Advice Mississippi River trip

I am planning a trip down the Mississippi, Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico. I plan to depart May 2008 and think it will probably take me about two months but I have as long as it takes…

I am 60, 170-180 lbs, long arms and legs short torsoe, fit. I don’t have any kayak experience and a little canoe experience. I am a strong swimmer, ex-lifeguard, water safety instructor. A few year ago I rode my mountain bike across Texas, about 1,000 miles in ten days unsupported, camping. Last year I rode my single cylinder motorcycle (KLR650) South Texas to Prudoe Bay and back, camping This summer I will backpack across Spain, Andora, Potrugal and North Africa.

I like the Eddyline Nighthawk 16. Plan on carrying about 35 pounds of gear. Am also leaning toward the Swift paddle (Mid Swift 225-230) and plan on carrying two. Would I be better off carrying two different paddles?

I have experience getting lost in the confusing headwaters of rivers (Neches River, East Texas) amd dodging fallen trees. What are your thoughts on GPS? I am a good navigator using map and compass.

I am looking for input, constructive criticism, equipment, boat, paddles, personal experience. So far the most daunting aspect of the trip is getting me and boat to Lake Itasca.

A canoe might be more comfortable. While many canoes would no doubt do the trick, you might be interested in solo, partially decked touring canoes designed for just the type of thing you describe. They are expensive, though, so if you only plan to use it for two months, let me know and I’ll buy it at a drastically reduced price.

Here’s one from Clipper:

Or, if the budget allows, the Kruger Sea Wind:

Sounds like a fun trip - enjoy.

Head southerly.

Mississippi trip
I am drawn to kayaks. Also I will probably have to drag/carry the thing on occassion so weight is a factor. Cost is also a factor. I figure I can get a used Nighthawk for around $1,500 if I am lucky or a new one for around $2,500. Before and after I will use it to explore the local bays.

Different Paddles

– Last Updated: Jun-08-07 9:11 PM EST –

I'm a believer in carrying different paddles. If you have different gears on a bike for different conditions, why not have different paddles? I keep an upwind paddle (low surface area) and a downwind paddle (larger surface area). One is no more of a 'spare' than the other.

I like GPS. I don't know the value of it on a river but at the coast it's great. They tend to eat up batteries so if you use one you might consider only turning it on occasionally to get the data you want.

The Mississippi . . .
. . . flows north from Lake Itasca.

Yeah, but…
I thought it sounded like you wanted an adventure.

sounds like you got a great adventure in the making. I have done some long distance paddling myself over the years…mainly IN and expedition canoe/kayak hybrid. I personally cant give you any input on the boat you are paddling. But my personal take is that I always take a LOT of gear because I dont need to skimp etc. A boat is like car camping,why skimp…there is room so bring the comforts to make it more enjoyable. To me 35 lbs is “light”…My last trip i actually had 220 lbs of gear…maybe a different sort of trip than yours but none the less.

On long distance paddling Comfort is NUMBER 1 in what to look for…if you are not comfortable how are you to paddle effiecient. If you are not paddling efficient than you will tire much sooner…goes both ways… My particular boat (which is unimportant in this discussion0 I am extremely comfortable in. In fact I typically never get out during a 10-15 hour paddle day except to take a poop. I even pee in my pee bottle etc. There is no need for me to get out because i am comfortable sitting etc. So make sure you are in something you can sit in a LONG time.

I wouldnt worry about taking a GPS. To me they are so over rated. When you realize the entire north american continent was explored and mapped without a GPS, that you know that you should be able to do a well traveled river that has been mapped every possible way by using a map and compass. To me a GPS is good if you are in areas where it is critical to pin point a certain place. SInce you are not probably going to be in those situations than good map skills are all you will need. The Miss is channelized and bouyed the whole way including mile markers all along. A good navigational map also shows those so in a sense its like having a GPS without it etc. I have personally paddled in remote areas of northern canada and never even brought a GPS. (I dont even know how to use on) I over the years have honed my map skills and orienteering skills to where i can use a map and compass and pinpoint within a 100 foot area of what i was looking for…so thats about the same accuaracy as a GPS…maybe not quite as good, but it was not important. Why spend all your time analizing a computer (GPS) and not being aware of the natural indicators of the land…be a part of your surroundings…look, feel, smell, watch, listen, and blend in with it all and you will learn to be a PART of it instead of being “apart” of it. At your age you are and have those skills even if you dont think you do. Experience is overated! Whats in the soul and heart and the will of determination is going to get you to the Gulf of Mexico before any “experience” will…remember Columbus never sailed across the Ocean until he set out to cross the Ocean. Neil Armstrong never walked on the moon either until the day he walked on the moon. Just go for it, sieze the day.

