Home Sweet Canoe: Packing For A Canoe-In Camping Trip

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We just had the most fun weekend, thanks to the discovery of a State Park campsite, accessible only by boat. Since I haven't camped for at least eight years, I was a tiny bit trepidatious about my first outing.  But I figured, "if we're going to do this, let's do this," so we loaded up a canoe and were on our way.

I am, by no means, a master outdoorswoman (see: not camping for eight years). I don't want to use the term "high-maintenance" to describe myself, but I'm almost always hot or cold or hungry or thirsty, often all at once. Basically, if I can handle a boat, anybody can (it did help that my companion is a master outdoorsman). We packed a standard-size canoe for two adults and one seven-year-old, and this is what we brought:

  • A heavy-duty dry bag for clothes, shoes, and towels — We all wore sandals and swimsuits under our clothes, and were each allotted a plastic bag for other clothes and another bag for our boots. Since it was a freakishly cool July weekend (temperatures were in the low 50s), it'd be possible to pack just as lightly for a fall or spring trip. I packed two pairs of jeans, one tank top, one flannel shirt, one sweater, one hoodie, one bathing suit, one set of underthings, one pair of warm socks and one set  of high-tech long underwear as pyjamas. It seems like a lot, but it easily fit in one plastic shopping bag.  While sitting around our evening campfire, I I was basically wearing all of those things! 

  • Towels — We used our towels to dry off after a swim in the river, then hung them out in the sun to dry so they could be rolled up and function as our pillows. 

  • Sleeping bags — Our three sleeping bags were stuffed into a standard kitchen trash bag. It didn't exactly class-up our canoe, but it did the trick. They don't come cheap, but perhaps someday we'll get another dry bag. 

  • A four-person tent — The tent was plenty large enough for the three of us and our bags of clothes and shoes.

  • Cooler — We brought plenty of bottles of water (see: always thirsty, above), and since we froze half of them beforehand, we didn't have to waste cooler space on ice. We also packed orange juice for the morning, bottled tea and coffee for the grown-ups, canned beer, a big ziplock bag of pasta and stewed vegetables to heat over the fire, worms for the fishermen, corn on the cob, and potatoes. 

  • A plastic bin — A plastic tub held paper towels, sunscreen, bug spray, granola bars, apples, carrots, a small container of peanut butter, the seven-year-old's axe and camping multi-tool, matches, rope, bungee cords, our phones and wallets in ziplock bags, toothbrushes, toothpaste, band-aids, tiny bottles of olive oil and salt, a can of baked beans, Smitten Kitchen's Raspberry Breakfast Bars (made with blueberries) for breakfasts, and sandwiches for lunch. There was also enough empty space in the bin to stash our sweatshirts after we warmed up during our four hour canoe journey.

  • Firewood — Our original plan was to put the firewood in the bin to protect it, but space was limited and I felt confident that between the axe and the woodsman, we'd be fine if it got damp. 

It may sound like a lot of stuff, but the canoe still felt nice and roomy. We used a bungee cord to ensure that the bin and sleeping bags bag didn't move around, and positioned the cooler so it was easily accessible while we were on the water (so we could quickly grab drinks and snacks). The entire trip was a smashing success. I was so impressed that we could get by (even during an all-night downpour) with such limited gear. It was also a great opportunity for the seven-year-old to learn about making choices and budgeting.  He had to leave behind some things that we simply didn't have room for, but in the end, there was nothing he missed. Although it may it may seem like a lot of gear to some, for us, it was the perfect home-away-from-home on the water and in the woods. 

Have any of you gone boat-in camping? Please share what you've learned!

(Image: Flickr user Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources licensed under Creative Commons)

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