Everything You Need to Know to Pack and Prep for a Multi-Day Canoe Trip

Going on a multi-day canoeing trip can be a lot of fun! Traveling by boat from campsite to campsite provides a feeling of nostalgia and an intimacy with nature. You get to experience the water in a way that most people don’t, and you can escape the monotony of day-to-day life. As you begin planning your trip, there are a few things to keep in mind. 

Planning for a multi-day canoeing trip

A yellow canoe sits on the bank of a river lined with pine trees

Plan your route

When you’re preparing for a multi-day canoeing trip, planning your route is one of the most important things you can do. 

Choose your waterway  🏞

If you’re completely new to overnight canoe trips, there are a few things you’ll want to consider when picking your waterway.

How far do you want to travel from home for the trip?  🚍

If you’re looking for a quick overnight trip somewhere near your home, then you will be limited to the waterways near your house. Depending on where you live, this could mean that you will be limited to rivers, lakes, bayous, or ocean-adjacent waterways. All of these waterways are great, but they require slightly different planning. 

If you’ve got more time on your hands and can travel further for your paddling trip, you’ll have a lot more options. You could even go somewhere that rents canoes overnight so you don’t have to worry about transporting a boat. 

Do you want moving water or flat water?  🌅

Moving water is any waterway with a current or significant tidal pull. Flat water does not have a current and isn’t really affected by the tide. So rivers and streams are typically moving water, and lakes and bayous are typically flat water. Marshes and springs can go either way, so you’ll have to look into the specific waterway to find out. 

When deciding whether to paddle on moving water or flat water, consider:

  1. Your ability. If you’re still pretty new to paddling and you struggle with steering, flat water is best. Making mistakes in moving water can have much higher consequences than making mistakes in flat water. 
  2. Where you’re going to put in and take out. If you’re paddling on flat water, you could put in and take out at the same location. So you might only need one vehicle for transporting your canoe and all of your gear. If you’re paddling on moving water, you will have to take out somewhere downstream of where you put in. So you’ll need to create a plan for getting the canoe back to your car. 

What type of campsite do you want?  🏕

Different waterways feature different camping options. Choose your waterway and campsites based on what will make your trip the most fun.

  • Beach camping. Some rivers, lakes, and ocean-adjacent waterways have sandy areas that are perfect for beach camping. Beach campsites can be fun because they’re soft, pretty, and typically slope gently into the water. However, if the thought of sleeping with sand in your tent sounds horrible, beach camping is not for you. 
  • Dirt Camping. Rivers, springs, and lakes typically have dirt campsites available. These sites often have plenty of trees, and the slope of the land can vary. Dirt camping can get a little messy if it rains, but it’s not too messy otherwise. 
  • Riverside Cabins. If you want your camping experience to be a little fancier, find a site that offers riverside cabins. For example, the Suwannee River in Florida has several state-run River Camps that are free with a reservation. They’re not as fancy as a typical cabin at a state park, but they provide more shelter and amenities than tent camping. 
  • Platform or Chickee Hut Camping. If you want to go on a multi-day canoeing trip in a bayou or marsh, you might not have a lot of land available for camping. Marshy environments tend to have really soft, wet soil that is not stable enough for tent camping. So if you want to go on an excursion into an environment like the Everglades, you would need to reserve a platform or Chickee Hut for overnight camping. 

Plan your distance  〰️

Once you’ve narrowed down the type of waterway where you would like to paddle, plan your distance. Going on a multi-night canoeing trip means you will likely cover several miles, but the exact distance and difficulty will vary based on the waterway. For example, you’ll travel a lot faster paddling downstream in a river than you would paddling against the tide in a tidal marsh. 

Determine how fast you can paddle on flat water, then factor in the probability of current, tides, or wind affecting your speed on the trip. Once you’ve gotten that down, plan your distance and campsites for each day.  

Prep your maps  🗺

Once you’ve planned the waterway, campsites, and distance for your multi-day canoeing trip, buy the maps that you’ll need for that section of the waterway. USGS Topographical Maps are great for overnight canoeing trips. You can use their website to narrow down the exact map quadrants that you will need for the trip, order them, and have them shipped to you. 

Once you receive the maps, use a pencil to mark where your campsites will be. Navigating while paddling is hard enough on its own without trying to remember your campsites along the way. By marking them ahead of time, you’ll make your navigation a little easier and will reduce the likelihood of missing your campsite. 

If you plan to paddle in this area over and over again, or if you’re worried about rain during the trip, prep your maps to make them more durable. If possible, laminate the maps and mark the campsites on the lamination with a grease pencil so you can remove the marks after your trip. 

