101 Canoe Camping Tips For Beginners

  1. Try before you buy. If you intend to be serious about canoeing you need to have a boat that you will not grow out of in one season. Just because a boat feels extremely stable and comfortable doesn’t mean it’s the right boat for your type of paddling. Try paddling an array of boat types so you know the difference.
  2. Learn about boat designs.This tip is a corollary to the above tip. If you understand canoe designs you will make a smarter decision when you make your purchase. Not all, but many salesman do not understand boat design and if you follow their advice you could purchase the wrong boat.
  3. Learn about paddle designs.Selecting a paddle may not seem that important but you do need to ensure that you select a paddle that is appropriate for the type of paddling you are doing.
  4. Take an extra paddle on your trips.Paddles can be lost, stolen and broken. Take along an extra because there is nothing worse than being up a creek without a paddle.
  5. Attend boat shows.Many outfitters and
    dealers have a demo day throughout the summer. By attending one of these events you could discover a boatload of information about paddling.
  6. Select the right length canoe.A 15ft boat is a great choice if you intend to paddle solo on narrow creeks and rivers. A longer boat is desirable is you intend to paddle on wider rivers and lakes or want to paddle with partners.
  7. Buy a blem.This is where your research and model testing will come in handy. There is a tremendous difference in glide and handling between cheap boats and good quality boats. Good canoes generally start at around $700.00. You can often save some money by buying blems.
  8. Buy used.Buying used can save you money. A great place to search for used canoes is on Craigslist, EBAY, and canoe rental and guide liveries. Be sure to inspect the boat before buying. If you can’t paddle it fill it with water to check for leaks. Also check composite boats for cracks around bolts, screws and other high stress areas.
  9. Shop around for your canoe. Dealers will compete for your business because they know you will come back. Check out several dealers and don’t be afraid to ask for a discount.
  10. Buy a canoe rack for your vehicle.There could be nothing worse than having your new boat fly off your vehicle while driving down the highway, except having your boat fly off your vehicle and into the car behind you. You will appreciate the security a canoe rack provides. A good rack also provides protection for your vehicle.
  11. Take a paddling course.You don’t have to become a certified paddler but taking paddling and rescue lessons will increase your confidence and elevate your enjoyment of the sport. Also teaching your children to swim will increase their confidence in the boat and yours. Enroll them in lessons if possible.
  12. Understand water classification.Class one and two rivers are navigable for most canoe camping groups. Class three
    becomes more risky and requires some whitewater experience. Avoid class three water with small children.
  13. Wear your life jacket.The majority of boating fatalities occur to people not wearing life jackets.
  14. Try out your life jackets.Having the children try out the life jackets in a swimming pool will increase their confidence on the water.
  15. Paddle on a lake before the river.If you are taking children canoe camping for their first time take them on a lake for a few hours to acclimate them to the movement of the boat.
  16. Inform others of your trip.Plan your trip and
    give the information to someone who isn’t going on the trip with you. Be sure to contact that person when you return.
  17. Hold on to your boat when capsized.If you capsize use your boat as a life preserver by holding on to your boat. If you are in current stay upstream side of the boat so you don’t get pinned between the boat and an obstacle in the river.
  18. Be aware of strainers.Strainers are obstacles such as trees or fences that allow water to flow through but traps boats and paddlers. Strainers are common on small streams and can be deadly in fast current. Always investigate and scout the area you are paddling.
  19. Be aware of cold water dangers.Immersion in very cold water can cause you to lose your breath and cause cardiac arrest. Cold water can numb your extremities making it impossible to hold onto a rope or side of a boat. Hypothermia causes the body’s core temperature to drop and needs to be treated. Change from cold wet clothes to dry clothes immediately. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.*Cotton is a poor insulator when wet.
  20. Avoid foot entrapment.If you capsize your boat do not try to stand in swift current – instead float downstream with your feet up and feet first. Getting your foot trapped in rocks or debris could result in swift current forcing your entire body underwater.
  21. Reach for a victim.Avoid endangering yourself in a rescue situation. Use an oar, rescue bag or whatever else might be available to reach a victim when possible. Rescue bags should be kept on every boat.
  22. Row to a victim.Row to a victim and allow him to hang on to the stern of the boat while you paddle back to shore or wait for help. It is difficult to bring a victim into a canoe or kayak and could result in capsizing the boat.
  23. Swimming to victims.Swimming rescues are risky, require training, and should not be attempted unless all other methods have failed. If you are forced to swim to a victim take a floatable object with you to extend to them once you reach them.
  24. Scout ahead.When paddling unfamiliar waters be sure to take time to scout rapids before descending into something you aren’t prepared for.
  25. Portage around low-head dams.Novice and expert paddlers get themselves in trouble by underestimating river current and undertow. Always portage around low-head dams.
  26. Wear paddling shoes.They allow your feet to dry quickly, prevent chafing, and provide secure footing. Most paddling shoes are made of polypropylene.
  27. Don’t boat alone.There is safety in numbers.
  28. Designate a lead boat.The lead boat should be the most experienced paddler for the conditions. This person should make decisions and communicate to the group to follow.
  29. Designate a sweep boat.The sweep boat should be experienced boater who is familiar with rescue and emergency procedures. This person stays at the back of the pack and helps to maintain the group.
  30. Set a pace.The lead boat should set and maintain a pace all boaters in the group are capable of maintaining.
  31. Maintain group order.All boats should stay between the lead and sweep boats. If any boat get ahead of the lead boat they should wait for the group.
  32. Keep all boats in sight.Maintain enough space between boats to avoid collisions and wait in turn before approaching rapids.
  33. Give right of way.To avoid collisions descending boats should always have the right of way.
  34. Kneel in the boat.Kneeling in the canoe before a rapid lowers your center of gravity and increases your stability.
  35. Lean towards obstructions.If you collide with a rock or other obstacle leaning towards it will decrease your chances of capsizing.
  36. Use lights at night.In Pennsylvania all boats must display lights between sunset and sunrise.
    Unpowered boats such as canoes must display a hand-held or mounted light in time to avoid a collision or at all times when anchored.
  37. Buy a cushion for your canoe seat.You’ll need it for long days of paddling. Don’t use your life jacket as a cushion.
  38. Buy plenty of waterproof containers.It doesn’t matter if you use plastic containers or dry bags, just have plenty of them because you’ll eventually need them in to protect from rain or whitewater. And don’t be afraid to pay more for dry bags; cheap bags often fall apart after several uses.
  39. Balance the boat load and secure your gear. While loading the boat, distributing the weight properly will enable better handling of the boat and reduce the chance of capsizing. You should secure all gear into the boat with rope. Be sure to secure all lids on the coolers.
  40. Buy a good waterproof camera. You’ll have plenty of photo opportunities on the water and while camping, so don’t waste lose precious moments because you were without a camera. There are plenty of quality waterproof and shockproof cameras available.
  41. Buy a good hat and use sun block.It’s very easy to get sunburned on the water. A good hat and waterproof lotion keeps the sun exposure to a minimum.
  42. Use bug repellent.You don’t have to spray it directly to your skin, if you are afraid of deet then try applying it to your clothes and hat. When paddling in some areas like the Adirondacks keeping the mosquito’s and flies away is essential to the enjoyment of your trip. Other locations like Assateague are infested with deer ticks. There are natural repellents as an alternative.
  43. Be prepared for the weather and water conditions.Don’t get caught on a canoe camping trip in the rain. A good poncho or rain suit is essential to comfortable canoe camping. If you think you will never paddle in the rain you are incorrect. Also, getting splashed by whitewater or rained on isn’t so bad in the summer months – in fact you might welcome it. But in the cooler months you will need protection. A good paddling suit will help keep you dry and warm during the cooler seasons.
  44. Get yourself a rugged pair of sunglasses.By the time the trip ends you’ll sit on them, smash them while carrying camping equipment, drop them on rocks and anything else that can happen in the outdoors.  



