Canoe Camping Basics

The two most important guidelines to follow are to:

  • Pack out everything that you bring into the wilderness (including garbage, toilet paper, extra food, and so on)
  • Leave each campsite cleaner than it was when you arrived
These two simple rules (and a little common sense) will help insure that the paddling routes you enjoy (and the surrounding lands) remain unspoiled for wildlife and paddlers alike.

Your Campsite

Survey your topographical maps each morning before you set out to find a suitable stopping point for the night. This will help you familiarize yourself with the day's paddling route, as well as plan the day's breaks and meals so your group can get as far as it needs to go.

Keep in mind that camping locations chosen early in the day are not always in sight by the time night begins to fall. Pick a number of backup stopping points along the day's route, so that when early afternoon rolls around there will be an option or two nearby to choose from.

Using established campsites
Stick to established campsites whenever they're available. These sites help limit your impact on the land. Many of them also offer basic amenities like fire pits, level, well-drained sleeping areas and pit toilets to make your camping experience more pleasant.

Choosing your own campsite
When established sites are not available, select your camping spot based on the following impact considerations:
  • Campsites should be located no less than 100 feet away from all fresh water sources, to limit the possibility of source contamination.

  • Campsites should be placed so that they do not damage any fragile plant life.

  • Campsites should be placed in locations that offer some kind of natural or man-made protection from the elements (behind small hills or dunes, under the cover of low trees).

  • Campsites should be placed so that they minimize visual impact on other paddlers passing by.

NOTE: If you're paddling in a coastal region, remember to take the tides into account when you choose your campsites. To stay safe from rising waters, look for high tide lines near the top of the beach and stay at least a hundred feet beyond them. If you're paddling on a river, keep your eyes open for high water marks and evidence of flood washes.

Setting Up Camp

There are a number of important jobs involved in setting up camp for the night. Approach the process as a team effort. After unloading your boats, make sure they're secure for the night by carrying them up and away from the water's edge.

After the boats are safe, establish camp by collecting water, setting up the tent(s) and laying out the camp kitchen. Divide up the work among group members. Try to alternate these duties throughout your trip, so people don't get bored doing the same jobs day after day.

If you're traveling with a large group, consider writing down a rotating job schedule that can be reviewed and agreed upon before your trip begins. A written plan will keep things running smoothly and cut down on disputes.

Camp Cleanliness/Personal Hygiene

To avoid contaminating fresh water supplies, wash your dishes, clothes and yourself far away from all wilderness water sources. Carry a supply of water at least a hundred and fifty feet away so that the ground can filter any waste water before it works its way back into the main supply. Always use a biodegradable soap.

When disposing of human waste, dig a small cat hole at least 4 to 6 inches deep at least 250 feet away from all water sources, campsites and trails. After you've taken care of business, cover up the hole completely and pack it down tight. Either burn your toilet paper or pack it into a sealed plastic bag for later disposal.

NOTE: If you're paddling in a coastal region, consider disposing of human waste within the tidal zone. This is an acceptable alternative to burying it further inland.

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