I love being outside and for me one of life’s simplest pleasures is to paddle a canoe, kayak or stand up paddle board with my camping gear and spend the night or nights in a remote location. My adventures, great and small have seen me canoe, kayak, bike, SUP and ski almost 8,000 miles of trips and expeditions, plus of course lots of day to day paddling. Each one is special for a multitude of reasons, the team sharing the journey, food cooked on a stove or campfire and of course stunning colours, wildlife and other shared moments.
As part of this article I have included some top tips and hints for simple things to improve your wild camping trip. You can see a full kit list on our Canoe Trail website at: www.canoetrail.co.uk
My canoe trips have seen me paddle the Great Glenn Canoe Trail twice including the river sections, the length of the Great Ouse (140 miles), The River Till, parts of the Tweed, much of the Wye, parts of the River Severn and Thames as well as various other locations further afield. In 2010 our Big 5 kayak challenge team sea kayaked almost 1000 miles from Vancouver Island to Alaska and also canoed 700 miles of the Yukon River.
One of my most memorable jaunts was to canoe around Holy Island, Lindisfarne with my expedition buddy and owner of Active 4 Seasons, Olly Jay. This resulted in time ‘canoeing with dolphins’ and a little swim after surfing in a big wave around the Northern sand bar.
This article is intended to provide some ideas and tips to help inspire you to dust off your paddling weapon, canoe, sea kayak or Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP) and plan a journey.
Planning your route
Many of my adventures are dictated by tight schedules due to pressures of modern life. Personally I am happy to paddle long days and then make camp, eat and sleep. Other people prefer a more leisurely pace. For longer trips it is better to know your preferred paddling rate and distance before you start. This can be determined with a few training or short overnight trips.
Like most people I enjoy exploring different points of interest on the route such as historic sites, finding the perfect campsite, wildlife and moving water or rapids for playing.
Herbs – keep a stash of simple herbs and spices to add flavour to your recipes and food.
It is also important to consider the ability and fitness of any paddlers in your group. Part of the planning is also to understand the river grade or tidal conditions and how it might change during different weather. Prior to starting your trip you should of course get an accurate local forecast and keep relevant people informed of your journey for safety and risk management. Pesda Press in the UK have great books covering some canoe, sea kayak routes and destinations.
Packing to avoid the kitchen sink
One of the benefits of a canoe for camping trips is that they have a huge load carrying capability and retain relatively good handling characteristics. In short canoes such as traditional prospectors designs evolved to be the ‘Mule of the paddling world’. Conversely sea kayaks and the new generation of touring kayaks can really cover large distances at speed with a fair amount of kit on board. They do of course handle differently. SUPs offer another adventure craft although you need to pack even lighter for these.
Make cooking part of the magic rather than a chore. It’s a real social activity and something positive long after the memories of cold or rainy days has passed.
Over the years through my adventures I have learnt that no one thing seems to weigh very much but the combination of kit soon mounts up. Deciding on the right kit for you can make a real difference and ensuring you have talked to your paddling team mates to avoid two or three duplicates can really help.
It then becomes a series of trade off’s of space, weight and comfort. The new generation of camp mats are super lightweight and increase the likelihood of a good nights sleep. Alternatively if the terrain is suitable then a hammock or bivi bag is also very light.
You can reduce weight by adopting some of the following ideas:
- Using water purifiers such as the Katadryn Water Bag.
- Opting for freeze dried foods.
- Using a tarp or hammock rather than a tent.
- Selecting thinner drybags as opposed to heavy duty.
- Consider the weight of each item of kit and alternatives.
- Cutting up Life Venture pack towels for different purposes (drying pans and drying yourself).
- Removing packaging and using sandwich or similar bags.
- Powdered milk.
- Opting for versatile footwear for daily paddling and possibly flip flops or sandals for evenings.
- Reviewing kit amongst your team to remove duplicates.
- Reviewing kit list and identifying needs versus wants and which items are essential.
- Identify shops or towns where you can resupply and or organize supply boxes at specific locations.
On some expeditions we have eaten dehydrated Be-Well Expedition Foods and packed Mountain Fuel drinks for additional energy. These options only need simple cooking facilities such as an MSR reactor stove.