  45. You need a sound producing device – buy a whistle.In Pennsylvania all unpowered vessels are required to have some means of making an efficient oral or mechanical sound that could be heard by another vessel operator in time to avoid collision.
  46. Spend some money on new properly fitted life jackets.Don’t risk yours or your child’s life by using old life jackets. U.S. Coast Guard approved life jackets are required when boating. Life jackets hold your head above water so don’t try to save a few dollars by buying a larger one for your child to grow into. A properly fitted life jacket could mean the difference between life and death of you or your child.
  47. Take along a bilge pump or bailer and a sponge.One small rapid, an afternoon of rain, or a near mishap could result in a canoe full of water. Take a bailer along to help keep things dry. And when camping, completely unload the boat and flip it over to dry until morning.
  48. Subscribe to a few canoeing magazines. They keep you up to date on equipment, locations and fresh paddling ideas. They are just fun to read and will really get your paddling juices flowing in the late winter. Come spring, you’ll be ready to hit the river hard.
  49. Have plenty of rope.When camping rope makes a great clothesline and comes in handy for creating additional shelter in bad weather. It’s just handy. Don’t forget the pocket knife. Bungee cords work well too.
  50. Have a rescue rope or throw bag.Throw bags are an essential rescue device and you should carry several within your group. When canoeing do not tie a rope to yourself or another paddler.
  51. Buy a compact high quality tent.A good three season dome tent is usually the easiest and quickest tent to set up. Also seal and assemble your tent before going camping.

