A Beginners Canoe Paddle Guide Part 1

Choosing a canoe paddle might not seem like a big deal because one paddle propels the canoe as well as the other, right? Actually that statement isn’t accurate as there are distinct differences in canoe paddle designs and they all affect the efficiency of your paddling in one way or another.

The Very Basics of Canoe Paddle Materials

To better understand the differences in canoe paddles we should start by taking a look at the materials used to construct the paddles, and while in most cases there is no real right or wrong material, the material and style you choose will make a noticeable difference in your paddling.

Wood Canoe PaddleWood canoe paddles are popular for many reasons and appearance is one of those reasons. Wood paddles are also more comfortable and natural in your hands, and some paddlers suggest that because of the sensitivity of wood paddles you get a better feeling of how the paddle reacts with the water as you stroke, but they do require some occasional maintenance as the wood paddle will become cracked and damaged with time. Depending on the manufacturer and quality of paddle you select, a decent wood paddle can be begin in the $65 price range and increase to several hundred dollars. But it’s generally a good idea to spend a little extra on a quality wooden paddle rather than purchase cheap. Wooden paddles are ideal for deeper flatwater situations but can be purchased or modified with protective blade ends for paddling shallow rocky water too.

Aluminum Canoe PaddlesAluminum canoe paddles are constructed from an aluminum shaft and usually a polyethylene blade. They are popular because they are cheaper, durable and forever lasting, and you can do things with aluminum paddles you wouldn’t normally do with wooden or carbon paddles, such as pushing off rocks and prying your way out of sticky situations. But the downside to these paddles is that they are much heavier than other paddle materials and those extra ounces add up over several hundred paddle strokes. Despite the extra weight I think aluminum paddles are the most practical canoe paddle to own; I own several of them for shallow water paddling and I think every paddler should have a few of them available for shallow rocky water paddling or as an extra paddle.

Carbon Canoe PaddleFiberglass and carbon fiber canoe paddles are lightweight and strong, making them extremely versatile and a pleasure to use, but they tend to be the most expensive of all the paddle materials starting at around $150. These paddles are high performance paddles usually used by experienced canoeists. I don’t recommend inexperienced canoeists run out and make a purchase on a fiberglass or carbon paddle immediately as your money can be better spent elsewhere. While they are tough they aren’t as tough as the wood or aluminum/polyethylene paddles.

So my recommendations for a beginner’s canoe paddle are to make your selection based on the type of paddling you will be doing. If you are paddling deeper flatwater opt for a good quality wooden paddle and pick up an aluminum/polyethylene paddle as a spare or shallow water paddle. If you are paddling mainly shallow rivers and creeks the aluminum/polyethylene paddles are an excellent paddle to get started with, then you can graduate to something more expensive and specialized down the road. And if you are racing canoes or just have money burning a hole in your pocket then shop for the fiberglass or carbon fiber paddle.

Soon I’ll discuss canoe paddles in details such as the bent shaft paddle, the whitewater paddle, and how to fit your paddle to you.

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Wilderness Canoeing with Dogs

Maddy the Goose

Maddy From MaddyTheGoose.com

I’m thinking about getting a dog to accompany me on some of my canoe trips. I got the idea by watching various videos of paddler and canine, and it just seems having a good dog along would be a perfect fit. 

Have a look at Maddy the Goose canoe trip videos and you’ll see what I mean. In those videos Springer Spaniel Maddy is so obedient that she seems to be much more fun than burden and offers no chance of running off into the wilderness after a flock or turkeys or deer. But I’ve seen dogs on canoe trips that were more of a hassel than what their owners gained from bringing them along.

Some ideas that come to mind before taking a dog canoeing is to be sure they strictly obey the stay, heel and come command without a miss. Our terrier could never make a good canoeing dog because she only obeys those commands when she wants to…when she thinks she’ll get a treat out of it.

A question I have is whether a natural water dog like a lab would make a good canoeing dog? Seems logical that she would but I once watched a lab nearly dump a canoe and her master into the water when she suddenly decided to go for a swim and jumped out of the canoe.

One of the most interesting dog-in-canoe situations I witnessed was a guy who brought his Pomeranian on a three day canoe camping trip. He had a small dog crate mounted on top of a hard cooler and inside is where the dog stayed during the first day of the trip. On the second day the dog gained courage and began to move around the canoe. On the third day it rained and the dog stayed inside the crate. It also turned out to be a cool little dog  around the campsite, but for a canoeing dog I think I’m looking for something a little different than a lap dog. Could you imagine a Pomerian following you around on the portage trails? One swoop from an Eagle and your Pom would be gone.

Maybe I can get Troy from MaddyTheGoose.com to comment in on this blog post with some suggestions and tips for canoeing with dogs.

