Thanks for starting this thread CPS! There’s some great info in here so far.
This is going to be a huge post, so as a quick summary, it will be about the following:
~a large solar charging setup
~misc. gear (hammocks, chart storage, lap bags)
~some info that people into filmmaking/field audio recording might find handy
~some of the psychological/personal growth aspects of a large trip like this
~a unique method for packing food without needing single use plastics.
Note: I haven’t done the Inside Passage myself, but I’ve been collecting lots of information when I’m stuck being on call with work and daydreaming about escaping on a long-term adventure again!
>Info Source #1: Paddling North<
I recently reached out to Leonie Mahlke and Rebecca Grim who paddled the Inside Passage several years ago with some questions about their experience and their gear setup that they’ve very graciously agreed to let me share here (I’ve put their answers in red and turquoise). If you’ve ever searched for videos on kayaking the Inside Passage on Youtube, you’ve probably come across the preview for their documentary Paddling North, where they used their adventure as an opportunity to not just explore the coast, but to connect with various locals working to protect it. (Side note: they are on the lookout for a decent filmmaker to finish editing their documentary).
They have a blog at https://paddlingnorth.ca/, and the Instagram handle for their trip is @paddlingnorth (their Highlight reels at the top have lots of info on their prep/lessons learned/gear).
For most people, I imagine that bringing a few USB battery banks would be enough to keep gadgets powered for a few weeks between towns and marinas where you can then charge them up again on grid/generator power. My Standard Horizon HX890 radio is the only device I take with me that does not charge via USB, but there are USB to 12 volt car ‘cigarette’ converters that could be used. For people with more battery power needs, the below section might be helpful.
>Solar Charging Setup<
Rebecca and Leonie took a very interesting solar charging setup in order to power their batteries for their phones, GoPro batteries, a Garmin inReach and headlamps. For myself, I need a system that can charge the above while I’m away from grid power for 10+ days, plus my DSC VHF radio, and rechargeable AA batteries for my GPS. In addition to those, I am dabbling in filmmaking as a hobby, and so I also need a charging solution for my mirrorless camera batteries, external audio recorder + miscellaneous microphones, Mavic 2 Pro drone, Atomos external video recorder, and an external camera card backup system (Gnarbox).
My Question to Leonie and Rebecca: In some photos, it looks like you had both of the 30 watt solar panels wired to one another, but were they stacked on top of your boat, or did you just bring one panel in the end? Is there anything you'd change with your solar setup? Was your setup able to adequately charge your devices with the cloudy weather, or did you have to ration power and top up the batteries whenever you were near shore power at marinas?
Bex: We had the option of charging one or two panels at a time. Most days we had the solar panels stacked on top of each other, slowly charging the bank during the day, it seemed to slowly charge fine even on rainy days. Yes, we brought two panels, which seemed like too much for us. As we only set up the second panel occasionally on sunny land days and we never ran out of juice. We also stopped at towns every 7 days or so, and had extra smaller battery banks for our phone, InReach and such.
They go over their solar charging setup in detail in their Instagram Highlights, so I’ve written up a list in case anyone else is interested in copying or adapting it (prices are to give a super rough idea of cost in Canadian dollars, and are based on a quick google search). Their system was built by Bearfoot Renewables on Salt Spring Island, but I cannot find a contact link for them.
A note: If you’re not an electrician and you choose to build your own solar power system, I’d highly recommend having an electrician review your system and check that your connections have been made safely, are covered safely, and are secured properly – it takes surprisingly little current to permanently stop a human heart if something goes wrong. It might also be prudent to ensure that the battery you choose does not vent gas while charging. A setup like this isn’t going to be up to code, since Pelican cases aren’t exactly CSA rated electrical equipment, the cables aren’t mechanically protected, and there’s no way to bond and ground it all, etc., but care should be taken to do everything as safely as possible in any case.
