Top 5 Tips for Sustainable Travel I Learned from Camping: Nahanni River Style!

Updated: Feb 13

Matt and Vanessa, two of the NERDs that independently brought pirate flags to display for all the others we came across of our intentions (COVID-19 entry requirements for the park meant one other group!)

Camping is a broad term and can range from: sleeping outside in a yard with a blanket and pillow, to driving an RV that has more features than most homes, to hiking a mountain with dehydrated meals. I learned my best sustainable travel tips from back country camping! When you have to carry everything that you pack on your back further than a kilometre, you rethink if you are actually going to change your shirt that often. Having to pack and haul everything you "need" along with everything you "want", down a rocky trail or through a muddy bog, helps you differentiate the "wants" and "needs" quickly. Friends that also know this struggle are a great resource to check in with about how much of the "wants" you need. If I am unsure, I check in with others that are on the trip or who have done it before, what a reasonable amount of beef jerky, GORP, etc. is to pack.

I have completed four 9+-day backcountry whitewater canoe or raft trips down the South Nahanni River in the Nahanni National Park Reserve. Check out the Parks Canada website here to check out the Park and the various trip options! You can even do day-tours that show you the highlights without needing to paddle! It is one of my favourite places in the world and has so many beautiful spots.

My Current Top 5 favourite stops in Nahanni National Park are:

  • Nailicho/ Virginia Falls

  • Fourth Canyon Paddle & Views

  • The Gate Hike (Photo below!)

  • Dry Canyon Hike

  • Krause Hot Springs & Paddle Cabin

In 2020 I went on my first 12-day Whitewater Canoe trip! I had just finished a 14-day backcountry canoe trip on the Pensive Lake Loop near Yellowknife, NWT. Check out that trip here:

Back to Nahanni 2020; This trip we went from Honemoon Lake to Lindberg Landing with two red canoes over 12 days. My parents and I had discussed doing the trip over the last few years with friends from the Yukon. Unfortunately, NWT had COVID boarder restrictions in place so only NWT residents could get in the park in 2020. None of my local friends had the time off work, so my dad called in his retired buddy Brian from Yellowknife and we set off on an adventure! In 2021 I completed a 9-day trip from Virginia Falls to Blackstone Territorial Park with a group of six friends in 2 red and one yellow canoe. We named our gaggle of idiots the NERDs: Nahanni Expedition on the River of Dreams! It was another unforgettable trip that gave me another experience in my love of nature and the importance of sustainable travel.

I have yet to make it to Glacier Lake and do the hike up to Fairy Meadows and see the Cirque of the Unclimbables, but it is on my NWT Bucket List for sure! The Rabbitthettle Lake hot spring forms a beautiful Tufa Mound that has scientific and Dene Cultural significance. Check out this blog from NWT Tourism on THE SECRET PARADISE: 15 REASONS WHY THE NAHANNI WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE (

The Gate, Nahanni National Park August 2021 by Madison Pilling.

Here are my Top Five Tips fo sustainable travel that I learned from camping!

1. You don't need that many shirts. As you likely already know, you do not need to pack much clothing, regardless on how long the trip is. Depending on how long I am gone and how dirty I get, I will do laundry or wear my clothes for multiple days. Another bonus of packing light, back country or not, is I can keep track of what I brought and keep my bag organized. As a bonus, when I backpack through towns, if I find new clothes and gifts for friends, I can fit them in my extra luggage space. Below is my Nahanni 2021 10-day clothing and day bag essentials (wearing one full outfit). Added sleeping kit, kitchen kit, toiletries, book, shoes and rain suit to my full bag!
Clothing: From the top left. Row 1: InReach & Sunnies in my day bag, mid layer zip jacket, 2 pairs of wool socks. Row 2: capri quick dry pants, quick dry pants, 2 quick dry shorts. Row 3: one wool base layer (did not bring), one loose mid layer (did not bring), one thin wool sweater, quick dry towel. Row 4: 2 sport tank tops, one sport tshirt, 2 sports bras. Wearing: Fjallraven pants, sports bra and and team NERD Tshirts! Day bag: Bug hat, Leatherman, EpiPen, Sunnies, InReach. Remember to add snacks!
Evening on the Nahanni with my customized NERDs travel mug and sticker bombed Nalgene!

2. One cup that can handle hot and cold should always be on your packing list. Having a hot cup of coffee two hours into a rainy day of paddling is always a lovely treat. The number of times a travel mug has opened the door to lovely conversations with elders, families and kids alike over tea, coffee or hot cocoa is amazing! Plus, the number of times I have wanted so of a communal drink and the group cups are nowhere to be seen, is tragic. I always try to pack a Contigo (or similar) travel mug because they can be flipped upside down without a spill. Always pack a refillable water bottle too!

Mountain range in the sounth nahanni river valley
Campsite in a beautiful valley somewhere along the South Nahanni River ft. Nick and Alex's cool tent.

3. Where you are sleeping is very important. I have spent my share of nights with interrupted sleep due to poor quality sleep gear, weather, ground conditions and more. When I invested in a quality sleep matt, sleeping bag and tent, my camping experience was infinitely better... duh! Quality does not always mean the most expensive. I always do my research on outdoor sites, read reviews and find the best product for my needs based on what I have, what I can borrow and length of the trip. This helps me save money and the environment because I can buy one product that will last me for a long time instead of finding out myself the hard way and having to replace it for the next trip. This is true everywhere I travel, sometimes the cheapest hostel has "cotton ball filled" pillows and "wooden" mattresses so I read the reviews and book the accommodation with the amenities I want that day.

4. There is no such thing as bad weather, just an ill-prepared traveler. Where I grew up is classified as a "Sub-Arctic" climate which means we are a winter desert. I used to hate rain, one day the rain won, I decided it would never stop raining so I was wasting my anger. I also got a good rain jacket for the first time when I moved to BC, where the threat of rain is a lot higher. Turns out, quality gear that can handle the elements is always worth the investment. Here is the crew in 2020 where we endured 8 days of rain on our 10 day trip. After we had to add garbage bags under our rain rackets on this trip, I upgraded to a top of the line set for when I did the river with the NERDs in 2021! This set was an investment that will serve me in any seasons on many more trips for years to come!

5. Leave no trace! Be sure to clean up all the garbage and ensure other waste is properly disposed of and that none of your gear is left behind. When you travel, make sure your garbage gets in the bin and that you are leaving it the way you found it for others to enjoy! Check out this link from Parks Canada Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve about leaving no trace:

Summit of Sunblood Mountain at Nailicho/ Virginia Falls, July 2021.

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