How to Pack a Kayak for Camping

how to pack a kayak for camping

Kayak camping is an incredible way to get outdoors and enjoy the warmer weather. It’s a recipe for a great weekend, from being on the river to resting at the campsite. Packing a kayak full of gear, though, can be tricky. 

Learn how to pack your kayak for camping the right way, so you can fully enjoy your trip.

 Lightweight Gear to Pack for Kayak Camping

When I first started camping out of my kayak, I mostly had car camping gear. It was heavy, bulky, and felt like it was bursting the seams of my boat. I fell far behind the crew of people I was with because of the sheer weight of everything.

Through the years, I’ve purchased more gear intended for the backpacker. Anything that says “Ultralight Gear” is something that catches my eye for my boat. Ultralight gear such as a small pocket stove, a fold-up chair, and pop-out dishes. 

Not only does ultralight gear save you weight, but it will also save you space in the boat. While on the pricer side, ultra-lightweight sleeping bags are a massive space saver and worth the investment long term. 

Along the lines of this, pack light on your clothing. You can always use your clothing as a pillow to save a little more space.

 Balancing your Boat for Kayak Camping

The most important thing to remember about how to pack your kayak for camping is to keep everything balanced.

Heavier items, such as food and water, should be packed near the boat’s center, ideally, right behind your seat. You should store lighter and bulkier items at the top and rear of the boat boughs.

Water, sunscreen, snacks, and your river lunch can be packed next to your body, directly behind you, or if you are short like me, just in front of your feet.

Try to keep your gear as flat as possible. Think that you are creating a gear lasagna, ensuring that your equipment goes from one side of your boat to the other on an even layer. Start with heavy on the bottom and soft on the top. If your boat has top storage, clothing and lightweight sleeping bags work great up there.

Long items, such as tarp poles (if you feel these are necessary), should be able to run the length of your boat, fitting next to your seat.

 Space Savers for Camping

Instead of bringing a cooler, consider planning your food not to need one at all. Dehydrated food, canned food, and dry food can fully replace a cooler. If you absolutely must have a cooler, consider a dry bag cooler. These, just like dry bags, can have the air pushed out of them and have a roll-up top.

Another space-saving option is to consider camping with a hammock set up rather than a tent. Hammock set-ups are smaller than backpacking tents, considering that a hammock set up doesn’t need poles. Hammocks are incredibly comfortable, especially after a long day of paddling. 

Even though I tend to splurge and take my backpacking tent, a basic hammock is always in my “must-have” pile. Take into consideration where you are pulling off to sleep, however. It would be terrible only to have a hammock and then a large open area with no trees to hang on.

One more space-saving consideration is to buddy up and pack with a partner. Whether a friend or a spouse, sharing equipment or filling the boats together may help everyone. When two boats are packed simultaneously, it is easy to ensure the boats are balanced and everyone has what they need.

 Dry Bags for Your Gear

Kayakers know that dry bags are essential to being out in the water. However, for camping, not all dry bags are made equal. While vinyl bags are great for storing dry food goods (especially for hanging them in the trees later), these bags stick together, making it tough to get them in and out.

Small bags with rubberized interiors are the absolute best for kayak camping. Small bags fit much better into the strange interior shapes of our boats and can be easily color-coded for organizing.

Labeling dry bags is also a great way to keep things organized. Once I have unpacked my kayak at my campsite, I hang my dry bags with extra hammock straps on nearby trees.

 Layout Everything and Test Run in the Kayak

One of the essential parts of getting ready for any camping trip is the test run – layout all of your gear next to your boat, estimating where it will fit. Then, starting at the ends of your boat, start filling! 

Remember the steps of loading and be mindful of the balance of your boat. You will quickly realize if you need to downsize your gear or have enough room for a luxury item such as a larger camp chair. Don’t forget to prioritize your emergency gear first.

 Tie Down to your Kayak

After putting all of this hard work into packing your boat, it would be detrimental if you flipped on your trip and lost your camping gear. If you don’t have hatches in your boat or equipment in your cabin, please make sure to tie them down. 

I found the easiest way to tie down is to take a long string of paracord with carabiners attached to it. Secure the paracord to my seat, and then hook the carabiners to each bag. Whatever way you choose to tie your camping gear down, make sure you do! I have seen too many shoes and dry bags floating down the river!

Any time a kayak camping trip gets closer, I get out my notepad and start to write all of my packing lists. What food I’m going to bring, what clothes, and my “must-have” gear. Packing is all part of the fun for me. And knowing how to pack a kayak for camping is vital. But, the most important part is to get it all in the boat and get out on the water.

Any more space-saving tips for kayak campers? 

Please leave them in the comments below!

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