Reliable outdoors gear: the Swedish connection

It’s kind of a coincidence: three of our gear sponsors are Swedish (Fjallraven, Trangia and Woolpower); I am one quarter Swedish; and Dave has some Swedish heritage too. But then you you realize it is not coincidence at all: Swedes are hardworking and responsible people and Sweden has huge stretches of very wild and rugged wilderness. So of course Sweden produces some of the world’s best outdoor gear.

When Dave and I got married, five years ago, I wore a crown of flowers… and only later found out that is a Swedish wedding tradition! I guess it was in my genes!

Our aim in getting industry sponsors for the Secret Coast Expedition was not just about getting “free stuff.” Dave and I were going to be out there, in the wilderness, relying on our gear (with no options to exchange it, and limited options of repair) for a month! Our number one criterion was that we needed gear that we could trust: that would work and that we could rely on to continue to work. And secondary to that, we wanted to collaborate with companies that have high ethical standards, especially regarding impact on the environment and treatment of animals.

We are really happy, not only that we found fifteen amazing sponsors to work with – but that we are able to work with companies and organizations that share these values, adhering to high standards and “walking the walk” when it comes to the environment. In this blog post, I am going to profile our three Swedish collaborators:


LsqDSC_4800Dave was keen on Fjallraven gear (both backpacks and pants) right from the start. I took a bit more convincing – their gear is heavy, and back in the planning stage it felt like every ounce we could drop mattered. But, in the end, our Fjallraven gear ended up saving our butts – mine especially, because I spent a lot of time sliding on it! The lightweight hiking pants I would have worn on this trip would have shredded within a week. But, after everything we went through, we just threw the Fjallraven Gaiter Keb pants in the washer when we got home, and they looked like new! Same for the Kajka backpacks – I will write more about their innovative design in a future post – but they were fully loaded and heavy, and we just could not put them down or pick them up gently. Those packs survived a lot of dragging over rocks and, like the pants, they made it home in perfect condition.

LsqDSC_4085Those few extra ounces made the difference not only for comfort, but for our safety out there. I’m a total Fjallraven convert. And, on top, the company has an amazing corporate ethic. To reduce their environmental impact, they use birchwood frames for the packs rather than metal, and they track the sources of any animal products they use (such as wool, leather and down) to ensure that the animals are raised and treated well.

We shopped at the Vancouver-West Broadway Fjallraven store – or you can find a Fjallraven store near you here.


LDSC_5462LOur campstove choice was the other way around – I was already a Trangia convert, and I was the one who had to convince Dave that this is the stove set we want. I have been using Trangia stoves for decades. I should say “stove,” because I have only had one – that’s how durable and reliable they are. I bought it in the early 90s (so getting towards 30 years ago). It is the one-pot size, and it has been to Australia, New Zealand, French Polynesia, Patagonia, and of course all over Canada… and probably lots more places that I don’t recall over the years. The only reason I needed a new backpacking stove is because we needed the larger size for the two of us. My old one will still be my stove for my solo expeditions.

LDSC_6210What’s great about Trangia stoves? Well, the first thing is that there are no moving parts. Nothing to break. The fuel (alcohol) can be found anywhere in the world – and you can fly with this stove: no pressurized or gassy fuel containers! And it is silent. All of our meals were so easy: very quick set-up, no pumping or priming required. (And we had no need for those environmentally-unfriendly disposable fuel cannisters). Dave is a total Trangia fan now!

Trangia camp stoves are very popular in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, but they can be hard to find in North America (they are worth the search, let me tell you). Find out where to buy Trangia stoves in Canada or where to buy Trangia stoves in the USA.


LDSC_9439Well, when you are out in the wilderness for months, with few opportunities to bathe (not to mention to try to do laundry), it is hard to keep from getting stinky. I had heard that wool garments don’t stink the way synthetics do, and I hoped it was true.

We each had a pair of Woolpower longjohns, a T-shirt, plus a thicker zip-up turtleneck – so three main items (as well as a tube/hat and hand gaiters). We didn’t hike a lot or paddle in the Woolpower clothing – but our wool garments were our clothing of choice around camp, during the evenings and mornings – and they were our pyjamas too. Which means we were wearing them about 2/3 of the time, or a total of 20 of the 30 days – with only one washing.


