One Day Wilderness Checklist
with photos from some of the best wilderness day runs of the year
There might be a thousand ideas out there about what the cutting edge of our sport is, but I don’t think there is a ton of debate as to where the soul of our fine sport lies. I believe, without question, that it lives on wilderness rivers. It’s not about the difficulty, the craft, the length or the gradient. It’s the incomparable feeling of freedom while floating through a canyon that has escaped the long reach of civilization, the clutching hands of “progress,” the fate of too many rivers worldwide.
ES Harris Creek put-in, Vancouver Island - photo Todd Gillman
When you embark into these special places for a day of freedom here’s a list of what EXTRA to bring:
1 breakdown paddle per two paddlers
2 throw bags per paddler, at least one of substantial length (75’ or greater)
1 first aid kit per two paddlers
Sample contents: Gorilla Tape, gauze, super glue, ibuprofen, Benadryl
1 emergency extended stay kit per paddler
Sample contents: Cliff bars, Lara bars, lighters, fire starter sticks, bivy, dry layers, water purification tablets
1 repair kit per two paddlers
Sample contents: bituthene, Gore-Tex patch kit, needle and high tensile fishing line
1 basic pin kit per paddler
Sample contents: 3 carabineers, 2 prussics, 1 sling
1 full pin kit per 4 paddlers
Sample contents: 4 carabineers, 2 tiblocs or acenders, 2 slings
1 water bottle and water purification tablets or 1 filtered water bottle, per paddler
ES, Laramigo River Canyon
What most of the stuff on the list is for, should be fairly obvious, but you may be wondering about a few things. In the first-aid kit the Gorilla Tape is for everything from attaching a stick as a splint to a primitive band-aid. Super glue is for stitching without stitches and Benadryl is for allergic reactions. Take a wilderness first-aid or first responder course and decide for yourself what is most important to bring and how to use it.
Freddy Gnarquist, Harris Creek - photo Leif Embertson
In the repair kit, the bituthene, otherwise known as “ice and water shield” is for patching your boat. In the Gore-Tex repair kits there will be a patch and some sun curing Aqua Seal, which allows you to quickly repair a drysuit or drytop. The Aqua Seal can also be used in combination with the needle and fishing line to repair a skirt. If you don’t know what the stuff in the pin kit is for, it’s time to take a swiftwater rescue course here.
Nick Wigston, North Saint Vrain
What you wear becomes more important on a wilderness run and should even be considered a part of safety precautions. Dressing warm is almost a necessity even when daytime temperatures are hot. The water is generally cold and when the sun goes down, or hides behind some clouds, the temperature can plummet in a hurry.
Temperature plummeting in a hurry, ES, Christopher Creek, AZ - photo A. Woody
Think about wearing some of the equipment on the list, so that if it’s your boat that’s pinned you still have a pin kit to work on getting it out. The Astral Pouch bag, or a waist throw bag is great because you never have to remember to grab it when you are portaging or chasing your buddy downstream. It’s never a bad idea to have some food tucked away into the front pocket of your PFD for emergency walk-a-bouts and carrying your pin kit in your PFD could save you from having to embark upon said walk-a-bout.
Proper footwear means that your shoes are not only good in the water and comfortable in your boat, but that they are tough enough to portage over rugged terrain, sticky enough to grip polished wet rock, and comfortable enough to walk multiple miles in. A fuller coverage helmet, Kevlar skirt and a rescue pfd are also recommended.
Austin Woody, Harris Creek - photo Todd Gillman
It is important to choose the right boat for the job. Selecting the right boat for the difficulty level and the extra gear you’ll need to carry will make your experience safer and more enjoyable. The boat your most comfortable in is usually the best. When in doubt take the big boat.
The new Liquid Logic backband makes it sure a lot easier to get all this stuff into your boat!
Knowledge of the details of a run is another essential component to successful wilderness paddling. Bringing maps of the area is always a good idea, but at the very least a pre-run map consultation is a necessity. Understanding where escape routes are, which direction the river travels in at easily detectable landmarks, and where the closest help might be could save someone’s life, including your own.
Wilderness rivers require an ability to detach one self from the conveniences of everyday life and to be prepared for the wild. It’s not too hard, and most of all it simply requires experience. Going with experienced wilderness paddlers is a great option for novice explorers, however new to wilderness paddlers can, and should get out on their own in small groups, but just at moderate difficulty and remoteness levels until they are comfortable.
Cutch, Big South
Finally, exploring wilderness runs requires a strategy. Putting on a wilderness run with people you don’t know requires a pre-trip meeting to share knowledge and discuss communication techniques, boat scouting and expectations. Nick Wigston wrote a great article on river running strategy which you can find here. Many paddlers may not have thought about river running as having a strategy but there is a fairly universal set of tools that experienced paddlers who’ve never met before will still be able to use to communicate and run a river effectively and efficiently. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, grab the list of ingredients from the beginning of the article, read, understand and share Nick’s article with your crew and get out there and dive into the soul of river running.