Go Outside… and get a Canoe!

Living the beautiful state of California, we have so much to thank Mother Nature for. We have the beautiful coastline, the amazing national forests throughout and many natural and man-made bodies of water to explore.

Being in Northern California, we have a ton of lakes (Lake Tahoe most famously) and a ton of man-made bodies of water that dress up the (already gorgeous) scenery. On most of my hikes, excursions with our dog and most recently newly explored paths on our Mountain Bikes I work my way along the perimeters of these not yet explored bodies of water. So I decided that I want to take my adventuring in a new and exciting direction – Via a Kayak or Canoe!

Now let me tell you, it was tough to decide which recreational floatation device suited me best (Canoe? Kayak? Stand Up Paddle Board?) – but the short story is – I went with the option that was best fit for two adults and a water-loving-dog which had the lowest flip-over rate and positive reviews! Which led to the search for the perfect canoe! This Canoe Search took a few weeks and plenty of visits to our local sporting goods stores (I felt like I was cheating on Home Depot and Lowes – but this change of focus was exciting and taught me a lot about boating)!

The Old Town Saranac 146 is what I ultimately decided on! It was one of the few Canoes carried by multiple sporting goods stores (Dicks Sporting Goods and Bass Pro Shops in the Bay Area). And this particular model had rave reviews on Dicks website and Amazon!

But when purchasing a 76 pound ad 14 1/2 foot long boat – I had to do a great deal of research before I actually made the purchase! The first question being: How will I get this home and transport it to and from the water?!?!?

Thankfully, I got a masters degree in Canoe Mounting and Travel from YouTube University (aka YoutTube.com)! I watched a ton of videos and made notes of the best things TO and NOT TO do when carrying a canoe on the top of your mid-size SUV or minivan – I was shocked that people carry canoes on small compact cars – but that fact alone made me more comfortable knowing my vehicle of choice is larger and more capable. And I researched my car manufacturers website to learn about the weight the vehicle is capable of carrying – just because YouTube tells you to try something – doesn’t mean your vehicle is made for it!

So if this interests you at all, please continue reading and I’ll do my best to share my recently acquired knowledge with you! If not – you made it this far and I’m sure you have better things to be doing on Instagram….

Thanks for sticking it out… So here are the hurdles I had to tackle in Canoeing 101 – before I’ve even hit the water:

  1. Selecting the right paddle! Aluminum? Plastic? Wood? Straight? Bent? Curved? – Lost? So was I.. But here is what I found out – based on my desire to set my sails toward shallow water and rocky rivers and my beginners level of experience –  I needed a plastic paddle that I could beat up along rocky rivers! And I’m glad I did the research in advance because there are a TON of paddles to choose from, which is extremely intimidating if you aren’t sure what you are looking for!


I took this picture minutes after I accidentally knocked over 20 paddles and two Dicks Sporting Goods employees had to rescue me from death by paddle (sounds way worst than it was).

I chose two 54 inch Aluminum handle paddles with a T-grip! Selecting a paddle could be its very own post – but I’m no expert so I’ll direct you to the best advice I found from REI!

REI – How to select the right Canoe Paddle for You!

And I laughed at the various measurement methods I read about online and found on YouTube – the measuring your torso method was confusing as different sources defined the start of your torso at different spots. So I went with the method of choosing a paddle that when in a seating position in the canoe – the base of blade should meet your nose with the handle flat against the canoe floor. Sounds silly – looks sillier – but when I did this the length of the paddle ft comfortable in my arms reach and the paddle touched the ideal death along the side of the canoe which should equate to awesome paddling – I hoped!

2) Life Jackets!

Now not all water sources have the requirement to wear a life jacket – but most of them require that each person has on with them on the watercraft. And if you like to play it safe like me, I am going to wear the crap out of this thing till I feel comfortable in the water. Since I plan on bringing my dog along, me wearing the life vest will allow me to make sure I can keep him safe if we topple over without me having to worry about staying afloat (assuming the life jacket does its job).

So it was back to the stores – Dicks has the best options for paddles and Bass Pro shops has the better selection of Life Vests/Jackets so I was back to Bass! And since I was there, I had to buy some of the old fashioned candy, a trucker hat AND THEN what I actually came for.

And like every specialty sport/activity there were way to many vests/jackets to choose from so I turned to my good old friend Google to help me decide on one! I went with a very mesh’y (technical term for a sh*t load of mesh) life vest that was a “Grade 3” for adults weighing over 90lbs – which coincidently, they ALL were the same grade and same weight grade. I chose the “Fishermans” model which had the most pockets and provided great range of movement in the arm/shoulder area as I would be paddling a lot! There were kayak and canoe specific vests – but they were three times the price of the other vests and didn’t have any pockets (where would I hold my phone? candy? GoPro?!?!).

