Ever sleep in your canoe

An area of wetlands I wanted to explore would involve at least 2 days paddling. So…how to sleep for a night in a place with no land, only water. I thought about using my hammock but the thought of hanging a rain fly and hammock from a few trees seemed daunting.

You only need two trees for a hammock and fly. Or one tree and a stand.

I can’t imagine getting anything more than a quick nap in a canoe, but I am sure some people could sleep for a whole night

I know a guy that naps on the rear deck of his kayak. Sure you can do it, maybe.

Sleeping in a canoe, while overnighting out on a bayou: Would it be tied to a tree? Anchored? What are the possible risks and probabilities (%) that something unexpected could go wrong?

I know Seawind paddlers that have slept in theirs. I’ve thought about it but it really wouldn’t work for me. The Rendezvous has a pedestal seat and I don’t think that I could wriggle under thwarts & seat in the Independence. Also, I usually have paddle drippings & foot slop in the bottom that I wouldn’t really want lay down in.

My daughter is a tarp & hammock camper & she seems to be able to set up pretty easily. As long as you have the two trees you would just need something to attach the side pull outs from the tarp.

I think it would depend a lot on where you are and what you’re paddling. I can’t think of a situation where a hammock, with or without a rain fly, wouldn’t be preferable even if your feet got wet getting in and out. I see cypress in your photo, so I’m guessing you’re in the south somewhere and are thinking of exploring coastal salt marshes? You’d need to find a place well sheltered from wind and waves and with something solid to tie up to - and a pretty spacious canoe with lots of primary stability. I’d think mangroves might offer some shelter, if available. And what of snakes and gators? I’m a northern guy, I don’t have skills in those environs - are those problematic or not? And solo or with a partner?

But “ever sleep in your canoe”… you’re making me laugh at myself. Yeah, I have. I can recall two occasions when I was in High School when I did exactly that… in a nice stable Grumman both times. One trip in particular comes to mind…

A paddling bud and I from those days used to set these ridiculous goals for ourselves and, by gawd, we weren’t quitters, we stuck to our plans. We were foolish kids. (“Plans” in those days amounted to “I plan to go canoeing” without much further detail about the particulars.) On this occasion our planned trip’s second day involved finishing paddling the Illinois Fox river with about another half day’s paddle left on the Illinois river, where we were to be picked up early in the afternoon. And we were going to make the Illinois before we quit that second day or die trying.
We portaged the last dam on the Fox as the sun was getting low and our memories were that the town of Ottawa at the confluence with the Illinois was soon after. Well, it was just farther and took longer than we remembered. It got dark and we just kept going, thinking the confluence would be “just around the next bend”, which, of course it wasn’t. We dodged rocks by sound under a partly cloudy quarter moon until almost mid night (though we didn’t have a watch) when we paddled past the twinkling lights (and their reflections) of marinas and the developed shores of Ottawa. That was a really hauntingly beautiful part of the trip. It was quite pretty and peaceful, actually. But there was just nowhere to camp. Everything was developed. Pushing on in the dark on the Illinois proper with its barge traffic was too foolish for even us. And no, no actually we hadn’t thought of that…
So we turned upstream on the Illinois where in the dark it looked like there might be an island. Well, actually there was an island. It would have been a decent covert camp site had it not been for the hundred acre mud flat shallows (that black, smelly, bubbly, possibly bottomless, boot-sucking stuff) that we couldn’t see in the dark but nevertheless discovered surrounding it. We’d get stuck, back out, look for another approach, get stuck again… finally on the fourth of fifth try we got close enough to some dead drowned-out trees to tie our bow and sterns lines loosely to. We were in about six inches of water and who knows how many feet of mud.
And so there we “slept” head to head with our feet stuck under the seats on the floor of the canoe, rocked to sleep by the wakes of distant passing barges. Sleeping bags used like quilts, canoe’s ribs and ours in intimate association. And then the mosquitoes found us. That’s what I’ve found to be the one really reliable thing about sleeping in a canoe - mosquitoes will find you.
The waking sounds of the town, maybe two miles distant, woke us up too - if we really ever slept.
It will probably surprise no one that we got a really early start the next morning, skipped breakfast, and after locking through at Starved Rock SP, arrived early at our take out. And napped on the lawn at the landing.

So… Sleep in a canoe? No, no I wouldn’t advise it. But I know it can be done. A hammock would be sooo much better. If you’re paddling with a partner it might even be worth considering sleeping on the canoe bottom in shifts, taking turns paddling through the night. I think that’s what Verlen sometimes did. At least that makes the mosquitoes work a bit to catch you.


It is possible, but not comfortable.
It is an emergency bivouac. Sometimes it is your only option.

Thanks for the story PJC! Sounds like teenage boys, and some of my bad camping choices.

I’ve napped in canoes before, but never slept in them overnight.

Have slept under them (bottom side up) on numerous occasions. Used logs or rocks to get them higher off the ground, and use a small rainfly to block off one side of the canoe. Built small fire on the open side when the weather was particularly cold.


No, but came very close one time in Quetico. My wife and I were about one week into a two week trip and found a pretty nice campsite on an island. We decided to “take it easy” and stay there two nights and do a day trip the second day over to some adjacent lakes off our intended route. Since it was a day trip we brought only some food for lunch and a small Optimus stove, but no sleeping bags, headlights, etc.

