Canoe Camping Gear: What to Pack

Canoe Camping Gear

I recently went on a canoe camping trip on the Potomac River between West Virginia and Maryland. I had a great time, and you can learn more about it on my other post!

If you’re planning your own trip, keep reading for a list of essential gear to pack with you.

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1. Canoe Gear

Typically, canoes and basic necessities are provided by the outfitter from whom you rent the boats.

Canoe outfitters typically provide:

  • Canoes (duh)
  • 1 Paddle for Each Person 
  • Life Preservers-In most states, adults over 18 aren’t required to wear the vests, but the law does require you to have them in the boat with you.

Other things that you may want to bring with you in the canoe are:

  • Sponges: Look for heavy-duty, car detailing style sponges. These will come in handy if your boat starts to fill with water!
  • Sham Wow Towel: They’re also great for absorbing excess water that sneaks into your boat.
  • Sun Protection: Don’t forget sunscreen! It’s also a good idea to bring sunglasses & a hat.
  • Bug Spray
  • Dry BagWhen camping, it’s always a best practice to store essentials like your cell phone, stove, headlamps, and toilet paper in a dry bag. You’ll have much more fun if those stay dry!

2. Camping Gear


  • Tent
  • Tarp or Sheet of Plastic: to put under the tent. Most tents aren’t waterproof on the bottom, so without an extra layer, the water seeps through from underneath. Some tents come with a piece called a footprint that does the same job, but a sheet of plastic or tarp works just as well and costs a lot less!
  • Sleeping Bag: Look for one that’s lightweight and quick-drying. That will come in handy, especially if it rains. As an extra precaution, I always also put my bag in a garbage bag before I pack it.
  • Sleeping Pad
  • Camping Stove & Fuel: Make sure the fuel you pick up is compatible with your stove! If you’ve seen the movie Wild or read the book, you know what can happen if not.
  • Pot to Cook Food in
  • Towel: I like these pack towels because they dry quickly and fold up super small.
  • Lighter &/or Waterproof Matches: It can’t hurt to pack a few extra. If you’re using a lighter, it’s hard to gauge how much life is left in it.
  • Cup, Fork, & Plate: If you’re camping with friends, it’s helpful to ask everyone to pack their own.
  • Coffee Funnel: It’s easy to make coffee in this. Just scoop some coffee grounds into the funnel and position it over your cup. Meanwhile, heat water in your pot, and pour it over the funneled coffee beans and into the cup. Voila!
  • Head Lamp & Extra Batteries
  • Toilet Paper
  • Rope: You’ll need some strong multi-purpose rope for tying up canoes, making clotheslines, and creating hand rails for carrying gear up muddy slopes.
  • Pocket Knife
  • Toothbrush & Toothpaste

3. In Case of Emergency

  • System for Filtering Water: I usually use either iodine tablets or a Steri Pen. We usually pack bottled water & gallons of purified water for our canoe trip, but these are good to have in case an emergency arises. If you’re looking to save weight, purifying your water instead of packing it with you is a good way to do it.
  • First Aid Kit: Pack a few essentials to treat minor injuries. I like to bring: band-aides, gauze, alcohol prep swabs, medical tape, triple antibiotic ointment (Neosporin), tweezers, and an ace bandage. It doesn’t hurt to pack Advil or Tylenol.

4. Clothing

  • Water Shoes: I personally prefer crocs! They may not be stylish, but they provide decent traction in the boat, and are waterproof. You can secure them to your feet with the ankle strap, but they still slip on and off easily, which is a great feature when you need to leave the tent to go pee in the middle of the night.
  • Quick Dry Shorts & T Shirts: I usually just bring 1 change of clothes, but of course, bring as many as you think you’ll need to stay comfortable!
  • Rain Jacket: I believe in packing a rain coat no matter the forecast. It doesn’t weigh much, and it’s better to be prepared. Getting wet will ruin your trip.
  • Swimsuit: If you want to go swimming in the river. I usually wear mine under my clothes in case.
  • Fleece or Hoodie: Check the temperature at night. You may not need it.

5. What to Eat While Canoe Camping

We reached my favorite part in gear-planning: what to pack for food!

