Canoe camping, expedition canoeing, or touring tripping is a combination of camping and canoeing wherein canoe campers carry their essential gear and equipment to travel and camp via a canoe.
Native Americans used canoes for transportation because it is the most effective way to travel through the countless small waterways in the northern wilderness. Canoes are relatively easy to carry, fast, and can go through a wide variety of waterways while carrying large loads.
Canoe camping is one of the oldest styles of transport, travel, and exploration to wild destinations in the United States. While modern canoes look different from what Native Americans used, they are still the best vessel to use for exploring beautiful places throughout the country.
If you are interested in canoe camping and are not really sure how it works, we are going to outline everything you need to know to be ready to hit the water and get paddling.
There are a lot of important things that you need to bring when you’re going camping. Because of that, packing can get a bit overwhelming. We listed all the camping items you’ll need for the great outdoors to help you make sure that you have everything that you need for your camping trip.
Planning and Preparation
The key to a successful camping trip is meticulous planning and plenty of preparation. This is even more important if you’re doing an activity for the first time, like canoe camping.
Plan your trip
If it is your first time out in a canoe, choose a nearby lake or reservoir and plan just a one-or-two-night trip. Paddling still water will help you easily travel as you do not need any advanced skills for it.
If you paddle anywhere with a current, you should have enough knowledge and more advanced skills to steer your boat and be competent enough to avoid capsizing it.
Use waterway maps and a compass to navigate and avoid being stranded or lost somewhere in the wilderness. It is also best not to travel alone, so plan your very first trip with a family member or friend, or join a group of experienced canoeists and learn from them to enhance your skills and travel safely.
Remember to take a compass and a hardcopy map with you as extreme temperatures may quickly drain batteries and there is rarely any cellphone reception in the wilderness. Thus, having a basic understanding of orienteering and knowing how a compass and map work can get you to your destination and back easily.
When planning your trip, do not forget to check the weather forecast, the season, and other natural elements that you may encounter at that location. The wind plays a crucial role in any water trip as it can exhaust paddlers easily and is another factor in plummeting temperatures.
Sun exposure, is yet another factor you have to consider. Thus, you have to check the weather forecast for that location and make sure you pack all the necessary gear.
To make your trip safer and easier, you need to carefully balance the weight of your gear on the canoe since a badly balanced canoe will make it difficult to steer and much more likely to tip over. Thus, do not bring unnecessary items to avoid weighing down the boat.
Prepare for your trip by paddling your canoe on flatwater several days before your trip. In this way, you’ll learn how to steer effectively, move around safely in the canoe, practice your paddling position, assess situations, and think of solutions for problems that may arise.
Canoe camping is a great activity to do on the weekends, but lakes and rivers can be dangerous if you are unprepared. So, make sure you wear your PFD or life jacket, do not paddle intoxicated, and do not do any unnecessary thing that can put your or others’ lives at risk. Always stick to your plan, know where you are headed, and stay safe.
Depending on your desire to connect with nature, camping exists in multiple forms, namely backcountry and frontcountry camping. So what’s the difference between backcountry and frontcountry camping, and why pick one over the other? What gear should we consider for each type? Read our article to find out more.
What gear do I need for a canoe camping trip?
Here’s what you need to get started with your canoe camping trip:
These bags come in many sizes and can keep your essentials dry during your canoe camping trip.
While dry sacks are helpful in keeping your stuff dry, a large backpack can also help carry all those dry sacks. Furthermore, canvas backpacks can store other equipment that doesn’t need to stay dry, like your utensils, pots, pans, etc.
Barrels, on the other hand, can also be waterproof and bear-proof. Plus, their large top openings will make it easier for you to find things inside. Barrels can be used as storage for food and gear. You can also store your dry sacks inside to keep everything organized.
PFD/Life jacket /Other flotation devices
Choose an appropriate PFD depending on the location regulations.
Throw bag or throw line
This is used as a rescue device and to protect you and others in case of emergencies.
You need one paddle for each person paddling, plus one spare paddle.
Do not forget your printed maps and compass because, in case there is no cellphone reception, you’ll still be able to know where you are headed.
Paddle gloves (based on your personal preferences)
Gloves will protect your hands from the elements and provide you with extra grip while paddling.
This will make your canoe seat more comfortable, will help you paddle more easily, and will encourage a good paddling form.
Boat shoes or sandals
Choose quick-drying shoes with high-traction rubber, the ability to withstand almost anything, and enough sturdiness for a rugged trip.
Protect your skin from the harmful rays of the sun by applying sunscreen.
On short trips, you can easily get away with just a tarp and rope, but for longer trips, you need a more durable shelter.
Sleeping bag or pad
For a good night’s sleep, you can bring along your sleeping bag or pad.