I found a few website links on this topic –

Dog Channel

Canada’s Guide to Dogs

Born to Paddle

See more photos of Maddy.

Canoe dog image courtesy of archangelm at Flickr.

Posted in Canoeing Basics | 9 Comments

What’s to Like About Wilderness Canoeing – Alex Horner Boundary Waters Video

Reasons I love wilderness canoeing are the beautiful scenery, isolation, serenity, extreme nature and wildlife, but I know I’m not making my point.  Try to explain to somebody why you love wilderness canoeing and you will likely not do it justice, so maybe just show them Alex Horner’s Boundary Waters video.

The Boundary Waters from Alex Horner on Vimeo.

Part 1 of 2. Shot in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, located in Minnesota.

This was shot the weekend of the 24th of September.

Original music by Steve Horner

Visit Alex Horner’s videos and Steve Horner’s music online.

Posted in Canoeing Minnesota | 1 Comment

An Introduction to Canoe Camping

Canoe Camping Boat Launch

Canoe Camping Boat Launch Karthaus Pennsylvania

Canoe camping is one of the few hobbies I’ve stuck with longer than a few years and one of the things I enjoy most in my life. My first canoe camping trip was in the summer of 1987, on a small creek located in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania. There were six of us on that first canoe camping trip and we continue to canoe camp together to this day. This article will provide the basic information that you will need to get started on your first canoe trip, and hopefully turn canoe camping into your lifelong hobby.

Selecting Your Canoe Camping Destination
Your destination is a major consideration because the longer your trip and the more challenging the water the more technical things become in terms of packing food and gear, experience level and vehicle shuttles, so it’s very important to select a trip that is within your ability.  

  • Inexperienced canoe campers can easily manage a multi-day river trip with some guidance from experienced canoe campers but there are always those who want to give it a go without any guidance or experience. If you are one of those people I’d suggest doing your first canoe camping trip on a lake or slow flatwater river.
  • If you decide to descend a river on your first canoe camping experience use some common sense and choose something in the class 1 range. After that trip you should be ready to move on to something a little more challenging. 

Read an article about on one of our favorite canoe camping rivers in Central Pennsylvania. It’s called the West Branch of the Susquehanna River and  is very popular for overnight canoe trips through a slightly remote region of North Central Pennsylvania. It’s the perfect river for a first-timer canoe camper.

Selecting Your Canoe
First-time canoe campers don’t often have the luxury of choosing the perfect canoe for their trip because they are often using a borrowed canoe. But the main considerations in choosing your canoe is the length and design. In most situations the ideal canoe for canoe camping should be in the 16ft-17 ft length range and the design should be a touring design that provides both good stability, maneuverability and tracking. Read more about choosing canoe designs.

Choosing Your Canoe Camping Gear
A gear list can become rather lengthy in terms of what you’d like to have on a canoe trip but let’s start with the absolute must-have gear that are often overlooked.

  1. Personal floatation devices that fit snugly and are properly rated for your body weight
  2. At least one “extra” paddle
  3. Throw rope of some type (this may help save a life in dangerous water situations)
  4. Cooking equipment & essential food
  5. Flash lights 
  6. Dry bags
  7. Dry clothing
  8. Toilet articles
  9. First aid kit
  10. Waterproof matches or lighter
  11. Rain gear
  12. Sunblock
  13. Cell phone or other communication devices (these have become essentials over the past few years)   

Of course then you have all the other items that make the trip more comfortable but not necessarily essential for survival. 

  1. Tent
  2. Sleeping bags
  3. Extra food, snacks & drinks
  4. Lantern
  5. Camping stove
  6. Sleeping bag mat
  7. Clothesline
  8. Chair
  9. Camera
  10. Coolers

 As you can see the items you could take along on your canoe camping trip are endless. The amount of gear you take with you depends on the length and remoteness of your trip as well as the location of your trip. For example when wilderness canoeing you are likely going to portage across land for long distances so you are limited to the amount of gear you can pack.   

 My last trip to a remote region of the Adirondacks proved that I’m no expert at wilderness canoe camping, but I have successfully completed a few wilderness canoe trips in the St. Regis Canoe Area.  Wilderness canoeing is advanced level of canoe camping that includes map reading, trip scheduling, canoe carries and a degree of efficiency that isn’t alway so easy to master and certainly not for the first-time canoe camper. You can read my Adirondacks Canoe Camping Trip Report to find out how challenging wilderness canoeing can be.

As you probably guessed there is a lot more to canoe camping than what I wrote in this short article, but hopefully this article gave you more incentive to pursue canoe camping. For more information browse through the many articles on this Website, or visit your local canoe outfitter or your local canoe & kayak club.

Posted in Canoeing Basics | 3 Comments

How to make a good walking stick.

Now that the canoeing & camping season is nearly over for me I have time for other things like making my own walking stick. Watch the video and find out how easy it is to make a walking stick.

