A road trip into the Canadian wilderness requires serious trip planning and having basic wilderness skills is essential. Better to be safe than sorry.
Why is planning a road trip important?
Once you leave Canadian cities and towns behind, you’re pretty much on your own. Therefore it is important to plan your road trip well and take the right gear along. This will give you peace of mind and travelling will be more enjoyable.
The further north you travel in Canada, the more remote and isolated it gets. You might get help along the Alaska Highway, where many RVs are on the road during the summer months.
Getting lost – What happens if you take a wrong turn and your car breaks down? You are far from civilization with no cell phone connections. The batteries on your GPS are dead and you don’t have a clue where you are. Suddenly, your great adventure will turn into a scary experience.
The weather – could turn on you and you could get stuck in the middle of nowhere. In this situation, sleeping in a tent in the remote wilderness might not be wise. Stretching out inside your car is your only option. This could turn into a rough night, tossing and turning to the “comforting” sounds of wild animals.
If you are not prepared for the risks, these situations can turn into nightmares. That’s why it is important to be well prepared for this kind of road trip and to carry all the essential survival gear.
That’s exactly what I do. I do serious planning before venturing on any wilderness road trip. A trip planner helps reduce the planning stress and gives me peace of mind.
Essential survival gear
1. First Aid Kit
A first aid kit could very well save your life when you’re in a remote location. It is a good idea to keep it in your vehicle at all times to have it ready should you need it.
The easiest way is to purchase a First Aid Kit that is specially designed for the outdoors and includes all the essentials. With an Adventure First Aid Kit, you receive a first aid pocket manual. Study it prior to your trip, especially if you aren’t formally trained or experienced.
Did you know the average person can survive up to 3 weeks without food but only 3 days without water? This makes water to be the most important item to take along. A five-gallon water jug goes a long way.
Additionally to the water jug, I always carry at least two water bottles for keeping me hydrated during my long drives.
I only buy water in plastic bottles if there is no other option. Most towns in Canada offer self-serve refill water where you can fill up your water jug for a couple of Dollars. Also, most campgrounds offer free drinking water.
3. Water filter and purification tablets
I’m used to fresh British Columbia spring water and the sparkling water they have in Switzerland.
I don’t travel with a refrigeration unit and therefore I pack lots of non-perishable food. What you want to take along depends on the kind of diet you like. Bananas, apples and oranges are my favourite fruit when I travel because they keep for many days without refrigeration. Whenever I come across a store I stock up on fresh fruit and vegetable.
Most towns and communities in Canada have at least a General Store where you can get some basics. I pack lots of food when I head out and only have to buy produce and milk products on the way. Food prices in Canada rise the further north you get. You will be shocked when you see the prices.
A 12 V portable air compressor is a must-have road companion for any backcountry road tripper.
6. Windshield fluid, antifreeze, motor oil
Just in case! How necessary this is for you depends on your situation.
7. Bottle jack
I find a bottle jack is much easier to use than most jacks vehicles are equipped with.
A factory tool kit will most likely include jumper cable, rags, extra fuses, wire, electrical tape, screwdrivers, adjustable wrench, wrench set, extendable ratchet. I’m not a mechanic, so this will do for me.
9. Spare Tire(s)
When driving on Canadian gravel Highways and off the beaten track, one spare tire is a must.
I carried two spares when I drove the Dempster Highway. The Dempster is known for eating up tires. The tires on my Toyota RAV4 were new at the time and I had no flat all the way. Other travellers changed tires twice during the same journey.
A vehicle with good quality tires and one spare should be enough for driving most gravel highways.
10. Jerry Cans
I bring one or two jerry cans with spare gasoline when I travel in Canada’s north. Gas stations are a long way apart or might be closed when you arrive.
I prefer to strap two small jerry cans onto my roof rack instead of a large can.
11. Neck pillow
A soft neck pillow has many benefits whether you’re on a road trip, travelling by air or by train. It supports your neck when you’re stiff and tired and it’s an extra pillow at night. You will be happy that you took one along.
My North Face 4-men tent used to feel like luxury with all the extra space. If weight is not an issue, a larger tent gives you extra comfort, especially if you’re stuck in it on a rainy day.
Currently, I’m travelling in my converted Toyota RAV4 mini camper conversion and my tent stays at home.
A comfortable folding chair is a great investment. I’m sure glad I bought my Helinox One before I went north last spring. It is always the first thing I set up when I arrive at a campsite.
