Living in Ontario, Canada means we have an abundance of two key resources: freshwater and hardwood, which require the proper tools to travel efficiently and survive sustainably in the wilderness. A canoe is the best (and most fun!) way to get around with all that freshwater. Almost 160,000 square kilometers (62,000 square miles) or 11% of the province is water, while Canada has more area covered by lakes than any other country in the world. In order to harvest and process the vast amounts of hardwood, the right axe must be selected.
Picking the Right Axe
The axe is arguably the most versatile and effective tool anyone can carry in the wilderness. Before you head into the woods, make sure you’ve got the right axe for the job. The difficulty in selecting an axe for canoe tripping, or any other form of wilderness camping, is that it needs to be versatile. Axes are typically made for a specific task – whether felling a tree, splitting logs or other specialty tasks such as log-building or carpentry duties. A Forest axe – one that is made for everything from felling trees to splitting logs – is my weapon of choice for backcountry canoe trips. The Hults Bruk Akka Forester’s Axe is the best forest axe I’ve had the pleasure of relying on. With a 1.5 lb. axe head, 24-inch curved handle and an overall weight of 2.2 lb., it is extremely versatile and compact enough to hang off your belt.
Packing for Portages
Although most of my time is spent paddling the pristine lakes of Ontario, there is the necessity to portage from lake to lake. This is not something most people enjoy and many avoid. However with the right gear and packing experience, portaging can be quick and painless. The Akka helps achieve this efficiency thanks to its size and design. When facing a 3km portage through the woods and over the rough terrain of the rocky Canadian shield, it is key to complete it in one carry to avoid turning that 3km into a 9km back-and-forth. The 24-inch handle means it can be easily strapped to the side of a canoe pack and the 2.2 lb. weight won’t be noticed.
One of the first tasks when setting up your camp is to ensure that you have an adequate stock of dry firewood to keep you warm and to fuel your cooking – specifically in the unpredictable Canadian shoulder seasons. This begins with selecting the right wood. If green or wet wood is selected you will have a difficult time sustaining your fire or will be smoked out. Finding a standing tree that is dead and manageable to process once it is cut down is key. Selecting a tree that is too large will either make felling it more dangerous or make sure you exert too much energy or time in processing it.
During the summer months it is easy to determine which trees are dead, but when your adventure falls in the shoulder seasons it won’t be as easy as looking for trees that are lacking leaves. You will need to take a closer look at the branches and bark to determine the state of the tree.
Once you have selected a tree, you need to decide the safest direction to fell the tree and begin swinging at that side while watching for falling branches. Once you have taken the tree down you need to begin limbing the branches off and cutting the trunk into manageable sections that can then be carried back to camp. If you are camped on a small island, there may not be many deadwood resources to choose from.
Your best bet in these situations is to canoe to the closest dense forest and search that area. Once you have felled and processed the wood into sections, load up your canoe and paddle back to your camp.
Although I found the Akka to be surprisingly good at splitting logs, you need to remember that it is not a true splitting axe. You must process and split logs that are manageable to avoid damaging the axe handle and tiring or hurting yourself.
Proper technique is key – hurting yourself in the wilderness is extremely dangerous. Extreme caution needs to be taken when you are days away from a hospital, especially since your way out depends on your physical abilities.
Starting the Fire
Once you have selected the appropriate wood and processed it, you can start your fire and relax!
— Photos and Words by Carl Pawlowski, Hults Bruk Ambassador