Packing for a paddle-in trip

Very soon, hubby and I are headed to paddle the west branch of the Susquehanna River with some friends. We’re psyched. Should be a great trip.

Regarding packing for a paddle-in camping trip; it seems like so much “stuff” to bring. Tent, 2 sleeping bags, 2 sleeping pads, camp stove, fuel, food, water, cold-weather clothes, wetsuits, boots, paddles, PFDs, camera, etc., I know we have to have these things, but it seems like so much. We are tandemming a Nova Craft Prospector 16, which I believe carries a huge load, but that’s not the point. I feel less than efficient at packing or planning what to pack. Am I missing some “tricks” or best practices here?

Anyway, I don’t want to be a total minimalist and rough it like “Survivorman” on tv, but I do want to pack less stuff if possible in the future, (or pack it better?), and still have what we’d normally need.

What should I be doing to become a better, more efficient canoe tripper? (PS I have so many lists right now, I have lists of my lists…)

one of the most pleasent
things about canoe camping is that you can take everything but the kitchen sink and as long as you don’t have to portage, you are fine—don’t worry about it and have fun.

Ness, try this
Assemble everything you WANT to take. Test pack the canoe. If it all fits, great! If it doesn’t, take out what you really don’t need to bring.

I’m doing something similar in two weeks. I haven’t done a paddle and camp in the boat I plan to bring before. So, I plan to do a test fit before I go.


I didn’t see anything on your list that.
…sounds non-essential. I know what you mean though. It seems like an awfully big mound of stuff as you load it in the back of the car and get ready to go, and you think there MUST be something in there you can do without. It’s even worse if you put it on the scale and see how much it weighs.

The only advice I can give is probably something you already know. When it comes to clothes, to the extent possible, bring stuff that works either in combination with something else OR alone. For example, that means my rain gear is usually PART of my cold-weather gear; it goes over the top of everything else I have and functions as a wind shell, and that lets me avoid bringing along a warmer coat, insulated pants, or “standard” windproof clothing (unless your regular wind protection is also waterproof). My longjohns are ALSO my sleeping clothes. Longjohns used as the only layer below rain gear makes a great combo in the rain when temperatures are warm. In the summer, I bring a VERY lightweight sleeping bag, and sleep wearing some of my warmest clothes if the weather turns out to be unexpectedly cold.

The only other trick I know is to keep cooking gear and food as simple as possible, but that doesn’t work for everyone. Some people live for fancy camp food, but I can usually do without the extra bulk, weight, and time required for cooking complex meals. When it comes to stoves, you can save a little bulk and weight by using stoves that take liquid fuel instead of propane. Liquid fuel takes up the least space and weighs the least on a per-trip basis, because the fuel provides more energy per unit of weight and volume than propane, the packaging weighs a lot less per unit of heat energy contained, and there’s never any need to bring along more than one container (like the container(s) you didn’t run all the way empty on the last trip).

Don’t know if that helps much.

A helping hand

– Last Updated: Apr-04-08 12:47 AM EST –

Hi Ness,

My advice is from personal experience in the mighty Kestrel and we know it won't hold 1/2 of what any canoe will.

I use the next to the last page in my journal to note what I should or shouldn't take the next time.

I make a list by divisions
Paddling equipment (Kayak, paddle, rope, no PFD)
Personal gear (camera, phone, GPS, pens,
Camping gear (tent, sleeping bag, etc
Storage (dry bags, dry box
Food prep (stove, propane, knife, fork, etc)
Food (Always Beanee Weenees)
Hygiene (soap, tooth brush, razor etc)

and put everything in piles. This alone will let you know the volume.

Take what you can if you have the space and let your notes be your guide for future trips.

Have a great time and tell us all about it.

A popular phrase from any trip is "Oh shit, I forgot...

What ever you forgot you'll find a way to get by without it. Just stay warm. I almost froze on my 2nd trip (literally).

Paddlin' on

Packing for Canoe Trips

After about 55 years of backpacking, mountaineering, canoeing, rafting, and kayaking I am still looking for ways to lighten, tighten, and minimize what I take on any given trip. Much depends on weather and water conditions, length of trip, plus the need to portage.

