loading solo canoe for week-long trip

After many kayak trips, I’m about to take a week long self supported trip in a solo canoe.

I’ve got a Wenonah Wilderness with the seat in the middle of the boat. What’s the best way to load gear as far as balance, paddling ease and stability?

I’ll be paddling small lakes, do some portaging, and spend some time on class I and II rivers as well.

Thanks in advance for any and all advice!!

Trim depends on wind direction
You want to be bow heavy into the wind and stern heavy downwind.

It is hard to make specific recommendations unless we know how many packs you are taking. Usually it is two…one heavier in the stern and one lighter in the bow.

The smaller one can be shoved forward and the heavier one tucked right in back of your seat when headwinds happen.

Level trim is called for if the winds are light. You can get fancy with a level installed in your boat if you wish.

Wilderness owners ought to be able to answer if that boat is especially trim sensitive. Some boats are very unhappy steerers when there is too much weight in the bow. Others could care less.

Have fun. Its about to snow so be careful if you are in the North.

That’s pretty much what I expected. Good to hear an opinion other than my own.

I guess the next thing I need to do is load the bow and see how the Wilderness takes it. With no load it is plenty responsive in the types of water I expect, but I haven’t ever loaded it down.

Sooo, guess I’ll try tomorrow!

heavier stuff near center
Higher density items, such as drinking water if you are in locations where the water is not suitable for filtering, should be packed close to center. Even if the trim is level, having a lot of weight near the ends will make it more difficult to maneuver.

I would want it completely trim
for starting off, and then see how it goes and readjust as necessary.

Jack L

Two packs and a bucket

– Last Updated: Oct-25-11 9:15 AM EST –

I use two portage packs, a Blue 90 liter for my camp and clothes, and a yellow 70 liter for my kitchen and food.
I also use a 5 gallon bucket with a GammaSeal lid right in front of me for stuff I might want while in the boat.
Water jugs, portage carts when warrented and in the picture above a two burner coleman stove (hope I never need that again!) get moved around to help with trim.
I also use a couple of flotation bags as much to keep weight out of the ends as for flotation.

If it's anything like my boats, your boat will paddle quite differently loaded . Mostly it won't turn as easily.

Thanks all for the good advice!
I guess I’m just going to have to experiment to get the weight just right. By sitting exactly in the middle of a solo boat it seems that your body is where most of the cargo should be!

Gonna have to figure how to get everything in 15’4" of space. It’s going to be quite a bit different from kayak camping in that I’ll probably bring a lot more junk!

Having backpacking, and bicycle touring experience should help, but I need all the advice I can get on the water…

Not sure what you are carrying
(If it includes water) but my solo boats are all around 15 feet and have been on eleven day trips including water(the Everglades) and have had sufficient room to shift gear when the wind shifts.

Barring bringing a full size table and chairs you should be fine even now when its colder and we need to bring more insulating clothing.

Perhaps thinking like the kayaker you are, start with what you would put in your kayak and then reassess room and add items.

Thanks, that’s
exactly what I’m doing, It’s a HUGE temptation to bring along even the kitchen sink!

keep the ends light for sure
one large pack with most of the weight right behind your seat; a lighter pack or daypack with the stuff you may need during the day (lunch, water, camera, rain gear)just ahead of the front thwart. If you aren’t rigged for floatation bags, use dry bags and try to lash them down to get some floatation out of them. Definitely keep the ends light so that they will rise easier in the waves - you will likely need to back paddle a bit in wave trains, to give the bow a chance to rise up rather than plunge and cut into the waves, especially if you have a kevlar boat with sharper entry.

Thanks for the info everyone!
I just came in from about a 3 hr.paddle in which I loaded aboard two 5gal. water jugs(about 40#ea.).

I just wanted to get an idea of how the boat handled with a little extra weight. I think I’ve got a little better handle on things now, but welcome any and all advice!

solo gear load
All good advice so far. A few things you have not mentioned; for portage are you going to have a yoke (removable) or a cart as Tommy mentioned ? If a yoke, do not skimp on the shoulder pads. Fishing; if you plan on this activity really pare down the tackle. Everything you need should fit in one 12” plano box. Two piece rod is easier to stow, I use Velcro strips to lash to the seat thwarts (front and rear) with the reel under the seat. Fluid bottles; plan on having two liters available and some means to re-fill.

I recommend using dry bags for the obvious reasons but I stow them in a good portage pack with hip belt, nicely padded shoulder straps and a sternum strap. All your gear except perhaps a food and kitchen pack should fit into the portage pack.

The one thing our group has strived to do (and achieved) through 7+ trips in the BWCA is to leave NOTHING loose in the boat. We all paddle solo canoes so the exception is the portage yoke which gets fastened anyhow. This includes all fishing gear, spare paddles, water bottles. It makes the portage loading and unloading much easier.

Sounds like you have a good start and with your kayak / backpack background should have a great trip. Have fun.

Wow! More good advice.
Thanks for pointing out some basic things to me. I did spring for the Manufacturers’ portage(expensive) yoke when I bought the boat. A lot of my backpacking equipment will be pressed into service as well, stove and cooking items, collapsable spinning reel and tackle box, water purifier etc.

I have several dry bags already and am looking for a suitable “Portage bag”.It would seem many of the things important in backpacking are important as well.

Getting everything loaded and balanced in the canoe will just have to come with trial and error.

Hopefully very little "error’!

Finally, as a longtime practitioner of Leave No Trace(LNT) ethics. I feel that we have a Moral obligation to leave a place better than when we got there…it’s little to ask when considering the bounties Mother Earth has given us.


You have a luxury in a canoe that I don’t in my kayaks, which is the ability to move weight around on the fly if the wind changes where you want it heavier. I can do it but I have to ask someone else to help on water or haul over to shore, both of which are usually more inconvenient than altering the skeg or shifting to one side in the boat.

This assumes that your balance is OK to move around in the boat and you are not going to be using any covers that limit this option. You may want to keep one moderately (not super heavy) bag at one end of your main mass that can be grabbed and relocated to the other end of your gear to balance for wind. It doesn’t take a ton of weight to improve the balance of a solo canoe for wind if it is towards the stern or bow.

Its not so easy
to reposition a bag from one end of a solo to the other when you are truly solo in a stern wind especially. I can shove the main bag back farther with my foot…then if the wind changes I really have to get out and shove it back toward center.

There are two schools of thought about tying in gear. I don’t usually as portages come quick in groups of three five or seven. Use your own judgement in this and preplan your capsize. I know from experience getting out of a jam on flatwater is easier for me if the stuff is not tied in. Flatwater mind you…moving water is another scenario.

Loose stuff is your enemy. And black gear. I have left several Dromedaries at portages because they do fit loose in the boat (they are for drinking water) and are black.