A first-aid kit can help relieve pain, prevent the severity of injuries and wounds, and literally save a life, especially there is no hospital nearby.
Headlamp or lantern
You can bring both to use while canoeing and camping. Make sure they are lightweight but durable.
You will need a cooking stove and fuel canister or to cook over a fire. If it rains or if there is a fire ban, you will need a stove. You can also bring a small grill if you want to cook over the fire.
Personal mess kit and cooking utensils
Bring your pots, pans, spatula, spoons and forks, plates, bowls, a knife, and a fire glove to cook.
Water storage and purifier
Bring a water storage/water pump and aquatabs as a backup.
Meals and snacks
Bring fresh foods in a cooler so you can still eat well during your trip. Bring fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, and meats, but plan your menu and carry what you need to lighten the load.
- Base layer
- Mid-layer for extra insulation
- Windbreaker (if necessary)
- Dry camp/Hiking boots
Different Kinds of Canoe
Which kind of canoe should you go for?
These are fun and easy to paddle, making them suitable for flatwater paddling. They are also easy to control, stable, and tough to tip over. This type of canoe is ideal for fishing, photography, birding, and paddling in general.
These types of canoes are designed to handle everything from whitewater rivers to calm lakes because they generally offer great maneuverability and more capacity than canoes made for recreation. They are also high-volume and are made to handle extended trips and big gear loads.
These are specifically made for anyone who loves to defy the running rapids and overcome rivers. They are impact-resistant, abrasion-resistant, and feature high sides to deflect splashes. They also have lots of rocker from end to end to enhance maneuverability.
Select the Right Canoe
Single or double?
If you have a partner, children, dog, or anyone else who loves to go on canoe camping trips, you can choose a double-seater canoe. Although it may be unwieldy to navigate alone, it will allow you to bring more gear.
A single-seater canoe is designed for a light and fast paddler. Single canoes do not provide a lot of room for gear but are more maneuverable, affordable, and easier to drive.
These are classic, traditional, open-deck canoes and are versatile, durable, affordable, and ideal for slow-paced lakes or rivers. They are not designed for the rapids and can be challenging to transport.
The durability of this type of canoe depends on the material you pick. You can choose from various material constructions, such as fiberglass, poly, or wood, and opt for a square-sterned motor-mouth to make it easier to return upstream.
If you are planning to use a motor, check for captain licenses and make sure you are not in a non-motorized area.
These canoes are designed for serious canoeists. Closed-deck canoes will allow you to travel through more rugged water conditions due to their design that only leaves enough room for the paddler.
If you are going on a canoe camping trip with this type of canoe, you have to pack light as a closed-deck canoe requires minimal packing. However, it will allow you to access waterways easily.
Best Spots for Canoe Camping
If you’re interested in trying canoe camping, these are the locations that we recommend.
Everglades National Park, Florida
Canoeing in the Everglades will let you experience the beautiful details of the swamp. The Everglades provide a lot of routes that will take you to the National Park itself and the rivers nearby.
Additionally, the hidden orchids and rare bird species will make this an extra special experience. Keep in mind that you need special preparation and research if you want to camp in the Everglades.
The Boundary Waters, Minnesota
This is one of the best destinations for canoeing and sea-kayaking. Although you may not want to paddle away from the visible shoreline in a canoe as it gets more difficult to navigate, there are thousands of miles of beautiful cliffs and coves to explore in the area.
Green River, Utah
If you are not a fan of humidity, head out to Green River, Utah, and you will find multiple stretches of mild gradient twisting through the towering red stone cliffs of Labyrinth Canyon. There are also many western rivers that involve narrow channels and rocky rapids.
Plan a shuttle service and spend three or four nights in the high desert of Utah for an optimal experience.
The Ozarks, Missouri, Arkansan, Oklahoma & Kansas
The calm waters of Lake Ozark provide thousands of uncrowded forested shorelines for anyone to explore. The scenic waterway spreads across Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas and offers various tiny panfish, bass, and giant catfish for fishing.
Canoe camping will allow you to further explore the area. Although, you should take this trip in the spring to avoid the crowd and summer heat. You can also go in the fall to experience the beautiful, hardwood fall colors.
The first things that you need to do when you decide to go canoe camping is to practice canoeing in flatwater several days before your trip. You also have to learn how to navigate the water, check the weather forecast, and be knowledgeable of the rules and regulations and what to expect during the trip. Additionally, do your research and use this guide to help you prepare.
Canoe camping is an exciting variation of camping that you can do to keep your camping experiences varied and exciting. It will allow you to explore the water which you can’t typically do when you’re camping in the mountains. This activity may seem daunting at first, but who knows, you might find a new activity that you absolutely enjoy.