Basic Canoe Gear Help

New to the forum and new to canoeing. I’m looking for suggestions as to the basic equipment to bring when doing lakes and mild rivers. Plans are for tandem canoeing with the wife and occasionally daughter. I have paddles of course and pfd’s but other than that have opted to research and ask more experienced paddlers which brought me to this forum. Thanks in advance for your suggestions!

Day trips - I don’t bring much
Water, lunch and keys. If it might rain I’ll bring rain gear, and if it’s cool a change of cloths. You’ll need a dry bag to keep it in.

Small first aid kit
even if only some neosporin and band aids is always a good idea, More complete ones available everywhere. Waterproof storage for it is obviously required.

Thwart bags are handy for knick knacks but day pack is sufficient if you already have one.

An extra paddle is prudent as are bow and stern lines.


– Last Updated: Jul-18-16 8:39 AM EST –

Everybody is different. One of the things I liked about canoeing when I was young and just getting started canoeing was that you didn't need much "gear". You just got in a canoe in canvas tennis shoes and went. You wore pretty much what you'd wear for just being outside in the weather you were in. But you, if you wanted, one could carry almost anything... mostly camping stuff in my case.

What I find useful is to procure a small pack - even a good used book bag. Put in a rain poncho or two, first aid kit, flashlight, sharp knife, fire starting stuff (in an empty peanut butter jar to keep it dry), some rope, TP in a gallon zip lock, and(now days and if you feel the need of such stuff) your cell phone and/or GPS in waterproof cases. A map of the place you're going and a compass can be a very good thing to have. Some energy bars and chemical hand warmers can be handy. But keep it simple. Its easy to spend thousands for a few dollars worth of benefit.

Just pack it once, keep it with your paddling stuff, and take it whenever and wherever you go out. Quick and easy. Getting in the habit of strapping this bag to a thwart in case of a spill is a really good idea.

After a while you'll find things that you might want to bring and add them to the collection. There'll probably be some things that you often bring, don't use, and get tired of just carrying around. Drop 'em. (Or in the case of the first aid stuff carry them gratefully.) In the end your gear will pretty much suit your needs. If you get into overnight tripping, or whitewater, or racing, or some other more specialized paddling your outfit will change, of course, but for starters I think most would be fine with what I've mentioned above.

You may want a
sponge and bailer too.

Recovery and stuff
Priorities for me-

Abilities before stuff -

I assume everyone is a solid swimmer. Shouldn’t have to ask but in the last several years I have encountered people who could not stay up in water without their PFD well out from shore in kayaks. It is not a good idea, these folks tend to panic in case of a capsize and are unable to solve what is otherwise a perfectly solvable problem.

Canoes can be re-entered on the water depending on the canoe and on whether it has full float bags and on the people involved. Spend some time to find out what your abilities are there. Use that to decide how far from shore you will get. Two paddlers can make it easier.

As to stuff -

For me anyway, gloves, 3/4 finger length paddling or sailing rigging gloves. Some use biking gloves but I prefer longer fingers for paddling.

Always a change of clothes in a dry bag. I have started shivering when soaked in air temps well above 60 degrees.

Cell phone or other emergency communications option in a dry case. Otter makes a range of nice ones including ones that will fit the larger size may of us carry now.

Lights as part of the “in case” kit - there are a number of at least water resistant headlamps that are lightweight and small.

First aid kit as above - cuts and scratches level, a decent ace bandage. You can get temporary splints too but by then you should probably be calling for help.

Spare lightweight jackets for each. Get a cheapo stuffable one to start and worry about the fancy waterproof ones after you have seen where the paddling takes you.

Daytrip list
some items optional

  • paddles
  • extra paddle
  • knee pad
  • bailer
  • sponge
  • pelican box
  • water bottle
  • extra water
  • PFD
  • thwart bag/backpack
  • lunch/snacks
  • sunscreen
  • bug dope
  • 2 painters
  • rain jacket
  • first aid kit
  • GPS
  • camping chairs
  • cooler

  • paddling shoes
  • hat
  • sunglasses
  • phone
  • wallet

Thanks to all of you for your suggestions :slight_smile: Some I thought of already and others I wonder why I didn’t think of that first. I appreciate all of the suggestions!

In addition
I use 5 gallon buckets instead of dry bag. If there is room in your boat and you are not portaging. They double as chairs at lunch, extremely waterproof and will float if not too weighted.

I have a large red canteen. We bring all the water we think we might possibly need plus “Big Red” although I just bought a lifestraw so may be rethinking that.

An extra large quick drying micro fiber towel. Doubles as mosquito guard, shade, emergency cover up for wardrobe malfunctions, and blanket. Plus it’s a towel.

