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Backpacker Magazine – September 2008

Start Smart: Properly Pack a Canoe or Kayak

Follow these guidelines to keep your gear dry, secure, and well balanced in a canoe or kayak.

by: Emily Stifler

Use multiple dry bags for a balanced boat (Jerry & Marcy Monkman)
Use multiple dry bags for a balanced boat (Jerry & Marcy Monkman)
Illustration by Supercorn
Illustration by Supercorn

Keep it dry
  • Start with waterproof dry bags. Thin, coated nylon bags (such as SealLine, are lightweight and pack easily in tight spaces. If you're a gear abuser, go with heavier rubber bags (like Watershed,
  • Make gear easy to load and balance by organizing everything into several smaller dry bags instead of one big one. Use different color bags for clothing, food, etc.
  • Pack the dry bag two-thirds full. An under-stuffed or overstuffed bag compromises the watertight seal.
  • Before sealing, squish the dry bag with your knee to burp out extra air.
  • Use the taped seam near the top of the bag to make the crucial first fold. Maintain horizontal tension as you roll.
Load the boat
  • Pack as close to the water as possible so you won't have to drag a heavy boat to the launch.
  • Load items tightly so they won't shift and become unbalanced as you go.
  • Put light, bulky items like sleeping bags and sleeping pads in the very front and back of the boat.
  • Midweight gear such as clothing, tents, and cooksets go in the middle of the bow and aft compartments.
  • Place the heaviest gear–usually food, stove fuel, and drinking water–near the center of the boat.
  • Keep cameras, sunscreen, snacks, water bottles, and maps where you can reach them: in front of your feet, between your legs, or behind the seat.

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a paddler
Dec 07, 2008

If you pack an ultralight boat (especially a canoe) with a lot of weight and then try to pick it up and carry to the water, you risk cracking the spine of the hull (along the "keel line"), so you SHOULD pack the boat while it's floating.

Nov 16, 2008

Don't overpack! A buddy and I were kayaking on northern Michigan river a few days before Christmas. The water levels were higher than they were a week earlier when we scouted route. We had to portage around a fallen tree, but with the higher water my friend paddled right over it. My kayak was overloaded and a strong current pushed me sideways before I hit the log. Somehow I managed to keep my balance, but I got stuck on the log because I had a lot of gear in the back of my kayak. I nearly capsized a few times as we were trying to get me off the log. The water was somewhere around forty degrees at the time and we were several miles away from the nearest road. Thankfully I didn't go in!

Nov 03, 2008

When I kayaked down the Colorado River (starting from the Hoover Dam), I had my dry bags distributed between two duffel bags which made transportation to the campground very easy. I used regular duffel bags, but you can also use mesh duffel bags which will prevent any water accumulating inside the bag

Oct 31, 2008

would like to add a couple key things:

dry bags are not really waterproof, use ziplock baggies to keep items really dry in the dry bag.

never pack your boat in the water! bad form, can damage your boat.

when placing gear in the boat it's most important to make sure the boat is balenced front and back and side to side. wieghty items can be used to balance the differce between two paddlers wieght or weather conditions (in a canoe).

if there will be any portaging big but light packs are key, think about how many times you'll want to walk that portage trail.


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