The weather forecast is good and you’re looking for a fun activity that you can enjoy with the family, friends or solo. Canoe camping is one of the most fun excursions you can take. You have probably been floating in a canoe and had a blast, right? You probably love pulling out your tent and sleeping bag to go camping, right? Why not combine the two?
Combining these two activities can add some complications. The different gear that you bring, keeping it dry, and finding the right places to set up camp, all add challenges that you would not have with camping or paddling individually.
There are several questions to ask yourself for this venture:
- Will you travel alone or with a group?
- How much gear will you have?
- How many days will you camp?
- How rough will the water be?
I personally love canoe camping but have made some missteps over the years. What is intended to be a laid-back trip can turn stressful or even dangerous if you are not prepared.
In this article, I will cover the things you can do to ensure you have a great time on your next canoe camping trip.
Canoe Camping or Kayak Camping?
If you don’t already have a canoe or kayak, one of the biggest decisions you will need to make is which one you’ll choose to take on your camping trip.
Kayaks can have an open or a closed design. You sit low in the kayak and use a paddle with blades on both ends. Canoes are always an open design, and you sit on a higher seat with a standard paddle.
Canoes are more stable and spacious, so moving around is much easier. This makes canoes ideal for children and dogs, plus you have more storage space. Unfortunately, everything is exposed so it is more prone to getting wet.
Kayaks protect your gear using enclosed compartments. They are more restrictive for movement, but they handle rough water better and are easier to maneuver. This means dry gear and less chance of being capsized.
If you are planning a camping trip as a family, you will need to go for a family sized canoe if you all want to be in the same vessel. Some families prefer to paddle in 2 kayaks that can each carry 2 people.
I personally prefer the space that I get from a canoe. I like to be able to move around or stand up to scout whitewater. However, in rougher water I am glad to have the kayak. Check out our in-depth article if you’d like more info on the pros and cons of canoes and kayaks. This will help you to make an informed decision.
Best Canoe for Camping
There are several variables to consider when selecting a canoe for camping. The depth, width, length, and materials will all affect your canoes ability to provide a positive camping experience. Your type/length of trip and number of people will all affect your decision. Take the time to do your research and find the best fit for your needs, here’s a few pointers.
For canoe camping, you will want to find a canoe that can handle whitewater but is also deep enough to store plenty of gear. Generally, the categories you will find in canoes are touring, recreational, multi-purpose, and river models. Shorter canoes will handle rough water better, and wide ones make good fishing canoes , as casting is more stable. Bear in mind though that widers canoes are less maneuverable.
The materials used to make your canoe will affect the weight, strength, durability, maneuverability, and price. In the past, the two main materials used were aluminum and fiberglass. However, we now also have stronger Kevlar canoes and durable Royalex canoes. These newer materials offer advantages, but are generally more expensive.
There are a few other design elements that can affect your canoe’s performance. The hull shape and water entry line will affect handling as will the rocker or upward curve from the front end. Side flares can affect how much weight you can take and can also affect your ability to fish.
As for specific models, the Sun Dolphin Mackinaw 15.6 is ideal for taking the family. It can handle plenty of weight while still maneuvering just fine. The Old Town Discovery 133 is versatile and stable. The Sun Dolphin Scout is a hybrid that can be paddled but is classed as a square stern canoe which can be fitted with a motor if required.
Best Kayak for Camping
When selecting a kayak for camping, there are several different types of kayaks to consider. Whitewater kayaks are designed for rough water, while recreational kayaks are made for lakes and ponds. Touring kayaks are designed for long distances, while fishing kayaks are more stable for casting.
There are modular kayaks that break down into pieces, folding kayaks that fit in a backpack, and inflatable kayaks that can be deflated for storage. There are even sit-on-top kayaks for beginners to get more comfortable with the process of kayaking. For camping, recreational and touring models work best.
As is with canoes, the dimensions of your kayak affect several factors. Longer kayaks are faster and keep a straighter line, while shorter ones are more maneuverable. Wide kayaks are more stable, and deep kayaks have more storage space.
Again, the materials used in your kayak’s construction will affect weight, strength, durability, cost, and maneuverability. Plastic kayaks are inexpensive and functional, while inflatable kayaks are made from soft shell material and composite kayaks are lighter.
There are additional design features that affect the performance of your kayak. Flat hulls are more stable and better for straight tracking, so they are ideal for camping. Large cockpits are better for fishing and easier to enter and exit. Foot pegs give you more paddling leverage, and hatches give you more watertight storage. Skegs work like rudders and help with straight tracking.
For specific models, the Wilderness Systems Tsunami 125 has plenty of storage space for camping and is perfectly designed for touring.
The BKC TK219 12.2′ Tandem Fishing Kayak is great for fishing and can hold two people.
Pre-Plan Your Canoe Camping Trip
Before you ever head out on a canoe/kayak camping trip, you should become comfortable with your boat. Take it out on stable water and be sure you are ready before you take it on rough water. It is also a good idea to load all your gear into your canoe or kayak and take it out on the water in advance. This will let you get used to the weight before your trip.
