I’ve spent a lot of my career taking various people out in the woods, from troubled youth to greenhorn adults. It was always enjoyable—but it was always still a job. I carried a heavy burden; being responsible for making sure everyone came back safe. So, whenever I head out on a leisurely wilderness trip with friends—between the paid gigs—I’m pretty picky of who tags along. And I must say, I've been incredibly lucky.

One of my regular canoe partners, Andy Baxter, has paddled the stern of the canoe on countless northern Ontario trips: Quetico, Wabakimi, Woodland Caribou, Lake Superior, Algoma, Temagami… He even agreed to join me on my epic “Once Around Algonquin” trip, which consisted of 102 portages that added up to 68 kilometres; and he still wants to paddle with me! Andy’s demeanour and skills on a trip are like mixing the humour of the late comedian Red Skeleton with the paddling ability of the legendary Bill Mason.

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Kip Spidell is a famed film producer. He’s spent much of his career producing nature films and was the last person to interview renowned paddler and film maker Bill Mason before he died.  Kip and I have lugged a ton of camera gear over many bug-infested portages and returned with amazing footage that depicts how special wilderness places can be.

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Then there’s Ashley McBride (a.k.a. Speedo Man). He was a new neighbour of mine when he immigrated from the U.K. He wandered over with a cold beer one day and asked if I could show him what this Canadian canoeing thing was all about. I agreed, and we went for a trip down the French River. I broke my foot on the second last day while swimming naked in some rapids, and he rescued me while wearing a European-style Speedo. That’s when six female paddlers rounded the bend and witnessed the oddity. He came back wanting to go out canoe tripping again, and I came back with an award-winning story titled “Northern Exposure.” Ashley has continued to inspire an abundant of stories—and still wears a Speedo on each trip.

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Tim Foley is a deep thinker, talented woodsman and wise beyond words when it comes to camp gear. I’ve given him the nickname Gandalf. He even has a hat and pipe. He’s also the most relaxed person on a trip—which helps calm my anxieties during things like massive thunderstorms or nuisance bears.

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Scott Adams is another filmmaker. He owns Birch Bark Media. We’ve spent time capturing incredible wild places such as the wild coast of Newfoundland, the remote interior of Nova Scotia, the historic French River and the wilds of Quetico.

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There’s also my girlfriend/partner Kristine Redmond. My daughter set me up with her a few years back. Thanks, Kyla. She’s the one person who’s really taught me how to relax out there.

So, what do all these paddling partners have in common? They follow strict guidelines on creating good group dynamics.

First, none are selfish. Everyone shares. Skillset and the ability to communicate are more important than friendship. It’s nice to be best buddies, but you won’t be pals after the trip if you don’t share responsibilities. This greatly minimizes conflict, friction and anxiety amongst your group.

Another very important step is to ask everyone “Why are you going?” Goals must be set out long before the trip begins. I’ve been asked many times why my buddy Andy never travels with my other buddy, Ashley. The answer is simple. They both have different priorities on a trip. Ashley is obsessed with fishing. He’s beyond obsessed. We generally don’t travel too far each day due to his angling habits. Andy wants to make miles on a trip, and only dangles a line now and then to add fish to our regular diet of freeze-dried meals. A trip together wouldn’t work.

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A few more important points we adhere to when travelling together:

  • We’ve always found that a group should consist of no more than six people; we don't want “too many cooks in the kitchen.”
  • Selecting who’s bringing what must be carefully planned. And remember—no mocking someone else’s camp gear. That sort of thing can get quite personal.
  • Give each group member a separate task or duty; something they’re confident in or wanting to improve upon. At least it will let you know who’s to blame when something is not properly done (or not done at all).
  • Always be aware that no one is perfect. Keep an open mind and welcome contrast in your group.
  • Think twice about borrowing gear. I have seen mild disagreements turn into fisticuffs simply from taking a few sheets of someone else’s toilet paper.
  • And yes, arguments will most likely erupt the longer you stay out there together.

I’ve never had a bad trip with any of my regular canoe partners. We’ve had some mild misadventures, but none of those came about due to bad group dynamics.

Check out another one of my Happy Camper Whisky Fireside Chats. We gathered on Zoom and talked about what made good group dynamics on our trips. Make sure to wait for the special guest at the end of the video. You won’t be disappointed!