How to Introduce Someone to Canoe Camping

Canoe Camping at "The Rock"

Canoe Camping at "The Rock"

I’ve been canoe camping for over twenty years now and I’ve seen many people come and go from the sport. And let’s face it, canoe camping is not glamorous. Tent up, tent down, tent up again, wet tent, wet sleeping bag, bugs, mud, rain, rattlesnakes, cold, suntan lotion layered over sweat, campfire smoke layered on top of suntan lotion, no shower for days. It’s no wonder people give it up. But who are the ones who stick with it and why do they?

I think there are two personality traits that draw people to canoe camping and it’s important to recognize how strong these traits are in a new paddler before committing him to the mercy of the outdoors. One trait is the sense of outdoor adventure and the other is tolerance. Estimating the paddlers sense of outdoor adventure is easy because canoe camping opportunities are as endless and as primitive as you want them to be. I mean you can plan a leisurely canoe camp on the local river or go into a remote wilderness trip. It’s the paddlers choice. But tolerance is the tricky trait because there are so many elements that can change the game. Example: I could easily spend five or six days wilderness canoeing in the Adirondacks if the conditions are right for me, but a combination of cold rain and wet gear may lower my tolerance to only endure one or two nights under the sky. But despite the occasional horrible canoe camp trip I’m aware of better times ahead. But most inexperienced canoe campers do not have an established tolerance or awareness and they just have expectations of what the trip will be, and if those expectations fall far short the canoe camper will likely never return.  

So how do you introduce someone to canoe camping as a lifetime hobby? Whether it’s your son or daughter, wife or neighbor it’s all about meeting their expectatations of a good time in the outdoors. When I think of the ones who never returned to our canoe camping trips they were usually introduced to the sport during bad weather conditions and they were almost always unprepared by no fault of their own. You can always see it in their eyes; they’re excited to be part of the outdoor experience but the rain and cold isn’t allowing them to enjoy it the way they really want to, and you know they are never coming back.

That First Date Canoe Trip
So maybe think of that first canoe camping trip like a first date. If you want to impress your date you won’t take her to a fast food restaurant – at least I hope you won’t. So you take her out for a nice time with some good food and fun. And you’ll want to introduce your new paddling partner to canoe camping in the same way. Begin with a short one day canoe trip on a warm, sunny day. Pack a light lunch, take some photos, hit a few small waves and riffles, and show your new paddler a few paddling techniques. And be sure the water levels are adequate because dragging a canoe down a river bed will be a definite deal breaker for future trips. This first trip should be mild. No serious whitewater, no portaging, no rain, cold, no dangerous encounters, no wind. It should be a good day trip.

Slowly Build the Tolerance
Once your new paddler is comfortable with basic canoeing you’ll want to arrange an overnight trip. And remember this is an introduction to canoe camping so save the extreme stuff for some other time. This time you will place emphasis on both canoeing and camping with a slight emphasis on luxury. This is where the tolerance is important because although canoe camping may be a true fit for your new paddler if the first trip exceeds your paddlers tolerance he/she may never return. I put together a few suggestions for a first canoe camping trip that I based from past experiences; although following them will not  guarantee that your new canoe camper will have a good time the chances he/she will return to the water with you will be greatly improved.

Remember, the goal is to show them a good time.

Suggestion #1, wait for good weather before going on this first trip. Cold and wet weather conditions are the #1 reason most canoe campers never return.

Suggestion #2, plan an easy trip. Plan two short days with four to six hours on the water each day. Forget portaging or anything extreme.

Suggestion #3, pack all appropriate gear.  Proper gear not only builds confidence but creates comfort and comfort is key to a good experience.

Suggestion #4, engage your new paddler by planning activities such as fishing, photography, hiking, campsite cooking, story telling or whatever you are comfortable with.

Suggestion #5, teach your new paddler. How to build a campfire. How to paddle the canoe. How to pitch the tent. There is much to learn about the outdoors.

Suggestion #6, build a nice campfire for roasting marshmallows, cooking mountain pies, telling stories, and remember that it’s alright to have a few adult beverages at the campfire. Everybody knows the campfire is often the highlight in the evening.

Suggestion #7, go the extra mile with your camping meals. Nice weather and excellent camping meals are the deal clincher. Unless I’m portaging I always eat better on my canoe camping trips than I do at home.

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