A 3-Step Preparation Guide For Kayak Camping

Image of a kayaker sitting outside his tent

The kayak is not only a unique way to enjoy the outdoors, but you can take it to the next level by going on a kayak camping trip. This activity provides the best of both worlds, with the fun and sights of a kayaking excursion with the serenity and peace of a camping trip.

In addition, choosing to kayak to your camping spot rather than hike opens up several new opportunities and benefits to your trip.

At the same time, though, choosing to take a kayak camping trip means that you need to understand a lot more things, not only about planning out a successful camping trip but also how to use and store items in your kayak as well.

Your kayak will not only be your primary means of transport, but it will also be your primary storage, a far cry from using a larger vehicle.

So to help you put your trip together, we’re going to break it into the 3 main steps you need.

Infographic showing a 3-step guide to kayak camping


Step 1: Choosing Your Destination^

It goes without saying for the experienced outdoorsman, but the planning process for a kayak camping trip is not something that you can simply do on a whim.

Be sure to start your planning early, and if you are not taking your trip solo, get your fellow travelers together to hash out who will be bringing what items.

Before you even do that, it’s a matter of choosing where exactly you will be camping.

Are you picking a location to travel to, or are you already going to be in a certain area and need to choose a river or lake to kayak in?

In either case, you’re going to need to make sure that:

A: You’re choosing a location suitable for kayaking

B: You’re choosing a location where you are allowed to kayak

Some parts of rivers are reserved for major cargo ship transport, may be in areas where portage(taking your kayak out of the water and carrying it) is impossible, or may have dangerous rapids. Some may go through private areas where camping nearby is not allowed.
Image of a map of America with pins
In addition, there are other, smaller details that will inform your experience.

You should be able to know all the answers to these questions before you even hit the water.

The good news is that there is a wealth of online information out there, for a variety of locations you may be thinking about, but sifting through it to see what is relevant may take time and energy you don’t have.

When in doubt, try to seek out experts like outfitters or park rangers, if there are any available.

These people know the wild spaces better than anyone and can suggest places to you that match both the equipment you have as well as your level of experience.

Also, depending on where you are, decide how much kayaking you plan to do each day.

A day of kayaking can wear out anyone, so try to be conservative and not risk biting out more than you can chew when planning out your itinerary.

Step 2: Deciding What To Pack^

Kayak camping means that you have a bit more packing space than if you are backpacking, but if you are used to using a car when camping, you will quickly find that you can bring far fewer items with you.

With these kinds of constraints, it’s important that you bring the essentials.

Before you even start putting together your checklist, you’re going to want to invest in some good dry bags.
Image of a person filling out a checklist
Many kayaks, including some that we have previously reviewed, boast having waterproof compartments.

While these can be effective, kayak camping means that you are putting these containers to the test to a far greater degree than a relaxing afternoon on your vessel.

When important items like food and clothing are what you’re carrying, it’s best to err on the side of caution and buy dry bags.

Due to the shape of most kayaks, you’re probably going to want to buy a few smaller bags rather than one or two larger ones (more on this later).

Buying proper camping equipment is going to vary a lot depending on where you are camping, what time of year it is, and how long you will be taking your trip for.

Because of this, it’s a bit difficult to pin down exactly what you will want to bring.

We’re going to focus a bit more on some of the kayak-specific things you will want to pack, but general camping items you are going to want include:

  • Your tent and sleeping bag
  • Toiletries
  • Food/cooking kits
  • Water storage
  • GPS or other navigational devices
  • First aid kits, knives, and other survival tools.

When it comes to kayak camping, making sure your boat is functional is also key.

Be sure to purchase a repair kit as well as other items like duct-tape or zip-ties should you need to make an adjustment to your boat in a pinch. Also be certain to invest in synthetic and waterproof clothes depending on how rough the waters are.

A spare paddle should also be on hand, as well as flotation devices should the worst happen.

If you are going to be kayaking at sea or in the river, you are going to want to bring other area-specific gear, such as a pin kit, signal flare, bowlines, and appropriate charts or maps for where you will be camping.

If you plan on camping where there is a chance of long portage, try and invest in a large duffel bag to save you trip after trip unloading the boat so you can carry it.

Step 3: How To Pack Your Kayak^

Image of some equipment lined up neatly
Make no mistake, filling out your checklist is only part of the unique approach to planning out your camping trip. Keep in mind that you need to get all of this into your boat, and it’s not as simple as tying everything on top of the boat.

Imagine trying to exit the boat with a bunch of items all around you when it tips over to see how this can be a bad idea.

While certain types of kayaks, particularly sea kayaks, may have a slightly different structure than others, here are some general rules of thumb when you are packing your boat.

When it comes to weight, always remember to think low and centered.

By this, I mean keeping the heaviest items nearest to the center of the boat, with lighter items packed further on the bow and stern.

There are some exceptions, though, for example, essentials like spare water and first aid items should always be within arm’s reach.

Also, be mindful of safety concerns, like keeping any fuel you store separate from food.

Interestingly enough, if you distribute the weight properly, your kayak will actually feel steadier than when it is empty.

Above all, avoid tying a bunch of items on your deck.

If you need to do so, go no further than a few small dry bags tied to the deck lines on the back of your boat.

The more items you have sitting on the deck, the more susceptible you will be to forces like wind or water movement.

This is doubly the case if you will be doing any whitewater kayaking, as items on the deck are prone to flying off without warning in those types of situations.

Kayak Camping In Review^

Hopefully, with these facts in mind, you will be able to navigate what you need to do to pack for a successful trip.

While it may not be as common as a car camping trip, if you are able to be creative and measured with your planning, even newcomers can enjoy nature in this different and exciting way.

Let’s take a moment to revisit a few of the things you should keep in mind:

  • Know your location inside and out, making sure to consult with experts to see if there are any special things you should do to get ready
  • Do not rely on just your kayak’s waterproof compartments. Pack plenty of dry bags and perhaps even waterproof clothing while you are in the boat
  • When packing your bags, try to rely on several smaller bags rather than a few larger ones. If it helps, try to organize the items in each back to make it easier to pack and unpack
  • Know your weights! Heavy items belong closer to the cockpit, while lighter items will go further towards the front or back. The better you distribute them, the more stable your boat will be
  • Keep your deck clear, with no heavy or bulky items on it

With these items in mind, you will be on your way to a safe and relaxing trip. Happy camping!

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