Columbia River Water Trail - Feedback?

Hi guys! I’m brand new to this board, so please forgive any naivete.

I’m a Seattle-based adventure writer, and I recently kayaked the Lower Columbia River Water Trail. I’m going to be writing about it for a local magazine, and I’d love to hear about any other people’s experience on this particular stretch of river.

I also made a gear list, which I posted on my website:

Am I forgetting anything? All feedback is welcomed. Thank you so much!

subject here and in West Coast Paddler online, back issues of Sea Kayaker.

Next time
We had a fantastic summer this year; it’s too bad you didn’t take your trip down the Columbia about a month earlier.

Thanks! That’s a good tip. If you’re interested, I just found a great article about it in Adventure Kayak, too.

Yeah, we’ve heard that. We actually had great weather (for the most part), and it was pretty incredible to be the only recreational paddlers on the water. Still, it would have been a lot warmer in September.

Great trip

– Last Updated: Nov-18-14 12:40 PM EST –

Tripping is the reason I got a kayak.

My longest has been 107 with a bunch of boy scouts (group of 22, adults inc). You think logistics is a PITA with a small group of adults.... :)

20 mi (ish) a day is about perfect IMHO. Its a nice balance of distance over effort. You aren't busting your hump, but you are still engaged.

I love the fog pic. That is THE BEST time to be on the river. Most noise is so muffled you are almost afraid to speak because you will ruin it. On a 65 mi trip we put in at 0730 the first full day on the water and did about 2 hours in fog. The first hour the visibility was under 100', awesome.

I will disagree about the tent though. A good 3 season should be water tight and up to anything except feet of snow. I have been in mine to sub 17deg which was cool enough for me. The tent isnt that important for heat, as long as you can keep the wind off of you. The sleeping bag, pad and long johns are what you need to keep warm. And a HAT. When we are going in the cold, I tell the scouts that you bring 2 hats. One you wear when you are active, the other stays with your sleeping gear.A quick look at Portland temps and it seems the temps were mid 40's for the lows. You really dont need a lot of tent of sleeping gear for that.

Did you use the WWTA info?

– Last Updated: Nov-17-14 2:01 PM EST –

If you're a member, you have full access to their website info.

I look forward to reading your article. Slideshow might be of interest to the club I belong to; I'll send your info to a couple of people in it. Club meetings are held in Port Angeles, if that's not a ridiculous trek for you.

Which part?

– Last Updated: Nov-26-14 8:14 AM EST –

Most of my paddling is on the Columbia River, but it is mostly confined to the stretch from St. Helens, Oregon to Skamokawa, Washington. I'm pretty partial to the section from Kalama, Wa. to downstream from Longview a few miles.

On your run, was there a particular section that you found interesting?

I like your dog
But I’m guessing she or he wasn’t actually packed. :wink:

Looking forward to the article (post a link here!). I have an interest in paddling urban places and am particularly curious about how paddling Portland was.

Down vs Synthetic

– Last Updated: Nov-18-14 12:29 PM EST –

I noticed on your gear list you recommend synthetic rather than down sleeping bags because they "will keep you warm even when wet."

Since it's a watersport, it seems like a no-brainer then to use synthetic, yet I wonder how prevalent synthetic bags are among paddlers. Did all members of your group use synthetic bags? What about other times you went in a group? Is synthetic the mantra among paddlers in general? Have you ever slept in a wet synthetic bag in October in the Northwest (I haven't)?

It seems to me that keeping your bag dry is so crucial even for a synthetic bag that (almost) absolute water protection is a must. Once you've decreased the probability of a wet bag to almost nothing, is the extra margin of warmth/safety that a synthetic bag provides worth it compared to down, or wouldn't you reach the point of diminishing returns?


Waterproof compression dry bags
make down bags a good choice for paddlers. They pack to the size of two Nalgenes. There is no reason not to use a down bag unless you are in constant high humidity. Even then down bags now have a DWR coating.

I am on the Maine coast. My friends and I all swear by the better insulation and compressibilty provided by down. 800 fill if you can get it.

PNetters recommended a 650-fill down . .
bag by LL Bean a few years ago, and I went right out and got it. Used it in the Everglades last January. It compresses very small in just a normal small drybag. I have a synthetic bag that seems thicker, but i despair of compressing it adequately to pack in a kayak. But I don’t have experience with true compression bags. My neighbor, a backpacker, uses a compression bag for her sleeping bag and packed it in a low-volume Dagger Alchemy on a recent weekend trip i to the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia. So i guess it can be done. I wonder, though, if the synthetic bag would fluff back up properly after being squeezed so hard.

I have a lot to learn!


– Last Updated: Nov-18-14 4:27 PM EST –

I put my down bag, daughter's synthetic bag (can't justify the cost of down for her yet) and both our camp pillows in an eVent compression sack and compress it to a smaller size than my old synthetic winter bag alone. If one is really concerned about water intrusion putting that bag rolled end down in a standard dry bag will make water intrusion extremely unlikely in most cases. Synthetic or down, wet sleeping bags suck. Down is the way to go IMO. Nice job Charlotte. Thanks for sharing!

paddled from tri cities to Astoria
I paddled the Columbia from the Tri cities to Astoria in 2004 as the last part of a 6-month paddled from St. Louis to the Pacific etc.

