Welcome to the June 2023 issue of The Thunderbox. The Thunderbox is a monthly roundup of anything Algonquin related that’s caught my eye. This month includes a spotlight on Basin Lake, a review of my very first heated jacket, some new for 2023 campsite reviews and more.
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Camping! Camping is going on. Also (and this is breaking news as of May 31st at 10 p) a total fire ban. As of tomorrow, no campfires of any kind are allowed in the Park. Make sure you’ve got the stove gassed up if you’re heading in for a visit with the bugs.
As for May, I got in my first canoe trip of the year a couple weeks back. It was a six day loop out of Kiosk that took me down through a string of lakes that have been on my radar for a long time. I stayed in two of the Park’s interior ranger cabins, saw some beautiful waterfalls and paddled through snow flurries. Two of those things were somewhat better experiences than the third (although the third was pretty cool, both literally and figuratively). While the weather on the trip could have been slightly better (it got below zero for nights two and three), the bugs were nonexistent and the route was awesome. The first draft of the trip report on that one is done, but there’s some serious pruning needed before it’s ready for public consumption, so expect to see that sometime this month. In the meantime, let’s talk about this month’s spotlight lake: Basin Lake!
Basin Lake is a lake unto itself. Literally. Located at Access Point #19, Basin Lake is both the namesake lake for that access point, and the only lake at that access point. Once you park your car at the Basin Lake parking
lot clearing and put your boat in the water, the only decision you have to make is which of Basin’s six campsites you want to stay on, because you’re not going anywhere else. (To save someone the time and effort of drafting an “Um, actually” email, there are other lakes linked to the Basin Lake access point, but those are all accessible by road a few kilometers past Basin Lake. There are no other lakes you can reach by official canoe route once you are on Basin Lake).
The good news is that as the only game in town, a visit to Basin Lake gives you a chance to get very familiar with what it has to offer, and that’s why Basin is this month’s spotlight lake.
Located on the east side of the Park, Basin is about a 2.5 hour drive from Ottawa and a 4.5 hour drive from Toronto. The access point is north of Barry’s Bay on Highway 60, and is going to introduce you to a few backroads as you find your way there. Those are just a warm up for the last kilometer into the access point, which takes you down a forest “road” that invites you to experience life as a paint can shaker.
Once you arrive on Basin you’re greeted with a small parking lot, a parking lot adjacent campsite and, if you turn around, another campsite about 100 meters down a short path to the south. Don’t let this campsite’s proximity to the parking lot fool you, it’s the second best site on the lake, but we’ll talk more about that in a few minutes.
Basin is a medium sized lake, at best. It took me about 25 minutes to paddle around it, and that included some stops to check out a couple of sites from the water. As I mentioned at the top, there are six campsites on Basin, and four permits available at any given time. That’s fine, because of the six campsites, there are only four you’d probably want to consider for your home base for the night.
My first choice site on the lake is the island site at Basin’s north end (Site 1). It’s north facing, and fairly sheltered from the rest of the lake. It’s a big enough site, with plenty of room for your tent, and your hammock as well!
Number two on my list is actually the site just south of the parking lot (site 4). While proximity to car doors slamming is not usually something I’m looking for in a campsite, the parking lot access is actually very convenient. It’s a short walk from the lot to the site, making it easy to set up and take down. And the site itself is pretty nice. It’s big, level and dotted with pine trees that are the absolute perfect spacing to hang a hammock or a bug tent (I was there in June). Being close to the lot is also a nice perk if you decide to explore down Basin Lake road a bit further, which I recommend (we’ll get to that in a couple of minutes).
Sites 1 and 4 are probably my top tier sites on Basin. The next tier would be sites 2 and 5. Site 2 is on the north shore, and site 5 is across the bay from the parking area. Both of them are basic but functional. Site 2 is hilly, Site 5 isn’t hilly per se, but it is uneven. In both cases, while there’s usable space, I wouldn’t call them the most comfortable sites. On the plus side, Site 2 does have a nice beach front and Site 5 has a cool sunken fire pit area, so there’s something that sets each of them a little above the most generic of Algonquin campsites. I’d say they’re both very reasonable fallback options if the top tier sites are taken, but I wouldn’t necessarily make them my first priority.
