This post is the fourth in a five part series about Sanesh’s experience getting certified as an Assistant Overnight [Kayak] Guide (AOG) through SKILS and the Sea Kayak Guides Alliance of British Columbia.
Part 1 – AOG First Half in Uclulet, BC Part 2 – AOG Trying New Things & Gear Shakedown Part 3 – AOG 5 Day Overnight Around Vargas Island Part 4 – AOG Packing List and Shakedown Continued Part 5 – Lessons Learned, Things to Work On, and Did I Pass….
Paddling from Vancouver, BC to Cordova, AK, is going to be an incredible adventure with 140 days on trip and 104 days on the water – we’ve planned 20% rest days. The AOG presents a great opportunity to shakedown some gear and try out some new camping techniques, so I went a little above and beyond. In the goal of gaining knowledge, I figured I’d try, fail, and learn in as many ways as possible before the trip to Cordova.
My strategy for camp clothing is generally, active clothes, sleep clothes, rain wear, and emergency clothes. The active clothes will be tuned to the activity and season. Spring kayaking on the West Coast of Vancouver Island is very dynamic. As we experienced on this trip, there was sun, there was rain, wind, cold, warmth… everything really. To be prepared, I packed:
3 wool shirts, including one Smartwool 1/4 zip base layer
2 wool bottom base layers, including a Smartwool 3D knit bottom
3 pairs of boxers (2 wool, 1 synthetic)
3 pairs of wool socks (knee height, fall weight, and winter weight)
Synthetic stretchy pants with DWR
Synthetic short shorts
Arc’teryx Atom LT
Merino Hoody (camp and sleep clothing)
Heavy weight Merino Crewneck
Merino Gloves and Buff (lives in my lap bag, part of my emergency kit)
Synthetic Toque (emergency kit + day to day)
Down Toque (part of my sleep system)
Arc’teryx Alpha AR Gore-Tex Jacket
Arc’teryx Beta AR Gore-Tex Pants (not pictured)
Viking Rain Boots
Altra runners (old, worn out, perfect for kayaking)
Orange Canoe Drysuit
That’s a lot of gear. I typically pack the clothing in separate bags for each category. Rain gear goes in a mesh bag. One full set of clothing goes in a dry bag for camp wear. Another full set goes into a dry bag for emergencies. And of course I wear my day gear during the day. This is to protect against dry bag failure I don’t suddenly have no dry shirts or underwear. It also makes it dead easy for me to identify which bag I want the clothing from, as they’re consistently packed. The really funny thing about my camp clothing is that, other than the drysuit and rain boots, are things you’re likely to find me walking around the city in, or even going to work. I’m pretty big into buying gear that lasts. Many of my merino wool shirts are more than 10 years old and I wear them on a daily basis. My Alpha AR was purchased in 2012, and my Atom LT in 2015. I use them all regularly, in town and in the woods, and they’re still going strong. When I was a mountain bike guide, I used to wear out low quality gear in weeks. I definitely prefer to buy nice gear once, and repair it as necessary. Clothing repair is an awesome rest-day activity.
Overall I was happy with my clothing selection. As discussed in a previous post, I wore fewer layers under my drysuit than expected to maximize comfort in rough seas while still maintaining enough insulation for immersion.
The AOG was the first time I’ve spent 9 days in a drysuit. I’ve decided to purchase a drysuit from Orange Canoe, a Port Moody, BC, maker of custom drysuits. Leah and Alex, the owners/makers/founders/do-everything-ers of the company have been super awesome throughout the purchase process. It’s my first drysuit, and it’s a big purchase. I had a few chats with them, and they’re super focused on getting to know their customers and dialing in their product. Their website is a little sparse, but if you’re keen, shoot them an email. They were kind enough to lend me a drysuit for my AOG so I could test out a few different options that I have available to me. Most notable was that I was not sure if I wanted latex or neoprene gaskets. Neoprene is supposedly more comfortable, but I’d never tried it before. After 9 days, I preferred the latex, mostly for the lack of bulk. I also confirmed my desire for a hood, which would have been sweet for being outside on rainy days. The last lesson I learned with the drysuit is keeping it zipped up is key, as my day 2 mistake taught me. It’s easiest to stay zipped with fewer zippers, so my drysuit will have a single zipper.
Camp Kitchen & Food
As mentioned in my Part 2 of this series, I’ve got my camping meals down to more of a science than an art… for better or worse. This trip I tried to eat quinoa based meals (plus non quinoa based snacks) for the entire 9 days. This decision was largely driven by weight and packed volume. Quinoa is super nutrient dense and packs super small. About 200mL of dried quinoa with add-ons (veggies, spices, etc.) is tons for a meal. My kayak camp gear volume (sleep system, kitchen, clothes, etc.) is 35L, and an expedition kayak has 200L or so of space. Imagine how many quinoa based meals I could fit into my kayak!