Develop your paddling and adventure skills – try poling, lining and tracking and sailing as part of canoe adventures. Try moving water, rock hopping, surfing, and different conditions in sea kayaks or SUPs. Camp Skills such as fire lighting and shelter building are also great fun.
On less remote trips then we might opt for a cooking set and create culinary treats as part of the joy of camping and sharing good times with your paddling group. A bottle of tobasco, some Parmesan Cheese and a few herbs makes a real difference.
Developing your adventure and paddling skills
It is incredibly rewarding to develop and use practical and adventure skills on your paddling trips and journeys. It provides a real sense of satisfaction to tie the appropriate knot, put up shelters, light fires with flint and steels or cook a feast on the campfire or stove.
Similarly developing your canoe skills to include lining and tracking if there are whitewater sections or poling shallow sections can be great fun. Sailing your canoe is also a different challenge with either a formal rig or impromptu sail made from a tarp or emergency shelter. Often when you look back at trips it is these bits that spice up the tales of ‘daring do’ and fond memories of time in the great outdoors. Paddling on the sea with a loaded SUP also provides a real sense of satisfaction but beware of strong winds against you.
Paddle full – paddle your boat, kayak or board fully laden in similar conditions prior to experiencing it during a bigger trip. It does handle differently so being able to pick your line or knowing your limitations can be important.
It is also worth developing your paddle skills on moving water particularly if it involves a change from your normal preferred paddling option. Surfing a canoe or sea kayak on moving water or breaking in and out of eddies is equally fun and uses many generic principles and paddle strokes. For me personally learning to solo a canoe in different conditions and learning the ‘song of the paddle’ has been great.
For your trip you might want to experience both tandem paddling and soloing and also different types of blades. In canoes I love using a deep water blade and knifing the blade back through the water for each stroke. In sea kayaks then a choice of kayak wings and an Aquabound sea kayak blade give me different options for the conditions. Building time for these elements in your trip will help make you a better paddler and coach, if you go that route, and ensure each micro adventure or journey is a more rounded experience.
Kit list – review your kit list and ensure all the essential items are included and packed such as suncream, mosquito nets, spare torch, insect repellent. Pack light for SUPs particularly.
I have included three golden rules for trying to reduce our impact on the environment and ensuring safe and friendly trips are organized and enjoyed. Finally there are some suggestions for places to try out your paddling and wild camping skills.
Using tarps – pack a tarp and paracord for making camp in rainy conditions. It makes such a difference to be able to set up a shelter.
The golden rules
Leave no trace
It is important to protect our planet and leave campsites and rivers as you would want to find them. You should consider whether an open fire is allowed, use a stove if not. Find suitable a location for the toilet and of course take everything with you. Better still collect rubbish and plastic on your journey and reduce the burden on our environment.
Respect other users
There is no doubt that you will almost certainly have to share your journey with other animals and people. A smile and a pleasant greeting are the best form of response to any negativity. Ultimately we have to share our rivers and coastline with rowers, fishermen, wildlife, tourists to name but a few. On rivers then check any local access agreements and try to stick to them. If you are going to wild camp then seriously make yourselves invisible otherwise you might enjoy yourself and ruin it for future paddlers.
The best adventure is the one that you take. But it doesn’t make a great story if you are injured or put yourself or your group at unnecessary risk. Make sure you understand the conditions, have sufficient safety equipment and paddle within your ability and that of the group. Understand self rescues and how to help others when needed.
Richard is a human powered adventurer and paddler www.richadventure.com who has completed over 7,800 miles of adventures by kayak, canoe, ski and bike. He runs http://www.canoetrail.co.uk with his wife Ashley and co founded www.inspiredlife.org which inspires young people and communities. He is a motivational speaker drawing on his stories from adventure, in corporate life and managing the Ghana Ski Team at the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Richard’s adventures test equipment in the harshest conditions and he is proud to be supported by: Paramo Clothing,, Valley Sea Kayaks, Up North Adventures, http://www.bambooclothing.co.uk , Leatherman tools, Scott Skis, Mountain Fuels, Canadian Affair (airlines), Aquabound Paddles, Reed Chillcheater, Surly Fat Bikes, USE Exposure Lights, Garmin GPS systems, Sealine Drybags. Richard and Ash are members of Viking Kayak Club based in Bedford.