Time for a wanigan


What I carry is nowhere near as nice as this, but the concept is essentially the same.

(What I carry is nowhere near as nice as this, but the concept is essentially the same. These are from J.a.G Woodworking)

I’d like to talk about one decision I’ve made when it comes to kitchen on a canoe trip. There’s a part of me that wants to go as ultra-light as possible, knife and a flint striker and some rope, and improvise from there, but there’s another, more obsessive side that wants to bring every gadget possible. Somewhere in the middle is the ideal camping kit. That ideal pack obviously is different for each individual, and indeed, changes for me on a constant basis.

One peice of kit that has started coming with me on any canoe trip longer than three days is my version of a wanigan. Bill Casselman’s “Canadian Word of the Day” site describes it better than I could.

A wanigan is essentially a box for food, kitchen kit, and possibly tools that would otherwise be difficult to pack or too fragile to stuff into a roughly-treated pack.

It’s a traditional bit of kit, which, in the spirit of the Duluth-style canoe pack, is as simple as it is refined. Like the Duluth pack, the wanigan is a large, single-area storage solution. It requires that you keep your individual food and tools well-organized.

With a proper utensil roll or bag, you are left with a solid pantry that will protect your fragile foods – eggs, bread, etc.

The fact that it can serve as a table, cutting surface, and utensil-rest appeals to the multiple-use side of me. Sometimes, you make it to a campsite that ends up being wet, and it’s very nice to unpack and organize your meals on a clean, flat, comfortable surface.

The wanigan I have started using is just an old tupperware tub that I had hanging around, and by chance, it fits perfectly into a 68L roll-top drybag from Sea-to-Summit. I can’t say enough about this combo. I’ll eventually try a watertight one, but I like the fact that during use, the wanigan can allow moisture to escape, keeping the inside humidity low.

The bag also is large enough for extras, such as the pot and toiletries, all of which get hauled into the trees at the end of the day.

That’s right, because I’m just using a plastic box, even the wanigan goes up there, along with any pots that were used for more than boiling water. Some may call it overkill, but I’ve yet to confront anything larger than a chipmunk at my sites in the backcountry, and I’d like to keep it that way. This likely wouldn’t be possible to do with a traditional wooden wanigan, but I’d like to see if I can find a good compromise for weight and utility.

If anybody has any experiences of their own with wanigans, I’d love to hear from you, and please feel free to share here on the comments.


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