Packing for the trip

Two adults, two kids (6 and 8), an 18’6" Wenonah Odyssey, and only a season of calm water day trip experience under our belts.

We want to start doing some tripping, starting out with a few days and probably maxing out at about 4-5.

One thing I know is that comfort, convenience, and preparedness can make or break a camping trip … the trouble is I’ve never packed a canoe for camping — and with 4 of us there’s a lot of stuff to pack!

So, I’m looking at packs.

We have a few various dry bags (a Watershed tote for valuables and a couple of fairly large roll tops)

I’m currently looking at a used CCS Deluxe Food pack and a used Granite Gear Superior One.


Are you asking about packs?
Part of your post makes me think you are working out the details regarding what to bring. The end of your post makes me think you just want to choose proper packs. Maybe you can clarify this a bit. There might be a lot to discuss, or not much, depending.

First Part:

Deciding what gear to bring can get into all sorts of controlling factors. If this is where the discussion is going, you will have to figure out the best answer based on lots of advice (there are sites on line that suggest gear lists for canoe camping too). My preliminary advice would be to think hard about what you can leave behind. Most beginners take two to three times as much weight and bulk as they actually need. If your gear is stacked well up above the gunwales, you brought way too much stuff.

Second Part:

Choosing a pack is a lot simpler. Canoe packs of the type you are looking at are great for what you want to do. They are available in some variety, with the fanciest ones being a bit more comfortable to handle on long portages. If not portaging very far, you really don’t need to concentrate much on features (and many people who DO portage are perfectly happy with traditional packs) and can instead concentrate on getting a good deal.

The two packs you are looking at are fine, but you will need more than two for a group your size. You might get by with one pack for food and two for gear, but three for gear wouldn’t be overkill.

Two of the traditional brands are Duluth and Frost River. Off the top of my head, Granite Gear and CCS are the only two I can think of in the more modern category, but other people here can suggest others. Sizes are pretty standard, with #3 being big enough for most uses, and #4 having quite a bit of extra volume.

More info needed

– Last Updated: Mar-26-16 1:09 PM EST –

Where will your trip be and time of year and does it involve portages?

Canoe trips are not generic. You may need to think dehydrated food and several packs that you carry on your back. Or not. If you are on a river you can think smaller packs that pack up better as you will have limited space.

For a ten day trip for two of us that involves portaging we use a 60 liter barrel for the food. One 115 liter pack for tent, sleeping bags, sleeping mats and clothing. We also need a 70 liter for ancillary stuff like the stoves ( backpacking) , fuel , kitchen utensils pots. Be very selective on clothing. Do not take jeans and sweatshirts. Useless when wet they take up too much room. Think layering. Two outfits. One for paddling and one for sleeping.

With your crowd you will need two GG packs and an appropriate size food pack and a cooking pack. Its going to be a bit of a challenge to fit that all in and keep it under the top of the gunwales. Try to avoid piling gear high.
Packing list is a godsend. Make your own spreadsheet but here are some examples

Good luck Four of you in an Odyssey is quite a load. We have the same boat and the two of us and a non space saving dog requires precison packing. Beware overloading it to the stern.. Waves from behind will douse the sternperson. Its quite cut down in back.

ditto GBG’s…best setup is a pack per

– Last Updated: Mar-26-16 11:26 AM EST –

member = sizing each for member's physical ability(I mean BACKpacks), then the process of trimming the boat and starting a take-out becomes quicker and easier, plus you then have the two to four hands available to carry any drypack.

Practice capsize.
Think about trying a practice capsize with the kids in warm water and loaded up with gear so that you can sort out what to do should that occur on your trip unexpectedly. That is the one thing that could really through you for a loop and if you practice you, and the kids, will be better prepared.

But if no long portaging, …
…it would likely be best to put all the gear for both kids in a single pack, not two. If the kids don’t need to help haul gear, it makes no sense to reduce packing efficiency or to buy under-sized packs just to give each kid his/her own pack.

First trip is the hardest
First overnight is the hardest with the unknown factor. Keep your first one short, close, and simple. Hotdogs for dinner and oatmeal for breakfast. Plan a short way to go with a long time to get there. Maybe 8 miles at most. Build off that experience. Keep it fun for the whole family. Funky Flames for the camp fire just before turning in for the night. ( funky flames can be bought a Wally World and produce green colored flames in a camp fire. It will be the simplest things that will impress the kids the most…at least in our case). I don’t know your sleeping gear, but each one of us packs his/her own dry bag with a change of clothes and sleeping bag and pad. Our bags are down, and compress really small. If your bags are different, you will be more bulky, but that’s ok on your first overnighter. Make sure water is warm enough for the kids to swim, and have fun.

… best is looking for catered stops at franchised liveries such as Landers on the Delaware.

Failing that, a series of state or regional river parks at 10-15 miles distances on a running scenic river not greater than stage 1 or 1+ and not windy.

look into American White water for a rivers list. On those rivers there are stage 1 waters. Not too wide, not too windy.

