contains affiliate links
Taking a canoe camping trip with kids.
Canoe camping with kids, by myself. Yup, you read that right. I started canoe camping with my kids two years ago. I have taken them on all kinds of adventures since they were babies, but two years ago we decided to level up our camping by taking it to the canoe. While we already had most of the gear, it required some reorganizing and thoughtful packing to bring everything we needed for these overnight paddling trips. Keep reading to get all the details for what to bring for canoe camping with kids!
The canoe itself.
Let’s start with the canoe. Our canoe is an almost twenty year old Reflection 16 canoe from Dagger. Dagger no longer makes canoes, which is too bad because this canoe is fantastic. It’s long enough that we can fit one adult and two children, it’s flat bottomed, tracks well while paddling, and has plenty of room for gear, and it’s light enough that I can heft it on top of my car by myself. My husband bought it used in Canada, fifteen years ago. He needed a lightweight canoe for easy portages, and I’m still reaping the benefits of that choice.
If you’re looking for a new canoe and you plan to adventure with it by yourself, be sure to find a lightweight canoe. I’d recommend looking at an article on Paddling.com that contains a list of the best tandem, lightweight canoes. Inflatable boats are another option, however where we explore the shorelines are very rocky and there is a risk of puncture or damage to an inflatable boat. If you have a smaller vehicle or are short on storage space, inflatable boats are a great option. Pro tip – don’t forget your paddles.
The second most important consideration is safety. My children are very strong swimmers, as am I. I swam competitively through college and still do. However, in our family we believe in wearing life jackets in a boat at all times. The only exception is if we are in a larger boat (motorized). A properly fitting life jacket is very important and we all wear ours in the canoe. Yes, it gets hot and uncomfortable, but Id rather be hot and sweaty than risk something happening if we had dumped or flipped our canoe by accident.
My children wear basic life jackets and I wear an adult kayaking style life jacket. Sometimes I wear an inflatable life jacket if it’s too hot for my regular one. It’s imperative that a life jacket is not too big. It’s tempting to buy a size up for children because they grow so fast, but an ill fitted life jacket is dangerous and not worth it.
Now for the fun part.
Here it is! It’s time to get to the big gear list. To begin, let’s start with the bags that I pack everything in. I have two of the 115L Boundary Bags from SealLine. These giant bags are completely waterproof and have a backpack strap system for easy portage and hauling. I love them because they’re huge. One bag is almost twenty years old and still going strong and the second is only a year old and was given as a holiday gift from my amazing in-laws. I have two because one of them gets packed with all of our sleeping gear, tent, hammock, etc. The second gets packed with our clothes, food, cook set, small cooler, and whatever else I’m bringing. This ensures that our gear stays dry and contained until we reach camp.
We also have two smaller dry bags and a waterproof phone pouch. My kids each get a dry bag to bring what they want, but the only rule is the bag has to be able to properly closed. They usually end up bringing on small, stuffed animal, a deck of cards or Skip-Bo, a small notebook and something to draw or color with.
For dry bags we have:
- Two, 115 L Boundary Bags from SealLine
- Two, 10L Discovery Dry Bags from SealLine
- One waterproof pouch for a phone or GPS.
This is the number one question I always get asked about camping with kids. We use our backpacking gear no matter what type of camping we are doing, even canoe camping with kids. Backpacking style gear is designed to pack down small and be lightweight, which is important for saving space in a canoe.
One bit of advice: if you’re kids are older than four, skip buying the kid sized sleeping bags. Yes, they may not be as cozy warm but that’s what extra layers are for as they grow, and trust me, they’ll grow fast. It’s worth investing in a good quality sleeping bag that will carry them into adult hood. The same is true for sleeping pads. My sleeping bag is a twenty year old Sierra Designs mummy bag that’s still working great. Where we live, I hardly need the temperatures it’s rated for but it’s nice to have.
For our sleeping gear we use:
- My son likes to sleep in our hammock.
- We all have a Thermarest backpacking style, sleeping pad, for this trip I brought two.
- I have a Sierra Designs, mummy style sleeping bag, but for this trip I brought my husbands LaFuma 50 degree bag. I can’t find the Lafuma bag anywhere anymore, but it’s a very lightweight and thin sleeping bag that packs down very well.
- Two, Thermarest pillows.
- Two, kids sleeping bags that we bought on clearance at Gander Mountain before they closed down. However, my kids have just about out grown them and we are buying these next.
My philosophy for shelter is the same: we rely on backpacking style tents because they are relatively easy to put up, lightweight, and take up minimal space. My son enjoys sleeping in our hammock which has bug protection, so I always throw that in for him. He said he likes to watch the stars through the bug net as he falls asleep. For my daughter and I (or all three of us if he gets scared or cold) I bring a two person backpacking tent. We have two, two person backpacking tents because my husband carries one and I carry one when we are out together. When my children were very little, we could easily sleep all three of us in a two person tent. Canoe camping with kids is different than car camping and you need to be mindful of space, which is why backpacking tents are fantastic.
