Canoe Camping Checklist





Overstuffed Canoe

This is what your canoe looks like when you take too much stuff. And there’s a few more things left to put in. And two people. Way, way too much stuff for canoe camping but we realized it too late. We revise our canoe camping checklist once again.

Our Canoe Camping Checklist  – What to take (and what NOT to take)

Canoe Camping – Moving from place to place, in a canoe or kayak, with your camping gear on board, beaching your craft and setting up camp.  The temptation in canoe camping is to take everything that your boat will carry.  And that’s a lot.

We’ve done a bit of camping on the water.  Until the Allagash, our canoe adventures were limited to flat water and involved an hour or so paddling to get to our site, where we stayed the entire time we camped.  Be careful what you decide to carry in your canoe.  Most canoes 16′ or longer will carry a lot of gear, if you want to take the time to move it from canoe to camp and back.  If you’re lake camping and plan to stay in the same spot, this is less of an issue.  However, if you are moving from site to site, remember you have to unload and reload everything you decide to take, at least twice a day.  If you have a portage or two, that effort multiplies.  And portages are not known for their ease of docking and unloading.  After all, the reason you’re getting out of your nice dry comfortable vessel is the terrain has presented an obstacle to the gentle passage of your river or stream.  Or that passage has ceased altogether, if you’re going from lake to lake.  Certainly you can carry a 30 pound cooler in your canoe, no problem.  But do you want to carry it a mile or more, over a steep, wet, slippery, portage?  Think twice, pack judiciously, perhaps slightly more extravagantly than backpacking.

Here’s a good thing to do before you go.  Pack all your gear in your canoe.  Then take it all out and carry it around the block, simulating a portage.  Don’t forget to take the canoe as well.  Then repack it in your canoe.  And leave what you didn’t have the energy or motivation to carry around the block.  Remember portages exist because there isn’t smooth water from the take out point to the put in point.  Almost always there’s an elevation change.  The trail will always be well-traveled meaning if it’s raining, it’ll be muddy and slippery.  There are certainly points along the way for you to rest.  But consider how much gear you want to tote from point A to point B.  Then leave it home, for your next car camping trip.

Dry Bags

In addition to all of the above, be sure to judiciously employ dry bags.   We tried 2 types, the rubberized reinforced nylon type and the clear, reinforced vinyl type.  Clear winner was the first.  The vinyl are less costly that the rubberized, but they are fragile.  While duct tape is a useful patch, you may not find the hole until after the bag is full of water.  The rubberized type were more durable and flexible, easier to pack.  Dry bags work well for loading and unloading as well.  Everything should be in some kind of container; bucket, box, bag, net, or sack.  This approach makes it so much easier to load and unload, and helps in the event you capsize, particularly if you tie your gear together or to the vessel.

An aspect of dry bag usage we didn’t appreciate until the morning of day 2 was the water that creeps into your craft even in the absence of rapids.  Early wood and canvas canoes addressed the tendency to collect water in the bottom of a canoe with floor boards.  The Silver Bullet didn’t have that luxury.  So, when we set up camp the first night, we noticed the bottom of our dry bags were wet.  This got serious when we hit quick water.  And rain.  Even though we tarped over the top of our gear, we still shipped a bunch of water.  Dry bags helped keep our gear dry.

Blue barrels-Canoe barrels are a solution we’ve not tested yet.  Usually blue, do’oh, with handles and a securely locking full open top.  They commonly come in 30 and 60 liter sizes.  They are available with a back-pack harness for easy portaging.  Reportedly, very water and odor proof, will not attract critters  looking for a free meal.  Here’s a site that discusses their attributes.

The picture is of what a well-packed canoe can look like. Our third day out and we have sorted through our gear, consolidating and generally making a more stream-lined profile.  Actually starting to feel like we have a handle on this thing.  Silly me.

Canoe Camping Checklist

In addition to the basic pack list, here’s a quick list of added items:

  • Life jackets – Now these are called “PFDs”, personal flotation devices.  Wear it all the time.
  • Paddles – including spares
  • Padded seats for the canoe
  • Throw bag – This is a specialized bag that contains enough rope to reach the shore from your boat and is important if you get into a quick water situation where you are unable to make it to shore.
  • Axe and saw – Be sure to bring along some fire starters.
  • Cots – There are many on the market that collapse into a small bundle and are very comfortable.
  • Lantern and fuel – White gas or propane
  • Stove – white gas or propane-we took the venerable Coleman 2-burner.  We could have doe  with a good single burner.  We did most of our cooking over wood.  The 2-burner was a luxury we didn’t need to drag along.  This will change, of course, if you’re trekking with a group.
  • More kitchen gear – A Dutch oven is useful, especially given the abundance of fire wood in many canoe camping environments
  • Rain gear – You’ll want to take some kind of waterproof outerwear.  We’ve used the Frogg Toggs rain suits for a while.  They work and are very light weight.  And surprisingly durable.  But, in a canoe, light weight is not a necessary feature.  And a little heft to your gear will help when you have to shoulder a couple dry bags and lug them through the rain along a portage.  The classic rubber rain suits work great.
  • Fire starters – We’ve always cooked on wood whenever we could.  We take a stove and fuel for emergencies, but our primary cooking choice is a wood fire.  That being said, being able to start a fire in all conditions is critical.  Simple fire starters can make the difference between comfort and hypothermia.  Sawdust and a little wax in a cup cake paper work well, are cheap and easy to make and carry.