At the bottom of the campsite rankings are Site 3 and Site 6. Site 3 is the parking lot site. Like, it is literally part of the parking lot. I’m not entirely sure were the lot ends and the site begins, but no matter where that magic line is, I’m not wild about a backcountry campsite where the primary view is of my car’s grille. Site 6, on the other hand, seems at first blush like it might be a decent option. It’s nicely secluded from the rest of the lake in a small bay on the western shore, so no worries about someone’s high beams waking you up at three a.m. here. What you might be worried about, however, is the fact that the site gives off a very distinctive “someone probably got murdered here at some point” vibe. I have no idea what it was, but something about that site felt wrong. Objectively speaking, it’s probably not all that different in what it offers from Sites 2 and 5, but as soon as I set foot on the site I got a feeling that something was off. Not a very scientific explanation for why it’s at the bottom of my rankings, I know, but there it is. (there’s also a forest access road just over the top of the hill beside the site, so my comment about not being woken up by someone’s high beams here could also be proven wrong).
Once you’ve explored around Basin for a bit, you may find yourself with some time on your hands. That’s not a bad thing! The area around Basin Lake is actually pretty cool to explore as well, starting with the Park’s oldest still standing structure, the Basin Lake Cabin, which you can find back where Basin Lake road meets the turnoff to the access point road. Once you’ve checked that out, you can head north on Basin Road by car to check out Little Norway and Buck Lakes. Little Norway is basically just a glorified swamp, but Buck Lake is actually kind of scenic. Both are directly beside Basin Lake Road, and both have a single campsite, although I couldn’t actually see the Little Norway site from the road to confirm its existence. Regardless, if you had a choice between Buck Lake and Little Norway I’d suggest taking Buck Lake every time.
And that’s about it for Basin Lake. This is a great destination if you’re looking for some quasi-car camping, with a bit of backcountry flavour. I used it as a first trip a couple of years back to force myself to ease into the season (pretty hard to plan a trip with stupidly long portages if there are no portages in the area) and it was a great start to the year. The lake is a pretty paddle, and the points of interest along Basin Lake Road are, well, they’re interesting. I’d recommend this area to anyone looking for a low key spot to enjoy being in Algonquin, but where they can also bring along a cooler filled with ice and beverages without worrying about how they’re going to get them over the portage if they’re so inclined.
I’m not usually thrilled about jacket weather in May. Especially not jacket weather in late May. As far as I’m concerned, every day after Mother’s Day that I have to wear something that’s not shorts and a Cow’s parody t-shirt is a crime against all that is good and true. This May, however, I’ve been happy to make an exception. Which is good, because Mother Nature has been only too obliging in supplying all the chilly weather you could ask for. So, why am I happy for the colder temperatures? Well, that’s got a lot to do with the jacket in the below pictures.
The jacket you were just looking at is the Venustas Men’s 7.4V Heated Jacket. As the name suggests, this is a heated jacket. In other words, it comes with a battery pack and heating patches that make you feel like you’ve slipped a handful of hot water bottles into the lining of your jacket, without all the water weight. I don’t know who came up with the idea of heated clothing originally, but whoever they are, they’re a genius. Venustas is a relatively young company, they were founded in 2018, but they’ve carved out a niche in the heated apparel space and now offer over 40 products. The 7.4v jacket was, however, their first product, and it’s clear that they’ve taken the time to refine it over the years.