Guess what – they didn’t stink! After all that.

I was worried about durability, since they don’t seem to be as fine a knit as most synthetics – but they held up totally fine in spite of all of our rough use. And (we checked) Woolpower takes great care in sourcing their wool from sheep that have not been subjected to cruel hygienic processes, unlike many other Merino wool products on the market. I will be wearing Woolpower clothing for all of my future long expeditions – both for my sake and for my companions’!

Getting to our start point: Rugged Point, Tatchu Peninsula

The Secret Coast Expedition was a year and a half in planning. We would be hiking and kayaking along Vancouver Island’s remote, and nearly entirely uninhabited, west coast for a month. We expected to see few people – and we definitely would have no cell service or internet connectivity. So everything had to be organized and finalized before we left: from our food supplies (we had three food drops along the way, but everything had to be purchased, packaged and delivered before we actually hit the field), to route planning (taking into account tides, terrain), to the few pick-ups and check points we had along the way.

If I missed anything in the planning… we would pay later!

Those check points were few, but important. Nootka Marine Adventures would be our first. They are a sport fishing/tourism company that operates three fishing lodges in Nootka Sound. I selected them to contact as a potential collaborator on the Secret Coast because I like how they operate: with a strong environmental ethic and very respectful to the local First Nations. Happily they agreed to support us!

They would be picking us up at Port Eliza, at the end of the Tatchu Peninsula, and boating us across to the second hiking stage on Nootka Island. But if we didn’t show up on time, they would contact Coast Guard and SAR crews to initiate a search – a situation I definitely did not want to happen. I would have no way of contacting them if we were delayed (other than by VHF radio, once they were already out looking for us), so I had to make sure my planning was spot on. We had to be there. Same for our other checks over the next month: Nootka and Estevan Lighthouses and Boat Basin/Cougar Annies Garden.


My previous two months had been incredibly hectic. Planning the Secret Coast had been my full-time job! So it felt almost surreal when, the morning of June 8, Dave and I arrived at the Atleo Air dock in Tofino and started to carry our stuff down: our folding kayaks, plus kayak gear, plus food drop #3 to get dropped in to await us at Boat Basin – plus ourselves and our hefty Fjallraven backpacks to get flown up to our starting point, Rugged Point, at the entrance to Kyuquot Sound.

The flight up was fantastic – a bit overcast, but incredibly calm, both wind-wise which made for pleasant flying, and surf-wise which made for an easy landing and unloading. The flight up also served as a great overview of the terrain we were about to hike across, a chance to try to scope out the places that we already knew, from studying the maps, might prove to be tricky.


We landed at Rugged Cove, unloaded our packs and watched the plane take off.


And then… silence.

We were here! The Secret Coast expedition had finally begun!

But, instead of feeling elated, we were both exhausted. We had been in high-gear, planning and preparing, for weeks. We had each only slept a couple of hours the night before. So we set up camp and poked around – but, honestly, it was a struggle to stay awake until a somewhat reasonable bed-time.


We finally hit the mattresses at 8pm (yes, an hour and a half before sunset) – and we both slept 12 hours! Wow. But we awoke well rested and feeling great, ready to embark on a month hiking and kayaking along some of Vancouver Island’s wildest and most scenic coastline.


Expedition overview – it all went really well!

LsqDSC_5951I will be posting so much to this blog over the coming weeks and months… all the while, sorting through my many photos and starting to write the book! I am really eager to get to work on it – everything went so well on the expedition, from weather to wildlife experiences to our investigations of the history and meetings with the Nuu-chah-nulth people along the way.

Here’s a very quick overview of what we did:

June 8 – June 13, Tatchu Peninsula

We flew in to Rugged Point, a very tiny and hard-to-access provincial park at the southern entrance of Kyuquot Sound, on Atleo Air. From here we hiked down the coast – here we are, starting out:

The first days were beautiful and pretty easy, mainly following beaches and rock shelves, and we saw LOTS of big bears! Our last two days were rough though – we had trouble making it around a big rocky point and got delayed by a day, and then had to cross a huge and unexpected washout along a logging road (our only road of the entire trip) to make it to Port Eliza. Kimberley from Nootka Marine Adventures met us there and boated us across to Nootka Island.


