So I took my kids camping. After asking for six years, I relented last summer and took my eldest on a one-on-one trip. Well, sort of; we went on a very full-service, all-inclusive canoe adventure with Wild Adventures Canada. And this summer, we loved it so much that we took the whole fam-jam. There’s still time to book a trip for this year, and when you do, you’ll need a family canoe trip packing list!
Read about our first Algonquin Park canoe trip & get packing.
In addition to the packing list I received from Wild Adventures Canada before both of our two-night canoe trips, I thought it would be helpful to share the specifics of what we actually packed for our long weekend in the woods.
What to pack for a canoe trip with kids
Let’s be clear: if you’re not going on your canoe trip with an outfit like Wild Adventures Canada who provides things like tents, air mattresses, sleeping bags, food and the canoes themselves, you’re going to need a whole other list from someone who can prepare you much more adequately than me.
I don’t really get into electronics in this post either, because there’s no wifi and camping should generally be a pretty unplugged experience. I only took my Pixel 3XL because I wanted to take some photos. And without any electrical outlets out there in the woods, I also brought along my LifeProof LIFEACTIV Power Pack 20, which has enough juice to give me five days of extra battery life.
Read why the Pixel 3XL is the best smartphone for photography.
Think of this more as a clothing and small gear must-haves list for camping. And note that this is for ONE person for three days in the wilderness, so do the math if you’ve got a family of four or your trip is longer.
Family camping gear
1. A good backpack (around 25-35 litres depending on the number of nights you’ll be away) — we took a Gregory Jade 28L day pack and an Osprey Stratos 34L day pack with us thanks to SportChek and Atmosphere in year one, and added a Deuter AC Lite 22 SL hiking pack and a small waterproof MEC day pack in year two because we had two extra people. In these, we packed everything listed here for our three-day canoe adventure, including our hiking boots/day shoes — packed inside each bag.
If you’re looking for an older child, I suggest a pack designed for women since the torso will be shorter and it will probably fit your kid better (until s/he’s bigger than you, of course). We loved the extra airflow along the back panels that the Osprey, Gregory and Deuter packs offered, with lots of pockets and clips/straps to put things in convenient spots and create the best fit possible. One of the most important things to look for? An integrated rain cover. The last thing you want to worry about when it starts to pour is where you put the extra garbage bags so you can protect all your belongings!
2. One dry bag to protect ID and small electronics — we have various sizes of these from several different brands, and all of them have remained waterproof over the years, so choose any brand in the size that works best for what you need to keep dry. For example, I packed my camera in one dry bag and my keys/wallet/smartphone in another. These are also sometimes called dry sacks, by the way! SportChek carries them, among other outdoorsy retailers
3. Quick-dry towel — we packed one very compact, medium-sized Sea to Summit DryLite Towel alongside some cheaper quick-dry towels I found on Amazon; they take up very little room and are extremely absorptive and quick-drying. Hint: go for the cheapies (they worked just as well!).
4. Sunglasses with a floaty strap — No matter which sunglasses you choose, you’re going to want some kind of strap that will help them float in the event you get tossed into the water. I’ve lost more than a handful of sunnies to lakes and oceans over the years so I don’t take chances anymore. I protected my beloved Serengeti Eyewear with straps I found on Amazon for about $10 apiece.
5. Compact flashlight / headlamp — we went with two different headlamps: a basic, $25 PETZL headlamp from MEC, which had two settings (high/low light) and it met our needs each night for getting around the campsite, plus a more costly Ledlenser headlamp that truly outshone the PETZL and would be better for night walks through the woods.
6. Water bottle or hydration pack — we really liked the versatility of the two products that SportChek sent us (a Nathan BigShot water bottle and an Osprey integrated hydration pack designed to fit seamlessly into the Osprey backpack noted above); to err on the side of caution, I also picked up a LifeStraw (figuring the $25 investment would be worth its weight in gold if for some reason we didn’t have access to a fresh, clean water supply).
7. Tooth brush + paste — travel sizes only! And we LOVED the toob travel toothbrushes we found at MEC, which have a hollowed out area in the handle for a small toothpaste that you can refill at home.
8. Bug spray — we sprayed $12 bug jackets and put them into Ziploc bags before packing them in our backpacks. Luckily we were mostly past bug season in Algonquin Park and didn’t need to pull them out, but we did give our arms and legs a quick spray a couple of times when we knew we’d be paddling for a couple of hours.
9. HERO clips — I featured these in my best ski gear of 2019 post and need to give them a big shout-out here as well. We were able to hang a bunch of stuff from the roof of our tent (sunglasses, towels, waterproof phone case) thanks to one of these clips. I tend to keep one even in my purse because they’re such handy things.
10. Sunscreen — Attitude Living sunscreen is FANTASTIC. The face stick is perfect for travel, and I love that a mineral-based sunscreen doesn’t make the kids or me look ghostly. It’s concentrated enough that we barely put a dent in the small bottle we took with us.
- PRO TIP: Put things like sunscreen into a Ziploc bag just in case they decide to leak or spontaneously combust!
