Overnight Canoe or Portage Camping Trip ( What to pack and keep gear dry )

Canoeing is an absolute blast! It’s almost too easy to make the best memories of your life out in the water whether you are alone or with friends. The only challenging part is remembering exactly what you need to bring and why to keep you and your fellow canoe buddies safe and happy. That is where I come in!

There are some essential supplies and gear that you will need to pack for your overnight canoe or portage trips, such as first aid, water, food, and some other vital items. However, most of these items will go bad and be useless if they become wet, so we are going to fill you in on how to pack for your trip and keep your gear and supplies dry.

This guide will include:

  • Basic camping gear list
  • Clothing items to wear and pack while canoeing
  • Canoe specific items
  • Helpful gear for any situation
  • Packing lighter for portaging
  • How to keep supplies and gear dry on your canoe trip
  • Related articles


Basic Camping Gear Packing List

On any trip, you will need a few essential items. What are they, and why do you need them? Allow me to explain.

  • Shelter

Everyone needs a place to lie down and doze off at the end of the day, even if it is just for one night. The basic tent is what you would initially think of, right? Well, that may not be such a great idea for someone packing their gear into a canoe.

You need something a little lighter and more compact. In your case, you may want to pack a bivy sack. Bivy sacks are lighter, smaller tents that fit just your body. If that still sounds like too much to mess with, go as simple as a tarp and a sleeping bag. Both of these are great options!

Another option you could consider is bringing a sleeping bag and actually using the canoe itself as your shelter. Simply flip the canoe upside down and slide under. Of course, this probably wouldn’t work well with a kayak.

If you are using a sleeping bag or camping quilt, we highly recommend using synthetic insulation. It is never recommended using some sort of feather insulation in wet conditions.

Be sure to read this article for more information on why down insulation is not for wet enviroments- Are down sleeping bags better than synthetic?

  • Food

This is obvious, right? Everyone needs food for the energy to keep on canoeing. For you, I would recommend bringing nonperishable ingredients. This will save you from having to lug around a cooler and or cooking something. Here are some great lightweight and non-pershible food items to pack for canoe camping.

  • Energy or granola bars
  • Trail mix
  • Beef jerky (any jerky really, turkey, pepperoni and chicken jerky are some of the choices)
  • Tuna or Salmon pouches (be careful to wash and seal the packs in airtight packaging after eating, especially in bear country)
  • Peanut butter
  • Dried fruits, vegetable or nuts
  • Canned or powdered juices
  • Canned stews or soups

Just be sure to remember a can opener if you are bringing canned items.

As I mentioned on the Tuna or Salmon packs, if you are in bear country, it is important to store food and trash properly.

For more information check out this article- How to store food in bear country.

  • Water

Everyone needs around a gallon of water per day to stay properly hydrated and healthy. You will be out in the sun while canoeing for some parts which will produce sweat, and rowing will make you sweat even more.

You may even want to use some 5 gallon buckets with lids filled with clean water. Just remember a full bucket weighs about 40lbs.

You have to replenish what you lost. Take gallons of water, a water bottle with a filter, and water purification drops. If you run out of what you brought, purify the water you are paddling in and drink that.

  • First aid kit.

This is one of the most important items you could possibly be bringing with you on this overnight canoe trip. Several things can happen while you are out there. You may get blisters from rowing. You could get stung by an insect. Whatever happens, you must be prepared. Follow the link here to learn about what every first aid kit needs, and look here for your purchasing options. (A tip: substitute any bandages for waterproof ones because of the nature of your trip.)

  • Flashlight/lantern.

Because you know you will be camping out in the dark at some point whether on your canoe or on land, you need a flashlight or lantern to see by. Having one of these and some batteries on hand will prevent you from getting lost or from tripping over unseen objects and injuring yourself. The cool part is that you can even use it to signal to other canoers if needed.

  • Sunscreen

At some point, you will be fully exposed to the potentially harmful rays of the sun while canoeing. To minimize skin damage, put on sunscreen at regular intervals of about an hour. Some brands have sweat resistant and oil free options to maximize your time on the water without having to slather on more.

  • Lip balm.

Your lips are just as sensitive to the sun and the weather as other parts of your skin. Coat them with lip balm to keep them hydrated and protected. I would personally recommend the O’Keeffe’s brand for the best value.

