Plan a Canoe Trip: The Beginner’s Guide

Whether you’re a seasoned or first-time canoeist, this guide is for you. In it, we’ll teach all the basics of paddling and camping along with some more advanced tips as well. But before that comes the question: what’s your skill level? Let’s find out!

The “canoeing for beginners” is a guide on how to plan a canoe trip. It includes information on what gear you’ll need, where to go, and how to prepare.

Group of men on beach with canoes and paddles.

“The route of the boat is the way of the wilderness, and of a freedom that has nearly disappeared.” It’s an antidote to insecurity, a portal to bygone rivers, and a way of life rich in deep and lasting pleasures. When a guy is a part of his canoe, he is a part of everything that has ever happened to boats.” Sigurd Olson is a writer who lives in Sweden.


Canoeing is ingrained in the culture of the North Woods. The canoe was the mode of transportation for Native Americans throughout North America. Canoes were used to transport the first Europeans over the border to trade and proselytize. Lewis and Clark explored and charted our new country from the interior of a boat.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that the thought of kayaking away from society and into the wilderness has long appealed to males. What guy hasn’t closed his eyes and imagined floating across the water of a clear river, bordered on all sides by verdant woods or bright autumn foliage, while sitting at his desk, encircled by the walls of his cubicle?

But it doesn’t have to be a pipe dream. Canoeing is not only romantic, but also quite useful for camping.

The canoe’s usefulness is undeniable. It can carry incredible quantities of gear, handle waterways ranging from little streams to large seas, and do so with unmistakable manliness in the hands of an experienced paddler.

Last time, we discussed one of the benefits of car camping over backpacking: you can take more gear, which allows you to camp more comfortably and prepare and eat more great food. The disadvantage of automobile camping, of course, is that it takes away the feeling of going away from society and finding oneself in nature.

Canoeing, on the other hand, gives you the best of both worlds. You can travel far into the bush while also carrying 100 pounds of stuff in your canoe, as if you were hiking. It’s camping that’s both primitive and elegant, which, in my view, is the greatest sort of camping out there.

I’m sure I’ve persuaded you that a canoe excursion is in the cards. However, many men seem to be intimidated by the prospect of organizing and completing a canoe excursion. They can load a tent and sleeping bag into the vehicle. Going down a river into the woods, on the other hand, seems to be a little more intimidating. It doesn’t have to be that way, however. Preparing a canoe trip is similar to planning any other vacation; all you have to do is:

• Make a decision about what you want to accomplish; • Research what you need to know; • Locate the resources you’ll need; and • Put your strategy into action.

The following explanations apply to small groups or individuals, although I’m concentrating on group dynamics in this article.

Step 1: Make a decision on what you want to do.

Rad canoe next to lake on shore through trees.

What are your travel plans?

The first and most important step is to choose a site. It’s easy to fantasize about going on a month-long journey to the Northwest Territories with your college buddies, whom you haven’t seen in 10 years. Don’t. It’s not a romantic situation. At least one member of your party will die in a horrible manner. Grizzly, not gruesome.


Than begin, shorter journeys are preferable to longer ones. Whitewater expeditions are preferable than flatwater ones. Smaller bodies of water are preferable than bigger ones. Slowly begin, or you may never begin again.

A wonderful spot to start is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota’s upper Midwest. That is my home soil, and I like it. Some of the iconic rivers in the west, such as the Missouri in the north, the Green in Utah, the Rio Grande in Texas, and the Niobrara in Nebraska, are wonderful places to start. The south’s blackwater rivers and wetlands are particularly beautiful in the off-season. The Current, for example, is one of the most beautiful rivers in the Ozarks. There are many gorgeous spots to visit that are also beginner-friendly.

A group of man sitting around a fire.

What kind of people do you want in your group?

My buddy just returned from a canoe expedition. It was meant to be a solo journey with a meeting point in the middle. That did not turn out to be the case. My pal ended up dragging a friend out for lying about his ability. Friend was unprepared, dressed inappropriately, became hypothermic, and became a member of the Liar’s Club. It was a soul-sucking event rather than the regeneration he had hoped for.

