Gear in canoe -> best way? ideas?

I’ve posted a few times in the past week and I have gotten great feedback. I’ve recently had my love for canoe sparked again. And so I’m trying to decide the best way to load my canoe with gear.

I have dry bags for all my stuff. And I have an old external frame pack w/ rain cover if I am going to be doing any hiking. But for a regular 2-3 night camping trip here is my thought of how to have my stuff loading in my canoe.

And that is to have most of my dry bags (between 3-6) in the middle of the canoe between two coolers. One in from of the stern thwart, and one between the bow thwart and the bow seat. (I have Mohawk Intrepid 17’3"). One cooler for food and beverages and other similar things. And the other cooler for misc. camping equipment. Such as pots, plates, saw, throw bag, machete, emergency fire starter, camp stove, etc… I am going to get a good cooler for food. And a ‘decent’ larger cooler for my camping stuff so that the ‘decent’ cooler will have less insulation and therefor more room for stuff. I want to have my camping equipment cooler ready and packed so I can just drop it in and be good to go. I also have a webbing system designed to hold the coolers shut, and in the canoe so if I dump I keep my stuff dry.

I want to use a cooler for camping stuff since it is the cheapest box that is going to be the closest thing to waterproof.

Anyone have any other ideas or recommendations?

I’m not ultra concerned about going light as you can tell.

Thanks for input and advice!


Igloo Coolers:
My food cooler would likely be a maxcool and my gear a traditional from Igloo.


What kind of a trip
are we talking about? Solo? Cold or hot weather? Rough water or placid?

Common coolers are no more waterproof than a good Rubbermaid style container and few have latches.

Going out for a week in the summer I put food in one drybag, my tent and sleeping bag in another, and one more small one for a few extra clothes. Other than a small drybox for my camera, I’ve not found any need for a cooler or any hard-shell container.

Plastic Buckets
We’ve used the 5 gallon size plastic buckets in our canoes for years - especially good for sleeping bags, which are absolutely the last thing we want to have get wet; just make sure the lid goes on really tight. They double as excellent camp seats. Cost us nothing, or $1 each at local food stores (beef buckets) or takeouts (cooking oil buckets).

Just wish we could figure a way to get 'em into the 'yaks ;–>))



Better than coolers…
…IF you want to put stuff in ridged boxes like that, would be plastic storage boxes. I think you can still get the “Action Packer” brand, which is better than RubberMaid (lid can’t pop off due to warpage or rough handling). They should be no more expensive than plastic coolers, and the big advantage is that you can fit a lot more stuff in a plastic box than a cooler since they are thin-walled (you lose a lot of storage volume in a cooler due to the thick walls). They are also a bit lighter in weight. If it were me, I’d line them with heavy-duty plastic bags, better yet two, and seal the bags around your stuff before shutting the lid. By all means, whatever type of box you use, make sure the lid absolutely can not pop off if your gear ends up on the water. Tying stuff in the boat is often a good idea too.

Sounds to me like you are taking a lot of stuff along. Obviously you are okay with that, but eventually you might consider traveling a bit lighter, as it makes a noticable difference in how the miles go by.

trip details
Usually it will be a group trip. 2 Adults and soon to be one child. My son is almost old enough to start going with us on floats. But at the same time, it is a nice getaway for just me and the wife.

Usually in spring - fall. Sometimes in the winter. Water will always be light rivers. Maybe a few class 3 rapids. Water in my area is usually always low.


Whatever you use
tape it up. Throw a roll of duct tape in a dry bag so you can tape around the edges of the plastic bucket or storage bin lid. This will help keep the lid on as well as water out if it gets dumped.

Back in the 70s, we paddled so as not to
have to worry about waterproofing gear. Sometimes this meant waiting out a blow at a campsite. But in BWCA and Quetico conditions, you should not be on the lakes if you are at risk of dumping.

In whitewater, things can be different. I used Voyageur slide-closure inflatable gear bags when paddling the Dolores. The risk of dumping gear is always greater when running class 2 and above rapids.

If you use 5 -7 gal buckets
Check out gamma seal lids. They snap on and are completely waterproof:


I personally use a # 4 Duluth Pack for gear, clothes, tent and sleeping bag. Waterproofed with a 4-6 mil trash bag.

Food goes into a bucket or seperate pack. I don’t carry a cooler on canoe trips.

You may want to expand your horizons and go beyond easy access rivers and lakes – to trips that require carrying your “stuff” more than a few feet from the car to the boat ramp. If and when you reach that point you’ll probably want to be able to carry your gear on your back – not in your arms. The last thing you’ll want to deal with will be arm-loads of Rubbermaid type boxes, plastic milk jug carriers and big ol’ heavy ice-coolers. That sort of stuff may be fine for car-camping, but it’s too limiting for canoeing. I’d suggest you take your lead from folks who travel the far North and look at canoe bags (without external frames) and food barrels (with harnesses) as well as the dry-bags you already have.

FWIW, a few random thoughts regarding carrying “stuff” in a canoe - in no particular order: I’ve found that my Seal-line #40 bag with a single shoulder strap is by far my most used day tripping bag. Much as I hate to admit it our old trusty Kelty rigid frame back-pack that saw duty on the Appalachian trail some 30+ years ago is a poor fit in a canoe as are all rigid frame back-packs. The best “pack” I purchased last season was a 60 liter food barrel and harness system from Headstrong. One more random thought: Do your best to limit what you take along. Less is best!

Bag It
Taking to the water after years of car camping, I’ve gotten away from hard body boxes for gear. Duffle bags and dry bags seem to be much easier to pack and secure in boats or on roof racks.

I use action packers
Although I agree that the lids are likely to stay on, I still put a tie down strap around the action packer and have a friend that likes to use a bungie cord stretched through the holes in the lock-down handles. I can tell you from experience, that they are NOT water tight. In fact, if you tip, they will hold water and give additional time for items inside to get wet. I haven’t tried trash bags inside the Action Packer, but have my doubts they would keep things dry for very long. I usually keep items that won’t be damaged or unusable if they get wet in the action packers and use true dry bags for things that need to stay dry.