I love being outside and for me, one of life’s simplest pleasures is to paddle a canoe, kayak, or stand up paddleboard with my camping gear and spend the night or nights in a remote location.

By Richard Harpham

My adventures, great and small have seen me canoe, kayak, bike, SUP and ski almost 8,000 miles of trips and expeditions, plus of course lots of day to day paddling. Each one is special for a multitude of reasons, the team sharing the journey, food cooked on a stove or campfire and of course stunning colours, wildlife and other shared moments.

My canoe trips have seen me paddle the Great Glenn Canoe Trail twice including the river sections, the length of the Great Ouse (140 miles), The River Till, parts of the Tweed, much of the Wye, parts of the River Severn and Thames as well as various other locations further afield. In 2010 our Big 5 kayak challenge team sea kayaked almost 1000 miles from Vancouver Island to Alaska and also canoed 700 miles of the Yukon River.

One of my most memorable jaunts was to canoe around Holy Island, Lindisfarne with my expedition buddy and owner of Active 4 Seasons Olly Jay. This resulted in time ‘canoeing with Dolphins’ and a little swim after surfing in a big wave around the Northern sand bar. More recently I headed out to Mallorca with Cody White of Nomadic SUP to attempt a circumnavigation which clashed with the worst storms in 10 years.

This article is intended to provide some ideas and tips to help inspire you to dust off your paddling weapon, canoe, sea kayak or Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP) and plan a journey.

Planning your route

Many of my adventures are dictated by tight schedules due to pressures of modern life. Personally I am happy to paddle long days and then make camp, eat and sleep. Other people prefer a more leisurely pace. For longer trips it is better to know your preferred paddling rate and distance before you start. This can be determined with a few training or short overnight trips.

Like most people I enjoy exploring different points of interest on the route such as historic sites, finding the perfect campsite, wildlife and moving water or rapids for playing.

It is also important to consider the ability and fitness of any paddlers in your group. Part of the planning is also to understand the river grade or tidal conditions and how it might change during different weather. Prior to starting your trip you should of course get an accurate local forecast and keep relevant people informed of your journey for safety and risk management. Pesda Press in the UK have great books covering some canoe, sea kayak routes and destinations.

Packing to avoid the Kitchen Sink

One of the benefits of a canoe for camping trips is that they have a huge load carrying capability and retain relatively good handling characteristics. In short canoes such as traditional prospectors designs evolved to be the “Mule of the paddling world”. Conversely sea kayaks and the new generation of touring kayaks can really cover large distances at speed with a fair amount of kit on board. They do of course handle differently. SUP’s offer another adventure craft although you need to pack even lighter for these. Our Mallorca trip was planned with tarps, no tent, one change of clothes and a stove to share.

Over the years through my adventures I have learnt that no one thing seems to weigh very much but the combination of kit soon mounts up. Deciding on the right kit for you can make a real difference and ensuring you have talked to your paddling team mates to avoid 2 or 3 duplicates can really help.

It then becomes a series of trade off’s of space, weight and comfort. The new generation of camp mats are super lightweight and increase the likelihood of a good nights sleep. Alternatively if the terrain is suitable then a hammock or bivi bag is also very light. You can reduce weight by adopting some of the following ideas:

  • Using water purifiers such as the Katadyn Water Bag
  • Opting for freeze dried foods
  • Using a tarp or hammock rather than a tent
  • Selecting thinner drybags as opposed to heavy duty
  • Consider the weight of each item of kit and alternatives
  • Cutting up Life Venture pack towels for different purposes (drying pans and drying yourself)
  • Removing packaging and using sandwich or similar bags
  • Powdered milk
  • Opting for versatile footwear for daily paddling and possibly flip flops or saddles for evenings
  • Reviewing kit amongst your team to remove duplicates
  • Reviewing kit list and identifying needs versus wants and which items are essential
  • Identify shops or towns where you can resupply and or organize supply boxes at specific locations

“It is a strange fact of adventure life that generally nothing weighs very much at all but collectively it all seems to weigh quite a lot.”

On some expeditions we have eaten dehydrated Be-Well Expedition Foods and packed Mountain Fuel drinks for additional energy. These options only need simple cooking facilities such as an MSR reactor stove. On less remote trips then we might opt for a cooking set and create culinary treats as part of the joy of camping and sharing good times with your paddling group. A bottle of tobasco , some Parmesan Cheese and a few herbs makes a real difference.

Developing Your Adventure and Paddling Skills

It is incredibly rewarding to develop and use practical and adventure skills on your paddling trips and journeys.  It provides a real sense of satisfaction to tie the appropriate knot, put up shelters, light fires with flint and steels or cook a feast on the campfire or stove.

Similarly developing your canoe skills to include lining and tracking if there are whitewater sections or poling shallow sections can be great fun. Sailing your canoe is also a different challenge with either a formal rig or impromptu sail made from a tarp or emergency shelter. Often when you look back at trips it is these bits that spice up the tales of ‘daring do’ and fond memories of time in the great outdoors. Paddling on the sea with a loaded SUP also provides a real sense of satisfaction but beware of strong winds against you. Quite literally on our SUP adventure in Mallorca we had 25 knot winds and 2 metre swell pushing us in the wrong direction and spent most of the days on our knees to reduce windage.

It is also worth developing your paddle skills on moving water particularly if it involves a change from your normal preferred paddling option. Surfing a canoe or sea kayak on moving water or breaking in and out of eddies is equally fun and uses many generic principles and paddle strokes. For me personally learning to solo a canoe in different conditions and learning the ‘song of the paddle’ has been great.