For our shelter, we use:
- My most favorite tent of all time is the Elixir 2 from MSR. Ours had a broken pole that we’ve since repaired. You can see why it’s my favorite HERE. I can set it up in less than ten minutes and it doesn’t rely on stakes to stand upright.
- Our second, two person tent, used to be an old Walrus brand tent. However, it finally succumbed to old age after more than twenty years and we replaced it with a (gifted) backpacking tent from UST Gear. While this tent is spacious and has great features, it requires stakes and tie downs to be sturdy, and took me far too long to set up.
- A Skeeter Beater hammock.
Cooking and eating.
Guess what? It’s all backpacking friendly. I have a larger camp stove and cook set to use when we are car camping, but for canoe camping with kids, the less you have to carry, the better. I prefer to have things that are multipurpose and easy to clean, and have used the same cook set for years. The same is true for the bowls, cups, eating utensils, and my system for coffee. A great camping trip is not complete without a nice cup of coffee and my favorite method to make it is listed below, or check out a video HERE.
For camp cooking and eating, we use:
- An MSR, Pocket Rocket style cooking stove and the correct fuel.
- I pack a lighter inside the bag with the stove so I always have a way to start it.
- Our cook set from MSR is probably almost twenty years old, but here is the most similar cook set.
- Light My Fire – sporks – one for everyone.
- GSI Outdoors Utensil pack.
- Sea to Summit X-cup and X-bowl set, one for each of us.
- GSI Outdoors Ultralight Java Drip
- GSI Outdoors Coffee Mug
- Various sized Stasher bags – for pre-ground coffee, and other food or snacks.
- Two, small, insulated zipper coolers (from 31 bags).
What did you eat?
On this canoe camping trip, we only stayed for one night due to sports conflicts, so our meals were easy. Dinner consisted of Daiya mac n “cheese.” Its a gluten free, dairy free alternative for macaroni and cheese. I cooked the macaroni in one pot, then set it aside to cool while I sautéed some broccoli slaw and kale in the other pot, then combined them for instant deliciousness. Breakfast was a latte for me, made with oat milk that I brought in a small insulated water bottle, left over white rice cooked with Just Egg (vegan egg replacement), on corn tortillas, plus some fruit. I also brought some gluten free granola and a few granola bars.
All the extras.
Packing for a canoe camping trip with kids can quickly feel overwhelming, especially when you start shopping for gear. I hope that this list helps you sort through what you really need! Please remember that this gear list has been slowly compiled over many years, and sometimes the gear was a gift for birthday’s or holidays. Or sometimes, we get lucky and find great deals at various outdoors stores. Keep reading below to see my favorite websites for scoring deals.
Here are all of those extra things I also brought along:
- Packable camp chair
- A bait net and a five gallon bucket
- A First Aid kit
- Flint and steel fire striker
- Water filter
- Goggles for swimming
- Bug spray and sunscreen
- A book to read
- A camp towel
- A compression bag to stuff all the little things
- Contact case/saline solution and my glasses
- Toothbrushes and Earth friendly toothpaste
- Radiate Campfire – portable, contained campfire that we used while stargazing
- Water bottles and an extra jug of clean water.
- Lastly, a packable clothes line from Sea to Summit so the swim suits could dry overnight.
Packing the canoe.
For this canoe trip, my daughter wanted to be paddling up front and my son happily agreed to relax in the middle. In order to balance out my weight in the back of the canoe, I am strategic about how I load up our canoe. I like to have everything in a water proof bag, and strapped, hooked, or somehow secured to the canoe, just in case we tipped. That way we wouldn’t lose any gear. The heaviest waterproof bag (with the food, cookware, and miscellaneous items) goes in front of my daughter. The next big waterproof bag goes behind my daughter, along with the two smaller waterproof bags that my children brought. My son sits on a towel on the bottom of the canoe, just behind the cross bar.
They each keep their own water bottle near by. The five gallon bucket and bait net (which they use to catch and observe minnows) goes behind me, along with my water bottle. This is the best configuration to balance our canoe with my weight in the back, my two children, plus our gear. I use the same set up whether we are going for one night for for multiple nights. The only change would be adding more food to our waterproof bags for a longer trip.
A few more details about what to bring.
Be sure to check out THIS video to see what the Ten Hiking Essentials are, or read more about the ten hiking essentials for families. Lastly, if you’re interested, I have FREE pdf’s available for you with packing lists, hiking essentials, what to pack for outdoor and venture and what to pack for indoor adventure. You can get all of that HERE. For my complete list of gear check THIS out.
I’m so excited for you to take on a canoe camping with kids adventure! Please let me know if you go or tag me on Instagram in your posts!