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Canoe Camping Adirondacks Trip – Part 4 Trip Photos

Enjoy some images of our four day Adirondack St. Regis canoe camping trip in September 2009. All I can say is paddling and camping on Fish Pond and St Regis Pond is a great outdoor experience, as you will notice in the photos. If you want to camp and paddle the St. Regis Canoe Area you can read the entire canoe trip report from the beginning for details about how to do it.

Posted in Canoeing New York | 1 Comment

Canoe Camping Adirondacks Trip – Part 3 Lessons Learned

Canoe Portaging Mistakes Made

Taking a Break on the Canoe Portage

Read part 2 of this canoe trip report.

Wilderness canoeing is not as simple as you might think. Just as a hiker needs to be fully prepared before heading to the trail, a canoeist needs to be prepared with the proper gear and knowledge before heading off to a Wilderness canoe trip.

Below is a list of mistakes I made and lessons learned on my recent Adirondack Canoe Trip. Read my lengthy Adirondack Canoe Trip Report Part 1. I’ve been canoe camping for over 20 years but the fact is that wilderness canoeing takes preparaton beyond the average canoe camping trip and it takes a few trips and maybe even some investment in new gear to get it right.

  1. Boat Design – On past trips I managed to portage my 67 lb canoe without any major issues except for the thwart resting on my shoulder became painful, but I managed to correct that by wrapping the thwart with a towel for extra padding. However on the last Adirondack trip the portages were much more challenging and the weight of the canoe and pain from the thwart became nearly unbearable. My lesson here is that on my next trip I will have a lightweight canoe designed for extensive portaging, and/or a canoe cart.
  2. Food and Food Containers – I’ve have a lot of experience packing for downriver canoe trips that enable me to carry a boatload of gear, but on portage extensive trips you need to keep the weight to a minimum. That means relying mainly on dried food. Go light on the frozen and canned food, and forget special meals requiring a lot of preparation, forget bottled water (buy a water filter and drink from natural sources),  use a lightweight stove (Jetboil and MSR Reactor are good choices), forget hard coolers because even my small lightly packed beverage cooler was a serious hinderance to my portaging. Watch the video on how to pack food for an eight day canoe trip for some food ideas.
  3. Dry Bags and Backpacks – You have to be meticulous when packing gear for these types of trips because even something as simple as a broken shoulder strap on your backpack can cause you a world of discomfort. I lost my shoulder strap for my dry bag but managed to rig a shoulder strap from another strap and some rope but unfortunately it was a painful fix as the rope wanted to cut deep into my shoulder with every step I took up the portage trail.
  4. Waterproof Clothing – Too little clothing can mean a cold miserable trip but too much might mean the misery of carrying five extra pounds, and that may not seem like a lot of extra weight but it is when you have to carry several miles with a canoe on your shoulders. Investing in some waterproof weather approriate clothing such as neoprene, splash pants and Muck Boots will increase your chances of keeping warmer and dryer throughout the trip, and that means you get to pack and carry less clothing.
  5. Quick dry clothing is a great way to go for shirts and pants because  it helps you stay cooler in hot weather and warmer in cooler weather. But another great advantage of quick dry clothing is that when you get wet from rain or sweat the quick dry shirts will normally dry in a few minutes and that enables you to pack less clothing.
  6. Synthetic sleeping bags are the best option for these trips because they dry fast yet do maintain their warmth when wet. My synthetic sleeping bag got wet just from rolling it up our third morning but I easily dried it by hanging it over a line later that afternoon.

Go on to part 4 and view the Adirondack Canoe Trip photo gallery.

Posted in Canoeing Basics, Canoeing New York | 2 Comments

Canoe Camping Adirondacks Trip Report September 2009 – Part 2

St Regis Canoe Area Map

View larger map 

This canoe trip report is continued from part 1.   

 The Third Day

Just as most of our first day was about getting to Fish Pond most of our third day was about making our way back to Saint Regis Pond where we intended to camp overnight at one of the lean-to structures. There’s a lot of competition for the lean-to structures so we woke early and ate a quick breakfast; I managed to get a few more sunrise photos of Fish Pond then wasted no time packing my gear, but I was careful in packing because I knew I had to pack my gear just right for this upcoming portage or things could get miserable in a hurry. Although this wasn’t the same grueling mountain trail portage we endured on the way into Fish Pond it was the fire road portage (solid blue line on map) and it was going to be a greater distance than the mountain trail. 
Sunrise on Fish Pond

Sunrise on Fish Pond

We paddled across Fish Pond mostly in silence and when we arrived at the fire road we had a brief discussion about whether a pile of scat was from a horse or a bear. There wasn’t much discussion after that because we knew it was time to get down to business.
Images from Fire Road Portage

Fire Road Portage

Some of us opted to carry our camping gear on the first round and others opted to carry their canoes first. Being about as mentally prepared as I was going to get I sat on the ground and struggled to squeeze my body inside the shoulder straps of my dry bag; I took a deep breath and tried to crawl to my feet, but I couldn’t because there was too much weight on my back. After a few seconds of squirming on the ground like a helpless child I managed to make it to my feet in an awkward bent over at the waist position to counter the weight on my back. And so began my slow journey up the grassy fire road while walking in this silly looking bent over position.  