Disclaimer out of the way, here are the parts that Bearfoot Renewables used:
(2x) Go Power! Solar Flex 30 watt (flexible solar panels) (discontinued model, but roughly $200 each)
(1x) Morningstar SunSaver SS-10L-12V 3rd Generation (a 12 volt/10 amp charge controller to take power from solar panels and safely charge a battery) ($120)
(1x) Discover D1272 12V 7.2Ah F1 (12 volt battery – batteries like this are typically used for uninterruptible power supply systems in commercial/industrial applications like emergency lighting) ($30)
(1x) Pelican 1200 waterproof case (for holding the charge controller/battery/USB battery banks) [my note: Canadian Tire regularly sells their knockoff Pelican brand called ‘Maximum’ for very steep discounts – their version of a Pelican 1400 case, Canadian Tire #058-1543-6, regularly goes on sale for $70]
(1x) strain relief cable gland (connector for putting the cables into the pelican case).
Some of my thoughts: The single strain relief for two cables is one area where I would deviate slightly from the setup that was built for them. I would use two separate strain relief connectors, as most are typically designed to seal around only one cable at a time, and I haven’t loved the reliability of the variant that allow you to put two wires through one rubber sealing plug in the same connector.
//EDIT ADDED 2023 March 4th @ 10:30// As helpfully pointed out by cougarmeat in the reply to this post, it is important to confirm that the battery type that you are using is compatible with your charge controller, and that you read all of the documentation to ensure that you are setting the charge controller up correctly for the type of battery (AGM, sealed lead acid, etc.) attached to it. You'll want to be reading all of the documentation anyway to ensure that you are tightening everything to the correct torque settings and so on.//
For anyone looking to build their own, it would also likely be a good idea to gently brush the exposed conductors (a green dish washing scrubby or a bit of melamine sponge should do the trick) and then apply a *thin* layer of electrical non-oxidizing compound suitable for the metals being used on those exposed conductors to help guard against corrosion. Several brands do sell a no-ox that covers both copper and aluminum.
(//EDIT added 2023 March 4 @ 10:30: your friendly neighbourhood electrician will have some of this no-ox, if you want to save $10 from having to buy your own//)
It may also help to toss a few silica gel desiccant packs inside the Pelican case for humidity control
(//EDIT added 2023 March 4 @ 10:30: making sure to secure them so that they cannot accidentally flop across electrical terminals and cause a short circuit//).
Also, if using crimp-on connectors (such as ‘Stakons’) to attach wires to battery posts and the like, it is best to use the tools that are designed for that task, as opposed to just mashing the connector onto the wire with pliers (loose electrical connections = bad times).
For electrical parts, such as crimp on wire connectors and strain reliefs, websites for large scale suppliers like EECOL, Wesco, Westburne may help you find what you need in terms of part numbers. Brands such as Thomas & Betts/ABB and Hammond Manufacturing make good quality electrical connectors, but they are usually sold in bulk and suppliers like EECOL can be quite expensive. If building your own setup, it may be worthwhile to visit a local electrical contractor that does industrial or commercial work and ask if they’d be willing to sell you a few parts.
For my own setup, I’ll start with a non-metallic cable connector (one made of Nylon, because electricity accidentally coming in contact with non-bonded metal parts = bad times) with a ½ NPT thread size, then I’d measure the outer diameter of the cable with insulation to determine the connector throat diameter needed. Some manufacturers give an IP rating, which may be more helpful and easy to decipher than a NEMA rating (ask an electrician for a photo of Table 65 from the Canadian Electrical Code if you’re bored and want to know what NEMA rating is adequate for what type of enclosure). If your strain relief doesn’t have a sealing ring (gasket ring) included on the face of the connector that will be pressed against the outer face of your Pelican case, make sure you put a sealing ring like an ABB 5262 or similar (preferably one that doesn’t have metal in it) between them.
Strain reliefs work best when the cable is entering the connector straight-on as well, so try to keep the wire from entering it at an angle. If that’s not possible, there are 90 degree strain relief connectors available as well. When I build my setup, I am also going to apply marine grade silicone around the rim of the connector where it goes through the side wall of the case if I can ensure that it won’t degrade the integrity of the connector.
