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Packing for a Wilderness Expedition

Written by: Carl Hiehn

The most frequent question we receive leading up to any of our wilderness trips is, “What should I pack?”

Lucky for our participants, we take care of much of the gear and planning required for a safe and successful expedition.
But for those planning their own trip this summer, we surveyed some of our instructors from across the country to find out what they recommend as necessary things to pack on a camping, hiking and/or paddling excursion in Canada during the warmer months. Here’s a collection of a few top tips and tricks (there’s certainly more, but here’s a few to get you started!) for beginners packing for any extended summer stay in the great outdoors.

Packing tips: duffle shuffle


Marika Chandler (MC), Ontario Program Director on amateur mistakes: Often beginners pack too much. They’re concerned about not having everything they need out on the trail. People always think they need a lot of clothing, but you don’t really. It’s just added weight.

Rob Wallis (RW), Principle and Education Manager on a potential packing philosophy: You shouldn’t approach packing from ‘What could I possibly need?’ and rather approach packing from the question ‘What do I fundamentally need?’

Alan Kelly (AK), Outward Bound Canada Instructor on planning for the weather: Always assume that it will rain. Always.

Trammell Good (TM), Outward Bound Canada Instructor on planning for the weather: When you’re packing your backpack, pack your bag to be waterproof. Keep your sleeping bag and clothes in a separate waterproof bag. I believe in keeping my clothes and sleeping bag dry. Also, I use a waterproof liner for my entire backpack.



AK on purchasing a pack: Best thing to do when buying a pack is to find a store that can properly fit you. Try on a number of bags with some weight and see how they feel. You don’t want to end up with a bag that is too big, because generally we tend to fill extra space. But also you don’t want to have a tiny bag that won’t fit everything. 80L is probably a good size.

TG on organizing your backpack intelligently: When packing your backpack, keep your heavier items closer to your person rather than further away. This helps with balance.

RW on clothing: Focus on the underwear. Don’t focus on clean shirts.

AK on clothing: I almost always work with a layering system. I always make sure to have a set of warm dry clothes available.

MC on packing multipurpose products: If an item can serve two purposes its great because the weight of that item is then for two purposes rather than just one. For example, can this small pot also be a cup? Or is your bowl also your cup?


TG on alleviating weight: Gadgets. Unfortunately its the one thing everyone loves to bring. I love them, but its your cameras and gadgets that build up the extra weight. If you waterproof your cellphone, it can do almost all of the things your other gadgets can in one.

MC on losing comfort items: We see students show up with pillows, which makes sense as they help you sleep really well. But sweaters make great pillows. And sweaters shoved into other sweaters make even better pillows. Pillows take up space and if they get wet they become a sponge and really heavy.

RW on alleviating weight: Things you think will make life comfortable can be left behind: Hammocks, binoculars, heavy books etc. The added weight is really just going to make the trip uncomfortable.

TG on knives specifically: You’ll see people show up with like four different knives: jackknifes, and then they have a Leatherman and a big knife and a machete. Honestly, two knives are probably good. One to use, and one to keep aside to ensure you always have a sharp knife ready to go.



RW on the basics of packing food: Plan to bring durable foods. For example, if you bring bananas and apples, you should eat the bananas early on so they don’t get crushed and save the apples. Also, meat can only be stored for a short period so if you have fresh meat eat it early and save your dehydrated food for the end.

TG on the basics of packing food: Look at your diet and try and stick as close to your diet as possible. It’ll make you the most happy, and a happy camper is a good camper. If you eat a lot of eggs, pack powdered eggs. If you like fish, pack vacuum sealed fish. Try and stay as close to your normal diet as possible.

RW on amateur mistakes: Putting bananas and bread in the bottom of your pack.

AK on his top advice when packing food: Look for fast cook foods, i.e. minute rice over longer-cook versions. Also, make sure to try foods before going. Only pack meals you enjoy. You don’t want to get out there and realize you really don’t like what you planned for dinner.



MC on absolute packing essentials: The one thing you should never leave at home is your first aid kit. Period.

TG on the one essential to always bring: Always bring a tarp and rope because its good for anything. I’ve been on a trip where one of our tents were damaged and we were able to build a new shelter out of our tarp and rope.

AK on his top three essentials: 1. Navigation (map and compass), 2. Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen), 3. Insulation (extra clothing).