7 Most Important Skills For Wilderness Paddlers

Thriving on backcountry canoe trips relies on having a solid skill set and a willingness to adapt to always changing conditions and circumstances. Many skills are acquired through trial and error and learning from mistakes, and others can be honed before heading into the wilderness. Here are seven Canoeroots staff think are essential for your wilderness canoe trip success. 

1. Building the perfect tarp shelter

Tarps are easy to pack and allow you to have a versatile shelter from the rain and wind. The most secure and stable tarp setups have a ridge forming the highest part of the tarp. The ideal way to support the ridge is to have a string or independent line between two trees or poles. Bungalow style roofs are awesome if the conditions of your campsite are appropriate, but often creativity is required in shelter construction. Learn more tarp shelter tips here.

Building a tarp shelter

Photo: Dave Quinn

2. Repair a canoe in the backcountry

Encountering canoe damage can be a serious impediment to your trip livelihood whether you are in the backcountry for two days or two weeks. Keep panic at bay with a canoe repair kit and the know-how to use it. A good canoe repair kit will include heavy-duty duct tape, stainless steel wire, a nail kit, ABS plumbing pipe and more. Read more about backcountry canoe repair.

Backcountry canoe repair

Photo: Peter Mather

3. Execute a proper bear hang

Leaving food improperly stored at your campsite can have a swath of negative consequences. A bear at your site can eat your carefully packed food, damage your boats and gear and can even lead to the bear being destroyed. Knowing how to execute a proper bear hang will help decrease the chances of encountering one of these impressive animals too close to your site for comfort. Follow our four expert tips to keep bears at bay.

bear hang

Photo: Dave Quinn

4. Know how to use a map and compass

Being well-packed with the best gear for your backcountry canoe adventure is great, but having the practical navigation skills to know where you are and where you are headed is key. Excellent navigation skills and the know-how to take advantage of a map and compass means you won’t spend an hour searching for the portage take-out or miss out on that amazing lookout point you’ve read all about. We show you how to use your map and compass to get a bearing, how to follow a visual compass bearing and how to compensate for declination here.

how to use a map and compass

Photo: Flickr User Colin Zhu

5. Build a ditch kit for disasters

A ditch kit is the part of your equipment checklist you should put lots of effort into but hope you never have to use. This collection of important and useful items constitutes the essentials for survival in a small, compact and easy to transport package that can help decrease the consequences of any misadventures. A great ditch kit will include high-density food sources, a fire starter, extra layers, a first aid kit and more. Learn what you need for a top-notch ditch kit here.

DIY ditch kit

Photo: Charlotte Jacklein

6. Light a no-match fire

It is a great idea to pack multiple sets of lighters or matches in different places and compartments on your canoe trips just in case. In the off chance you find yourself without a fire source, having the ability to start a no-match fire is an invaluable skill that will keep you warm, cooking hot food and enjoying coffee and tea in the mornings. Modern fire strikers are usually made from carbon steel and metal ferrocerium and can be found at outdoor stores. The back of your camp knife can also be used as a striker, or any other metal if it is as hard or harder than the ferro rod. We walk you through the steps to lighting a no-match fire here.

no match fire

7. Survive a lightning storm

Lying cozily in your bed at home and watching lightning flicker and illuminate your walls can be beautiful. On the other hand, finding yourself at your campsite in saturated raingear watching a lightning storm swirl overhead is often a butterfly-in-the-stomach inducing experience. We give you tips to make yourself less vulnerable in these situations, including getting off the water immediately and adopting the lightning position. Learn more lightning storm survival techniques here.


Flickr User Snowpeak

Looking for exciting new destinations to practice your backcountry canoe trip skills? Explore our Paddling Trip Guide.

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