Get More Quality Time For An Overnight Paddle
The first time you get into a canoe, it’s like the beginning of a love affair. Everything is exciting and new. You can’t get enough time together. All you want is to be alone on the water with your floating friend.
But after a while the novelty begins to wear. You notice how heavy your canoe is when you heave it onto your car. You start to ignore it, and feel increasingly guilty every time you see it sitting alone at home. Suddenly you find you’ve left your paddling partner behind the house, under a tarp, for months on end.
Don’t despair. One of the best ways to rekindle your boating relationship is to plan an overnight paddling trip. And even if your enthusiasm has never waned, a multi-day excursion will help you spend even more time on the water.
When it comes to planning a longer canoe trip, many paddlers find themselves intimidated by vague fears that they lack the expertise or equipment to organize such a journey. The truth is, multi-day paddles are little different than backpacking trips, and in some ways actually much easier.
The hull truth
Every canoe company makes special “touring boats,” but virtually any canoe is suitable for the average flatwater overnight adventure. In most cases, an old aluminum boat will get you and all your gear to the campsite just fine.
If you are shopping for a boat with longer trips in mind, though, pay close attention to the hull design. Stable rides tend to be wider and have flatter bottoms than other models, but will move more slowly in the water. Longer boats with rounded undersides and ends that curve up will be faster across the lake, but will also be less stable, especially when fully loaded, and require a higher degree of skill to handle properly.
Also consider weight. Lighter boats mean less work when it comes to hauling or portaging your craft, but will cost more. Most of today’s inexpensive aluminum models utilize a strong layered material called Royalex, which is lighter than metal. The next lightest—and increasingly expensive—materials are fiberglass, followed by Kevlar. Still too heavy? You can acquire the lightest boat (and wallet) by purchasing one made of carbon fiber or graphite.
Packing it in
Canoe camping gear is essentially the same equipment you bring backpacking, with the critical difference being that the boat, rather than your back, is carrying most of the weight. While a lightweight backpacker might bring only 20 pounds of gear and dine on freeze-dried mush, the flatwater paddler is able to transport heavier equipment and can feast from a cooler laden with cheese, bacon, and cold drinks.
How you load all that weight is critical. Packing a canoe is akin to loading a backpack: put all the heavy stuff where it will least affect your center of gravity. In a pack, that’s the side closest to your back. In a boat, it’s the bottom, the area closest to the water. As with a top-heavy backpack, loading heavier gear on top of a canoe increases the tip factor and the likelihood of flipping over.
The way you pack your boat also affects its trim, or how level it floats in the water. In general, you want to load the boat so that it sits flat, but in breezy conditions a slightly uneven load can actually work to your advantage. If you know that you will be paddling into a headwind, consider loading the boat so that it is slightly front-heavy, which helps prevent the wind from catching the bow like a sail and swerving the canoe around. In a tailwind, the reverse is true and you may want to opt for a heavier stern. If you are dealing with crosswinds, or if you are unsure about conditions, always load the boat evenly so it stays level.
Checking it twice
Once you’re packed, look back at your canoe and ask, “If I were to flip this thing and shake it like a baby rattle, would I lose anything?” The answer should be no; everything should be secured to the inside of the boat so that nothing is lost if you capsize. Outfitters sell all manner of straps to accomplish this, and there are myriad ways you can lash your gear—just make sure it’s all attached somehow. Also prevent your gear from sliding around, which can negatively affect the boat’s balance.
As you paddle, a small amount of water will inevitably splash inside your boat and onto your gear, and then collect in the bottom. It’s crucial that your most valuable equipment (such as your sleeping bag) remains dry. To accomplish this, use drybags—essentially heavyweight waterproof stuff sacks. See-through drybags are nice, and will save you time from rummaging around. Having drybags of multiple colors can also help you sort and readily find your gear. If you’re short of drybags, try double-wrapping in heavy trash bags.
The Northeast is loaded with placid ponds, lakes, and slow-moving rivers ideal for easy overnight paddles. So roll back that tarp and set a date!
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