Kevin Callan
Credit: Kevin Callan

I always disliked the smell of my public school’s oil furnace.

I could smell it from my bedroom in the early morning, when cool nights brought in a mist before the hot morning sun. The stench meant summer was over and life in the outdoors was now limited to weekends. It also meant that our evil Principal, Sister Alexander, would walk the hallways with her yardstick stuffed up her Habit, waiting to strike anyone who challenged her authority—but that’s another story.

I enjoy checking off dates on my calendar that I spent sleeping under the stars. For many years, my goal has been 60 nights in the woods. This season I’m only at 42. And I can smell that furnace oil already. I still have two good trips planned before my daughter goes back to school, I look for more solid employment, and the oil begins to burn. But it’s possible to reach my goal.

It hasn’t been a bad season, though. I really can’t complain. I’ve done some cool trips. A few spring paddles into the depths of Algonquin, hooking some trophy brook trout. A couple solo trips in Temagami, except for my dog tagging along. They were good for the soul. Even a handful of father-and-daughter adventures scattered about the country, where we spent quality time paddling our canoe across big water and chatting about life—a rare experience for a dad and a pre-teen. 

Of course, the question asked by so many readers during my time wandering around the wilds, what gear did I like most? Here’s a run down of six top picks; some I anticipated to be good, others were a total surprise.

Bens’s-100 Tick & Insect Repellent

Bugs were bad in the early part of the season. Heck, they were bad through most of the season. Blackflies and mosquitoes quickly dried up, however. That’s normal. But then the deer flies took over the forest and they dominated most of the summer. Not sure why. What continues to work for me is Ben’s-100 Tick & insect Repellent. Why? It’s strong in DEET. It’s also water-based, not alcohol-based. This reduces the stench of bug repellent on your skin (and the presence in your blood stream).

GoSun Solar Oven

I’ve gotten a few cool products mailed to me for review, due to my high subscriber numbers on my YouTube channel. Bottles of bourbon, fire starters, dehydrated food…but never a solar oven. Yes, it was a surprise to me. It works! Sure, it’s not something you’d lug into the interior. But it’s an awesome addition to the campground, or even the backyard. First thing I tried was chicken wings and potatoes. They were cooked—during an overcast day—by the time I finished a pint-and-a-half of ale.

Outdoor Research Axiom Jacket

I doubt there’s another hard-shell waterproof-breathable jacket that fits as well as OR’s Axiom. It’s a shoulder-season jacket more than something you would wear during a heated thunderstorm in mid-summer. It’s a great combination of a Gore-Tex Active waterproof/breathable membrane and stretchy ripstop 20-denier face fabric. I’m a big fan of the two-way zipper and longer sleeves as well.

Wetterlings Hudson’s Bay Axe

This was a new axe for 2016 and it’s what I’ve been waiting for. The hand-forged replica is meant to characterize what the First Nations and Voyageurs preferred. I can see why. To me, it’s a great combination of a maul splitting axe and a forester’s axe. It’s an axe that’s great for felling or wood collection, but has a wedge-like head that’s fantastic for splitting. 

Nova Craft Bob Special 15’

This was my biggest surprise for 2016. I wanted a new solo canoe, so I went to order a 15-foot Prospector from Nova Craft. Tim Millar, the owner of the company and good friend, suggested I break away from the Prospector (I own six of them) and try something different for a solo boat. He recommended a Bob Special 15'. Good choice, Tim. I’ve been on five solo trips this season so far and love the new boat. Change is good for the soul.

The Bob Special was the Chestnut Canoe Company’s response to the need for a lightweight canoe well suited to solo tripping and casual tandem paddling. It works. The shape provides more speed and stability, especially when packed with a week's worth of supplies. To me, it’s a boat that novices first enjoy but the advanced paddlers will admire.

Osprey Compression Sacks

I’m a huge fan of compression sacks. They reduce your bulk considerably. I’ve tried them all. At least I thought I did. This season, a friend recommended Osprey. I love their backpacks; I think they are the best on the market right now. But I never considered using their compression sacks. After a summer season, I have to say my buddy was right. They are awesome. My favourite were their eight- and 12-litre StraightJacket compression sack and their Map Wrap (I’ve tried countless weatherproof map cases and this is the only one that suited me).