Preparing For Kayak Camping

Kayak Camping Packing Post

Have you ever read something like Into The Wild and thought “I wish I could do that”?

Well, without the tragedy, obviously. But I mean just ditching everything and heading out into nature for a few days, just you and your thoughts.

Or maybe you’ve been relaxing in your kayak, gently floating down a languid river, thinking “I wish I didn’t have to go away from this”.

Well, you don’t have to. Not for a while at least. Have you ever been camping in your kayak? It’s a great thing to do once in a while. What I love about backpacking is that you can stay somewhere new every night, seeing amazing places every day. You feel so free.

Apart from that ruddy great pack.

Camping by lake

Kayak camping is very much like backpacking in some respects, but you can take more of your creature comforts without compromising your trip. And you feel much more self-reliant than touring in a camper van.

If you’re thinking of giving it a go, there are a few things you might like to consider before you go. I also have a kayak camping checklist at the end of this article, which would have been super useful for me on my first time (how can you forget toilet paper, Paul!?).

Pack Clever

When you’re packing your kayak for a long trip, be it camping or a day-long float, you need to pack sensibly. I’m not just talking about the contents of your packing, but the method.

If you’re taking drinking water and food, perhaps even a stove, and indeed anything heavy, you should think about the distribution of weight in your kayak. You may find that poor planning leads to an unpleasant paddle, with your boat riding low in the water, or pitching forward or backwards, even capsizing.

The ideal placement of your equipment is to have the heavier items towards the middle of the kayak, immediately behind the rear bulkhead if possible. Keep your centre of gravity low, so heavy things first, at the bottom. It’s also best to keep things off of the deck – this can catch the wind, and it brings your centre of gravity up, which might end up sending you down.

The rear and forward hatches should be used for lighter stuff like a sleeping bag, clothes, dry provisions and so on, but try to keep it evenly weighted between front and back.

If you’re camping in a sit-on-top kayak, you may have less choice as to where to pack stuff. A sea- or touring-kayak has loads of room, however. Try to load the kayak evenly.

Longer, narrow items (like a small tent, tightly rolled sleeping bag… more likely, a bottle of wine) might fit snugly in the ends of the kayak. Make sure that things are accessible at the end of your day’s paddle – if you are stuffing things right down to the end of a compartment, make sure the strap or draw-string on the bag is facing back towards the hatch so you can grab it when needed.

Have A System – Stick To It

It’s a really good idea to have a packing system, and stick to it every time you pack your yak – this includes before the trip, and during the trip when you’re re-packing after a night at camp.

It really speeds up your mornings if you know exactly where everything is to go, rather than trying to stuff everything in SOMEHOW. There’s always one person on a trip who will be struggling to fit those last few items in. Usually, you have to wait for them to unpack everything and try again. Bah!

Here’s How To Pack Your Kayak:

1 – Practice your system BEFORE your trip. Do it on dry land – do it in your living room, even.

To do this, all you need to do is imagine the shape of your kayak. Use a piece of rope, toilet paper, chalk, breadcrumbs. Whatever. Just draw the outline of your yak somehow – I admit, if you’re doing this in your living room, it will be a bit of a squeeze if you have a 15-foot sea kayak. But I digress.

2 – The basic rules are heavy things towards the bottom, small items towards fore and aft, bulky items towards the middle, and things you will need during your trip (while on the water) easily accessible from the day hatch.

Things you need during the trip may include water (although you may have room behind your seat or in your pockets; you could even wear a CamelBak), snacks, safety gear like flares, radio, warm clothing.

3 – Use all the space available, but stay safe. As I mentioned, there may be space behind your seat for something. You may feel you have room in the cockpit, near your feet. I’d advise being cautious with packing things into the cockpit, in case you need to make a wet exit – anything that could jam you in place is to be avoided. You can keep things in there with you, but be sure you can still get out.

4 – Now lay everything out on your imaginary kayak. Be aware that your imaginary kayak doesn’t have hatches because it’s just a shape on the floor. So keep the hatch size in mind.

5 – You can pack in layers – big, bulky items going in first, then smaller things packed in around them. Then the next larger item, and smaller items around it. Do you see what I mean?

Doing the above will allow you to easily decide whether you have extra space for more things or whether you are overpacked and what you may need to forgo.

Dry Bags

I know, your hatches are waterproof – of course.


They’re not waterproof. No way am I going to take that risk, are you?

Everything goes in a dry bag – somethings might even be double bagged. Do you want to sleep in a wet or even a moist sleeping bag? No.

The other thing about putting everything in bags is that it keeps it all bundled and organised. If you just pour in all your food and clothes and water bottle and matches and stove, it will all rattle around, and you’ll have to take everything out to find what you need.

If you have multiple dry bags, you can make your life easier and rest assured that your stuff will be slightly damp at worst.

Multiple small dry bags ensure that everyone will individually fit through the hatches. If you’re smart, you can color code them too – say yellow for clothes, red for food and provisions, blue for safety gear.

It also helps to clearly label everything – this helps not only with identifying things when you need them but also with re-packing. Because you know where everything goes, don’t you?

The rubbery vinyl dry bags can be a bit of a pain though, so I prefer polyester with a rubberised inner lining. The reason for this is that everything is packed in so tightly and the vinyl ones seem to offer more friction, meaning that if you pull one thing out, everything else seems to come with it.

As well as dry bags, I suggest you have a few plastic tote bags to put everything in – unpack from the kayak, into the tote bags, then haul those over to your campsite. Plastic packs smaller than canvas.

Kayak Camping Packing Tips

  • Repackage food and drinks at home to eliminate bulky packaging and glass bottles. This will save on space and weight.
  • You can super-secure your dry nights by putting your sleeping bag in a trash bag before putting it into the stuff-sack. Then you can put it in a dry bag because I like dry sleeping bags.
  • Okay, not everything needs to be in a dry bag. You can deconstruct your tent to potentially save space, having the poles loose. Also, things like canned food and other stuff that doesn’t mind getting wet might be easier to pack in as an afterthought once your dry gear has been stowed.
  • If you’re working hard, i.e. paddling, count on drinking a gallon or more of water a day. If you will be able to replenish your drinking water supply en route, all the better. You can use a filtration system or sterilization tablets.
  • Have a dry run at packing in the days preceding your trip. Not just with the imaginary boat, but for real.

To make it easier for you, here’s a visual guide. Please enjoy it; it’s a bit of fun – but also share it if you think it’s useful! Click on the images to see them full size.

Thanks and happy paddling!

Checlist for kayak campingKayak Camping packing order