Packing and trimming a solo canoe???

I am planning on doing some trips in my solo. At first I was planning on putting everything in a big dry pack and throwing it in the boat but then it ocurred to me that would probably not be the best way to do it given that it would make your boat either bow or stern heavy depending on where you put the bag.

I guess it would be better to try to divide the load between two bags and put one in front and one behind???

What is the best way to do it?

I would assume it is best to put most weight in stern and balance with some in bow and to place as close to paddler as possible.

Also, what is the best way to tie the bags in? Given that some of my trips will be river trips I think tying in would be prudent.

I can glue down some D rings, but not sure what is the best method and materials for securing the bags.



Trim the boat

– Last Updated: Apr-26-09 12:45 PM EST –

Where you put the weight depends on where your body weight is positioned. Assuming you are paddling from a center seat or thwart, and your boady weight is centered, then you want to balance the load in front of and behind your body mass. Some people paddle tandem canoes solo from the bow seat, and then trim the boat with weight just in front of the centerline.

Generally, try to keep the ends of the boat light so that they don't cut into waves and so that it is easier to unweight the stems for turns. You may not want to divide the weight 50/50 since the bag or pack behind you may wind up closer to center than that or those in front, if you paddle seated.

If you can enlist the services of an impartial observer (one who has nothing to gain from your demise), put your boat in the water and do a trial packing. Have your friend check your trim from shore as you move things around.

On the river, some people lash their packs into the canoe. I would recommend that you do not, however. I would run one or more tether lines through your pack straps or bag rings and secure the line(s) to a thwart or other solid anchor point. The line prevents your packs and bags from floating away if you dump. The line should be long enough to allow you to take the packs out of the boat so that you can empty the water out if you dump. Otherwise, you have to unlash everything just to dump the boat at a time when you are typically not in the best of moods.

If you have a center sliding seat you can use it to help trim your boat and have a bit more flexibility in pack placement. If you don't you might leave a pack just in front of you with enough room to move it toward the bow or back to change the trim. Just pushing the pack forward with your feet will weight the bow if you find yourself paddling into a headwind and the boat is wanting to weathervane.

Divided bags are best. Whether to
tie them in or not is a difficult decision, and I don’t think there is one best answer. There will be some situations where bags floating loose can be easily picked up, and an empty boat with good float bags is less likely to be damaged than one with all the gear tied in.

But my philosophy is to tie everything in, and rely on plenty of flotation to guard gear and hull in an upset. More than half of my gear bags are inflatable, and so add significant positive flotation to the boat. I’ve done some solo wilderness run where I’m the only one to “pick up the pieces,” so that I don’t want to be chasing bags all over the river.

The issue of dumping out a loaded boat is a legitimate concern. And a boat full of gear may provide little scope for effective use of a bailer. One option is a hand pump. Another is a battery powered bailer.

So, I’m not coming down on either side of the issue of tying in gear. I’m only saying what I do and how I do it.

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Yep, two packs better than one
You are correct that you can’t really adjust the trim with only one pack, but with two, you can. Even with two packs, placing them as close to center as you can will improve boat-handling (too much weight out toward the ends makes the boat pivot more sluggishly, and to wallow into waves instead of riding over them).

Like g2d said, there probably is no “right” method regarding tying in gear or not. I generally tie the packs in. Even when not using air bags for floatation, loaded packs weigh considerably less than the water they displace, so they aid floatation of a swamped boat and reduce the effective weight of the swamped boat which helps if it hits a rock or something. Of course, you’ll have to use some means of bailing instead of picking the boat up and dumping it out.

To tie or not to…
Gear in water-proof containers tethered to the canoe with lines or straps will prevent loss of contents and float. That’s all well and good except that tethered gear can pose awkward and potentially dangerous entanglement issues in case of an upset. This is especially true in moving water. Just looping your bags around thwarts can also be a floppy hard to manage mess when trying to right a canoe after an upset. Gear in a waterproof (buoyant) bag held securely in place to attachment points inside the canoe so it doesn’t shift position in the bilge is the safest way to go - IMHO. Gear secured that way has the added benefit of being floatation as well – another bonus.

