How do you prepare for a stand-up paddle expedition? Answers from specialist Hervé Barrière and Itiwit

Nature, adventure and freedom: that’s what awaits you if you decide to go on a stand-up paddle expedition. But you can’t improvise such an expedition! Even more so if you’re planning to spend several days bivouacking along the waterside. Food, hydration, clothing and equipment… you need to think of everything, without forgetting safety! To find out more, we asked a specialist: Hervé Barrière. If you ask him, he’d never call himself a specialist, but his record of adventure speaks for itself: DI360, Loire725, Great Glen Challenge, Paddle Raid and other solidarity expeditions to Estonia, Lapland… Hervé logs miles and adventures like no one else! And always with environmental awareness at the heart of his projects. For TotalSUP, he reveals all his preparation secrets, from essential equipment to practical tips, to help you set off on your stand-up paddle adventure. Supported by Itiwit, Hervé also tells us about his favorite gear, the Itiwit X900, and his new 900 Pro Carbon 3-part paddle. (French version here)

Hello Hervé! The last time we heard from you on TotalSUP was in May 2022, where you shared your solo SUP expedition in Estonia with your organization Paddle for Earth. What adventures have you done since then?

Hi TotalSUP, since Estonia, I’ve had a somewhat busy schedule with some wonderful discoveries. In 2022, as you mentioned, I had the opportunity to participate with Sébastien Saulenc in the Loire 725, not on my ITIWIT X900 but on the ITIWIT race R500, 27 inches wide. I highly recommend this journey; in travelling mode. The Loire is a magnificent river, and the landscapes are breathtaking. Later on, as I do every year, I went on a winter SUP trip on the Vilaine River between Beslé and Arzal. A mini SUP trip of 100 km with some upstream paddling, always camping and solo. The little surprise of this trip was being stuck for a whole day under the tent with winds exceeding 80 km/h. It’s quite an experience! It’s part of the charm of a SUP trip to face the elements, and it’s also good to test the equipment.

In 2023, I combined ultra-long distances with the Dordogne Intégrale 360 solo and the Great Glen Challenge in Scotland in a 2-day format, all on the ITIWIT X900 board. For the adventure part, I participated in the Paddle Raid, a team crossing from France to Corisca. I highly recommend this raid; it’s just magical to paddle with dolphins, turtles, and whales. The atmosphere is great, and we paddle for a good cause, which makes sense to me.

On the adventure side, I went to Lapland. I had big ambitions for this suptrip, ambitions that were significantly scaled down over time, but we’ll get back to that. What I take from it is that we are always learning, and a raid, an adventure, is not a race. Knowing how to pause and admire is much more enriching than watching your watch and kilometers.

I’ll finish the year with a winter suptrip in France, but I don’t know where yet.

For your support to environmental organizations, you’ve changed your mode of operation; could you explain it to us? Which organizations are you supporting this year?

In 2021, I created Paddle For Earth with the goal of raising funds for nature conservation associations through challenges, adventures, and paddle sports competitions. This association was declared of general interest, allowing me to write tax-deductible vouchers. I thought this would encourage people to support me in this action or support association members. However, by the end of 2022, we were still only two in the association, the treasurer and myself, and the only donors were us. An association incurs bank fees, and based on this observation, I decided to stop the association and find another mode of operation.

So, since the beginning of 2023, for every kilometer covered in my competitions or suptrips, I donate €1 from my personal funds to a nature conservation association of my choice. The overall donation is made at the end of the year. This approach requires lifestyle choices for my children and me, but I believe it’s worth it. Showing future generations that everyone can, to the best of their ability, contribute to protecting our planet is the message I want my children to take away, and perhaps others through my social media posts.

This year, I support CESTmed. The main missions of CESTMed include welcoming, treating, and studying injured and/or stranded marine turtles or those accidentally caught in fishing nets. CESTmed is located in La Grande Motte. Why CESTmed? Simply because I had the opportunity to volunteer with sea turtles in Thailand in 2018, so it resonates with me.

This summer, you embarked on a new solo SUP expedition, but this time in Lapland. How did it go?

Lapland is often associated with the Northern Lights, reindeer, sled dogs, and, for some, Santa Claus’s village. For me, it signifies vast open spaces, a kind of “no man’s land,” and water everywhere.

I had the pleasure of meeting Sammy Billon from the Cairn agency last June. He followed Nouria Newman (multiple world champion) and five other renowned kayakers on an expedition in Lapland, searching for rapids never navigated before. This reinforced my decision.

As I mentioned, the journey didn’t unfold exactly as I expected. The plan was to start from Abisko and reach Haparanda, 489km away. In the end, I covered 130km, a quarter of what I had intended. Is it a failure? At the moment, yes, inevitably. But when you take a step back, no, it’s not. There were fantastic moments and challenges. That’s why I set out, and that’s why I’ll go again.

