It is mid-march and most veteran tree planters are solidifying their summer plans and making quick check lists of needed supplies. If this is going to be your first year, you surely must be losing your mind trying to figure out what to bring. Many of you are poor students like myself, many of you have never really camped or spent considerable time outdoors. So in order to avoid the many mistakes I made my first year tree planting, I present to you a quick list of tree planting supplies in great detail:
-60/70 Litre travel pack. Even if you are to pack minimally, you will come back with more than what you left with. The Value Village in Prince George is your best friend. You will not be moving your gear around very much so a big pack is not very cumbersome. Pack considering what you will wear on a 5 day shift(chances are you won’t change your pants or shirts very often), days off, cold weather, warm weather, when you sleep, etc.
-Duffle bag. This will carry your sleeping bag, tent, boots, shovel, planting bags, etc. MEC, REI or Outbound make durable and inexpensive duffle bags. Don’t buy one from a mall luggage store.
-Shoes. Sneakers for time spent in the city.
-Rubber boots. Those cheap boots you can buy at Canadian Tire are great. Anything light and waterproof. You’ll want to wear something other than your planting boots around camp or to and from work and if it’s raining, shoes won’t cut it.
-Caulks. Pronounced “cork” these are large orange rubber boots with steel spikes lining the bottom. They are heavy and relatively expensive at 120-150$ but the freedom to run over wet logs and not slip is worth the weight and cost. Not everyone likes these boots but they are hassle free.
-Hikers. If corks are not to your taste, get a solid pair of hikers. They should be waterproof(Gore-tex, eVent, etc). Don’t go cheap; stick with brands like Lowa, Mammut, Scarpa, Vasque. If you buy hikers, you must buy waterproof gaiters. They will help keep your feet dry and prevents dirt and sticks from getting into your boots.
-Tents. You are going to live in your tent for months at a time so don’t go cheap and don’t go small. A 3 person tent is ideal as you’ll be housing yourself and your gear. Some people buy “mansions” but they are hard to put together, take up a lot of room when moving and do not stand up as well to wind. DO NOT buy a tent from Walmart/Canadian Tire. You will regret it. Tent design from mid-range manufacturers are essentially the same so most brands you can find at an outdoor retailer will be great. Go to a store on a quiet day and ask the salesperson if you can set up a tent or two with their help. Make sure it is easy to set up, has a low profile and a decent vestibule. If you cannot afford a footprint, buy a blue tarp from the Dollar store to put under your tent(not forgetting to tuck any visible parts under your tent). I’d also advise buying a tarp to put over your tent as it will prevent sun damage and give you extra rain protection.
-Sleeping bags. After tents, the most important gear you’ll own. Again, don’t go cheap and don’t go for anything less than -7C(19F). MEC and REI both sell really decent sleeping bags that are relatively inexpensive. Down or Synthetic? Down is a great form of insulation, is very light and very compact. The downside is that if your bag gets wet, you’ll get cold and it will take a long time to dry. Synthetics are warm, bulkier and not as light. However the differences between the two in terms of warmth and compactibility are becoming negligible. If wet, synthetics will keep you warm and dry fast. IMO, go with a nice synthetic or a hybrid. I’d recommend buying a liner. It will keep you from having to clean your sleeping bag and it will add much needed warmth. My -7C bag alone leaves me shivering most nights but with a Sea To Summit liner, I’m toasty warm(ish).
-Mats. People have a hard time justifying spending money for a good mat. My first two years I slept on dollar store yoga mats and I cannot stress how terrible that is. MEC and REI sell reasonably priced mats although the price of Thermarests seem to be dropping as of late. Go with a 3 or 4 season mat with a R value of 2.5 or higher. The R Value is the measure of insulation and the higher the number, the better the insulation against the cold. You crush the insulation of your sleeping bag when you sleep so a bad mat will let heat escape and cold get in.
-Pillow. Bring a pillow case, stuff it full of your clothes and bam! you’ve got a pillow.
-Baselayers. I’ll layers this section the same way you should layer your clothing. Let me begin with a warning: do not ever, ever let cotton touch your skin. Cotton clothing retains moisture, gets cold when wet and offers no protection from the elements. In heat it isn’t the end of the world, but even on a summer day rainfall and cotton are a terrible duo. Baselayers are the foundation of your clothing system and when it gets warm, can be worn by themselves. If money is no issue, buy baselayers made from merino wool. Otherwise, synthetics offer a great alternative. The downside to synthetics is that once bacteria has a chance to bond to the plastic fibers(and they will eventually) the smell becomes unbearable and requires constant washing. Merino wool can be worn many, many times before needing to be washed. What I typically do is use merino for my upper body and synthetics for my bottoms.
-Fleece/mid-layer. A heavy fleece is very necessary. Even if it is too hot to plant in, you’ll appreciate it on chilly mornings and for your cashbreaks and any walking you have to do. I would buy either a light fleece or a light-breathable softshell jacket to actually plant in when it is warm enough to not have to wear a shell.
-Waterproof shell. You absolutely need a waterproof jacket. I lost my jacket near the beginning of my 2nd season and the cold and pain experienced is indescribable. If money is no issue, buy a jacket made with Gore-Tex Pro shell. Their Paclite line will probably not withstand the rigor of the job. Any 4 season membrane will do the trick. If money is an issue, just stick with non-membrane jackets from well known brands. There are a few that sell decent jackets for around 130$. There are days where it will rain heavily for 8+ hours. You need a good rain jacket. Rain pants can be useful but they can also be cumbersome and will easily rip. I have a pair on hand for those days of 8+ hours of rain. Membrane or not, please wash your jacket properly and often.
-Gloves. This is hard. There is no happy medium with gloves. Your hands will get cold and it is always a terrible experience. I typically carry 4 pairs with me at all times; curved neoprene gloves, liners, light fleece gloves and the garden gloves most people use for planting. The neoprene gloves are great for your shovel hand as they stay warm when wet. The liners I wear under the garden gloves as they help keep my hands warm and the fleece gloves are my apres-planting gloves.
The Little Things:
-Bug spray. Watkins is probably the best; spray or lotion. Get something with a high DEET count and bring two. If you are afraid of the chemicals for whatever reason, I wish you luck. Those “natural” or citronella bug sprays are beyond awful.
-Utensils. Buy utensils that are unique or make them unique. People always steal utensils in camps but having unique ones can help you find them again. You can buy plates and bowls at the dollar store…or buy a frisbee! Frisbees make great plates due to their size and shape and alternatively, they make great frisbees!
-Headlamp. Flashlights are for suckers. Petzl and Black Diamond make great headlamps and they are very, very practical. Buy one that allows you to adjust the brightness.
-Day pack. You need a daypack for your lunch, jacket, etc. Get something large and waterproof if possible. If you don’t have a waterproof bag, buy a waterproof cover! Trust me on this one.
-Music player. Bring your iPod and you’ll never feel alone. Even if you’re one of those people who doesn’t listen to music, pack it full of podcasts and books and it’ll make the day go by faster.
-First aid. A little first aid kit in your day pack is always a good idea. Something that includes an emergency blanket and matches. It is very, very rare for anything to happen that would require using these things, but i’ve heard stories…
-Sewing kit: It sucks to buy that 100$ merino baselayer only to have it snag on a branch.
-Thermos. I love my Primus flask. Having a hot coffee at mid-day is a great luxury.
-Books. Don’t anticipate having access to a library or bookstore(Books & Co. in Prince George is a must by the way). Bring something small and easy to read. Don’t expect to have the ability to understand Quantum Mechanics or thermodynamics at the end of a 10 hour day.
-Knife. Everyone should own a small knife. There are many uses for it in the bush.
-Duct Tape. Bring two rolls or one big one. It is incredibly useful for reasons I will not mention but you’ll find out quickly(thanks Andrew!).
Remember that there is a fine line you must walk between owning nice things and bringing nice things out to the bush. Nice things get ruined easily tree planting so buy products that carry good warranties.