Kayaking and camping go together like campfires and marshmallows. In many ways, kayak camping is easier than other types of camping. You don’t have to worry about carrying your gear on a long hike, and heading to your destination by boat practically guarantees that you’ll find an uncrowded spot to pitch your tent.
There are a few differences when you travel to your camping spot by kayak, and the most notable one is that you’ll need only to bring only what you absolutely need since it all has to fit in your boat.
Prepping for your trip is easy when you use this kayak camping guide to plan the perfect outdoor adventure.
Find the Right Type of Kayak for Camping
Naturally, you’re going to need a kayak. Each type of kayak has potential benefits and drawbacks for camping, and you’ll need to figure out what works best for you.
Sit-on-top kayaks are known for being the easiest for beginners to handle. You can easily hop on and off your kayak as needed, and you’ll be able to access most of your gear with no problem. They do come with the issue of not having as much protection from splashes, so you’ll need to be extra careful about waterproofing your camping supplies.
Sit-inside kayaks are better for keeping you and your gear dry. You’ll want to ensure you know how to keep your kayak stable for the water conditions, and new kayakers should practice rolling their boat and doing a wet exit before loading it up with supplies.
Inflatable kayaks are another option for camping. Today’s inflatable kayaks are durable enough to last many trips with proper care. If you are hiking a good distance to your campsite, you may prefer an inflatable kayak for its portability so that you don’t have to leave it by the shore.
Whichever type of kayak you get, remember to practice paddling in it before you leave to go camping. Even if you are an experienced kayaker, you may still need to get used to using a new type.
A personal favorite is the Sea Eagle 380x inflatable kayak, with a robust 750-pound carrying capacity.
Plan What to Pack for Camping
Kayak camping allows you to refine your ability to pack light for overnight excursions. You’ll want to whittle your packing list down to the bare basics and remember to choose light or portable equipment as much as possible. Here’s a quick general list to get you started that you can add to or delete as needed.
- Tent or hammock
- Sleeping bag
- Portable camp stove
- Lighter or matches
- Bug spray and sunscreen
- Cookware, plates, and silverware
- Food and water
- Hygiene supplies (use biodegradable products whenever possible)
- All of your usual kayaking gear
As you select your gear, remember to keep the general environment of your campsite in mind. Consider packing a lightweight sleeping bag for warm-weather camping if the weather conditions allow it. You might also be able to bring less clothing if you can wash and hang clothes out to dry to wear again.
Use Caution With Hatches
Most sit-on-top kayaks come with dry hatches that may claim to be waterproof. Experienced kayakers know never to fully trust that things won’t get wet inside a hatch. Use dry bags to ensure your essentials aren’t soaked when you get to your campsite.
Dry bags and waterproof backpacks are perfect for protecting your gear if you capsize or if something falls off the boat. An additional tip is to choose smaller bags. Packing several small dry bags makes it easier to stash them in little pockets of space in your storage areas.
Know Your Kayak’s Weight Limit
Kayaks come in varying sizes and shapes that have an impact upon the weight limit. You’ll want to check the manufacturer’s weight limit for your kayak to avoid maxing it out with all of your camping gear.
Remember that the maximum weight is different from the optimal working capacity. Pushing the load to the weight limit can result in your kayak being too low in the water, which can impact its maneuverability.
A good rule of thumb is to load your kayak no more than two-thirds of its maximum weight. You’ll want to consider your weight and the additional load from your camping supplies.
If you plan to bring your dog, include their weight in the estimate. The good news is that you should have a slightly lighter load on your way back since you’ll be eating any food you bring.
Load the Boat Evenly
How you load your gear onto the kayak affects its stability and steering. You’ll want to first think about balance. Avoid putting all your gear in one spot since this can cause the boat to sit unevenly in the water. You also want to avoid putting too much weight on the ends of your kayak since this can make it hard to turn.
As you pack your kayak full of gear, make sure that the things you’ll need while paddling are easy to access, such as sunblock and gloves. Keeping the deck clear is also important. Strapping large items to the deck has a negative impact on wind resistance, and it can also complicate rescues.
Try a Dry Run
Nothing is worse than having to make quick decisions on the fly about what to leave in your car when you are standing on the shoreline. By doing a dry run, you can learn what will fit in your kayak and what items are essential for your trip.