Some folks who are handy with knots like to use rope, others prefer straps with side-release buckles – whatever you like is fine - it just needs to hold your stuff securely and be quick and easy to connect and disconnect as needed.

Whether you choose rope or straps secure your gear in the bilge to attachment points such as D-rings, strap loops or daisy chains glued to the bottom and sides of your canoe. You’ll need to outfit your canoe to best fit your individual needs. You might want to look at some other experienced paddler’s canoes for ideas on outfitting and then buy what you need at your local paddling shop (if available) or online.

Tethered Packs
I believe the common name for those is Sea Anchor.

I want all of my gear to remain INSIDE the hull reguardless of which end is up.


The packs usually float
Anchors don’t.

But some site a potential for packs tethered in this way to pose an entanglement risk.

Sea Anchors Float
In the ocean they are used to keep a boat pointed into the wind.

On the river they just drag the boat along and make it hard to recover.

But this is an ageless debate. So you say tomayto and I’ll say tomaato. :wink:


I think I am going to tie my bags in…not just tether. So…what’s the best way to do it?

I think I like the idea of straps. Sounds easier to tie/untie.

Any recourses for a strap for this application?

I have a Mad River Freedom Solo so it has those tie down points on the gunwales that I can use or I can glue in d rings to the boat.

Maybe using caribeaners might not be a bad idea and just snap them onto the rings on the gunwale??? Not sure if this will work. Will have to see.

Guess other options would be bunjies?


Attachment points
First figure out what you want to hold in place (your air bags and gear bags). Then just glue some D-rings, straps loops or daisy chains (attachment strips) to the bottom and half way up the sides of your canoe as needed. Use these to anchor ropes or straps with side release buckles. Personally I see no use for carabineers with a set-up like that. I also don’t see using bungees. I use common web straps with side release buckles, but that’s just me. Some links follow.

D-rings & strap loops:

Another D-ring link:

Daisy chains:

Complete air bag tie down kit:

The above product has everything you need (except glue) for attachment points. The $70 cost includes simple to follow instructions.

Here’s the glue you’ll need:

FWIW, I prefer NRS inchworms over the North Water rings supplied with the tie-down kit:

Cliff Jacobson
Cliff Jacobson is one of the canoeing experts who does advise securing packs inside the hull, others (Bill Mason, Gordon Grant) do not.

I haven’t tried this but in “Canoeing Wild Rivers” Cliff recommends using bungees at gunnel level over the packs to hold them in with one additional line of nylon parachute cord tied with a quick release knot over the top.

He secures the bungees in criss-cross fashion over the packs using anchors made of small loops of nylon parachute cord run through holes drilled in the gunnels. Or you can buy the plastic eyelets that screw into the bottom of the inwales that a lot of WW boaters use to secure their float bags. Or you can drill small holes through the hull just below gunnel line.

This allows the packs to be relatively quickly released for portaging, dumping, lightening the boat if it hangs up on a bar or during a lift over of a downed tree in a stream.

More importantly, it allows quick release of the packs for a boat-over-boat rescue if the canoe dumps on a wide river or open water.

If your packs are secured to the bottom, they are bound to be harder to release, if necessary, if the boat dumps.

Bill Mason
Like everyone else Bill Mason sometime wrote conflicting ideas – being just a mere moral like us all… That being said I’d take issue with the statement above inferring Bill Mason did not advocate lashing packs in canoes. Yes, he implies lashed gear makes boat over boat rescues difficult on page 151 of the book “Path of the Paddle”. Yet he was discussing a particular incident. On other occasions he advocates securing gear. Refer to page 127 of Mason’s “Song of the Paddle”. A photo shows quite clearly packs lashed securely into the bilge. On page 126 he goes into considerable detail about why one SHOULD secure packs in a canoe – it acts as floatation. Note your page numbers may vary due to edition.

1 or more packs
I’ve found more is definity better for multiday tripping. Most of the dry bags are a pain to dig through so breaking up the load and knowing what’s in which bag makes it easier to find things.

Lashing vs tieing vs just putting your equipment in the canoe has always depended on where I’m traveling on a given day. Whatever you do, don’t take a chance getting tangled at the wrong time.

