Your Ultimate Guide to Canoe Camping Gear

Canada offers endless possibilities for canoe camping trips, making it a must-visit destination for outdoor enthusiasts. If you’re new to canoe camping, planning your first trip can feel overwhelming. Where should you go? What gear should you pack? Are there any safety concerns? In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through everything you need to know to plan your first canoe camping adventure.

Choosing the Perfect Destination

With a wide array of destinations to choose from, it can be challenging to decide where to start. As a beginner, it’s best to select a popular destination that is relatively nearby and offers developed facilities. National and provincial parks are excellent choices for novice canoeists. For instance, Algonquin Provincial Park and Killarney Provincial Park are easily accessible and have outfitters to assist you with gear. If you’re unsure about the best destinations in your area, don’t hesitate to seek recommendations from local outdoor stores such as MEC or REI.

Before finalizing your destination, check if you need reservations or permits. Some parks require advance registration for campgrounds or permits, which can usually be obtained through the park’s website or an outfitter. If you’re planning to visit parks like Killarney and Algonquin, where specific campsites need to be booked, you will need to plan your route first.

Planning Your Route

Planning your route can be a daunting task, especially for beginners. To estimate your paddling speed, consider an average of 3.5 km per hour. It’s advisable to keep portages under 400 m for a more manageable experience.

Here’s a pro tip: Don’t overestimate your paddling abilities and plan to spend eight hours on the water each day. Instead, allocate around four to five hours of paddling time to allow yourself ample time to explore, set up camp, and enjoy other activities. Remember, this experience is about more than just paddling—it’s about immersing yourself in nature and developing new skills.

For your first few trips, consider embarking on one to three-night adventures. Once you have an idea of how many kilometers you want to paddle each day and the length of your trip, you can choose a suitable route. If you’re uncertain about the best route, reach out to the park’s outfitter for expert guidance. You can also purchase park maps that display campsite locations, portage lengths, and distances between campsites. Alternatively, explore the park’s online reservation system or search for recommended routes online.

Regardless of how you choose your route, ensure you have a clear understanding of where to pick up equipment and where to leave your car while you’re canoe camping.

Packing Your Gear

Unless you have your own equipment, it’s essential to contact an outfitter to acquire the gear you need. Many provincial and national parks have outfitters that service the area, or you can purchase or rent gear from outdoor retailers like Mountain Equipment Co-op.

Further reading:  The Art of Solo Canoeing

Now, let’s discuss how to organize and pack your gear effectively.

Find the Right Containers

Invest in dry sacks to keep your belongings dry during your trip. Dry sacks come in various sizes, ranging from 5 L to 50 L. Opt for high-quality brands like SealLine, and you can often find great deals on sites like Altitude Sports. Additionally, consider using backpacks for personal items and large canvas backpacks for equipment that doesn’t require water resistance, such as pots, pans, utensils, and tarp.

Another fantastic option is using barrels. While barrels aren’t entirely bear-proof, they are rodent-proof and water-resistant. The large top opening of a barrel allows for easy access and organization. They are commonly used for food storage, but some campers, like myself, prefer to use them for all their gear. To keep your items organized inside the barrel, consider using smaller bags.

Essential Paddling Equipment

Renting paddling equipment from the park’s outfitter is a convenient option. Here’s what you’ll typically need:

  • Canoe: One canoe per two people is ideal, although you can accommodate three people in a boat if necessary. Popular canoe models like the Nova Craft Prospector 17 are widely available for rent.
  • Paddle: Make sure to have one paddle per person, plus a spare.
  • Lifejacket: You’ll need a lifejacket for each person, along with a spare. While outfitters provide lifejackets, it’s recommended to have your own if possible.

Safety Equipment

Prioritize safety during your canoe camping trip by packing essential safety gear:

  • First Aid Kit and InReach/Satellite Phone: Build a comprehensive wilderness first aid kit and consider renting an InReach or satellite phone from an outfitter. Keep both the First Aid Kit and the InReach/Satellite phone dry and easily accessible at all times. These communication devices are indispensable in case of emergencies.
  • Lifejacket and Safety Gear: Always wear a lifejacket while canoeing and carry other safety gear, including a whistle, flashlight, and signaling devices.

Outfitting Yourself

Choosing appropriate clothing is crucial for a comfortable and enjoyable canoe camping experience. Consider the following clothing items:

  • Quick-Dry Pants and Shorts: Pack one pair of each; choose lightweight, quick-dry materials for optimal comfort.
  • Quick-Dry T-shirt: Opt for polyester quick-dry shirts or tank tops, which offer moisture-wicking properties and protection from the sun.
  • Bathing Suit/Underwear & Sports Bra: Bring a bathing suit or underwear along with a sports bra if necessary.
  • Wet Shoes: Closed-toed trail running shoes are practical for water-related activities, such as portaging or walking through rapids. Alternatively, short hiking boots are suitable for most canoe camping trips.

Remember that appropriate clothing depends on weather conditions and personal preferences. Plan accordingly to stay comfortable throughout your trip.

