So, canoeing is really popular. In this country at least. However, I have the feeling the 90+% of the canoe trips are either single-day (sometimes only a few hours) or they feature a man in a van who carries your gear from point A to point B for you. This is not my thing.
Since 2011, me and my dad nad two of our friends have undertaken an annual multi-day (usually 3 or 4 days) canoe trip on one of Estonia's rivers. These are essentially fishing trips since it happens to be the pastime of choice if you're on the water for my three companions. I don't fish, but I couldn't imagine not going along.
Since 2011 me and my dad have learned a lot concerning waterproofing our gear, packing and loading our canoe. Our very first trip together took place in May 2011 on a river with some white water rapids. We capsized on Day 1 and Day 2. All of our stuff got soaked. Twice. It was an awesome trip.
But in all seriousness, if you are planning for some multi-day unsupported canoeing (which is the best thing ever, btw), then put some thought into this subject. It may not necessarily be a matter of survival, but it's most definitely a matter of comfort.
So here we go.
An unsupported expedition means that you will have to take everything you need with you for an x amount of days. In the case of Estonian rivers, it usually means no access to settlements (no shops) and limited access to roads.
1. Figure out how much you need to take with you.
How much food and fuel? How many clothing items?
Personally I prefer taking more clothing rather than less. You don't have to capsize to get soaked - you could be rained on, the water might splash and so on. The weather can turn quickly. If you are a beginner, take more. You don't want to find yourself shivering cold on a chilly evening or in the middle of heavy rain without rain gear. You don't want to be without mosquito protection if you'll be spending three days on a river or a lake. In a canoe, being ultralight is not crucial.
2. The way you pack also depends on the conditions you'll be going in.
Will there be white water or rapids? Or any other elevated risk of tipping your boat? If yes, pack more clothes, you might be needing a change. Also, think about how you will secure your stuff to the boat should it actually flip.
Will there be chance for heavy rain? Or maybe strong wind in more open areas? If yes, take sufficient rain gear and keep it someplace you can reach during the day time when you are paddling
Will you be making frequent stops? If yes, think about the items you will need to access during those stops. Maybe you want to go for a swim, have lunch on the shore or go take some shots.
Will there be situations where you have to carry your boat across obstacles? Like dams, mill dikes or other obstacles that have to be crossed over land. If so, consider this while packing - an empty boat is easier to carry so make your loading and unloading as easy as possible.
Can you afford your gear getting wet? On a hot summer day it might not be so crucial (though even then you don't want your sleeping bag getting wet). But during spring and fall where night temperatures drop below freezing the dryness of your gear could be a matter of survival.
After you've figured out how many clothes you will need, my suggestion would be to arrange them into sets. If something happens and you get completely wet, it'll be quicker to change your clothes if one full set of clothing is in one bag. Arrange these sets into individual ziplocs or dry bags. This way, if one set gets soaked for whichever reason, another one might stay dry.
You can use large ziplocs (I use 3-litre freezer bags) instead of dry bags. They hold up for 3-4 days if you don't load them to their full capacity and zip and unzip them carefully. It's a cheap alternative for dry bags.
You can use large, heavy duty trash bags to organize smaller ziplocs into bigger bags (like sleeping stuff into one, food in the other). This way it's easier to load and unload and stay organized. Be sure to tie them well, otherwise they are no use.
Your sleeping items must stay dry! Shelter, sleeping pad, sleeping bag and night clothing should stay dry and do not hesitate using double waterproofing either in the form of dry bags or heavy duty trash bags to ensure this.
4. Use the shape of your canoe for smarter packing
The shape and qualities of your canoe will determine how you are able to pack it (in terms of available space, accessibility and securing your load to the boat).
If your canoe has enclosed waterproof compartments (our has one in each end), use them for stuff you don't need during the day time. They can be difficult to access while sitting in the boat, but can be used to balance the boat or store items you don't need until making camp.
Use the shape of your canoe to your advantage. Our canoe has low sides with the edges curving inward. That enables us to stuff some larger bags under the edges, securing the bags in place. Some canoes have space under the seat. You can use that space to store something or to tie a cushion to the seat (and if you don't think you need one, think again after sitting there for 9 hours...).
