How do you feel about lakes? Rivers? Ponds? Heck, how about a bog? Do you like being outside? Sleeping under the stars with friends? Campfires, fireflies, sunsets, loons, backcountry meals, fresh air…and everything good? Canoe camping is what you are looking for and so much more.
Canoes are the ultimate vessel for adventure. They can take you on a relaxing, cup-filling day paddle at your local reservoir or into deep remote areas that challenge you physically and mentally. You can keep your packing list minimal and your portages light or you can fill your canoe to the brim with everything you’d need for a five-star meal and a good glamping adventure. No matter where your canoe camping takes you, here are some essentials to bring along.
Personal Flotation Devices. You need one. No questions asked. Not only are they the law in most places, where not having one could lead to fines and personal shame — but you can get yourself into some really hairy scenarios out on the water without having these along for the ride. A far cry from the bulky and bright orange life vests you might initially think of, PFDs are meant to be comfortable and easy to paddle and swim in. Go to your local gear shop, try some on, and find the best-fitting PFD for your future paddling endeavors.
Dry bags on dry bags on dry bags
Dry bags are your best friend on a paddling trip. To no surprise, they keep your gear dry, but they also can serve as some great organization and space-saving tools when getting your camping gear together. From 2L bags to hold your phone, headlamp, and car keys to a 90L dry backpack that fits the whole kit and kaboodle — you just can’t skimp on them.
Your dry bag can turn your bulky sleeping bag into a packable dream and can also keep you safe in the event of a soggy mishap on the water or a day full of downpours. Having access to dry and warm layers is also one of the most important factors in an emergency situation and dry bags are your #1 way of ensuring that. If you need more convincing, dry bags can be used to hang your food to keep away from the small (and big) critters, they can be used for garbage storage that won’t stink up everything else in your pack, or even as a pillow to keep you cozy. Get yourself a dry bag (or 10) and hit the water.
Outerwear for the elements
Weather has a way of throwing it all at you — unending rain, gusty winds, bone-chilling evenings, or scorching sun. You want to be paddling back up to the boat launch at the end of your trip with a full cup and nothing but smiles, good memories, and the exciting beginnings of plans for the next time you can get out on the water. Being prepared with what you bring and what you wear for your trip will be crucial in getting and keeping those smiles.
Nothing screams sun safety quite like hours and hours of floating on a sun-drenched lake. Having your hat and SPF on hand allows you to enjoy a beautiful day on the lake instead of counting down until you can run back home to your aloe and fan set on high. On the other end, wind, rain, and cold temperatures can hit at any moment during the paddling season. Appropriate rain gear (jacket and pants), can make long, drenched paddles or afternoons at the campsite comfortable and yes, even enjoyable!
The same goes for layers. Bringing more than you think you need is always better than not enough! Skip the cotton and break out your wool, fleece, and comfy cozies. If you have a day full of portages on your trip, consider having two sets of shoes: your tripping shoes and your campsite shoes. Footwear with good grip, support, and the ability to get wet will be your best bet during the day. Something light and easy to slip on and off will be perfect once you get to your campsite.
Long story short? Think about what will keep you comfortable AND safe when packing for your next canoe camping adventure.
Canoe camping isn’t about counting ounces or hitting that FKT. While packing efficiently for longer canoe trips can certainly save your shoulders and sanity on portages, the beauty of canoes is the flexibility in what you can bring along. Want to make a frittata over the fire for breakfast? Bring your cast iron. Want to have a luxurious campsite that might even give your apartment a run for its money? Bring that big tarp, your mood lighting, and camping chairs. Want enough firewood to last the night? Bring your hand saw and hatchet. Want to have a party with your friends? Bring your cooler, cocktail shaker, and speakers along.
Whatever your goals are for comfort when spending your time in the great outdoors, you can probably fit it in your canoe– just connect with your paddling partners before you hit the water so you don’t end up with four cast irons and no tarp.
Speaking of frittatas and other fireside culinary endeavors, canoe camping is a great way to test your cooking skills in the great outdoors. No dehydrated chili or salt-packed pasta dishes needed here. With the extra space that canoes offer, you can pack a cooler full of perishable food items–think sausages with caramelized onions, peppers, and goat cheese paired with a cold bubbly beverage. Yum. Bacon for breakfast? No problem. All your kitchen’s spices for a restaurant-worthy curry? Why not! Eggs for your perfectly cooked ramen? Heck yeah! Do you like your fresh-ground, barista-level cup o’ joe for the morning? Pack the hand grinder and press of your choice! Real (not micro-sized) cutting boards, spatulas, and knives are a heck of a lot more fun to work with than your ultra-light cooking set for your PCT thru-hike. Embrace the space and blow your friends away with your camp cooking skills. Please don’t forget the s’mores though.
Respect and Leave No Trace
Any venture into the outdoors is something to feel incredibly grateful for. These are public, often protected spaces that we get to recreate in. There are teams upon teams of people who work to keep these places beautiful for us and safe for our increasingly threatened ecosystems. As paddlers who get to enjoy these spaces, we should all strive to be contributing members of these teams.
Making sure our boats are clean when moving between watersheds, leaving no trace after our visits, and being respectful of our fellow recreators are all essential to us being able to continue to enjoy our beloved waterways. Pick up all your trash — I mean every granola wrapper or cigarette butt here. Don’t mess with your campsites — no it doesn’t need another firepit or 10 more trees cut down. Think about your neighbors — people aren’t heading out to the lake to hear your latest Spotify playlist, keep the noise to respectful levels. If we all bring gratitude and respect into these spaces, we will enjoy and love them for years to come. Do your part.
There’s a lot of fun to be had out there and everyone’s packing list will look a little different. If any questions pop up, call 888-547-4327 to hear what our skilled, gear-loving, canoe camping, experts have to say.