When Elena Wood and Karam Nwilati set off on a three-week trip in a rental canoe nicknamed Truffle, it was their first big trip, and “neither one of us really knew exactly what we were doing,” she says. The duo turned the adventure into a short film, which is as much an ode to their learning curve as the Algonquin Park wilderness they explore.
Throughout the documentary, the duo good-naturedly gripes about the weight of their gear as they double-carry portages and pine for pizza but say they wouldn’t change a thing—except to bring more peanut butter. Here are their top picks for the best of the non-essential essentials they carried. —Eds
Karam & Elena’s essential non-essentials
A big part of slow travel is precisely that, slowing down. And there’s no better way to slow down than snuggling up in sleeping bags in a hammock overlooking a wilderness lake, 30 miles from the closest road.
Paper books smell, feel and read differently. But on a multi-week trip, pack an e-reader—just preferably not a Kindle because we don’t like Amazon. Pre-download as many books as your heart desires, or just Dune in my case, to optimize your hammock time.
Our Harvest Foodworks dinners were an absolute highlight. The just-add-water meals rehydrate in about 10 minutes, which is a blessing after a long day. Plus, they’re all completely vegetarian.
MIZU Water Filters
These babies are the bomb! Fill up the bottle, close the lid, which contains a filter, and you can immediately drink via the straw. None of the fussiness about waiting a certain amount of time with chemical treatment or needing an additional pump—just water on demand. Perfect for staying hydrated on the water.
Our camera gear weighed 22 pounds. I shot our documentary on the Sony Alpha 7RII with four lenses: 16-35mm, 70-200mm, 50mm, and 24-70mm. We also had a lot of accessories: Gorillapod tripod, intervalometer for time-lapses, on-camera mic, extra batteries and a battery pack. We didn’t have a drone—I took the first shot in this article by throwing a rope over a branch and then pulling my camera up while facing down.
6 Solar panels
Recharging film equipment was essential. With the Goal Zero Nomad 28 Plus in full sunlight, we could directly recharge mics, camera batteries and a laptop used for file transfers.
7 Menstrual cup
Fifty-one percent of the population menstruates, but unless you’re on an all-women trip, the topic is taboo around most campfires. Elena wants to lessen the stigma around periods and give women more information about options to camp at ease. “Reusable cups aren’t for everyone, but they are comfortable, only need to be emptied twice a day, and are easy to clean with boiled water. And, since they’re zero-waste, they’re perfect for longer canoe trips,” she says.
8 Dear Diary
My diary comes everywhere. Setting out on our trip, we already knew we wanted to make a film of our adventure, so I wrote detailed entries to remember every little fact, emotion and meal. The accuracy with which I could recall a specific feeling or smell from the trip when writing the video script was purely due to my diary keeping. Reading it over puts me back amongst the lakes and loons.
9 Analog camera
Whereas I focused on catching moments on video, Elena—who has much less patience with filming—prefers to point and shoot, capturing quick snaps. Photos on film are raw and untouched, totally different from the digital footage we would later cut and edit. Bonus: wait a year before developing the film so you can re-live the adventure.
Other canoeing accessories we recommend
In addition to Karam and Elena’s list, there are a few more canoe trip accessories you should consider adding to your gear closet. These might not be as fun as those listed above and are in no way essential, but they will move your canoe trip from great to awesome in short order.
Drybags are game-changers for canoeists. You can store electronics, extra sets of water treatment and matches, ID, maps and books. They are also great for packing a day kit with lunch and sunscreen, and their straps can be hooked onto the gunwales or thwarts of a canoe for secure placement and easy access.
They come in a range of sizes and shapes to suit everything you want to protect from your beloved DSLR camera to your daily medications. Never have to worry about your gear getting rained on again.
Show your canoe some love with a canoe rack to call home when it’s not cruising lakes and rivers. It is no secret that proper storage of a canoe can extend the boat’s life by decades.
Emergency communication device
Increase your ability to stay safe and in touch on long and remote canoe trips with electronics like a satellite phone or satellite messenger. Even though canoe trips are a great time to get away from constantly being plugged in, having a means of communication just in case is great investment in your well-being, even if it stays happily stored in a drybag for the duration of your expedition.
Can you picture yourself relaxing in your canoe waiting for a fish to bite with a cup of hot coffee in hand? Make your canoeing activities simpler with a mount. Mount functions range from holding your paddle to your fishing rod to your cup of coffee, and allow you to simplify and worry less about your different possessions falling out of the boat when not in use.
Canoe carts can be a serious luxury when transporting your boat. They are relatively small given their large utility, can fit in the trunk, and have sturdy wheels designed for roots and rocky trails. If you are unable or not interested in putting your canoe on your back, a canoe cart is a great option for getting your boat to the water.
Some adventurers also use canoe carts on long expeditions to make endless portages more bearable.
This shot was taken the old-fashioned way—hanging a camera from a branch and hoping for the best. | Photo: Karam Nwilati