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Gear Essentials: The New and Old

Are you a gear junkie? Do you paddle or hike with the latest lightweight equipment, or are you a traditionalist and stick with tried and true? We'd like to think we fall somewhere between the two categories. We're always open to trying the latest equipment (especially if it means less weight on a bushwhack portage!) but we bring some battered regulars with us. In the next few days we'll post about some of the "new" and "old" equipment we've been using on our trips. This season we were outfitted with some great new paddling gear. Starting with the New. Canoe: Cronje 17' by Nova Craft Canoe - We own several canoes ranging from the classic cedar strip to a battered fibreglass freighter. The Cronje was nothing short of impressive this season as it was subjected to over 1500km of paddling! We were looking for something lightweight and speedy, as we also race in marathon paddling events open to traditional hulls. Additionally, our expedition style of tripping often results in a great deal of searching for ancient portages so we like to make up for lost time with a quickened pace on the water. Our Cronje is outfitted in Spectra and weighs in at 50lbs. We opted to include skid plates as we traverse some rough terrain. Paddle: Northern Light By Grey Owl Paddles - The lightest traditional paddle offered by Grey Owl, weighing in at just 16oz for a 56" shaft. These worked excellent and you barely notice them through the water. Great for saving your muscles on lengthy days. I managed to snap one in half during a marathon canoe race so use it for tripping and NOT racing and you'll be pleased! Life Jacket: Ungava by Salus Marine Wear - Thoroughly impressed with this life jacket! We've been using Canadian Tire specialties for years and this was our first jump to a touring/expedition style vest. Plenty of storage and lash points meant we could keep emergency items such as the SPOT, flint and knife on us at all times in the unlikely event we capsize.

Sunglasses: Brewer by Zeal Optics - When out paddling on the water, you're often confronted with plenty of glare from the sun. This can make it hard to see rocks and logs hidden below the surface. This is especially true when running creeks or rivers! We've opted for polarized lenses to help combat this, allowing us to see potential obstacles further ahead or deeper below the surface. But what separates Zeal from the dollar store shades? For starters, Zeal uses plant based bonding agents and resins, so in the unfortunate event you lose your glasses in the woods, you can rest comfortably knowing they will safely decompose in a few years, leaving no trace! Additionally, Zeal shades are also available for prescription lenses, which Wayne uses. He sports the Snapshot. Jacket: EvaPOURation Jacket by Columbia Sportswear - Any experienced tripper knows that the weather can change in an instant. During the paddling season, we're often confronted with rainy days, and having the right equipment can mean the difference between safe and dry or cold and hypothermic (or a miserable tripping experience)! This season we tested out the EvaPOURation Jacket and were immediately impressed with its wicking ability. This helped keep us dry and from overheating in the humid, mid-summer deluges. Quite a difference from heavy rubber jackets which trap your heat and sweat. More importantly, the jacket proved waterproof and race ready as I tested it out on several multiday adventure races where it was subjected to all manner of conditions. Tent: Amari Pass 3 by Eureka! - This season marked the first time we stopped using $30 bargain tents, which are great if you're starting out and on a low budget, but aren't ideal for constant backcountry excursions. Instead, we opted to go with an Amari Pass 3 and were quite impressed. A full front vestibule was new to us and we immediately put it to good use by keeping boots and other gear out of the elements and creating free space inside the tent. We opted for the 3 man variation (1 & 2 available), to avoid being crammed like sardines. The result? A tent that comfortably sleeps 2 and weathers the elements!

Now it's on to the old! Pack: Waterproof Canoe Pack By North 49 - Every canoe tripper knows that it is essential to stow gear in some manner of waterproof pack or container. Rain, waves and rapids can dampen any mood if improperly packed equipment becomes sodden and damp. Way back before rubberized packs became a commonality, we used heavy canvas packs with waterproof containers or lining. The North 49 Canoe Pack, affectionately named "red pack", was our first large capacity, waterproof canoe pack. Featuring a storage capacity of 115L, watertight seams, and comfortable cushioned straps for portaging, we were immediately impressed! Alas, this was quite a while ago and the pack began to wear down after countless trips over the years. As the seams began to tear and stitches came loose, Wayne picked up a Eureka! pack as a replacement for old red pack. As Wayne and I are in separate cites, it makes gear storage and swapping much harder. Wayne keeps the Eureka! down in London but I am currently based out of Peterborough. Due to this difference of locality, I have continued to use the red pack! Fast forward 5 years since the apparent replacement and red pack is still tripping! It would seem that on every trip, I utter "This will be the last trip for the red pack", only to use it again in a week or so. However, every trip takes its toll on the pack. Straps have torn, seals have ripped, clips have shattered, and the waterproofing is currently questionable. Nevertheless, I continue to find new ways to reinvent the pack by jerry-rigging new straps and tying off loose ends. This only gets me so far, as the pack sometimes pulls harder to one side causing my glutes and shoulders to numb, occasionally leaks and becomes increasingly difficult to retrieve from the canoe without tearing or breaking my last MacGyvered system. But MacGyvering only goes so far! Eventually I will have to replace old red pack. Until that day comes, red pack remains a tried and true companion to Explore the Backcountry's expeditions!

Finally, do you have a piece of equipment that's so old it's nearly impossible to accurately age? Sorting, through our gearlist, a few old items stand out as "classics". One of our go to classics would have to be a set of dish plates. While hard to know when they were first used, I'd peg them at roughly 40 years old as Wayne and his father tripped with the set back in the 1970's! With only a few chips and dents to show for countless trips, the porcelain coated steel dish plates have held up remarkably well. Durable, scratch resistant and easily cleaned, these have been a staple on almost every Explore the Backcountry trip. It was only recently that we retired the dish plates, but who knows, they may just find their way into another tripping bag!

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