Well, the day trip went sour. We made a wrong turn at some point and wound up losing hours back tracking. We found ourselves on a sizable lake trying to find our little island campsite in the very dark night. I was trying to read a map and compass by the light of a little Bic butane lighter which we had brought for the stove and trying to guess which dark shadow in the inky blackness might represent our island. This was well before civilian GPS. Of course, we could have pulled over to shore but the thought of sleeping on the ground with absolutely no protection from the mosquitoes was about as terrifying as death.

I had just about decided to try to sleep in the canoe in shifts while the other person maintained position out in the lake away from shore when what appeared to be an island emerged from the darkness. I thought it might be our island and it turned out it was, but we were on the wrong side of it. Rather than try to navigate to the other side in the dark, we just left the boat and bushwacked across the island to our tent.

The Lake Raystown Fjord’s Prayer - A Semi-Confessional
(or, “That Lucky Dumbass! Wasn’t His Time, I S’pose?” “Well George, he is so even-keeled, don’t ya know?”)

Now I lay me down to sleep,
though not intent but whiskey’s creep,
into this brain where vision flew,
with lie to fly cross lake canoe.

And so in bilge of hull and brain,
recumbent thoughts circle the drain,
and someone’s prayer would keep my take,
from Lord’s employ to fish count lake.

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Thanks for all replies. Some are sobering, some funny. I paddle a Bell Merlin II with kneeling thwart and want to explore a vast wetland known as the Atchafalaya Basin and that requires some overnighting. Since the Basin is all water I’ve thought about sleeping in my canoe. I have a couple of problems with a jungle hammock. First, i find it impossible to rig it up when standing in the canoe. Second, if I stand in the water I cannot hang the hammock high enough so that the sag is above water when occupied. So, I can lay down in the Merlin but pinned down by the thwarts. I thought about taking out all but the kneeling thwart but worry about stiffness. A tandem might be large enough, but I really don’t relish paddling a tandem solo.

Never done it but thought about it a few times…how about a nap while tied up in some familiar waters as a test? Can’t wait for a trip report John!

Well, I have read about this canoe/kayak and people sleeping inside it, might be an option for you:

Kruger Canoes crafted by paddlers for paddlers P.O. BOx 92, Irons, Michigan 49644 (231) 266-2089 mark@krugercanoes.com

What I paddle and Why. The Kruger Sea WInd Canoe – Go with the Flow (wordpress.com)

Merlin II might be snug. I’ve napped in solos…really nice with the cool breeze blowing over the boat but not getting inside. Sliding seat makes more room. I remember waking up one time and my Osprey’s gunwales were completely covered with hundreds of blue damselflies.

Mark Przedwojewski purchased Kruger Canoes from Verlen Kruger in 2002 and continued building them. Sadly, Mark died of lymphoma in August of this year.

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Thanks, I think I may have read that.

Get a bigger boat Pag and it might work, I had forgotten about the Merlin II but had visions of you sleeping in your Aria.

I have mulled over the same possibility of having to sleep in the Nomad in the Everglades which is why I prefer the Gulf side of that area over the Wilderness Waterway.

I can introduce some heresy… a tandem paddled from the bow seat facing astern propelled by a double blade. Have a great Thanksgiving!

I have napped in my kayak in Florida, only to be startled awake by a curious gator a couple feet away! I’m a field biologist who worked with gators, crocs, and snakes - I’m a firm believer that if you leave them alone, they’ll generally leave you alone. The common exception to that rule is in places where gators have been fed and start associating humans with food. However, this isn’t a concern in the backcountry, but I also would not want to roll out of my boat while I slept and land on a gator or cottonmouth in the middle of the night - I wouldn’t blame them for biting if I did. I think the much more real “danger”, however, would be the mosquitoes, though I haven’t paddling in LA so don’t know how bad they are there. Sleeping in an open boat in many places, from Florida to the Northwoods at many times of year, you’d get eaten alive.

I would have gone with either the hammock suggestion, or lying in the bottom of the boat, but it seems like neither option is appealing in your particular situation. What about using a push-pole or two to anchor the boat in the muck, and then lash a thwart tightly to the push-poles, making the boat much more stable? Lashed between two push-poles, you might have stability enough to stand and rig a hammock. An outrigger would also accomplish this - you could rig the outrigger just while setting up a hammock and not use it while paddling. Or, if a hammock really isn’t your thing, could you add some supports across the gunnels to make a deck to sleep on (again, once the boat is secured to push-poles or outriggers)? Not sure it would be feasible, and I personally would be worried about rolling off in my sleep, but it’s a thought, assuming you can solve the stability issue.

As noted by kayamedic, I’ve also had success paddling a tandem backwards from the bow seat, and have done wilderness trips that way. A double-bladed paddle really makes it much more efficient, and my tandem is both wide enough to sleep in and stable enough to stand and walk around in (but I assume you don’t want to buy another boat).

I slept in a BMW 320i once. That was sufficiently uncomfortable. :slight_smile:

I don’t think Recaro ever made cots, or hammocks, or platform beds, or sofas, or Murphy beds…