Kayak Camping Checklist (and how you should pack it)!

Kayak camping can be a great way to explore the great outdoors, get fresh air and experience the wilderness. It can let you discover places that are off the beaten track and often inaccessible to other vehicles.

But what should you take with you and how do you load it all into your kayak? We want you to have the best time on your trip so we’ve put some information together to help you decide what you might want to pack in your kayak for your multi-day adventure.

What Gear Do I Need To Go Kayak Camping?

Type Of Kayak

Tent with two packed touring kayaks

For kayak camping you will need a kayak that has enough space and capacity to hold all your camping gear. Dry storage can be a useful feature but it’s not absolutely necessary if you have plenty of dry bags and enough cargo space to store them.

You’ll probably find that touring kayaks are more suitable for camping than other types of kayaks. This is because they tend to have more storage space than recreational kayaks.

A touring kayak is also usually designed with paddling efficiency in mind, meaning it can be easier to paddle on long journeys as it can cover water more quickly.

Remember, a longer kayak will usually give you more space for your gear but may be more difficult to maneuver if you’re small framed or a beginner.

> The best kayaks for camping

Kayaking Gear

Kayaking Gear For Your Camping Trip

Now lets get into each of these in a little more detail...

PFD (Personal Flotation Device)

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A PFD should be an essential on any paddling trip, not just for kayak camping. Your PFD should fit you correctly and be comfortable while you’re sitting in your kayak.

Some areas require you to wear your PFD at all times while on a kayak at certain times of the year. But while it’s not always mandatory in other areas, it is always recommended that you wear it as it can help to save your life.

Spare Paddle

Having a spare paddle on board can be extremely useful if something happens to your original paddle. You might find it more convenient to opt for a paddle that can be packed more easily, such as a four piece paddle. You can then fit it into your gear bag or storage hatch.

Light

A kayak light is usually required by law when paddling at night or in low light conditions. To meet US Coast Guard regulations the light can be a flashlight or an all-around white light. A light can also come in handy at your campsite.

Paddle Leash

A paddle leash can help prevent your paddle from floating off while it’s not in your hands. Your paddle is obviously essential when you’re kayaking (duh!) so it can be a good idea to tether it to your boat.

Video: How To Attach The ACK Bungee Paddle Leash

Whistle

A whistle can often be a required piece of equipment for kayaking in certain bodies of water, so it can be a good idea to have one with you for every trip. This is so that you can attract attention in an emergency if necessary.

Throw Bag

A throw bag can be a life-saving tool on the water and it should be an important part of your rescue kit for multi-day adventures. A throw bag is designed to be thrown to someone in the water in a rescue situation, so it contains rope to allow you to throw the bag end to them while holding on to the opposite end of the rope.

Video: How To Toss A Throw Bag

Paddle Float

Having a paddle float on board your kayak can be extremely useful if you capsize. It is designed to help you re-enter your kayak while on the water, without having to swim to shore. The paddle float can help to stabilize your kayak, acting as an outrigger while you get back in.

Sponge

A sponge can be a handy accessory to have on your kayak, particularly if you have a sit-inside kayak. It can help to soak up excess water that might enter your cockpit or hatches.

A bilge pump can also be useful to bail out water from your boat and can be carried in addition to a sponge. 

Rope

Rope can be useful for securing your kayak while it’s docked and it can also come in handy for use as a tow rope.

Repair Kit

If your kayak suffers minor damage it can be a good idea to have a repair kit with you so that you can fix it. Depending on the type of kayak you have, there may be patch kits that you can get for your specific kayak. You may also want to have a multi-tool or knife in your repair kit.

Duct tape or a waterproof tape or seal can also be useful for patching until you get a chance to fix it properly.

First Aid Kit

It can always be a good idea to have a first aid kit with you on your kayak but for multi-day trips it can be even more important. As well as the usual first aid gear, you may want to think about the additional products you might need for the outdoors, such as bug spray and a hydrocortisone cream for bug bites.

Dry Bags

Woman on kayak with sun hat camping

Dry bags can be essential for any kayaking trip. These bags help to keep your gear free from water and can be ideal for clothing, food and equipment that you don’t want to get wet. 