For your trip you might want to experience both tandem paddling and soloing and also different types of blades. In canoes I love using a deep water blade and knifing the blade back through the water for each stroke. In sea kayaks then a choice of wings and an Aquabound sea kayak blade give me different options for the conditions. Building time for these elements in your trip will help make you a better paddler and coach, if you go that route, and ensure each micro adventure or journey is a more rounded experience.

As part of this article I have included some top tips and hints for simple things to improve your canoe and camping trip. You can see a full kit list on our Canoe Trail Website at

I have included 3 golden rules for trying to reduce our impact on the environment and ensuring safe and friendly trips are organized and enjoyed. Finally there are some suggestions for places to try out your paddling and wild camping skills..

The Golden Rules

  • Leave No Trace

It is important to protect our planet and leave campsites and rivers as you would want to find them. You should consider whether an open fire is allowed, use a stove if not. Find suitable a location for the toilet and of course take everything with you. Better still collect rubbish and plastic on your journey and reduce the burden on our environment.

  • Respect Other Users

There is no doubt that you will almost certainly have to share your journey with other animals and people. A smile and a pleasant greeting are the best form of response to any negativity. Ultimately we have to share our rivers and coastline with rowers, fishermen, wildlife, tourists to name but a few. On rivers then check any local access agreements and try to stick to them. If you are going to wild camp then seriously make yourselves invisible otherwise you might enjoy yourself and ruin it for future paddlers.

  • Paddle Safe

The best adventure is the one that you take. But it doesn’t make a great story if you are injured or put yourself or your group at unnecessary risk. Make sure you understand the conditions, have sufficient safety equipment and paddle within your ability and that of the group.

Top Tips

Herbs - Keep a stash of simple herbs and spices to add flavour to your recipes and food

Treat Yourself - Find the simple treats that really ‘float your boat’, from malt loaf to campfire popcorn, Green and Blacks chocolate or a simple dram of single malt. Embrace the concept of a reward strategy.

Kit List - Review your kit list and ensure all the essential items are included and packed such as suncream, mosquito nets, spare torch, insect repellent.

Paddle Full - Paddle your boat fully laden in similar conditions prior to experiencing it during a bigger trip. It does handle differently so being able to pick your line or knowing your limitations can be important.

Using Tarps - Pack a tarp and paracord for making camp in rainy conditions. It makes such a difference to be able to set up a shelter.

Campfire Cuisine - Make cooking part of the magic of the canoe and camping experience rather than a chore. It can be a real social activity and something positive long after the memories of cold or rainy days has passed.

Ask the locals - Hire kit, book guides and speak to the locals if your are not sure of river conditions or need help. It removes a large part of the stress.

Develop your Paddling and Adventure Skills – Try poling, lining and tracking and sailing as part of your adventure. Camp Skills such as fire lighting and shelter building are also great fun.

Canoe and Camping Locations to Cut Your Teeth On

Canoeing the River Till and Tweed

The River Till and Tweed in Northumberland is a great river for canoeing and camping. The normal section paddled includes some Grade 3 and plenty of Grade 2 and Grade 1 sections. There are some incredible campsites and local company www.active4seasons.co.uk can provide kit, shuttles, and the best advice on camping and paddling.

Canoeing the River Great Ouse Canoe Trail

The River Great Ouse is the 4th Longest River in England at 143 miles of which half is navigable from Bromham, near Bedford, to the Coast at Kings Lynn. The stretch near Bedford offers stunning rural paddling with our woodland campsite accessible from the River and also a second campsite downstream run by the Camping and Caravan Club. Contact Ashley at the Award Winning Canoe Trail for more information.

Canoeing the River Wye

The River Wye is the 5th longest River in Britain Stretching 134 kms from source to sea and forming part of the English / Welsh Border. The Wye Valley and Symmonds Yat is designated an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Campsites are generally commercially run operations with full amenities.

Canoeing the River Severn

There are incredible hostels located adjacent the River Severn at Iron Bridge and an eclectic mix of campsites, farmstays and B&B’s at different locations along the journey most which can be found via Google. The official navigation runs from Pool Quay some 130 miles down to Stourport and onto Gloucester. You can get a useful list of points of interest at www.backwatershire.co.uk

Contact us for details of trips on the River Severn.

Canoeing on the River Thames

The River Thames is the second longest river in England starting at Cricklade with shallow gravel beds before heading many miles later through the capital city. The rural sections are interspersed with locks and bridges galore and plenty of scenic locations including Henley, Oxford and Richmond. Camping is more structured on the Thames. Contact us for details of single or multiday camping trips.

Canoeing the River Yukon

The River Yukon is a mighty Canadian River offering a vast fast moving conveyor belt of water with incredible camp sites, Gold Rush history and plenty of wilderness. It is located in one of the last great wilderness areas on our plant and people usually paddle from Whitehorse down to Dawson City, some 420 miles. Speak to the team at Up North Adventures for more information. upnorthadventures.com

Canoeing the Great Glenn Canoe Trail

The Great Glenn Canoe Trail is an iconic Scottish paddle spanning Scotland from Fort William in the South 60 miles North up to Inverness. There are some great Grade 2/3 River Sections as well depending on the direction you chose as well as the incredible 26 mile long Loch Ness, Castle Urquhart and so many magical views.

There are trail blazer rests, wild camp sites and hostels to ensure great camping on your trip. greatglencanoetrail.info

We can organize group adventures and paddling trips on the Great Glenn Canoe Trail so please ask us for details and options.

Canoeing on the Norfolk Broads

Explore the Norfolk Broads national park by canoe (or kayak) and book into one of Canoe Man’s range of options including Tipi’s bushcraft or bringing your own tent. Find out more by visiting their website. Alternatively Google campsites adjacent to the water on the Norfolk Broads.



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