If there are a few of you in the boat, you should practice together before your trip to gain confidence in your movements in and around the boat. Take turns to steer and paddle, get familiar with how the boat handles and turns. Stand up and try to move around the boat. This is great preparation and great fun prior to your trip.
There are certain precautions that you should always take before and during your canoe/kayak camping trip. As is with any excursion into the wilderness, you should have at least one other person (not going with you) that knows the route you will be taking and when you should be home. This could be a friend, family member, or possibly the local forest ranger.
Balance Your Canoe / Kayak
The canoe should be balanced before you take it out on the water. The weight of your gear will shift as you paddle, so it’s a good idea to adjust the balance periodically during your trip and always make sure that it is safe before heading out onto the water.
You’ll also want to check for any leaks in the hull or decking.
Carefully Choose Your Destination
As a beginner, you should be conservative and deliberate when planning your first trip. You should choose a destination that is close to your home and not far from shore. Your local canoeing community can provide you with feedback on various destinations based on the difficulty level, length of trip, or other factors.
Keep your driving distance reasonable so you are not tired when you get to your location.
Know Your Destination
If you are heading for a campsite you will want to know what amenities are available at your chosen spot so make sure you check ahead. If like me, you like to go completely off-grid, you need to be more stringent with planning. Ideally, you should know the destination well for your first trip and minimize any surprises.
One variable you must consider is the entry and exit point for your canoe or kayak. If you are on a fast-moving river, you will need a way to get back to your vehicle at the end of your trip. Plan out a quiet, secluded location for your campsite.
Plan Your Route
Pick a route with calm waters so you are not stressed out at the end of the day. If you’re paddling with a young family, hugging the shoreline with your canoe will keep confidence high and lower any anxiety.
If you are fishing, look at the local fishing reports. These will tell you the best spots to cast a line, and the species of fish that are biting. Be sure you check local regulations and purchase required fishing licenses and stamps.
Check The Weather Forecast
Make sure the forecast has clear skies for your planned dates and stick to just one or two nights on your first trip. Allow for the chaos factor and plan for the worst as getting caught in wet conditions with no protection can ruin your trip.
Canoe Camping Gear
PFD’s – Life vests are needed for this kind of trip, but you should be selective about the model. The old bulky orange vests are a far cry from the ideal vest for your trip. There are several models that are form-fitting, light, and allow plenty of arm and head movement. These are ideal for a canoe or kayak camping trip.
Life jackets are an absolute must, and they should be worn at all times while you are on the water. Hypothermia can become a life-threatening issue in temperatures 60F or lower. You should have several tools to start a fire in case you need to warm up and dry off quickly. Read up on hypothermia and know the symptoms so you can treat yourself accordingly.
First Aid Kit: Do not make the mistake of thinking that you do not need a first aid kit! It’s Murphy’s law that you’re bound to need one if you don’t take one.
Satellite phone: You can buy one but we recommend you rent one of these for your first trip. Learn how to use it in the dark!
Headtorch: Invaluable if you have an emergency at night and need your hands free (take extra batteries)
Sun Block: Even on days with intermittent cloud cover, you’d be surprised how easily you can catch the sun when you’re exposed for a long time.
Spray Skirt: For kayak camping, a spray skirt is a good idea. This will keep water out of your kayak if you hit rough water.
Roof rack: For transporting your canoe or kayak, a roof rack on your vehicle will keep it from scratching the paint. It will also make the craft more secure on your drive to the water.
Dry Bag: Pick up some dry bags for your gear. If you want everything to be in good shape when you get to your site, these are a must.
Trolley: You can also purchase a trolley to transport your craft from your vehicle to the water. This will conserve energy and keep you from potentially dropping your craft.
Tents: Obviously tent choice is dependant on the number of campers but if you’re a family we recommend the Coleman Red Canyon Tent.
If you’re a couple we recommend the Coleman Sundome Tent
If you’re a solo camper we recommend the Coleman Hooligan Tent.
Sleeping bags: The North Face Dolomite Sleeping Bag is a good choice for campers who need to stay warm and dry.
Camping stove: This one will depend on your cooking needs but we recommend something like the Coleman Stove because it’s compact, lightweight and easy to use.
What to Wear While Canoeing?
Footwear is one of the first things people are most concerned about for canoeing. We recommend wearing good wet shoes, plus a change of shoes for dry land. The wet shoes will keep your feet warmer if wet, than normal shoes.
The weather and time of year will dictate your clothing choice, but regardless we recommend that you go canoeing or kayaking in lightweight clothes as these will dry quickly:
- Quick-drying light long sleeve top (base layer)
- Quick-drying light long pants
For colder months include:
- Mid layer for insulation
- Fleece (outer layer)
- Multiple pairs of socks
Remember that temperatures drop considerably at night and feeling cold can ruin your trip. Pack accordingly.
Tips for Canoe Camping and Kayak Camping
Fishing is a great idea on these types of trips for a few reasons. Not only is it fun and a great way to pass some time, but it also can provide a food source. This means less food that you must carry and pack in your craft. It reduces weight and will give you a nice sense of accomplishment when you roast your fish over the fire.
