The Ultimate Guide on what to pack for your UK Canal Boat Holiday

Canal boat holidays are a fun way to explore the British countryside and enjoy the peace and quiet of the canals. However, it's important to pack the right things for your narrowboat trip so that you're comfortable and prepared for anything. That's why we've put together this handy guide of what to pack for your canal boat holiday, so that you can enjoy your getaway without worrying too much about what you're going to need.

We'll cover:

  • Clothes and Footwear: Tips for what to wear on a canal boat holiday
  • Weather Appropriate Gear: Make sure you pack these items to make the most of your trip, come rain or shine
  • Personal Items: Those things you won't want to live without
  • Food and Drinks: Nobody likes a hungry crew!
  • Entertainment: Ideas for fun things you can bring to enjoy your time on the canal
  • Tips on how to pack for your canal boat holiday
  • Canal boat holiday checklist
Luxury Holiday barge in a canal lock at Marsworth

Clothes & footwear

You'll need to pack clothes that are comfortable and that you can move around in easily. The weather can be unpredictable on the UK canals, so we recommend packing plenty of layers so that you can easily adjust to the temperature as needed.

When it comes to footwear, you'll need to pack comfortable outdoor shoes that you can wear on the boat and on the towpath. You'll also want to pack some footwear for wearing inside the boat - a pair of slippers or a warm pair of socks will do the trick.

hired narrowboat moored in front of brick bridge on the Grand Union canal in summer

Weather appropriate gear

If the sun is shining during your canal boat holiday, the back of a boat can be a bit of a suntrap, so you'll want to ensure you have some essentials on board to avoid the risk of sunburn. Make sure you have plenty of sun-cream, as well as a cap or a sun hat. Sunglasses will also come in handy if you are driving the boat, as you never know when you'll be facing the sun.

Just in case it rains (because we all know how the UK weather can be!), you'll also want to pack some waterproofs and an umbrella.

If it's likely to be cold during your canal boat holiday, make sure all the crew members have gloves. Whether you're the skipper holding the tiller or a crew mate managing the ropes and locks, you'll be using your hands a lot, so make sure you can keep them warm and comfy with a good pair of gloves.

Finally, whatever the weather, it's always worth having a torch with you on a canal boat holiday. If you head out for an evening and return to your hire boat after dark, you'll be thankful to have a little torch light along the towpath and as you step on to the boat.

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Personal items

As with any holiday, you'll need to pack all of your toiletries, including shampoo, soap, toothpaste, and toothbrush. Hand cream may also come in handy after a long day at the tiller and locks. Wherever possible, it's best to use marine friendly products on a canal boat holiday, as the sink and shower water will run out into the canal - the local wildlife will be very grateful.

You'll also need to pack any glasses/contact lenses, medication and other health items. You may also want to consider bringing along a first aid kit (though one may already be provided on board your hire boat), just in case of any accidents.

Don't forget to pack any electricals you might need too, such as your phone and charger.

If you're bringing your dog along on your canal boat holiday, you'll need to provide your own pet equipment such as their food, bed, bowls, leads and plenty of poo bags.

Also, depending on what provided with your hire boat, you may need to take your own bedding and/or towels.

Food & drinks

We recommend bringing a good supply of food and drinks for your canal boat holiday, as there may be limited shopping options available on the canals. Non-perishable items such as tins and dried food are always a great option, and stock up on enough fresh items to last you a few days. Most narrowboat rentals have a fridge on board, but double check if there is a freezer before taking any frozen foods.

You'll need to pack plenty of drinks, as the weather can be hot and dry when you are out on the UK canals.

It's also worth checking what else is provided on your hire boat to see if there are any other essentials you may need, such as washing up liquid, dishcloths, tea towels, tea/coffee, cooking oil, salt/pepper, cling film, tin foil and toilet rolls.

Green and cream country style kitchen in hired narrowboat


First and foremost, pack a camera - with stunning countryside views and wildlife around every corner, you'll want to capture all of the amazing memories from your canal boat holiday. Binoculars are also highly recommended!

There'll be times on your canal boat trip when you take a break from the boating itself. But, there's still lots to enjoy on the canal even when your moored. Why not bring some fishing rods or a book and perch yourself on the bow of the boat for the evening? Or for the more adventurous, bring along your paddleboard or bicycle.

If you're bringing along laptops or tablets, you may want to download some entertainment on to your device in advance, as signal can be unreliable on the UK canals. Board games and DVDs are also a good thing to have onboard - perfect for when you fancy a quiet night in.

Back of a man holding a fishing rod by water on his canal boat holiday

Tips for packing for your canal boat holiday

Storage space can be limited on some hire boats, so soft bags such as holdalls and rucksacks can be easier to store away during your trip. If you do use suitcases, consider unpacking your items onto the boat when you arrive and then storing the empty suitcases in the car.

For packing items such as food and personal items, use shopping bags or rucksacks. Once your stuff is all unpacked, the bags will come in handy during your canal boat holiday for those trips to the shop.

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Canal Boat Holiday Packing Checklist

  • Clothes
  • Outdoor Shoes
  • Indoor shoes/slippers/warm socks
  • Suncream, hat and sunglasses
  • Waterproofs and umbrella
  • Gloves
  • Torch
  • Marine friendly toiletries
  • Glasses/contact lenses
  • Medication
  • First Aid Kit (unless provided)
  • Electricals and chargers
  • Pet equipment
  • Bedding (unless provided)
  • Towels (unless provided)
  • Toilet Rolls (unless provided)
  • Food
  • Drinks
  • Other kitchen essentials (unless provided)
  • Camera/binoculars
  • Books/board games/DVDs (unless provided)
  • Sports equipment
  • Shopping bags/rucksack

Download the checklist!

Want to know more about narrow boating? Click below to check out our beginner's guide.

    Read More About Narrowboating

    Blog Date: 26 June 2023

    Author: Corinne Newman, Co-Owner of Chiltern Canal Boat Holidays (author biography)

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    Canal with small narrowboat surrounded by tall trees on the Tring summit
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