First overnighter - need some advice

I plan on taking a trip with 2 friends down the Wisconsin River. Both friends are looking at buying boats for the first time, and I am a relatively inexperienced paddler. I’m looking for suggestions on finding campsites along the river. What type, and how much, food to bring. Quantity of drinking water. I am also looking to get a backpacking tent for as cheap as possible.

I have decent storage on my yak, its a zoar sport lv, and has bow and stern storage.

I think the trip will probably be around 3-4 days, and will probably take place in july or august. I’m also looking for suggestions on where to put in, and also how people normally get back home. I have concerns with driving 2 cars, and being able to recognize where the car downriver actually is.

any help is appreciated

Some Help…
Here’s a little advice- You’ll want to drink at least 1 gallon of water per day, especially in July or August.

Scouting for campsites is something that becomes easier the more you learn what you like and dislike. I would avoid sand if possible… look for something that is easy access from the water, up from the water level in case of rain and has some firewood. There is much more to look for, but I think these are the basics.

Food- I would bring some breakfast nutri-grain bars, or something like that (minimal space.) For dinner I would bring some Dinty Moore Beef Stew (that way you don’t have to worry about keeping it cold and you can just throw it in the fire to heat it up) and then I would bring something with salt in it- just to be sure you are retaining water. Oh, I’m sure I’ll get ripped on this but, I would also bring a fifth of Captain Morgan and some Coke for some evening cocktails… in plastic of course (never a good idea to have glass on any river)

You really don’t have to have a tent if you have a 10’ X 10’ tarp… you can build shelter out of that and it takes up no space at all. But you can get a solo tent from a sporting goods store for $80 or so… You may also be able to store some of your belongings on the outside of your Yak if you have bungee cords???

Hope this helps a little bit? I just did a 21 mile one-nighter in Missouri and also a 31 mile 2 nighter in March. If you want to see some pics of my camp or set- up you can view some of my pics-

Good Luck and Have a Blast!!!

suggestion on the tent
buy a good one—as much as you can afford–a tent is not a place to skimp and try to save. I’ve had good ones from LL Bean for slightly over 100 dollars and lousy ones from walmart for about 40—50 dollars----you don’t have to break the bank but 100–150 for a two person tent is a good investment. you’ll be glad you spent the money when the wind picks up and the rain starts coming down.

first paddle
If the waters not too polluted bring a water filter. Another option…is there any state parks or places to refill enroute? I bring a gallon+ per day unless its hot out and i bring twice that.

Food options. No different than car camping really. Go all out, or keep it simply. There are a lot of prepackaged somewhat light weight food out there now…meals in foil pouches, tuna and chicken not in cans anymore. Pastas are easy. Try to create one-pot meal…i,e soup,pasta, stewish type meals all mixed together with lots of flavor. Many health food stores sell dried foods in bulk now too.

Camping? I dont know youre area so I cant help you there.

Tents? You know Eureka makes some really durable tents that last years, you can get one for 100-200 bucks. Not very lightweight but durable for sure.

Let it be a learning experince.

some thoughts in this article
This has some info related to kayak camping:

I can’t help you on local knowledge regarding campsites, how to find your car, etc. But you wouldn’t be the first person to miss the take out and instead just keep on enjoying your time on the water…

How to get 3 days of Advice
Check out the Wisconsin River V posts on the Getting Together and Going Paddling Forum on this website. I think they are now on page 2 and 3. There will be a group of about 25 heading out on the river for a 3 day trip in mid August. Sounds to me like place and time are right for you and your friends. Many folks on this trip have a ton of tripping experience that you can tap into. Consider coming along - it may be one of the best ways to do a first trip… And one more suggestion - it may be good for your friends to rent boats for this trip rather than buy. That way they can start to get an idea of what they like in a boat.

River of a Thousand Isles
Your best bet for campsites is the numerous sandbars found in the river; since they are ephemeral islands (they come and go), they are considered public lands and so are open for camping. If you camp ashore, you may have to contend with landowners or police, as there may be some debate as to whether you are trespassing:

You’ll have a hard time avoiding sand here, as the entire watershed is comprised of it. You may find a nice spot covered in forest duff, but the sand is never far below the surface, so may as well get used to it. The lower Wisconsin River is so heavily used that you will likely have trouble finding firewood; we’ve often found the surrounding shores virtually stripped of all burnable materials. So bring a cookstove and enjoy a small fire if you can, but don’t count on it.

Because much of the river traffic is comprised of party barges and drunken tubers, you may want to bring a good set of your favorite earplugs, just in case they decide to camp next to you.

The water is suitable for filtering, so that’s a good option. In addition, I usually bring a gallon or two of extra drinking water as a backup, in case I cannot find suitable open water or if the pump fails.