The boat should always be trim, or

– Last Updated: Apr-28-09 8:40 PM EST –

a little bow light.
The way we do it:
With the boat empty and perfectly level, (we just sit it in calm water), put a short piece of black electrical tape an inch or two above the water line on one side of the bow, and then put another one on the same side and at the exact same height from the water line at the stern. (we leave the tape there for future checks)
Then sit in your normal paddling position and have someone on shore tell you if you are bow light or bow heavy by observing the tape.
If you have a sliding seat, you can adjust your trim using it. Otherwise you should adjust it by moving your gear.

None of the above is critical, but will aid in a better glide.
I used to use a small level, but found the tape, (or mark) is the easiest way

On Lashing the gear.
We always tether or lash everything of value.
It is a lot easier to swim the boat into shore with all the junk tagging along rather than going searching for it along the river bank or swimming back out into the lake to gather it.

In doing WW, (II and above), I would lash everything so that there are no tethers hanging loose


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And yet in Bill’s video
"Path of the Paddle Whitewater" he advises not to lash them in, but to secure them with a tether.

Gordon Grant, in his book “Canoeing” has this to say:

“What about lashing all those waterproof containers into the canoe in case of a flip? There are two schools of thought on this. In one, all the gear is lashed in tightly so there is no way it can shift at all. In the other, a single line laced through the packs’ handles attaches them to the canoe at only one point-usually one of the thwarts. Although it seems to go against common sense, I prefer the second method for lake travel. There is no need for tight lashing as long as the packs fit fairly snugly in the boat. The purpose of the line is to keep your gear from floating away in the event of a flip. If the packs are securely lashed in, it is very difficult to empty the boat of water without being forced to unload everything. Even in shallow water, lifting a canoe with packs in it is very difficult; having the packs lashed in makes gunnel-over-gunnel rescues impropable indeed”.

Obviously, this is one of those points that can be debated endlessly like “what is the best hull material for a river boat” or “what is the best solo whitewater OC1”, or “what is the safest method for outfitting a whitewater canoe”.

I’ve taken many swims out of an OC1 in rocky or flooded whitewater rivers. I can certainly see the danger of a floating pack tethered to an upset canoe wrapping around a midstream rock, or a tree, or worse still, around my ankle. But I suspect the average person asking about how to load a solo for canoe camping on this forum is probably not going to be running rapids in a loaded canoe.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each method and “doom scenarios” can be imagined as a consequence of either. The average newcomer to canoe camping doing trips on unobstructed rivers or canoe camping in the Boundry Waters should be aware of this.

For the type of canoe camping that I do, the ability to quickly unload the boat to portage, lift it over a logjam, run rapids unloaded, empty water, or perform a side-by-side or T rescue, dictates that I not lash gear in securely. If I were running loaded boats down Class III rivers in the Yukon, it would probably be otherwise.

Dont wear them personally, but with regard to lashing/not lashing you have to assess the situation and make your most informed decision.

For areas like teh BWCA with frequent portages you generally leave the packs (and barrels) loose in the boat to expedite efficiency on portages.

If you are running WW I feel that snug lashing is prudent. The flotation of the packs and barrels displaces water in case of a swim.

As for trim, it is totally dependant on the boat’s design and the conditions you are in. In WW you may wish to have a light bow to encourage it to rise over waves. In flatwater an even trim is the norm, but I found that my Magic needs to be stern-heavy in a following wind to prevent weathercocking.



Depends, or 60" end bags… which
would cover my end more effectively?

I agree…
…this could be debated endlessly. What works in some situations under a certain set of circumstances doesn’t work in others.

…type of water…
As said…

I think more than one decision is based on what type of water you’ll be on/in…


This might help
My boy scout troop takes a lot of flatwater canoe trips,and although we teach over boat empting,we lash all packs securly in the canoes.When training with a loaded canoe we deliberatly tip and the canoes generally right themselves due to the high location of the boyant packs.We then climb into the swamped canoe(which floats surprisingly well) and either paddle it swamped to shore or bail it out some first.This is very reassuring to the new boys.We lash the packs in a way which permits easy untieing if the situation warrants a over canoe emptying.These are tandems,but it seems it would work in a solo-have to try it some time. I personally when soloing on flat water,I use long tethers on the 2 packs for trim adjustment.