Let’s get to the point, we wanted to take this opportunity to discuss with you the preparation of a solo sup expedition. First of all, how do you choose your destination and route?

Choosing the destination and route for a solo suptrip involves several considerations, especially in terms of transportation.

Selecting a destination is always challenging, considering the vastness of the world as our playground. Personally, I’m drawn to colder regions, so naturally, I’m attracted to Northern and Eastern countries. As the goal is to paddle for approximately six days, I look for rivers that are long enough, avoiding multiple locks if possible, and minimizing portages with 40 kg of equipment, which can be quite cumbersome. I examine historical weather data to determine the necessary gear and sunlight duration.

Topography is another crucial factor because, as I camp, I prefer to stay away from cities. Depending on the country, water availability also plays a role. In remote and mountainous areas, water is likely to be potable, but on rivers or less pristine locations, I either use water purification systems or rely on locals, who are usually welcoming and happy to share in the adventure.

I heavily rely on maps, such as MAPS and MAP Carta, for reconnaissance. I outline my route to visualize the overall distance of the suptrip. Then, based on the number of days, I set a minimum and maximum daily distance to identify exit points. In the case of Lapland, with its sparse population and few villages along the Torne River, I noted all villages with bus stops. I analyzed the bus routes to ensure I could return to my departure point in France. This way, I knew that if I arrived in a certain city on a particular day, I could take the bus back. Anticipating all possible exits and returns is crucial in case of unforeseen circumstances or to ensure you don’t miss your return transportation.

While my adventures may not be extreme, proper planning and anticipation of all possible scenarios, including exits and returns, are essential in case of issues or to avoid missing return transportation, such as a flight.

How do you prepare and anticipate difficulties along the route? For example, non-navigable passages, portages, currents, unauthorized zones…

Cross-referencing information is crucial to optimize your knowledge of the locations. A satellite photo from Google Maps may not have been taken at the same time as one from MAP Carta, potentially offering different perspectives on certain passages, especially useful in rivers with fluctuating water levels and rocks.

I might be a bit obsessive, but I often work with mini maps that I create. Essentially, one map corresponds to a day of navigation with various options. I spend a lot of time on satellite views, contacting local SUP, kayak, or rafting clubs, as well as municipalities and fishing or hiking associations. I rarely encounter failures when reaching out; people appreciate sharing their love for the places. Social media and blogs also play a role. For instance, for Lapland, I found the blog of a German student who went on the Torne River in a packraft. I contacted him, explaining my project, route, and questions. He shared his experience, what went well, and what he would have changed in hindsight. I also check websites like “Vigicrues” to understand the river’s behavior over a longer period than my planned visit. Without being on site, you can’t anticipate 100% of risks or unknowns, but you can minimize them. Once on-site, it’s straightforward. If a passage doesn’t feel right, you exit and portage, even if it’s not necessarily enjoyable. Safety comes first.

In the end, preparing for a journey takes time, a lot of time, and you can’t start a week before. A little anecdote from Lapland: I had identified a rapid on Maps that I couldn’t safely navigate on the board. However, the riverbank seemed perfect for portaging—clear, at the edge of the forest, basically ideal. Reality turned out to be quite different. In satellite view, yes, it was clear and all gray, but in reality, it was a pile of large rocks, like a landslide. Carrying the board and bags in there, I tried for 2-300 meters and stopped; it was absurd. So, I ended up going through the forest with multiple back-and-forths with the bags and the board. After a good night’s sleep, a stroke of genius or laziness technique, I folded everything into the bags, and the number of back-and-forths significantly decreased. You learn from your mistakes. I grumbled a lot, but at the same time, I enjoyed the breathtaking views, and it’s a different perspective from land to river than from the river to land. And I feasted on blueberries that were abundant around me, which lifted my spirits.

Regarding safety, I also want to mention that I carry a phone, two power banks, and an inreach with me. In case of trouble, even without a network, with the inreach, I can call for help. It’s crucial when you’re in a group and even more when you’re solo. The inreach is like insurance; it’s better to have it and not use it than not have it. And, most importantly, it should be on you, not on the board, because if the board goes without you, it goes with the inreach too.

Do you also anticipate and plan your bivouac areas in advance? If so, how?

Bivouac areas are planned to avoid disturbance and comply with regulations. In Nordic countries, it’s relatively simple because there’s a high tolerance for bivouacking. As long as you avoid camping near a house, and it’s not explicitly marked that bivouacking is not allowed (or private property), bivouacking is tolerated, with all the cleanliness and respect rules in mind. These areas are mentioned on my daily maps along with water points. As for setting up, it’s more intuitive. Generally, as I approach the time I’ve set to stop, I check the banks to find a generally flat, calm spot with a beautiful view if possible. Sometimes, I may stop earlier because I’ve found THE spot of the day where I want to linger a bit. That’s also part of the suptrip experience, knowing when to take the time to appreciate the surroundings. But it still comes down to intuition.

