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Canoe Tripping 101. Start Close to Home!

Updated: Mar 22

What is S24O? Short canoe trips are BETTER than NONE! Don’t be intimidated by “epic” adventures.

Canoe tripping is experiencing a boom. More and more people are embracing this relaxed and intimate method of exploring lakes and rivers. The recent advances in ultralightweight camping equipment have extended the range for explorers. What’s not to love? Unmatched scenery, solitude, and often minimal fishing pressure!

Yet, many new canoe owners have been overwhelmed with logistics and details. There is information overload thanks to articles, videos, and numerous Facebook group posts. Unfortunately, many novice campers are intimidated by trip reports from “epic” tours the length of the Yukon River, 20 days in the Quetico wilderness, or circumnavigation of Lake Superior!

The thoughts of a massive trip, especially into remote wilderness, is paralyzing to many adventurers. Novice canoe trippers may simply put their dreams on hold and limit themselves to day paddles. Even worse, the “overwhelm” of trip planning may cause new paddlers to plan group outings – or NONE at all.

But there is a simple solution: embrace short, overnight outings that require less preparation, less conditioning and have minimal consequences for any mistakes you make. These short adventures have been dubbed S24O, an abbreviation for Sub 24-hour Overnights.

Grant Peterson of Rivendell Cycle Works is credited for naming this type of mini adventure. As a small business owner, he looks forward to squeezing in dozens of S24O’s. He can’t get away for weeks at a time, but he can leave after lunch and return the following morning, having enjoyed the change of scenery and the chance to unplug from the daily routine. S24O’s are now popular for many outdoor pursuits including bikepacking, backpacking, and canoe camping.

Grant also admits - even though he is an experienced bike tourist - to having forgotten everything from adequate food to matches, his sleeping pad and tent poles on a few Sub 24-hour Overnights. But the goal is experience, not perfection or a personal-best in speed or distance or duration. You will learn from your mistakes, and few S24O’s will put the camper in life-threatening situations.

For the novice canoe tripper, an S24O provides the perfect way to fine-tune your packing list, weight distribution, and campsite skills. You get to plan a few meals and snacks for the outing. You practice setting up your shelter and sleep system. You gain invaluable experience in paddling and portaging. You might also learn how to handle minor mishaps or sudden weather changes without the urgency of being hundreds of miles from home.

I am retired, and though I have YEARS of camping and canoe tripping experience, I also enjoy S24O’s. I still have a full calendar that makes week-long trips difficult to schedule. I enjoy the option to drop everything and take advantage of forecasted great weather for an overnight trip. I am blessed to live close to rivers and reservoirs with miles of public shoreline and numerous, small carry-in lakes.

As an avid fisherman, I can promise you that the best bites are after the rest of the anglers go home and the waves and noise disappear, then before the next shift arrives in the morning. I have also found that nothing improves your fitness like back-to-back days of paddling. If you have minor position or technique issues, they will be highlighted in two days of paddling!

There is no mileage qualification for an S24O. Once you leave the put-in, you can often experience amazing solitude within a mile or two. And solitude isn’t a necessity if you are a novice. Canoeing from a “base camp” in a local campground with water access is a great place to start. The point is that you can begin where you are comfortable – but you lose the excuse not to start!

Successive Sub 24-hour Overnights are the perfect way to test and refine your camping kit and canoe setup. It would be a mistake to start a week-long expedition without the necessary skills and confidence. It’s much better to practice on an overnight trip to learn what works and what needs to be changed. Don’t like your cook kit or stove? Dissatisfied with your bug dope or sleeping pad? Change it on your next S24O two weeks later. Always wanted to try a camping hammock? Here’s your low-risk opportunity.

More importantly, you will learn what you DON’T need! The sure way to ruin your enjoyment of canoe tripping is to paddle (and portage) an overloaded, unbalanced boat. Make lists and refine your clothing, cooking, sleeping, and shelter requirements. Better to encounter a problem on an S24O than two days into a week-long wilderness ordeal.

Two final points that favor S24O’s for canoe tripping. First, canoe camping is experiencing a resurgence among paddlers who have tried kayaks and have now returned to their “first love”. Kayaks are trendy, but solo canoes and many tandem canoes actually weigh less and have greater weight capacities.

My choice for solo adventures is a small 14-foot canoe that some people would never consider for serious tripping. But the S24O is perfect for fine-tuning your minimalist mindset. My lightweight canoe is ideal for paddling my area lakes and rivers, including Class 1 whitewater. At only 40-pounds, it weighs less than my sit-on top fishing kayak but paddles easier and faster. It is far more “seaworthy” and stable than any kayak when loaded with camping gear. Less weight is beneficial both for cartopping and portaging. Kayaks are simply not designed for portaging or long carries from the put in, so a small canoe opens up literally millions of backcountry acres and hundreds of miles of paddling to me.

Second, S24O’s are not limited to solo adventures and can combine several solo and/or tandem canoes. Sub 24-hour Overnights are ideal when you have a range of camping and paddling skills. I can easily keep pace in my solo pack canoe with a pair of paddlers in their tandem canoe. The narrow solo canoe is fast and stable when powered by a kayak paddle across windswept lakes with a camping load.

Sub 24-hour Overnights may be the perfect option to introduce your spouse or children or friends to paddling and camping. No one should be over-extended. Everyone has the opportunity to learn something from a paddling partner, whether a bushcraft skill, a new recipe, or the names of local plants and wildlife.

You don’t need to travel for days to rack up new sights, sounds, sunrises, and sunsets. The First Rule for successfully introducing the outdoors to a novice is to end the outing while it is still fun! Keep them coming back for more.

Whether you are new to canoe tripping, or an experienced voyageur, consider all the advantages of adding a few Sub 24-hour Overnights to your calendar. Invite a friend or drop everything and enjoy a spontaneous solo getaway. More day’s paddling and more night’s camping are always a good thing! Every S24O will add to your memories. Every hour in The Great Out There will add LIFE to your days.

Disclosure: Some of the links on this website are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, The Great Out There will earn an affiliate commission if you click on the link and finalize a purchase.

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