  53. Use a pillow and pad in the tent.You’ll feel better in the morning. Some canoe campers pack along a pillow. Many canoe campers will use a rolled up article of clothing. Some canoe campers use inflatable mattresses. Most canoe campers use a thin compact mat.
  54. Select a good compact, lightweight wind and water resistant sleeping bag.Making the right choice could mean the difference between a comfortable or miserable night of camping.
  55. Take several good flashlights.It get dark earlier in the woods. Have at least one good rechargeable spotlight and get a few of the headband type for members of the group. You can also get low voltage rechargeable lights for the tent and along a campsite trail. Light them up in the evening to make finding the tent easier.  

  56. Pack clothes in dry bags.Dryness is the key to enjoying your canoe camping trip. By spending more on high quality dry bags you’ll get more use out of them.
  57. If it’s calling for rain and cool weather pack clothes for an extra 2 days.It makes for much more packing but you’ll need them.
    And separate wet clothes to keep the dry stuff dry.
  58. Take along a good propane or white gas lantern.It’s your choice, white gas or propane. They both have advantages and disadvantages.
  59. Purchase a hard case for your lantern.It’ll be one less thing you have to worry about.
    Take extra mantels.
  60. Use a white gas or propane dual burner camping stove if cooking for more than one.It’s your choice, white gas or propane. They both have advantages and disadvantages.
  61. Save money on camping cook sets.There aren’t many canoe camping items you should purchase low quality, but if you are on a budget you can save a few dollars on camping cook sets if you purchase items separately at a discount store.
  62. Use tarps when setting up camp.Tarps come in handy for ground and tent cover and shelter on rainy trips.
  63. Inspect your campsite.Before setting up camp inspect for snakes, broken glass, mosquitoes, ants, spiders and anything else you wouldn’t want to step on or sleep with.
  64. Leave no trace.You brought it in with you so take it out when you leave. Many property owners are generous enough to allow camping and boat launching from their property. Don’t ruin a good thing by trashing up the area. Take time to clean up after yourself and others.
  65. Paddle water trails.Official water trails are maintained for canoes and kayaks. They often unique in offering access points, scenic views, historical perspective, and overnight camping opportunities.
  66. Use hard coolers.Buy several good hard coolers. They are great for protecting dry goods like bread. Be sure to strap them down in the canoe and make sure the lids stay shut.
  67. Take lawn chairs or folding camping chairs.Also maybe consider a small lightweight folding table if you have a lot of food preparation planned.
  68. Freeze food and water when possible. It will last longer in the cooler. Eat perishables first.
  69. Meals for children.Go easy on the kids meals.Try meals that they can cook themselves. Campfire hot dogs area a great meal for children to cook. Children love playing with fire and and they love sweets. Making smores in the fire is a great way to keep them occupied for several hours. Also feed children before bedtime they will go to bed easier.
  70. Mountain pie makers.Take several mountain pie makers and put the children in charge of the cooking. There are so many different recipes.


  71. Pack away leftoversDon’t risk bringing in hungry animals to the campsite. Clean up the campsite after cooking and pack leftovers in sealed coolers. Do not store food in tents.  

  72. Pre-cooked and pre-assembled meals.It makes life at the campsite so much easier and the meals usually turn out excellent. Don’t risk ruining the trip by trying out new complicated recipes at the campsite.
  73. Dutch oven cooking.If you are staying at a base camp for several days a dutch oven is a great way to cook up a large meal for a group. Dutch oven cooking is a pain if you are trying to make time and are camping a different spot every night.
  74. Learn how to build a campfire.Under normal circumstances it’s not difficult but you should know how to do it in the wet weather. Waterproof fire sticks are a good item to bring along.  

  75. Take time for snacks.Snacks help to keep children occupied but also provide calories when the temperature gets colder. Granola, animal crackers, fruits and vegetables, and chocolate are good snacks for children.
  76. Pack a few power bars.For adults power bars are a great form of energy for getting through those long stretches of water or a long days paddle.  