Things that come to mind about the Columbia–

The winds can be horrendous and waited as long as 4-days tucked into a tiny bay near Arlington. One thing I noticed about the route is there is a railroad and road on both sides so the camps are very limited. All doable…I never not found a camp but surely did not have a lot of choices. Many camps I just had to eke out an existence …just big enough for my tent. Great camps however. Nice lighting, peaceful and very scenic too.

The “portages” were an experience. I was told in 2003 that if I paddled up to the dam, I could just call the dam keeper and they would open up the locks for me. Well that was not the case in 2004. It was rather inconsistent. I was able to lock thru 1/2 and had to manually portage the rest, which was not a big deal other than “time”…I had to usually make two trips so the portage was about a hour plus to complete. One dam worker drove down and helped me one time.

Enjoyed the depth and beauty of the canyon it works through. May old ancient indian trails can be seen high above and that sort of transported me back in time to when Lewis & Clark paddled through and meet many of the tribes.

Some of the small towns are great for resupply, cold beer and just a place to get out for a burger and pizza too having ate backpack type food for 6-months. One of the best “Paddlers” friendly places was a floating restaurant in Vancouver Wash…I paddled right up to the waitress and ordered some of the best food around.

There are some great camps around Portland and below to Astoria. An island with many paddlers camp sites is located across for St. Helens…nobody was there! Same with County Line Camp Ground which had more people but was very quiet.

I enjoyed the change in scenery the lower I got and being able to see seals almost to Portland in the river eating fish. The big ships were cool to see giving me clarification of how far I had come…its was the first ships I saw in 6-months etc.

Skamokawa was a fantastic camp! Beautiful sandy beach. I stayed there two nights. Meet a lot of sea kayakers there having a club-picnic so I got to talk to them.

I crossed over there the next morning on the Oregon side and worked my way through the small islands that L&C also paddled through. Some weird current and waves rounding the point up from Astoria. I finished at the Maritime Museum there. The musuem people were helpful and let me store my boat in their storage unit while I toured Astoria for a few days. Love the history of the area.

The trail is fantastic, would love to paddle it again.


a bag
holds heat. Bags do not create heat. Wetted synthetic bags hold heat, wetted down bags do not hold heat.

You can crawl into a wetted synth bag and warm up from cool or cold then in an hour feel warm if the bag has a rating for the outside temp. Synth socks are necessary.

I am told and read, a down bag has no heat holding capacity when wet. Do a wet feathers test.

BTW, I was convinced down bags would compress to a small package but looking thru the online specs I cannot find one compressing to 5 Nalgenes.

Columbia River

– Last Updated: Nov-19-14 9:09 AM EST –

Check out the book "Voyage of a Summer Sun- Canoeing the Columbia River" by Robin Cody, excellent, entertaining and thought-provoking narrative. Be sure and check out paddletothesea's post above also.

Got one
that compresses to two…

Its not hard to prevent a bag from getting wet. And no synthetics do not hold heat well. I soddened one pre dry bag days on Lake Superior. 850 down compresses quite well. 600 not so much. Sybthetics compress comparatively badly.

I spend a lot of time kayak camping each year… Mostly on Lake Superior and the Gulfs of Maine and Mexico. I have been very happy with my down bag.

The chief problem is that in high humidity the inside gets a little damp and for that I use a Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor liner. I don’t care personally for dampish feeling cold nylon.

Mostly true, but as usual
you missed the points, which are:

  1. With the possible exception of $600 and up specialized bags down sleeping bags are superior to synthetic sleeping bags WHEN DRY and

  2. It’s pretty easy to keep a sleeping bag dry on a float trip.

Enjoyable Pics
EXCEPT the naked backsides; I’m a nurse, I’ve seen enough naked backsides in my life (LOL)!

I noticed the down vs synthetic debate? Like a poster whom had this comment: “I am told and read, a down bag has no heat holding capacity when wet. Do a wet feathers test.” Well, I only have “Real world” experience, not “Theoretical” experience and I’ve used a Down bag (same one, North Face) since 1976. I don’t paddle in the desert or low humidity climes and have had zero problems with a wet bag. “No,” I’ve never broke the piggy bank and bought one of those 1K tents, mine have all been middle-of-the-road Eureka, Big Agnes, etc. Put it in a good dry sack, use a ground cloth INside your tent, and with minimal care that nice, warm, compressible down bag will be your companion for life!

“Good job,” CharlotteAustin, would like to see more. I haven’t seen the Columbia since the '70’s and would like to read more on your expedition et al.

Holy cow! I can’t imagine organizing the logistics for a group of boy scouts. You must be a saint. A very, very patient saint. :slight_smile:

I hear your point about the tent. I work in the mountains, so I’m lucky to have access to four-season tents, and I prefer them for their durability and bomb-proof feel. I realize that they’re not required, though. I appreciate the feedback, and I’ll think about changing the wording on my gear list.