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  • Writer's pictureCliff Jacobson


Mouth of the North Knife River, Hudson Bay.

Green River, Utah

Blending with nature is part of what wilderness camping is all about—and for many, this means dressing the part. The rule—widely encouraged by federal authorities—is to avoid bright colors that take the “wild” out of wilderness. Go instead with gentle green, olive drab and autumn brown.

This is fine if you’re on a beaten path where campsites dot the trail. Color the tents blaze orange and suddenly you’re in Camelot! Yes, bright colors can diminish the outdoor experience.

But they can also be a safety factor, as these examples illustrate:

Cree River, Saskatchewan, canoe trip: A forest fire prevented us from reaching our take-out spot. We camped instead on an island five miles upstream. The sky was smoky yellow, visibility was hardly better than none at all. We had little hope that our bush plane would find us in the morning.

At 7:45 AM we heard the roar of an engine, and seconds later a single otter swooped out of the sky and chugged to our doorstep.

“It was that checkerboard tarp that caught my eye,” said the pilot.

Gull River, Ontario: I lost the trail part way through an undefined and unrefined portage. So, I set down my grass-green canoe to scout the way. I found the trail shortly, but it took an hour to locate my boat. Right then, I vowed I would never own another “camouflage” canoe!

A tundra tarp saved my marriage! On August 12, 1992, Sue Harings and I were married at Wilberforce Falls along Canada’s Hood River. The wedding was nearly aborted ten days earlier, when I discovered that I had left the “wedding pack” (a white Duluth pack that contained Susie’s ermine-trimmed wedding dress and all the wedding treats) at the float plane dock in Yellowknife, NWT, 400 air miles away. When Susie learned the pack was missing, she wanted to postpone the wedding. Really!

But flying out behind us (headed for a different river) was Canada’s famed canoe man, Michael Peake. Mike put the pack aboard a twin otter bound for Cambridge Bay, and asked the pilots to “find Cliff”.

They did—the co-pilot pushed the pack out the door at an altitude of 300 feet! It fell like a missile (no harm done) and the wedding was on again! Neither pilot saw our five overturned red canoes or our five red and yellow tents which were clustered together. It was our Cooke Custom Sewing multicolor rain tarp that saved the day! The full story is in my book, “Canoeing Wild Rivers, 5th Edition”.

Moral: a patchwork color pattern beats one solid color.

Color your packs "visible". I tie streamers of yellow plastic surveying ribbon to those that aren’t.

*My flagship book, CANOEING WILD RIVERS, 5th Edition, contains a wealth of advice on "how to safely canoe difficult rivers."

*My teen book, "Justin Cody's Race to Survival" mixes a fictional wilderness survival tale with practical outdoor tips everyone should know--a first for books of this type. Adults love it too!

*My classic book, CAMPING'S TOP SECRETS, details a wealth of proven camping procedures and comfort tips that only the experts know.

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