How to Stow Your Kit for a Canoe Expedition

Stowing your equipment properly is an important consideration for any canoe trip.

It’s important for protecting your kit.

It’s important for your safety.

Whether you are heading out on the water for the day or for several weeks, there are a number of alternatives available to you.

This article will help to make sure you secure your equipment in the appropriate way…

Waterproofing Equipment for a Canoe Journey

The guiding thought must be that a simple mistake can end up with you and your kit in the water: what stuff would be ruined or useless when wet?

On a day trip, spare clothing, cameras, electronic car keys should be protected.

On expedition your whole life is in that boat so prudence pays.

Various canoe packs and barrels for waterproofing
There are various options open to you for waterproofing your kit. Photo: Ray Goodwin.

Waterproofing kit is relatively easy and there is a large choice of waterproof rucksacks, plastic barrels, dry-bags and specialist hard cases for cameras etc.

How to Secure Kit in a Canoe

Once you have your equipment waterproofed, the question is how to secure this gear in your canoe?

Securing Kit to Your Canoe in Easy Conditions

In easy conditions, with no wind or with no appreciable flow on a river, then I often just throw my kit bag into the boat. Small dry-bags can simply be clipped to a thwart. They can, however, get in the way if anyone is rescuing your canoe.

When To Use a Leash

The next stage up is attaching kit to the canoe with a leash.

With the gear loose but leashed, you can move it to assist or change the trim (end to end balance of the canoe). This is useful in windy conditions where the bow needs to be lower into the water. The cord is fastened to the boat with a releasable knot.

Canoe pack attached to canoe with a leash
Canoe pack attached with a leash and a quick-release knot. Photo: Ray Goodwin.

This works well with just a single bag, but if there are several then you end up with a lot of rope. You can tie one bag to the other in a long chain, but this creates entanglement potential and that is not good in any sort or water moving or not.

For Maximum Buoyancy, Lash it Down

In strong winds on open water, on a white water river or when on expedition with lots of kit, your gear should be lashed down.

Should anything ever go wrong, you will need the maximum floatation possible and your dry bags and barrels will provide that.

Tandem canoe heading into big wave
On a River Spey canoe trip, this boat is about to take on water… Photo: Ray Goodwin.
Canoe Kit Fully Lashed down
Kit fully lashed down in canoe. Photo: Ray Goodwin.

In the photo to the right the lash-down uses a cord that has been drilled and threaded down the side of the plastic canoe and is permanently in place (some use eyelets that have been riveted to the gunwales).

The lashing cord is run from side to side and through any available handles or straps on the kit.

Detail of the cord that is passed through drilled holes down the side of the canoe
Detail of cord down side of canoe. Photo: Ray Goodwin.

The combination of small airbags and lashed-down kit keeps the canoe afloat even when fully swamped. It is difficult to paddle but still manageable. The boat will be unstable, however, so the bow paddler should not cross-deck. By keeping a paddle on each side, with each paddler leaning to their paddle side, it is possible to keep going.

Canoe still afloat despite being full of water.
Even flooded, it is still possible to paddle the canoe. Photo: Ray Goodwin.

Beware Entanglement Danger

With so much rope around, there is a risk of entanglement so an easily accessible knife is essential.

What About Rental Canoes?

Hired canoes in the US and Canada normally come as bare boats. Here the lashing should be along the length of the canoe using seats and thwarts as attachment points.

Canoe kit lashed down lengthways on a rental boat with no lashing loops.
Lashing along the length of the boat. Bloodvein River expedition. Photo: Ray Goodwin.

Select the Most Appropriate Method

As you can see above, there are number of alternatives available to you. All are useful and the key is to use the most appropriate for the situation.

**Please leave a comment if you have used any of these techniques. Also if there are other areas of expedition canoeing that you’d like us to cover, please let us know in the comments.


Cover art for Ray Goodwin's book on Canoeing

Ray Goodwin’s book ‘Canoeing’ is published by Pesda Press. With over 800 photographs used in sequences and photo montages, it is lavishly illustrated and covers all aspects of canoeing.

‘Canoeing’ is available from good bookstores, Pesda Press online shop and Amazon.

Signed copies of ‘Canoeing’ are available directly from Ray Goodwin – you can contact him on


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Ray Goodwin MBE is the UK’s best known and (many would go so far as to say) foremost canoe coach. For more than 30 years Ray has been introducing people to, and developing people’s skills in, the great outdoors. Ray is also one of Frontier Bushcraft's oldest collaborators. Ray brings his experience and expertise to all of Frontier Bushcraft’s canoeing activities, from our Expedition Canoeing Skills Course and River Spey trip in the U.K., to our wilderness canoe expeditions such as the Missinaibi River, Bloodvein River, and Porcupine River in Canada.

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17 Responses

  1. hedgey
    | Reply

    Fantastic, covers all we need to know for a trip down the river.