Consider modifying your canoe, especially if you're going into conditions where you need to secure your cargo to the boat. We've drilled small holes in the sides - this enables securing our gear with bungee cords to keep it in place. If you have tons of stuff you're taking with you, it also helps you not lose them.
5. How to load?
If you are going into rapids and more technical stretches, keep the center of gravity as low as possible, This will help you maneuver.
Think a bit about balancing your load. I know kayakers load bow-heavy or stern-heavy according to the wind direction when they are going out on the sea (for maintaining course more easily). Usually we load our canoe stern-heavy as it seems that it helps to get unstuck from rocks more easy.
Also think about accessibility. Pack away the stuff you won't need during the day and keep close the stuff you think you might want. For me it's 1) Snacks and water, 2) Rain gear, 3) Camera. For my dad it's his fishing stuff (he doesn't care about anything else).
If you're paddling solo, you also might want to keep your bow lighter. I know some canoers will disagree with me, but it's what works for us in our boat.
So, these are my best canoe packing tips for you today! I totally encourage you to try multi-day canoeing.
Got any tips of your own? Feel free to share!
Every hiker wants to share theirs. At least every gear geek wants to.
With my upcoming 2018 through-hike of Estonia's longest hiking trail, I'm sharing with you my big 3 for this trail.
For this hike, I had to replace most of my gear (the old stuff simply wasn't lightweight enough) and this big 3 is not a very expensive one. For me, it's also experimental, since I haven't used backpacks in my previous adventures and only ever slept in big dome tents.
1. PACK - Osprey Aura AG 50 WM
Quite a bit of research went into selecting this item and multiple trips to the gear shop to try them out. I had my sight set on the Osprey Exos, but it's minialism and stripped-down nature didn't appeal to me as much.
My priority as a beginner hiker is to be comfortable while out there and carry a slightly heavier load than ultralight hikers. I also love to be very organised in the way I pack my items so this awarded pack made the best impression while trying it on.
The Aura is a very snug and body-hugging pack. It is adjustable in many areas and features all the bells and whistles, some of which you may need and some maybe not. One of the nicest features of the pack is the AntiGravity system on the back which provides great ventilation. It also has nice belt pockets (although I wish they were even bigger). It's also nice to have access from the bottom as well.
The pack weighs 1980 grams and cost me 220 euros but from the first impressions, I really love it. I'm sure that for a beginner like me it's a safe and comfortable option and I look forward to the miles I will spend with it.
What I love about this pack?
+ bodyhugging design with good ventilation
+ high levels of organization
+ stretchy outer mesh pocket and side pockets
What I don't love?
- belt pockets could be even bigger
- lots of straps which are sometimes difficult to figure out (why are they there)
2. SHELTER - Geertop 1-person 3-season tent
Trying to figure out what type of shelter I needed was a much more time consuming than I thought. At first, I decided to get a hammock+tarp setup because I thought that would be really light. Then I realized the hammock and tarp options I had wouldn't be so light nor so affordable. After that I looked at lighter 2-person tents (because, you know, roominess...) and didn't find anything interesting or yet again, affordable. Then I had a second look at sleeping under a tarp, but on the ground. I admit I'm still excited to one day try out those hundreds of tarp setups that you can make. And finally I found an affordable (98 USD / 85 EUR) 1-person tent that uses trekking poles to set up and I decided to go for it.
I have made a "first impressions" video about the tent, you can watch it here:
So far I like the tent. I fit in there and I will probably be able to have good sleep in it too. It just isn't super roomy and doesn't have a ton of extra space for your gear items, but it's nicely made. It's also quite flexible - you can open up all 4 doors, use the inner tent without the fly and play around with the ventilation openings.
The only flaw I've found so far is that in some cases it's not possible to stake the doors down in a way where the canvas would be tight (no matter how I stake it, some of the canvas still flops), but it isn't a major issue.
What I love about this tent?
+ many options for setting up (inner only, inner + fly, full enclosure vs all 4 doors open)
+ uses trekking poles to set up (no need to carry arches)
+ comes with extra guy lines and stakes
What I don't like?
