Canoe Camping Tips for Beginners

What to Bring

You can use essentially the same gear on a canoe camping trip that you would use on a backpacking trek, with two important differences. The good news is since you can carry more weight in a canoe, you can splurge on meals and luxuries. The bad news is everything has to be protected in case it gets wet.

Let's start with water protection. Even if you are supremely confident you won't tip your canoe, you're still going to get some water in the craft when you get in and from the paddles, so everything must be waterproofed.

Most outdoors retailers sell dry bags in various types and sizes to store critical gear such as your sleeping bag and extra clothes. Some dry bags have shoulder straps for easier carrying, and others are clear to make it easier to find what's inside.

Some people like to keep valuables such as wallets, cell phones, and important papers such a camping permits in a sealable plastic bag inside a dry bag for double protection.

Other options for waterproofing gear are resealable plastic containers or empty five-gallon cans with screw-on lids that you find at home-repair stores. These are great to use for community gear, such as cooking stoves, pots, utensils and fuel.

More: 12 Waterfront Campgrounds

Some other necessities for canoe camping:

  • A folding canoe seat for back support in the boat.
  • Fingerless gloves to help prevent blisters on your hands.
  • Water shoes with hard soles, for launching and landing. These are much better than sandals or flip-flops, especially if you'll be on rocky shores or portage is required.
  • A hat and sunglasses with a floating strap. You're not likely to find much shade on the water.
  • Warm clothes for camp, including camp shoes.
  • A small dry sack to keep items such as sunscreen, a water bottle, and a map or GPS device within reach while you're paddling.
  • A properly fitting personal flotation device.

And here are some "luxuries" to consider bringing to make the trip more enjoyable:

  • A camp chair and folding table.
  • A folding cot for sleeping.
  • Fishing gear.
  • A daypack for excursions off the water.
  • A cooler for your food.

As far as meals go, one recommendation is to pack and seal each meal individually, and mark it clearly on the outside. That way you don't have to open and search through several containers to find the sauce to go with that night's pasta.

More: Kayak Camping Tips

On the Water

OK, everything is packed, and it's time to load up and shove off.

When loading gear in your canoe, you'll want to place the large, heavy items in the middle and balance the weight to avoid tipping. Ideally the gear should rise no higher than the gunwales of the canoe to maximize stability and maneuverability. A higher profile will increase the chances of being blown off course in the event of high winds.

Be sure to tie down your gear, either with a tarp, bungee cords or by criss-crossing a rope, to ensure everything is secure. This will prevent your gear from shifting around in the canoe, and if your canoe tips, you don't want your tent or food at the bottom of the lake or river.

Now you're ready for canoe camping. Shove off, hop in and enjoy a unique outdoor adventure.

More: Plan the Camping Trip of Your Life

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About the Author

Chuck Scott

Chuck Scott is a freelance editor and writer with 30 years of experience in sports journalism. He is also an avid backpacker and camper, and contributor to
Chuck Scott is a freelance editor and writer with 30 years of experience in sports journalism. He is also an avid backpacker and camper, and contributor to

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