Then, on the way home, his vehicle broke down.

How can you stay away from soul-sucking situations? A thorough vetting procedure.

Choose a trip that is appropriate for the individual in your party with the least amount of experience, or make concessions if most of your group is experienced but one is not (put him in a canoe with a very experienced paddler). Even better, persuade the Weakest Link to remain at home this time. That isn’t meant to be amusing. If W.L. is holding everyone back, no one will have a good time.

Assign a trip leader, or at the very least a team, who are all on the same page about the trip’s aims and expectations. The agenda is chosen by the group, not by the tour leader. However, early on, the group discusses and agrees on safety standards. When things don’t go according to plan, the trip leader responds, “No, we’re not cliff jumping.” That was something we decided on early on.” “I don’t feel safe with you swimming in the Lagoon of the Shrieking Eels,” a tour leader may potentially state. Everyone agrees before the trip that the trip leader’s word is law. It’s a difficult place to be, and it’s tested friendships, but it needs to be that way. In the wild, rule by consensus does not function.

Step 2: Do some research to find out what you need to know.

Begin gathering information after you’ve selected where you want to travel. Most of the time, maps, guidebooks, and online information are useful, but maps may be inaccurate, guidebooks can be out of date, and the internet proves that even the most inept individual can portray their thoughts as facts. You have no idea who they are, how much experience they have, or what kind of preparation they’ve done.


Here’s a tip regarding finding information on the internet: Generally speaking, the more people say, the less they know, particularly if they have had a poor experience. I often paddle a nearby stream with gentle whitewater, occasionally with companions who have little expertise. A local further claims that the river is very unsafe and that anybody who takes novices there is being careless. Periodically, I’m lectured on how irresponsible and uneducated I am. A few years ago, he had an unpleasant encounter (he swam). It’s not his fault; it’s the river’s.

The finest information is obtained directly from the source. Make use of the telephone. Make contact with others. You’ll know right away whether they’re trustworthy. My experience has been that we like telling visitors about our favorite paddling spots, including tips and landmarks that aren’t often included on maps or in books. It’s unclear why we do this, since it leads people to our favorite spots. However, we adore these locations and want to share them with you.

If you’re planning a trip to a National Park, a Wilderness Area, a Scenic River, or any other government-controlled territory, including BLM land, local rangers and authorities would gladly provide you with accurate information, including maps and connections. Their goal is to lure you into their realm, and they often include gear lists and other tips. Which brings me to…

Step 3: Look for Resources

To be safe and comfortable, you’ll need the right equipment. Some of this information may be accessible through your prior contact, but outfitters are also an excellent source of information. Don’t waste the outfitter’s time if you have no intention of utilizing them. They are in the business of equipping, not providing free services to those who will not utilize them.

I would definitely recommend hiring a guide or outfitter for groups or first-timers. This relieves one of the party members of the responsibility of trip leader, which is nice, and you have an immediate expert who understands the region, the weather patterns, the local blueberry patch (which is important), and will overall improve your experience.

It’s a low cost when shared among a group, and even expert paddlers may enjoy it. I took my whole family on a guided vacation to Alaska a few years ago, and although we could have leased boats and done the trip ourselves, we chose to employ a guiding service and didn’t have to lift a finger. We were more concerned with taking in the landscape than with making ramen beneath a tarp in the rain. Hint: Alaska has a lot of rain. We had salmon and green salads, halibut steaks, and stir-fry instead. It was well worth the money.

Fresh blueberries in hand.

Choosing an outfitter or guide is really rather simple. Here’s when the internet comes in handy. Customer testimonials are fantastic, both on the outfitter’s website and elsewhere, and if you read ten positive testimonials and one negative one, ignore the negative one. Some individuals, in my experience, prefer to be negative and unhappy. His life is a kind of self-punishment.


Inquire about any safety records. Inquire about their guides’ training. Inquire as to how long they’ve been in business. Inquire about the kind of organizations they serve. Inquire about their gear. To put it another way, you can’t ask too many questions.

