July 25, 2022 12 min read

Camping With a Kayak

Group of people camping near a lake

The fun possibilities of a kayak don’t just end on the water. Kayak camping is becoming more and more popular as kayaks can reach remote places that once would have been impossible to get to with larger motorized boats.

If you’re planning a camping trip on your kayak, we’ve created a list of tips, important information, and a packing list so you can be prepared and equipped with everything you’d need before heading out. Keep on reading for the ultimate guide on how to camp overnight with your kayak.

Benefits of Kayak Camping

Group of people kayaking on the river

Kayak camping comes with a range of benefits and if you’re still on the fence about whether a kayak camping adventure is a good idea, then these advantages should sway you in the right direction. 

You Can Explore Remote Places

One of the major benefits of a kayak camping trip is that you can explore out of reach remote places that aren’t accessible by foot or by a larger boat. If you’re really feeling adventurous, you could even jump in your kayak without a destination in mind and see where the wind (or river) takes you. 

As kayaks are more streamlined than your average boat, they’re able to access narrower and shallower waters. These waters that you once couldn’t get through or be prohibited from entering are now easily accessible by the non-motorized kayak.

Kayaking and Camping Are Great Stress Relievers

Being out in nature in itself is a great stress reliever. But, add in some low-impact exercise, and you’ve got yourself an influx of endorphins that are bound to reduce stress and bring you some much-needed peace.

Camping With a Kayak Is a Fantastic Challenge

If you’ve mastered your kayaking skills and need a new challenge, then kayak camping is an excellent option. The added weight from additional gear, along with navigating rivers to find the perfect campsite, could be just what you need to break the rut of your average paddle.

The Whole Family Can Do It

The great thing about kayaking and camping is that they’re both family-friendly activities. Heck, you can even take your dog along with you if you really want to.

Kayaking especially is an amazing bonding experience with your children because let’s face it; you’re stuck in a kayak together with no distractions from phones, TVs, or iPads. 

Follow that up with a remote camping experience, and before you know it, you’ve racked up 24+ hours of quality one-on-one time that you wouldn’t have gotten from staying at home.

Tandem kayaks are the best option for family camping trips as they not only give you additional space for the youngsters but also provide extra room for additional camping gear. 

Plan Your Trip

Man on a blue shirt planning a kayak camping trip

Now that we’ve covered the benefits of kayak camping, let’s get into some of the things you need to do before heading out on your overnight trip. 

The first and most important step is to plan your trip. If this is your very first kayak camping trip, then we highly recommend that you don’t jump into the deep end and instead select a shorter route with relatively calm waters. 

It would also be beneficial to only head out for a one or two-day overnight kayak camping trip. Longer kayak camping trips require more gear which could be difficult to transport on your kayak. When it comes to transporting gear on a kayak, practice makes perfect, and the more you paddle with added weight on board, the easier it will be to remain balanced on the water. 

Once you’ve decided on a paddling route and a spot to set up camp, then you should always hand this information over to a reliable friend or family member. If something were to happen during your trip and you didn’t return when you said you were going to, then this person has all the relevant information they’d need to inform emergency services. 

It may seem extreme, but you never know what will happen. 

Check the Weather

Weather can make a huge impact on your camping trip. After all, no one wants to be camping and kayaking in the middle of a thunderstorm now, do they? 

In our opinion, it’s best to check the weather leading up to your trip and then double-check the morning before you leave. If the weather looks ideal, then you’re good to go! But, if a thunderstorm or severe weather is approaching, then it may be best to postpone the trip until the following weekend. 

Along with how the weather will affect your paddling and camping conditions, it will also determine the gear you need to bring. For example, hot sunny weather will call for sunscreen and UV protective clothing, whereas cold, wet, or windy weather will require raincoats, additional layers, and potentially a thicker sleeping bag. 

With that being said, however, the weather is unpredictable, so it’s best to pack and prepare for all weather conditions. 

Determine Your Kayaks Load Capacity

White inflatable kayak with a loads

All kayaks have a load capacity and what this means is the amount of weight the kayak can carry while still remaining buoyant on the water. 

In normal circumstances, when you don’t have additional gear on your kayak, you will remain way under the maximum load capacity. But, once you add all your kayak camping gear on board, you may be close to or even end up topping this maximum weight. 

Carrying too much weight on your kayak will cause it to sink further into the water, which in turn makes paddling and turning your kayak extremely difficult. To prevent going over your kayak’s load capacity, follow these steps:

  1. Weigh yourself and any passengers that may be on board with you.
  2. Weigh all the gear you’ll be taking with you. This will include all your camping gear along with any additional food and water.
  3. Combine these two numbers together and ensure they’re roughly 10 lbs under your kayak's maximum load capacity.

Distribute the Weight of Your Gear

The total weight on board the kayak isn’t the only thing you need to take into consideration. Once you’ve narrowed down all the gear you want to take on your kayaking trip, you need to evenly distribute the weight inside the kayak. 

