Stay Healthy on Long Canoe Trips

5-minute read

Whether your definition of a “long canoe trip” is a weekend, a week, a month or six months, you want to stay healthy throughout your trip. The longer the trip, the more important it is that you’re aware of and practice those things that will keep you healthy.

woman and dog in the bow of a canoe on a mountain lake

(Photo courtesy of Sean Beale)

Some of what’s needed isn’t much different than living normal life. Other concerns are unique to paddle trips, especially the more remote the planned location.

Here’s a broad overview of several areas you’ll want to consider as you plan your first or next long canoe trip:

Be Fit to Begin With

When your body is strong and ready for the physical challenge of an extended paddle trip, you have far less chance of succumbing to “weekend warrior syndrome.” Balance on uneven ground is easier. Hauling gear and canoes up on your shoulders is easier. Paddling for hours on end is easier, and recovery is quicker.

Stay in shape all year long. Consider a several-week training plan if your trip will be especially long and/or rigorous. Even just a weekend of canoeing and portaging can cause pulled muscles and extreme soreness if you just get off the couch and into the canoe without any fitness preparation.

Good Nutrition

The right balance of healthy carbs, healthy fats and proteins will give you the nutrition you’ll need for the physical demands of a long canoe trip. Healthy carbs provide immediate energy without sugar spikes. Healthy fats and proteins provide long-lasting energy and help curb your appetite between meals.

man in the bow of a loaded canoe on a lake

(Photo courtesy of Levi Montilla)

Two or three days of easy-to-pack and inexpensive processed “junk” foods won’t matter that much in the long run. But if you’re out for a week or more, you’ll want better nutrients than they can provide.

If wild food harvesting is part of your plan, educate yourself very well on what’s edible for humans and what’s harmful. Berries, mushrooms, fish and plants are all options—but know which is which. If you’re not sure, either bring guidebooks along or leave them alone.

Proper Food Care

The kinds of food you pack and how you pack it will depend on the length of your trip, whether or not you’ll have regular portages (and will therefore have to carry it all overland), and the kinds of critters who’ll be after your food.

In some cases, fresh foods may be possible. You can freeze meats to keep it lasting longer. In other cases, prepackaged camp meals will be your best option. Look at labels to be sure you’re not just filling your body with sugar and salt!

Research ahead of time to know which animals frequent the region of your trip. If you’ll be in bear country, you’ll either want to use a bear canister or plan to hang your food pack out of reach. But don’t forget the little guys—raccoons, chipmunks, squirrels—they’d all be happy to grab some of your food. Keep it secure.

man preparing a canoe for a wilderness trip, at dockside; bear canisters in canoe

Bear canisters may be a wise idea (Photo courtesy of @oleroemhansen)

Reliable Water Purification System

Drinking water deserves special attention on any canoe trip. Even though you’ll be surrounded by water every day, you don’t want to count on that water’s purity for human consumption.

There are nasty microscopic bacteria that inhabit some of those crystal-clear waters. They can wreak havoc on your digestive system for months to come. Is it worth the risk?

Bring along a reliable water purification system, as well as a backup system if you’ll be out more than a few days. There are plenty of good systems out there—filters, tablets or good ol’ fashioned boiling.

Good Sleep

Good sleep is essential for good health, including while you’re out on a long trip.

Will you use a tent and sleeping pad? Be sure your tent is easy to set up, and is water/weather proof. If your sleeping pad is inflatable, be sure to bring a patch kit with you. Have the right weight sleeping bag for the weather you’ll encounter.

Will you use a hammock system? Don’t forget the rain fly, bug net and extra warmth layer, if needed. And be sure the area you’ll be canoeing through has trees suitable for hammocks!

Wilderness First Aid Kit

A good First Aid kit is essential on a canoe trip, no matter its length. Know what’s in it and include anything else you may need personally, like medications or EpiPen. Include ointments for bug bites and burns. Bug spray with at least 25% DEET and sunscreen should be part of your kit, too.

yellow canoe with paddle and packs up onshore next to a wilderness lake

(Photo courtesy of @coffeefuelledwoodsman)

A mylar blanket for everyone in your group is a great idea. They’re cheap, light and help keep you warm in emergency situations. Waterproof and windproof fire starter/lighter is also key, along with knowledge on what natural materials are available that will burn even when they’re wet.

For extra long trips into very remote areas, Wilderness First Responder training would be very wise for at least one person in your group. Consider a satellite phone or other type of emergency contact device that’s not reliant on cell signal.

If long wilderness canoe trips will be in your future, we recommend becoming certified in Wilderness First Aid or Wilderness First Responder. Several organizations offer this including National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), the Red Cross and Center for Wilderness Safety.

Wilderness Survival Skills

Emergency situations are rare, but they do happen. It could be severe injury, severe weather, wildfire, animal aggression.

Knowing wilderness survival skills will help greatly in any emergency situation until you can get to help, or help can get to you.

Alderleaf Wilderness College, based in the Puget Sound region of Washington, is an organization that offers both in-person and online training for wilderness survival. Take a look at what they offer and get on their mailing list for lots of tips.

two men in a loaded canoe on a wilderness lake

(Photo courtesy of Heliconia)

Staying healthy on long canoe trips requires planning ahead, preparation and knowing or learning about the area where you’ll be. Much of it is common sense, but there are also invaluable skills and information you can learn. All of these will contribute to healthy, memorable and safe canoe trips.

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

More for you...