Canoe Trip Packing List
With paddling season upon us, I’ve starting reviewing my gear list and looking at items I might want to invest in for the coming months. It’s been nearly two years since I went on my first canoe trip and it hasn't taken long to accumulate supplies to make time in the wilderness more accessible. Before that first week I was extremely intimidated by the amount of gear and planning necessary to leave the car behind and replace it with a canoe, but with some advice from friends and a year of experience I've managed to sort out a system that works for me.
By having a master list of what to pack, a base of my own supplies, and a few good friends who are happy to lend me what I don’t have, it doesn’t take more that a couple days to plan an epic adventure on the water. I've found things in my parents garage, made smart purchases on items that were used or on-sale, and received some top notch Christmas and birthday presents, so it hasn't cost me a fortune either.
Here’s a list of what I bring on a typical weekend trip, how I've acquired it, and a few tips or possible alternatives if you've got more or less money to spare.
What I’ve found:
Matches and Lighters – My parent’s junk drawer in the kitchen was a good place to find these things.
Large Backpack - I inherited one from my brother years ago after he used it to backpack in Australia. It doesn’t fit me great for hiking but works well for canoe trips. I think it’s about 60L.
Food Storage - barrels work best, but I make do with 2 small coolers to transport our food. I usually label one as the “freezer” and put frozen things in it like smokies and perogies alongside the beer to keep them cold. The other one contains dry food and other items like apples that won’t go bad if they get a little warm. Throw a bungee cord around it and we're good to go. Also bring a rope to hoist them over a tree branch at night.
Kitchen Supplies – I have some old pots, pans, oven mitts, and utensils from college that I’ve designated for campfire use. If fire restrictions keep me from cooking over a fire I have an MSR kitchen kit that I got for my birthday this year. It runs $130 and includes a stove, pot, 2 bowls, 2 mugs, and 2 sporks which all pack together small. Fuel for a weekend is about $8 depending on the weather and meals we're planning.
Drinking Water - I received a water filter for Christmas this year which was a huge blessing! Now instead of hauling jugs of water or waiting forever to boil it, I have an MSR MiniWorks EX Waterfilter ($120). I screw it onto my wide-mouthed Nalgene, put the hose in the lake, and pump for clean, safe, great tasting water.
Map and Map Case – Depending where I’m off to I’ll either print something I can find online or pick one up from Eb’s Source for Adventure in Saskatoon or Churchill River Canoe Outfitters in Missinipe. I won a waterproof iPad case at the Whitewater Festival last summer and use it for my map instead. You can also laminate your map or use a ziplock bag.
Compass - Found this in my stocking this year - thanks Santa ;)
First Aid Kit – I pack a small first aid kit with items I have on hand. Things like bandaids, tape, gloves and a breathing mask for CPR, ibuprofen, pepto-bismol, a tensor bandage, and sanitizing wipes are typically included. You can also purchase pre-made kits, or search online for good items to include.
Whistle - you never know when you'll need to call for help. As a former lifeguard I had them laying around at home and keep one on my lifejacket and one on my bathroom kit (yes, there is a story there).
Bathroom Kit - Toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and, if necessary, tampons and some ziplock bags - pack out what you pack in 😶.
Toiletries - Comb, tweezers, nail clippers, toothbrush, toothpaste; I'm sure you have all of these things at home. Tweezers are especially necessary if you're out in tick territory but come in handy for slivers too.
Sun Protection - Hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, chap stick; heatstroke or sunburns are not fun things to have in the backcountry. Nothing fancy, just see what you can find around the house.
Quick-dry Towel - I also inherited this from my brother after his backpacking stint. Regular towels work fine if it's all you have, but these ones are nice as they pack small and don't take hours to dry.
Non-Cotton Clothing - It's okay to have a couple cotton items (especially underwear to sleep in), but they won't dry well when they get wet so synthetic or wool on the water is the way to go. Most of my items I've collected from playing sports over the years. I like to pack lots of layers because I’m often cold in the evenings and mornings. Things like yoga pants, under armour long sleeves, athletic tanks, running shorts, sports bras, a swim suit, loose-fitting quick-dry pants, and fleece sweaters make my list. Usually one or 2 of each depending on the length of the trip and expected weather.
What I borrow:
Canoe, Lifejackets, Paddles, Bailer, Painter Lines, and Throw Rope – I used to work at a summer camp and still have a good relationship with the director there, so if it works with their schedule, I’m able to borrow a canoe and some gear from them. If not, I can either call up a couple friends who own canoes or rent one from Eb’s or CRCO.