Typically, we freeze bottles of water and use that to insulate our coolers. As the water melts, you get cold drinking water!

Things to keep in mind:

  • Your cooler will keep food really cold, but only for so long. The food is usually still relatively cold on day 3, but we usually try and schedule meals that involve cooking meat for early on in the trip.
  • Every time you open your cooler, some cool air escapes. Try and limit the number of times you open the cooler per day, and when you do open it, try to be efficient and grab what you’re looking for quickly. We like to keep our drinks and lunch foods that we access during the day in a separate cooler from the food we plan on cooking over the fire for dinner.
  • Bring enough water! The standard advice is to drink 1 liter per hour you spend exerting yourself, so keep that in mind when you’re planning how to hydrate while you spend the day on the river.

Now here’s what to pack for food!

You can bring whatever food you like to eat. These are just some ideas to get you started.


If you’re up for it, you could cook eggs, bacon, or even pancakes. I usually like to keep it simple and bring something like:

  • Oatmeal: Just empty the packet into your bowl, heat water in your pot, and pour that over top. Easy as can be!
  • Cereal
  • Fruit
  • Yogurt
  • Homemade Breakfast Bars: You can bake them ahead of time, then wrap them up and pack ’em to go!


We usually don’t pull out the stove for lunch, but save our energy for cooking hot breakfasts and dinners.

Some lunch foods I like to pack:

  • Salami
  • Trail Mix
  • Sandwiches (PB & J or lunchmeat)
  • Jerky
  • Dried Fruit
  • Grapes
  • Apples
  • Cheese
  • Potato Chips
  • Tortilla Chips and Guacamole
  • Granola Bars
  • Hummus With Baby Carrots or Crackers



I find these 3 methods the easiest for cooking outdoors while camping:

  1. smoreCook Over the Fire: For this, you’ll need additional tools. I like to use Pie Irons or sometimes a collapsible grill. Plus, you will need some sort of spatula or tongs. You can use these to cook hamburgers, corn on the cob, mini pizzas. The possibilities are truly endless, but I find it better to pack things that aren’t too fussy. And of course, there’s always the old standby of hotdogs on a stick, which I happen to despise, and s’mores, which I happen to adore.
  2. Add Hot Water: Cook foods that just require adding hot water: dehydrated rice or pasta meals, noodles with sauce, oatmeal
  3. Freeze & Reheat: Cook food ahead of time at home and freeze it in a baggie. Then, heat it up in the pot before serving. Foods like chili, soups, stews, and meatballs are good for this.

6. Fishing Gear

If you’re fishing the Potomac, you’re probably going to catch small mouth bass, panfish like sunfish, walleye if you’re lucky, and a muskie if you’re very lucky. The river also has largemouth bass, shiner, pike, and catfish.

If you’re going to fish, be sure to get a fishing license before your trip. The Potomac is the border of Maryland and West Virginia, but our canoe outfitter told us we only needed Maryland licenses, so be sure to ask your outfitter which license you need. You can buy them at Wal Mart, and some hunting and fishing stores.

For our trip, we brought:

Bring a mix of whatever works for you. I do recommend bring extras of all your lures, you will probably lose a few in the grass on the bottom of the river, in tree branches, etc.

7. Bonus Items

These things aren’t 100% necessary, but they’re nice to have. Some items on this list can make or break a trip for your friend who is borderline not into camping. Most canoes can hold 2 adults along with 1,000 pounds of gear. However, you are going to have to carry all the stuff and the heavier the canoe, the more effort it will take to paddle.

With that in mind, here is our luxury list.

  1. A Solar Charger: Keep a charge on your phone as the trip goes on. If not, I’d recommend putting your phone in airplane mode when you’re not using it. You’d be amazed at how that saves the battery, plus, you can still use your phone’s camera while it’s in airplane mode.
  2. Pillow
  3. Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker
  4. Camping Chairs
  5. Hatchet: You don’t need it, but if you want to light a fire, this will make it easier to get those elusive big logs that keep the fire burning.
  6. Wet Wipes
  7. Soap
  8. Air Mattress: I’ve camped with a legit air mattress before! When you’re car camping, you can use your car’s auxiliary power outlet, but you can also get a battery operated air pump.

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