One thing you will soon realize in any long distance trip is that it is not as physical as you thought but more (90%) mental. You have to learn and adapt at being “one” with everything. Mother Nature WILL DICTATE your journey NOT YOU. YOU will learn to go and adjust according to “her”…the weather calls the shorts! Dont get beaten down by thinking “how far” you have to go or you will quit! You only need to break it down into very small sections. I always looked at each “bend” as my only objective nothing more…its UNIMPORTANT to even worry about 30 miles downstream…only what is in front of you boat. One stroke at a time will get you to the ocean.

A few other pointers:

1:Learn to adapt! I dont need to say more.

2: Maybe reach Cliff jacobsons book “Expedition Canoeing and Kayaking” …tons of helpful info by the master.

I have about 6 friends who have also done the whole Mississppi too. One even did it in a homemake Huck Finn raft. Another friend has paddled it UPSTREAM the whole way and he was in his 60’s.

If you would like the contact info to the others i know that have paddled it for personal questions please let me know and i will get you their emails.

Oh yeah …your comment about being “lost”…their is NO such thing. You are never lost…only “temporarily disoriented”…seriously…dont laugh. You learn so much about navigation when disoriented! Its a good experience…plus besides as long as you are going “with” the current than dont worry about it because you will eventually get to the ocean.

Another important lesson…When gathering info as you go (enroute) take the locals with a grain of salt. Ive discovered rather quickly how little THEY KNOW about the area they live…NONE are paddlers…so they dont understand. I actually make a game of it…I ALWAYS ask many folks the exact same questions…and then complile the many different answers into what i feel is the proper answer. For example: I also ask about the weather and or a particular route or channel, and if I ask 10 people this question I will get 10 different answers.

Hope my diatribe helps you out.

Good luck and keep the hollow side up!


Here’s a discussion and sites about the Miss trip.

Not having done’ ,but read about the tricky parts for navigation are nearer the beginning until you get to those big lakes in northern MN. Once you get to about those big lakes the river becomes obvious. This part I am familiar with. By St Cloud, MN you basically go down stream. After the first dam in the Twin Cities you just need to know which bouy to keep on your right so to speak so you don’t get messed up in islands. Regular state road maps of bordering states will help you know where you are as you flow beneath bridges or pass large and very small towns. Many of the smaller towns (like where I live) have a place to land your craft and walk about a block to a Casey’s type store. Here’s the Army Corps of Eng site

Admire your ambition. Suggest doing
something shorter and more interesting.

shorter trips
Do a lot of daytrips and shorter overnights first also take some time to learn the skills a paddler(even on a river)needs to know—after all don’t want your engine to go "apocketa, pocketa)–you waltermitty fans know what I mean

A couple thoughts
If getting you and the boat with gear to the starting point is an issue, maybe consider a folding kayak or folding canoe. The Pakboats canoes are supposed to be very good for long wilderness trips. Klepper, Pouch, and Longhaul folding kayaks may be suitable for big river travel. Anyway, the German boats were, I think, originally designed for use on large, navigable rivers.

Finally, consider adding a canoe or kayak cart to your gear. One that can be taken apart for storage in the boat.

Good Luck,


I have the vehicles . . .
to transport a kayak but getting it back is the problem. I will probably end up having my wife drive me the 1,500 miles to Lake Itasca and dump me out them pick me up a couple of months later in Louisiana.

I have quite a bit of exprience camping light. I can live comfortably long term on 35 pounds of gear. I have a Eureka Outback I (actually it is the military version called the ICS) tent, about 6 lbs, Kelty Light Year 45 degree bag, Thermarest pad, Coleman Peak 1 stove in container that serve as cooking pots, candle lantern, etc. Everything packs small and light.

I don’t carry much in the way of clothing. I buy what I need along the way. I carry some light weight Goretex for rain or unexpected cold weather. I plan on resupplying myself by mailing packages to myself care of general delivery and also getting ride of accumulating souveniers by mailing ‘em home.

I am old school in the photo department, have an Olympus XA, tiny rangefinder camera that takes excellent photos, or maybe take something a little bigger if room allows, my Nikon FM2, not as durable. I am considering goin’ digital.

Not that I want to
But who is going with you?

On a trip like that I wouldn’t think you’d go it alone.


I’ve been to south Louisiana and you can’t drive along the Miss River to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s just marsh on in the lower delta. I’d check on take possibilities. befor reaching the Gulf.


Book recommendation
An entry level book that I enjoyed reading was The Kayak Companion by Joe Glickman that described his trip down the Missouri River.

Good luck and have fun!