Vehicle to transport us and the Canoe – This can be tricky depending where we are going and if we are doing a loop or not. I also don’t have a roof rack on my car, so it’s important to choose my adventure friends wisely and make sure they have access to a vehicle to help us get to the water. Or we can hire an additional friend to drive us to our put-in location and pick us up when we're done.
Rain Tarp and Ropes – I borrow these things from a friend for now but they are on my list to purchase as they aren't too expensive and are handy to have.
Bear Spray – People have varying opinions on bear spray, especially in Saskatchewan where brown bears are rare and black bears will usually run away at the drop of a hat. If it’s just me and one other person, however, I’m keen to have a bottle handy and since they don’t typically get used, they're easy to borrow from friends and return after the trip.
Hatchet - A quick post to facebook with something like "anyone have a hatchet I can borrow for the week" usually works out alright. You could add a saw to the list too if you'll need to be chopping up dead fall.
What I've Purchased:
Tent – I have a 2-man tent I bought it on Kijiji last year for $150 that fits me and my backpack perfectly. If whoever I’m paddling with has a 3-man they’re willing to share we usually opt for that instead.
Sleeping Bag - I made the investment last spring and bought a -8 degree C Marmot synthetic mummy bag from Atmosphere for $100. It stuffs relatively small and keeps me warm.
Sleeping Pad - Another investment before last season, $100 from Eb's. My first trip I borrowed all three of the previous items from friends but it’s nice to have my own on hand when I need them. There are a lot of options out there so I would suggest borrowing from friends first to get a feel for what you like.
Large Dry Bag - Last winter I bought a 55L thin dry bag from MEC when I was in Winnipeg for about $40. I use it as a liner for my backpack to keep my clothes and sleeping bag dry. Large ziplock bags within a garbage bag work too if you don’t have access to a drybag. There are definitely more secure options out there, like barrels or heavy duty bags, but they come with a price tag.
Medium Dry Bag – I got lucky and snagged a 35L bag from MEC in Winnipeg this summer for $5! I often use it for my tent, cooking supplies, and tarps.
Small Dry Bag - Heavy Duty 20L bag purchased for $30 with a gift card from Fresh Air Experience in Prince Albert last spring. I use this as a daypack on the water but large ziplock bags in a backpack can work as an alternative. I always keep pants and a shirt safe in here in case I end up in the water and catch a chill
Headlamp - I bought this for work 2 summers ago from Atmosphere for about $30. Don't forget to pack extra batteries too!
Folding Knife - $15 from Winners. I keep this in my pocket at all times - you never know when you might need it.
Hiking Boots - I bring these to wear around camp in the evenings, but again, a pair of runners would do just fine. I purchased them for about $100 at Atmosphere somewhat impulsively last spring for a hiking trip in the mountains. My feet are always cold so I love that these boots keep them dry and toasty warm.
Keens Sandals - I bought these with my friend's Sportchek Employee Discount a couple years ago for $60. They are super comfy and protect my toes from rocks in the water but you can also manage without. Definitely a luxury item that could be replaced by an old pair of runners.
Rain Jacket and Rain Pants – Even with no rain in the forecast, these items are always a must just in case. I bought both at different times from North Face outlets while traveling for $50 a piece.
Water bottle - I carry this with me everyday but it's even more important on a canoe trip. I bought my 1L small mouth Nalgene from Atmosphere for $15 and a wide mouth from Winners for $11.
Camp Soap - I bought a small bottle of concentrated body wash at Atmosphere in 2016 for a few dollars and have barely scratched the surface. I use it for washing my dishes, hands, body, and hair.
Waterproof Watch – Not everyone wears a watch everyday anymore, but when you don't have power for your phone it's a very nice thing to have. Mine was about $20 from Walmart.
Camera – Definitely not necessary for most people, but I always bring my Sony RX100iii ($900) in a small Pelican Case ($60) to keep it safe. You’re smart phone on airplane mode in a heavy duty ziplock bag is a totally acceptable alternative. You can also bring an external battery pack/charger if you've got one.
I hope this list helps you as you consider what to look for or invest in this season. It can be overwhelming at first, but when you break it down and spread out the purchases, it's totally doable. And remember, everyone does things differently, so make-do with what you have for now and it won't take long to learn what works best for you and your tripping style.
Think I've missed something or have an extra tip to share? I'm still new to this so please share your knowledge in the comments below!