How to Pack Your Kayak for a Camping Trip

Packing your kayak properly for a camping or touring trip will ensure that you have the best experience while out on the water. There is much to consider when packing your kayak, from the kit you will bring to weight distribution.
In this guide, we will be going over some of the essentials you need on a kayak camping trip, where to pack them, how to distribute the weight evenly, and how to stay as organised as possible. A well-packed kayak makes for a smooth journey without too many hiccups.

What Should You Bring?

There are many things you’ll need to bring on a kayak touring trip. If you are heading out camping on your kayak, there are some things that are absolutely essential and some other items that you could live without. What you will bring will depend on you as an individual and how ambitious your journey is.
In this section, we will be listing all of the essentials you need to bring on a kayak camping trip. We will also be listing some extremely useful extras to bring that will come in useful on your travels. Whether you bring all or just some of these items is entirely up to you, but there are some things on this list that you will need regardless. We consider items such as a shelter and sleeping bag essential, you’ll need these no matter where you are camping.
You may also consider some items that aren’t on the list that are essential to you specifically. Certain comfort items aren’t essential to everyone but if you suffer with backpain or simply can’t camp without a comfy pillow, then you will want to find some extra room on your boat for one.
Where you store your items is extremely important too. Evenly distributing weight is one factor (more on this later), but you should also consider what you’ll need to directly to hand, what you’ll need during breaks through the day, and what you will need only at camp. To help you plan out where to put your kit, we have split the kit list below into three sections – things to keep on the deck, things to stow away for camp, and things to keep handy for day-use.

On the Kayak

There are certain items that you will need to keep on hand with you on the deck of your kayak. Navigation apparatus, clean drinking water, and something to bail with will be needed while you are on the water. Below is a list of things you will need to hand on and off the water:

  • Deck compass for navigation
  • Maps, trail guide, or guidebook (in a waterproof map-case)
  • Digital GPS navigation unit (if you prefer this from traditional paper maps)
  • Phone with waterproof case and lanyard
  • Waterproof camera such as a GoPro (if you plan on documenting your journey)
  • Drinking water in a bottle or hydration bladder
  • Sponge and bailing cup or pump
  • Small first aid kit and an emergency whistle (usually clipped to life vest)
  • Tow strap or rope (extremely handy if you bottom out or want to hitch to another kayak)
  • Hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen (if the weather permits it)
  • Survival knife

Accessible at Camp

Some items such as your tent and sleeping bag will only be needed at camp at the end of the day. There is no need to store these to hand on your kayak as you won’t need these throughout the day. You can store things that you only need at camp at the bottom of your kayak’s built-in dry hatches and at the bottom of your dry bags.
Below, we have a list of items that can be packed in areas that are harder to access. These items will only be needed at camp:

  • Your tent or shelter
  • Sleeping bag
  • Roll mat
  • Your cooking equipment (pan, stove, gas, utensils)
  • Most of your food (minus your lunch and a few snacks)
  • Extra water
  • Spare clothing
  • Wash kit (biodegradable shower gel, toothbrush, toothpaste)
  • Spare camera batteries and battery packs
  • Dirty and wet clothes bag

Accessible During Your Route

Some items will be needed throughout your journey when you pull your kayak up the bank for a lunch or tea break. These items aren’t quite as important to have to hand as the items you keep on deck but are important enough to store at the head of your dry hatches and bags. Below is a list of items that you will likely need throughout the day when you pull up on land for a rest:

  • Your lunch (a sandwich, salad, or pasta)
  • Coffee or tea (if you drink it)
  • Your stove and a pot if you plan on making a hot meal or drink at lunch (leave this with your camp gear if you plan on eating a cold lunch)
  • A water bottle to refill your deck hydration pack or bottle
  • A towel
  • A spare set of socks
  • A lightweight waterproof jacket
  • Toilet paper
  • Hand sanitiser

5 Points to Follow When Packing Your Kayak for Touring

There are five main points to follow when packing your kayak for a camping trip. If you follow all of these closely you will have a better experience both on and off the water. Packing everything you need while keeping your kit light, organised, and distributed well will make sure you enjoy every minute of your journey.

Pack as Much as Necessary as Light as Possible

Make sure you pack everything you need for the duration of your trip but don’t overpack with unessential items. Keeping the weight down as much as possible is essential. If you pack to much weight on your kayak it will become unstable and a nightmare to travel in.

The key to packing what you need and saving weight is to cut down on bulk. When packing clothes, there is no need to pack dozens of t shirts and trousers. Pack enough so you have something dry to change into at camp but there is no need to bring a fresh set of clothes for each day on the water.

When packing food and water it is important to pack exactly what you need and a little spare if weight allows it. When planning your route check out whether there are any opportunities to stop at a shop on the bank. If you are going to paddle past a shop on your tour, then pack enough food to see you through to it. Once you are at the shop you can restock your food to last the next stage of the trip.

Water is the heaviest item you’ll bring on your journey so if you can cut down on this, you’ll free up room for other kit. Think about bringing a water filter or purification tablets with you so you can safely drink the water you’re paddling in; this is a no brainer if you’re looking to save weight.

Distribute the Weight Evenly

Weight distribution is key to staying safe on the water and improving your kayaks tracking. If you pack all your weight on one side of the kayak you risk capsize in demanding water. If you pack all your weight at the front or rear of the kayak you will cause your kayak to track deep in the water.

When packing your kayak, you should aim to store your heavier items evenly throughout the length of the kayak while avoiding storing weight at the tip of the bow and stern. Your heaviest items should be placed low and central in the kayak with lighter items on top and in the bow and stern.

If you are using dry bags for additional storage, you should strap them as low and central as possible. Avoid strapping dry bags close to the bow and stern as the extra weight will negatively impact your tracking.

Stay Organised for Your Route

Staying organised for your route is essential. We will keep this short and sweet because it was covered in the packing lists. Make sure you think about what you will need to hand on the water, what you will need on breaks during the day, and what you will need at camp. Doing this will make you more efficient during the duration of your journey and ensure you are not pulling out all your gear to find your sunglasses halfway through the day!

Maximize Your Storage Space

Making use of every piece of storage space on your kayak is important. Before you even start loading up your dry bags to load on top of your kayak you should look at the dry hatches that are included in your kayak’s design. These spaces are a great place to store your gear and are usually situated to evenly distribute weight.

Using these storage hatches will save clutter on the deck, giving you more room for your essentials. Pack everything you can in these hatches before resorting to packing dry bags. When it comes time to pack your dry bags try to limit the amount you store inside them, so they do not obstruct your view and make your kayak top-heavy.

Keep Your Kit Dry and Safe

Keeping your kit safe and dry is essential. Make sure your dry hatches are indeed dry! Ensure they do not leak and that they are properly sealed before you head out on the water. As for dry bags, ensure yours do not have any tears and are properly rolled to create an airtight seal. Make sure your dry bags are securely connected to your boat as well.

When keeping things close to hand on deck, make sure everything is either waterproof or sealed in waterproof cases and containers. Things like your phone, compass, and maps should be stored in watertight cases with lanyards connecting them to you or your kayak. If you capsize, this will save you chasing your belongings down stream or losing them in the depths.

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