This chair is light enough to bring along on backpacking trips and, on bike tours as well. It is the most comfortable camp chair I ever owned and it follows me wherever I go.
17. Camp stove and fuel
My old two-burner Coleman stove burns on propane and is ideal to prepare camp meals quickly when campfire cooking is not an option. Still, to brew coffee in the morning or heat up water quickly I often didn’t bother setting it up.
That’s where my MSR Pocket Rocket fits in. It only weighs a few grams and fits anywhere. Since I own the Pocket Rocket I never miss out on coffee in the morning again when I’m on the road.
18. Camp dishes and kitchen necessities
I love campfire cooking and always bring all the basic utilities along like a camper cook set, plate, bowl, cup, can opener, bottle opener, cutlery, tea towel, dishwashing soap, a bucket to do dishes, garbage bags, sealable plastic bags, rags, etc.
Bears and wild animals are a normal sight during a Canadian road trip. I have lived in bear country for years and have come across many bears.
Your first and best defence against a bear attack is prevention. But close encounters may occur despite all your precautions. At such times, you’ll appreciate having bear spray with you.
The bear spray should be within your reach at all times. In addition, you might want to bring an air horn for noise as well as bear bangers.
20. Duct tape
Never leave for the wilderness without a roll of duct tape. Use it to mend clothing and shoes, make a splint or bandage, build a shelter or make a bug trap.
A flashlight is essential for any wilderness trip. Spending the night alone in the wilderness will make you appreciate the little light. Whether you find yourself outside after dark, inside your tent or settled in your car camper for the night, a reliable flashlight is a must-have on any road trip.
It’s a good idea to have your flashlight or headlamp in reach, also when you’re asleep. I always keep a flashlight in a little bag hanging next to my pillow. Don’t forget to bring extra batteries.
Whether they are intended for a flashlight backup or to illuminate the tent, candles are always on my road trip planner list.
Whatever kind of situation you’re in, a fire may be crucial to your survival. You need to be able to start a fire, whether it is to survive the cold during a chilling night, fight off predators or cook yourself a meal.
You should never be without matches and a backup lighter. Waterproof matches are best and should be kept in a sealable plastic bag. A lighter can also be used to sanitize equipment if you have to tend to wounds.
24. Steel wool
Steel wool is a handy form of kindling. It can be ignited by only a spark, even when wet.
Mosquitoes are most active during the summer month. In the northern regions expect mosquitoes to be out in June, July and August. Black flies appear in late August and September. Horseflies are the worst pest, especially in the Northwest Territories.
The numbers of pests tend to increase after rain. Some communities have control programs to manage mosquito populations. When you’re out in the wild, bugs can be a nuisance, especially in marshy areas without a breeze. Pack repellent and a bug jacket, just in case.
26. Mosquito net
There is nothing worse than being attacked by mosquitoes at night. A mosquito net can be a lifesaver and is a MUST on my road trip planner list.
For my car windows, I take screening material along and attach it to the outside with magnets when I sleep in the car.
Don’t leave on a camping trip without bringing rope along. The use of a rope is endless.
Put up a clothesline to hang wet clothes, create a sling for injuries, hang up bags in the trees to be bear-safe, build a tripwire around your night camp, and make a fishing pole.
Binder twine can also be useful, and a paracord survival bracelet is a clever way to bring along a rope on a hike.
28. A big axe, small shovel and camping saw
Whether I have to get a tree off the road or dig a hole for an outdoor toilet, these tools have to come along and are priorities on my list.
Most Territorial Parks offer free firewood logs. Once you try to split these big logs with a mini axe you wish you would have taken the big axe along.
Keep your pocket knife with you at all times when you’re in the backcountry. My choice is a Leatherman, which saved me in various situations out in the wilderness. A Leatherman cuts through nearly everything, even wire. That’s why it’s called a multi-tool
30. Maps and Compass
Compass and Maps and knowing how to use them are important for a wilderness road trip. It’s easy to lose track of direction in the backcountry. A handheld GPS is a great additional navigation tool, but it doesn’t replace a compass.
A car GPS makes travelling more fun and less stressful. I feel much safer since I purchased one and always find my way around when I get to a new place.
31. Satellite Communicators and locators
When you’re on a road trip to extremely remote areas, these devices let you send distress signals. They instantly summon emergency responders to your exact location.
A personal locator beacon doesn’t need a cell phone signal to send up your SOS signal and will transmit your GPS coordinates no matter where you are.
For both devices, you need a monthly subscription to get the safety features activated.