  • Bug repellant.

It is inevitable no matter where you go (except, perhaps, for the coldest of places) that bugs like mosquitos and gnats will come out to play eventually. You are, after all, in their home. If you want to keep them from biting your skin and giving you itchy welts, spray on some bug repellant before heading out.

  • Personal hygiene products.

Since you are only spending one night out in the wilderness, you won’t need as many products as you normally would. Still, though, there are a few that you should never leave home without.

These vital items are toilet paper, deodorant, hand sanitizer, and a toothbrush/toothpaste. Put them away in a safe, water-resistant case. You don’t want to find yourself needing to “go” without something to clean up with.

  • Waterproof matches.

You may need to start a fire for whatever reason, and the easiest way to do that is with a good set of waterproof matches and some kindling. You won’t have to worry about these matches losing all function because your canoe tipped over or it rained.

  • Cell phone.

I know what you may be thinking; is it somewhere along the lines of, “Are you crazy?! Do you know how much this phone costs?!” I do, and that is why when you take it out on your canoe, you are going to stash it in a waterproof case.

You may need your phone for emergencies. It is your one lifeline to the rest of the world, so you must take it. However, there are measures you can take to keep it safe. LifeProof cases and water resistant bags should minimize the risk of losing your very expensive phone while making sure that you can contact emergency services if you need to.


Clothing to Wear and Pack

Your trip will not be long, but there is still a sizeable list of clothing items that you should consider wearing and bringing if you want to stay comfortable and dry. Most can be worn on your person at all times, so you do not need much more space in the canoe for the rest!

  • Anything that shields your eyes, covers your scalp, and has a wide brim is ideal for canoeing. This improves visibility, keeps you cool, and prevents your face, head, and neck from getting a sunburn.
  • Sunglasses will protect your eyes from the sun’s UV rays and from any water flecks that may be flying. They will help you see better, so you don’t run into trees or rocks while paddling.
  • While it isn’t ideal to keep most of your skin uncovered all day, you can safely spend a while in your swimsuit while canoeing! You will be prepared for any tipping, and you will be able to keep cool underneath the scorching sun.
  • Moisture wicking material. Getting your clothing wet from either sweat or water is bound to happen. With shirts, shorts, and underwear made with moisture-wicking materials, you don’t have to worry about being uncomfortable because of it.
  • Paddling gloves. After a while, holding a paddle may become painful due to chafing. To prevent blisters, get yourself a good pair of paddling gloves. Get them for your rowing partner, too, if you can!
  • Sandals or other outdoor footwear. You won’t be hiking, so you don’t need heavy footwear like boots. Tennis shoes are okay, but they are also hefty and trap heat in your feet. Ideally, you would wear sandals that are strapped to your feet like They will prevent your feet from sweating, will be light enough to swim in, and won’t get lost if your canoe tips.
  • A spare set of clothes. You will get wet, sweaty, and generally dirty in a day, so bring another outfit with you.


Canoe Specific Items

Now that you have the basics covered let’s move on to things you would need in this instance that you may not need for other types of trips. Use your best judgment to determine how many of these items you should take on your overnight canoeing trip depending on the people in your group and where you are going.

I mean, obviously, but you need to know what kind of canoe you should be bringing as well as knowing that you have to have one. There are three main types of canoes that are made for different circumstances. Recreational canoes are good for those people who are paddling on calm bodies of water. They are hard to flip over and easy to control.

However, a recreational canoe would not fare so well in tumultuous streams or rivers, and it certainly does not make easy or tight turns. That is what river canoes are for! They have high sides, better impact absorption, and better maneuverability on rapids.

If neither of the former models seems to fit what you were looking for, you can always purchase a multi-purpose canoe. They are bigger, more easily maneuverable in both calm and rough water, and they are durable. Just pick a canoe that you believe best suits the situation.

  • Each rower in a canoe should have one paddle, and a backup paddle just in case. You never know when you may lose one, and you are not getting anywhere without a spare.
  • Everyone in the canoe needs a PFD (personal flotation device) like a lifejacket. You also need a backup just like you would with your paddles.

