Canoe camping simply involves going on a canoe trip, stashing a tent, hammock or bivvy bag in your boat, then sleeping outdoors by a river. I just tried it for the first time – and it’s awesome!
Not only is canoe camping awesome, it’s also refreshingly simple. You obviously need a canoe and some form of shelter, but apart from that the kit list is quite minimal. If you plan your trip in high summer and the weather is kind you can expect long daylight hours and warm temperatures, allowing you to travel relatively light.
So light, in fact, that I left my two-year-old adventure buddy Sonny at home for once and turned this into a dads only trip. He can come next time now I know how cool it is!
Bonus: if you also happen to plan your route past a good pub (I always do), you can eat there so you don’t even need to carry much food!
I got a very handy tip-off about a private island on the River Great Ouse near where I live in Cambridgeshire, which usually caters for Scouts but is free to use when no groups are booked in. I contacted the owner and the coast was clear, so off we went. His only rules were to bring our own firewood and burn it in the fire pit provided, not bring dogs (there’s a muntjac fawn on the island), and to clean up after ourselves before paddling off in the morning. Bargain!
The forecast was perfect and we were only a few days past the Summer Solstice, so we packed light and hit the river. Here’s what I took with me…
My canoe camping kit
- Inflatable canoe & paddles
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping mat
- Frying pan
- Hip flask
We hit the river in Huntingdon at around 6.30pm with the sun high in the sky. With a warm breeze nudging us downstream we soon arrived at the wonderful Three Jolly Butchers pub in Houghton & Wyton, where we demolished burgers, fajitas and a couple of pints while watching Argentina sneak through the group stages of the World Cup with a late winning goal (the only black mark against this trip).
We were back in the water by 9pm, cruising past Houghton Mill with a silvery moon lighting the sky and a procession of ducklings and cygnets keeping us company as we approached the island. I’d been past our home for the night plenty of times before but had never fully paid it attention, and as we pulled the boats ashore at its rickety old jetty it hit me how perfect it is for a canoe camping adventure.
With knotted and tangled trees everywhere, grass cut short by a wonderfully attentive owner, rope swings, a fire pit, and dozens of places to pitch tents and hang hammocks, it’s no surprise this is such a popular destination for Scouts. We strung up our hammocks, built a fire, then drank whiskey and talked nonsense long into the night. Canoe camping was exactly what I hoped it would be, and much more.
I was woken at 6am (after a surprisingly good night’s sleep) by the dongs of nearby church bells. We lit the fire, boiled our ancient kettle, cooked bacon and sausages in our ancient frying pan, jumped off the jetty for a quick early-morning dip, then paddled the hour-long journey back to our waiting car.
Did I mention this all happened on a Tuesday night? I’d left work at 5.30pm the previous evening and was back at my desk by 9am, with none of my colleagues any the wiser.
Thanks very much canoe camping, you were awesome. I’ve got a feeling I’ll be back again.