How to Plan an Overnight Canoe or Kayak Paddling Trip

10 Things to Consider For Your Overnight Paddling Trip

Couple in canoe
Jack Hollingsworth / Getty Images

For outdoor lovers, there are few things as enjoyable and exciting as planning and executing overnight excursions into the wild. There’s just something about camping out in nature, the idea of roughing it, and getting away from the hustle and bustle of our wireless world that brings out in us an overwhelming sense of adventure, peace, and serenity.  Add to that paddling and you have a match made in heaven.  This article explains how to plan an overnight canoe or kayak trip.

Paddlers of canoes and kayaks have a very unique and special way to connect with the outdoors. We do so just inches above the surface of the water in vehicles that get us to places that our own feet often can not. It is that added layer of being removed from the world we know that provides us the motivation to do overnight paddling trips. To paddlers, adding canoes and kayaks into the mix of a camping trip simply puts the icing on the cake.

This process of figuring out all the details is actually lots of fun as it helps to build the anticipation for the events that will follow. Also, as these trips generally involve others, the planning process provides for some great bonding time, interesting discussions, and even some memorable debates. From my own experience half of the memories that I have of trips such as these involve all of the interaction and research that took place in the weeks prior to the trip.  In short, planning an overnight canoe or kayak trip is just plain fun!

There are many factors to consider in the planning of an overnight paddling trip. The beginning canoeist and expert alike must consider these 10 items before setting out on an overnight paddling excursion. As a final tip, start planning early so that you have time to prepare, check out your gear, and buy anything you may need.

Camping Availability

If you are going to do an overnight canoe trip you need to first find out where you will be able to camp. This, of course, will limit the list of possible rivers or lakes you will be able to canoe or kayak. There are a number of ways to find out camping information specific to overnight canoe trips. The best way is to talk with experts, park rangers or outfitters, about their recommendation for the local area. Of course, in this electronic age, you should have no problem finding out what places offer camping opportunities after a day of paddling. Whatever you do, please be respectful of private property and public land use rules.

River or Lake Information

Once you have your list of locations of where you can paddle and camp, you need to decide which location has the right kind of features for your trip. Do you want a narrow river or a wide lake? How fast is the current? Does water temperature matter? Is there enough water to paddle at that time of year? Will it be crowded when you will go? All of these questions will provide important details to help you pick your overnight canoe trip location.

Paddling Shuttle: The Put-In and Take-Out

This is a detail that can’t be overlooked. How will you get to the river or lake, to the put-in, and to the take out? If you are doing an out and back type trip then you will only need one car, depending on how many passengers and boats you will be taking. But if you plan on taking out in a different location from where you put in then some planning will need to take place. If you arrange for rides from family, friends, or an outfitter, this whole shuttle discussion gets much simpler. If you are going to be leaving vehicles at the Put-in and take-out be sure you are comfortable with where you have to leave them and that all valuables are stored out of site.

Distance: How Much Will You Paddle Each Day?​

How far you want to paddle is an important detail. It does factor into the river and lake information but I felt that it warranted its own section. Don’t bite off more than you can chew here. Even the seasoned canoeist will feel sorer the second day of an overnight trip. Figure you will move at the same speed as the current. Sure when paddling you will move faster than the current, but there will be times when you will be exploring, taking a break, or doing whatever. Also, leave time to set up camp in the daylight and to tear down your campsite the next day. All of this will help you plan how many miles you will canoe during the trip. Remember, you will want to finish in the daylight so that you can pack your car and gear without missing anything. Lastly, factor in extra time for safety reasons.

Weather and Safety Concerns

While it is important to consider the weather when doing all paddling trips, it is especially crucial when planning an overnight one. Some rivers can reach flood stage in no time at all. Also, it is common for a river to rise rapidly due to rainfall that happened miles away and even in another state. Remember also that it gets colder at night and that fronts often move in at night. This means the weather could change from one day to the next. Of course, all of this is common sense but it should definitely factor into where and when you will paddle as well as what type of clothing you will wear and bring.

Equipment and Gear: What to Bring? 

Packing for an overnight trip is actually a lot of fun. You get to plan out what you will use, try out new gadgets, and anticipate the trip through the whole process. You should make a paddling trip checklist and coordinate with the other people in your party. Plan on bringing everything you would normally bring for camping, everything you would normal bring for paddling, and a way to keep things dry.

Nutrition and Hydration

It is absolutely essential that you plan what you will eat and drink on the trip. In most cases, you will be in a remote location, to begin with. Add to that the paddling you will be doing and you won’t be able to communicate with the outside world. It is therefore absolutely crucial that you have enough to eat and drink while on an overnight canoe trip. Bring lots of healthy high energy food bars as they are easy to store and don’t go bad. Bringing fruit is also a good idea but they are more fragile. Of course, plan for whatever meals you need. Bring lots of water. Finally, you should bring a water filtration system or water tablets in the event that you run out of the water.

How Many People Will Be Going? 

The number of people on the trip is actually an important detail. If you are an even number of people you can paddle with two people in each canoe. If there is an odd number in your group, someone will have to be alone which means they will not only have to know how to canoe by themselves but have a canoe that can be paddled solo. Of course, the person could be in a kayak which is more common to paddle alone. The last option is to have three people in one of the canoes. This usually isn’t as preferable or enjoyable as the other options.

Boats, Paddles, and PFDs 

Believe it or not, you don’t need to bring your own canoe, kayak, paddles, or life jackets (PFDs). There are plenty of outfitters that are completely geared up for these types of trips. So if you don’t have your own boats, if getting the boats you need to the water is a problem, or even if the shuttle itself is a problem you may want to consider renting canoes from an outfitter who will handle all of these details.

Trip Plan 

This part is often overlooked so we mention it here. Write or print it out. Take one copy with you and give or email a copy of it to a friend or family member. The trip plan should include where you are going, where you will put in, where you will take-out, who is going with you, and when you will be back. Even if you deviate from this plan at least someone will have a starting point on how to locate you in the event of an emergency. If you are in a state or national forest or park you should drop off a copy of this plan at the nearest ranger station. Finally, a copy of your plan should also be at your place of residence as a last resort way for people to locate you.