MSR Stainless Steel Pots —> 1.9L and 750 mL. I brought both. They’re simple, but I’d love something non-stick for easier cleaning. MSR Whisperlite Stove —> I have both an MSR Pocket Rocket and Whisperlite. I much prefer using the Whisperlite. It’s a heavier and larger stove, but it’s also very fuel efficient, works in wind, is serviceable, and uses refillable fuel bottles. MSR Dromedary Water Bags—> . Reliable. That’s about all that needs to be said. Nalgene 500 mL Tubs —> These are so clutch. Water tight, perfect for cold soaking. I brought 2. In the future I’ll bring 3 (one per meal, for the ultimate cold soaking workflow). These are also my bowls as well Spoon and Fork from my house —> Because I’m a gear geek, but I don’t need a titanium spork. Camp Suds —> Because hygiene is important.
After switching from Nathan’s “cook at camp” to Sanesh’s “add hot water” approach, I was much happier. There are a lot of fast transitions at the AOG, and you spend a lot of time learning so there was not much down time to cook. What I found worked best was cold-soaking my meals in advance. By adding nature-temperature water to my meal and letting it soak overnight or during the day, I was able to sprout my quinoa and have something ready to eat. This meant I only had to boil water and do dishes once a day, in the evening for dinner. I cold soaked my breakfast and lunch for the next day. I also boiled water and put it in my insulated bottle to ensure I had a hot drink in the morning. This vastly simplified my workflow. If I had time in the morning, I could always boil water to make a coffee and add some to my breakfast quinoa to have a hot breakfast. I certainly did that, but it’s also nice to not have to do that. I expect on our trip to Alaska, we’ll have plenty of early morning starts to hit tide, current, and weather windows will be key.
I also did not eat all the food I packed! I’m most proud of succeeding in my quest to only eat quinoa. I ate all my dinners, but clearly over packed my breakfast and lunch. My breakfast quinoa was lacking in flavour, in the future I’ll be adding brown sugar to give it some sweetness.
Kayak & Paddle
I was super pumped to have the opportunity to try so many great paddles and kayaks on this trip. I got to try 4 paddles from Werner, the Skagit, Kalliste, Cyprus, and Sho-Gun. There are more details about those in Part 2 of this series. I’ve paddled a lot with the Kalliste, and it’s so far the front runner for the paddle I’ll take to Alaska. The Sho-Gun was fun, but definitely not efficient enough to tour for 140 days. The Cyprus, which is what Nathan will be paddling with, was more interesting, as a high angle touring blade intended for long distances with a more powerful stroke. Long story short, I’m not flexible enough for the Cyprus. I liked it a lot. It was really powerful and efficient. But as it’s a high angle paddle it’s imperative that your technique is perfect, and you paddle with your core. I don’t really have the rotational mobility to do that well for an extended period, so I ended up using too much arm strength rather than core strength. The Kaliste, being a lower angle paddle, was much better suited for my level of core mobility over a longer time period. I’m stoked to stick with the Kaliste to go to Alaska, and I’ll be working on my core mobility continuously to try and be in tip top shape for the trip.
I spent the first four days of the trip in a P&H Cetus MV, which I found too small for my thick thighs and big feet. Finn was kind enough to lend me his Sterling Grand Illusion, which is a vastly different boat. It has a lot of rocker, so it is really nimble. Over the 5 day Vargas Island trip, I fell in love with the boat. It was so fun and playful, it really encouraged edging (leaning the boat over to turn), as was plenty stable in the bigger seas we experienced on day 5. The volume in the cockpit as well as the hatches was awesome as well, it’s a much better fit for my 5’9″ 180lbs body. The sportiness and predictability of the boat really encouraged me to push my limits, especially while surfing. I’d love to have one of these for the trip to Alaska.
Sleep & Shelter Systems
I have this one dialed, it’s the bomb. Packed volume is about 12L all in, for a 4 season sleep anywhere system. Its light, it’s compact, it’s warm.
Hennessy Hammock —> If you haven’t tried hammock camping, its awesome. You sleep diagonal in the hammock so you are mostly flat (not like a banana). Hennessy is a BC company and make a few different versions, I’ve got the Ultralight Backpacker Zip. You never have to deal with rocks and roots or uneven ground. You also never have condensation problems, so you stay dry. Glorious. I often get asked “what if there are no trees?” My sassy retort, “what happens if you can’t find flat and dry ground?” When I have no trees, I just use my hammock like a bivy sack and find a way to get my tarp up.
