Packing and Waterproofing

Ask any paddler about the correct way to pack gear for a canoe trip, you'll probably hear about that paddlers 'perfect'  system. They have everything set up so that each piece of gear is at their fingertips and everything is safely waterproofed in case of a dunking. The number of perfect packing systems matches the number of paddlers. Everyone who participates in canoe tripping has a system that they have developed and refined over the years. they are used to that system, so it really is "perfect" for them.

Keep in mind that gear organization is exactly that - a system based upon personal preference. Whatever works for us is fine providing that two criteria are met:

  • There isn't a lot of loose gear rolling around the canoe
  • Any gear which should be kept dry is completely and absolutely waterproofed

Beyond these two guidelines, we can all feel free to develop a system that will allow us to lecture other paddlers on how perfect our system is.

There are two approaches to waterproofing gear:

  • To use waterproof packs and rely on them to protect our gear
  • To waterproof gear before it goes into packs

There are some very good waterproof packs on the market. One word of caution, though. Waterproof packs have two possible weak spots - the fabric they are made of, and the closure system. Waterproof fabrics such as coated nylon and neoprene can develop leaks from wear and tear; and closures can fail. Buckles can pop open, and roll-top seals can leak.  However, we have had good luck with waterproof packs like the "Seal" packs.

Waterproofing gear before it goes into packs is obviously a necessity if we are using canvas or other non-waterproof packs. It is also not a bad idea for those using "waterproof" packs if we want to be cautious about the keeping our gear dry. If there is one are of tripping which deserves caution and attention, it is waterproofing of equipment. There is nothing worse than a wet sleeping bag on a cold night.

Fortunately, waterproofing is a simple process. Any pack can be waterproofed by putting a plastic or nylon liner inside it. What can you get these liners? We simply head over to our local janitorial supply company and buy some heavy 6 mil garbage bags. These bags are much bigger than regular plastic garbage bags and extremely tough. The top can be sealed by twisting it, folding it over then wrapping it with a heavy elastic or piece of bungee cord. Inside this bag, goes our gear, also waterproofed. In other words, clothing and sleeping bags are additionally waterproofed in small river bags or regular garbage bags before they go into the lined pack.  If you want a permanent solution to pack waterproofing, you can also purchase waterproof pack liners from companies like Ostrom Outdoors.

Keep in mind that some gear simply does not require waterproofing. It doesn't really matter if pots, pans, cutlery, rain tarps and ropes get a little wet.

The list that follows is one suggestion for a packing system that works - feel free to refine and modify it.

Equipment Pack Kitchen Pack
First aid kit
Repair kit
Toilet Paper & Trowel
Rain tarp


Stove, fuel and funnel
Pot set
Plates, bowls and cutlery
Dish soap, pot scrubber, drying towels
Can opener, large spoon, ladle, lifter
Aluminum foil, garbage bags, Ziploc bags
Fire grille or grate, if required
Matches and fire starters
Food Pack or Barrel Personal Pack (one each)
All food not requiring refrigeration Sleeping bag
Pillow or pillow case
Tent and ground sheet
Small Cooler (optional) Day Pack (one per paddler)
Any food requiring refrigeration GORP or other snack food
Rain suit
Sunscreen, bug dope, lip balm