Teton Canoe Trip

10:44 p.m. on May 22, 2013 (EDT)
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My husband and I are heading out west to the Tetons over the July 4th holiday this year.  We are experienced backpackers, but have never attempted a trip via canoe before.  Our plan is to rent a canoe and begin at String Lake where we will portage to Leigh Lake and camp, then canoe to the shore closest to Bear Paw lake and hike in to our site at Bear Paw for night 2.  

I was hoping to get some tips or suggestions for packing gear in a canoe.  I am also concerned that with two packs and two large people - husband is 6' 9" and 270, I'm 6' and 190 plus two packs weighing a total of 80 pounds that we would need two canoes.  Can a single canoe carry this load?  Should we begin dieting or get two canoes?

In a quandry, thanks!  Also any tips for this area of Grand Teton would be wonderful.

10:17 a.m. on May 23, 2013 (EDT)
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I am planning a number of canoe touring trips this summer and am actually looking at doing your exact trip when I make it to the tetons in August. If they are renting out large capacity canoes you could indeed put all of yall in there. If they are smaller day trip canoes you might overload one and have a serious issue with handling in the event of poor conditions. If you are considering going two canoes and you and your husband have paddled canoes solo I would say to go that route. The reason? Odds are you won't have float bags or a bilge in the event you swamp the single canoe with you 600pds of person and gear. If you are out in the middle of the lake and this happens your forced to have to swim to shore to right the canoe. If you go with two canoes you can preform the "Canoe to Canoe" rescue. An essential skill for canoe touring and especially lake touring. String lake and leigha arent that big of lakes though. I think Leigh is only about 3 1/2 wide byt about 2 miles tall with an island in the middle. Now Jackson Lake.....

The portages dont seem that bad so I say : poor conditions = 2 canoes, day trip canoes = 2 canoes, good conditions good boats and decent experience = 1 canoe.

Regardless though. Watch these videos and consider the possibility of capsizing and what you would do in the event. Have a plan and be ready so that way if it happens there is no hesitation on what to do.

Canoe Over Canoe Rescue:

Solo Canoe "Shake Out"

and the "capistrano flip"


4:59 p.m. on May 23, 2013 (EDT)
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Awesome!  Thank you, the videos in particular are helpful!

6:58 p.m. on May 23, 2013 (EDT)
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Hi Can bear, Welcome to the world of canoe tripping! I'm an ACA Level 3 paddling instructor and yearly do expeditions in Northern Canada. I took my first canoe trip in 1971. While I also back pack, I like the ability of the canoe to take me deep into the bush for extended periods. I also write about canoeing and paddling in general. Look for some of my how-to articles on this site.

Mumblefords is correct in that two canoes are safer than one. However, you should be aware that in the possibility that should you or your husband capsize in one of the cold lakes in choppy conditions, it is unlikely that you could perform a canoe over canoe rescue with any alacrity. With his weight, unless you are very experienced, he would not be able to get back in the boat without both of you in the water and both canoes ending up swamped.

If you are not experienced canoeists and have not paddled solo before, a windy lake in solo canoe is no place to learn. Period! 

On big lakes, especially mountain lakes, winds can come up quickly and whip up waves that can easily swamp a canoe. The rule is, stay close to shore. Many canoeing deaths each year occur from capsizes and hypothermia. Always dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature. Always wear your life jacket. And avoid open water crossings if at all possible. If necessary, cross quickly at a narrows.

Over time, there have been different schools of thought as to whether to tie in your gear or let it float free. On rivers, the rule is to tie in. On lakes, the majority now are advocating tying in the gear. You will not be able to perform a canoe over canoe rescue, but you won't lose your gear, which could prove fatal. Further, your gear will provide floatation and you can more easily right the canoe and paddle it swamped, to shore.

Regarding your weight capacity. If I understand you correctly, you will have app. 540 pounds in the canoe. This is not at all excessive for a tandem tripping canoe. I regularly put 600 and even 700 pounds in a 17 foot Prospector and still have capacity. The type of boats that are available to rent will vary. You will most likely encounter OT Discovery 179s and 169s. Both will have the capacity you need but will be quite heavy.  I have heard that there are a lot of aluminum canoes rented in the area. Avoid them. They are noisy, hot on a hot day and cold on a cold one. Find out what is available and I will be happy to point you in the right direction.

As far as loading, all gear should be in some sort of waterproof system. Duluth packs with liners, or dry bags with pack straps are the norm for soft gear. Do not use an external frame pack. Internal frame packs are OK, but still do not pack well in a canoe. For your first time, an internal frame pack with a waterproof liner will be adequate.

Food usually goes in something called a "blue barrel" though I've also seen them in green. They are waterproof, though not bear proof. I triple bag my food and do not hang, but put the barrels in the bush, off any game trail. The barrels come in 30 or 60 liter sizes and many outfitters rent them. 5 gallon buckets with spin on lids also work for food, but are difficult to portage. For a short trip such as yours, a bear canister will work fine. For longer trips go with with barrels or buckets.

Feel free to ask other questions.

9:48 p.m. on May 23, 2013 (EDT)
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Also extremely helpful info.  We will have our packs, but also have two large dry bags for items that absolutely MUST stay dry.  I was thinking we might use heavy duty construction trash bags and just pop our packs in those as they will be waterproof unless we capsize.  I anticipate we will be staying very close to shore in lights of concerns over potentially capsizing. It's not a long paddle from what I can ascertain, to our first night's spot at Leigh Lake.  If we are uncomfortable with conditions at that point, we will forgo the next day via canoe to the shore leading to Bear Paw and go on foot.  Thanks for the tips on weight - that was my primary concern. We have logged plenty of hours in the water in rafts (I guided class 3 and 4 during a summer in college) sit on top kayaks, etc, but canoe is a different story and I'm hopeful conditions will allow us to enjoy the trip, and not be fighting wind or chop on the water.  When we left Lake Sherberne in Glacier last year there were 4 or 5 foot waves with white caps and it was blowing about 50 to 60 mph gusts.  That would surely do us in if we encounter it in the Tetons.  In July, I'm hoping water temps will be warm enough where hypothermia won't be as much of a concern, but as I've learned in the backcountry, you never really know how things are going to go down until you get out there.

10:58 a.m. on May 24, 2013 (EDT)
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1,380 forum posts

Can bear, in a situation in which the water temperature is below 60 degrees F, hypothermia is a concern. Dry drowning is also a potential issue. As well, if the combined water/air temperature is 120 degrees F or below, it is advised to wear either a wet suit or a dry suit according the ACA guidelines. This is not practical or necessary in your tripping situation, but is something to keep in mind. Your planned trip is not very long. However, you have little experience and dangerous conditions can happen quickly. In the shallow areas of these lakes, the water will be warm, so that may not be an issue. Do not wear cotton.

As far as keeping your packs dry, you had mentioned using contractor bags on the outside, unless you capsize. You should have a waterproof system including when you capsize. If you do not have dry bags that you can insert as liners into your packs, and can't borrow a couple, contact Duluth Tent and Awning aka Duluth Pack. They have heavy duty poly liners for their packs and they would work for yours. They are quite inexpensive ($2.50 or so) and they work quite well. Garbage or contractor bags will work, but again, put them inside your packs, not outside. The reason is that your pack will be the abrasion layer. You want to insure that your water proof system doesn't leak in the event of a capsize. There are lots of things to snag on and even the heaviest contractor bag can spring a leak.

Finally, look for the article on Trailspace regarding canoe strokes. Learn the J, the pry and the draw and how to load your boat. Even though yours is a short trip, proper technique will make it more enjoyable and safe.

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