Our group of four paddlers started out at the same time but the distances between us increased quickly as everyone hit their own pace. I occasionally rested on my feet for a few moments here and there, but I never sat down because getting up again was too difficult. After a very long walk I finally reached the rendezvous point at the side trail to Saint Regis Pond. After a few minutes of rest we finished the carry to Saint Regis Pond then returned back to the beginning for our second carry.   

I knew carrying my canoe on this fire road would be misery and I was right. The pain in my shoulders and neck after about the first half mile became unbearable and I must have dropped my canoe five or six times on this portage; unfortunately they get heavier each time you lift them. My Mad River canoe is great in certain situations but at 67 lbs and no yoke pads it’s just not meant for longer portages like this. If you intend to do this type of canoeing use a lightweight boat and fit it with yoke pads.  

The fire road portage required two trips and took most of the morning, and it’s not something I would call easy. You just walk and walk while trying to forget about that canoe on your shoulders, and when you arrive at the steeper grades you can only tackle them with smaller more precise steps. You round every turn and top each grade looking for the end but it all looks the same and you just keep pacing along. It’s not as bad as the mountain trail but you just want it to end. Knowing what I know now the next time I portage into Fish Pond I’ll take the fire road both ways and use a canoe cart.  

The total distance covered on this portage was approximately 5 miles. We arrived at the Saint Regis Pond during the afternoon and paddled our way to the lean-to shelter to camp.     

Saint Regis Pond Campsite

Saint Regis Pond Campsite

When we arrived at Saint Regis Pond we immediately set up camp. Somehow my synthetic sleeping bag got a little Filtering Water from Saint Regis Ponddamp so I decided to run a rope and hang the sleeping bag to dry. A few of us were running out of drinking water and used Steve’s water purification filter to replenish straight from the pond. The water was the color of tea but tasted fine – nobody got sick so I guess it worked. I had my remaining frozen precooked lasagna for dinner and the others had their freeze dried meals. I’d like to mention that the Jetboil Stove is performs well on this type of canoe camping trip

Throughout that afternoon we took short walks, messed around camp and took photos. I was wishing I had a fishing rod because this is the perfect campsite for fishing on Saint Regis Pond because it’s located at the waters edge with no obstruction (I think it’s one of the nicest campsites in the St. Regis Canoe Area).

Relentless rain on Saint Regis Pond

Relentless rain on Saint Regis Pond

It was getting later in the afternoon and it looked like we would be spared from any major downpours then suddenly the sky opened up with a very cold rain shower that drove us for cover, and we still had a few hours of daylight left. The rain continued heavily into the next morning ruining our plans for a night paddle on the pond. I spent most of the remaining day and the entire night in my tent. I’d occasionally poke my head out to snap a photo or exit the tent to examine for leaks and redirect the water away from my tent. It was definitely one of the heaviest downpours I’ve seen on a canoe trip. 

Saying goodbye to Saint Regis Pond

Saying goodbye to Saint Regis Pond

The Fourth Day  

This was the final day of our Adirondack wilderness canoe trip and our only goal was to reach our vehicles at the Little Clear Pond canoe launch. We skipped breakfast and wasted no time packing our wet camping gear. But eager as we were to leave this wet wilderness we took time to appreciate the incredible view of St. Regis Pond, and we took a little extra time paddling through. There is something sad about leaving this serene wilderness even when you are heading for the greater comforts of home. While paddling near the shore of one of the islands we saw two paddlers emerging from a small tent. Their campsite was disheveled in appearance and placed in an awkward growth of trees and weeds, and after speaking with them for a few moments it was clear that they were unexpectedly forced into camp by the severe rain the day before.  

Preparing for our final portage

Preparing for our final portage

We finally made the short portage into Green Pond and the strenuous final portage to Little Clear Pond; and you could see it in our faces that we were ready for this trip to end. We then started our paddle across Little Clear Pond the eagerness to return home became evident as large gaps between canoes began to form. Our Adirondack canoe trip was over but I’ll return for another soon.  

I hope this information is useful to your Adirondack canoe trip. See part 3 to this trip report about my lessons learned and easy steps I can take to improve my next wilderness canoe trip.    

Read my trip report on my 2007 St. Regis Canoe Area canoe trip.

Posted in Canoeing New York | 6 Comments