    Great stuff

    Thanks Paul

    • Paul Kirtley
      | Reply

      No worries Hedgey. All thanks to Ray really! 🙂

      All the best,


  2. Chris Allen
    | Reply

    Hey. Great tips in there for sure. I use a tarpon 140 SOT, mainly on estuary and coastal waters. Although my yak is set up for fishing also, most of the lashing tips are easily adapted to a yak. I can testify that only once did I neglect to tie down my dry bag to the yak, I wont do it again that’s a given.
    Great info, cheers.

  3. Windy
    | Reply

    Another interesting article. Ray, I got pulled up on a recent expedition as I had used motorcycle cargo nets to ‘hold’ gear in place. These hook onto the threaded rope I had drilled down the length of the boat. The canoe instructor told me that this would be a fail for a BCU certificate (not that I was doing it) as the general principal used is to tie luggage in and let it fall out in the event of a capsize. I thought that this approach would be to dangerous as you get caught up on all those trailing ropes. Whereas my solution, though it wouldn’t make righting the boat easy in capsize, was safer. Thoughts / comments please.

    • Ray
      | Reply

      Any solution must be neat and that is my criteria when assessing. So I have seen cargo nets done well and been happy. Lots of bags tied to leashes is a real danger on white water; the risk of entanglement is too high.

  4. Greg
    | Reply

    I’ve been guiding canoe trips in Canada for almost 20 years on both flat water lakes and some pretty whitewater-intensive expeditions. I would highly recommend against lashing any packs to the canoe for any reason whatsoever. Gear doesn’t really ‘shift about’ as you travel (if it does ram your extra paddle next to it to keep in in place) . When you want to get out and portage, try un-lashing all your gear, re-tying it when you get back in, only to go through the same thing for the next portage. When you have 8-10 portages a day you will find this tedious at best. As for whitewater, there is nothing worse than a lashed pack when your canoe tips over or gets swamped. First (as you point out) there is a risk of entanglement, if this happens in whitewater chances are you are dead without a chance to reach a knife. Second, even if you don’t get entangled, now all your nicely tied in gear is a real hazard when your canoe gets hung up on a rock. Canoes often ‘wrap’ around rocks (I have seen bow and stern touching as the middle of the boat is pinned in a rapid) and they take real skill to get out. Now with lashed pack you first have to get your packs out of the boat before you can even think about unpinning your boat. This often means cutting packs loose, but sadly it usually means cutting a pack apart because you can’t get at your lashing ropes.
    Packs float. Pick them up at the end of the rapid if you go for a swim. It’s way safer. Yup.. all packs float unless you have an equipment pack loaded with pots and tents which don’t hold too much air. Solution: Throw a waterproof sleeping bag in with your equipment pack and it will float.
    As for added floatation for the boat? Float bags bow and stern help to slove this fairly well…

    (The ‘lashing cords’ you show going through the canoe look more like a skirt-retention system for very serious whitewater, not a lasing system for packs).

    • Ray
      | Reply

      Hi Greg.

      Thanks for the thoughts and debate. I too have been guiding and coaching for many years and my North American experience ranges from trips on the Rio Grande to as far north as the Arctic Circle.

      I am well aware that in some regions of Canada guides very strongly advocate the method you give. On a pool drop river (for the non paddlers it is a river that has rapids followed by a slow flat section) then that method can work. On a river with continuous flow like the lower half of the Spey in good water, or rivers like the Bonnet Plume in the NW Territories of Canada, a lot of kit would simply disappear off down river. Working with clients in Canada we can get the lashing down to two to three minutes and getting out is even quicker. It really is just what you are used to. In a flat water tripping area like Temagami, where I too have done umpteen portages in the day, then I very often just throw the bags in as you say. On big open water then I like my kit lashed down to provide maximum floatation for my protection. I originally got the lash down idea from Bill Mason’s ‘Song of the Paddle’ book and have been using it for twenty five years along with the other methods discussed. Interestingly Bill changed his opinion from that given in his ‘Path of the Paddle’.

      The guys paddling the flooded canoe were novices three days before but with that system, in fast water, were still able to keep upright and get the boat to the bank.

      The point you make about entanglement is very important and the cords must be tight and with no loose ends. The real risk in ww is someone using leashes so there is rope trailing in the water in the event of a swim. I am one of the contributing authors to ‘White Water Safety and Rescue’ the authoritative British text on the subject so it something I do not advocate lightly.

      I have had to recover kit from a canoe before now and it was simple to free the lashings and retrieve bags. I cannot see why you would want to or need to cut the bags. If you can reach them you can reach the cord. Canoes with gear lashed down float far higher in the water and are less likely to wrap; canoes with no flotation are deep in the water and wrap very easily on obstructions. I have a good pic in my own book of a canoe wrapped with the ends touching. We came across it on the Missinaibi.

      The cord lashed down the side is one solution for lashing points and is higher than most attachment points for spraydecks.

      Anyway I doubt that we will end up agreeing but it is worth looking at other systems.

