The Ditch Kit – Essential Items In An Emergency

When planning a back country canoe trip it’s important to be prepared for those times when things don’t go exactly as planned. While your packing may include everything you’ll need to safely make your way through the wilderness, what would you do if you were separated from your canoe and gear. Perhaps your canoe upsets while negotiating a rapid, or your loaded canoe blows away just before you set out from camp. Every year situations just like this present paddlers with the most precarious of situations. Being prepared for the unexpected will allow you to deal with what comes in stride.

With me all day on my back county adventures is my “Ditch Kit”, a small fanny pack that’s always on my person and includes all the essentials i’d need to handle emergency situations. Over the years I’ve seen several types of pouches, small packs and bags used for kit’s but i’ve found a small fanny pack works best for me, allowing me to wear it around my waist all day without it interfering with my paddling or portaging. In fact, it’s so lightweight i rarely realize it’s even on! Whatever type of carrying device you choose, ensure it’s comfortable and you wear it!

The kit should be created with carefully selected items that will allow you a few days of comfort while you get your bearings and reunite with your canoe and gear. It’s not designed as a long term survival kit, rather a collection of a few small items.

Depending on where you travel and how long your trip is, selections may vary. For my trips of up to 2 weeks in the Boreal Forest, the following are my selections.

Insect Repellent

A bottle of deet or similar repellant will go a long way to improving your mental state if you’re able to keep biting insects at bay.


Get rid of the annoying itch and pain of insect bites and concentrate on your current situation.

Compass with Mirror

A solid compass will allow you to stay on track while working to reunite yourself with your gear. The mirror can be used to signal aircraft in a dire emergency

Spare Glasses

A must for those that need corrected vision. Carry a spare pair in a padded case

Birch Bark / Tinder

Having some dry bark and tinder in a plastic bag will allow you to get a fire going instantly.


Fire is everything in the forest, especially when challenges present themselves. Throwing an extra BIC or Zippo lighter in your kit will offer instant flames.

Hand Warmers

A comfort item, always in my ditch kit but never used.  They weigh virtually nothing and during a cold night or rainy day will provide a little comfort while you negotiate your situation.

Waterproof matches

Redundant, but throwing a pack of waterproof matches in with your kit is good practice as lighters do fail and won’t work when wet.

Ferro Rod / Firesteel

By now you’re realizing that fire is everything. While not as instant as a lighter or matches, these little tools will create a spark instantly and work when lighters and matches wont.


You just can’t ever have enough cord! Whether constructing an emergency shelter or rescuing your canoe pack from a boulder in a rapid, 100’ of 550 paracord is essential and offers dozens of uses.

Pen Flare / Bear Bangers

Incredibly small and functional, these ingenious little flares and bangers are very lightweight and in the case of a real emergency would allow you to signal for help across a lake or to an aircraft above.  The bangers can be used to dissuade a grumpy bear you may meet on the trail or be used to grab the attention of emergency personnel.

Headlamp and Batteries

Spending a night or two in the forest separated from your gear presents a host of challenges, but not being able to see during the night shouldn’t be one of them. Pack an extra headlamp and keep the batteries separate and you’ll always be able to see through the night.

Emergency Candles

Candles not only offer light, but also warmth in a small shelter or to dry out wet footwear. I carry the 12 hour burn type and pack 2 in a small ziplock bag.

Survival Blanket

Inexpensive and effective, these small foil blankets provide instant warmth should the temperatures drop or if you’ve dumped in the lake. They also double as an emergency shelter.

PLB / SPOT / Inreach

With technological advances, satellite locators or communicators are indispensable in true emergency situations. Offering the ability to let loved ones or emergency personal know about and understand your situation is essential.

Folding Knife

While my main knife is always on my belt, having a small folder is essential for small jobs or incase something happens to your main knife.

While small, the above times will allow for some comfort in uncomfortable situations. When challenges arise, keeping a level head is key and having the tools to deal with issues at hand can make all the difference in the world.

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