In-Canoe Essentials

Keep a clear 10L dry sack handy for items you may need during the day. Some recommended items to pack include:

  • Toiletries: Keep your toothbrush, toothpaste, and chapstick in a separate bag for easy access.
  • Fleece Long-Sleeve Shirt: Pack a fleece shirt for chilly days on the water.
  • Rain Pants: Although not essential for short trips, rain pants are highly recommended to keep you warm and dry during wet weather.
  • Sunscreen, Bug Cream, Sunglasses, Buff, Sunhat: Protecting yourself from the sun and bugs is essential in outdoor settings.
  • Disposable Camera: Capture precious moments with a disposable camera or another device of your choice.
  • Raincoat: Invest in a good-quality raincoat to shield yourself from unexpected showers.
Further reading:  The Most Stable Canoe: Your Ideal Fishing Companion

Dressing for Your Campsite

After arriving at your campsite, change into comfortable clothes to enhance your relaxation. Consider the following attire:

  • Dry Shoes: Opt for Tevas or other quick-drying footwear that allows for easy water drainage.
  • Fleece and (Synthetic) Down: Layer up with fleece pants, a sweater, and a synthetic down jacket. These garments provide warmth and dry quickly.
  • Long Underwear: Pack non-cotton tights and a long-sleeve shirt as a cost-effective alternative to expensive long underwear.
  • Wool Socks: Keep your feet warm and dry with high-quality wool socks.
  • Additional Items: Wool hat, gloves, and other accessories may be necessary depending on the weather conditions.

Packing Essential Equipment

Your equipment pack should contain all the necessary items, such as fire-starting tools, water purification systems, cooking equipment, shelter, and more. Here’s a comprehensive list:

  • Matches and Lighters: Carry both matches and lighters in plastic bags to prevent them from getting wet.
  • Cooking Equipment: Bring a cooking stove, fuel canister, and cooking utensils, including pots, pans, spatulas, and fire gloves.
  • Clean Up: Don’t forget to pack steel wool or a scrubber and biodegradable camp soap for cleaning dishes. Bring garbage bags to pack out any waste.
  • Poop Kit: Always carry toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and, if necessary, a trowel for places without designated facilities.
  • Water Purification: Pack Aquatabs or a water pump for safe drinking water.
  • Shelter: A tarp and rope are essential for setting up a cooking shelter or providing additional coverage during rain.
  • Extra Supplies: Carabiners and zip ties are handy items to have on hand during a trip.

Cooking & Food Packing

While this guide focuses on canoe camping gear, cooking and food preparation play a significant role in your camping experience. Consider exploring a separate cookbook dedicated to backcountry cooking and food prep for canoe trips.

Getting to Your Canoe Camping Destination

In most cases, driving to your paddling destination is the most convenient option, as public transportation to provincial and national parks is limited. Since you will have a considerable amount of equipment, it’s recommended to drive yourself.

For beginner canoe routes, you can often park your vehicle at the put-in and take-out location, as they are frequently located in the same place. The put-in refers to where you start your trip, and the take-out is where you end it. Make sure to unload your boat and get your gear ready at the put-in before setting off on your adventure.

Further reading:  The Art of Safely Transporting a Canoe

Taking Your First Canoe Camping Trip

After thorough preparation and packing, you’re finally standing at the shoreline, ready to embark on your first canoe camping trip. It’s natural to feel a mix of excitement and nervousness. Rest assured, as this guide has equipped you with all the knowledge required for a successful trip.


If you’re unfamiliar with paddling techniques, don’t worry. Holding a paddle correctly and finding your position in the canoe will become second nature in no time. Remember to grip the paddle properly, with one hand on the butt of the paddle and the other hand on the shaft.

The person in the bow—the front of the canoe—is responsible for paddling and acting as a lookout. The person in the stern—the back of the canoe—controls the steering. Familiarize yourself with essential paddling strokes, such as the forward stroke, C-stroke, and J-stroke. Several YouTube videos demonstrate these techniques if you’re not confident in your abilities.


Navigating your way through the wilderness can be challenging, particularly in parks with numerous lakes and dense forests. To ensure a smooth journey, obtain recent and accurate maps from reputable sources, such as outdoor stores or the outfitter. Keep your maps dry and easily accessible in a waterproof case or ziplock bag.

Consider carrying a compass as an additional navigational aid. Although not essential, having a compass can be helpful in certain situations. Make sure to learn how to read a compass by watching online tutorials or consulting with experts.


Portaging, the act of carrying your gear between water bodies or around obstacles, can be physically demanding. However, with a few tips, you can make the process more manageable:

  • Prepare your gear by minimizing loose items.
  • When you reach the portage, move all your gear away from the water’s edge to allow others to use the path.
  • Carry the canoe first, as they are more challenging to transport.
  • On the second trip, carry the backpacks and barrels. Load them directly into the canoes at the end of the portage.

If you desire a more in-depth understanding of portaging, consult a dedicated post on the topic.

Safety First

Remember, safety should always be your top priority while canoe camping. Wear your lifejacket at all times, carry essential safety gear, and adhere to proper camping practices. Be prepared for unexpected situations by leaving a copy of your route and return date with someone at home. This precaution will help others locate you quickly if necessary.

More Resources

To further enhance your canoe camping knowledge, consider exploring additional resources:

  • A Beginner’s Guide to Scouting Rapids
  • How to Get Started in Whitewater Canoeing
  • 10 Tips to Help You Sleep Better on a Camping Trip
  • The Ultimate Canadian Canoeing Bucket List

Now that you’re equipped with all the essential information, what are you waiting for? Plan your epic canoe camping trip and dive into the exciting world of outdoor adventure.

For more inspiration, visit UpStreamPaddle and start your canoe camping journey today!