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Everything I Brought With Me on a 1,200-Mile River Canoe Trip

Brian Castner

It took five months to plan, purchase, test, re-purchase, and pack the gear I'd need to paddle the entire length of the Mackenzie River to report on climate change.

Photo courtesy the author

This is part of a Motherboard series on climate change. Follow along here.

It took five months to plan, purchase, test, re-purchase, and pack the gear I'd need to paddle the entire length of the Mackenzie River to report on climate change. Here are the highlights of the kit, as seen below, from the bottom-right corner and spiraling clockwise.

  • In such a remote area, I didn't know what kind of fuel would be available—propane, butane, white gas, diesel?—so I tried to prepare for anything. I brought two stoves, a compact white gas backpacking kit from MSR, and a new Optimus Optifuel model that will run on anything.
  • I didn't mess around with the tent. The Hilleberg Keron 3 is the kind they use at basecamp on Everest, and worth every penny, considering the wind and thunderstorms I faced. Not a single leak or tear.
  • 4 bottles of DEET, the most useless item I took. First time I used it, my face turned numb, so I stopped. Head nets and long sleeves keep the mosquitos off better anyway.
  • I had my paddle custom-made by Jim Snyder of Riverstyx in West Virginia. It's exquisitely tailored, all the way down to the mold of the T-grip; you send him an outline of your hands on a sheet of paper so he can optimize it.
  • Nothing keeps the sun off like a Tilly hat.
  • Bear-spray is high-strength pepper-spray, and fortunately we never had to use it.
  • An Astral Green Jacket rescue vest was my personal floatation device. It also never got a workout, though I have swum many whitewater rapids in it, so I knew it would be up to the task.
  • I took sleeping seriously—winter-capable North Face bags, and two sets of sleeping pads, one an air mattress and the other sturdy foam, in case the first one popped.
  • Topo-maps of the entire route, in case we lost our GPS.
  • Pens, pencils, and Rite-in-the-Rain notebooks. What's a writer without them?
  • There's an old saying in the military: two is one and one is none. So I brought an extra tent.
  • The Goal Zero solar array powered the cell phone, GPS, Sony Action-Cam, and laptop.
  • A Platypus gravity filtration system, to make clean water. Sure beats the old pumping models.
  • A headlamp, the second most useless thing I brought. I didn't see night or darkness for forty days. Why would I need a light?
  • The DeLorme inReach. How did people plan expeditions before they had this all-in-one GPS, digital map, weather- predictor, emergency beacon, and satellite texting machine?
  • And even after all that, I was only half-packed. This photo is missing the food.

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