Warbonnet Superfly Tarp —> It is an enormous, 13ft long tarp with doors providing 4 sides of protection. Depending on how you pitch it, you can stand up underneath it, or lock it down against the ground for ultimate wind protection. It’s so versatile, and it keeps you warm and dry.
Thermarest NeoAir X-Therm —> Super warm, super comfortable, packs relatively small. It’s really the one-stop solution for sleeping pads. I know plenty of people would argue it’s overkill for spring and summer use. For me, I don’t want to buy excess gear. I’m happy to have one thing I can use year round.
Feathered Friends Flicker YF 20 —> This sleeping quilt can be zipped up into a sleeping bag, but it’s hoodless. I don’t like hoods, and this is why I have a down toque. The YF fabric is water resistant and durable, which makes it perfect for high humidity coastal areas. It’s very warm. In colder weather I’ll layer with a down puffy. In warmer weather, since it’s a quilt, it’s really easy to manage temperature. To use a mountain bike term, it’s a “quiver killer” sleeping bag, you just need the one.
Fire & First Aid Kits
As expected, I did not use my expedition first aid kit. I did, however, make multiple uses of my lap-bag first aid kit. I gave away some band aids, some Advil, and some Gravol. All clutch things to have at a moments notice, without having to unpack my boat. I’m pretty happy with this two first aid kit system. The key thing is just to keep the expedition kit handy, in a day hatch, rather than buried in the boat.
The fire kit also came in handy. While I never needed to use the ferrorod or storm matches, the firestarter I packed (Vaseline + Cotton Balls) worked wonders for getting a fire going. The small knife I kept in there was perfect for making kindling. While I prefer to use my bigger knife, it was nice to have a spare to lend to a knifeless friend. I’d like to add some other fire starter, something that burns longer and hotter than my homemade stuff, for really wet days.
Other Gear That Saved the Day
I’m a big fan of packing spare gear for uncertain situations, when you can. That means I’m not a light packer, but I’m prepared. I packed a bunch of extra rope. 50ft of reflective guyline and 50ft of 2mm static line. All in 25ft hanks. I’d love something geekier (polyester wrapped Dyneema), but this is cheap and cheerful. All of it got used. Whether it was to hang up group tarps, lend to others to tie their tarps, or dry clothes. I’ll definitely be bringing along spare line, in addition to what we have for our shelters, on our trip to Alaska. I thought I brought too much rope, and it ended up all getting used. Mind you, we were a big group and my rope was shared, but over a long trip this rope is good to have as a spare in case something breaks.
I also packed 2 tarps on this trip. Normally I’m a fan of two tarps per shelter group. One for above your shelter, and one to cook and hang out under. I ended up lending my 2nd tarp to a tarp-less class mate, and SKILS provided huge group tarps for us to all to share. For our trip to Alaska, I think Nathan and I will each bring 2 tarps. This gives us plenty of shelter and space to hang out and camp in. I also figured out that keeping a tarp handy, like behind my seat, was perfect. This allows me to access a tarp quickly, without taking up precious hatch volume. I think that’s going to be great for fast lunch stops. Again, 4 tarps is a lot for 2 people. But for a trip this long, it’s nice for us to have independent space, a place to air out clothes even on a rainy day, and also be self sufficient in the event we get separated and need to wait for help.
The AOG was a really great chance to try out some new techniques and gear. Some didn’t work out so well, like the Nathan cooking method. Others, like the drysuit and quinoa, worked really well. I was stoked to get to try a couple different kayaks as well as a selection of paddles, which is going to help me make a more informed decision for what I buy for our big expedition. I’m not really a light packer. Everything has a purpose, which may just be convenience or use in an emergency. Nothing sucks more than being unprepared. Ultimately I not only used everything I brought, but everything gave me joy. Or someone joy (a lot of my rope and my tarp ended up in other people’s hands). And knives… well, the only knife I ended up using on this trip was my big knife. But I’ll always bring a kitchen knife, a fire kit knife, a big ol’ knife, and a rescue knife. Sometime’s its about having things where you need them, especially when it pertains to safety. One big omission, that I’ll be adding to my kit, is a lap-bag size tarp. While I think I’ve got all the bases covered, I’m looking forward to add some recreation (board games, books, etc.) to the mix for a longer trip. Do you think there’s anything Nathan and I absolutely should bring?
Thanks for reading!