Weather underground supplies a location report for last yea’rs month day week of your planning trips.

see about 1 man inflatable canoes for your kids. Try NRS or REI

if you’re in State Y, there are guidebooks for Canoeing/Camping State Y in Barnes and Noble’s database. Also available as interlibrary loans if you’re cheap.


– Last Updated: Mar-26-16 7:29 PM EST –

EDIT: Thanks everybody for the great info. I'm taking it all in.

I was a bit vague, but not on purpose -- It's really because I don't what the heck I'm doing. Haha.
We're in Kentucky. The BWCA is, for us, a bit of pilgrimage of sorts. :)
I've gone to some of the local outfitters and asked about portage packs so I could see and try some in person and all I got was strange looks and confusion.

What to pack --- I think I'm getting a good handle on that -- dry foods, lower mass and volume everything, stuff that can tolerate getting wet, etc.
I've been slowly buying gear that packs down better.

My question is more related to HOW to pack and more specifically what I need to be looking into buying in order to help me effectively pack and keep everybody comfortable (both at the campsite and in the boat) while also keeping the experience as painless as possible (loading, unloading, packing, unpacking, accessing stuff, etc).

I have never packed a canoe, so it's hard for me to even visualize four of us in the boat with all of our gear. The same goes for portage packs --- I've never even seen one in person.

I understand that taking advantage of the available space is quite a priority, so that's why I was asking about the (large) packs I mentioned --- it sounds like from the answers here they wouldn't be overkill, and in fact aren't going to be enough. This presents a bit of a problem for me, because my two girls can't haul much and my smaller framed wife maxes out pretty quickly... so I'm the mule.

If the two large packs I asked about aren't going to be enough, then my immediate concern is where is it all going to fit?? That's why I mentioned the type/size of craft, and the size of our crew. I'm really struggling with visualizing how we're going to fit it all in without feeling miserable and packed in like sardines.

I don't even know if what I'm trying to accomplish is possible or practical --- 2 adults, 2 kids, 4 or 5 days worth of gear, 1 18'6" boat?

I've been searching around looking for videos/pics/etc for others that have the same size boat, crew, and desires but I haven't found much.

As far as portaging goes, I don't have any planned trips that require portaging but as time goes on I do intend to.. We want to be able to load up and go where we want without having to worry about the adequacy of our gear. May as well get the gear now and start enjoying it and getting familiar with it now rather than wait for the trips with portages.

good info.

Re: your comment about the Odyssey, our load size, and the need for precision packing is just what I was looking for.

Perhaps I should stick with day trips or single nighters and wait for my oldest to get a little more older/independent so that she can paddle her own craft and free up room in the pack mule?

The trouble is that you won’t have much

– Last Updated: Mar-26-16 9:07 PM EST –

available space and portaging is a concern. You really have to be organized on the portages and not carry a lot of small packs. The goal is no more than two trips across and one back ( empty)
The kids carry stuff at school and I think they ought to be able to carry a small backpack at their ages
Ours did. We started in the Boundary Waters with a two year old. Somehow it all fit in a 15 foot canoe. When they were six and ten we had to get them into two canoes. Yes everyone paddled.The trip was 10 days down the Allagash. We still had the 15 foot boat and had to rent another.

I can show you a picture of our Odyssey and the gear we stuffed into it for a week long trip. Two days or ten does not matter as much as you think. The same gear goes albeit a bit more food. In the BWCA and similar areas we do not take a Coleman two burner stove but rather a backpacking stove

all this stuff fit barely with the dog

Realistically you have a boat that is big but a tad small for hauling all you need to haul. Before buying a single thing more practice packing with what you do have including your kids.

The two burner suitcase stove is definitely staying behind. haha.

I have been researching good single burner backpacking stoves among other things.

The trouble with not spending any more and trying to pack our gear as is is that we don’t really have any suitable gear at the moment… or anything to pack it in. I’m buying it all. Starting with pads and bags. I’ve also got some really compact nesting camp kitchen stuff on the way.

Tent(s) soon. This is getting expensive, but I am determined to get out there. :slight_smile:

We love to camp, and we’ve discovered that we love to get out on the water and explore… so I’m confident this is all a sure thing.

No Disney World trips for this family; We’re spending it all on outdoors gear.

As far as the kids hauling stuff goes… yeah, they have backpacks for school, but we’re talking Kindergarten and 2nd grade backpacks. They’re not exactly heavy. At all.

My kids are troopers, but asking my 5 y.o. tiny little daughter to carry much more than her own paddle and seat is pushing it. I really feel like the space cost of an extra pack, which would certainly be lightly packed, wouldn’t pay for itself in terms of effort saved.

I told my wife last year I was going to load myself with a pack and the canoe and start practice portaging through the trails of the nature preserve next door. Maybe I should load hers and the kids’ backpacks up and have them do the same.

Kids carrying their seat?
May I ask what they are sitting on? It would be more convenient to keep those attached to the hull.

That way they can carry their clothes in a pack. My girl when she was two carried her own stuff and a blanky that she dragged… Not the diapers.

Currently, they are sitting on Stearns drop in cloth seats.

Not ideal, but they seem to be working out fine and with no complaints from the kids.

