Canoe camping is the water-lover's answer to backpacking. Self-sufficiency, challenge and exploration all come together to bring paddlers to beautiful campsites on lakes and rivers throughout the country. Canoeists will pack everything they need for the trip, whether it be one night or ten, into their boat. Then they paddle and fish by day while camping under the stars at night.
Plan your trip
Choose a lake or reservoir near you, and plan a one or two night trip for your first time out in a canoe. By paddling still water where you end up at the same place you started, you will not have to worry about 'shuttling’ vehicles, and you will have a quick-bail option if things aren't working out. Once you start paddling anywhere with a current, many more skills come into play on the water as well. You will have to know how to steer your boat in a strong current, learn about ferry angles, and be extremely competent in righting a capsized boat. Using waterway maps and compass to navigate is a whole new skill set as well, but it is essential to avoid becoming stranded or lost in a wilderness area. Especially when you are traveling on the water, it is important to never travel alone. Plan your first trip with a close friend or family member, or better yet, join up with a group of more experienced canoeists. Learning from others is the best way to improve your skills and travel safely.
Always bring a hardcopy map of the area in which you'll be paddling. Extreme temperatures can quickly drain batteries, and wild areas often don't have good cell phone reception. It's important to have a basic understanding of how to use a map and compass.
Remember the Elements
When packing and planning your trip, think carefully about the time of year and what sort of natural elements you'll be up against. Wind plays a huge factor in any water-travel. Even a steady breeze can quickly exhaust paddlers, making for longer days as well as plummeting temperatures. Sun-exposure is another concern, so be sure to check the packing list below and make sure you are prepared for hours without shade. For any warm or hot weather trips, bring extra water and always have water purification.
Balance the Boat
To make your life easier and safer on your next canoe camping trip, carefully balance the weight of your gear both aft and stern and on both sides. A badly balanced canoe is much more likely to tip over and will be difficult to steer. Keep your gear simple and light to avoid weighing down the boat in the water as well. A boat low in the water is easy to swamp.
Spend several days paddling your canoe around on flatwater, before you load it up for the trip. Learn how to steer effectively on both sides, move around safely in the boat, and practice the front and back paddling position with your partner if you have one. Far too many people assume that because they took the canoeing class at summer camp when they were young, they will be fine.
Always Take Water Seriously
This is the most important tip of canoe camping. Getting out on the water for a weekend of camping is a great feeling, but rivers and lakes can be dangerous for the unprepared. Wear a life-jacket, stay sober on the water, and don't take unnecessary risks. Know where you're going, stick to the plan, and stay safe.