June 13 – June 22, Nootka Island and Friendly Cove

We got dropped on the northern end of Nootka Island. We had not seen anyone at all on the Tatchu section of the trip – on Nootka we saw a few groups of hikers, but not many!

Again, we had great weather – dry and sunny – but there were many days with a strong northwesterly blowing all day and all night. It was pretty fatiguing, being out in the wind all day long (not to mention trying to cook on the beach without getting sand in your food!) but it didn’t affect our travels the way it would have if we got those winds on the kayaking section. (Fingers crossed there!)

LDSC_6210We foraged for foods along the way – collecting seafoods like mussels and urchins and gooseneck barnacles along the shorelines, and getting lots of fresh greens such as purple nodding onions, sea asparagus, sea plantain and lambs quarters to add to our lunches and dinners.

LDSC_6600We spent several days at Friendly Cove, where I spent time working with Ray Williams, who shared some of his oral history about the early encounters between his people, the Mowachaht, and the Spanish, British and Americans. Then Ray and his son Daryl transported us across to Hesquiaht.

June 22 – July 1, Hesquiaht Peninsula

This was our longest hiking section – 10 days – so we started out on this with with very heavy packs (we had just replenished at Friendly Cove – I had sent a food drop up in the care of Ray).

At one point, we ended up camped near a dead sea lion on the beach (we actually did not see it there until after we had set up camp!), which meant wolves came around it during the night to feed. Dave and I got up early that next morning and were very lucky to see three of them running away – appropriately wary of us, which is great. One returned later to feed some more:

We also saw lots of shorebirds along the Hesquiaht coast, already migrating southward from their arctic breeding grounds. We did hit a little rain along this section, which made travel along the extensive boulder shelves very dangerous – super slippery and high risk of injury, so our progress was very slow. We ended our hiking section at Cougar Annie’s Garden, Boat Basin, at the top end of Hesquiaht Harbour.


July 1 – July 8, Paddling Hesquiaht, Clayoquot Sound, and Tofino

LDSC_8338We picked up and assembled our folding kayaks at Boat Basin, spending two nights there visiting Peter Buckland and touring the historic gardens. Peter had just finished constructing a “foot spa” where the creek flowed out over the beach, which we eagerly used to clean ourselves up!


We stopped at old Hesquiaht Village (most of the Hesquiaht people moved to Hot Springs Cove in the 1930s, but we visited Dave and Dianne Ignace and family, who still live there, for a night). Then we continued paddling down the coast, fortunate that those strong winds from the weeks before had totally died down, making for some lovely paddling on glassy seas – but struggling with a very big swell coming up from some raging storm somewhere in the southern hemisphere making for very big surf (challenging for us to get to shore).


After over a week in the kayaks, we landed pretty much on schedule on Chestermans Beach, Tofino just down from the Wickaninnish Inn – where Managing Director Charles McDiarmid and staff greeted us with champagne!

So that’s the trip overview. There is SO much more to tell and so many more photos and video clips to share… so keep coming back and checking in, I am working on it! And, once again, thanks again to our wonderful sponsors who supported us in so many ways, enabling me to transform the Secret Coast Expedition from a wild idea to a reality!



The Secret Coast Expedition was a success! Media links here:

LsqP1110918We achieved our full route, blessed with (mostly) amazing weather, and had some amazing wildlife encounters. We arrived back as planned on Monday July 8, 2019, paddling in to Chestermans Beach, Tofino, where we were greeted by the Wickaninnish Inn MD Charles McDiarmid and staff with champagne on the beach.

Find out more about how the expedition went:

In the media (e.g. this article in the Times-Colonist, or this interview with CBC Radio, or in this CTV News segment)

By following our blog, which I will be updating with stories and photos over the coming weeks and months.

LsqDSC_7318By checking in on our social media channels (Twitter and Instagram) for lots of amazing photos!

Or by contacting us!

Many thanks to all of the sponsors and supporters who made the Secret Coast Expedition such a success. Stay tuned, lots more info and photos coming!