No canoe is entirely immune to tipping, so you should be prepared for it to happen no matter how calm the waters are. If you lose certain items when the canoe tips, it’s okay. They are replaceable. You and other group members are not. Safety should be your first priority.

  • Throw bag. A throw bag is a rescue device with a bag and rope that is tossed to stranded swimmers in order to pull them safely in. Still confused? Check out this article to learn how to use one. Someone’s life may depend on it, so study up.
  • Signaling device. Everyone in your group should have a way to signal to emergency services, other canoers, or others in the group in case someone is lost or hurt. Two of the best signaling devices are whistles and flares. Anything that is loud, bright, or flashing will attract the attention of the people you need to contact or flag down. Just be sure to use them wisely and safely.
  • Everybody needs a seat in the canoe. This is the most comfortable way to travel, and sitting in an elevated position gives you better visibility than sitting on the canoe floor would.
  • Knee pads. If someone does have to kneel to row because there is not enough room in the canoe for a bunch of seats, then give them the gift of knee pads. Otherwise, rowing will some become uncomfortable, even painful.
  • Weather radio. If you are not careful, you could find yourself caught in some nasty weather while out in your canoe. Checking the forecast before you leave home is a good idea, but it is not a foolproof plan. Even just for one night, taking a weather radio with you is smart and sensible. If you feel you don’t need it, fine, but it is something to consider taking either way.
  • Waterproof bags and cases. Your packing list items should be stored in containers that are waterproof for the best chance of survival in all environments and situations. You should also make sure that the most important containers have flotation devices tied to them so that you can easily retrieve what you lost if the canoe tips over.
  • Bailer and canoe repair kit. Canoes are not failproof, and you need to be prepared for the worst-case scenario: a leak. The more water a canoe takes on, the more you sink. You need to bail the water out, get to land as fast as possible, and repair it to the best of your abilities. The kit you buy will be dependent on the material your canoe is made of.


Other Helpful Gear to Pack

These items are, for the most part, optional. Whether you buy them or not depends on what you think you may need for your environment and group. In any case, they are good to have on hand no matter where you are going.

  • Any maps, charts, and brochures of the area you are staying in.

Research the area you will be canoeing in before you go, and print out any information you need. You will be able to navigate smoothly and be better prepared for what that area holds if you do so.

  • A compass or GPS device.

You can’t always rely on your phone to navigate for you. As a backup plan, bring a compass or GPS device so that you can find your way back to safety without the help of Google Maps. Learn how to use one first! You would be surprised by the sheer number of people who don’t know how to use a compass.

  • A wristwatch.

Again, your phone should not be your only way of gathering information. If it dies, you still need to know what time it is. In that case, find yourself a weather-resistant watch and wear it. As long as you sync up the time properly before you leave, you should have nothing to worry about.

  • A Swiss Army knife.

Plain pocketknives are versatile survival tools by themselves, but Swiss Army knives are so much more. Different models hold different tools, but you can expect some combination of things like a large blade, small blade, scissors, pliers, screwdriver, can opener, corkscrew, LED light, magnifying lens, tweezers, and key ring. With this tool, you will be ready for almost any situation!

  • Two-way radios, AKA “walkie-talkies.”

If you and another group member decide to split from each other for a while or you will be taking separate canoes, then give one to them and keep one for yourself. As long as you are within a decent range and are using the same frequency, you should be able to communicate clearly without wasting your cell phone’s battery. This is how you can plan where to meet again or what route to take, and, it’s how you will ideally signal to each other if something goes wrong.

If you prefer to air dry, then you can leave these off of the list. For the rest of you, this is an essential item. Staying dry is important for your health and happiness, so bring one if you can! Just make room for them in your waterproof packs, or they will be useless.

Packing lighter for portaging

If you are asking, what is portaging?, here’s the answer.

“Portage or portaging is the practice of carrying water craft or cargo over land, either around an obstacle in a river, or between two bodies of water. A path where items are regularly carried between bodies of water is also called a portage.” Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Since you will be carrying not only your gar and supplies, but you canoe as well, it is imperitive to pack as light as possible.

One way to ensure you keep your load as light as possible is to think like a hiking camper. What we mean is, only take what you can fit into a hiking backpack.

