Plenty of people bring their pet dogs on canoeing and camping trips. It’s nice to have a fluffy adventure buddy along for the ride. The only thing is, I don’t have a dog. I have a cat.
This spring, my partner and I adopted an adorable four-month old tabby cat named Tofu. From the start it was clear that this particular little kitten was very adventurous, inquisitive, playful and loving and that he really enjoyed being outside. After a few months of harness and leash training, a couple hours’ introduction to the canoe on dry land and many days of neighbourhood strolls and climbing trees at the local park, it felt like the right time to introduce Tofu to paddling and portaging. Luckily, the Temagami region of Northeastern Ontario has thousands of lakes and waterways to explore.
We weren’t sure how Tofu would take to the canoe after a slight mishap at the local beach when he ran away in abject terror of the waves, so we planned an easy trip of a couple kilometres of flatwater paddling mixed in with two short portages. Most people enjoy the paddling aspect of a canoe trip best, but Tofu loves a portage.
Canoeing with cats
In the canoe, we keep him in a soft-sided mesh pet carrier where he chills right out and has a snooze. On the portage, we walk him on the leash. It takes about three times longer than our normal pace to portage with a cat in tow. Every tree needs to be investigated for its climbing potential, chirping chipmunks must be quietly stalked, acorns and pinecones need swatting and mucky puddles have to be navigated in a very circuitous route.
He can’t exactly be left behind at one end of the trail, either—he’d make a choice snack for a bear or coyote or bald eagle—so he has to either walk the portage every time with us or one of us needs to stay with him at one end while the other goes back for the second load.
Camping with cats
The actual “camping” part of the canoe-camping with the cat is the part we all like best. We’ve never been base-campers—we really prefer to travel each day—but with Tofu, there’s so much to see through his eyes that we don’t get bored. We bring a long, sturdy stake so we can attach his long lead to the ground and he can have a bit of an explore while we put up the tent, make food, gather firewood and all the rest of the usual camp chores. Tofu amuses himself by finding nice rocks for sunbathing, chasing bugs, rolling acorns (always acorns!), climbing trees, digging holes in dirt or sand and chewing twigs.
He’s really good in the tent, too. At nighttime, he crawls either into his carrier or into one of our sleeping bags and snuggles in, purring madly. We taught him to “be gentle!” with his murder-paw-claws so he doesn’t puncture our air mattresses. On our last trip, we brought our trail woodstove for our winter tent and he learned pretty quickly that getting too close would fry his whiskers. I’m in awe of his resilience and adaptability. He’s happy to hang out with us and knows his home is where we are, even if that’s in a forest or on an island in the middle of a lake.
Canoeing certainly might not be for every cat, but Tofu loves it. If you’ve got a budding adventure kitty, perhaps going on a little canoe trip will be as fun for you as it is for us.
5 best Tips for camping with cats
1. Pick the right adventure buddy. Lots of cats hate water. Lots of cats hate being outside. Lots of cats hate wearing a harness and being told what to do. It’s not going to be fun for anyone if your cat is constantly screaming and trying to run away or throw itself overboard.
2. Pick an easy first adventure. Break up the paddling and portaging as much as possible to keep your furball entertained. Just as small children can’t handle long, boring hours in a canoe, cats can’t be expected to, either. Have several backup campsites in mind if you need to stop early, or don’t stray too far from the put-in in case you need to turn around and head home.
3. Bring a favourite toy, food, a litter pan and some home comforts. We keep a toy or two in Tofu’s mesh carry bag, along with a cozy blanket. For litter, we bring a disposable aluminum lasagna pan and 100% biodegradable litter which can be packed out or buried—much like human poop! He’ll drink water out of a Nalgene bottle on the trail and at camp we set up a food and water dish just like at home.
4. Keep someone on Cat Watch. It’s far easier to have two people to look over the cat than trying to do everything on your own. A long leash staked to the ground is helpful when two sets of hands are needed—like when setting up the tent—and to ensure Kitty won’t climb so high up a tree you’d need to call the fire department.
5. Trip at your cat’s pace. This means giving yourself extra time to load and unload the canoe, walk the portage and set up camp. All those new smells and sights and experiences can be a bit overwhelming, so allow your cat to explore a bit and get used to the whole idea of travelling on the water and sleeping in a tent. Check out resources like adventurecats.org for training tips and get inspired to get your kitty out in the wild by searching the #adventurecats hashtag on Instagram. The community is friendly and people are happy to answer questions. People love talking about their pets (and besides, adventure cats rule and dogs drool).
For more information on planning a paddling trip to Temagami in Northeastern Ontario (with or without your cat) check out my article here.