Fall and Early Spring Canoe Camping Checklist – Extend Your Paddling Season

Fall canoe camping in the Boundary Waters

In the late fall, most of the paddlers have put away their canoes and wouldn’t dream on heading to a canoe camping destination where snow, sleet, cold rain and even ice are possible. Yet, these times of the year offer the best time for solitude, reflection and camaraderie. If you want the former, you spend plenty of time alone, see no one and with the short days you’ll have time to think. For the later, the night comes quickly, so you find yourself sitting around a campfire trying to get warm and laughing with friends. With the right gear, it needn’t be a miserable experience. Here’s a fall canoe camping checklist that will help you get ready for a fall trip.

Canoe Equipment

  • Canoe: Consider taking something fast if you’re trying to cover long distances. During the fall, the short days can even make a 10 to 15 mile day feel long.
  • 2 bent shaft paddles: Sanborn Canoe Company hand makes the Gunflint) 14-Degree Bent Shaft canoe paddle from western red and white cedar. It’s wider blade gives you a powerful stroke to power your way to camp during the short days of fall. It weighs only 17 oz. so it won’t tire you out.
  • 1 spare paddle: A spare paddle is a backup in case you break one of your main paddles.
  • Seat pads – In the shoulder seasons, it’s cold, so having a little padding under your butt feel warm. I like Cooke Custom Sewing’s seat pads.
  • Plastic bailer
  • Portage packs: To carry all your gear, you need a pack that fits into a canoe. Portage packs are designed to sit low in a canoe and conform to a canoe’s shape. With the right portage pack, you can get all your and your partner’s gear into one pack. On the portages, you carry the canoe and your partner carries the pack, which allows you to complete a portage in a single carry. Read reviews of a Duluth Pack or a Cooke Custom Sewing pack.

Canoe Camping Checklist

Canoe camping in fall with star trailsThis canoe camping checklist is divided into categories representing rooms in your house. On any camping trip, you need a bedroom (tent), a kitchen (stove), a closest of clothing, a den to keep your books and miscellaneous stuff.


  • Tent or tarp: If bringing a tent also bring a lightweight tarp as a place to sit under to get out of the rain. Consider a lightweight tarp such as Integral Design’s SilTarp 2. Link to review.
  • Sleeping bag:You want to be warm at night and because it gets dark early and stay dark until late in the morning, you end up spending a lot of time in your sleeping bag. Often, you spend time reading or hanging out in the sleeping bag to stay warm. You want a 15 to 20 degree Fahrenheit bag. The North Face Cat’s Meow is the gold standard of synthetic sleeping bags and will keep you warm on long fall nights.
  • Sleeping pad (full length): A full length sleeping pad keeps your entire body off of the cold ground. This helps your sleeping bag keep you warm.
  • Waterproof stuff sack: Use a lightweight waterproof stuff sack to keep your sleeping bag in while traveling. If water gets into your portage pack, the stuff sack will keep your bag dry.


  • Stove: Whatever stove you bring make sure that it works in the cold weather. In warmer seasons, it saves weight to take an alcohol and canister stoves, but those can fail as the temperatures drops. Consider a multi-fuel or white gas stove such as MSR’s WhisperLite Internationale.
  • Fuel: Because of warm drinks and a desire for warm breakfast boost the amount of fuel you normally take. A good rule of thumb is 2.5 oz. of white gas per person.
  • Cook kit: Because of the shorter days including a larger cook kit, which allows you to cook multiple courses or items instead of a one-pot meal in your canoe camping checklist, gives you something more to do while sitting around in the dark.
  • Bowl for each person
  • Spoons for each person
  • Insulated mug for each person: An insulated mug keeps hot chocolate and Bailey’s warm while you sip it in front of the fire. The Sea to Summit Delta InsulMug weighs just 4 oz. and keeps16 oz. of hot beverage warm.
  • Platy for each person or a 1-liter water bottle.
  • Water filter: Whatever water filter you bring keep it from freezing during nights that drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit by putting it inside a plastic bag and sleeping with it.
  • Soap, small scrubby: Use biodegradable soap.
  • Fire starter: Fire is important during the cold season when you might need to fight off hypothermia from a long cold day or an unexpected dunk. Carry two types, and consider a third for your emergency kit.
  • Bear bag system

canoe camping in the fallDen

  • First aid kit and repair kit: The link is to an example lightweight first aid kit.
  • Map for every canoe
  • Compass for every canoe
  • Small saw (optional): A saw is a luxury item on any canoe camping checklist. It allows you to cut larger limbs off of a dead and down tree. The Sven Folding Saw weighs 15 oz. so it’s not light, but it can help you keep warm on a chilly night.
  • Headlamp: Headlamps provide hands free illumination, which keeps your hands free to tend the fire, cook or hold a book.
  • Sunglasses
  • Good book: Maybe The Fat Paddler.
  • Reading Glasses and repair kit (if needed)


  • Toiletries
  • TP and hand sanitizer


  • Quick drying pants: If you go in or if it rains or if the dew wets out the bottom of your pants, you want something that dries quickly. Wintergreen makes the best canoeing pants.
  • T-shirt or long sleeve shirt: Bring a quick dry shirt to wear in camp and during the day.
  • Synthetic or wool long underwear tops and bottoms: These you’ll wear on cold days or around camp at night. If you decide to bring a drysuit on your canoe camping checklist, bring a second pair and wear them under your drysuit. The pair under the drysuit will start to smell bad quickly, so you’ll want another pair for camp. Bring mid-weight or heavy-weight. It’s too cold for light-weight. Terramar makes durable and warm long underwear.
  • Synthetic underwear
  • Synthetic-filled or fleece jacket: Patagonia’s Nano Puff Jacket weighs only 12 oz., but it’s warm and compressible. You’ll be grateful for packing one on the cold spring or fall nights. Especially, if the snow starts to fly.
  • Waterproof/breathable rain jacket: On the less expensive end, Marmot’s PreCip Rain Jacket is lightweight, waterproof and packs up into a small space. The more expensive but bombproof The North Face Gore-tex Mountain Light Rain Jacket provides all weather protection in a jacket that moves with you.
  • Waterproof/breathable rain pants
  • Windshirt: Despite breathable fabrics, rain jackets can still feel balmy. A windshirt blocks the wind and breaths better, which makes dry and windy days pleasant. Marmot’s DriClime Windshirt combines a windproof, breathable and water-repellent exterior with a warm moderate weight long underwear interior. It’s the most versatile jacket on the market and every canoeist should own one.
  • 2 pairs of synthetic socks
  • Baseball cap or paddling hat
  • Fleece stocking cap: You’ll wear this around camp and to bed at night.
  • Fleece gloves
  • Waterproof stuff sack: Carry any clothing not worn in a waterproof stuff sack. At night, you can use the stuff sack as a pillow.

Personal Paddling Equipment List

  • Life Jacket
  • Whistle
  • Neoprene gloves: Bring neoprene gloves to keep your hands warm during the cold days. For some advice, read this cold water gloves review. Then include them on your canoe camping checklist.
  • Drysuit: You should dress for the water temp and during the shoulder seasons of early spring and fall, the water is cold. Consider wearing a wetsuit or a drysuit.
  • Knee-high rubber Tingley overshoes: Wear these over your hiking boots to keep the boots dry. They also keep your feet warm!
  • Hiking shoes or tennis shoes

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