Just pull your kayak out of storage, and pack your gear just like you plan to on your trip. If anything doesn’t fit, you’ll be glad you can revise your plans without wasting precious paddling time.
You might want to take your packed boat out on the water if you have extra time. This allows you to ensure it sits right in the water and is easy to maneuver.
Get to Know Your Route
Bodies of water don’t have the same kinds of markers that you might be able to use in the forest to avoid getting lost. If possible, scout out your route ahead of your trip. This allows you to identify obstacles and potential waypoints to help you navigate the route.
If you can’t get to the location in person, use online apps and read reviews. Many kayakers enjoy leaving information for people who plan to visit the location in the future. These tips can be valuable for helping you to know where to be careful or when to go down a specific waterway instead of another one.
Check the Weather and Water Conditions
Every kayaking trip should begin with checking out the general conditions for the area where you plan to paddle. Kayak apps are ideal for giving you one place to find everything you need to know about the water levels and temperatures for your kayaking location.
For camping, you’ll also want to look at the overnight and multi-day forecast. Pay careful attention to overnight lows to ensure you have what you need to stay warm in a cold climate.
What to Eat and Drink While Kayak Camping
A kayaking camping guide wouldn’t be complete without a few meal-planning tips. Staying hydrated is easy enough when you fill your water bottle and carry a hydration pack with enough water to sustain you through your trip. Some kayakers also prefer to stash a portable water filtration system in their gear if they run out.
You can keep things simple for food by packing canned meats, vegetables, and fruits that require little more than heating them up. Or, you can pack fresh meat to cook on your portable camp stove or fire. Frozen meats often thaw in a day or two, and celebrating your first night with a fire-cooked steak might be appealing.
Dried foods are also great for camping; you can trust that your beef jerky and dehydrated apples won’t go bad overnight. As you pick out your food, remember to look for ones with minimal packaging or reduce them alone. For example, you can take a bag of crackers out of the box so you have less to pack out when you’re done camping.
Collaborate With Your Kayaking Partners
Going kayak camping is safest when you use the buddy system. Your crew can opt for each person to be self-sufficient, but planning for certain people to bring specific items may make sense. If you plan to share a tent with a friend, you can use the extra space on one of the boats to stash other gear.
Prepare for the Surface to Change
Water levels rise and fall overnight, and you’ll want to ensure your boat is secure where you leave it while you camp. Waking up to find your kayak missing could become a life-threatening disaster in certain outdoor environments. You’ll also want to set up camp far enough from the shoreline to avoid being swamped as you sleep.
Avoid Bringing Big and Unnecessary Items
Unlike car camping, you won’t have space for bulky items like firewood and extra bedding. You’ll need to leave your favorite yard games at home and consider finding ways to spend your time that don’t require heavy equipment. A deck of cards or drawing pad might fit on your boat and be just as fulfilling.
Kayak Camping Mistakes to Avoid
Kayak camping can be an incredible adventure. However, being well-prepared and mindful of certain practices is essential for a safe trip. Here are some things you should avoid doing when kayak camping:
- Overpacking: One of the most common mistakes is bringing too much gear.
- Neglecting safety gear: Safety should be your top priority. Always wear a properly fitted personal flotation device (PFD) while kayaking.
- Ignoring weather conditions: Failing to check weather forecasts can be dangerous.
- Inadequate paddling skills: Kayak camping often involves long paddling distances and potentially challenging conditions. It’s crucial to have adequate paddling skills.
- Camping too close to the water: While setting up your campsite right at the water’s edge may be tempting, it’s essential to consider safety and tides.
Remember to Have Fun and Make Beautiful Memories
Speaking of entertainment, it’s important to remember that having fun is what kayak camping is all about. Try not to get stressed out about packing, and remind yourself that you can live without most things for a few nights. You’ll be fine if you have food, water, shelter, and a way to protect yourself from the elements.
Whether you like to go fishing or plan to lounge on the beach, your adventure is bound to lead to many unforgettable memories. Leave enough time on your itinerary to wander around and soak up the view so that you never forget your first kayak camping trip.
You’ll find future trips easier once you’ve gone kayak camping for the first time. After all, you’ll already have a good estimate of what your kayak can realistically handle. You can also keep a running list of what you like to bring and what you might have missed during your most recent trip.
When you get home, store your camping gear together so that all you have to do is grab and pack when the urge to paddle to your destination strikes again.
Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.