Personally, I’m going to use something like a Hammond Manufacturing #1427CG7, #1427CG9 or similar as a strain relief. Since Go Power has discontinued the 30 watt panels that Rebecca and Leonie used, I’m going to try the 55 watt GP-FLEX-55 as it is narrow enough that I won’t be too worried about it catching wind, or sticking so far out that I can’t roll my kayak.
The one version of this solar panel model also comes with a charge controller that has a USB output built in.
For my knock-off brand Pelican case, I’m thinking I might use plastic backpack buckles to attach it to my deck bungies. That way, if I’ve come out of my boat and need to self rescue, I can easily unbuckle the case with cold/gloved hands, and toss the case over the opposite side of the boat to get it out of my way. I’m going to test out my setup on my whitewater raft before I put it on my kayak and take it on the ocean. I’ll make a new thread at a later date with more details on that if it works, and will edit this post with a link to that thread at that point.
>Miscellaneous Gear Questions and Answers<
Bex and Leo have quite a few blog posts and Instagram highlights covering their gear in detail. Here are a few of my questions and their answers regarding their setup.
I use a 2 person Hilleberg Staika tent on my kayak trips that is excellent at standing up to terrible weather, but requires a large amount of flat ground as well as time to set up and take down. Hammocks seem to have come a long way in the last decade, and I’ve read a few trip reports where people are successfully using them to camp in areas that don’t have ideal ground conditions for tents.
My question to Bex and Leo: Is there anything you'd change with the Hennessy Hammock setups you took? Do you remember how long your straps were? I imagine the trees got pretty big and far apart in some spots!
Leo: Finding trees was never really a problem, only on Southey Island (near Nanaimo) and in Glacier Bay (hardly any suitable trees at all!). We didn’t extend the lines that came with the Hennessy Hammocks. The longer the lines, the more likely it is to touch the ground with your bottoms. You will get a feel for the right length/distance apart pretty quickly.
Bex: Like Leo said, we never had an issue, sometimes we had to take a few extra minutes to find the perfect trees with a good view, but that is when we were being picky!
My question: Do you remember what brand/model your waterproof chart tube was for the stack of charts you carried in between resupply points? Did it actually stay waterproof? It'd be nice to keep a tube on the deck, instead of having to fold them up into drybags and have them taking up room in a bulkhead that could be used for precious chocolate!
Leo: we didn't use a chart tube to store our charts in the boats. Instead we had two waterproof chart cases by Sealline. One was stored in the boat with the majority of charts (e.g. on top of the other dry bags), the other one was used on deck for navigation.
Bex: We also mailed the charts for the sections ahead to our resupply locations, so we were only every carrying 12 or so charts at a time.
For myself, my camera system takes a minute to assemble the microphone, etc. for shooting video, and so it’s cumbersome to get to quickly in a Pelican case. Rebecca had a post where she laid out her lap bag setup that she started using after the Inside Passage trip, which may be of interest to people like me who want quick access to a camera when humpbacks suddenly start splashing about nearby (as they seem to enjoy doing).
My question: Rebecca: Is your Sealline Widemouth duffel lap bag the 25L or the 40L version? It looks like it would be super useful for quick access items as well as possibly being big enough for carrying my camera (since I can't fit mine in a Pelican case), but no website has a good photo of how large each version is when rolled up 3 times!
Bex: I have the 40L duffle lap bag, but I didn’t use this on the paddling trip. We used smaller dry bags. I personally feel it's too big for kayaking, and recently only use it for canoeing. If you have a spacious kayak and want to have your camera accessible, then I can see it being useful.
Filmmaking/Field Audio Recording:
For other people into filmmaking and recording field audio, this might be of interest.
My question: Leonie: Did you have any issues with your hydrophone setup? Did you manage to get any good audio of the marine life (was it worth taking)? I've found a cheap stereo hydrophone ("The Sound Shark Stereo Hydrophone" on Etsy), and I'd love to be able to hear/record the humpbacks vocalizing when they're nearby!
