Getting in the physical shape necessary for an expedition is as important as the expedition itself. If you are not capable of the physical requirements you will struggle to complete the journey. Its not required that you become an Olympian, but steady progress in increasing your endurance, strength, and skill is important.
As Vicki and I work opposite shifts we usually have 3 days a week where we can head out and about together. On these days, we do our best to perform some kind of physically demanding or technically challenging (usually both if on the water) project revolving around camping; hiking or canoeing. We always try to get out on the water, but on those occasions that its undesirable we head out on foot – after all, a varied approach is probably the best for all-round readiness. The mountainous terrain where we live is perfect for challenging hikes, and the occasional run helps blow out the cobwebs providing a nice break from carrying packs.
Planning is important, there’s no getting around it and it must be done. My father taught me the 6 P‘s which have helped me a great deal and is as follows: Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance (actually his version has 7 P’s but that’s probably not for public consumption…). This is a saying I have made sure to not forget, its truth speaks for itself in any project or activity.
I find that creating a timetable and check-list further assists by having a visual record of when you expect to accomplish each item, as well as what it is you yet require, allowing you to keep track of your progress. Keeping track of progress helps on the occasional day when everything seems particularly daunting, then you can see how well you are progressing towards your objective.
Firstly: a starting point, destination, and general method of travel is chosen. Nothing more is required at this point. As planning begins and research progresses, how long the journey will take becomes clear and all of these first thoughts are refined and the method of getting between each part becomes evident.
I like to break a trip into sections. This allows me to categorise easy to remember way-points and research each stage in-depth without becoming overwhelmed by the amount of information required for the entire trip. Breaking it down makes it easier to comprehend distances, way-points, equipment required, communications ability, technical requirements and rationing. For example, the beginning to the end of the Slave River (including Great Slave Lake as its drainage) is my Stage 3.
Establishing way-points enables you to establish distances between, and work out an average daily distance for your trip. I chose 35km daily as an average as it is a good few hours travel and allows us to spend time on other projects along the way, as well as giving us plenty of room for longer days on the water and spending time encamped in beautiful and interesting areas we are particularly fond of.
After thinking on the route, what equipment will be required must come next. The equipment required depends upon the terrain and the environment that you will be travelling through, as well as the seasons involved. The conditions in summer are obviously different than the conditions in winter and your equipment must be adjusted accordingly.
We are beginning in the Rocky Mountains over 1km above sea level in Spring, and finishing on the Arctic Ocean in the Autumn. In the meantime we must pass the summer in the canoe, which means we need to carry equipment to encompass all-seasons – thankfully it will be in the canoe and not on our backs!
For me, the primary thought for equipment is shelter and mode of travel – for us, this means tipi and canoe. After this; clothing, sleeping equipment, cooking utensils, tools and ‘extras/possibles’ – to make life more comfortable. Equipment leads to more equipment, so try and remain focused on the necessary or you’ll need a pack-mule!
Food. Ahh…food. The bane of adventurers – its so heavy! Camping would be so much easier if we didn’t have to eat. Unfortunately, we must carry the stuff if we wish guaranteed meals. I must admit to not having paid as much attention to this part of an expedition before, something I regretted. I vowed I would not overlook this part of a trip again!
For this journey, we began with looking at what we wanted to eat – 3 square meals a day (breakfast, lunch and dinner) with snacks throughout the day. This decided, we then set about establishing what types of meals and what types of snacks we wanted, and working out rough estimates of weight. Snacks are rather simple, with a mix of fruit and nuts (nicknamed ‘GORP’ – Good Old-fashioned Raisins and Peanuts) providing the main-stay. For meals, we decided upon meals we enjoy and tried and tested these meals for camping. We then started weighing them each time we went out so that we could more accurately gauge the weight of food required per person, per day. We then multiplied this by the amount of days for the trip with one-weeks’ worth of surplus food – just in case. The weight of this amount of food was astronomical and not something we would ever like to carry. With that in mind, and the expense of bought dehydrated food as well as – at least for me – never finding the portions to be enough, we set about planning to dehydrate all the food ourselves.
We set about dehydrating all of our meals for each camping trip, and weighing them. You would not believe the difference dehydrating food makes unless you have tried it. A large meal for 2 can go from around 700g to less than 200g. You can imagine the difference this made to our overall weight; we shed around 70kg from our original estimate. There are some great books on the subject, including recipes specifically for camping which have helped us a great deal in preparing a meal-plan for this trip. Currently, we are looking at around 120kg of food which provides 3 full meals a day, snacks, and a healthy supply of beverages (tea for the most part) and condiments for 2 people covering 140 days.
Licenses / Travel Tickets
Licences for camping, fishing, travelling, etc. must also be considered and researched. All of these will depend upon where you will be travelling and what you will be doing.
For this trip, it is fishing licences that are our main concern. A rifle licence had been considered (predator defence), but after researching I have chosen to not carry such a weapon as it seemed more of a hindrance than a gain. I have opted for non-lethal bear defence in the form of bear bangers, bear spray and a dog. Bear bangers have the added benefit of coming with some flares so have an emergency use also should the worst occur.
The testing of all aspects covered above is especially useful for making sure what you are planning is feasible, practical and achievable. Each time we go camping we take only the gear we intend to use on the trip, as well as testing new equipment we have purchased, acquired or borrowed for the journey. This helps in ascertaining the usefulness or necessity of each item and allows you to shape your gear to meet your requirements. In addition, practice makes perfect, and if you are constantly using the equipment and skills you will use on the expedition, camping and travelling will become an efficient and smooth operation, allowing you the time and ability to sit back and relax, enjoy where you are and what you are doing.
We all have projects and interests outside the scope of expeditions or adventures, and its important to spend time with these as well. Take a break when you need to! Some time spent on other activities and away from planning a journey is no bad thing and keeps your ideas and enthusiasm fresh.