Family-Sized Adventure; How to Get a Family Ready for Canoe Camping
An 80km paddling excursion through Canada’s Northwest Territories - with an infant.
A multi-day trip crossing some *slightly* intense and weather-exposed waters - with two small humans under the age of 5 on board.
Those ideas—long distances in canoes and multiple days overnight—might be enough to make the palms of newer paddlers or folks more fresh to backcountry adventures get a little bit clammy. Adding kids to the mix? That concept could send some potential lovers of the outdoors packing.
Yet these are the kind of adventures Roberto and Shereen Gomez—more frequently known as The Expeditioners—embark on with their young family on the regular. Their present-day family expeditions are built on a lifetime of experience in and passion for the backcountry. And, when it comes to making meaningful memories together, these consummate adventurers know that the work they put in to getting themselves, and then their kids, keen on canoe camping trips can be something any family can do too - if they’re willing to take the time to gain the skills (and confidence), start small, take it slow, and build towards the bigger trips.
Finding comfort in the backcountry started well before the kiddos came along.
At age 12, Roberto got his first taste of canoeing and canoe camping at a summer camp in the wilderness of Quebec. Camp Kawanaka would be the catalyst for a lifetime of backcountry adventures; first with his camp buddies in the summers that followed, then with pals in their late teens, before bringing Shereen into the adventures when they started dating.
Adventuring through those years—sans kids—looked a little different; a touch less planned, and often an experiment in discovering what they *really* needed based on what was forgotten back in the car...or even back at the last town they passed. At the time, it was part of the allure and the story they wanted to tell. Over time, it helped them know exactly what they needed to navigate the millions of lakes and endless rivers of Eastern Canada.
When the babies came along—first Mikio, then Catalina—the confidence in their own skills on the water and in packing for and navigating extended stays in the backcountry is what led them to take their first steps in bringing the kids along for the adventure. And it’s confidence that Roberto notes as being the backbone of their success in bringing young ones along as you make memories on the water, and out in nature.
“We’ve come to understand that as the parents, we set the stage for the kids; if we’re nervous or insecure so that the kids can feel it, they’re going to be fussy and feel anxious. Adults project to kids a lot more than we think we do. So, managing our anxieties and confidence is a BIG part of how to camp with the kids - if we’re in the right state, then the kids will feel fine. If we start to feel nervous, it starts to show in their behaviours.”
Getting the kids on board.
Are we suggesting everyone take on a massive canoe camp trip at the drop of a paddle? Nope. The Expeditioners choose those kinds of trips as they’re happiest in the bush and know what to do in most scenarios to keep everyone happy.
BUT, if you’re keen to get your family out for some canoe camping, and want to do it in a way that helps the kids feel confident because you know what to do, and how to keep everyone safe and satisfied, here’s a gentle way you can take steps towards your own family camping trips by canoe; starting with your own confidence, and building from there!
Take it step by step:
- If you’re new to the sport or are in need of a refresher: learn how to canoe. Take lessons from an experienced guide and build your strength and confidence in paddling, steering and navigating the boat through different conditions. Bringing your partner along to make sure you’re both comfortable in the boat is important.
- Practice an overnight camping expedition as adults only, to start. Take a friend or two (always at least one - buddy system!)
- Then, bring the canoe to a campground with a lake. Practice launching the canoe with the kids there. Drop it in, go for a couple hours in fair weather.
- Then do that all again - but in the rain.
- Take slightly longer trips over time, working your way up to them getting comfortable in the boat with you in any weather and for different lengths of time.
- Then, do it overnight for one night - then scale up from there
Remember: you have to be comfortable before you bring the kids into it - both with camping and with canoeing.
And don’t forget: having happy kids in the backcountry—whether by way of waterways, helicopters, hiking or otherwise—doesn’t happen overnight. But, if The Expeditioners know one thing, it’s this: that taking kids into the wilderness is an incredible experience to get to share with them, and to have as a family. It’s all about the parents showing up with confidence, and taking the time to nurture your kids towards nature. Oh - and being:
1. prepared for lots of trial and error, and
2. flexible enough to throw the plan out the window, when the fussiness calls for it.
If you’re already thinking ahead to a packing plan for your family adventure, The Expeditioners have you covered. From how to layer your kids’ clothing to planning for diapers, food (snacks included!) to how to be prepared if/when things do sideways, check out the Canoe Camping With Kids Packing Guide - and prep for your first (or 50th) outdoor adventure with confidence.