They can be useful for both sit-insides and sit-on-tops and can be stored either in hatches or secured to the deck. Dry bags come in different sizes, so you should be able to find one that can fit your gear. You’ll probably need several different sizes so that you can position them more easily on your boat.

Camping Gear

Camping Gear For Your Kayak Camping Trip

Tent

Unless you want to sleep directly under the stars, a tent can be an important item to bring along. A tent can help to shelter you from the elements and protect you from bugs or anything larger.

The size of the tent you’ll need will probably depend on how many people you’re camping with and how many people you’re willing to share a tent with. If there are two of you, a two person tent can be ideal, as this can be more compact for transporting in your kayak.

Sleeping Bag

The weather and/or climate will likely play a part in influencing the type of sleeping bag you might need. A lighter weight one might be more suitable for warmer conditions and summer camping, but you might want a heavier one for winter camping or colder climates.

Sleeping bags are usually rated for temperature, so it can be worth checking the weather before you go so that you can get an idea of how cool or warm it might be when you’re out there.

Sleeping Mat

Sleeping directly on the cold, hard ground can be uncomfortable. A sleeping mat can give you additional padding and insulation so that you can sleep more comfortably. Usually they can be rolled up to about the size of your rolled sleeping bag.

Cooking Equipment

A little gas stove can be a good accessory to bring on your camping trip as it can be easy to use, portable and shouldn’t take up much room. A gas stove or similar camping stove can let you cook food and boil water.

Food

The amount of food and water you’ll need will depend on how long you plan to be camping. It can be a good idea to bring more food and water than you think you’ll need, in case of emergencies.

Food that doesn’t spoil can be ideal.

Clothing

Again, this depends on the climate and the weather. Your comfort will also be important, so think about what you’ll be doing during your trip and whether you’ll also be hiking as well as paddling. A packable waterproof rain jacket can be a good idea for any trip.

Layers can be a good choice, as you can layer up when it gets cooler and de-layer if you get too warm. Moisture wicking clothing can be ideal for comfort and breathability and can also be quick to dry if you do get wet.

Comfortable water shoes can be a good idea for paddling, since these types of shoes tend to be quick to dry and usually have a non-slip sole. You might want to think about a change of footwear for wearing at your campsite or for hiking.

You may also want to think about sunglasses and a hat if you’re paddling in sunny conditions. Sunscreen can also be a good idea to have in your yak.

Cooler

If you want to keep your food and beverages cool and fresh, an insulated cooler can be ideal. Whether you want a hard shell cooler or a soft cooler is probably down to personal preference and how much storage space you have on deck.

A soft cooler can be more compact and can usually fit inside a hatch on your kayak but this type of cooler tends to be more susceptible to being squashed (along with its contents). If the water you’re paddling on is cold, it might be cooler below deck to store items that you want to keep fresh.

Trash Bag

If you’re camping in primitive spots, a trash bag will probably be essential. Remember to pack up everything that you brought with you when you’re leaving your campsite. It’s also a good idea to store the trash bag securely on your boat to avoid unintended littering.

You may also want to bring along cleaning items, such as wipes and hand sanitizer.

Solar Charger

A solar charger can be a useful accessory for any camping trip, as it can let you keep your phone or GPS charged while you’re off grid. For a kayak trip, you might find that you’re off grid for longer, since you may only have access to primitive campsites with no electricity.

How Do I Pack For A Kayak Camping Trip?

Pack Light

Packing for a kayak camping trip can be a little different compared to loading your car for a camping trip since you’ll probably have less space to work with.

For this reason, it can be important to pack light and only bring the things you think you’ll need on your trip. It can also be a good idea to pack using the compression straps on your gear bags, as this can help to remove air so that your gear takes up less room.

If you’re paddling on your own in a solo craft you may have more control over what goes in it and where, which may or may not be easier when it comes to packing.

For example, if you’re in a tandem vessel with another paddler, you may find you can share certain items, such as a tent and cooking gear, which could free up space for the rest of your individual gear.

