Escape the Urban: Perilous Packing

21 Aug

I woke up this morning on Lower Saranac Lake, one of many jewels in that blue and green Adirondack sea so vibrant with midsummer color and smell that the senses balk at breathing in the whole ‘scape in one gulp. This section of rivers, lakes and ponds, just west of the High Peaks and an hour drive into the park, contains some of the best flatwater circuitous canoeing and kayaking in the world. There are many ways to trip from pearl to pearl on the string, connecting clear mountain lakes via streams and portages in a nearly endless number of back country combinations. For my first multi-day trip with two boys (aged 8 and 5), I chose a loop with no long-haul carries and an easy abort-mission ejection point if weather or bugs or time away from Mom brought too much misery. I’ll provide the definitive trip report in a future column (though if you are curious and the cell phone towers cooperate, follow me on Twitter (@WNYMediaRepat) to get real time pictures and updates), but our topic today is that less romantic portion of excursion making: packing.

Everyone has their own system, checklists and must haves. My personality type and military training have bestowed upon me a deep and abiding love of the packing list. I have one for each occasion: rafting, consulting, cold weather, etc. But I have never taken a 4 four day canoe trip with two boys. I have no checklist for that. I am lost.

So for this trip I went to my backup plan: go in the basement where I store the camping gear and pull everything off the shelves that appears useful. Sleeping bags and tent and Big Agnes inflatable mattresses. Stove and gas and cooking gear. Paddles and life vests. Backpack and dry bags to store everything in. The basic stuff comes easy.

Then the less obvious. Bear canister to store our food. Is it big enough for three people for four days? I’ll make it work. Mosquito head nets – nothing ruins a trip faster than merciless bugs. Maps and description of the route. Rain gear and collapsible Platypus bottles.

That’s everything that I can think of from my basement, so its time for the highlight of every new expedition: the shopping trip for new gear. This time I splurged on stuff-sack pillows that collapse into a tiny ball (EMS’s “Dreamy Pillow” – I’ll do a gear review of a number of items after this trip). I can deal with heat, cold, hunger, wet and exhaustion, but if I get a bad night’s sleep, I’m miserable all the next day. I learned a long time ago that a “real” pillow, instead of a balled up outer shell or sweatshirt, makes all the difference.

I also let the kid’s pick out their dinners for the trip: dehydrated lasagna, kfajita filling and pad thai. They begged for, and I acquiesced to let them try, the freeze dried ice cream bar. I can only imagine how good that scary cardboard will taste by day three. After finding new rain gear for the kids, a replacement filter for my water purifier and new tarp to go under the tent, I was satisfied I had spent all the money I could justify on one trip. Back home to pack.


I laid out all the gear on my office floor. Now the hard part: figuring out what I forgot. Like most trekkers, I always forget something. The truly organized, the obsessed and the childless spend days, weeks, or months crafting packing lists. I would too if I was hiking the AT. But after running to soccer games, the county fair, the library for last minute summer reading list completion and the thousand other tasks required of a father, I had put off the final pack job to the last minute. What I came up with now would have to do.

I have a mental list of things I normally forget: flashlight, bug spray, sunscreen, toothbrush. What I really need is a definite written list of what I normally forget. I don’t have that. I scrambled upstairs and found the usual suspects and stared again at my pile. Something was missing. I asked the Oracle (read: Twitter). It wasn’t much help either. I asked my sons.

“Let’s bring Uno!”

Good catch – something to do around the campfire.

“Marshmallows for S’mores!”

Oh, yeah. Forgot that. Better ask Mom to get those on the way home from work. 

But there was something else. Something more fundamental. Something we could not do without. Something it would be a disaster to forget. Something I should write down for next time.

Have you figured it out yet, from the picture above?

Toilet paper. I threw a roll in the top of my bag. Now it would be a good trip.

5 Responses to “Escape the Urban: Perilous Packing”

  1. ethan at 11:12 am #

    Heh… aka ‘bumwad’ but a good maple leaf is better than nothing, that’s sure. 

    Phin will be 5 next summer- i’d very much like to know and use your favorite routes. Spent all the good summers of my youth canoeing in Algonquin and/or hiking the Green Mountains… look forward to getting back to it with my boys.

  2. Chris Sasiadek at 11:21 am #

    My last trip I forgot the TP. It’s the cardinal sin of packing for camp. That and the first aid kit are the two things you should never leave home without.

  3. RaChaCha at 3:14 pm #

    Planning for canoe trips, our scoutmaster would tell us to put everything in three piles. The first: stuff you can’t do without, the second: stuff you might need, the third: stuff you don’t need but might be fun to have. He’d say to take everything in the first pile, nothing in the second pile, and one item in the third pile. One scout suggested everyone take extra boot laces on a long canoe trip, and almost got booted out of the troop. “If you’re worried about your laces breaking, put new ones in before you go!!” the scoutmaster snapped at him. Ornery guy, but full of lots of good pithy advice.

    If anyone from Cabela’s reads your article, no doubt they’ll dispatch a ground team to Grand Island to look for a store location!

  4. Jesse at 8:35 am #

    Just got back from a week with two little girls and a popup camper in Algonquin and reading this: I am nothing but horribly jealous!


  1. Escape the Urban Book Review: Adirondack Paddler’s Guide « -

    […] Note: As you know from my last column, I just spent four days canoeing in the Adirondacks. I did not have the time in this shortened week […]

Contribute To The Conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: