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Planning a great Canadian canoe trip

Lynne steers through a rapid on the Dumoine River, Quebec.
Lynne steers through a rapid on the Dumoine River, Quebec.
W. Trower

Summer may be over, but it’s never too early to begin planning a canoe trip for next summer. Here are a few tips:

* Get in shape: The fitter you are, the more enjoyable the trip will be. Do pushups and sit-ups, or, if you’re a health club member, ask the staff to recommend specific exercises on specific machines or free weights to build up your paddling and portaging muscles.

* Decide on the type of trip: Will it be flatwater (lakes and calm rivers) or whitewater (rivers with rapids). Flatwater trips, although they don't include rapids, may still entail long paddles across windy, wavy lakes. This kind of paddling does require a certain amount of skill and nerve. Whitewater trips should be done only after you've taken some courses, or only if you go with experienced whitewater paddlers.

* Recruit your crew: For a first-time trip, it's best to go with at least three other people. That way, if your canoe partner becomes unbearable, you can switch partners. Also, your annoyance can be diffused among the other people. Usually in a group situation, it fast becomes apparent who's going to play which role, and within the first day, someone will be the cook, another person will be the firewood gatherer, someone else will excel at building tarp rain shelters, and another person will be the macho maniac who wants to carry everything on the portages.

* Create food and equipment lists: You’ll need your personal equipment and group equipment. A spreadsheet on Google, which everyone can contribute to, helps with the shared equipment and the meal lists. You will need to pack clothes for hot, wet, and cold weather. Make sure you have one complete outfit of waterproof clothing. Don't bring any cotton clothing except to sleep in.

Solve your footwear challenges: Some people swear by sport sandals, and that's all they wear for the whole trip. But if you're lining or walking through rocky water, your feet will get bashed up by rocks. Also, the leaches and bugs will be happy to have such great access to your feet. Hiking boots tend to be heavy and become destroyed by the water. Running shoes take a while to dry. Reef shoes are perfect for wearing in the canoe and hopping in and out of the water, but they give no support on portages. Lots of people switch footwear at portages, going from their wet canoeing shoes to their dry portaging shoes. But this seems like a lot of trouble. One imperfect solution is to buy a pair of portage shoes, and wear them with wool socks.

Buy topo maps of the trip route: Topographical maps are best because they show you everything. Simple maps of the area don't show all the details. Pick out your route and get a rough idea of where you'd like to camp.

• Invest in quality equipment: The success of your trip can be made or broken depending on your equipment. Spring for the high-quality gear and it will last decades. Leaky tents, cold sleeping bags, breakable packs can all make your trip a lot less than fun. So spend the money. Take advantage of the fact you have months to research your equipment.