My partner and I recently took a spur-of-the-moment trip consisting of a single night of canoe camping. Heading off for 24 hours was a relatively alien experience because we've always done either very short paddles or multi-day backcountry excursions. But it turned out amazingly well. We covered enough ground to satisfy us, had enough down time to relax and enjoy being out on the water, and -- most importantly -- managed to fit this thoroughly enjoyable experience into a very busy schedule that precluded more extensive travels.
The trip worked out well because a few things went perfectly right and because we made some good choices. In case others are interested in how to make a short canoe trip go well, here are the takeaway lessons I learned.
It’s important to go somewhere accessible, which generally means a popular and therefore not-so-tranquil destination. We headed for Caddy Lake, a well-known spot for fishing and family vacations only an hour and a half from Winnipeg, and so not exactly a remote canoeing paradise. But going any further means travel times that cut too far into a short getaway. Two hours from door to door worked out perfectly.
We had the freedom to head out on a Sunday and return on Monday, meaning we missed out on most of the weekend-warrior boaters. We encountered more motorized traffic (and more families out paddling) than we usually would, but it was quite manageable. And we had our pick of campsites.
The paddle itself also has to be the right length. The canoe route north from Caddy Lake is lovely, and distinguishes itself by offering access to two more lakes via tunnels blasted through the Canadian shield. The first tunnel is only a few kilometers from the put-in, and the second is several kilometers past that. We paddled through both tunnels, explored the most remote lake a little bit, stopped for a snack, and returned to the middle lake to find a gorgeous campsite, having covered about 15km in perhaps four hours on the water.
Summer sunsets really linger hereabouts, so getting to camp at 6PM gave us several hours to set up, make some food, and enjoy a campfire by the water. It was a pretty idyllic evening. And we had a short paddle back the next day, allowing us to both have a lazy morning and get back to town in time for some late afternoon appointments.
It'll be hard to make a short trip worth the effort if it takes six hours to dig out your camping supplies. We live in an apartment, which means the blessing and curse of having our gear always close at hand. Our canoeing and camping stuff lives in three large plastic bins crammed into the front hall closet. And because we camp frequently, they are kept relatively organized and ready to go.
It was therefore painless to pull together a variation on our usual canoe camping gear and throw it into the car. We brought a few things we don’t normally bring (no portaging!) and left a bunch of other things behind (we’re close to civilization!).
You will need almost as much gear to travel for a night as you will for a week. Of course you don’t need to be quite so well prepared for emergencies or being self-sufficient, but the basic demands of cooking and shelter are the same no matter the length of the trip.
Food planning and packing, however, is many times easier for an overnight. You likely have enough food on hand right now to provide the few meals an overnight trip requires. Conveniently, you can carry just about anything perishable (eggs, dairy, meat) safely for such a short time without much preparation.
Our luggage consisted of
- Large dry bag: tent and sleeping pads
- Large backpack: clothes, sleeping bags, tarp, misc supplies
- Small backpack: stove, food prep, water filter
- Bear-proof canister: food
- Nylon bag: waterproof outerwear
- Some smaller individual bags and water bottle
That’s almost the same kit as we would take on a longer voyage. For example, a five-night trip would only require more clothes and food, so we would upsize the small backpack and add a small dry bag.
This near-equivalence of luggage was an advantage to us because we are experienced at pulling our gear together and fitting it all in. It’s also good that we are used to packing light in expectation of portaging. If you tend to pack heavy, then this will sound like a lot of work, and you might need to do more planning and sorting to pull together a manageable amount of gear and luggage. Making a separate packing list for a short trip would help. You do work with a packing list, right?
We headed out knowing there was a chance of thunderstorms that night. Obviously that was a risk, but the biggest problems with a rain on a canoe trip are enduring day after day of wet weather and the misery of setting up and tearing down wet gear. On a one-nighter, on the other hand, a good tent will see you through the night, and the next night you’ll be cozy in bed with your stuff drying out on the clothes line (or in the living room, if you’re us). Like any other trip, you need to pay attention to the weather. But you can enjoy -- or endure -- a much wider range of crappy weather if it’s only for a short time.
Having paddled and camped in the rain before, we knew we would enjoy the trip regardless. And given the nature of the route, we knew it would be easy to take shelter if we were on the water if a storm hit. As it happened, the rain passed through when we arrived at the put-in, so we just waited it out. This got us on the water a little late, but thanks to short driving and paddling distances, we still had a great trip. And enjoyed some lovely post-storm clouds and sunsets that night.
We were fortunate but we were also prepared, and had an altogether excellent experience with our first short canoe camping excursion. The 24-hour getaway will definitely remain a valued addition to our trip-planning repertoire.