A clamp-on rod holder is a good idea.
Keep a spare paddle secured in your craft with Velcro or cordage in case you capsize and lose your primary paddle.
As a beginner, consider wearing gloves and knee pads. This will prevent the blisters and scrapes you could get. Eventually, your skin will toughen up to handle these injuries.
Be sure your craft has a bowline, so you can position it properly and secure it to the shore.
If you capsize near the shore, grab your paddles and move to the bank to dump any water in your craft. When further from the shore, swim under the canoe and push up to flip it over. If you have a partner, have one person hold the craft while the other climbs back in. Move to the shore to expell any water out of the craft. If there is another craft, you can pull the capsized boat onto the center of the other craft, flip it, and then place it back in the water.
Bring an umbrella. Umbrellas are perfect to protect you from both sun and rain. Just attach an umbrella holder to the side of your craft.
Use duct tape for insect control. Biting insects like deer flies and horse flies are attracted to the shine of sweat or water on your skin. By folding a loop of duct tape sticky side out and placing it on your hat, you will attract the flies and they will get stuck to the tape.
If you bring anything breakable, attach it to the underside of the seats in your craft. This is by far the safest spot in the boat. Whether you have eggs or a set of reading glasses, they will make it to your destination just fine.
Bring larger bags for your tent. The bag that comes from the factory always requires a tight roll on your tent to get it to squeeze inside. To reduce the time and effort you put into packing up camp, buy a larger bag so you can quickly and easily stuff the whole thing inside. Obviously not so much bigger that it’s 4 times the size!
Checklist for Canoe Camping / Kayak Camping
To pack for your canoe/kayak camping trip, you will need to get a list together. Look at the amount of storage space you have in your kayak, and plan accordingly. Consider the weather you expect and the amount of time you will be spending on this trip. Below is a standard list to get you started:
- Canoe or kayak
- Repair kit
- Life jacket
- Spray skirt
- Dry bags
- Maps (weather sealed)
- Weather radio
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Water and filter/iodine tablets
- Toilet paper!!
- Firestarters or camp stove and fuel
- Cooking gear
- Clothes and towels
- Hatchet or saw
- Cordage and bungee cords
- Phone and spare battery
- Bug spray
- Rescue signaling gear
- Emergency blanket
- Duct tape
- Fishing gear (if desired)
3 Top Canoe Camping Destinations
Canoe camping is quickly becoming one of the most popular activities for outdoor enthusiasts. It’s not just about the beauty of nature, but also the adrenaline rush you get from paddling your canoe to a secluded spot and pitching your tent in an untouched environment.
What better place to go than on one of these top 4 canoe camping spots?
1. Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario
This remote park is filled with lakes and rivers that make for a great canoeing experience. You’ll feel like you’re the only person around as you paddle along surrounded by untouched nature. The best time to go? Make sure it’s between mid-June and September when everything is in full bloom!
Best part: Quetico has over 200 islands which are perfect spots to set up camp on.
Concerns: It can get really hot during summer so be prepared with lots of water (and sunscreen). Mosquitoes can also be an issue so be sure to pack the repellant.
2. Boundary Waters Canoe Area
The Boundary Waters is one of the most well-known canoeing spots in America and for good reason. It’s filled with wildlife like moose, bears, wolves, eagles and more. There are many different routes to take depending on your skill level or what you’re looking for – there’s truly something here for everyone!
Best part: The fully equipped campsites make it easy to set up camp whenever you feel like taking a break from paddling (and they have bear lockers!). This park has over 1500 lakes so there’s plenty of choice, it’d be hard to get bored while canoe camping here.
Concerns: Be careful not to venture too far away from Route AT which can quickly turn into difficult terrain.
If you want breathtaking scenery along with lots of wildlife opportunities then:
3. Kootenai National Forest, Montana
The Boundary Waters is one of the most well-known canoeing spots in America and for good reason. It’s filled with wildlife like moose, bears, wolves, eagles and This national park is located in North Idaho and offers some of the most spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains. There are a number of canoe camping destinations available but be sure to get permits at Lolo Pass before setting off!
Best part: This area provides excellent opportunities for fishing or hunting as well as biking along the trails (bikes can be rented from local outfitters).
Be aware that there’s no cell phone service here so it pays to plan ahead by bringing a satellite phone
As you can see, there is much more involved in a canoe or kayak camping trip than there is in a normal camping trip. However, you can also have much more fun with your adventure. You get to navigate a gorgeous stretch of water, but also get to sit around the campfire and sleep under the stars.
In order to ensure you enjoy your canoe camping trip, it is vital that you take some much-needed steps in advance. When purchasing a craft and accessories, be sure you purchase the products that will best fit your needs. Consider the type of water you will traverse, the amount of time you will spend on your trips, and your comfort level on the water.
Pack appropriately and take all needed precautions so you can have a safe trip. A canoe or kayak camping trip can be a greatly enjoyable experience, but only if you make it through safely. Start planning today, and go get your paddles wet.