Preparing kit for a Canoe Journey

I’d like to do a brief run down of how I pack my personal kit for a multi-day canoe expedition in the hopes it might prove useful to someone starting off on their own exciting adventures.

Whether it’s overseas or in the UK, there are a few things I’ve learned make good sense when it comes to personal kit on these sorts of trips. I don’t think it matters between open water (lake systems) or moving water (rivers).

Obviously, it’s all personal preference, and I am by no means a canoeing master, nor have I got years on end of canoe expedition experience, but I’ve been very fortunate this year to have done several multi-day canoe trips in some truly awesome places. I’ve been to Galloway to canoe and hike, I’ve been to Canada on our Yukon expedition, I’ve been to Sweden on our Canoeing and Camp Craft expedition, and on our River Tay expedition. Last year I paddled the Tay and the Spey, but with a different kit set up, which gave me plenty to learn from!

Assuming there’s plenty of room in the canoes, I usually break my kit down to 2 bags. One is a 35L Earth Pak Dry bag rucksack which is my day sack, the other is a 120L Palm dry bag rucksack. There are pros and cons to using dry bags as the outer bag, they’re more susceptible to damage, scuffs, tears etc, which obviously we don’t want. Using a rucksack with a dry bag liner is also a very good option, but that adds to additional weight, which is fine, if you disregard any weight limits imposed by airlines and don’t have any portages. Sure, if you have the baggage allowance, I’d take the rucksacks in another form of luggage to get them in country, then re-pack there, where I know I’ll be more careful than most baggage handlers. I am really impressed with these bags for their durability and capacity.

Dry bags and paddles , this is my current preferred set up for all my personal kit

In my day sack I’ll keep the essentials I need frequent or quick access to, so I have my ditch kit, a waterproof coat and trousers, a first aid kit, fire lighting kit (a ferro rod, lighter, tinder card, cotton wool and Vaseline), my general purpose knife, that day’s lunch snacks just in a zip lock bag, water bottle/filter, flask and a DD superlight tarp. Depending on the location and time of year I’ll also have sun cream, insect repellents etc in there. Basically, if we did a day’s hike away from camp, or an impromptu stop, planned lunch stop etc, I just need to grab this bag. I quite often have my flask and water bottle handy in the boat, any probably a Mars bar in my BA. I’ll make sure at least most of the above is all in individual dry bags too.

The ditch kit is for if I end up in the water and I’m not in a dry suit. It’s just a set of spare clothes, but also has a warm hat, a buff, a jumper, a sachet of peanut butter, a bar of chocolate, hot chocolate sachet, those sorts of things. If you end up in the drink and it’s cold, you need sugar in your system quickly! There’s also another form of fire lighting kit in here, usually just a ferro rod or lighter and one tinder. You’ll lose dexterity quickly if it’s cold, so an easy to operate system is imperative.

The contents of yellow day sack , my day sack contents. Labeled dry bags containing the important stuff

The other bits I’ll put in my buoyancy Aid are for “Oh bother” moments, if I end up in the water, the bare essentials. For our clients, this is less important, as there’s someone on hand to assist with a rescue, but for me personally I’ll have a few bits. I have a river knife, a locking, folding serrated blade with a blunt tip for cutting rope quickly. A saw for cutting through the yoke/thwarts/seats on a boat, or any branches causing issue. A rescue sling/tape and several Karabiners. A loud whistle, a simple fire lighting kit, a ferro rod and tinder card, and some anti bac Gel.

In the large Palm bag goes the rest of my kit. My sleeping bag, tent/sleep system, lightweight folding chair, large saw, Axe, spare clothes, hygiene kit, tech/tools, inflating sleeping mat, the rest of my food, probably my Zebra camping pot depending on my lunches, along with my stove. All of this is in separate smaller dry bags so if there is a failure on the large bag the kit is dry, and if there’s a failure of the large bag and one smaller bag the rest of the kit is still dry etc. It really minimises the risk of losing all my kit at once. I usually carry at least one spare dry bag. They work great for doing laundry (inside out to keep them dry!) or if the weather turns rubbish, you can separate the inner and outer tent, and keep everything together but not dripping wet.

The contents of large dry bag, the important kit kit, sleeping bag and clothes etc, go in tougher, more durable bags to really give confidence in them staying dry

In terms of packing things in the Palm bag, I tend to get my sleeping bag as compressed as I can, and that goes in first, along with my spare clothes, hygiene kit, tech bag and tools. Spare Footwear and a Swanndri warm layer are usually in there too, then the tent is near the top, so you don’t need to rummage around if it’s chucking it down. It’s also likely the order you’ll need to get at things and put them away again.

In my clothes bag I’ll typically have up to 4 T shirts, underwear and socks. This allows me to wash a set and give it two days to dry before needing it again on longer journeys. The DD Superlight tarp is great to cover a washing line to get the clothes out of any rain. I normally have 2 sets of ex-military lightweight trousers that I can rotate, as well as a third in my ditch kit should I need to add them to the rotation. I’m happy to get into smelly clothes if it stops me getting hypothermia! depending on the type of trip, I’ll usually take a pair of dry socks too. A sensible warm layer for the environment and time of year should also be in there, along with a base layer if it’s cold, but that’s a personal thing, I’m usually too warm! I personally paddle in neoprene boots with a waterproof socks or dry suit between me and them. I’ll then have my normal boots in my large bag for the campsite. It’s vital to look after your feet well.

For Canada I had a dedicated dry bag for my camera, spare battery and lens that I kept separate from my other bags for quick access on the water. It was attached to the carrying yoke and left open when the weather allowed to make sure any wildlife we spotted didn’t hear me rustling and faffing! This worked great and allowed for some quick photos.

The dry bags I use to separate all my kit vary depending on the contents. I have some thicker sturdier bags for my clothes and sleeping bag, but my ditch kit and other bits are in thinner bags. Different sizes and colours make for easy differentiation of contents. I’ve also written Ditch Kit and First Aid Kit on those bags, so if someone else has to go through my kit they can grab the important bits easily.

We usually have some barrels on our expeditions for carrying group kit and food. We often carry cast auminium Dutch ovens too, which is why the above may seem light in that regard.

The type of water I’m paddling will dictate how I load the boat, whether I tie things down tight, on a line etc. The weather will also dictate where in the boat the kit should be, to make good use of trim. If the wind is likely to change for example, it’s very useful having kit you can move to move the weight. If I’m on a long journey on moving water I’d either tie it down tight or not at all. There’s a lot of different thought processes and preferences but having this two-bag system means I don’t have to untie everything and search through loads of bags to get to what I need when I need it. I also keep my rucksacks straps down or undo the ends, so they don’t present an entanglement issue.

If you’re going on a canoeing expedition, please feel free to get in touch for any kit recommendations or advice. If you’re joining us for a trip, we’d be more than happy to go through this with you in great detail, and we’ll probably be able to lend out dry bags etc as part of the trip.


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