The Happy Camper: Best “How-To” Canoe Tripping Books

Couple adventurous friends are canoeing in a lake surrounded by the Canadian Mountains. Colorful Sunrise Sky Art Render. Taken in Vermilion Lakes, Banff, Alberta, Canada.

The ice is getting soft, the birds are migrating back, and soon canoeists will be oiling up their paddles and heading out for their first trip. To help you get prepared, here are some top “how-to” canoe books.

Path of the Paddle by Bill Mason

This is the book that got me started. It’s a must have for every canoeist’s library. Path of the Paddle is far more than an instructional text. Sure, it covers—in great detail—the basic canoe strokes. However, Mason shares the true artistry of canoe tripping. I highly recommend this book, as well as his book Song of the Paddle which covers wilderness canoe tripping skills and equipment. And while you’re at it, search YouTube for his National Film Board videos of the same title and content.

Canoeing Wild River by Cliff Jacobson

American writer and canoeist Cliff Jacobson has written plenty of “how-to” book on canoeing and canoe tripping but this is by far his best of all. It’s now in fifth edition, celebrating its 30th anniversary. Jacobson draws on his years of experience and shares some sound advice and fresh ideas on canoe tripping wilderness river across North America. It also includes a chapter full of hard-won advice from more than twenty-five of Jacobson’s fellow canoeing experts—including me.

Canoeing by Ray Goodwin

Ray Goodwin is the Bill Mason of the UK. He is the best-known canoe coach and guide across “the pond.” His book is practical and covers all the performance skills he’s gained over his decades of paddling. Goodwin also has his own style; and believe me, I’ve paddled with Ray, and he’s got style. His technical accuracy is precise, and his character a bit gritty. His book is amazing.

Pole, Paddle and Portage by Bill Riviere

This is an old book (1969), and some material is obviously dated, but most of the content hasn’t diminished through time. Riviere goes over the various types of canoes, how to pack it, trim it, board it, launch it and portage it. He also covers paddling techniques, and more importantly, poling techniques—a lost skill these days.

The Complete Wilderness Paddler by James West Davidson and John Rugge

Another classic. This is one of the most unique “how-to” canoe books. It not only covers all the tips and tricks of wilderness canoe tripping, but it does so by way of a story on an actual adventure. The authors paddle the wild Moise River in Eastern Canada. It may not have all the fancy photos like the others, showing paddling techniques and gear, but it’s an excellent read and will definitely have you wanting you to travel the same route they did, and learn your skills along the way.

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