- not very roomy for tall people
- not the most comfortable place to sit in (and pass the time)
- adjusters on the guy lines don't run very smoothly
3. SLEEP SYSTEM - Robens Far Away Square + Snugpak Thermalon liner + NatureHike Sleeping Pad + reflective foam mat
My sleeping bag is a Robens Far Away square sleeping bag with synthetic fill. It's a 2-season bag which weighs in at about 1 kg and cost me 89 euros. My favourite thing about it is that it opens up into a blanket and can be used as a quilt (it does have a hood but it doesn't even bother me when using it as a blanket). Mind you it is a bag for a warm season and won't do on its own in early spring or late fall (the lower comfort limit for women is +9 degrees celsius).
I tested it out on a very cold week (temperatures dropped down to 0 degrees celsius) and decided to add a sleeping bag liner (Snugpak Thermalon) to the setup for those cold nights. Turns out I'm a colder sleeper than I thought and I'm very thankful that I had that week with cold and wet weather.
The sleeping pad is an experimental purchase, mail ordered from China. It cost me 36 euros which is cheap for a blow-up sleeping pad. It's very comfortable to sleep on, by far the best type of pad I've tried. But as it is quite cheaply made, then my biggest concern with it is the valve. It doesn't look like the sturdiest valve in the world and if something happens to it, I'll be basically sleeping on the ground. But I hope it doesn't happen.
The same cold week also taught me that the addition of a thin, but reflective mat gets the best result in comfort and warmth. The simple foam mat doesn't add too much weight but will protect the sleeping pad and add the extra degrees.
So, trail footwear. Quite a hot topic and with good reason. Your feet are what takes you from point A to point B and taking care of them while out there beating the track should be among your priorities.
Since I'd never done any extended on-foot hiking I thought I'd share some of my costly mistakes that I've made so far in terms of choosing footwear. Thankfully, I've come to realize my errors before actually getting out there and it's given me some time to correct them.
Hiking boots were the first gear item I bought for this hike. I bought them in 2017 and although I had done some researcg on trail footwear, I still thought that a beginner hiker needs high-ankle waterproof boots. Yes, there are definitely conditions in which you do need them, but as it turned out, the Estonian temperate maritime summer was not one of those. And I should have put more thought in it having experienced Estonian summers throughout my life.
1. Know the conditions you will be hiking in.
In my case I soon came to understand that indeed, high ankle boots are heavy. My boots, La Sportiva Cornon GTX, weighed in 600+ grams each. That's a lot and I know I could feel it while trying them on for the first time. But they were (still are) super comfortable. This boot has a considerable drop from heel to toe, they are quite narrow (I have narrow feet) and is actually comfortable to walk in. When I went to test them out in the winter, I started feeling the weight of the boots after only about an hour of walking with no weight on my back. Another thing that bothered me was the high ankle itself. I know some experienced hikers say that it's not worth risking ankle injury by wearing trail runners, but I guess it's always pros vs cons. For me the edge of the boot felt a bit unusual.
Another matter is the Gore-Tex membrane which is featured on almost every trail shoe. It's a good thing to have on a day hike in the rain. Much better than rubber boots because it has some breathability, but in the context of through-hiking where you walk day in and day out, your feet are bound to get wet. It just can't be avoided if the climate presents any rain (and if it doesn't - for example in the desert - then you don't need the feature anyway) or humidity. Gore-Tex takes ages to dry out and you might not have that time.
So I concluded that I have a fine pair of boots, but taking them on a summer through-hike in our local weather would have probably been a bad idea.
So my next thought was to go for trail runners. And that I did. A lot of hikers recommend them and with good reason.
Trail runners are light, allow ankle movement, they dry out quicker (if they have no GTX membrane).
I usually never buy shoes without trying them on first so I went to scan the local shops. The selection isn't grand and some well-known trail shoe brands like Salomon simply didn't fit my budget.
I ended up with the men's version of Adidas Terrex. I've been wearing Adidas running shoes for years now and they seem to make shoes that fit my non-standard feet quite well. I was super happy at first, becuase they feel really comfortable and they were 2x lighter than the previously purchased boots. But then it turned out they were too small.
My second piece of advice for buying shoes:
2. Try on shoes after you've been on your feet for the whole day.
Because that's what you do on a long-distance hike. You're on your feet all day.
It's often advised to buy shoes in the evening because your feet will be slightly bigger than in the morning. For technical footware this alone might not do. If I sit behind a desk all day, it won't give me the right feel and foot size. Choose a day of plentiful walking for buying shoes.