  77. Take plenty of water.Supply your own water for cooking and consumption. If you are on an extended trip you will need a water purification system.
  78. Coffee is very important.Even people who don’t normally drink coffee often drink it on a canoe camping trip. It offers that kick start needed after sleeping on the hard ground. Buy a compact coffee pot designed for camping.
  79. Meals for adults.Try something special. Smoky beer and cheese fondue is a great choice.
  80. Adult beverages are fine.Don’t risk an accident by drinking alcohol on the water, but at the campsite after the children go to bed it’s fine to relax with a few beers or some wine.
  81. Educate children.Teach them the outdoors. Buy bird identification books. Teach them to fish. Have them write a trip report. It will keep them occupied and they will learn so much about nature. They will treasure the hobby and memories forever.
  82. Don’t forget the toys.Keep young children occupied with sand buckets, frisbees and games of wiffle ball.
  83. Tell some campfire stories.Children will love you for it an remember the moments forever. They will carry the tradition on with their children. Camp songs are a great group activity too. Take video of these moments.
  84. Tiki torches add to the atmosphere.Of course on a serious expedition you don’t want to burden yourself with unnecessary items but on short trips you can consider extras to help bolster the camping mood.
  85. Take along some music.Some campers like to get away from it all but there is nothing wrong with a little music during dinner and there is nothing better than a guitar at the campfire.
  86. Study the area history.Things become more interesting knowing that you are camping at an indian campsite, or an old lumberjack camp.
  87. Practice hygiene.There is nothing more miserable than having a sleeping bag may stick to your skin after a day of layered suntan lotion, sweat and campfire smoke. Washing in the evenings and mornings will certainly elevate your comfort level during your trip. You could wash in clean river or creek water or just use wipes. For best results just dive in the river for a bath. Bring plenty of toilet paper and keep it dry. Hand sanitizer is one of the easiest ways to stay clean in the outdoors.*Bugs are attracted to scented soaps and shampoos.
  88. Pack light and smart.Categorizing your items into cooking, hygiene and clothes will allow for easy and quick access when needed.
  89. First aid kit.Buy a good first aid kit and all the essential rescue equipment. Generally the lead boat should carry this gear.
  90. Log your trip.Use a water resistant tablet, laptop, video and photos to record your canoe camping experience.
  91. Create a Website or blog to share your experience.Post your trip reports, photos and podcasts on the internet for others to learn from.
  92. Join a paddling group or club.You’ll meet new friends and have more opportunity to paddle.
  93. Experience the most popular canoe camping areas.Canoe camping on the local river is fun but canoeing the Adirondacks and Boundary Waters is great.
  94. Investigate you location.Being a good leader means proper planning. Before taking a group down the river you should know river class, river mileage, camping locations, shuttle routes and more. Outfitters can help you with this but if you are unfamiliar with the trip consider an investigative paddle before involving a large group. River maps come in handy for determining your paddle pace and campsites. Use GPS coordinates too.
  95. Hire a guide.This isn’t really necessary for most canoe camping trips but for expeditions you could consider a guide service to make things more interesting and less stressful.
  96. Combine activities into your trip.Many paddlers hunt and fish on canoe camping trips.
  97. Let others know where you are going.If you get stranded or in trouble others will know where to look for you.
  98. Don’t canoe during flood stage waters.Many deaths occur during high water conditions. Even a small creek can become dangerous. Knowing your limitations will keep your hobby enjoyable and safe.


  99. Establish a base camp.Areas such as the Adirondacks have many opportunities for camping at state and privately owned campgrounds. So if you are paddling unfamiliar territory it often makes sense to camp out of one established base camp on your first visit. Then on your next trip you’ll be able to plan a more organized canoe camping route based on your actual knowledge.
  100. Pack for portages.On some trips you can take along the kitchen sink, but if your trip involves many portages you need to plan for it when packing. Using a canoe cart for longer portages is great way to save time and energy.
  101. Use a GPS for logging campsite locations for future reference.Use those coordinates to get back to your favorite camping spot next year. Share your GPS locations with others – or don’t.
  102. Register your canoe.The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission requires launch permits or registration when launching from a PA Fish and Boat Commission access. You can register your canoe at most Pennsylvania state parks or online at www.fish.state.pa.us.


There you have it, 101 canoe camping ideas and tips. Review our site for more canoe camping information and bookmark us for future reference.

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