The Happy Camper recounts his favourite five gear items from the 2023 camping season.
I had a solid paddling season in 2023. Lots of trips in various areas of Ontario, and lots of time to try out new gear I picked up along the way. Here are my top five items I am glad I packed along and will make sure to bring again for next year’s canoeing season.
Bushbox LF Stove
One activity I do with my Outdoor Skills class where I teach part-time is the spaghetti noodle boil. I put the students in groups and then laid out a variety of stick stoves, a pot, water, three matches and a spaghetti noodle. When the whistle blows the groups grab their choice of stove, fumble about trying to put it together and get a fire lit. The first to get the water to a boil and the spaghetti noodle soft enough so it can tie in a knot, wins. This win results in five bonus marks on their final exam. The Littlbug stove does well, and so does the Kelly Kettle Hobo stove. But this year’s overall winner—hands down—was my new Bushbox LF Stove. This model is sized between the Bushbox original and the large (XL). It’s portable, minimal weight, very stable and very efficient—especially for boiling a spaghetti noodle in record time.
Recreational Barrel Works Map Case
First off, this map case is completely waterproof. I speak from experience. Mine got dipped in the water more than once while running Mississippi River’s whitewater early this season in Ontario. The seal, which is a waterproof zipper, is like one found on a dry suit. The seams are RF welded and are friendly for electronic devices, meaning you can operate your electronics while they are inside the case (like GPS, phones and tablets)—basically touchscreen compatible. And the materials used for the case are hot and cold temperature resilient (rated 52C to -35C/130F to -32F), PVC-free and BPA-free. Two clear UV-resistant panes (made of pure Thermoplastic Polyurethane or TPU) allow you to view the maps contained inside from both sides. That’s a big thumbs up for me. And each corner is equipped with a heavy-duty D-ring to lash the map case to the deck of your canoe or dangle it from your pack. The viewing area is large enough to see topographic maps, which I use for all my northern trips.
Mountain Hardwear's Meridian 3
I’m not sure if you read my blog on Eureka closing their doors. Sad news, indeed. I used Eureka tents for years and loved them. But early this year, I sensed the company was going to be no more (give the blog a read to see why). So, I went shopping around for a new tent company and design and chose Mountain Hardware and their Meridian three-person tent. I lucked out. First off, this is a very spacious three-person tent. The symmetrical and rectangular design gives plenty of sleeping and headroom. Even the zippered doors are oversized—both provide entry and have vented vestibules that roll back to add more ventilation if needed. The fly rolls back and secures halfway along, making it perfect for stargazing or humid nights. I kept dry during the worst of downpours and was really pleased with how waterproof the tent was. The Meridian has a “bathtub” floor design, with taped seams and a sizeable footprint. The fly fits snugly around the entire tent, but there is a full mesh upper canopy to help with ventilation.
Ben’s Tick Repellent
Ben's Tick Repellent
Ticks in Ontario have become the new norm. That's not good news. Which is why it is becoming a routine to spray my legs and ankles down each day on trips with Ben's Tick Repellent. It works, providing maximum strength tick protection in a 20 per cent picaridin formula that lasts 12 hours. The repellent is proven to repel ticks, including deer ticks, that may carry Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other tick-borne diseases.
Counter Assault's Bear Keg Food Storage Container
I had planned a few canoe trips along Georgian Bay’s northern shore in mid-summer. The area is known for pesky bears sneaking into your campsite and stealing your delicious camp meals. So, I decided to give the Counter Assault’s bear container a try rather than deal with hanging my food every night. I never did have a visit from a bear, but it was nice to have peace of mind in my camp. The bear canister has 716 cubic inches of storage, which may be too small for some paddlers who are travelling for more than a week and don’t pack a lot of dehydrated meals. But it only weighs 3.8 pounds. You can store it in your pack, but it does come with its own carrying case with heavy-duty black nylon straps for attaching to your pack and a zippered lid entry. It was definitely too small to use for my lengthy canoe trip with renowned UK paddler Ray Mears and family around Georgina Bay’s Philip Edward Island. But it was perfect for my shorter solo outings. The only negative is that it took me a day or two—or three—to figure out how to remove the lid. It was like a classic, complex Rubik’s Cube. But that’s a good thing, I guess. The bears wouldn’t stand a chance of figuring it out.