a couple of dozen
eggs before hand makes a good, easy breakfast for several days. A hot drink, a couple of boiled eggs, bread, and cheese for breakfast is a fast and filling meal – no muss, no fuss. Also, I like to make pita pizzas. My wife dehydrates pizza sauce so with that, cheese and pita bread you can make a quick easy meal. A nice treat and after a few days paddling, everything tastes good especially when bringing a variety of spices to zip up the meals. When I say I, I really mean my wife and I. We supplement the freeze dried menu with cheese, bread, peanut butter, etc. We dehydrate fruit which is a good snack and desert.

Two weeks of food tends to add considerable bulk and weight to your gear so make sure you do a trial pack or you’ll end up at the put-in wondering what the hell you were thinking of when you actually start loading the boat. My wife on several occasions gave me a dope slap because I brought too much and it’s hard to get rid of gear when everything is packed. We have an 18 ft canoe so you can pack a lot of gear in it and I’m the type that tends to pack for every possible situation. Most of the time I don’t use half of the things I bring. It’s a problem I have to work on.

I never bring water unless I have to like on the Missouri or the Green in Utah where you can’t filter. On the Green you also have to bring a porta-potty (all BLM trips require one) and a fire pan.

Don’t count on fire wood. Also, trying to start a fire in the rain is a chore which usually requires stringing a tarp. Some people don’t mind the hassle, while I do. I bring an ax and sawvivor for cutting wood when I do make a fire. They were sure was nice to have when I went for an unexpected swim on a cold and rainy day and had to start a fire to warm up.

I gave up on fuel canisters because on a long trip; when it’s cold and rainy, I boil a lot of water for hot drinks and go through several canisters. I now bring a gallon of gas and that will last a long time and is a lot cheaper.

There are many different ideas
about how to trip; however, whichever way you chose to travel – light or heavy, or something in the middle, please be considerate for the next “wilderness” traveler. You think when leaving a fire ring and benches behind you’re doing the next travel a favor. However, the “wilderness” for the next traveler then disappears.

Don’t leave a dirty campsite. The next occupant might not appreciate bacon grease poured in the ground close to where they might pitch their tent. Learn the rules of the road for tripping. If we all do our share to keep the little remaining “wilderness”, wilderness, we then can all pretend that we are Lewis and Clark. Please, don’t spoil the “wilderness” experience for the next traveler.

I agree with the folks who say go freeze
dried for a longer trip. Take a water filter if you’re sure there’s water, it will be worth it and tastes much better than boiling.

Rice, pasta, curry
I am cheap, so I don’t buy the prepackaged dehydrated foods.

My wife and I are big fans of rice, pasta and seasonings.

We like Kitchens of India curry packets as well as Knorr pasta sauce packets. Bring some powdered milk for the Knorr sauces.

A little hot smoked salmon makes for a great treat half way through (unless you are fishing).

Regarding water, we like our MSR Mini EX, or something like that. Bring along an entire repair kit for your filter. One bad o-ring and you drink iodine for the rest of your trip!

Have fun and enjoy. Pack in - pack out.

good times
Save the canned chunky soups or freeze dried for the last part of the trip

Sandwichs and fresh foods for the beginning of the trip.

If your fishing that could be a nice bonus.(don’t forget foil, spices and extra plastic baggies)A collapsible fishing rod.

My brother-in-law heard about a supply caching service for the boundry waters that he wished he knew about before leaving on his trip.

You don’t need any dishes …
… so there’s no washing up to do IF you take dehydrated or freeze-dried foods. The earlier post about dehydrating your own is a good idea - I do that occasionally for hiking and backpacking. And if you have the $$$ to spend you can get a wide variety of freeze-dried foods and they’re mostly pretty tasty. All you have to do for the freeze-dried foods is pour the boiling water in the pouch and eat straight from it. And zip-lock baggies do fine in boiling water (keep them out of too much direct contact with the sides or bottom of the pot) so you can rehydrate/cook your dehydrated or instant-cook foods right in them. No dishes to wash other than your fork/spoon/knife/spork. And the leftover pouches and baggies are lightweight for packing back out for disposal at the end of your trip. This is, admittedly, a sort of minimalist approach … totally a personal preference thing. Besides … packing light and tight saves room for the beer …

Freeze-dried tip
Fabricate a “cozy” out of fleece, thin foam, or some other insulation that is sized to hold teh food pouch. Even in temperate weather this will keep the rehydrating food hotter, ensuring that the process is complete.


