Canoe Camping Gear Guide

Text by: Kelsey Begg

Adventure Medical Kits, Body Glove, Campsuds, Light My Fire, Oakley, PackTowl. Canoe Camping Gear Guide

Camping can be enjoyed at the lake, in the mountains, near the beach and even in your own backyard. For those seeking the most adventure, part of the experience is getting there so why not try canoe camping? If you’re thinking about planning a canoe camping trip we’ve got a gear guide just for you.


Initial Planning

Your planning should be the foundation of your canoe camping trip. All the logistics from weather reports to portage points should be taken into consideration during the planning process. These logistics will aid in the packing process and ensure that you are prepared for your canoe camping trip.

Duration & Weather: The duration of your trip as well as the weather forecast will impact the amount and type of personal gear you bring. Note that if there is rain in the forecast, you will want to pack some waterproof rain gear as well as a few extra, dry layers so you’re not stuck in soppy, wet clothes all day. The weather can impact your daily activities so stay informed. If you have a long paddle one day and there’s rain on the horizon plan accordingly.

The Route: If your route includes portaging, proper footwear will be necessary as well as the weight of your packs and the number of bags you have will need to be considered. You’ll have to carry your canoe as well as all your gear from one body of water to the next so if you can avoid making 5 trips there and back, do it.

Research some bail-out points so you are prepared should you need to take shelter for a few hours or for the night. Mother Nature isn’t one to be battled with, so if you ever have doubts about carrying on, choose the safer decision.

Menu & Itinerary: Having an idea of meals beforehand can ease the preparation process and result in more organized days and evenings during the trip especially if you have early starts. Check if any ingredients require can openers or specific condiments and sauces so you can ensure they make it into your gear pack and into your camp kitchen.

If there are some good fishing spots on the lake you are canoeing on, you may want to bring along your fishing gear and catch dinner one night. If this is the case, you’ll want to pack the appropriate fish hooks and fishing equipment.

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The Necessary Equipment

The Canoe: Your Vessel
Whether you’re venturing out in a personal canoe of your own or you are renting one, make sure the canoe is in working order. This means that the canoe will float, be balanced and won’t take on any water throughout the day.

While inspecting your canoe, check the seats are stable and safe. In most canoes, the seat will be a thin wood or plastic piece that stretches from one side of the vessel to the other. They generally aren’t the most comfortable seats but they aren’t meant to be cozy lazy boys or else you’d be asleep halfway through the paddle!

The Paddles: Your Motor
In order to operate the canoe, you guessed it, you need paddles. Ideally two at least, although if you’re experienced enough, you could pull off paddling a canoe alone with one canoe paddle if you absolutely need to.

Generally there are two to three people in a canoe although depending on the size, you could fit a family of five (mom, dad, Tim, Beth & Johnny) if you really wanted to. There will often only be two paddlers in a canoe, one in the front and one in the rear but in the case that there are more people you can use more paddles. The idea is to have the same amount of paddlers and power on both sizes of the vessel so if you are five people, it’s best that only four do the paddling.

The Life Jacket: You Personal Flotation Device
Once in the canoe, you should wear a life jacket at all times. Yes they often make nice bum cushions but they are meant for saving your life, not keeping your bum cushy so make sure you put it on. It’s important that you not only wear your life jacket, but that you are wearing it properly. There are a variety of styles and some can be quite confusing with straps and buckles coming out from everywhere so if you’re unsure, ask someone.


Personal Pack

Your personal pack will carry your personal items including your tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mattress. You want to make sure you have compression sacks if needed and reasonably sized gear so everything fits in your pack and you don’t need a rubber dinghy towing behind you with the rest of your gear.

*If you haven’t got a tent or sleeping bag and aren’t sure what kind to buy, check out our how to choose a sleeping bag for camping guide and our how to pick the right tent guide.

A 40L-50L pack should work fine although if your sleeping equipment and tent are of a larger size, a larger pack may be necessary. Keep in mind that the number of days you plan to camp for will influence the number of garments you bring. This list is made for around a 5 or 6 day canoe camping trip.

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Personal items that should be included in your personal pack:

1-2 swimsuits – You will have a dry option should one be wet from the day before. panties/boxers, socks and bras – One pair of panties/boxers per day, one pair of socks per day and one bra for every second day. (You can throw in an additional 1 or 2 pairs of warm cozy socks to wear for bed if you find you often get cold at night.) 2-3 t-shirts & tank tops – You don’t need one for every day because if a shirt isn’t overly dirty or damp it can be worn for a second time. If you have any damp clothing from the day of traveling, leave it out so it can be dried before being crammed back into your pack. 2 pairs of shorts & quick drying pants – Bring along two pairs so you always have a dry option when one pair is wet or damp. 1 lightweight long sleeve shirt – A lightweight long sleeve shirt can be worn on warmer nights to fend off the bugs buzzing about. 1 insulating sweater – On colder night or mornings, this can be thrown on over top of your long sleeve shirt for added warmth. rain gear – Waterproof pants and a waterproof jacket that are breathable and can be worn comfortably while canoeing, portaging or hanging out at camp 1 sunhat or toque – A sunhat will keep the sun off your face and neck when you’re out on the water. If the weather is colder, a toque can be worn to keep your ears and head warm when the temperature drops at nigh tor for early mornings. quick drying towel – Quick drying towel like PackTowl products for drying yourself after a swim or a sudden rain shower. toiletries – Toothbrush, biodegradable toothpaste, deodorant, medications, hairbrush or any other personal products you use on a daily basis. lip balm, sunscreen, after-sun care & sunglasses – Protection from the sun so you don’t burn to a crisp out on the lake and can’t carry your pack on your back. fully charged headlamp & spare batteries if needed – Flashlights are handy but headlamps are hands-free and even more convenient when cooking or romping about in the woods. Proper footwear – A pair of waterproof shoes for portaging and a pair of closed toe hiking shoes if needed during the trip. gloves or mittens – If you’re canoe camping trip is planned in the colder months, bring along a warm pair of gloves or mittens for paddling in or for hanging out around camp in. fully charged mobile phone & camera – Snap some photos of your trip so you can share the experience with your friends and family back home. Not all canoe camping destinations will have phone reception so research that beforehand to ensure that you have a means of communication should you encounter an emergency.