Did someone mention sunscreen and bug spray?

Big floppy hat.

river equipment
spare paddle

throw rope

lining ropes

beware the five gallon bucket lids
not waterproof if the o ring is missing.

sometimes when you buy them the rubber o ring inside the lid ( not the part that snaps on the outside of the bucket) is not there.

Just check before buying.


– Last Updated: Jul-20-16 8:12 PM EST –

floating bow/stern lines from Walmart

hat sunglasses sunscreen eyeglasses float strap

poly shirts/nylon pants see Walmart cargo ripstop hikers poly hd tennis socks

survival tool

cell phone in waterproof case or bag. Phone with GPS map apps installed. Check for a tower.

bug headnet

orange blaze or equivalent nylon cloth used for signaling.

if the area has thunderstorms try Walmart paint for a thin painters tarp 8x12.....keep one in the vehicle.

I have a lotta laughs from the tarps...from people freezing their nnnnn off.

long sleeve poly shirt

PFD for cell phone
it won’t float in its dry bag. Test in kitchen sink.

I dont carry mine as its useless but it can be a good tool for some areas.

Same for cameras…

floatation ?
have an opinion on floatation ?

5 gallon buckets
as someone already mentioned, but I put one of these on each one:

That way you can easily store stuff in the bucket, but access it also. They have o-rings (unless you ruin/lose them). The buckets are waterproof storage, floats if you flip, seats if you’re on shore, fish bucket (if you’re so inclined), or even a short-term cooler if you’ve got drinks & ice. With the lid the buckets are extremely versatile & strong, and can help you store most of the other stuff.

Other stuff I bring:

1st aid kit

Multitool (Swiss Army knife) and/or cheap diving knife.

Water and more water

Energy bars (twice as many as you think you’ll need, just in case the day goes longer than expected for unexpected reasons)

GPS? Most phones have them, but most GPS units are better than the phone apps.

Waterproof flashlight & extra batteries

Phone in waterproof case, then in an air-filled ziplock, just in case.

Bow & stern lines with those huge, but cheap, caribiners available at Home Dumpo for like $5, so you can quickly attach to tow someone in need.

At least 25’ of extra rope in the bucket.

Bug spray


wide-brimmed hat

raincoat if it’s below 80 F.

Bilge & sponge. I actually bring those pull/shoot water cannons as extra bilges. Makes long days more fun for my kids, and they still work pretty well to bail out a boat.

Fishing rod or dip net?

Some sort of lighter in case you get lost & need to stay warm.

This one is odd to most folks, but I made an underwater view bucket for my kids to use. Just cut a hole in the bottom of a dark colored bucket (to block light glare)& use clear silicone to attach some plexiglass (or lexan, whatever you can get). They get a super clear view of underwater critters and plants, and it makes the day a lot more interesting/educational. Just don’t store stuff in the bucket or the plexiglass will get scratched.

Binoculars if you’re at all into birding.

Things to bring.
I always have a dry bag or two for things can’t get wet, and if it is colder, a dry change of clothing just in case.

Other things that usually are in my canoe with me are:


Handheld GPS

Small cooler for lunch and drinks

Fishing rod and tackle

Parachute cord for tying things in (I haven’t accidentally flipped a canoe in over 25 years, but you never know).

A jug with the bottom cut off, or bailing sponge.

Something soft to kneel on (closed cell foam works well).


Insect repellent

First aid kit.

I guess I’m vastly underequipped. On a typical day trip, in which I’m paddling and fishing a mild river in the Ozarks, I carry a bunch of fishing gear, but other than that, I have a spare paddle, a mesh bag (only because it’s required by law in Missouri as a litter bag), a small cooler that holds lunch and beverages and doubles as a bit of storage if necessary, since it has a latching lid (also required by Missouri law) so it will float for a while if by some chance I tip the canoe. Got my PFD, an old life jacket that I never wear in the summer but serves as padding for my seat back. Which brings me to the most important piece of gear I have other than the fishing stuff and paddles…a good seat back and cushion. I don’t kneel unless I absolutely have to when going through the almost non-existent rapids, but I do long floats that might last 12 hours or more, so a comfortable seat back and cushion are of paramount importance to me. I designed my own adjustable seat back, and use a Thermorest self-inflating foam lined pad for a cushion. Other than that, I have prescription sunglasses, a good wide brimmed hat, raingear only if there is a good chance of rain, and a waterproof point and shoot camera in my shirt pocket. Maybe a map if I’ve never been on that section of stream before. Painters? Nah. No first aid kit. Cell phone probably won’t have reception even though I carry it. I’m old fashioned, I prefer a topo map to GPS.