Raised in Toronto, Bruce ditched a routine life upon graduating from Engineering Physics. In the decades since, he’s travelled to 80 countries and amassed over 2,000 expedition days – crossing Arabia by camel, traversing the Caucasus by horse, and descending the Blue Nile Gorge by raft.
A veteran of 18 guiding seasons on Canada’s northern rivers, Bruce’s focus (and joy) remains human-powered journeys through remote wilderness regions, often with his young family in tow. He’s currently pushing limits of expedition paddleboarding, and recently rounded Cape Scott with more ambitious plans in sight. Lots of long canoe expeditions with family are part of his future plans too.
A former columnist for The Globe and Mail, and author of three bestselling books, Kirkby’s photography has appeared in the New York Times, Outside magazine and Canadian Geographic. He makes his home in Kimberley, BC.
“My beloved MEC softshell pants are now held together by thread and duct tape, but can still be found on every adventure.”
Get to know Bruce
What was a defining moment for you?
There are many: spending every penny I had on a mountain skills semester after quitting my first and only job; earning a spot on a Canadian Everest expedition, climbing Denali with friends, completing a 67-day circumnavigation of the BC southern coast range by sea kayak, foot and raft.
But the biggest of all: landing a job guiding rafts on the Yukon’s Tatshenshini/Alsek. I fell in love with that wilderness, an experience that changed my life. I returned to the Yukon to guide on norther rivers for 20+ consecutive summers, and that wild landscape, and the friendships I forged there, shaped me like no other.
What keeps you humble?
My kids. They’re not impressed by big expeditions – mine or theirs. They figure everyone goes on a 30-day canoe trip each summer. What matters to them are the important things in life: time, love, attention and Super Mario Bros skills.
What does being rich mean to you? Richness is time and health – period. You can’t save those things up, so how you choose to spend these precious commodities is what defines our lives. Nothing else comes close.
What’s your next big goal?
Oh, I have one alright! But the mission remains top secret. I can say that it has floated through my dreams (and occasionally nightmares) for five years. I’ve trained and prepared and watched and waited, and inched steadily closer. It has taught me patience. I have never worked towards an expeditionary goal longer. And when the stars align, and the time is right…
What’s your longest lasting piece of gear?
An MEC 3-season sleeping bag I bought before a trip to Pakistan in 1990 endured more than twenty years of guiding. By the time it was finally retired, the stuffing was as flat as a cardboard box. And the sun-bleached exterior bore melted scars where it had been hung too close to a fire. I got my money’s worth outta that one.
What’s your favourite part of journeys?
Setting off into an unknown and unfamiliar landscape with just a map, and the equipment to survive whatever we find (canoe, tent, sleeping bags, food, etc). Such self-reliance brings a deep sense of satisfaction.
On family journeys, we all sleep together – myself, my wife and our two boys – lined up in a four-person dome tent. The boys have their stuffies, and after we read their bedtime stories and they’ve drifted off, Christine and I celebrate the end of the day with a nip of scotch, as we listen to waves lap on the shore and the occasional heartbreakingly lonesome call of a loon. I still sleep as well in a tent as I do I in my own bed. In fact, often better – with cool air on my cheeks, firm ground underneath, and the soft scent of pine needles.
What’s your number one outdoor tip?
Don’t rush. The greatest rewards of nature comes from simply spending time in it. So pause on your hikes. Don’t race to the summit, then back down again. Schedule layover days on canoe trips. Linger by the shore and listen to the frogs. Watch the interplay of light and leaves in the wind. Much of modern life is a rush – give yourself the gift of slowing down outside. You never know what you’ll discover.
Any expedition hacks?
Always eat your best food first. This is counter intuitive. The tendency is to save the very best food for later in the trip, when you’ll need a pick-me-up. But instead, think of it this way: on a ten-day trip, if you eat your best meal on day 1, then again on day 2, then on day 3… you end up eating the very best food in your pack ten days in a row. If you save the best meal for the end, it’ll probably have gone bad by that point (because the best meals usually have a fresh ingredients) or you’ll finish the trip early and never eat it. Trust me on this: eat your best food first. It’s a game changer!
Bruce’s MEC gear picks
- MEC Centarus -9 Sleeping Bag: These bags are just so darn versatile. On cool nights they’re warm and snuggly, and on the hottest nights, they feel breezy and good. I love them, and have used them for decades of rafting, sea kayaking, paddle boarding and car camping expeditions. Everyone in my family has one.
- MEC Synergy Jacket: I’ve taken the Synergy skiing in Chile, hiking in Ireland, on west coast sea kayak trips, and mountaineering in the Rockies.
- MSR Dragonfly Stove: The Dragonfly is a reliable, unbreakable workhorse. They last forever, are easy to repair if anything goes wrong, and I trust them in every situation, from winter mountaineering to summer beach trips.