And since I wasn’t able to locate a Doggy Life Vest in person at any of the stores, I went with two seat cushions that would be comfortable for my dog to lay on while in the canoe and keep his paws cool, but could also serve as floatation aids in the event we were outside of the canoe…

And I went with the Bass Pro Shop brand vest because the price point was awesome – and honestly – because my canoe was green and so was this vest.

3) Safety on the Water!

Now the biggest “Oh Crap” scenarios played out online – was what to do when your canoe tips over – and what to do if you lose your paddle…

For the first scenario – I bought a canoe which was bigger than we needed so that tipping over was highly unlikely… And to troubleshoot the second problem I bought a paddle leash made by Propel. This bungee cord slides loosely along the bar of the paddle but and connects to either the boat or your life vest with a strong plastic clip! My favorite thing about this is that that there is a buckle on the cord so I can unclip from the paddle if I wanted to get rid of the paddle mid trip or I needed to pack away the paddles to stow the canoe – these Canoe professionals really thought of everything!

4) Transporting the Canoe!

There were a ton of $$ and $$$ kits for transporting canoes and kayaks but they all consisted of two basic pieces – tie downs and foam. So thanks again to Youtube, I learned how you could take two Foam Noodles (yes, those kids toys) and tie downs to secure a small boat to the top of your vehicle!

I went ahead and purchased tie downs that were long enough to go from under or around my vehicle and one longer tie down that would tie under the front of the car and secure the front of the canoe (the longest distance to tie down). I was smart (for once) and made sure the shorter tie downs were all the same color and my front tie down was a different color so I could easily decipher which one needed to go on the front of the vehicle. I also bought two foam noodles for either side of the canoe. And I bought reflective duct tape to mark the front and back of the canoe so other vehicles on the road could be aware that “Holy sh*t – the guy in front of me has a canoe on his roof!” And since I knew I’d be under the front and back of my car – I packed a blanket made for such tasks! My coworker, Kevin gave me this rugged blanket with a waterproof and durable backing with a soft fleece stop which will make getting under the car much more comfortable!

I then took a razor blade and created a long opening through one side of the noodles and used my hand to stretch out the opening so they would fit snuggly on the sides of the canoe! This worked amazingly and the $5 investment in noodles covered way more surface area than the foam pieces that came in the $$ and $$$ kits.

5) Where do I and where can I Canoe?!?!

Shockingly to find out – a lot of the local man-made lakes and open bodies of water don’t allow watercrafts due to the current drought or risk of contamination. But lucky for me, there are enough water-loving boat people online that have created websites and written feedback to help me find places I CAN set sail (Canoes don’t actually have sails – but “Set Sail” sounds so much more fun than “paddle paddle paddle”).

My local counties Park and Recreation website was the JACKPOT for finding out the most information about where and how I can get on the water – and what was allowed on the water!

Santa Clara County Park & Recreation

Since there was a ton of information and I was able to pinpoint where I wanted to start my canoeing adventuring – I decided to drive straight to the Lexington Reservoir in Los Gatos, CA and speak to the park official in person to answer all of my questions!

I learned that each watercraft needed to get an inspection by the park staff before the craft would enter the water, that each person(s) needed their own life jacket/vest, that there was a fee for using the launch area (dock) and that there was an additional fee for parking at the reservoir. I asked a ton of other questions about the natural wildlife in the area, if the lake reminded him of Crystal Lake, if he ever knew the Vorhees family, and other questions he wasn’t amused with and the best part of his day was when I left – BUT I felt prepared and ready to respectfully use the park and abide by its rules and regulations! And even though this trip was a little bit out of my way – I am 100% happy that I got the answers I needed before I went an packed up my canoe and supplies and showed up uneducated.

And all of that being said, you should be ready to canoe onward to exciting new adventures!

I already took my canoe on its maiden voyage and can already tell it was the first of many adventures to come!

I hope this helps anyone out there needing advice or the push to venture into canoe ownership!

This is also an open invitation to my California friends, if you haven’t been out on the water recently – come visit and we’ll take the boat out! 🙂

Here’s a quick glimpse into our adventure on the Lexington Reservoir on Vimeo:

Adventuring: Lexington Reservoir

If you have any advice on canoe storage, transportation or operation please share!

And if anything – canoe has opened the world to new shameless Instagram posts like the one below:


And we are always eager to hear about new canoeing destinations so please let me know if you have any great canoeing recommendations!

Thanks for reading! 🙂