My best advice is buy two Billy Bags with a capacity of 3,800cu in., two NRS Dri Stow Bags Medium, and one water cooler. All you two plan to carry should fit in those. If you have more gear sort it for non essentials. As you pack make a list of what you are taking. When you get back from the trip check the items you didn’t use on the trip. Also note any item you wish you had taken and write it down for future reference. Next time out leave the items behind you didn’t use and see if it goes OK. Note: I wouldn’t exclude a first aid kit or survival kit even though not using them.

What you will find is that your packing weight and bulk will go down with time and experience packing. I hate to tell you, but experience is the best teacher. We could all give you lists, etc, but in the final analysis, your own list will never match any of ours. Part of the fun of tripping is those weird experiences you have not bringing a needed item and having to improvise.

Have a great trip!

Happy Canoeing,


here’s what I do:
Spend all your free time day-dreaming about trips. Then, when one comes along, you’ll be prepared! :slight_smile:

Hello Ness
If this is a small enough group (say max=8), there are efficiencies that can be made on group camping gear. Identify the necessary group gear that you don’t need duplicates of out on the trail and do some coordinating with the others. Assign only one of your group to bring an extensive first aid kit, or the saw, or campsite tarp, or the latrine shovel. Consider group cooking in order to save weight and gear volume on stoves, mess kits, and fuel. For personal gear be sure to make a list of everything you take. Immediately after the trip go through a critical review of what was used and not used on the trip, and if it was not used, determine if you still consider that item essential. Then adjust your canoe trip list accordingly. Also note items that others on the trip have along that worked really well and were smaller and lighter than what you have. Consider replacement of some of your stuff with the same for the next trip. A trip or two of doing this will greatly help your packing efficiency and reduce load volume. Have a great trip!

Keep it seperated.
I have been using individual bags/packs for each “function”. I find it is a lot easier to pack when you have your gear all broken down into groups. I have 2 identical inexpensive backpacks for camp & cook, 2 identical dry bags for sleeping gear, 1 dry bag for clothes for 2, 1 dry box for camera etc. Load up your canoe in the garage and see how everything fits. I leave as much gear in it’s pack between trips so it’s easier to grab & go.


Yes, that helps a lot
Thanks. I have been talking to some people who also made the stove suggestion you made (smaller, lighter, liquid fuel). That’s something we need to look into. Our stove is a two-burner and it uses propane. We are sharing with the whole group though – for 7 people, we made chili for Sat. dinner and we are supplying the stove, and the group leader is bringing a smaller stove as back up.

I planned on layering paddle clothes too, just am afraid I may not be warm enough? I am not bringing a winter coat for the predicted 30s at night. I plan on layering my fleece over long johns or techwick stuff at night. I have a paddle storm jacket (those NRS ones with the hood and the vents) for a top layer if need be. Since I have paddled like that and stayed warm in the 30s, I am assuming it will work at camp (I hope).

Glad to see others do that.

Forgetting stuff

– Last Updated: Apr-04-08 10:10 AM EST –

Georgia Kayaker, I think that's one of my fears on a paddle-in trip: that I will forget something essential.

Re: making piles of stuff. Last night I had piles of stuff all over the living room floor. Each pile had its own drybag to go into. Visuals are what works for me: "seeing" everything spread out, in mid or reality. Maybe that's what worried me, when I saw it ALL. Yikes.

I'm starting to feel a little less frantic after reading what everyone has written. This trip is a little more remote than the one paddle-in trip I did last Fall, so I guess I'm worried of making some huge gaffe that will affect the trip.

But, no Beanie Weenies for me. ;-)


– Last Updated: Apr-04-08 10:27 AM EST –

I have two large yellow Seattle Sports H2Zero Gear Dry Bags (16"x16"x39", 8900 cu. in.) from Sierra Trading Post that cost $40 a piece and one orange regular Cabelas Boundary Bag backpack (9"x16"x25", 3600 cu. in.) which was a gift. I can get all the gear for two people in these bags, except for water, the Coleman stove and fuel; mess kit, dishes/utensils and dish pans in a mesh bag; tent; small axe and Sven saw; and a ropes, tarps and stakes bag. We use mostly dried food stuffs, but the all the food and other kitchen stuff goes into the small bag. Other gear is distributed amongst the other two large bags with often used stuff towards the top. Stuff can be organized in mesh bags or lightweight Sea to Summit dry sacks within these larger dry packs. Paddling gear when not used can go in a large mesh bag and packed alone in the bottom of the boat.

