5-minute read + 30-minute video
Does the idea of winter kayak or canoe camping intrigue you? Then this video is a must-watch to get a realistic picture of what this kind of adventure entails.
Ken woke up to a covering of light snow in the morning (photo courtesy of @GoPaddle)
Aqua Bound Ambassador Ken Whiting took a sea kayak into Algonquin Provincial Park for an overnight camping trip. Winter temps below freezing, light lake ice and an overnight snowfall were all a part of his excursion.
His video gives us an accurate picture of what winter kayak camping is like:
Why It Pays to Plan Ahead
When you paddle off-season at any national, provincial or state park it pays to do your homework as you plan—and especially before you head out.
As Ken discovered, his lack of checking ahead forced him to change routes. He discovered a locked gate leading to the lake where he had wanted to camp. He had to choose a different route, and now faced a 400-meter portage (about 80 rods, for BWCAW canoeists).
Kayaks and their gear aren’t meant for portaging
With a canoe, that’s pretty easy. But sea kayaks and their gear aren’t meant to be portaged. A canoe is made for easy solo portaging and canoe trip gear is stuffed into large packs for convenient carrying.
When sea kayaking, gear is divided into smaller dry bags so it fits easily inside the compartments of the kayak. So portaging involves carrying several smaller bags instead of one large one.
About Algonquin Provincial Park
Algonquin has more than 2,000 km of canoe routes and 1,900 campsites for paddlers of all levels. If you’d like to explore some of these backcountry waterways, The Friends of Algonquin Park has a thorough website with all the info you need. You’ll find a digital route map on that site along with the option to buy a print map.
Both early season after ice-out (late April to mid-May) and late season (October until freeze-up) are recommended only for experienced trippers with the right gear. And before planning your winter canoe or kayak trip, be sure you know which areas are still open during your timeframe.
Challenges of Winter Kayak Camping
This video is about kayak camping in a northern climate, specifically Canada. The cold will be something to think about the entire trip. How can you prepare for that both in the boat and at camp?
Though sunny, it was cold enough for some light ice
Safety is the most important consideration, especially on a solo trip like this one. Ken is wearing a drysuit—mandatory in these temps in case of an emergency.
Beyond safety, staying warm is a challenge. Having the right apparel and accessories is key. You must be able to build a good campfire (and keep it going) to stay warm during the hours of sunset until bedtime. So a reliable camp saw is a must.
A sleeping bag rated for extreme cold and a sleeping pad with a high R-value will help keep you toasty during the long cold night. R-value measures how well a pad resists the cold in the ground from seeping into your body. A thicker pad with an R-value of 5 or more is your best bet for winter camping.
[PRO TIP: One trick to sleeping warm is to bring along a sturdy plastic water bottle like a Nalgene. Before heading into your tent for the night, boil water and fill your bottle with it. Bring it with you inside your sleeping bag and the water will stay warm for several hours.}
The Days are Short
Compared to the hours and hours of daylight with summer kayaking, winter days are so short. From sunup to sundown you might have 8-10 hours to head out, paddle your miles, portage if necessary, find a campsite and set up camp (in the summer you could have 16-17 hours for that).
So you need to adjust your expectations about how far you can go each day. Ken’s goal was to find a campsite by 2:30 pm to give him plenty of time to set up camp and gather a bunch of firewood. “Because a camp without a fire in this kind of temperature is miserable!” he says.
Breaking camp on a cold morning
Gathering Enough Firewood
Ken was glad he had planned to find a site early. Because his route is heavily traveled in high season, it took him a solid two hours to gather enough firewood from the surrounding area. Any downed wood around his campsite had been picked clean already.
So one option would be to choose a less popular route for a better chance of finding firewood close by.
Winter Kayak Camping Takeaways
“This isn’t the kind of trip you just jump into,” Ken says. “You need to have experience in the backcountry. You need to be comfortable in and have the gear for the cold. Gear, gear, gear. And backup gear. If you have the right gear it can be an extremely pleasant trip. If you have the wrong gear? It can be miserable.”
Ken learned the hard way years ago not to bring food that can freeze on a winter camping trip. For this one, He chose dehydrated backpacking meals so he could simply add boiling water. They pack light, are easy to prepare and freezing temps don’t bother them.
Winter kayak camping can be pleasant with the right plan and gear
Ken was glad to have made this one last kayak camping trip of the season, despite the portage and a little bit of snow. How about you? Is winter kayak or canoe camping on your bucket list?
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