While I’ve always been curious about heated gear, I hadn’t yet made the leap. However, a Venustas rep reached out recently and asked if I’d like to try out their jacket and I was only too happy to jump at the opportunity (in other words, Venustas offered me the jacket to try out). Here’s what I found:
Design & Fit
This is a hooded jacket, so you’re covered from the top of your head to just below your hips. This version of the jacket is a combination polyester shell and silver thermal mylar lining. Mylar is the same material they use to line some sleeping bags and emergency blankets, and I can say that even without the heating elements on, the jacket does a good job of retaining heat. The jacket is mid weight jacket and feels solid without feeling heavy. I’m a medium in Venustas’ sizing (I’m 5’10, 165 lbs, pretty average chest size), and the fit was really good for me. The jacket feels snug in all the right places, while allowing for decent movement if you’re engaging in a more active activity like hiking
There are five heating panels sewn into the jacket’s lining. Two on the chest, two on the shoulders and one on the upper-mid back. Venustas says that these are there to target your core, and I’m not going to argue with them. The heating panels are controlled by a button on the front of the jacket. Pressing the button once for 3-5 seconds turns the elements on and starts the pre-heating cycle. While the jacket is pre-heating the button will blink red. The good news is that you can feel the heat almost immediately, so you don’t have to wait for preheating to finish to start reaping the benefits. Once the pre-heating cycle is done, you can press the button to toggle between three colours which correspond to three settings: blue is low, white is medium and red is high. I found that blue was good enough to take the chill off, while white was noticeably warm and red was hot.
The jacket comes with a dedicated rechargeable battery, a USB-C cable and an adapter to plug that cable into the wall. Charging takes about six hours to get to full. There’s a handy digital charge meter on the side of the battery that lets you know how far along you are. Once the battery is fully charged it plugs into the jacket via a DC cable in an inside pocket. The battery isn’t very heavy, and is barely noticeable once you’ve got it plugged in. It basically feels like you’ve got a phone in there. Battery life depends on how hot you’re keeping the jacket. The warmer the panels, the shorter the battery life. Venustas says that the battery will last 3 hours on high heat, 5 hours on medium and 8 hours on low. I found that to be more or less the case out of the box. I do wonder if I’d get the same result after a year of use and recharging, but I guess I won’t know the answer to that until next year (coming in 2024, the Venustas 7.4v heated jacket review, part two!).
I’m a fan of this jacket so far. It does a great job of taking the chill off of a cold day. I wore it with just a t-shirt underneath when the temperatures got around zero and had no trouble staying warm. I haven’t had a chance to try it out during true winter temperatures, and with any luck I won’t get that chance until sometime next December, but so far it’s been more than a match for what this (surprisingly chilly) spring has thrown at us. I wouldn’t expect the heating elements to completely negate an Ottawa winter on their own, you’re going to want a layer or two underneath, but it’s going to take the edge off. The warmth is just that, warmth. It doesn’t feel like I’ve wrapped myself in an electric blanket, more like I’ve just put on a jacket that was hanging by the fire, but that keeps that toasty feeling going for hours.
From a camping perspective, I think this jacket is extremely well suited for shoulder season hiking and car camping. As far as canoe tripping is concerned, it’s a bit on the bulky side if space in your pack is at a premium. It comes with its own water resistant sack, but it doesn’t pack down all that small. It’s going to take up a chunk of the real estate in your backpack if you carry it with you. If, however, you’re doing some front country camping and have the luxury of a vehicle to carry extra gear, this would be a fantastic addition to your packing list.
No new campsite reports this month. I visited over 20 sites on my spring trip earlier in May, but I haven’t gotten around to writing the reports yet. When I do, I’ve got some words for the Maple Creek P660 site in between Kiosk and Maple Lake. In the meantime, here are five of my all time favourite campsites.
The first draft of my trip report on this spring’s six day loop out of Kiosk is done. However, it clocks in at over 11,000 words and need just a touch of pruning (read, I’ve got my chainsaw warmed up and ready to go) before it’s ready to inflict on the world. So, let’s jump into the Way Back Machine and do one more from the archives before we get into 2023’s reports.
One of my favourite trips of all time was a family trip to Burnt Island Lake in July 2020. That was peak COVID, and it was really nice doing something that wasn’t sitting at home waiting for the vaccine to arrive. It was also a great trip! Burnt Island is a beautiful lake, and the kids had an awesome time eating s’mores, chasing chipmunks and getting swarmed by mosquitoes on the Burnt to Jay Lake portage. Ok, so maybe the last one wasn’t a hit, but it was a thing that happened! Read about it here.