Leo: Hey Glen, no, we didn’t have any issues with our hydrophone set-up. In retrospect I could have bought a cheaper one, I think. Humpback Whales are not always vocal, it really depends on what they are doing at that very time. We did collect some good audio of them, but only on a few occasions.
Bex: This is Leo’s area of expertise, but I would add that we didn’t take too much time setting up the hydrophone, and something we could have spent more focus on if we had more of a flexible time schedule.
My question: Would you happen to have the GPS files for your route still? When I log into Garmin Connect, it'll only allow me to export my own tracks, not the ones linked from your website on your https://share.garmin.com/RebeccaGrim page... It's always nice to have beta on where other people were able to camp, in case whatever stops I have planned need to get cut short due to weather!
Bex: Unfortunately, I can’t seem to export the tracks, I merged two accounts and I can’t view those tracks on my personal account anymore. However, if you click on each of the tracks, you can view the GPS coordinates, sorry I can’t be more helpful with this.
>Misc. Questions on the inner journey + full length film of their trip?<
My question: Now that it's been a few years, are there any other things you'd do differently? Is there anything you'd leave behind, or anything you'd bring if you were to do the trip again (other than what you mentioned in your Insta Highlight: a Lifeproof phone case, more Gopro batteries and more cookies/treats)?
Leo: I would bring different camera/microphone equipment and would try to film less and chill more. We were kind of in a time rush towards the end, which made it harder to enjoy things. Bring more time than you think you'll need. Chatting with locals and spending some time in places can be super enriching!
Bex: I agree, I wish we had more time! There are so many places we didn’t get to fully experience because we wanted to complete the whole trip in a season. I am still itching to go back and spend more time and explore more of the coastline. I would also want to make more of an effort talking to people in the communities, and spend more time there. I felt like we had so many errands on our “rest days” that we didn’t get to fully enjoy exploring more of the land and connecting with others.
My question: Did you learn anything about yourselves by doing this trip/did your viewpoints on anything change after (for example: should chocolate be given as much importance as other food groups such as vegetables and grains)?
Leo: the IP trip taught me, that everything I do leaves a footprint in this world and that I want to be even more cautious about my impact. It also taught me a lot about myself and my insecurities. Very important: you are basically always hungry when paddling and the food should be good!
Bex: I learned how lucky we are to be able to experience this coast by kayak, and how grateful I was to have a body to take me to those places. I learned how to fully depend on another human, to trust her, and how important communication is! My viewpoint shifted that everything is not black and white, and there is so much grey. I learned that a lot of people are trying their best to protect to coast and that looks very different to everyone. I try everyday not to judge someone doing something I don’t understand. Also, yes, chocolate is very important!
My question: I totally understand how expensive/time consuming editing video is, but I have to ask if there's any chance of the full length Paddling North documentary coming out? The preview is great, and my friends and I would love to see more!
Leo: Never say never If you know a good filmmaker, pls let us know
Bex: Yes, we would also love a longer documentary to come happen! But yes, it's expensive and something that will hopefully come in the future.
>Info Source #2: Passage Adventures<
Single-Use Plastic Free Food Organization:
Two Aussies, Lucy Graham and Mathilde Gordon, did an Inside Passage trip at the same time as Leonie and Rebecca, but from North to South. They also managed to do the whole thing without single use plastics(!)
Blog link here.
Food preparation on a large trip like this is also something that’s clearly important to be solidly prepared for, so I was quite interested in how they managed to pack their dehydrated food without using single-use plastics. On my own trips, I dehydrate my meals and then put them in vacuum sealed bags to preserve them/compress them down, but I always feel guilty at the wastefulness of it. Lucy and Mathilde have a handy guide on how they did it plastic free here.
And they put their film up on Youtube here.
It’s well worth a watch, and they go into a bit of detail on how they packaged their food at 5:00(ish) and 7:00(ish), but basically, they wrapped their meals in parchment paper, and then wrapped that in newspaper (note that some newspaper ink contains BPA – hence why they wrapped it in parchment paper first). The food bundles were then labelled and put into a drybag with some silica gel desiccant packs.