By the way, how do you choose when to travel on the locations?

The choice of the period is quite simple, actually. The two main factors are my children and the approval of my leave by my boss. No, seriously, I look for periods of decent sunlight; the goal is not necessarily to go in the summer, but if you go to Estonia in March, you’ll only get about 4 hours of sunlight per day, not great. Again, anticipation is key, which is why I plan my suptrip a year in advance to schedule the departure as best as possible.

Depending on the number of days, how do you plan everything you need to bring in terms of water and food? What do you take?

During my preparation, I plan for 2 meals a day and some “snacking.” The two meals consist of freeze-dried food. In winter, it’s 1000 Kcal per meal, in summer, 650 Kcal. As for snacking, I have 50g of almonds, 50g of cashews, 50g of dried figs, and 50g of dried apricots per day. I rarely finish the dried fruits, but I prefer to have them. As for the drink, exclusively water. Initially, I fill my 2 soft flasks with 2L each, and I also fill my 2 water bladders with 2L each. That’s an additional 8kg of baggage! Over the day, I generally drink my 2L, and 1L is used for the freeze-dried meals, and the rest as a hot drink. I don’t drink coffee or tea; I just drink hot water, it does the job well and minimizes waste. As for waste, everything is stored on the board, and if I pass by villages or towns, I use public bins. Otherwise, I always have one or two enjoyable things in my bag. They either come in handy in tough moments when I start to get frustrated, or at the end to celebrate my hike, although a good beer shared with the locals is even more enjoyable.

To carry all this, how do you manage your bags, including the SUP bag that allows you to reach your destination?

This was the most challenging part at the beginning. Now it’s simpler, but I admit I struggle to reduce what I take.

So, I use a total of 3 bags, 2 from the brand Ortlieb and 1 from ITIWIT. All 3 bags are waterproof, equipped with T-ZIP.

On the Ortlieb side, the largest bags are a 140l Big Zip duffle bag and a 140l RS duffle bag equipped with wheels. In the RS bag, I put the SUP, fins, cart, 2 paddles, and straps. In the Big Zip, the life jacket, drysuit, pump, and everything else. I also use small Sea to Summit waterproof bags in different colors. Each color has its function: there’s the kitchen bag, the spare bag, the emergency bag, the electronic bag… This allows me to know immediately what to take without opening everything. I like T-zip because in case of rain, you quickly open the bag, grab just the mini bag, and close it. Duffel bags, if what you want is at the bottom, you have to take everything out, I find that less practical. Plus, you can’t put your SUP into them, so in transportation, I find it less convenient.

The ITIWIT bag is the modular 30-40l waterproof bag. I customized it with 2 backpack-style straps; it serves as a cabin bag for the drone, power banks, and GoPro. When I navigate, it’s attached to the front bag, above, and I have what I need for the day of navigation inside. Quick access.

For attachments, I place the Big Zip at the front and pass straps through the rings that the board originally has. I prefer straps to elastics as the bag is big. Handling is easier. The roller bag goes to the back like this, I secure the wheels outside the board, an advantage of the pin tail of the ITIWIT X900 board. Elastics are handy for day trips with small bags, I find.

What equipment do you take for sleeping and how do you set up? Do you always camp or allow yourself some city stops?

As for bivouac equipment, there is a kind of base that I use on all my trips and then adaptation to the location and season.

Classic base: a Jetboil, 2 flexible 2L water bottles, a Thermarest NeoAir Xlite mattress.

Adaptation side: here, my Lestra Alaska Extrem sleeping bag, it withstands -19 degrees, and a 4-season Hilleberg Nammatj 2 GT tent. In summer, I have a lighter sleeping bag and a Forclaz MT900 tent. I often sleep in a long T-shirt and technical pants (ski underwear type). I always have a motorcycle hood and an essential element, the airplane mask. In Lapland, I had few nights with constant brightness. The mask helps to fall asleep. The 2-person tent is a luxury, but it allows for some space, to have the drysuit next to it, and the rest of the equipment in the vestibule. In Lapland, I had some difficulties fixing the tent; the ground is often covered with moss or blueberries, and my pegs wouldn’t hold. Again, it’s a learning process. Ultimately, a tarp and a hammock would have been more suitable, I think, for the topography of the area. I avoid city stops as much as possible. Generally, it’s reserved for arriving in the country and departing. However, I don’t exclude it; in Estonia, I took advantage of it either for a 2-day break or because the weather had been really bad for several days. In trips, the fewer buildings I see, the better I feel. I need to be alone with myself and nature, a bit like a bear; those who know me won’t contradict that.