Keep Your Essentials Close

Think about the items you might need while paddling. Drinks and snacks, for example, should be kept within easy reach of your seat, so that you can access them without having to stop. A sweater or a waterproof jacket can be better kept within reach too in case the weather changes while you’re on the water.

Video: Kayak Camping - How To Pack A Kayak

Your first aid kit, rescue kit, spare paddle, flashlight and whistle should all be easily accessible to you from your cockpit. Other items, such as your tent and cooking equipment can be stored in the hull of your boat or on your cargo deck, since you likely won’t need those until you reach your camp.

You might find that it’s helpful to keep a spare change of clothing in a dry bag separate from the rest of your clothing. This means that if anything happens to your main bag, you should still have dry clothes to change into if necessary.

You could group your gear in different colored dry bags so that you can color-code your gear in order of use. This could help you when you go to re-pack it after your first night under canvas.

Balance Your Load

When you’re packing your camping gear into your kayak it can be important that you don’t overload it. Similarly, it can be important that you balance it out so that your kayak is not weighted to one side, as this could affect your tracking performance and could even cause you to capsize.

You might find it easier to lay out all your gear beside your kayak before you load it, as this can give you a better idea of what gear you have and can let you organize it by size or weight.

Loading Your Kayak for a Camping trip

Heavier gear should be stored towards the center of your kayak, with your lighter gear at either end of your vessel. This can be done whether you’re in a sit-inside kayak or a sit-on-top. Heavier gear, such as your tent, should ideally be positioned lower in the vessel.

You might want to make sure that the loads are equally weighted at either side, as well as between the front and back.

How To Prepare Before Your Trip

Plan Ahead

Before you head off on any trip it can be important to plan your route so that you have a better idea of what to expect. Planning your route can let you map out your starting point and finishing point, with estimated durations, possible campsites, lunch stops and any points of interest along the way.

It can also be important to check local regulations for the route you plan to paddle, so that you can make sure that it’s legal to camp at your preferred areas and that you meet requirements with regards to gear.

Weather can be an important factor to consider, so check in advance what the expected conditions are likely to be. This can help you choose suitable clothing.

The Day Before

When you know you’re heading off the next day, it can be a good idea to check the weather forecast for your paddling route for the days you plan to be out there. This should give you a more accurate picture of what to expect in terms of temperature and conditions.

The day before you leave for your trip can be a good time to head to the store for the food supplies that you’ll need. You might find it useful to freeze a few bottles of water and/or an ice pack so that you can pack them into your cooler in the morning when you’re ready to leave. This should help to keep your food fresher and cooler for longer.

It can also be a good idea to lay out all your gear and pack it into your gear bags and dry bags so that it’s ready to go. Load it all into your car if you want to have a quicker getaway in the morning.

If there’s anything that you plan to bring with you that you haven’t loaded in your car already, remember to keep it out somewhere that you’re likely to see it. Your phone, for example, should be fully charged overnight and left somewhere that you’re not able to forget it.

If you tend to be forgetful, stick a post-it note to your front door so that you’ll have a last minute reminder before you leave the house.

Remember to tell someone who’s staying behind about your planned trip, including giving them your route map, float plan and the time and date you expect to be home.

The Day Of Your Trip

If you loaded all your main gear into your car the day before you can simply pack up the last of your remaining items and load them into your car.

Fresh food should be packed into your cooler just before you plan to leave, so that it stays as fresh as possible. Remember to take the bottles of water that you froze the night before and the ice pack if you have one. This can help to keep the food in your cooler at a lower temperature without too much risk of the ice melting all over your food (since it’s in a sealed container).

It can be useful to check the weather forecast again before you leave, in case there has been any change. If there has, this should let you grab any last minute clothing items that you might need.

Rounding Up

Kayak camping can be a lot of fun and even more fun if you’re comfortable and have everything you need with you. Plan your paddling route ahead of time so that you can be better organized in terms of gear and possible camping spots. Research the route to make sure you know the regulations and requirements before you head off.

Remember to pack enough food and water and make sure you let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Have the best time and tell us about your trip when you get back. Share this with your buddies before you go.

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