Image of a dog and woman canoeing the Boundary Waters.

How to Pack for a Canoe Trip

Keep your outfit dry and organized 

Canoeists can be rather creative when it comes to packing their gear. In addition to the traditional canoe pack — such as made by Frost River and Granite Gear — wannigans (essentially a small cabinet with pots, plates, food and other cooking supplies) and barrels are all seen out on the water today.

Whatever packing system you use (everyone has their opinions on what works best) the fundamental goals are to keep things orderly and to keep things dry. This helpful packing list helps you achieve both: 

Friends of the Boundary Waters explaining how to pack for a trip to the Boundary. Image of a woman with her backpack on exploring the Boundary Waters
  • Line your bags with 1-2 large, 4 mm trash contractor bags. Frost River and Granite Gear make some that are specifically designed for canoe packs. 
  • Invest in waterproof casing, such a Pelican Case or a SealLine bag, for electronics. 
  • Pack you rain gear last. This way it will be on top and easy to access when you need it. 
  • Keep other items you might need during the day — toilet paper, water filter, camera — somewhere they are easy to reach. 
  • The thwart bag. Carry everything you need for the day — such as lunch, sunscreen, chapstick, etc. — in a waterproof thwart bag. I use a 10-liter SealLine drybag that clips right onto a seat or a thwart. This way, you’ll have everything on hand and not waste time digging around, trying to find the hand lotion.
Women carrying a canoe in the Boundary Waters.

Pack for a single portage

The true mark that you packed well and really know what you’re doing is whether or not you can bring your entire outfit down a portage trail in one trip.

Granted, this won’t always be a possibility. If you’re on a solo trip or taking out first timers and decide to bring along an obscene amount of food along with a folding camp table, a single-trip portage might not be in your future.

However, with a few guidelines you can be well on your way to that quick and efficient single portage. Here are some pointers.

  • Each boat is a seperate “portage” team. If you’re traveling in a group, divide the gear and bags so that the two (or three) people in a canoe are responsible for portaging that boat, and the gear in the boat. This makes life at the head of a portage trail infinitely easier and more efficient.
  • Whoever carries the canoe, carries a small pack. The idea here is to take bulk out of the main pack. You don’t want this pack to be too heavy, rather, fill it with light, bulky items. Try to keep it between 20 and 30 pounds.
  • Carabiners and clips are your friend! Clip life vests, thwart bags, waterbottles and more onto the main pack. On the canoe, secure a paddle and fishing rods onto the thwart. 
  • Full arms! Whoever caries this will have their arms full of paddles, camera gear, etc. — along with a lot of miscellaneous items clipped onto their pack! It won’t look pretty, but it’ll get you to the end in one carry!

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