Let’s talk about gear… If I’m not mistaken, you always had your trusty Itiwit X900 with you, and this time, you brought along the brand-new Itiwit 900 Pro Carbon 3-pieces paddle! Can you give us some feedback on this gear, particularly the paddle?

Yes, my ITIWIT X900 board does accompany me everywhere; I always have it in the trunk, you never know. It’s an incredibly enjoyable board—I’ve done the DI 360 with it, the Great Glen… Sure, it’s 31 inches wide, but I’m not chasing podiums; I prioritize stability and, therefore, paddle comfort. On long journeys, it allows me to focus on my paddle strokes (in UL) and enjoy the scenery during trips. The X900 enables me to secure my two large bags thanks to the multiple fastenings, and the double chamber makes the board rigid, preserving good glide. The advantage of having a 31-inch width is also helpful for navigating through “white water” sections (the gentle ones) or sea paddling. The front and rear handles also make water exits easier—basically, for me, it’s the Swiss Army knife of boards.

As for inflate, I use the ITIWIT Easy 20 PSI pump. It’s a double-action pump, allowing for generally quick and easy inflation. What I particularly appreciate about this pump is its compactness. It takes up little space and weight in the bag while maintaining effective inflation.

Regarding the paddle, I had used the ITIWIT 900 Pro 2-pieces paddle on the DI 360. It had impressed me compared to the still-existing 900 generation.

For the Lapland hike, I brought along the Itiwit 900 Pro Carbon 3-pieces paddle. The 3-pieces design is essential in my opinion because it fits into my bag with the SUP, and I can also pack a spare paddle. The design of the handle hasn’t changed, and I’d say that’s a good thing. I appreciate its ergonomics compared to other brands I’ve tried; the grip is very comfortable. The paddle remains very light despite its 3-pieces concept.

Compared to the ITIWIT 900 carbon paddle, the previous generation, the blade’s surface has decreased, making it less demanding on the upper body. Its flex suits me; it’s a good compromise for UL and shorter races. The catch is also good. A detail for some, but I save 230g on my gear with my two 900 carbon Pro paddles, which means I can carry more food (or indulge in more satisfying snacks when morale is low).

And finally, what are your next adventures?

In 2024, my upcoming adventures will involve a mix of races and trips. In April, I’m planning a suptrips, possibly along the Danube. I’m also considering a Pau-Bayonne or a descent of the Adour. For the Pau-Bayonne, there’s a lot of preparation involved due to the risks of white water, and carrying bags always adds a bit of complexity. As you can see, I have ideas but no decisions yet.

In June, I will have to choose between a 4x4x48 in the Netherlands with my friends from the Sup 11 City Tour or a Longest Day in Belgium, which I find highly interesting in terms of format.

I’m eagerly anticipating July for the Trent 100 in the UK with Dominique Bianchi and Sébastien Saulenc. It’s going to be a celebration!! We’ve created a team for the occasion, the Blue Froggys. Additionally, I’ll be reconnecting with people I met during the Great Glenn in Scotland this year, making it a fantastic moment.

August brings THE challenge of the year for me, the crossing of the Baltic Sea between Estonia and Finland, from Tallinn to Helsinki. I’ll have the pleasure of doing it with my friend Ivari Järvekald. This is my 2024 goal, a 80km sea crossing without relay. We’re aiming for 15 hours, with the objective being to complete it, not to set a record. It also marks the cause I’ll be supporting this year. My donation in 2024 will go to Inkeri Pekkanen, who fights for the preservation of the Baltic Sea through cleaning and awareness actions (you can see her action by following the link). I’ve coordinated with the same organization as for the paddle raid in terms of safety, with a follow-up boat… and extensive communication with the Estonian and Finnish coast guards. I’m also fortunate to exchange ideas with Casper Steinfath, who, thanks to his experience in such challenges, provides advices on the before/during the crossing. It’s highly motivating to see individuals of this caliber enthusiastic about such projects and willing to help a stranger. I truly thank him for his kindness.

In September, there’s the SUP 11 City Tour, and the idea of a non-stop team race is seriously tempting me, especially after following all the French participants in 2023 who embarked on this adventure. Nothing is decided yet, but I’m in discussions with my connections, and we’ll make a decision next year, I think. It will also be an opportunity to meet another Itiwit ambassador on this race, Charlotte Dambrine, who is doing tremendous work around raising awareness about endometriosis.

I’ll probably finish the year with a winter suptrip, as it’s a bit of a tradition at the end of each SUP year.

So, a busy 2024, but already looking forward to 2025 with the SUP Twelve on the horizon and maybe a trip Spain along the Guadalquivir. We’ll see where the currents take me.

Thank you Hervé for all your detailed answers. All that’s left is to set off on an adventure!

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