As I begin to plan for the approaching season at Strikers Point Lodge I remember how crucial it is to plan smart, pick right, and pack tight. When I look back on my own experiences guiding in remote locations, there were many times when I thought: “I wish I had that” or “I wish I had this”. I can also recall many guests in my boat that felt the same. With that being said, I’m sure we can all agree that good planning is the key to any successful trip. I, myself, have begun amassing an arsenal of fishing equipment, outdoor clothing, proper footwear, and all the other essentials. Although I must plan for 4-5 months and most of you reading this are planning for perhaps 1 or 2 weeks, the critical items remain the same. Here’s my advice on what to pack to stay warm, dry, and comfortable on your fly in adventure.
First off, let’s remember that no matter what time of year you are travelling into the great Canadian northlands, you are bound to experience a variety of weather. For example, if you are travelling north in mid-July, you’ll still want cold weather gear for those early morning boat rides and surprise rainstorms. When you’re out on the water it’s good to be prepared for anything that Mother Nature may send your way. I have often witnessed the needless suffering of fellow fishermen due to substandard base layering, footwear and outerwear. When you are underprepared you focus primarily on getting warm and miss out great fishing time -and we don’t want that so we :p.
In regards to being comfortable, the first thing to consider is base layering. These are the items of clothing that go on right next to your skin. There is a major difference between long johns and proper base layer. Sure you can throw on any pair of long underwear, or thermal shirt and be warm… for a bit. 8 hours later in the boat, however, you’ll wish you hadn’t overlooked this aspect as those heavy long johns will become soggy with sweat and are icing themselves to your legs and back. There are several manufacturers producing high quality products with quick drying, moisture wicking, and high breathability properties. I avoid one piece suits altogether, they never keep me as warm as separate shirt and bottoms. A proper base layer wicks moisture away from the body, and passes it through to the next layer of clothing. Layering your socks following the same principles is the way to go. I like to wear a pair of knee high micro fleece wicking socks and a pair of wool wading socks over top. This keeps my feet warm and dry while wading in rivers for 10 hours a day in December. Simms and Under Armour offer a good range of base layering apparel and tend to be my top choice in this department.
One of the great benefits of smart layering is reducing bulkiness -providing unlimited mobility while staying warm and dry. So after your base layer, what’s next? Again, depending on the day, this may fluctuate. If I am boating or wading, I prefer to wear 2 pair of fleece jogging pants. The first are XL, and the second are XXL. The difference in size allows one pair to fit tight and, the next to wrap around those. When the days get warmer in the afternoons, I like to go with one pair of fleece jogging pants and then a specialized wind cutting, quick drying pant. The North Face has a large selection of these types of pants. I follow the same premise for my upper body; a secondary wicking layer, such as a quarter zip micro fleece, followed by a warm fleece lined hoodie. Many outer layer shirts are made with UV repellant materials these days and can be great to wear on their own, later in the day.
Next on the list is footwear. I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep your feet warm and dry when venturing into the outdoors. One thing I always remember from my time at Wilderness North is how fast the weather can change. I have made the mistake of wearing only a pair of running shoes out on the boat based on my own weather predictions only to get caught in sporadic rain showers. Hands down, insulated rubber hunting boots are the most versatile footwear in the north and a must have for any Wilderness trip. Insulated rubber boots are useful all year long but are most valuable in the spring and fall. They provide excellent warmth and the ultimate in water resistance. I love my 16 inch Rocky Mudsox boots. They are rated with 1000 grams of insulation and are equipped with neoprene calf backs to allow for a tremendous amount of comfort and mobility. A great choice for long days in a boat, with minimal walking and physical exertion (they can be heavy). For more active days or when packing space is tight and you want something for all situations, I would recommend an ankle high waterproof hiking boot. Gore Tex boots are the way to go. I absolutely love my North Face Hydro seals. They are by far the lightest, most comfortable boot I have ever worn and completely waterproof. I also always have a pair of quick drying, drainable, water shoes for warmer days. Some models have excellent traction for both in the boat or for casual hiking. These shoes are key when the sun burns hot and the winds let up towards the middle of the season. There have been many days where I started out wearing my rubbers and ended in my water shoes.
Last but not least, let’s discuss the benefits of a quality outer shell to protect everything. An outer shell is meant to be the final barrier between you and the elements. It should do three things; block the wind, block the rain, and keep you warm. If you were going to purchase only one item, this is where the biggest investment should be made. I have suffered too many wet and cold days in the past wishing I had bought a quality suit. Again, in my opinion, a quality suit is one that is 2 piece (bibs and jacket), made of Gore Tex with welded zippers on all pockets, has excellent freedom of movement, and is not bulky. I have recently purchased a Simms Pro Dry Gore Tex suit which more than meets my needs. There are many brand names out there that also offer high quality outer wear at an affordable price.
The last two items to consider are gloves and hats. I recommend having one pair of really warm gloves at all times -not full out winter mitts but something easy to put on and take off for boat rides or longer hikes. I always, however, carry a pair of half-fingered wool gloves in my pockets for the times when it is just too cold to fish with bare hands. Majority of the time I prefer wearing my fleece lined hood as opposed to a toque or beanie. A nice fleece toque, however, is always good to have packed.
Of course, every day in the far north is different and there will be days when you might be over dressed or feel over prepared. For this reason, a medium sized, high quality Seal-Line dry bag is recommended. Most are made from thick rubber and are very durable and protective. Having this bag will allow you to shed layers and keep them dry, or easily find them again if needed. If you’ve done much fishing in Northern Ontario you know, this could be momentarily. They also help keep the boat organized and are great for stashing drinks, snacks, cameras, GPS units, etc.
As I continue with my trip planning I look forward to sharing my advice with all of you and would be happy to answer any gear or tackle related questions you might have.
Looking forward to warmer temperatures in Canada,