If you don’t want to hire an outfitter, local specialist businesses might be of great assistance. I’m prejudiced since I operate a local speciality shop. The level of expertise distinguishes a niche business from a bigger box store. The Boundary Waters have been mentioned by a box shop clerk. Our Assistant Manager has made 30 trips to the Boundary Waters. He understands what to dress, how to pack, eat, and go, as well as what works and what doesn’t. It’s a prevalent misconception that specialized shop pricing are higher than those found at big box stores. This is not the case.

When it’s pouring, don’t try to learn how to put up a tent in the dark. Nothing in your luggage should have a price tag on it (a solid indicator that you’re in for a lengthy journey). Dry runs are really important. Set up your tent a couple times in your backyard. Maybe try it with a headlight once in the dark. Know what you’re dealing with. Don’t discover a hole in your air mattress the first night you’re gone. When you’re attempting to boil some water, don’t discover that your camp stove won’t operate below 40 degrees. Don’t discover out during a rainstorm that your rain trousers don’t fit over your normal pants.

Okay. The dead horse has been defeated.

Burning fire under shelter.

Step 4: Put Your Strategy Into Action

Of course, you’ve written everything down and devised a strategy, so you’re ready to go. Last but not least, keep in mind the following:

1) Inform your family, friends, and local authorities about your float plan.

You want someone to know you’re behind if you’re scheduled for three days and it’s day five. Not to frighten them, but to enable locals to begin looking for them. They usually don’t begin until a few days after the return date, particularly if the weather has been very bad.

2) Think about getting a PLB of some type.

A Personal Finder In the event of a serious injury, Beacon is a lovely little bit of insurance. Severe injury is described as the risk of losing one’s life, limb, or vision. Because you’re chilly and hungry, cracking open a PLB will result in a helicopter visit, and helicopter fuel is costly. Unnecessary rescues burden the system, leaving individuals in true situations vulnerable, so avoid pushing the pin unless you have a roll of hundreds (around 250) you don’t like. A “I’m alright” button, often known as the DWH (“Don’t worry, honey”), is found on most PLBs. Every morning, pressing the button sends a text or voicemail that says, “I’m alive and enjoying it.” It can also provide a link to Google Maps, which will show you your precise location.

A satellite phone is ideal for bigger groups, particularly if the costs are shared. I like PLBs since I don’t order pizza from across the Spanish River.


3) There’s a lot of water involved. Prepare your belongings properly.

On a canoe journey, the chances of getting wet are substantially greater. This implies you’ll need something other than Hefty rubbish bags to safeguard your goods. You may quadruple or triple them, but all it takes is one wayward stick or ember from your bonfire to jeopardize your watertight system. Dry bags, and many of them, are the solution.

Sleeping bags.Dry bags are robust, and if used correctly, you may be certain that your sleeping bag will stay dry. Dry bags have a roll top method, which involves folding the bag’s mouth over itself and securing it with buckles. The first rule is to not overfill them, since this will make the second rule hard to follow. The second rule is to roll the top down at least three times and make sure that all of the flaps are properly aligned.

Make use of a variety of sizes and colors. I’m not that organized that I have a system for all of my colors, but I do have a few color-coded bags. First aid is bright orange, with the words FIRST AID and a large Red Cross inscribed on the exterior. I want the stupidest person in my group to be able to discover it if I’m disabled. The other is the toiletry bag, which is bright green in hue. Unless I have more clothes than blue bags, blue is often associated with apparel. It’s possible that your system is different. I really hope it is…do what you think is best for you.

When you’re done packing everything that has to be dry in bags or other dry storage, you go on to putting things into your packs, unless you wish to carry everything in your arms.

A walking track in the jungle.

4) You’ll have to transport your belongings.

A portage is required for the majority of canoe journeys. It’s pronounced as POOR-tuj (American pronunciation) or pour-TAJ (Canadian pronunciation) (like in the Taj Mahal, the Canadian pronunciation). Some Americans, like me, are Canuckophiles who pronounce it pour-TAJ. Isn’t that what just happened? When traveling from one lake to another, or along the bank of a river when it becomes impassible owing to a rapid or a dam, a portage is required.