32. Cell phone
Cell signals in Canada’s backcountry are often non-existent. Outside of cities and large towns you can’t rely on a connection. Nevertheless, I highly suggest taking a cell phone along in case of an emergency. You might just be lucky and get a cell signal right when you need it.
33. Laptop or tablet
These devices were not available during my early travel years. Now, since I joined the world of blogging, my laptop is an important work tool. Wi-Fi is available in cities and most communities.
34. Camera Gear
Camera, tripod, cables, batteries and all gear you need to record your trip.
35. Power Inverter
A power inverter allows you to power your mobile devices while you drive. It plugs into your vehicle’s cigarette lighter socket and comes with USB ports and usually a standard North American outlet. You can run multiple devices at once, keeping you connected wherever you go.
I bought mine at Canadian Tire, but other stores sell them as well.
36. Hiking boots and runners
On any road trip, bring a pair of quality waterproof hiking boots along. Make sure the boots are worn in before you go on a long hike. Runners are comfortable when driving and can also be used to cross rivers during hiking trips. Check out Columbia’s great selection of outdoor shoes.
37. Muck boots
I never go camping without taking my Muck boots along. My first Muck boots I got when I shopped around for a pair of winter riding boots and ended up with a pair of Muck boots instead.
I love my Muck boots. And you know, they last for a long time and get you through anything.
I remember the time in the Chilcotin mountains getting up early morning and catching our horses. We had to walk through wet, knee-high grass and wearing my Muck boots I was the only one who kept her feet dry.
If you are lucky enough to have small feet a pair of kids’ sizes might fit you.
38. Extra clothes
Rain jacket and pants, hat, sunglasses, socks, underwear, a fleece hoodie, and a warm jacket. Keep extra gloves in your survival kit at all times.
Columbia has a large selection of outdoor gear. Also, check out the Outdoor Store for my favourite companies
39. Hand sanitizer
Cleanliness is important when you travel and many illnesses can be avoided if you keep your hands clean. Hand sanitizer belongs on every road trip planner list.
40. Toilet paper
Toilet paper will act as a luxury item and will make your wilderness experience more comfortable, don’t leave home without it.
41. Chewing gum and candy
Chewing gum or hard candy will keep your mouth occupied during the long hours on the road. In a survival situation, sugar prevents hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. Consider packing a few bars of chocolates as well, either as an occasional treat or to boost your spirits when needed.
42. Fishing rod
Canada is known for excellent fishing, where even an inexperienced fisherman like me can catch a fish.
43. Travel books
Take your LONELY PLANET Guidebook along. The MILEPOST Travel Planner is my travel bible once you cross the Yukon border. Pick up additional guides and maps at local Visitor Centres.
44. Notebook and pen
The notebook is an important item on my road trip planner list. Used as my diary, it’s also useful for general notes, and writing down information, impressions, and memories.
This is important! You must know how to use your gear to have a better chance of survival if something goes wrong. Having a map and compass will be useless if you don’t know how to read them and navigate your way to safety.
There are many instruction books and videos available.
46. Physical and Mental Fitness
Fitness is important to enjoy a wilderness road trip and when it comes to survival in the wild. You will be far better off if you are physically and mentally fit to endure the stresses of travel and whenever you run into a problem.
Thisroad trip planner has been put together according to my personal road trip experience and is meant as a basic guide only. If you find it useful, please share it on social media and leave a comment below.
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Yrene lives in the Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada, and is the founder of BackcountryCanadaTravel.com. She was born in Switzerland, lived and worked on different continents and has travelled the world. Yes, that's me, an Entrepreneur, wilderness nut and animal lover who prefers off-the-beaten-track places. I write about things I love. Mostely.
WE ARE DOING A 15000 KM DREAM ROAD TRIP OF NORTH WESTERN CANADA. WE HAVE A 2019 FORD F150 4X4 WITH A WINNEBAGO 22 FOOT TRAILER. WE THOUGHT ABOUT DOING THE DEMPSTER BUT DECIDED AGAINST IT BECAUSE OF OBVIOUS REASONS. WE ARE WONDERING IF WE COULD TAKE A BUS THERE FROM DAWSON CITY?
Are you travelling this time of year? No, there is no bus from Dawson City or from anywhere else.NWT borders are closed so you can’t get to Inuvik. Try to make it to Tombstone Territorial Park, one of the most spectacular places in Yukon. Not sure about this time of year though. Everything closes in early September. I’m just writing a guide about Tombstone. If you would like more information, please send me an email.