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Camping Calamities: Mistakes To Avoid When Kayak Camping

Nicola Burridge
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Kayak camping offers a thrilling fusion of adventure and relaxation. But navigating this waterborne wilderness comes with its own set of challenges, which can sometimes be dangerous.

In this helpful guide, we’ll explore the essential mistakes to steer clear of, ensuring your kayak camping trip is a memorable and trouble-free experience, whether you’re a new camper, new paddler, or both.

1: Overpacking For Your Trip

Kayaks and camping gear arranged for an exciting kayak camping tripPin

When you’re packing for a kayak camping trip, you’re probably not going to be able to bring as much stuff as you would if you were camping with your car. So you may need to streamline your camping equipment so that it fits in your kayak.

Check out some of these kayak camping ideas for inspiration.

Lightweight camping gear designed for backpacking can be a better idea than standard equipment because backpacking gear tends to be more compact. This means it will take up less room on your deck.

I recommend packing your kayak in advance of your camping trip so that you know for sure everything you plan to take will fit. You don’t want to get to the launch and find out there’s no room for some of your essentials.

If you are kayak camping with a group, remember to share the load. You don’t necessarily need to pack a tent each. Usually, two people can share a tent. Most tents that are for more than two people tend to be too big to take on most kayaks.

> Best tents for kayakers

For cutlery and crockery, it can save space to have each paddler carry their own. And unless you need several stoves, just one person needs to pack the portable stove.

Find out what you should bring and how to pack for a kayak camping trip here.

2: Setting Up Camp Too Close To The Water

Kayak campsite nestled by the peaceful riverbankPin

Setting up your camp too close to water can be one of the biggest mistakes people make when kayak camping.

Water levels can rise overnight and can flood your camp, including your tent.

Rising water levels can also mean your kayak gets washed away, along with whatever gear you had stored inside it.

Many regulations state that you camp at least 200 feet from any body of water. This is often to make sure you’re a sufficient distance away from the water to avoid contamination. But this can be a good rule of thumb to keep yourself safe from flooding.

Before you set up camp, you should check the surroundings to make sure the land looks safe for camping. If there are marsh plants around, avoid these areas. Higher ground can usually offer drier conditions but this is not always the case.

3: Failing To Check Weather Forecasts

Tents standing in the mist beside a puddlePin

It’s always wise to check the weather forecast before you head out on any camping trip. But for kayak camping, it can be even more important since you’ll be traveling on the water.

Water can be adversely affected by certain weather conditions, which can be more noticeable if you’re on a river trip, especially in heavy rain. 

You should check the weather forecast for each location on your planned route. This will let you adequately prepare for the conditions in terms of clothing and accessories.

Knowing the weather forecast can also let you avoid certain locations and reroute if necessary.

If bad or dangerous weather is forecast for any location on your trip, you should avoid traveling to or staying in that location. This may mean postponing your trip.

There are several kayaking apps out there that may be able to help you with weather and live paddling conditions.

4: Failing To Plan Meals

One of the worst things to happen when you’re on a multi-day kayak camping adventure is that you run out of food and supplies.

To avoid running out of food, it’s a good idea to plan your meals ahead of your trip. This will let you know how much food you need to bring for each day.

Knowing what meals you plan to eat will also make it easier to know what cooking equipment and ingredients to take with you.

Remember to pack sufficient food for the number of days you plan to be camping. I recommend you also pack extra supplies just in case your trip doesn’t go to plan and you get delayed for any reason.

Don’t forget to pack drinking water if there will be no access to potable water on the trip.

If you’re kayak camping on a river trip, you might find there are towns or facilities along the route. This can let you stock up on essentials so it could be a good idea to plan stops in these locations on extended trips.

However, if you’re kayak camping in backcountry locations, it’s unlikely that you’ll come across stores to buy supplies. 

