Kevin Callan, AKA “The Happy Camper”, is a beloved ambassador for wilderness adventure in Canada. He has authored thirteen books on subjects related to camping and canoeing, contributes regularly to a number of outdoors periodicals, hosts “The Happy Camper” radio show on CBC and is a frequent guest on the morning show circuit. He is a renowned public speaker, an educator at Fleming College and has been named a Patron Paddler for Paddle Canada. He’s also a Nova Craft brand ambassador. In addition to the fact that he offers great advice is clearly a wealth of knowledge on all things canoe-camping related, Kevin’s appeal is based in his genuine and infectious love for being outdoors and his wicked sense of humour. Last week we chatted over the phone and I asked him 5(ish) questions related to canoe tripping.
Nova Craft : Which is your favourite park in Ontario?
Kevin Callan: Wow.
NC: Yeah, I know. Tough question. Maybe instead of a favourite you have a Top 3?
KC: Well, there’s two ways to answer this one. I can answer what my favourite is but it’s not really the truth, and, I mean, it’s a lame answer: I usually say that my favourite is the next one I’m going to. A lame answer, like I said, but the reason is that it’s not really about the destination it’s the fact that I’m going on the trip. So, scenery wise? Killarney is the best. I don’t think there’s any other place in Ontario or even in Canada that has that distinct landscape. For canoe tripping, I think Quetico really has it all because it’s got amazing canoe routes, landscape and short portages. It’s really made for the canoe. But for memory sake, Algonquin would be the third. Algonquin is really a silly place to paddle because the average portage is a thousand metres. But it’s that retrospective thing of going back there every year to go to all those places that I went to as a kid. So those would probably be the three. Although… Algoma’s one of my favourites too because I paddled there a lot in my pre-teens and adolescence… I could go on forever. It’s endless.
NC: What’s the best camp meal in your repertoire? What would you make to really impress someone you were taking out on a trip?
KC: Not only to impress them but also myself, one of the best that I’ve ever done was in Quetico. I’ll catch a lake trout and catch a walleye; I’ll open up the lake trout, put the walleye fillets inside the lake trout, put apples, onions, lemons and seasoning inside, sew it all up, put it in tinfoil and bake it on the fire…It’s great. And it’s one of those things that you can only get when you’re out there and everything goes just right. You might not get the fish but when you do it’s amazing.
NC: You’re always up on the latest trends in gear. Is there anything new that you’re feeling particularly excited about?
KC: There’s two trends that are going on right now and one I’m really interested in: they’re called stick stoves and they’re stoves that don’t run on fuel but on small sticks and pinecones. It’s a bushcraft or survival thing but I’ve been using one for the past couple of years now and they make sense to me. I’ll bring a [traditional?] stove to use as a back up but if you use a stove that just runs on sticks you can really reduce the amount of gear that you’re bringing out with you and it’s a mini campfire so that’s kind of cool. I’m really with that trend. I have a collection of about six stoves.
The other thing is hammock camping. So the idea is that you hang a hammock and sleep in that instead of a tent. I’ve tried it and jokingly said that hammock camping is like your first kiss: the first time you try it you think “I’m not sure if this makes a lot of sense” but then you really want to try it again. The bonus of the hammock camping thing to me is that you can really go anywhere you want. If you really want to get away from everybody and from a normal campsite then you can just put up your hammock between a couple of trees anywhere. And that’s really why I prefer canoeing over kayaking or backpacking or whatever else. It’s really only the canoe that gets you into those small getaway places because you can use the canoe to portage. When you portage you really start to lose the crowd and get away; that’s why I prefer the canoe over any other mode of travel out there.
NC: Having good company on a trip is obviously really important. You seem to have a pretty kooky cast of characters that you trip with. What qualities do you look for in a trip partner?
KC: Well, the main thing is that we all know why it is we’re going out there. So before we leave we say “Ok, this is what I want out of the trip.” So there are no surprises.
If you want to do a fishing trip, everybody must know that this is a fishing trip. Or if it’s a destination type trip, or a recreational or a family trip, it’s important that we all know that.
The other thing, that my buddy Andy has always taught me, is that we really don’t complain out there and we don’t try to survive out there; we go out there to live and to rejoice in being there. So, there’s no homesickness, no “Oh I wish I was at home now” or “I think we should end the trip early”, there’s none of that because it’s our choice to be out there. Yeah, the portage might be bad, and you might grumble a bit, but there’s no complaining because you chose to be there. And that makes the whole trip completely different. Instead of surviving, it’s living and that’s a huge difference out there.
NC: Which celebrity would you choose to take on a week-long trip in the interior?
KC: Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip. Huge conservationist but also a really unique individual that I really don’t know anything about and I’d love to just sit around the campfire and talk to him.
NC: Yeah and maybe he’d play you some songs.
KC: Sure, that’d be nice but you know I don’t even care if he plays the songs I think it would just be cool to hang out.
NC: Bonus round – a quick game of “Would you rather…?”
Tripping solo or with a large group? Solo.
Flat water or white water? Flat.
Beaver tail or otter tail paddle? Beaver tail.
S’mores or hot dogs? S’mores!
Camp stove or cooking over the fire? Stove.