For the cold in camp I always carry a lightweight down jacket. It stuffs into a small size into a Sea to Summit dry sack. As long as you keep it dry, there is nothing that will keep you warmer. When paddling exertion should keep one warm enough to go with lighter layers of wool or synthetics.

You’re not going to the arctic

If you read some accounts of folks who’ve been up in the Barren Lands of Canada, they really do need to make sure they’ve taken ‘everything’ but not ‘too much’.

Fierce winds and cold temperatures can sweep down from the arctic and keep them shorebound for days at a time. Food cannot run out. Clothing cannot leak. Netting is essential for keeping out bugs. One trip I read about (Clayton Klein was the author) his nephews, I think, failed to heed his advice about bringing headnets on a trip to the far north. They ate lunch on the water, so fearful were they (and with good reason) of landing in bugs so thick they formed clouds. All their gear and food (for 6 weeks!) fit in the same kind of canoe you’re taking. Yet they still had to do some significant portages.

Your trip, on the other hand, can stand lots of goof-ups. You’ll only be out a few days; with enough people, someone will have a spare something to replace someone else’s garment/utensil/condiment container that fails. You won’t starve if someone forgets the mayonnaise.

And when you’re done, you’ll know all about how much is enough and how much is too much.

Then you can give advice to the rest of us.

Have a good trip.


Can’t add much, but…
no one has said this, so here I go. In packing clothes, I’ve found it much more space efficient to roll everything in tight balls or rolls instead of folding everything. You’d be surprised how much you can fit doing it this way.

And don’t forget to leave space for the beer!!


Simple solution…
Trade in the tandem for two 14 foot solos.

Now you have the equivalent of a 28 foot boat.

Take anything/everything you want.

I did the minimalistic bit for decades; I’m not

gonna do it anymore. Have nothing to prove, and see nothing wrong with having a few creature comforts available.

If you “really” like minimalistic; go for it, more power to you.


It is not as hard as you think. We use 3 Duluth packs and 2 day packs for our stuff. We love to eat so the food pack is large and heavy, if you go minimalist you may get by with 2 big packs and day packs. We use down sleeping bags,a Eureka mountain pass 4 man tent, MSR Whisper stove and take Crazy Creek chairs and Ridge Rest pads. We even take an ax, saw and 12 x 12 tarp. It all fits. Over the years we have found that we took too much clothing, too many pairs of footwear, and too much liquid fuel. We also took too much food (but had a great time eating it!). If you are not poraging it is not a big deal but we always pack as if we are going to portage. have fun.

Are you going with the gang from PKCG?? If so, then don’t worry about forgetting anything vital. Steve The Paddleator will have what you need/forgot. He is very well organized.


Call the wedding off

– Last Updated: Apr-04-08 4:32 PM EST –

...and I'll cancel the Beanee Weenee wedding cake.

Ness you just broke my heart.

Nothing is essential. Forgetting something important and improvising is 99% of the fun.

Do make a list and take it with you. Make notes of what you didn't take that would be helpful and what you don't need so much or if at all. I know writing down everything you eat is a pain in the ass but it is the best thing you can do on a trip for future experience.

One of these days I'm going to Florida on a week trip and take nothing but a small knife and maybe not even that. Hopefully Gulfcoaster will go with me and show me a few tricks.

Paddlin' on

Google Docs
We’re taking out guests in PWS this summer, and we started a Google Spreadsheet for us to collaborate on. It has been invaluable for us to catalog our gear, see what the guests had, what was duplicated, and what we needed to add for everyone to have the proper stuff.

Our catagories for the spreadsheet are:






Personal Items


Optional Items

We put Food on a separate spreadsheet so that we could identify what and how everyone eats and drinks.

Even though everyone lives in different places we can all simultaneously edit and add to the spreadsheet and make sure we have what we will need.

It has worked really well for our organization and packing even though this trip isn’t until June, we have LOTS of stuff to get ready. The trip will be over 2 weeks, and we will need to be totally self-sufficient.

Minimalism is not my thing
but neither is taking everything but the kitchen sink (that is Hopsing’s philosophy). Somewhere in between there must be a balance, and we have to find it. :slight_smile:

We do have 2 solo canoes. But for this trip, we were advised to take the royalex tandem.