River paddling and canoe camping

Since I first bought an old used canoe last fall I instantly got hooked on canoe camping. I wanted to get a better, lighter canoe, more suitable for solo use as well as for tandem use. So I’ve been saving up for a new canoe, and had several different ones in mind. Eventually I ended up with a Mad River Explorer 14TT. It’s not the lightest, but it had a good mix of weight, price, durability and low maintenance.

I received it a couple of weeks ago, and instantly wanted to try it out. Despite being winter in Sweden, the temps had been pending around freezing, and I was hoping to be able to do some lake paddling. But when I finally got out on the weekend the lakes where frozen over. I thought about canceling the trip, and go on a short hiking trip instead. But I saw that the flowing waters where still open, and decided to drive to Korrö, south of Växjö, and see if I could do some river paddling in Ronnebyån.

When I got to Korrö I unloaded the canoe from the car, and packed it with my backpack and a sack of firewood. There were quite a lot of people dressed for a party at Korrö. They might have looked at me a little strange. It’s not that common for people to go canoe camping in the middle of winter.

The water levels had risen a lot, and the river had flooded much of the surrounding areas. I put in the canoe in a flooded field, that looked like a small lake. A thin layer of ice covered the water closest to the beach.

I paddled the canoe reverse, sitting in the front seat. The pitch black water was still in the flooded field, but started to flow as soon as I reached where the river was originally. The river went under a road and then continued with fields and forests around it.

It was hard to see where the river was at times. Much of the area was flooded, and I accidentally paddled both through fields, meadows and forests. I had to turn around several times, where I had missed that the river had turned, and just kept paddling straight.

At times, brushes and fallen trees made the passage so narrow that I had to duck or drag the branches to go forward. At the end it felt like I had half the forest in my canoe, in form of broken branches.

I passed over a few fallen logs, and I was a bit worried that my canoe might tip over. But as I passed them, the logs sank down instead. Once in a while my presence scared off birds swimming in the river.

My goal for the day was a camp site about three km south of Korrö. I had been there before, when I hiked Utvandrarleden 2014. It wasn’t a long paddle, but since this was my first river paddling, and I’m still new to solo paddling, I wasn’t sure how well I would be able to paddle the river back upstream.

When I got to the campsite it had been flooded too. 2-3 dm of water covered almost the entire area. There’s a large roofed area covered with tables and benches, that was above water level, but there wasn’t enough room to set up a tent. The grounds around that area was also covered in a layer of ice, with air underneath, from when the water levels where even higher.

My heart sank a bit. I hadn’t found any other suitable camp ground earlier, and I didn’t want to paddle too far down stream before I knew that I was capable of paddling back home again, against the current. I took a break at the camp ground, made lunch and reviewed my options. Eventually I decided to turn back towards the car. I was mentally prepared to call it quits and go back home, but I would still look for somewhere where I might set up my tent during my way back.

Getting away from the camp ground took some effort. The river was pretty fast flowing here, and I had to paddle like crazy to get far enough upstream for it to calm down. After a while I found a good flow in my paddling, and was able to paddle upstream at a steady, albeit slow, pace.

I paddled through the forest and looked for places to camp several times. Every time the grounds where uneven and covered in a layer of ice from previous floods.

Eventually, when I was about 1km from Korrö, I found a narrow stretch of flat, somewhat dry ground. With the flooded fields around it, the place had become an island.

The grounds where still pretty soaked, but it was the best place I could find. I set up my tent and fixed my sleeping gear. I had brought the cheap AliEpress floor, and I’m glad I did. With the grounds being so wet, the floor could stop at least some of the condensation.

When my home away from home was all set up, I started to prepare the fire. I had brought firewood with me, and chopped a couple of pieces to use as a floor to place the rest of the firewood on. Lighting the fire was easy, as I cheated and used a Vaseline drenched piece of cotton. No bushcraft style elite fire starting here.

