A Gear Review From My Walk Across Canada
Through four seasons, I walked 7000 kilometers across one of the most beautiful, rugged and wild countries on earth. I walked, ate, slept, lived outdoors for most of that nine month journey. And the gear that I used while on that journey kept me comfortable, safe and protected. Certainly, some gear performed better than others and some lasted well though the entire journey, and beyond, while other things lived a short life on the road. Here’s a little description of what I used, how it performed, and what I’d recommend for you, if you choose to undergo a similar adventure.
I began the trip with a Luxe teepee style tent. Come my return to the trail in March, I switched to a Hilleberg Akto tent. I bought the Hilleberg years ago and had intended to use it on the entire journey but, at the last minute, I opted for the teepee style tent. I foolishly reasoned that the extra floorspace and headroom would serve me well in the winter, as I knew I’d be spending long, dark nights in the tent. I say foolishly because, in the dark and cold of winter, I spent most of my tent time in my sleeping bag, trying to read and listen to podcasts. There were a handful of zero days when I had to spend the entire day out of freezing rain or ferocious winds, but, even on those days, the teepee style and winter camping conditions didn’t hold up well to the weather. Unfortunately, the quality of that Luxe tent was not up to the challenges of an adventure like this.
The Hilleberg, on the other hand, is built exceptionally well and could withstand any nasty weather that Mother Nature could send my way. Having an inner to the tent was essential in the summer, with mosquitos and ticks tormenting me, and would have been beneficial in the colder weather. I slept in that tent with snow, torrential downpours, and incredibly strong winds - a tornado touched down less than a kilometre from my camp - and there was never a tear in the fabric nor a leak. The Akto is a solo four season tent. There are certainly lighter tents on the market, and less expensive tents as well but, after owning more than dozen different ones in my life, I’ve never owned a better quality tent.
My piggyback partner throughout the entire trip was my Fjallraven Kaipak 65 litre backpack. Again, there are lighter backpacks on the market but I needed something incredibly durable. And again, I’ve had this pack for a few years, used it for several backcountry trips in summers, used it for this 7000 km trip, and it will still be going strong for many more years. For the most part, the 65 litre capacity was just right. In the winter, when carrying a much bigger sleeping back, more fuel, and heavier clothing, I could have used a slightly larger pack. In the summer, I’d lightened much of the gear but had to carry large quantities of water and drinks, so the 65 litres were just right, and near the end, when weather was mild, services were closely spaced, and easy water availability, I could have probably managed with a 45 litre pack. All in all, using only one pack for the whole trip, the Kaipak was nearly perfect. I didn’t wear any holes through the fabric. Straps and buckles were robust. It’s a simple, strong and well made.
My sleeping system:
Throughout the change in seasons, I changed my mattresses and sleeping bags along the way, thanks to my good friend and Canada Post.
I began with an old MEC 850 powerfill down mummy sleeping bag. It is rated for -30 C and kept me comfortable to near that temperature but I often slept in a base layer underwear and socks. Underneath I had a Thermarest Z-Lite mattress with a Thermarest _________ Extrem insulated sleeping pad. I gave up the Z-Lite in Quebec and opted for a lighter roll of Reflectix insulation for a couple more months.
During this season, i changed to an even older MEC down sleeping bag, rated for -9 C. Because the sleeping bag is so much older, I’d lost a lot of feathers and the bag alone was only comfortable to around 0 C. To supplement on the days when we dipped to -12 C or so, I had a microfibre sleeping bag liner, a light fleece blanket, and, a few times, wore much of my clothes to bed. As spring brought milder weather, I left the Reflectix roll, the bag liner, and the fleece blanket behind.
Once again, I changed to a very light MEC summer synthetic sleeping bag, rated for 10 C. I only used this bag for a month or so, as I opted for an insulated Rumpl blanket by the time I reached eastern Saskatchewan. The Rumpl was not only more comfortable to sleep under, it was warmer than the mummy sleeping bag, and both were about the same packed size and weight. I continued to use the Thermarest sleeping pad.