5: Choosing The Wrong Kayak For The Job

Skilled whitewater kayaker navigating through intense rapids.Pin

One of the most important things about kayak camping is making sure your kayak is up to the job.

This means making sure your kayak has enough physical space to hold your camping gear as well as the load capacity to handle it.

A touring kayak will offer more storage space compared to standard recreational kayaks.

An inflatable kayak will offer a higher capacity than most other types of kayaks. However, physical storage space can sometimes be limited on inflatable kayaks, particularly the solo kayaks.

Tandem inflatable kayaks will offer more space when paddled solo and can be an excellent option for kayak camping for several days. Some of the larger inflatable tandems will have enough room for two adults plus camping equipment.

Some fishing kayaks can offer a decent amount of storage space and they usually have the load capacity to handle heavy gear.

Kayaks to avoid for kayak camping include short, basic recreational kayaks and whitewater kayaks. These kayaks typically won’t have enough space for overnight gear.

Here are some of the best kayaks for camping.

6: Having An Unbalanced Kayak

If you don’t balance your kayak when packing, it can cause your kayak to become unstable. And an unstable kayak can lead to capsize, even from the most modest riffle or wake.

The best way to pack a kayak is to make sure the heaviest items are closer to the center of the boat. Lighter items can be stowed toward either end of the kayak.

Make sure no heavy items are causing your kayak to tip to one side.

As well as being unstable, an unbalanced kayak will be more difficult to paddle. This is because the kayak’s tracking and efficiency will be negatively affected.

Performance can also be affected if you load your kayak close to its maximum capacity. This will make the kayak sit lower in the water and will affect the speed and efficiency over the water, so it will be slower and more difficult to paddle.

7: Failing To Plan Your Route

A group of campers studying mapPin

Planning your route can be more important when kayak camping compared to some other types of camping, as you may find yourself bordered by private property for some of your kayaking trip. This means you may not be able to set up camp whenever you feel like stopping.

Planning your route can also let you plan your daily paddling distance and rest stops so that you avoid arriving at your camp in the dark. Putting up a tent in the dark is not something you want to do.

If you’re paddling with a group, consider the skill levels of the least-skilled paddlers, as they may not be able to paddle as fast or for as long as you.

Plan each day, taking into account your group’s average paddling speed in the conditions.

Find out how long it takes to kayak a mile.

8: Neglecting To Use Dry Bags

While many kayaks have storage hatches, they’re not all as watertight as some of them claim to be. This means that the gear you store in the hatches may not come out as safe and dry as you hope.

Dry bags are essential for kayak camping. These bags can keep your clothes and equipment dry even if your sealed hatch fails.

Dry bags can also be essential for storage on an inflatable kayak. Inflatable kayaks often have no dry storage so dry bags are your only option for protecting your gear from rain and spray (and potential capsize).

Dry bags come in a variety of different sizes so you can choose a dry bag to fit in each storage spot on your kayak.

Check out some of the best dry bags for kayaking.

9: Failing To Bring Bug Spray

Father spraying bug repellent on son's armPin

Anyone who’s ever spent any time outdoors will know that insects will come for you at some point. And when you’re setting up camp in their territory, your chances of getting bitten or harassed by bugs will likely increase.

Insect repellent is an essential item to carry with you on any kayaking trip or camping. Combining the two activities means you’ll be spending more time outdoors so it can be even more important to use bug spray to keep yourself safe from insect bites.

Remember to apply insect repellent to all exposed areas of your skin during the day and night. Some insects, including mosquitos, can be most active during dusk and dawn, so be sure to cover up and adequately apply your bug spray during these hours.

Check out some of the natural ways you can repel bugs while camping.

Lessons Learned: Reflecting On Kayak Camping Pitfalls

Now that you know some of the common mistakes that are made when kayak camping for the first time, you should be able to plan your adventure to avoid all of these. Heading out on a kayak camping trip soon? Let us know how it goes. And if you come across anything we may have for

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