For this trip I had prepared a piece of meat, potatoes, carrots, red onions and butter that I copped in medium size pieces, wrapped in tin foil and put in the fire, once I had some glowing coals. I turned the package regularly and let it head for about half an hour. It tasted great, and I had a cold beer with it.

I like the ultralight principles of hiking, even though I’m far from a hardcore ultra lighter, and my base weight keeps pending. I like to keep my weight and bulk down and not bring unnecessary stuff even when canoe camping, but I do like he ability to bring more luxurious food and drinks without having to suffer from the weight penalty of having to carry it.

I laid by the fire for quite a long time before I went to bed. The sleeping bag was cozy, and I laid there, watching Netflix offline. I had downloaded a few different movies and series, but I lost interest in all of them after a few minutes. Eventually I watched “Under the arctic sun”, to feed my need for adventure.

I slept pretty good the entire night. But I do toss and turn a lot. Now that I’ve been able to get the three season quilt to work without drafts I’ve been thinking about switching out my winter sleeping bag for a similar quilt instead. But people seem to recommend mummy bags during winter, even in the UL community, so I might stay with the bag.

The next morning it took all my mental strength to be able to open up my sleeping bag and get out into the could wet world outside. With that much air humidity and wet ground, the inside of the tent was covered with condensation, despite that the top vents and the door had been partially open all night. I hadn’t expected anything else it those conditions though.

I made a small fire for making breakfast, made coffee, fried a couple of eggs and grilled a pita bread.

After breakfast I packed up camp. The sleeping bag was quite wet since it had touched the inside of the tent.

I packed up the canoe again and started to paddle the last stretch back to the car. I took a shortcut and paddled across a flooded field. I felt like a swamp man as I stood up in the canoe and used the paddle as a stake to pull myself forward in the shallow waters.

I got back to the car, packed up and left for home at around noon. It turned out to be a nice trip after all, and I like my new canoe. It’s large enough for me to be able to do canoe camping trips with friends or family members but still light and small enough to be able to handle it alone. It’s also relatively cheap. I’d like to have a beautiful cedar strip canoe from Esker Wood, or a lightweight kevlar canoe from Swift Canoe. But for now this is the prefect middle ground that suits my need.

I’ll keep doing canoe trips like these, and when the weather gets warmer I’ll bring my youngest daughter with me too.

See you on the trail, or in the waters!

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7 thoughts on “River paddling and canoe camping

  1. Wow! Lovely to see and read through this post!

    Also, great to see some winter canoe activities from your side and I absolutely agree with you that ultralight doesn’t always mean that we should not bring some “luxury” food items on trail.

    A quick question if you may allow:

    What sleeping bag you have used? And how did it perform?

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    1. Thanks for the comment. The bag is a Cumulus Panyam 600, and was my first down bag ever. I first planned to use it as my only bag, but it turned out to be way too warm for summer, even late summer high up in the mountains. It’s a really good bag, and I’m probably not gonna change it for a quilt, even though the thought have crossed my mind.

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      1. Thanks for the quick reply and you have confirmed my thoughts that would be the Panyam 600 (in one of your photos, I have seen a small part of it, but I wasn’t sure).

        I agree that is a great bag, cause I also use the same one. My only issue/concern is that the down on the hood are not the same now as it was at the beginning. It seems like to be a bit faulty.

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      2. Yeah I thought I remembered that you had the bag too. I like that it has a thicker Pertex than the Quilt 350, that leaks a bit more down (35g/m2 vs 27g/m2). I haven’t noticed any problems with my hood, but I could have missed it. Is it the loft that’s gone bad, or had the down leaked from the hood (out, or into other baffles in the bag)?

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      3. I hope Cumulus can shed some light on the question.
        I was thinking if it’s the condensations from breath and maybe dirt and grime from the head, if you’ve slept without a hat, that made the down in that part of the bag dirtier than the rest of the of the bag. The area around the hood of my bag always gets more wet than the other parts of the bag due to condensation from my breath.

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