For example, you don’t want to secure all of your gear to the kayak’s back end. Concentrating all the weight on the back end will cause the front of the kayak to lift from the water and vice versa. 

You should also try to distribute the weight evenly on the left and right sides of the kayak. Too much weight on the left will cause the left side to sink down, and the same on the right. 

We like to do a packing test run before we head out in the water by placing our kayak on some grass or a carpeted area and packing it as if we were setting off on our kayak trip. By doing this, you can see if you’ve distributed the weight well which ultimately saves you time at the water’s edge. 

Check Your Kayak Is in Good Working Order

Man checking kayak is in good condition

Not many people think to do this, but before they set off, you should always check your kayak for any damage. 

Let’s say you have a crack in your kayak that has gone unnoticed, sure, it might be fine for the first few kilometers of your paddling trip, but after a while, that crack could get worse and eventually start taking in water. If your kayak starts taking in water, then we all know what's going to happen. 

To prevent any disasters or soggy kayakers/gear, you should always check your kayak and ensure it’s in good working order.

Check Your List Twice Before Heading Off

We’re going to get into the overnight kayak camping checklist a little bit later, but we thought it was important to mention that you should double-check your list and your gear before heading off. 

I think it is safe to say that we have all packed for a trip and realized we had forgotten something when we reached our destination. It happens. But when you’re on a camping trip in the middle of nowhere, forgetting something important could be a huge problem. 

This is why we suggest writing a list of everything you need or want for your trip. When you come to pack your bag, you can tick off each item to ensure it's packed and ready to go. 

At the bottom of the list, it’s also beneficial to write down the items that need to be packed last minute. You could even set a reminder on your phone for an hour before you’re meant to leave so that these items really do get packed. 

How to Select the Right Gear

When selecting gear for your trip, think lightweight, compact, and weather appropriate. Ideally, you’d want to fit all your clothes in a backpack as if you were heading out on a backpacking trip. 

Minimalism on overnight kayak camping adventures is key as remember; you need to fit all of your gear and equipment into a tiny boat with you. If you’re an over-packer, then you really need to take the extra time of thinking, “do I really need this item?” If the answer is no, leave it off your packing list and focus on the important gear.

We know minimal packing is hard, but trust us, you’ll be grateful that your legs aren’t squished in the cockpit during your multiple hour paddles.

Overnight Camping and Kayaking Gear Checklist

Kayak and camping tent setup on an island

Now that you’ve got minimalism in mind, here is our ultimate gear checklist for your next kayak camping trip.

Kayak, Shelter, and Survival Tools

  • Kayak with adequate storage - Your sit-in kayak may not be the best kayak for camping unless you’ve really got minimalism down to a T. Instead, opt for a sit-on-top kayak with bungee storage at the front and back. 
  • Tent- Weather permitted, and if you’re feeling extra brave, then you could even skip a tent and sleep out under the stars. But, if you’d like the extra protection against the elements and pesky mosquitoes, then a lightweight, waterproof tent should be the next piece of gear on your list. 
  • Bedding - Most people opt for sleeping bags when heading out on a camping trip. Sleeping bags are easy to store, lightweight, and come in a range of thicknesses that are suitable for all outdoor temperatures. 
  • Dry clothing and rain gear- The weather can be unpredictable, so even when blue skies are forecast, it’s smart to pack light rain gear so you aren’t left soggy and cold in the event of a downpour. We suggest keeping your clothes in a dry bag to prevent any water from reaching them. 
  • Torch - Funnily enough, remote places out in nature don’t have electricity, which means no lights. Come nightfall, a torch or a headlamp will save you during toilet trips and prevent you from tripping over any tent poles. 
  • First aid kit - Accidents happen, and although a first aid kit won’t be of much use for serious injuries, they can temporarily fix up any cuts, scrapes, or bumps. 
  • Life jacket - Whenever you’re going out on your kayak, you should alwayswear a life jacket. Life jackets can save your life in an emergency, and they can also double up as an additional layer during the colder months. 
  • Survival knife or an ax- If you’re truly roughing it or plan on creating a campfire, then you’ll need an ax.
  • Satellite phone - A satellite phone is a crucial piece of gear, and although you might not use it, it is better to be safe than sorry. 
  • Waterproof matches - Matches with a waterproof case will ensure you can always start a fire, even if that fire is to dry you off after you capsized.