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Gear/Equipment Pack

If you have a larger sized personal pack and your canoe camping trip isn’t much more than a few days, you may be able to fit some of the camping equipment into your personal pack as well. In a case that your personal pack is already jam-packed, an additional pack for your equipment would be necessary. If you are sharing supplies with a friend or partner, the camping equipment can be split into two packs so that the weight is shared or you can take turns carrying the equipment pack.

Camping equipment that should be included in your equipment pack:

cookware – This includes all of your cooking dishes and cooking utensils: plates, cups/mugs, bowls, pots, pans, cutting board, flipper/spatula, serving spoon, cutting knife, forks, spoons & knives. If you are two, you each could carry your own dishes and cutlery and split the leftover items in order to share the weight. cooking stove and fuel – Ideally you’ll want a small, one canister stove that is lighter weight and can fit into a backpack. Not the large Coleman stove you drag along for car camping excursions. washing supplies – Bring along some Campsuds biodegradable washing soap for your dishes and your body should you decide to freshen up. A small quick drying tea towel to be used for drying your dishes and can be hung out to dry after meals. duct tape & garbage bags – Because it can repair pretty much everything but a fire that won’t start and garbage bags because you must pack out all that you pack in. fire starting equipment – Waterproof matches or a lighter in a waterproof case will be ready to use when needed. You can also bring along some fire starting accessories whether they be something like the Light My Fire products or homemade with dryer lint, a toilet paper roll and some candle wax. shelter equipment – Whether there’s rain in the forecast or not, pack along a tarp and some rope so you can produce a shelter from the sun or the rain and can even produce a clothes line to dry damp gear. toilet paper & shovel – When nature calls, you dig an 8″ deep hole, do your business and bury it. Make sure that you complete personal business at a safe and sanitary distance from camp. Also, to keep your toilet paper from getting damp and wet during the voyage, keep it in an air tight Ziplock bag. small hatchet or saw – Should you need to cut some already fallen wood (do not go and cut trees in the woods) you are equipped! If you plan to make a fire to roast marshmallows, make sure you check for any fire restrictions before heading out.

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Other important gear to keep in your equipment pack includes a fully stocked first aid kit and a water treatment kit or water filter. Should you run out of your own water supply, some locations will have fresh, flowing water which is safe to use. If ever you are unsure, don’t take chances, use a water filter. Getting sick halfway through a canoe camping trip is not only inconvenient but can be potentially dangerous if serious enough.


Accessible Gear In The Canoe

While you’re canoeing, there are a few things that you will need periodically so they should be in an easily accessible location whether it be a smaller day-pack at your feet or a fanny back around your waist. These particular items include:

water bottle compass or GPS map bug spray waterproof bags/dry sacks and waterproof electronic cases

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Water Safety Equipment

Beofre you venture out on your canoe trip there are a few important safety tools that should be in the canoe at all times. These safety tools, although not needed often, are extremely important should an emergency arise.

a bailer or a bilge pump and a sponge; These particular tools are essential and will be needed should your vessel start to take on water (this doesn’t doesn’t happen often but should the problem arise, you will be prepared. A bailer can be as simple as an old 4 gallon milk jug with the top cut off. Whatever you choose, it must be able to scoop water out of the bottom of the vessel and throw it back into the lake when needed.

floating throw line with a throw bag: This is a safety tool that can be used to tow a canoe in distress to safety. Generally the throw sack is full of rope and is thrown to another boat or person. (Having the rope rolled up in a sack makes it easier and a more accurate throw than just a bundle of unraveling rope.) The other end of the rope (that was initially unraveled from the rope within the throw sack) is held by someone in the saving boat or vice versa. If you throw the throw bag without holding one end yourself, well it’s obviously a bit useless… so hold on, don’t just throw your throw sack away.

spare paddle and a spare life jacket: In the event that a paddle be dropped and float away or for whatever reason, an additional life jacket be needed, you have the gear and equipment in your canoe. It’s better to be safe than sorry so ensure you’ve got all the appropriate gear with you in the canoe.


It Isn’t A Fashion Show Out There

When you are packing your gear for your trip make sure that your packs are not so heavy that the canoe is going to sink. Pack smart and pack for the wilderness. You aren’t going to need any bedazzled, denim jeans and it is possible to survive without a pillow for a few nights. In saying that, if you really need a pillow for sleeping, you can always stuff a bunch of your clothes inside of your sweater and create one.

You also want to keep in mind while you’re packing that everything you have you may have to carry at some point whether it be to portage or to get from the lake shore to your camp. There is a limit with how much you can carry comfortably so be aware of that so that you don’t end up with a back problem by the end of the trip.

When you’re packing your gear into the canoe, ensure that you are distributing the weight evenly within the vessel. Generally canoes aren’t wide enough to over pack one side but it is always a good idea to be conscious of that.


Let The Adventure Begin!

The canoe is packed, life jackets are secured safely and paddles are in hand; let the adventure begin! Get the most out of the last of summer and enjoy a delightful canoe camping trip somewhere new.

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