Kayak Camping On The River

Kayak Camping 101: Tips on Minimizing Gear and Packing

Packing Is Key – Minimize Gear for Kayak Camping

Whether you are an outdoor enthusiast who has done a lot of camping or a beginner who is looking for a new and adventurous way to get out into the campgrounds, adding a kayak into the mix is a great way to gain increased strength, flexibility, and a low impact adventure. If you are planning on camping but want the freedom that a kayak provides in getting to and from your campsite, knowing how to minimally pack it is a must as there is a lot of gear that you have to consider. With this said, you can bring down the stress levels of packing the kayak by following a couple of tried and true tips for full-day and multi-day kayak camping.

Think Like a Backpacker

First and foremost, you want to think like a backpacker as the same factors come into play when planning a kayak camping trip. You will need to consider the weather, what type of water you are travelling on, how large your group is and how long and far your trip will be. If you hit nasty weather, you are going to need heavier gear and more supplies. With this said, you are going to want to pack light! The reason we say, think like a backpacker, is because kayak camping is restrictive. Not as restrictive as backpacking is, but it does require discipline in choosing only what you need. This is where minimal packing comes in handy. We will break this down into two categories: how to organize and pack your gear and then how to actually load it onto your kayak.

How to Pack and Organize: Keep It Simple!

One of the easiest ways to pack your gear is to use a lot of dry bags. For beginners who may not know what these are, dry bags are flexible watertight containers which seal in items. They are used in many outdoor activities such as kayaking, snowboarding and rafting. The best way to organize these dry bags is to have a lot of smaller bags that are categorized and only have a few larger dry bags. The smaller the bag, the easier they will fit into awkward spaces on the kayak and they are much easier to balance out in terms of weight distribution. You can choose to color code these bags or even label them with identification tags; whatever works best for you. You will want to look for lightweight, nylon dry bags that have an internal rubber coating on them as these will be the easiest to pack into compartment like areas. So how do you organize these?

  • Pack one bag for clothing
  • One bag for sleeping gear
  • One bag for first-aid kits
  • One bag for camping tools
  • One bag for personal gear
  • One bag for food
  • One bag for repair kits
  • One bag for a rescue kit and so on.

When packing these bags, you will need to make sure that you take out as much air as possible and if you want added protection, you can line them with garbage bags. If you end up rolling your kayak a lot throughout the camping duration, they will eventually get wet and you should always assume that your gear will get wet at some point. We will talk about what to pack in our packing list below.

Loading Your Kayak Evenly

There are two things you need to consider when loading up. Weight distribution and how easy you can access vital dry bags. First thing to do is to know what the maximum weight capacity of your kayak is, and then make sure to never surpass this number. If you have too much, take out anything that is not vital and choose to get rid of duplicate items such as stoves or kits. Here are a few tips for loading your kayak up:

  • Vital items like first-aid kits should be within reach of the cockpit
  • Bags that need to be accessed frequently need to be close to the hatches
  • Stash fuel bottles away from your food at the end of the bow or stern and make sure that they are isolated so that they do not contaminate anything
  • Put all electronics far away from any navigational instruments such as your compass
  • If you bring fruits or vegetables along for the trip, pack them below the water line and close to the hull as the water will keep them cool which will prolong their life
  • All packaged foods can be put into your bags loosely whereas foods that can get soggy from being wet, need to be put into a dry bag.
  • Essentials like a backup knife or GPS can be stored in your dry hatch, or behind your seat
  • Large dry bags need to be behind the foot rests so that they do not get in the way during an emergency.
  • Bailing equipment needs to be kept within reach.
  • The deck of your kayak needs to be free of heavy gear as it can make your kayak top heavy which means you won’t be able to roll easily.
  • Use the narrow ends of the stern and bow for tent poles – don’t let these spaces go to waste.
  • Any empty spaces left over will be taken up by water containers.

If the above is overwhelming, as it should be for beginners or intermediate kayak campers, here is a guide visual to help:

Kayak Camping Guide
Kayak Camping Guide from AustinKayak.com

Now that we have gone over on how to pack your kayak, we need to go over how to make sure that everything stays secure. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Pin down everything that is stored on the deck, however the fewer things on the deck, the better it is.
  • Hatches are your best bet for keeping loose items secure like snacks, bottles, hats, clothing and so on.
  • Fasten any spare paddles to the front or rear of the deck using bungee cables.
  • Clip your GPS into your deck lines.
  • If you have a pump, secure it beside your seat within the cockpit with a bungee cord.
  • If you have anything like a radio or a sheathed knife, you can keep these on your person.

Basically anything that is not stored in a hatch will need to be pinned down either onto a deck line or underneath a bungee cord.

Now What Do I Actually Pack?!

Now that you understand the basics behind organizing gear, packing it evenly and securing it, we are going to go over what you need to actually bring with you. These will be broken down into categories that are easy to follow and can serve as your checklist of gear. This will be for multi-day kayak camping, so there will be more gear listed here than what you would need just for a full-day trip.

KayakPaddle (+ spare), deck compass, spray skirt, bilge pump, bailer, tow belt, PFD (whistle, knife, emergency lighting, marine radio, company compass, micro first-aid kit, flares, waterproof camera)
Deck Bag:Spare batteries and camera memory cards, sunscreen, pain relievers, snacks
Hatch:Water bottles, lunch, first aid kit, signal flares, waterproof headlamp, towel, bathroom items like sanitizer and toilet paper.
Survival Bag:Emergency survival gear.
Repair Bag:Tools and supplies like: sealant, bailing wire, nylon cord, putty, replacement nuts and bolts, duct tape.
Paddling Clothing:Synthetic t-shirt, underwear and long sleeve top. Water shoes, wet suit, gloves, sunglasses, eyeglass tether, hat.
Shelter:Tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, bear bag kit, rain tarp, bear repellent, camp chair.
General Clothing:Pants, jackets, gloves, trash bag, socks, hiking shoes and synthetic everything clothing.
Personal:Insect repellent, multi-tool, compass, lantern, waterproof headlamp, dry bags, mesh bags, ziplock bags, books.
Kitchen:Food, stove, lighters, cookware, bowls/mugs/utensils, kitchen knife, dish towel, fire-starting items, can opener, sanitizer, dish soap, salt and pepper. 

Other items may include: Float tubes, sponges, bilge pump, paddle leash/float, personal flotation device, spare deck bungee cords, lip balm, multi-function watch, two-way radios, dry suit, swim suit, fishing gear/license and a cooler.

For those who have never packed a kayak before, once you have fully packed yours, take it for a dry run to ensure that no weight adjustments need to be made. Plan it out and organize it fully until you have it right. Keep in mind that you may need to be creative with how you pack into the space that is available!

When you are ready for your first kayak camping adventure, check out these kayak camping destinations. And look at this article on minimizing your gear with this great checklist for primitive camping.

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