Cooking Equipment and Food

three kids near kayak with a s'mores

  • Stove - Camping stoves are extremely small and lightweight, making them perfect for transporting on a kayak. If you’re taking the whole family, however, you may be better off with a small portable bbq to give you a larger grill space. 
  • Cooking utensils - You could go all Bear Grylls and use a stick to stir your food, or you could pack some cooking utensils and cutlery. There are even compact utensil kits that include everything you’d need for a night or two out in the wilderness.
  • Cooler - Fridges don’t exist in nature (unless you’re paddling in a cold region of the world), so to keep your drinks and perishable food cool, you’ll need a cooler. Coolers come in a hard shell or soft shell variation, both of which can easily fit onto the front or back bungee area of your kayak. 
  • Food - As your cooking equipment will be limited, you need to think long and hard about the food you pack for your kayaking trip. It’s also important to remember that you’ll be burning lots of calories while paddling, so calorie-dense foods are recommended. Some great camping food options include tinned meat, frozen meat, vegetables, nuts, and ready-to-eat meals. If you’re really dedicated to the trip, you could even cook, dehydrate, and then rehydrate your own meals. 
  • Tea and coffee - There is nothing nicer than waking up, unzipping your tent, and taking in the surrounding nature with a coffee in hand. 
  • Water bottle - Your water intake is extremely important, especially during exercise. Reusable water bottles are favored when camping as they’re not only environmentally friendly, but many of them can keep their contents hot or cold for numerous hours.

Miscellaneous 

  • Dry bags - Dry bags are essential. And we mean essential. Not only do they keep all of your belongings together, but they also keep them dry. Even if you fall into the water, you’ll always have a dry pair of clothes to change into, thanks to a dry bag.
  • Power bank - If you’re in an area where you do have a phone signal, then a power bank is the answer to all your phone charging problems. Having a charged phone means you can follow maps, use the flashlight at night, or text updates of your current location. 
  • Litter bags - Everything you take out on your trip with you should always come back with you. That includes any food wrappers or general trash. Litter bags can keep your trash in one place, and they can also separate dirty or wet laundry. 
  • Sunscreen- No matter what the weather, you should always be applying sunscreen! Include a high SPF in your bag to prevent sunburn and discomfort on your paddle.
  • Bug spray - Being bitten by bugs out in nature is inevitable, so pack your bug spray and thank us later. 

Kayak Camping Tips

two kayakers on the lake

  1. For your first kayak camping trip, try and head out with experienced kayak campers. They will already know the ins and outs of kayak camping, so you can avoid making the same mistakes they first did. 
  2. Pack lots of water while keeping an eye on your maximum load capacity. Paddling is thirsty work, and you don’t want to run out of water during your trip. We recommend storing your water in collapsible water containers so that once empty, they can be carried out and stored far easier. 
  3. Remove your tent poles from your tent bag and place them next to your seat. This then allows your tent to be squished into smaller spaces. 
  4. Bring extras of all your essential gear. E.g., extra matches, batteries, and food.
  5. Pack wet wipes and toilet paper because the bath and toilet facilities won’t be easily accessible. 
  6. Have a plan A and a plan B campsite. Your first choice could be crowded or have poor ground conditions, so it is always safe to have a plan B. 
  7. Learn safety and survival skills. Skills such as CPR, first aid, starting a fire, and navigation could all come in handy or even save a life. 
  8. If you live in areas where there are bears, always store your food in a bear-proof hanging system or container.
  9. Secure your kayak when camping overnight by pulling it up onto land and placing it next to your tent. 
  10. Pack the items you may need while paddling on top, so you don’t have to move everything mid-paddle. 

FAQ’S

🏆 Can you go camping with a kayak?

Yes! Camping with a kayak is gaining popularity as kayaks can reach remote places that are inaccessible by larger boats or on foot. 

Kayak camping is relatively easy as all it takes is for you to pack your normal camping gear into your kayak and paddle out to your chosen kayak camp. 


👍 What type of kayak Is best to take camping?

A sit-on-top kayak is the best type of kayak to take camping as they offer more storage areas than sit-in kayaks

If you’re purchasing a kayak for the sole purpose of kayak camping, then we suggest finding a kayak option that is long and has a wide deck space. This additional length and width will make all the difference when packing and distributing your camping gear. 


🏝️ What are some tips for kayak camping?

Some of our top kayak camping tips include: 

  1. Head out with experienced kayak campers.
  2. Pack and drink lots of water.
  3. Place your tent poles and other long items next to your seat.
  4. Bring extra essentials like batteries, matches, and food.
  5. Pack wet wipes and toilet paper.
  6. Always have a plan A and a plan B campsite.
  7. Learn safety and survival skills.
  8. Take and use bear-proof food containers in areas where there are bears.
  9. Secure your kayak overnight.
  10. Pack important items on top. 

❓ How much gear should I pack when kayak camping?

The only thing stopping you from taking everything and the kitchen sink is your kayak’s maximum load capacity. Each and every kayak has a certain weight that it can hold, and you need to remain under this limit to keep your kayak working at its best. 

Having too much gear on a kayak will cause it to sink it too far into the water, which makes it difficult to paddle and maneuver. We suggest taking note of your kayak’s load capacity, weighing yourself, any passengers, and any gear you’ll be taking on board, and comparing the two numbers together. 

If you’ve gone over the limit, then it is time to be ruthless and remove some things from your gear list.

Megan Bryant
Megan Bryant

Based in Bali, her favorite SUP spot is the GILI Islands themselves. Travel is another passion of hers - she dreams to see the entire world one day.


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