Alright so, you’ve successfully done a few shorter trips in your kayak or canoe and now you’re ready to tackle a multi-day paddling camping adventure! Great for you! There’s nothing much better than falling asleep and waking up to the ripple of the river or the gentleness of lake waves brushing the shore; especially knowing you have nothing to do that day but paddle to the next campsite in time for dinner.
It might sound fluffy to say, but paddling through the natural serenity of a river or lake for an extended paddling trip, you’re likely to stumble into wildlife, gain knowledge about the world and yourself, and find peace. After all, that’s the goal with getting outdoors right?
Planning an Extended Paddling Trip
While extended paddling trips present an amazing chance to experience nature, they also present challenges you’ll want to account for. If you’ve never done an extended camping trip traveling by “paddle”, you’ll want to understand a few things about what to expect. Extended paddling trips aren’t like other paddling trips, nor are they like other extended camping trips. Nevertheless, there are some great connections we can make when bringing both paddling and camping best practices together.
1. Research Carefully
The truth is, great research is where any good trip starts – whether it’s the Ozarks, the Andes, or Disney World. The good news is, the internet has tons of information at our disposal. Often we are able to find maps, campsites, outfitters, river flow/flood reports, and even full trip journals via a quick Google search.
There are a lot of factors to consider here. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Will you be bringing your own canoes or kayaks or will you be renting?
- Who will be joining you?
- Will there be more than one vehicle along that can carry the boats? If not, what transportation method will you need?
- How long will you be going for?
- Are any must-stop spots along your route?
- How much do you intend to paddle each day?
- Do you already know what campsites you’ll be staying at or will you need to find them while you’re out?
- Do the campsites require permits or reservations? Are there facilities like bathrooms and running potable water there or are the sites primitive?
At this stage, it’s important to consider your experience level. You may think a river or lake sounds like a great spot, but try to find info on weather and flow. The flow or speed of a river will affect not only your paddle times each day, but can also quickly challenge your experience in a dangerous way if you’re not careful. Also, your chosen lake might have incredible scenery, but might be prone to wind gusts that could brutalize you during your trip and make it very difficult to travel from point A to point B.
If you’re not experienced in paddling, the research phase will help narrow down destination and itinerary options to help you find the perfect extended paddling trip for you. If you are an experienced paddler, good research can help you surface any hazards that will become crucial insights for your intended trip.
2. Determine the Length of the Trip
Most of us can only afford to take a set amount of time away from the world. Determine first how long you are able to be gone. Then understand itinerary items such as travel time to your destination and average paddle times between campsites.
How much can you paddle in one day? Give yourself a little bit of a buffer, especially if you’re new to planning multi-day trips, to ensure you don’t end up overdoing it or pushing yourself too hard to meet your timeline.
3. Determine Your Route
You never want to be out paddling at night. It’s just plain dangerous. Be sure to be honest with yourself about the skill level of every paddler. If you’re unfamiliar with extended paddling trips, or if you have newbies joining you, stay conservative with your trip. Consider a pre-established or well-traveled route. On routes like these, campsites are bound to be more plentiful and well spaced – ensuring logical paddle times and manageable schedules.
Start by figuring out exactly where you want to start. If you’re not doing a round trip, figure out where you’ll end and how you’ll get back to your vehicle at the end of your trip.
If you’ll need to rent your watercraft, many popular rivers and lakes offer canoe/kayak rentals and (often) seamless transportation at the beginning and end of your trip. Liveries are great options because they already have the infrastructure in place – boats, vans, trailers, and personnel to help you get on and OFF the water.
If you’re bringing your own boats, various “shuttle” services from canoe/kayak liveries or other tourism entities are typically offered. Sometimes liveries even have designated put-in and drop off points right on the body of water.
If shuttle services aren’t clear from an internet search, it may take some creative research to find out. Don’t be shy reaching out to local fishing guides, bait-and-tackle shops, or even Chamber of Commerce’s to discover a possibly “off-the-radar” shuttle service. These places can often be helpful when it comes to route planning as well. They can talk you through camping availability and permitting, distance between campgrounds, as well as other helpful insights.
4. Have a Backup Plan.
Too many things can happen that can cause delays on an extended paddling trip. A slower current than expected, stronger winds than usual, and even inexperienced paddlers in the group can end up making the distance between expected campsites feel impossible. Plan ahead by having alternate campsites/routes in mind.
IN PICTURE: SealLine Boundary 36L Dry Pack, Pelican Elite 30 Cooler, Old Town Saranac Canoe, Anker Powerport Solar, Black Diamond Demon Pack
5. Put EVERYTHING in dry bags.
Many people new to extended paddling underestimate how easy it is for gear to get wet. Even when you’re extra careful under normal circumstances, you should expect and prepare for things to get at least a little wet. Play it safe and invest in good dry bags and packing everything in them to keep your gear protected.
SealLine Boundary 36L Dry Pack – The Boundary Pack is a time-tested, adventure-approved, outdoor gear staple. I love it for paddling because it’s durable, 100% waterproof, and has shoulder straps for carrying from shore to camp and while portaging. You’ll recognize the quality of this thing the second you get it. I have 4 of them, in different sizes and have never had buyer’s remorse. If you take good care of a Boundary Pack, it should last forever.
Sea to Summit Lightweight Dry Sack – When it comes to organizing your gear and keeping everything waterproof, you should keep a variety of dry sacks on hand. And when it comes to dry sacks, Sea-to-Summit has been doing it right for decades. They’re rugged, light, and versatile. This is also a less expensive way to keep everything dry if you’re not quite ready to invest in a dry PACK. Waterproof dry sacks can be packed with gear and put inside a non-waterproof bag/pack and still achieve most of the waterproofness you’d get with a fully waterproof pack.
6. Purchase Maps of the Area
Make sure you purchase a map of the area where you’ll be paddling. You don’t want to find out you’ve lost your cell service and aren’t sure where you are when it’s getting dark at night. Laminate your map and keep it in a waterproof baggie to ensure it’s protected and able to be used if you need it.
7. Check Camping Gear Before Heading Out
It doesn’t matter if you’re purchasing a brand-new tent or using one that you’ve had for years. Check out all of your camping gear before you head out to ensure it works properly and is in good shape. You don’t want to find out your tent leaks or your sleeping pad doesn’t hold air on the first night of your trip.
8. Make Sure You Have Plenty of Food and Water
Check out options for food and water while you’re on the trip. Make sure you have enough water for your trip or plan stops where you can refill or filter your water on the way. You’ll also want to choose foods that are nutritious as well as filling but keep them as light as possible. Dehydrated meals, for instance, are lightweight but filling foods you can cook when you set up camp at night.
If you have a relatively large group going, consider planning meals as a group, with each person bringing ingredients for one or a few meals, depending on how long your trip will be.
Want the gear in this picture?
Bonus Tip: Be Sure to Pack a Good Attitude
As with any other outdoor adventure, a good vibe goes a long way on an extended paddling trip. Go into it with the expectation that things may not be perfect, or as comfortable as home. You can always tell a person who’s experienced in adventure by their ability to adapt to new variables. Pack a good, positive attitude and you’re sure to enjoy yourself on your extended paddling trip.
Have questions for our expert team? Leave a comment or send us a message! We’d love to hear from you.