Canoeing in Sweden: How to Paddle a Canoe

Sweden’s quiet lakes and waterways make for some wonderful opportunities for world-class canoeing. Nature Travels offers a range of 5 self-guided canoe tours with durations from 4 to 14 days. These flexible canoeing holidays are located in the county of Värmland in western Sweden. All take place on calm, slow-flowing rivers and lakes and feature wild camping all along the route. It is also possible to go fishing on all the tours – a dinner of freshly caught perch could provide the perfect end to a day’s paddling!


Whichever canoe tour you choose, taking some time to hone your paddling technique will improve your enjoyment of your canoeing holiday in Sweden and help you move through the water as efficiently as possible – you may be surprised how much a little attention to your technique can save on tired muscles!

Our self-guided canoe holidays use aluminium-bodied open Canadian canoes, 5.25m in length. If you are an odd-numbered group, one person will simply paddle solo. This can take a short time to get used to if you have not paddled before, but otherwise should present few problems. Bear in mind if choosing of the extended wilderness canoe tours which require land transports, such as Canoe on Svartälven or Canoe in Bergslagen, that the solo paddler will require additional assistance during portages.


Below we have given some basic advice on paddling technique to get you started:

How to Launch a Canoe

You may find it easiest to launch with as little weight in the canoe as possible, especially if the river has steep banks or difficult access. Try to put your canoe into the water parallel with the shore. Most steering is done from the back of the canoe, so the fittest and/or most experienced paddler should generally sit at the rear.


Before loading luggage into the canoe, ensure that you are floating freely and will not ground on any stones, etc. Hold onto both sides of the canoe to steady it as you get in – the canoes are very stable and there is no reason you should capsize during your tour, but the most common time to fall into the water is when entering or exiting your canoe!

Similarly, when transporting the canoe over land, you will need to leave as little weight as possible in the canoe. Transporting a canoe full with luggage may damage your equipment.


How to Paddle a Canoe:

In general, the persons in the front and back of the canoe should paddle on opposite sides. When you get tired, change sides. You should have most of the paddle blade in the water as you paddle and move the paddle in a straight line. Keep your paddling action close to the gunwale and try to paddle in the same rhythm as your partner, keeping the speed and force of your strokes roughly the same.

You can use the standard front stroke in reverse both as a braking stroke and to turn the canoe.

How to Steer a Canoe:

The person at the rear generally controls the majority of the steering. Use a “J-stroke” to make small course corrections as necessary with each stroke, being careful not to overcorrect. Begin your paddle stroke as normal but as you move towards the end of the stroke, rotate the paddle about 45 degrees – clockwise to turn right and anticlockwise to turn left – to guide the canoe.

If paddling across a large area of water such a lake, aim for a fixed point on the opposite shore and steer towards it – it can be easy to drift off course and paddle further than necessary!


Our canoe tours in Sweden are accessible for both novice and more experienced paddlers and some tours are also suitable for families, even those with young children. Depending on the time available and your preferred level of challenge, you can choose between extended wilderness canoeing expeditions or a family-friendly canoeing holiday in rural areas.

For the truly adventurous, for 2009 we have even added the possibility to combine two of our longer routes together into one 14-day wilderness canoe tour, offering almost 200km of canoeing with the possibility to extend the distance paddled even further by planning detours into side lake and river systems. As well as being suitable for the more adventurous private paddlers, this combined route is also ideal for adventurous training for armed forces and cadet groups.


Canoeing in Sweden is a seductive combination of tranquility, adventure and close-to-nature experiences – Happy Paddling!

This video shows survival expert Ray Mears canoeing in the area around Karlsborg to the south of Värmland:

You can find our more about Nature Travels canoeing holidays in Sweden and also our range of sea kayaking tours at

Best regards

The Nature Travels Team


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