Have a plan, then execute
Unless you are going to stay in one lake for 2 weeks, you’ll be doing a fair amount of(or maybe lots of)portaging. Plan for the portage, and the rest will follow.

If you are going with a group, you need to know what the group plan is before you can come up with your own. IF you are planning on triple portaging all your stuff (3 loads accross every portage) and the rest of your group is going to be single portaging, you’ll just make everbody mad at you for holding up the show.

I highly recommend that you plan on double portaging your load - that is safer than being overloaded and more prone to accident or injury, and you get a nice break in routine when you return from your first trip over the portage to get the rest of your gear.

So if you plan on two trips for a tandem team, then that means you want 3 large packs; 3 + 1 canoe = 4, divided by two people. Keep loose stuff that has to be carried by hand to a minimum - tie your spare paddle and fishing poles etc, to the canoe - try to keep at least one hand free.

That scenario would probably mean one big heavy pack for your food, and maybe stove etc., and probably two medium or large packs to hold everthing else. First trip across the portage, one guy takes the heaviest pack and the other guy carries the canoe behind him - that way, guy #1 can be watching for false trails, blowdowns, etc, and guy #2 can just concentrate on carrying the boat. Second trip, everything else comes over. Don’t forget to take that last look to be sure you haven’t left anything behind.

So now, you know that you have to get everything into 3 packs, or tie it to the canoe. Pack accordingly. Generally, that means going through the process 2 or 3 times, weeding out the gear each time until it all fits. Just remember that there is an upper limit to what you or the other persons in your grup can carry over tough terrain - don’t make any pack so heavy that you need help getting up off the ground.

Break down what you need by broad category. Cooking for examplee - need stove, fuel, pots? or just one pot for boiling water? one spoon and cup per person ? etc. (even if you are planning on cooking over a campfire, you will want to have a stove along as a backup in case of fire bans in drought conditions)

Sleeping = tent, groundcloth, sleeping pad, sleeping bag.

Mission Critical ? spare glasses or contacts? and if you need medication, have two sets minimum of what you require, packed in two different bags (and if possible, in two different canoes even.

Some people like to have one giant pack with the “group” stuff - i.e. food, cooking gear, tent. And then each person has his own “personal” bag with his sleeping bag and pad, spare clothes, anb whatever else will fit.

One of your bags must be waterproof to keep your sleeping bags and spare clothes dry, no matter what - you want triple redundency - maybe two layers of trash bags in a dry bag, something along those lines.

Again, you need to come up with your own plan first. Decide on food first - if you want to do a lot of cooking, then how many pots and pans will you need, and how much fuel; or decide to go with freeze dried dinners and instant oatmeal, and you don’t need anything but one pot for boiling water. Sort of a flow chart approach.

Then go to the websites and books recommended above, to flesh out your plan.

One thing I used to neglect and I see a lot of people do also is that on a long trip the volume of trash seems to multiply liks rabbits.When buying or Packaging food try to use as much burnable packaging as possible.Remember that anything with tinfoil is not totaly burnable.If you burn it you HAVE to dig the mess out of the fire ring and pack it out-a real messy job.I unfortunatly find a lot of burned tinfoil in fire rings-please don’t do that.

Other than that what helps me the most is on every trip to take a pad and pencil and delete or add stuff for next time.Everyones priorities are different.Mine is warm comfortable sleeping-not food.Also try to make things do doubble or triple uses.Less is more.


use a fire
Bring a grate, a folding bushsaw - not one of those pruning saws. Now you also need a bag for your blackened pots and a workglove for grabbing the pot. Your fuel stove can be backup for your fire. Your fire is backup for your water filter. IE you filter your water, but if your filter craps out, you boil it over the fire. When you cook, just use river water, it will be treated by the time you’re done.

Boiled water dinners are the easiest. Freeze dried are good. So are all the dried prepared foods at the grocery. Especially soup. Breakfast = 2 oatmeals per day, plus instant coffee. Lunch = peanut butter, honey, bread. Rye lasts a week. Crackers last forever. Bannock is fun to cook on a wind day. jerky, trail mix, dried fruit like apricots or prunes. There! that will keep you from starving. Now gussy it up to make it more enjoyable as you wish.

If you have a food drier, dried burger is great. Just reconstitute and add to whateever dish requires it. Like hamburger helper. It will keep for two weeks. Also make your own jerky and dried apples. Nothing better.

For clothing, try to pack stuff that you can wear all at once (a million layers at once), just in case it gets REAL cold. Top notch raingear is a must. A rain hat with a brim.

Try to keep all your food and gear under 100 pounds. And lastly, bring someone who knows WTF they are doing.