Clothes to pack for a canoe trip:
- Rain jacket + rain pants — these are as essential as your backpack. You don’t want to be caught mid-rainstorm without easy access to rain gear. Look for taped seams, which usually takes fabrics from water-resistant or -repellant to waterPROOF. Fabrics like GORE-Tex (or other patented brand names like Peak’s Hipe® Core+) are guaranteed to keep you dry. Shop somewhere like Peak Performance where employees can lend some solid technical knowledge if you don’t know what to look for. The K Man had a McKinley rain set from SportChek that was stylish and comfortable, too
- Quick-dry pants — one pair is enough and these work well for cooler evenings or windier treks that might also involve a creek passing or two. The Peak Performance soft shell pants I took ended up being worn three days in a row because the weather was a bit cool and paddling at 6 a.m. or 8 p.m. was also chilly; these are officially my new favourite travel pants!
- Shorts (or those pants that zip out into shorts) — two pairs should be fine, plus the pair you’ll likely wear on day one
- Bug jacket — get one cheap one and douse it in bug spray, then keep it in a large Ziploc; don’t forget to wear this with long sleeves and a brimmed hat
- Socks — this is where merino will always get my vote! It’s moisture-wicking and temperature-regulating and can be worn multiple times before you’ll ever need to wash them. I’d stick with socks that are a bit taller than trainer liners but not much beyond the ankle. We love Smartwool, Icebreaker and Darn Tough if you’re looking for a few brands (head to Atmosphere to check out a variety of different hiking socks). Two pairs max!
- Bras and underwear — if you don’t own a merino bra for skiing or a highly technical sportsbra like the ones from LNDR (in both cases you’d need only one because they’re pretty much stink-proof), I’d suggest two Longevity Bras from knix instead. And as much as possible, opt for merino or travel-specific underwear (Ex Officio even makes undies that dry in a flash so you could take two pairs and just wash them in the river over and over depending on the length of your trip). An even thriftier option? Choose shorts that have built-in underwear, like those from lululemon, and you can knock this off of your list entirely!
- T-shirts — you can really take any kind of T or tank you want, but limit it to one per day and keep in mind that cotton will get cold and wet easily and make you feel colder and wetter than just about any other fabric; again, I like merino
- Sweater (fleece or wool) — just bring one and avoid cotton in this category because the point is to guarantee your warmth if temps dip. Fleece hoodies, wool sweaters or highly technical fabric of any variety — like those you’ll find at Peak Performance — will do the trick
- Long underwear — I strongly suggest merino or a merino-mix here! (I know, I know…I’m a broken record.) And stick with trusted brands like Peak Performance or Icebreaker. You just need one set and these will double as your PJs
- Bathingsuit — two max (but only if you think you won’t have time between uses for one to dry). I took a paddling suit from Swimco because that doubles as a rashguard for me, and I packed one pair of swim trunks for The K Man
- Rashguard — if you want to bring a bikini, tankini or you’ve got swim trunks for the gents and boys in your family, you definitely need to pack a rashguard (long sleeves are best so you’re not messing with sunscreen for your forearms); you might even find you like wearing it under your bug jacket while paddling or hiking
- Hat with SPF/UPF protection — anything from Tilley or Outdoor Research will serve you and your kids well. I’ll give you bonus points for hats that cover the backs of your necks, have chin straps or float
The best camping footwear
- Sturdy sandals — I have been using my KEEN EVOFIT One sandals for two summers (from hiking to mountain biking to waterfall jumping to wandering around Canada’s Wonderland) and they’re incredible. Perfect for wider feet, with plenty of cushioning and support, they slide on like socks and stay on no matter what kind of terrain you’re facing. The Big Kids’ NEWPORT Neo H2 sandals are the classic sandals you probably know when you think of KEEN; they’re dependable and comfortable and rugged enough to withstand all kinds of kid activities all summer long
- Hiking boots — I’ve also been wearing the KEEN TARGHEE EXP Waterproof Mid hikers for the past two summers and they are legit waterproof. We went on a rafting ride down the Ausable Chasm near Lake Placid, and I was the only one (out of eight people) with dry feet thanks to these boots! The Big Kids’ HIKEPORT Waterproof Mid hiking boots have helped The K Man with his climbing confidence thanks to how “grippy” they are on rocks and boulders, and I don’t need to tell you that keeping your kid’s feet dry is paramount to camping success. In fact, he liked them so much that Miss Q begged me to buy her a pair of KEENs for our Smuggs summer getaway, ending up with the Big Kids’ CHANDLER CNX hiking shoes (a nice compromise between sandals and boots)
As usual, I’m going to encourage you to PACK LIGHTLY. You’re in the woods. The more merino or technical fabrics you pack, the less you’ll stink if you use them over and over again and the lighter your pack will be.
Above all, go have fun with your kids.
DISCLOSURE: While I purchased a lot of what we took on our Wild Adventures Canada trip, some of these products were provided, and some brands represented here are ongoing partners. I’m only suggesting products/brands I’ve personally used and believe in.