For a decent, affordable tent, check out the large new Gander Mountain store just north of Madison. Unlike REI, Gander Mountain is a fairly local (St. Paul, MN) outdoor retailer, and unlike Dick’s, does not reap huge government subsidies to locate and operate its stores. As another poster mentioned, Eureka makes some very good, affordable tents. You may want to preemptively seal the seams, especially those on the rain fly.

Since this is your first kayak-camping trip, you may find my packing article helpful:

Good Luck!


See if you can find a guidebook covering the river you are going to paddle. That will have info on put in/take out options, any potential hazards (dams? rapids? etc.)and maybe some tips on camping spots. Google the river, and you may find online guide, blogs, trip reports etc.

Topo map - can be a help in locating camping areas - look for relatively flat areas, points, etc. - anyplace where the river is shown as narrower, pinched in, you can guess it will more likely than not be in a canyon where its not easy to find a flat spot - wider, more meandering areas will be flatter terrain.

Library or good book store will have books on wilderness camping, canoe tripping, etc. you’ll find the answer to a lot of questions you don’t even know to ask.

Sanitation - is important. Dig a cat hole back 150 feet or more from the water’s edge, and bury it deep. Don’t wash dishes in the river, use a folding bucket and spill the residue into your cathole.

Water - as said, a gallon a day per person is the standard minimum - if its hot, go with more, or if the river water is ok, use a filter.

A tarp setup is OK, but not practical when there are lots of bugs out - that’s where a tent with bugscreen is a big plus over a tarp. Even if you slather on the bug dope, just having a bunch of mosquitos buzzing around your head all night is annoying at best, and miserable at worst.

Get some dry bags, and/or use double layers of trash bags inside stuff bags to keep your stuff dry.

go with them!
you should really take them up on tagging along on there trip!! they are some of the finest paddling folk out there! and for your first one, they will help you have the time of your life! but i warn you, you’ll never be the same, or stop going!! then that bug bites and it starts off with you get a canoe, some paddles and a cooler, and before you know it, you need a new garage for the shuttle bus! and the fleet of your favorite paddling crafts. then you sell all your other hobby stuff so you can buy a carbon fiber one!!, or have blue one! or another red one! it never ends!

take a water filter - saves carrying tons of water.

Plus you are on a river, not backpacking in the desert so I bet you’ll run across some water somewhere. lol

If the dates work…
you really should consider joining the Wisconsin River outing as suggested by DuluthMoose. You will get tons of valuable pointers if you want the advice, will meet some really nice paddlers (except for me – I’m a stinker!), and won’t have to worry so much about shuttling vehicles or worrying about whether you’ve passed your takeout point.

Bring a tent, not a tarp. You will be glad if the mosquitoes are active or if the weather turns nasty.

The advice about avoiding sand… forget about it on the Wisconsin. Sand is a fact of life there. Of course, with a little practice you can avoid the impact it has on your comfort and usually keep it out of your food!

Water filter? I have never used one on the Wisconsin, but if you use one be prepared to spend time letting the sediment settle out first and bring a spare cartridge. There are some places to refill with water, depending on the stretch you are running. You will need enough water storage to get you through a day or so at least. Gallon jugs are commonly used in kayaks (I use a canoe).

Maps – If you do the trip on your own, get Mike Svob’s book, “Paddling Southern Wisconsin.” You’ll get info there about put-ins and take-outs, mileage estimates, etc. This would be money well-spent if you plan to paddle in that region much.

Campsites – nearly any shoreline sandbar will be open to camp on. Most islands also - some are posted as no trespassing.

Too much more to tell you before the message entry screen “times out!”

re: finding car
I always bring my GPS and mark my car’s location before I head up river, then go to that waypoint.

It’s easy
Another vote to join in with the existing WI River trip - that’s a great way to meet other paddlers from the area and all over the country. Many of them have paddling experience (and awesome stories) that you can learn a bunch from!

Definitely have your friends rent rather than buy

No on the water filter - too much “stuff” in the Wisconsin (farm run off) that can’t be filtered out. Buy some Platypus bottles, and fill 'em up.

Sand bar / islands are your camp sites. Look closely at the sand for high water marks if you can.

Tie your boats up to something no matter how high you think you’ve pulled them. Better safe than boatless when you wake up.

Bring fishing gear!

No matter how hot it will get, you’ll want a loose long sleeve & maybe pants too. Water = hatching mosquitos. You don’t wanna be miserable. DEET is your weapon, unfortunately.

Huge thumbs up on the Mike Svob book - you will learn just about EVERYTHING you need to know to do this trip. (Including access points that you can fill up your water bottles).

Old trip pics from WIS River I and II:

Have fun!


I might have
to join the river trip, its just a matter of getting off of work now! thanks for all the advice

I could not agree more with the previous post; a tent is not where you want to save. Look for 3 season tents (rain flop must cover the entire tent, not half way) and yes $100 to $200 is about the right price.