Canoeists haven’t changed all that much over the years, but the guidelines for open boaters have evolved. Want the latest ways to be a happy camper on your next canoe trip? From gas guzzlers to gadgets, food to fashion it helps to learn from the hard-earned experiences of others. We present some new rules of thumb every canoeist should be acquainted with.

How to be a happy camper

27 rules for canoe camping

  1. Longer trips are always better.
  2. One-match fires are for poor planners.
  3. Easy access means lots of people.
  4. Sleeping bags are 30 percent less warm than they claim.
  5. …and 50 percent less warm if from Target.
  6. You probably won’t use your axe.
  7. Hating white rabbits only tarnishes your image in the eyes of the IDA (In Defense of Animals) members of your party.
  8. Squirrels make more noise than bears. So be more afraid of what you don’t hear.
  9. It is always worth the hike up.
  10. Beaver fever has nothing to do with a teenage pop idol.
  11. Ash gunwales make a plastic boat feel more authentic.
  12. But not as authentic as cedar and canvas.
  1. There isn’t always a better campsite around the next point.
  2. Abandoned cabins are full of mice.
  3. Your lawn will survive your absence. Don’t rush.
  4. So will your houseplants.
  5. And your plumbing.
  6. A pig rig is not what you think.
  7. Tri-keel canoes are more about structural integrity than making you go in a straight line.
  8. You should tip your guide. 10 percent of the trip cost is fair.
  9. $20 after a week of wining and dining is an insult.
  1. The more you spend the less you get—when weight is concerned anyway.
  2. Rock beats scissors. You get the wanigan.
  3. Portage trails are always 20 percent longer than marked.
  4. But feel like twice that in blackfly season.
  5. Kneepads are better glued into your boat than worn around your knees.
  6. Take the duct tape name tag off your helmet once the course is over.
  7. Subscribing to Paddling Magazine is good karma.

Person holds up a happy camper mug
We present some new rules of thumb to help you be a happy camper. | Feature photo: Dominika Roseclay/Pexels

12 rules for cooking and eating

  1. Always volunteer to cook the dirtiest meals. Because he who cooks doesn’t clean up.
  2. You can never pack too much chocolate.
  3. You can never pack too much coffee.
  4. Chicken on day five is never a good idea.
  5. You will probably never burn diesel fuel, gasoline or kerosene in your camp stove.
  6. If you do, your food will taste like diesel fuel, gasoline or kerosene.
  7. Waiting for an angler is worth it at dinnertime.
  8. Granola bars are not a meal substitute.
  9. It’s okay to giggle when someone pulls out a Dutch oven.
  10. The double whammy—drinking alcohol while eating burnt marshmallows increases your risk of cancer.
  11. Potluck means you need to bring food, too.
  12. Eat heavy food first.

5 deep thoughts for modern canoeists

  1. The difference between a bent shaft paddle and a straight paddle is that one is bent.
  2. Why do canoes have tractor seats, but tractors don’t have canoe seats?
  3. It is better to paddle solo and sleep tandem.
  4. Who measures portages? Is there some guy with a wheel walking them and writing it down on a clipboard?
  5. Life is a tide; float on it.

10 things a canoeist shouldn’t sweat

  1. The amount of deet in their bug dope.
  2. Whether Smarties are better than M&Ms.
  3. Whiplash.
  4. Sand in the tent.
  5. Sitting or kneeling?
  6. Scratching their paddle.
  7. Scratching their canoe.
  8. Knowing all the words to American Pie. Bar chords. D, C and G should do.
  9. Whether Oprah’s OWN network makes it.
  10. Running out of new routes.

follow this PFD rule to be a happy camper

12 rules for driving shuttle

  1. Swerve for things that will hurt you, like moose and logging trucks.
  2. Chipmunks are not an endangered species.
  3. In-dash GPS units are the devil’s work.
  4. You probably should have stopped at the last gas station.
  5. Wave to all canoeists.
  6. You only need bow and stern lines the day your canoe blows off your roof.
  1. Flying in is still way cooler.
  2. Tennis balls on roof racks look stupid.
  3. Bring a tool kit.
  4. And check your spare.
  5. The rougher the access road, the better the canoeing.
  6. The last song you hear will be stuck in your head. Choose your playlist wisely.


9 rules for electronic gadgets

  1. There is no “Just Kidding” button on a SPOT device.
  2. You can’t describe the sunset in 280 characters or fewer.
  3. Batteries never last as long as advertised.
  4. Fill flash will almost always improve your portraits.
  5. Just because you can email or text what you’re having for breakfast, doesn’t mean you should.
  6. Show fewer slides in your next slideshow.
  1. In descending order of appropriateness on a canoe trip: playing rummy, playing strip poker, playing Kenny Rogers Blackjack on your iPhone.
  2. Don’t transmit from your campsite to your public SPOT Adventures page.
  3. …unless you’re okay with creepy, red-eye drop-ins from SPOT stalkers.

3 things we crowd-sourced on Facebook

7 rules for fashion

dress appropriately to be a happy camper

  1. A hat should be worn full-brimmed or pinned, never both at the same time.
  2. Flies in your headband are only suitable if you’ll actually be fly-fishing.
  3. A canoeist’s sunglasses should not be as glamorous as Lady Gaga’s. Unless they’re polarized.
  4. Separating long- and short-sleeve shirts is decadent, rolling up is always fine.
  1. Things you should keep on your belt: flashlight, Leatherman multitool, compass, binoculars, survival kit. Things you shouldn’t: cellphone, batarangs.
  2. This is the one-time zip-off pants win the function-versus-fashion trade-off, but only just.
  3. Footwear in ascending order of versatility: flip-flops, clogs, sneakers, neoprene wellies, sport sandals, hiking boots. Closed-toe are better.

follow this canoeing rule to be a happy camper

5 things your trip mate never wants to hear

  1. “Did you tie the boat up?“
  2. “Does this farmer John make me look sexy?”
  3. “I thought you had the keys.”
  4. “I thought you had the map.”
  5. “I thought you had the whiskey.”

Paddling Magazine Issue 65 | Fall 2021

This article originally appeared in Canoeroots and in Paddling Magazine Issue 65. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions here, or download the Paddling Magazine app and browse the digital archives here.


Feature Photo by Pixabay



  1. Always seems like Kevin is just being funny but he really knows his stuff. He is a great writer, experienced guide and all around nice guy!


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