Canoe Tripping: What You Need to Know

Canoe tripping beyond backpacking has a few additional skills and gear required.


In addition to your general camping backpack gear you’ll need a Personal Flotation Device (PFD), paddles, bailer and sponge (to keep water out of boat) and dry bags.

I’ve used my hiking pack inside plastic bags or compartmentalized my gear within dry bags within the pack but prefer to use a dry bag backpack like the Sealine 115.  Make sure your dry bag has a thick waist strap so when portaging a boat on your shoulders you distribute the total gear weight between shoulders and waist.





Attached to your PFD you should have a pea-less whistle, compass, mini flashlight, fire starter and quick fuel (in-case of a dunking).




You may also want to bring along a fishing pole, long handled net and tackle.

Alex brook trout.gif



Portages or Carries involve lifting the canoe out of the water and transporting along forest trails. Some folks will use carts but they can often be more trouble than they are worth.  My recommendation is to purchase the lightest boat you can afford. Hurting your back later on with a heavy boat may result in much higher expenses anyway and the lighter the boat the more likely you are to actually load it up for a trip.

Place the boat against the thigh and bend your knees so you can lift and roll the canoe onto your shoulders in one smooth motion.



When stopping always secure your boat. I keep a line of rope attached to the bow known as a painter.  It’s generally equal to the length of the boat . I’ll tie the tag end around a tree and secure it with a bowline knot. When the line is not in use it is wrapped tightly around a center thwart and grabbing a hold of it provides a nice added balance when carrying the canoe overhead.



The forward stroke propels the canoe forward and comes to most folks naturally. Hold your grip hand above the water vertically at about eye level.  The paddle should be vertical to the water and you twist your torso to bring the paddle forward and pull the water back.

The J stroke begins with a forward stoke and finishes with a quick “J” motion. The subtle motion of the J stroke by turning your wrist at the end of the forward stroke allows for consistent course correction keeping you on a straight path.

The draw stroke is a powerful turning stroke that can be done from the bow (front) or stern (back) of the canoe. To execute this stroke you turn toward the water and reach out with the paddle into the water and pull the boat toward the paddle. The cross draw stroke is completed on the opposite side you are paddling while holding onto the same grip as the draw stroke.

The stern pry stroke is completed at the end of a forward stroke and helps to direct the boat to the opposite side of the paddle stroke.  As the paddle moves behind you let the blade come flat against the stern of the canoe and than as your torso twists back go ahead and pry the paddle outward by pulling in your grip hand and pushing out with the hand on the shaft of the paddle.



Your obsession with canoe camping will put you out in it during the worst of the bug season.  Although the “blackflies, are the defenders of wilderness”, I like to think better a bug bite than frostbite. With the right bug dope, permithrin treated clothing and a head net they are often manageable. My best recommendation is to secure extra time into your trip planning so you can take an opportunity to read or nap when bugs are out or bad weather is overhead.





And finally the most important thing you may need is a good tripping partner. Canoes are known to zigzag and even be called divorce boats for folks who can’t seem to get along. Finding a partner skilled and ready to go at your pace can be critical to a successful trip!



Share a comment if you have any questions about #gettingoutinit! or let me know what critical skills you think I’ve left out.






  1. Good post; Hope the bags worked out well for you!
    Looked at a cedar strip canoe today; looking for a lighter canoe than our Oscoda. Unfortunately it was not much lighter than the canoe we have. It was selling for 200 dollars. Oh well – we’ll keep looking.

  2. New to the area but brought our canoe. Wondering if short day trips on the Passaic are a thing and unsure about licensing around here. In Missouri we regularly did the Missouri river no licenses required … any tips would be helpful.

    • The Passaic in New Jersey does not require any license for canoes or kayaks without motors. A nice day trip might be from So. Orange Ave across from Newark Academy at the Canoe Launch and down past Okner Park to reach the Essex County Environmental Center in Roseland. Or you could just launch at the environmental center and paddle upriver (left/south) and float back down when ready. There is a minimal current that mostly goes unnoticed but makes for a much easier return float and takes half the time.

      • Awesome that was my first plan to launch there and go up river for a while. I just could not see if public canoes were allowed to launch from there. Are there times when the ramp is closed? I look forward to exploring the natural communities of NJ and meeting some of the folks who look out for them.

      • The launch is never closed..but at times you may need to carry your boat a distance if an event is taking place in the parking lot. You can always call the center to check in and say hello. I have a map of the river access points as a post on this natureintoaction website. We definitely do have a lot of excellent opportunities in North Jersey for exploring nature.

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