After I'd gotten my first pair of trail runners, I went on and bought myself some hiking socks (Injinji Trail Mini-Crew). When I tried them with the trail runners, I realized... the shoes were indeed too small. How could that be? In the shop they seemed to fit so well. Even after a day of being on my feet. So here comes my third piece of advice:
3. Find your perfect hiking sock before going shopping for hiking shoes.
As I had never worn hiking shoes with special hiking socks, I didn't realize how much the sock and it's cushioning will add to my shoe size (this obviously depends on the sock, but in my case it was too much).
My big mistake was that when I bought the Terrex trail runners, I tried them on with regular thin cotton socks (what an idiot!). The toe socks (because they wrap each toe individually) also make your foot a little bit wider in the toe part. I even thought at the beginning of my unpleasant discovery that I could fix it with thinner socks, but it was beyond it. I started to feel even with my thin cotton socks that the shoes were too small and I'm baffled on how I could have gotten the size so wrong. This brings me to the fourth piece of advice:
4. If you can't tell how much room you have in your shoe - take out the insoles and step on them (just as you would when standing on two feet equally).
Sometimes it can be really difficult to determine how much room exactly you have in your hiking shoe when trying it on. The shoe can sometimes be really rigid in which case a thumb-test won't help you either.
It's like buying boots for your 4-year old, who can't tell you in their words where their toes are. This will give you a pretty good idea how much space there is. In all my disbelief about my new Terrex trail runners being too small, I finally took out the insoles and stepped on them to see that they were, indeed, too small. This test showed me that they were too small even when I wore my thin cotton sock. But when I was buying them, for some reason I felt that I had so much room. And being a girl I think I felt weird asking for shoe sizes that were really big in my mind.
5. Don't limit your choices by sticking to your usual sizing.
If you are a girl whose shoe size is normally close to the top of the women's size range, then don't hesitate to look at men's sizes. I know that I can pretty much forget women's shoes when it comes to technical footware (trail runners, ski boots, hiking shoes etc), because for some reason they are always very small.
Your hiking shoe should be at least one size up from your regular and maybe even bigger. In my case, normally I wear (european size) 41 or 42, then all my "technical" footware is 43-44 or up. Go figure. Shoes in the same size but by different manyfactures can be a completely different story since every model is different in shape. Just like feet which are all unique. If the shop assistant gives you a weird look when you ask a men's size 44 or up, then it's their incompetence, not yours.
So, for my third pair of shoes, I ordered a pair of Adidas Galaxy Trail, the sizing 10 mm bigger than the size of the Terrex. As a girl, I think it's ridiculous. As a hiker I know the wellbeing of my feet is extremely important. I know I wrote I always try them of before bying but in my case, all the local shops had sold out and the ones left were the wrong size or just too darn expensive.
It seems this time I finally got a solution that might work for me :) They are actually even lighter than the Terrex, though not as breathable (more synthetic on the upper and less textile). Also, the insole is pretty basic. I replaced them with the insoles from the LaSportiva boots which feel like walking on pillows.
Whether or not this shoe proves to be good, I'm yet to find out. I'll post an update after the trail.
Have you got any advice for picking shoes? Feel free to share below in the comments!
Thought I'd share my playlist with you.
At first the idea of long-distance hiking or simply spending extended time in nature doesn't seem like it has room for headphones and beats.
But then, if you hike day in and day out, walk long stretches (some of which are bound the more boring and less scenic) you might find yourself in need of an extra morale booster to keep you going.
I used to not be able to work out without music but lately I've strayed from it. I don't need music any more to keep me running or cycling, I need it to accompany a long drive or put me in a productive or inspirational mood. And even though I listen to all kinds of music, I figured I'd leave sad ones out of this playlist and keep ones that are more positive.
So here's my playlist (probably still in progress) for my through-hike this summer. Still have 0.9 GB on my iPod so suggestions for additions are welcome :)
As part of my preparation for a through-hike, I started taking shorter day hikes in the months leading up to the big thing. Many of the local, smaller trails are really short (for example 3 km, 5km, 7km and so on), but since I wanted a trail that was a little bit longer, I found one that goes around Lake Pühajärv. It's located in the southern part of Estonia, near the small town Otepää (the winter capital). For me, this is a region largely unexplored, although it is a very popular holiday destination.
