Packing For My Canoe Trip
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Packing For My Canoe Trip

Back to posts

Packing For My Canoe Trip

Packing For My Canoe Trip

Packing For My Canoe Trip

The sun is finally out and the water levels are flowing high, not to mention the black flies haven’t yet delivered their vanguard. It’s finally the start of canoe tripping season!

I can remember sitting in high school years ago, covertly drawing doodles of canoes around the edge of a sheet of paper which contained my ‘Gear List’. I’d visualize myself paddling and camping and try to figure out each piece of equipment or gear I would need in order to manifest my imagination. This process of doodling and altering my gear list would last at least a pair of weeks, usually concurrent to the ice leaving the lakes. Flipping through those old MEC catalogues and scouring Frenchy’s for LL Bean flannel shirts (purchased with the lunch money Mom gave me, of course) took precedent over homework. In retrospect I suppose that was a good indicator I wasn’t likely heading into medicine.

This is my favourite time of year. The maps are out and have staked claim to most flat surfaces in our house. Gear which until recently had been packed away nicely is now exploded over a bed and the floor. The smell of neoprene, rubber and vinyl has commanded the airspace adjacent to the heaps of waterproof bags and packs. Oh, and I can’t seem to make it over a bridge without posting the four-way flashers and cutting my speed for a glimpse of what flows beneath. It usually follows that I ask Karlene 'do ya think there's any trouts in there?' to which she invariably replies with 'definitely'.

I doubt I’m the only one with this fever. It seems to make its rounds this time of the year. In any case, I thought I would channel my excitement into this blog and share some of my thoughts on a paddling gear list. I promise you it won’t be comprehensive, but it will reflect my current style of canoe tripping.


  • PFD (penny-up and buy the one you love, then you’ll wear it)
  • 500ml bailer
  • 50’ buoyant line (forget the yellow nylon junk- buy a nice throw-bag and keep it with your canoe)
  • whistle
  • paddles for all, +1
  • canoe (portaging? make it light!)
  • waterproof bags (roll-top pack style are my favourite- such as the MEC slogg packs)

Camping (sleeping and relaxing)

  • hammock/tent (the Hennessy has a bug net!)
  • sleeping bag (rated -7 C for spring/summer/fall)
  • thermarest sleeping mat (I’ve opted for the NeoAir and love it)
  • camp chair (we love our little folding chairs!)
  • tarp (blue poly or a sweet siltarp- bring rope)
  • lantern (we use a battery operated one by Black Diamond)
  • folding saw and/or hatchet or axe (almost all of the backcountry evacuations I’ve been privy to have been due to an axe-idental injury, so please swing with caution)

Personal Gear

  • headlamp with spare batteries
  • ouch kit (bandaids, duct tape, alcohol wipes, gauze, fine tweezers, medication)
  • knife (I usually keep a pocket knife for cutting cheese)
  • sunscreen and hat (don’t be embarrassed to wear your Tilly)
  • bug repellant
  • chapstick (ever been on day two of a five day canoe trip, with sunburnt pepperoni lips, and no chap stick? You’ll start to wonder if the bacon fat might work)
  • water bottle
  • toilet kit (toilet paper, baby wipes, and hand sanitizer in a ziploc for waterproofness)
  • camera (cell phone camera is fine)

Personal Clothing (synthetics and wool instead of cotton)

  • something to wear on hot days that can double as a swimsuit
  • one pair of long pants and shirt (great for buggy nights)
  • wool socks (to tuck your pants into, for bug protection and extra woods-cred)
  • one fresh t-shirt for every 3 days on trip (yes, I’m a dirt bag)
  • undergarments/unmentionables (same quantity per duration as above..?)
  • footwear (from mid-May to mid-October I wear only Chacos [like Tevas, but better], for in the canoe, portaging and in camp, and outside of those dates I like a tall pair of Muck Boots)
  • Rain jacket (I like the breathable kind)
  • Fleece or sweater (I use a lightweight down jacket, actually)
  • toque (if expecting cooler weather)


  • dish washing supplies (Campsuds, scrubby, tea towel x 2)
  • mess kit (bowl/plate/mug and cutlery)
  • utensils (tongs, spatula flipper thing, knives, ladle, can opener and tin foil)
  • cutting board (Ikea has super flexible thin ones)
  • pots with lids (nesting is great, and don’t fuss about them getting tarnished, it’s a sign of experience)
  • fry pan (I switch back and forth between this and a heavy griddle)
  • pot gloves (just some leather work gloves)
  • for outside of Keji, we lug a grill (just an old oven rack, stored in a thick garbage bag)
  • water filter (I’m usually nice on the trail, but I still snicker when I see folks carrying jugs of water into the backcountry- we use a gravity fed basecamp style by MSR)
  • coffee press (GSI makes a lexan version)
  • spice kit (salt, pepper and powdered garlic can fix just about anything, oh and bring some cooking oil and hot sauce)
  • drink kit (powdered milk, hot chocolate, coffee, and an assortment of tea)
  • food barrel (pack your meals separately in their own grocery bag, then place them in the barrel chronologically)
  • Kitchen Pack (we use a Frost River Grand Portage pack- waxed canvas, leather and brass… need I say more?)
  • dutch oven (endless possibilities- think cinnamon buns for breakfast)


  • A compass and a map with waterproof case/ziploc (I use the Suunto MC2)

-I’ve listed this as extra because unless you know how to use it, it’s just ‘extra baggage’. I strongly recommend developing a comprehensive understanding of how to use a map and compass in conjunction with each other. I will likely write an article on some techniques which are useful for paddlers specifically.

  • A comprehensive wilderness style first aid kit

-Again, unless you know how to use the items in this kit, it’s just going to slow you down on the portage trails. I think anyone who spends any time in the wilderness should register for a wilderness first aid course (Doyle Adventure and Safety offer top notch courses)

  • Coffee grinder (for those who like it fresh)
  • Repair Kit (multi-tool, duct tape, spare seat hanger bolts, stitcher, snare wire, Freesole)

Not reflected in the list is a trip plan. This doesn’t have to be a formal document; you can simply jot down some important info on a scrap of paper and tack it to your fridge after telling someone who cares about you where to find it. Important to include (phone numbers of cell phones on the trip, where you’ll be parking, access and egress points, your predicted route, your predicted campsites, estimated start time and end time, when to expect you to be back, and when you would like them to notify the RCMP if you’re not back)

Keep in mind I didn’t write this list for you to use as your list. Instead, I hope you blow off some homework and look at a map, doodle some canoes rather than finish that report, and most importantly spend some time dreaming of paddling while you craft your own equipment list.

Crikey! I almost forgot the lighter. Just like in real life. I try to have them live permanently in various places (PFD pocket, vest pocket, jacket pocket, bottom of dry bag, et cetera) so there’s always one when I need it.