CAMPING FOOD –What you carry will be dictated by your menu.  Here are some things we took.  We generally avoid the freeze dried dinners designed for backwoods campers.  They’re expensive.  A lot of light weight, mylar-envelope packaged foods can be found in most large super markets.  A few cans, too, aren’t a bad thing.  They are more close to being ready to eat so take less fuel, although most are better cooked, and the cans can be crushed to reduce their volume for packing out.  Some places, like the Boundary Water Cane Area in Minnesota, have very specific regulations about what kind of containers you may take with you.  On the Allagash, sadly, those regulations aren’t in force.  While most travelers are conscientious about pack in and carry out, past visitors have not always tried  to keep the land as they found it.  

  • Eggs, fresh, in a hard plastic carry-case.
  • Ham, bacon,
  • Bread, English muffins, flour burritos
  • Oatmeal, peanut butter, jelly, grits.
  • Snacks-GORP, good old peanuts and raisins, Logan bread (, bagged candy, fruit-apples, grapes, dried fruit.
  • Buffalo Chicken Supreme (See recipe section)
  • Tacos,
  • beef stew,
  • spaghetti,
  • Coffee, hot chocolate, creamer, sweetener
  • Condiments-salt, pepper, cinnamon sugar, hot sauce
  • Taco kit
  • Hamburger-frozen
  • Orange juice
  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Tuna, macaroni and cheese dinner
  • Milk
  • Cooking oil


  • Tent (check ropes, stakes, seal seams, repair holes)
  • Ground sheet – smaller than tent floor
  • Tarp with about 20′ of rope at each corner & side grommets- We took a 12′ X 16′ blue poly tarp.  It was adequate.  A 16′ X 20″ would have been better.  Be sure to take along some self-locking grommets and sewing kit with enough heft to attach them.  Also take a few squares of denim or canvas.
  • Sleeping bag in stuff sack (stuff clothes into sack for pillow)
  •  Sleeping pad or air mattress -We’ve become devotees of the camp cot for our sleeping platform.  Here’s the brand we use, Allagash Al by Byers.  These set up very quickly, collapse to a reasonable bundle and get you up off the ground for a very restful night’s sleep.  There is the added advantage of getting you up off a soiled and wet floor as we experienced after a few hours of rain on the Allagash.  Our tent never leaked, but it is next to impossible to go in and out without tracking in whatever is on the bottoms of you boots.  Cots keep your bag dry and free from floor grime.  And, in the even you’re sleeping in, are a lot more comfortable than rocks and roots.  By getting you up off the ground, they give you access to terrain that you might ordinarily consider to uneven for sleeping.
  •  Daypack for quick access items like raingear, snacks, fishing tackle,repellent, camera, etc.
  • Maps, Compass (in map case)
  • First aid kit, with manual, in waterproof container.  We’ve found the lock-n-lock plastic containers very useful.  They are hardier than a plastic bag, lock reasonably well, and are water proof.  They come in various sizes and are perfect for things like a first aid kit.  All are transparent enough for you to see what’s inside.
  • Knife, Sharpening stone
  • Water filter or purifier tablets -We used the boil the heck out of it technique.  While it worked, and we had plenty of wood, it left in all the stuff that makes the water taste like old socks.  So, some kind of filtration systems would be a definite help here.


  •  Long pants (wind resistant, quick drying – avoid denim! Cotton is great when it’s dry, but wet, it will chill you quickly and stay damp for days.
  • Long sleeved shirt same comment.  Polypropylene, fleece, wool, nylon, some synthetic long sleeve for wind and wet protection.
  • Fleece jacket or heavy wool shirt
  • GOOD RAIN GEAR!  We took Frogg Toggs.  They worked well, but were designed for light weight back-packing.  A standard rubberized rain suit is perfectly OK.
  • Brimmed hat – for sun protection
  • Bandanna Heavy socks – include a sock change for camp
  • Rugged boots for portaging -We tested a couple options, the LL Bean style leather and rubber boot and a full leather boot.  Both worked well.  The leather boot felt a bit sturdier than the LL Bean boot.  But, the LL Bean boot dried quicker.
  • Stuff sack for clothes-Be sure to have a separate sack for you soiled clothes.  If you rely on the same bag to hold your soiled as fresh, you’ll end up with damp clean clothes.


  • Matches -Waterproof match case
  • Cook kit in a stuff sack
  • Fire grate -be sure to check with your governing group for what the camp sites provide.  On the Allagash, you are required to stay at developed sites.  All have a large picnic table, fire pit with grate, and tarp ridge pole over the table and the fire pit.
  • Fry pan and spatula
  • Pot gripper or gloves.  Gloves are useful for other things; grabbing fish, moving hot logs, and keeping your hands warm!.
  • Stove – always convenient, necessary during burning bans-We carried the venerable Coleman 2 burner liquid fuel stove.  We could have made do with a single burner version.
  • Windscreen for stove.  Be sure to observe fire management rules.
  • Fuel bottle w/ funnel (if liquid fuel is used)
  • Saw and Hatchet or axe (not essential unless cooking over a wood fire)
  • Bowls and/or plates
  • Cups – include measuring cup
  • Personal utensils
  • Dishwashing supplies: biodegradable soap and a pot scrubber – bring extra bio-soap to coat the bottom of pans if used over a wood fire – soot washes off easily.



  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Bio-soap (use same soap for dishes)
  • Small towel, quick dry
  • Toilet paper (white) in plastic bag- Take twice what you think you’ll need.  The Allagash latrines had paper, sometimes.  Often it was damp and unusable
  • Insect repellent
  • Sun screen lotion
  • Flashlight or headlamp
  • Spare batteries and bulb
  • Duct tape
  • Sewing and repair kit: needle & thread, buttons, safety pins, nylon repair tape, wire
  • Spare rope
  • I.D., medical info., etc.
  • Personal hygiene & medical supplies
  • Stuff sacks to organize gear – a variety of colors works best



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