Portage pack.Backpacks are not the same as portage packs. A backpack is slimmer, taller, and longer, and it generally has a clever suspension system that demonstrates that its main function is to carry things all day. Larger, shorter, and with a less complex suspension system, portage packs are the most common. The goal is to transport a large amount of luggage over a short distance. There is no sniveling here, as the voyageurs of the fur trade period typically hauled two 80-pound bundles of beaver fur. Don’t whine about your weight; simply put up with it. You’ll be happier later, when you’re baking your company in a reflector oven while your camping buddies eat dried beef stroganoff that looks like the dog just puked on the driveway.


You may be need to carry a bag and a boat at times. You can carry a 70-pound pack and a 45-pound canoe if my then-16-year-old daughter can. Despite the fact that she is a rugby player and tremendously powerful…

5) You will be trekking on tracks that are unlike other hiking trails.

Backpackers are used to well-marked paths. Canoeists are used to mossy boulders, spruce roots, uneven scree along a riverbed, and other unforgiving terrain. On these kind of routes, good footwear is a must.

It’s a theological debate about what decent footwear entails. Some choose heavy-soled sandals (Chaco, etc. ), others a sacrificial pair of always-wet boots, and yet others opt for a specialist shoe with a knee-length neoprene sock. What’s my theory? You’re going to get wet, so prepare to walk about with damp feet. I normally wear a pair of 12-14′′ tall hunting boots (Red Wing or Filson boots are wonderful). Socks made of wool. You won’t have prune toes if you air your feet out on a regular basis (typically at lunch and later supper), and your ankles will thank you.

I do take extra precautions to ensure that my boots are well-cared for after a trip, and I do remove the insoles each night to allow them to air out. They never go near a fire. Ever.

I’m expecting remarks that will rip my system apart. That’s all right. It has served me well for the last 25 years. Play around with your own setup.

6) It’s simple to get disoriented.

The lakes in a location like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area are quite similar. Deduced reckoning, often known as dead reckoning, is as important as good map and compass abilities. It entails being aware of your surroundings and ensuring that what you expect to see is truly there. If the path is meant to conclude at a bay, but it doesn’t… Consider the possibility that you are in the incorrect bay. Do not continue on your current path. Retrace your steps back to the point when you last knew where you were. So be it if that’s the put-in.

Rivers may be hard, even if the current chooses the path for you. It’s really tough to keep track of how far you’ve traveled. It’s possible that the bridge where you’re certain you parked your vehicle looks like a slew of other bridges. “I should have been at the take-out by now,” you may think, only to discover you passed it hours ago. This is when your hitchhiking and begging abilities will come in help.

GPS? Sure. Knowing where you are and where you’re heading is beneficial. A GPS may also guide you along a road that seems to be certain but isn’t. The presence of a blue line on the GPS screen does not imply that the water is navigable, nor does it indicate that the lake at that end is a mud hole when the water level is low. Furthermore, the water level is constantly low.


Boats in lake in the evening time.

Step 5: Have a Fantastic Time!

Because you’ve done your research, you’re confident and have nothing to be afraid of. Fear stems from a lack of preparation, so have a fantastic time. Only take photographs, leave only footprints, and stay away from Spam.

Have you gone on a canoe excursion before? In the comments, please share your advice and experiences.



“Canoeing is easy to do, but you need to know a little about the basics.” Reference: is it easy to canoe.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you start canoeing for beginners?

A: It is important to stay calm and let the canoe float on top of the water at all times. This will help you take in as little air as possible, which means that you can move more easily without getting tired so quickly. If one side dips into a wave it could be difficult for your body to recover before going under again

How do you plan a canoe trip?

A: You can plan your canoe trip using a map and compass.

How many miles can a beginner canoe in a day?

A: They dont have an estimate on that, but I would say they can expect to go about 1 mile per hour. Thats going at a pretty modest pace though. More experienced paddlers might be able to move their boat faster!

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