The trail is around 12km long (the site says it's 14, the link says it's 13 and the information boards along the trail say it's 12...). Took me about 3.5 hours to circle the lake, occasional stops included.
You can hike the trail in whichever direction you like. It is marked, but it's highly recommended to bring with you a map. The maps are available online and at the Otepää Nature Center where the trail begins. The trail is marked in some places very well and is easy to follow. but in other places it's not so obvious. The map itself was well made and easy to read. However I would suggest you hike the trail first heading west (and having the lake on your left hand), because along the trail you will find a 220-step staircase and in my opinion it is much more fun to climb than descend!
Along the trail you will find many resting places (I counted 4 at least...). where you have fire pits, benches and firewood. I saw several swings at one site and a shelter in the other. So it's a perfect trail to hike with your family - frequent stops, beautiful scenery, interesting landscape, stretches that are flat and stretches where you have to climb. The lake is shallow and sandy so in the summer time, you can go swimming. I also saw a lot of boardwalks on the trail, most of which have recently been reconstructed and are in very good shape.
There is also at least one freshwater spring on the trail.
The trail is freely accessible year round, however in the winter time the boardwalks can be slippery and some of the trail may be flooded (also in spring and autumn). I did my hike of this trail in April and for me, it was perfect. There were no people on the trail, it only had a few muddy places and everything was in good condition. In the summer, it can be expected to be crowded and the campsites full of people (in the weekends and in good weather). So my personal suggestion is to come off season if you want to have it all to yourself. But if you don't mind fellow hikers and vacationers, then I'm sure it'll be a great to visit in the summer as well.
I should also mention that for a few kilometers the trail goes on paved roads (really small ones, though), but it's worth the steps to get back to the forest and the lake.
Have you visited this trail? Or do you have any specific questions? Feel free to comment below!
I am not a person whose ambitions have ever included walking long distances with a heavy load. I do love walking, but as I have always enjoyed riding a bicycle, the slow(er) ways of getting about have never appealed to me before. I used to think "why would you walk if you can ride?" Naturally, everyone I've told about this plan, are asking me "why on Earth..."
So why am I going to walk this time?
Well... a number of reasons.
Long-distance hiking trails didn't exist in the country before 2012. And even then, when they were marked down I saw no reason why I should walk them. At one point some years ago I started to establish some hiking traditions in my life. Since 2011 we've had an annual canoe trip and for a couple of years we had a bicycle tour in the summer. They have always been more about the company than the activity itself. But somehow it became a regular thing to pack your things, trying every time to be smarter than previously. And I guess it led to a certain level of geer-geek.
I also started researching the second long-distance trail, Peraküla-Ähijärve. Finally they had included some of the northwestern coastline in the hiking trails! For me, that region is home. I've spent my childhood by the sea and I feel incomplete when I live away from it. At some point I found myself looking at the maps more and more frequently and in my head the little gear-geek was discovering a whole new world.
I'd never done any backpacking (or should I say, I have to this date never done any backpacking) and if I wanted to even consider hiking this trail, it meant I had to get new gear. We have loads of camping stuff at home, which is all good bicycle touring and canoeing trips where weight isn't crucial. But for backpacking, it kind of is. I knew from the beginning that I didn't want to give away too much in comfort. I started looking at YouTube videos about through-hiking, the basics of backpacking gear and so on. I simply found it super exciting. I found a blog of a young woman who hiked this trail, alone. In winter. To my surprise I also found a YouTube channel which was made by an Estonian hiker. Back then she was hiking the very same trail, she was also a beginner at the time and she was sharing her journey with the world. The videos were (and still are) very inspiring and they gave me a lot of courage (not just to go out and do it myself, but also to vlog my hike).
In the spring of 2017 I decided I would hike this trail in 2018. This gave me a time frame I was comfortable with. I knew I had to learn a lot of new things and I would at least attempt to learn from others. Also to budget my new gear.
Due to some life events I'm also moving from the south (where I've lived for 9 years) back home to the north and this hike will sort of be like a farewell tour. Despite living in the region for almost a decade, I never took enough time to explore the nature more closely. I will walk 510 miles through my country and I will be home.