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Canoe or kayak camping checklist

Want to shake up your camping plans next summer? Consider canoe or kayak touring and camping, the water-loving alternative to getting into the wilderness.

What is canoe or kayak camping?

At its most basic, it’s using a canoe or kayak to get to secluded camping spots across bodies of water like lakes or oceans. You might also hear it called canoe tripping or kayak touring, but it’s all the same.

It requires you to pack your watercraft with gear. Some places might need you to pick up and carry your canoe or kayak across dry land to your next sailing spot (a.k.a. portaging). Some well-known places for canoe or kayak camping are Algonquin Park or the Bowron Lake canoe circuit, but there are many more across the country.

What to bring canoe or kayak camping

When you’re packing, remember to take your portage plan into account. Lots of portages mean you’ll want to pack wisely, since all your gear has to move across land too. If you don’t have any portages, you can travel in a bit of luxury, as your boat acts a floating storage space.

Paddling lets you explore remote areas, so it’s important to be self-sufficient, aware of the weather, currents and tides, and prepared for emergencies. All paddlers must carry mandatory safety items on canoes, kayaks and even stand-up paddleboards.

Now, it’s time to get ready for your paddling trip with this multi-day canoe tripping and kayak touring checklist.

Boat-related gear

Whether you’re in a canoe or a kayak, there’s plenty of important gear to bring along. Don’t have a boat yet? Learn how to choose a canoe or the types of kayaks available so you’re set up with the best gear for the job. No matter how far you’re paddling or how strong of a swimmer you are, a personal flotation device is a must; read up on how to choose a PFD to find a good fit. Here’s everything boat related you need for your trip:

Safety essentials

As is the case with any trip into the backcountry, you need to be prepared. Rough weather might delay your plans, so be sure you have what you need to stay warm, safe and fed (and to avoid getting lost too). Always make sure at least one trusted person back home knows where you’re going and your desired route. Also check in on tide charts, as well as wind and fog forecasts to be sure you’ll have visibility when you paddle. For a safe (and fun) trip, bring along these items:

Camping gear

With so much focus on your canoe or kayak gear, don’t forget about your camping essentials. On a paddling trip, there’s a chance that the place you’ll camp at won’t be flat with open spaces like most campsites are, so be sure you know how to choose a good tent site. Also, you might be able to pack along a little extra since you’ll be carrying your gear in your boat, not in a backpack (as long as you don’t have a big portage ahead). For everything camp-related, check out this list of essentials:


Even if the weather forecast calls for sunny skies with zero clouds, you’ll still be travelling over water and a little backsplash is to be expected. Bring quick-drying clothes, and read up on the differences between waterproof and water-resistant fabrics to know what to shop for. Even during the hottest months of the year, it can still get chilly at night, so make sure you have more than just T-shirts and shorts. Learn how to choose warmer clothes like base layers and mid-layers to prevent shivering at night. Other clothing essentials include:

Personal items and additions

Remember your everyday essentials as well. Think about your nightly or morning routine at home like brushing your teeth, taking important medication, or washing your face. Additional safety essentials include gear to help avoid interactions with local wildlife (big or small), and knowing tips for safer travel in bear country is a must if you’re in backcountry spaces. Some ideas of personal things to bring include:

How to pack a canoe or kayak for camping

There are three major factors to consider while packing your canoe or kayak for an overnight trip: keeping things dry, accessibility and weight.

Keep your gear safe from getting soaked with waterproof dry bags. One tip is to pack them two-thirds full, as an overstuffed bag is harder to close and water could sneak in.

For weight, distribute your gear across the boat based on how heavy the item is. Place lightweight items (like clothes and sleeping bags) at the front and back. Place heavier gear (like your food, cooking gear, and coolers) near the centre. Try packing your boat while it’s sitting in the water close to shore, so you can see how it moves with the wind and waves depending on the weight distribution.

Finally, for accessibility, think about the essentials you may need to grab as you’re paddling – stuff like sunscreen, extra layers, snacks and your first aid kit. Pack these items at the top of your bag so you can get to them easily. If you’re kayaking, keep your emergency essentials in a dry bag within arm’s reach.