How to Pack for a Canoe Float Trip

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Pack a map, first-aid kit, flares and lighter for each canoe.
Pack a map, first-aid kit, flares and lighter for each canoe. (Image: Carsten Madsen/iStock/Getty Images)

Even if you don't intend to pitch your things overboard, canoes have a tendency to get wet inside no matter how carefully you paddle. Fortunately, you can keep your gear dry by packing everything into waterproof dry bags. While one big dry bag might seem like the way to go, a better strategy for a canoe float trip is to pack all your things in multiple small bags, then put the small bags into bigger bags. That way you can get your map out without unpacking all those extra socks you stowed on top at the last minute.

Things You'll Need

  • Dry bags
  • Extra clothes
  • Toiletries
  • First-aid kit
  • Flashlight
  • GPS device
  • Safety whistle
  • Map
  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Hard-top bin or bear bin
  • Cooler
  • Extra paddle
  • Flares
  • Cooking equipment
  • Water purification device
  • Bungee cords
  • Rope

Packing Your Gear

Put everything you will need during the day in a small dry bag. Include sun protection, sunglasses, a bathing suit, a change of clothes, warm clothes for evening, bug spray, water, a knife and lunch. Pack safety gear -- a mini first-aid kit, an extra flashlight, lighter or matches, GPS device, safety whistle, emergency snack bars or other food and a waterproof copy of the map -- in your day pack in case you get separated from the canoe.

Pack a dry bag with your personal gear like toiletries, extra clothes, camp shoes and a flashlight.

Load the tent, sleeping bags and inflatable sleeping pads together in a large dry bag.

Combine cooking equipment -- including a small camping stove, pot, utensils and water purification device -- in a bag, bucket or bin. Pack a wash towel around extra pots to keep them from clanging all the way down the river.

Stow dry food that doesn't need to stay cold in a closed hard-top container to keep the critters out.

Fill a cooler with perishables and beverages for the trip.

Put flares or other signaling devices, an extra map and the first-aid kit in a waterproof dry bag with a distinct color so you can grab it easily in an emergency.

Packing the Canoe

Put heavy items like water, the cooler and cooking gear on the bottom of the canoe near the center of the boat. Attach a bungee cord over the top of the cooler to keep it closed. Tie the cooler securely to the canoe using a second bungee cord.

Pack the tent, clothes bags and sleeping bags in the front or back of the canoe, or pack them in the center around or on top of the heavy items. Tie each dry bag to the canoe using a rope, and then tie down the whole load to keep it from moving around.

Put the dry bag containing flares and other safety equipment within easy reach of one party member and tie it down.

Stow your personal items bag near your spot in the boat.

Tips & Warnings

  • Keep any permits you need for the area in a clear waterproof bag where you can get them easily.
  • Dry bags are great, but expensive. If you want to keep costs down, pack your things in 5-gallon buckets with tight-fitting waterproof lids.
  • Pack at least one extra paddle before you head out.
  • Put on your life jacket before you head out and always wear it when on the water.
  • For a float trip, you're not likely to need a helmet, but if you plan to do any white-water canoeing, have helmets easily accessible for each person in the canoe.

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