Check the weather  🌤

Before finalizing the plans for your multi-day canoeing trip, make sure that you know: 

  1. The general weather conditions for the time of year you would like to paddle
  2. The specific weather forecast for your trip dates

You don’t want to be taken surprise by the weather during your trip. Knowing the general weather conditions for an area will help you prep for warm, cold, or rainy weather. Knowing the specific forecast for your trip dates will let you know if there’s anything weird happening that might alter your plans. It will also help keep you safe in the event of weather events like tropical storms, winter storms, and wildfires. 

Call ahead ☎️

If you plan to stay at a campsite that requires a reservation, call ahead to make your reservation. It’s best not to leave reservations until the last minute. Having a campsite fall through can derail your plans for a multi-day canoeing trip. 

If you plan to leave your vehicle at a specific boat launch while you are on the trip, find out if you need to alert anyone ahead of time. Some state parks will let you use their boat ramps for a small fee and will offer security for your vehicle while it’s on-site. 

What to pack for a multi-day canoeing trip

Thankfully, packing for a multi-day canoe trip is a little easier than planning the details of the trip. There are a few key categories of camping items that you will need for your trip.

The stern of a canoe rests next to a warm and inviting evening campfire.

Paddling gear  🛶

The most important element on a multi-day canoeing trip is your paddling gear. Make sure that you bring all of the right equipment to keep you and your boat partner safe on the trip. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Canoe
  • Paddles (ideally, bring an extra paddle in case one gets lost or broken along the way)

Sleeping items ⛺️

Choose your sleeping items based on your camping plan and the weather that you expect for the trip. You will likely need things like:

  • Tent/hammock
  • Tarp
  • Bug net
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sheet
  • Sleeping pad

Clothing  🥾

Pack the right clothing to stay comfortable on your overnight canoeing trip. Quick-dry clothing is best in case you get wet. It will pull the water away from your skin to keep you warmer and help prevent chafing. Be sure to pack clothing that will protect you from rain, sunburn, and bug bites as well. Your clothing should include things like:

  • Shorts
  • Pants
  • Tee shirts
  • Long-sleeved shirts
  • Jackets
  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Paddling shoes (can get wet)
  • Camp shoes (should stay dry)
  • Sun hats
  • Warm hats
  • Gloves
  • Bandanas or Neck gaiters
  • Rain gear

Personal items  🕶

The specific personal items needed for a multi-day canoeing trip varies from person to person. This category includes things like:

  • Headlamp
  • Lighter/matches
  • Sunglasses
  • Hairbrush
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Contacts and contact solution
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Medications (daily or life-saving)

Food items  🍎

Bring enough food and food prep items to sustain you and your boat partner for the trip. This includes things like meals, snacks, cooking equipment, and clean-up equipment. If the idea of cooking and clearing during a multi-day canoeing trip is unappealing, choose food that’s easy to prep and doesn’t make a mess. 

  • Breakfast, lunch, and dinner
  • Snacks
  • Water (plan for 2 gallons per person per day)
  • Camp stove (full-size or single-use based on what you’ll be cooking)
  • Fuel for the camp stove
  • Pots, pans, spatulas, etc.
  • Plates, bowls, spoons, etc.
  • Trash bags
  • Soap, sponges, etc.

Critter protection  🦝

You don’t want animals like bears, or even raccoons, coming into your camp at night to steal your food. Research the area where you will be camping to find out more about the wildlife there. Plan your critter protection accordingly. You might need things like:

  • Raccoon safe container with heavy items put on top of it overnight  to protect against raccoons

How to pack for a multi-day canoe trip

Front seat paddler in a canoe packed with camping gear drifts down a glacial waterway on a cold, sunny day

Now that we’ve covered what to pack on your multi-day canoeing trip, let’s talk about how to pack it. Since you’ll be traveling via canoe, there’s always the danger that your gear might get wet. Whether by rain or by splashing, a little water is inevitable. So, pack in a way that will keep your gear dry. 

Dry bags are the best thing you can buy when prepping for your overnight canoeing trip. You can get a large Seal Line dry bag along with some gear bag liners to keep your clothing and sleeping equipment dry. Small Sea To Summit dry bags are great for personal gear that you want to keep near you in the boat for easy access. 

It’s easiest to keep food, camp stoves, and cooking equipment in durable containers like Action Packers. Eating equipment like bowls, spoons, and cups are most easily stored in a 5-gallon bucket with a durable lid. 

Durable 5-gallon containers are the easiest way to bring drinking water on the trip. Then you can just pour the water into a durable Nalgene water bottle to keep in the boat with you while you’re paddling. 

If you pack and prepare well, you’ll be set to have fun on your adventure and get the most out of your overnight paddling trip.

Paddle On! 

Everything You Need To Know To Pack and Prep for a Multi-Day Canoe Trip
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Everything You Need To Know To Pack and Prep for a Multi-Day Canoe Trip
There's lots to plan for when preparing to spend multiple days on the water. Don't miss a thing with this complete guide!
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Board and Kayak Life
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