I had looked into a tandem arrangement from Ed’s Canoe, but we agreed that the kids would fight and argue … so I looked into independent seats, but I felt like with two permanently mounted extra seats and no experience packing a canoe we may find ourselves stuck with packing and trim issues.

So for now, atleast, temporary drop ins that the kids can carry. Plus, I don’t have the extra weight of two seats on my shoulders.

how much do those seats weigh?
I have never seen them before. Cool. And how heavy is your Odyssey? Ours is 45lbs. The seats if properly balanced should not be a burden if left in… that is if they are a reasonable weight.

We try to keep as much little loose stuff tied to the canoe when portaging.

the Ody’s layup…would be my 1st

– Last Updated: Mar-27-16 6:57 PM EST –

question. I plead guilty on not knowing the route, paddle and all! How are you intending on carry the boat or push it on the wagon wheels? You carrying the boat will be much easier on the family's progress towards a schedule however if you can wheel it a bit..having backpacks makes it easy to pick them up & start hiking with them..their versatility makes it easy to pile it all back into the boat and start wheeling it again..fwiw, just get something solid for support for your neck, shoulders and back. Some quarterback's shoulder pads makes for a great foundation. With most anykind of yoke you'll do fine. The portage isn't just "a part of the trip", it's "THE Toughest" phase of a trip and deserves the MOST planning AND Practice! In talking earlier I had in mind a one trip-thing..however a return trip for the remaning stuff would be a snap, but heed kayamedic's advice on the gear's weight. Keep it all spread out as vertically low as possible. Whatever the'll have the best chance of a smooth ride with the midship passengers SITTING in seats centered on the canoe's keel-line of its floor, as low as possible with as wide a connection from their seats to the hull floor as possible.

Yoke, Wheels, Packs

– Last Updated: Mar-27-16 7:29 PM EST –

Hasn't this whole discussion centered on the importance of proper packs that are carried on the back? The idea that an advantage of packs is that they go in and out of the boat, ready to use, is a non-issue. No one would pack a canoe for tripping by any other method.

While I'm not a highly experienced BWCA tripper, I know some that are, and I've also been to hours and hours of seminars given by people (many are quite famous in the canoe-tripping fraternity) who spend as much of their lives as possible doing exactly that. Each and every one of them would say that the choice of yoke is an extremely important gear decision, especially with a boat that's in the middle range of available weights (or higher) as is the case here. The use of football shoulder pads is not a recommendation I've ever heard from someone who actually does this sort of thing frequently (never heard it from someone who does it once a year or so, either), and it's one that makes no sense in combination with a proper yoke that fits. It would make no sense to bring such a bulky set of nonessential gear that simply mitigates the fact that a smaller but truly essential piece of gear was incorrectly chosen. Oh, add to that the fact that if the canoe is pretty light, it's not unusual to carry a portage pack AND the canoe. Shoulder pads would really complicate that situation.

As to the use of wheels on portages, the OP *did* say he was wanting to get ready for a BWCA trip, so clearly wheels are not part of the discussion. Leaving alone the fact that plenty of portage trails in the BWCA would simply be too rough for wheels, it's a wilderness area, so by law, the use of wheels is not an option.

GBG the problem to me is not the right
or wrong of little packs. Normally you are correct that canoeists want to carry the least number of packs for easy handling loading and unloading.

My concern is that, having paddled my Odyssey in Quetico and Lake Superior and many other areas is that it is really not a huge boat and the OP has added kids to the cargo I am not terribly worried about freeboard but the actual packing space. They may well have to have little packs here and there and on portages, concentrate them in something like a mesh backpack or a Bills Pack that is compressed out of the way till needed. Yes those of us two to a boat would fill Bill and paddle and portage but this is a family that IMO would be better in a MN III for tripping. They are going to be squashed or think out of the box.

Expect you’ll have enough room, for now
Those kids won’t stay that small for long, but in the mean time, if you can fit your whole kit into three packs, you should have enough space. In summer, when clothing needs are less restrictive, I really think you should be able to get all the gear you need into two packs, with the third pack being for food.

You can see the value of some shorter shakedown cruises though, to become familiar with how much you need and how to make it fit, before doing a trip that’s epic. Start with short two-day trips close to home and work your way up. Your own experience will put all this advice here into better perspective. You’ll also figure out if getting bigger boat, or two regular-sized boats, is something to consider later on.

I’m thinking there’s room

– Last Updated: Mar-27-16 7:51 PM EST –

It's not just that I'm espousing fewer large packs. I'm envisioning that two small kids can fit among them, though granted, it'll be cramped. I'm thinking that two standard packs, in the upright position, will take up about the same amount of floor space as one of the kids (not "exactly", but in the ballpark). Considering the total overkill on gear-carrying that I see our local rental-boaters doing on overnight trips (too much gear plus two kids of about these ages in a standard tandem canoe), and considering the amount of gear and number of packs that actually *could* be used, I think there's a good chance this can work. Maybe I'm wrong, but I did point out that the kids will grow (this won't work forever), and I did suggest (elsewhere) that starting on small trips to get the feel for what's possible is just as important as the general plans being discussed here.