      Kind regards Ray

  5. Andrew
    | Reply

    I paddle the BWCA and have done my share of whitewater, and I’ve gone both ways on this topic (all loose vs. tied down). For me, tied-down wins. However, I do allow myself the leeway to leave the gear loose in some specific situations: mostly very short hops on very calm water, or when I know I can stay sheltered from the wind between my launch point and the next portage. Conditions can change rapidly on big water, so those are on my “always tie” list.

    I was trained to right a canoe, even one fully loaded, as a youth (thanks to the Boy Scouts of America), and was always taught it is safer to paddle a swamped canoe than it is to try to tow the canoe to shore. One reason tying in gear was strongly recommended by the Scouts was to conserve energy if you do capsize–it can take enough out of you getting to shore, and much more so if you have to go chasing down various bags and bits of gear.

    In whitewater, gear always gets tied in tightly. Sometimes, for shot hops on larger lakes, I will use a leash. Also, if there is a posted portage, I’ll use it, unless I have complete confidence (based on my experience, and scouting the rapids) that the run is reasonable and prudent. In all my years paddling in the BWCA, I’ve only run two or three rapids–all short, with small elevation drops, and with a great flow of water and a clear path.

    In the end, it comes down to preferences–an exchange of costs. For the ease of speeding the loading and unloading of gear, some accept that capsizing will scatter their gear and require more energy to get things back together. Others of us decide that the cost (in time) of tying in our gear is worth knowing that we won’t need to expend extra energy to gather our gear in the event of an unexpected swim.

    One tip: I set up my tie cords once, when I first load. I set the lengths (crossing between thwarts/seats), tied at one end and with a loop on the other end. To anchor them, I use a carabiner style clip attached to a small loop that is tied in place on the thwart or seat. After that, I make sure my packs and gear end up in the same places. Loading and unloading only takes an extra minute or so (in total) at each portage. Once the gear is out of the canoe, I re-clip the lines, so they won’t hang while I’m carrying the canoe. It’s a system that works for me.

    • Paul Kirtley
      | Reply

      Hi Andrew,

      Thanks for taking the time to write such an informative and even-handed comment.

      All the best,


  6. Michael
    | Reply

    Dear Ray, dear Paul,

    Thank you for the interesting read. It would be great to get some hands-on instruction on this in a course. Paul, as already discussed, I hope you and Ray can sync your schedules to offer the Expedition Canoeing Skills course also in 2015. I would do my best to be the first person booked on the course. 😉 Rasti from Slovakia (from the Elementary and Intermediate course in July) is also very interested, so we are looking forward to meeting you next year.
    And now, for optimum preparation, I have to write to Ray to get a signed copy of his very recommended book. 🙂

    Please carry on with your great articles. It’s always a pleasure to read them.

    Best regards from Austria

    • Paul Kirtley
      | Reply

      Hi Michael,

      It’s good to hear from you.

      I’m glad you have found this article as it is very pertinent to your interest in canoeing.

      We will definitely be offering and Expedition Canoeing Skills Course in the summer of 2015. We just need to gain confirmation of the availability of the land we use to access the lake during the week we would like to run the course. I will send you (and Rasti) an email once we have everything firmed up.

      I understand you have been in contact with Ray – he received the email from you towards the end of our time in Canada. I hope you enjoy his book.

      OK, back to writing….

      Warmest regards,


      PS Just in case you missed it – I’ve written an article on our Bloodvein River trip in Canada.

  7. Bill Jackson
    | Reply

    Thanks for this. I’m not an experienced canoeist and since I live in a part of the world where remote mountain wilderness is easy to access, I’m very, very interested in the safety aspects.
    The two views regarding lashing are especially interesting. Someone on a backpacking trip (not a canoe trip) advised me against tying anything to the canoe. Not for convenience at the shore, but because he said the gear would make it difficult or impossible to right the canoe when it’s capsized.

    As another poster pointed out, your packed gear floats.

    I don’t know whose advice is best. One might have to try righting a loaded canoe in rough water. If it works, great.

    Three things that I do lash to the canoe are a spare paddle, my bailer, and myself. If the canoe capsizes, the wind will be blowing fairly hard. If I’m not connected to the canoe, it will be blown across the lake and I’ll die of hypothermia. If I can regain the canoe, I can right it, bail it, paddle to shore, and put dry clothes on.

    One other bit of advice my friend offered me. He said that it’s common for people to be knocked unconscious when the canoe tips over. So (says my friend) when the canoe goes over you should push yourself out and away from it, keeping your head away from the keel and the far gunwale. I’d appreciate any knowledgeable feedback on that.

    • Bill Jackson
      | Reply

      btw when I say I lash myself to the canoe, I do not mean tightly! I simply clip myself to the bow or stern line, and I don’t unclip until I tie off at the shore.

  8. James Jones
    | Reply

    Great article Ray, some terms in there that I haven’t come across before so a great encourager for further reading.

  9. NickP
    | Reply

    Great advice to cover all situations – thanks Ray & Paul.


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