It will be essential to carry light yet nourishing food like jerky, fruit bars and tuna packs. Also, instead of bringing gallons of water, you will want to bring a filtering water bottle or even something like a jetboil, to purify water.

Also, this type of pack is designed to carrying things like, ultralight tents, sleeping bags and other gear. Often you can use caribeeners to attach many different types of equipment to the outside of the pack so you will have more room inside for other essentials.

Consider bringing some paracord. If the landscape will allow you could use your canoe or kayak as a type of sled and pull it along rather than picking it up and carrying it.

As we discussed in the shelter section under basic camping supplies, you can use a bivy, sleeping bag, or camping quilt and simply use your canoe as a shelter by turning upside down. This method works great if you do not want to bring a tent or if you are only using some sort of insulating sleeping bag or bivy and it starts to rain.

As we discussed in the shelter section, we do not recommend using down insulation in wet conditions.

How to keep supplies and gear dry on your canoe trip

Now that we have covered all the gear and supplies that you will want to take canoe camping it’s important to discuss how to keep it all dry and working. Some of these methods will be pretty traditional and some will be DIY hacks to keep the supplies and gear you pack dry in a canoe or kayak.

  • Trash bags

If in a rush or if you just want to save some money this hack maybe for you. Since you can get trash bags in just about any size, you can portect anything from a pair of hiking boots to an entire backpack of supplies and gear from water.

We recommend some heavy duty bags since thin bags can rip easily. You can simply tie the end in a know to close it off from water or you can simply tie it closed with some rope.

There is a pro and con to tying a knot to seal off the bag. The pro is, it will be more resistant to water getting. Also, a knot will hold air in better, giving the bag more ability to float if it were to end up in the water. The con is you may tear the bag trying to get a tight knot out.

  • Ziplock bags

This is one of the most common DIY items for keeping small items dry while canoeing. Just make sure to use a good bag that seals tight. Some bags will not seal tight and water may leach in.

The pro of this method is that ziplocks are generally easy to open and close and like trash bags, if you seal in enough air they will float. The con is you will still have to find something else to protect gear that is too large for them since it is hard to find ziplocks larger than 1 quart (approx. 25″X43″).

  • Buckets with lids

Usually, this would be a 5 gallon bucket with snap tight lid but you can find buckets even bigger than that. These will work great for small to mid sized items including clothes, sleeping bags, food and other items. A bucket can even double as a seat when on shore camping. The only downside is you will have to make several trips if you need more than a couple of buckets.

On the opposite side of being dry, a bucket would work great for stroing clean water but the downside is a full 5 gallon bucket of water will weigh 40lbs. Also, if you are in a kayak and not a canoe, this will not work, due to room limitations.

  • Waterproof containers

Waterproof containers it what we would recommend the most.

We love that you can get just about any size that you would need. This includes small enough to fit something like a wallet or cell phone and large enough to fit items like your pack, tents, sleeping bags and other large gear and supplies.

Also, most will have some sort of clamp down or locking system as well as o-rings to ensure that your supplies are well protected. You can get waterproof containers in both floating and none floating designs.

There are many designs to choose from and you can check them out on Amazon here.

  • Dry bags

Dry bags are another great option to keep your supplies and gear dry. They are about the same size as a standard back pack and usually have at least one shoulder strap, so they are easy to carry.

Also, dry bags are available in flaoting and none floating designs. We recommend floating just in case it does end up overboard.

Dry bags are also available in many designs. Be sure to take a look on Amazon. click here

If you are going on an overnight canoe trip, you will need more supplies than you thought you might initially. However, each item serves an important purpose; you may regret leaving them behind. Even with all of this gear, you will be packing relatively light! If you do your research, double check your packing list, and take some notes on safety measures, you will be canoeing like a pro in no time.

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Rickie Arms

Hi, I'm Rickie Arms, owner of Glampingorcamping.com. I am so invested in writing the best and most informative articles for you that I went out and bought a travel trailer just so I could write about it for you. I spend just about all of my off time both camping and glamping so I can share everything I have learned and will learn with you. I have spent my whole life camping and over the last 10 years, I have spent a large amount of time checking out glamping experiences with my wife and kids as well. Thank you for coming by and we hope to see you back here getting great information in the future. Rick Arms-

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