Even into the fall, thanks to mild weather until the end of my journey, I continued to be comfortable with the Rumpl blanket. Sadly, I got a hole in the Thermarest sleeping pad while camped out in sharp stubble of a farmer’s field. I suffered with a flat mattress for a few nights then purchased a new _________ insulated sleeping pad in Medicine Hat. This mattress wasn’t nearly as comfortable nor as warm as the Thermarest but it was considerably less costly and it was lighter.
The Rumpl and _______ sleeping pad were all I had finishing my trip into Victoria.
a wool hand knit Aran sweater - doubled as my pillow.
three t-shirts (some needed to be replaced due to fading and holes).
three pair of Icebreaker wool boxer underwear
three pair of Darn Tough mid-weight wool hiking socks (March to end)
three pair of Smartwool sock liners
two pair of Wigwam heavy weight wool socks (January to March).
two pair of Patagonia mid-weight Capilene long underwear.
a Patagonia mid-weight Capilene long sleeve base layer shirt.
an Icebreaker 300 long sleeve base layer shirt.
a Patagonia _______ ultralight puffy hooded jacket.
a Fjallraven anorak parka shell (January to March).
Fjallraven ______ pants (left behind in July).
Fjallraven ______ shorts (sent home in Thunder Bay as I lost weight and they were too large).
Patagonia cotton/poly blend shorts (replacement in Thunder Bay).
Outdoor Research rain jacket and rain pants (the pants were the only ones I had after eastern Saskatchewan).
a red Keen wool toque (wool winter hat).
a lightweight synthetic Buff neck gaiter.
Wool gloves from January until summer.
leather, synthetic shear lined mittens from January until March.
Surprisingly, nearly all this clothing wore well and is still with me. One pair of Darn Tough socks had small holes in the soles (they have a lifetime warranty) and all the sock liners wore out by the end. T-shirts held up well in the beginning but the sun and my backpack straps wore them thin. I bought a couple of new ones in Saskatchewan which were poor quality and too heavy. They faded and wore out quickly and I had to replace them a month later. Both my pants and shorts from the first half of the trip are still with me but I’d lost several inches from my waist and they didn’t fit anymore.Sadly, the wool gloves got holes in the fingers and I haven’t found a suitable replacement. A special note should go with the Fjallraven Anorak parka as it is incredibly durable. I waxed it prior to the trip for wind and water resistance. Although it isn’t lined, it was the perfect shell to whatever base layer the weather called for. And special mention to my perfect sweather. A lot of people would laugh at such a heavy layer but a good wool sweater if essential on most every trip I make, and I’m thankful I had this one with me.
I’d done a separate blog post and YouTube video solely addressing my footwear and foot care.
I began my trip in the winter with a Solo Stove. It’s a twig burner stove which nests in it’s own baler style pot. In addition, I had a Trangia alcohol stove which could be used inside the Solo Stove. I carried a one litre MSR fuel bottle which, depending on how many meals I’d cook and how often I’d use the twig burner, would last between a week and three. Although the Solo is a great stove, I found, as the year progressed, I was using the alcohol burner more often than not and eventually sent the Solo Stove home and relied solely on the Trangia alcohol stove and a 500 ml GSI pot/mug. That last set-up would have been sufficient for the entire trip. I carried an MSR titanium long handle spoon and an Opinel #6 folding pocket knife. In the winter I used wooden matches to light the stove and then a bic lighter for the rest of the trip.
As for water, I carried a litre in a wide mouth Nalgene from the beginning until Thunder Bay, then added a second to the pack. In the very hot days of the summer, I’d often carry six or seven litres of water and drinks but other than my Nalgenes, the drinks were in single use aluminum and plastic.
iPhone 11 - doubled as camera and video editing platform.
GoPro Hero 8 with three batteries and charging cube.
Fizer aluminum flashlight -2 AAs. Unnecessary.
Anker battery pack
matching cables for charging
Rhodes lav mic - used very rarely.
It’s hard to believe that all fit in one backpack and that I was able to keep the dry weight (minus food and water) to less than 17 kg (around 40 lbs) at most. Still, after 9 months of simplifying and lightening my backpack gradually, I’d find a way to lighten the load on my next adventure.