The Beginner’s Guide to Kayak Camping

Imagine paddling through tranquil waters, surrounded by breathtaking landscapes, with nothing but the soft splash of your paddle guiding you forward. The sun begins to set, painting the sky with colors so vibrant that they seem unreal. As night falls, you pull your kayak ashore, set up camp beneath the star-studded sky, and fall asleep to the rhythmic sound of waves gently lapping the shoreline. This is the exquisite allure of kayak camping. It combines the serene beauty of kayaking with the rustic charm of camping, providing an outdoor experience unlike any other. In this blog, we'll take you through the basics of kayak camping, from choosing the right kayak to essential equipment and safety measures. 

Choosing the Right Kayak 

The first thing you'll need is a kayak. Not all kayaks are suitable for camping. You'll need one that can safely hold you and all your camping gear, navigate different water conditions, and withstand the rigors of an extended outdoor adventure. Sit on Top kayaks are typically the best choices for leisurely camping trips, thanks to their stability, storage capacity, and ability to handle both calm and rough waters (Up to class 2). Remember, comfort is critical too. You'll be spending a lot of time in your kayak, so ensure it has an adjustable, comfortable seat and enough legroom. 

Route Planning & Portage 

Like any outdoor adventure, planning is key. Your route should be based on your skill level, capabilities of your kayak, the duration of your trip, and what you want to see. Check maps of the waterways and surrounding areas for potential campsites, rest stops, and points of interest. Pay attention to the weather forecast, river flow, dam releases (if the river is controlled by a dam) and general water conditions. Don't forget to look into any rules or regulations of the waterways and campgrounds, and always have a backup plan in case of emergencies. 

In regards to portaging, your best bet is to find a local outfitter. Even if they have kayaks, you can ask if they’ll offer portaging services for those who bring their own. You can also bring two vehicles, park one at launch, one at take out. When done, load up and return to launch. Make sure both vehicles are capable of handling all the kayaks and gear. 

Packing Your Gear 

Packing for a kayak camping trip is a delicate balancing act. You want to pack light to maintain the kayak's stability and ease of paddling, but you also need to ensure you have everything necessary for your trip. What I typically recommend is packing as if you were going backpacking. Unlike a canoe, where you have plenty of space for grills and coolers, your kayak will have some limitations on what you can bring. 

Here are some essentials: 

  1. Shelter and Bedding: A lightweight, compact tent, sleeping bag, blow up pillow and a sleeping pad should be on top of your list.
  2. Clothing: Pack clothes suitable for both water and land. Include a waterproof jacket and pants, quick-dry clothing, a hat for sun protection, and a change of dry clothes for the camp. If you plan to paddle in the winter, make sure you bring extra clothes to accommodate for the changing temperatures.
  3. Food and Water: Non-perishable, easy-to-cook food items are best such as freeze dried meals you would use on a long backpacking trip. Don't forget a small camping stove and utensils. Pack enough water for your trip, but also bring a water purifier or iodine tablets as a backup.
  4. Navigation and Communication: Bring a waterproof map or GPS, compass, and signaling devices like a whistle or flare. Don't forget your cell phone (in a waterproof case) or a satellite phone for emergencies.
  5. Safety and First Aid: A basic first aid kit, personal flotation device (PFD), paddle float, bilge pump, and headlamp with extra batteries are all essential. If space allows an extra paddle may be good in case of emergency.

Packing your gear properly is critical for both safety and kayak performance. Take advantage of open areas vs enclosed by packing as much as you can in dry bags. In fact, even for items in enclosed areas, I recommend you pack everything in dry bags. You want to put the heavier items just behind you in the tankwell area and in the lower parts of the kayak such as the inside of your front hatch towards the center deck or below your seat if it is raised. Lighter items such as camp chairs, soft bedding can be tethered on top of your bow and stern with bungee. Lastly, make sure you tie everything down and ensure weight is distributed properly.  

Quick tip: purchase different colored dry bags and pack like items in them. For example, red for safety gear and hygiene, blue for bedding, green for clothes, etc. 

Safety Measures 

Kayak camping is exhilarating, but safety should always be your first priority. Always wear your PFD while on the water. Inform someone of your planned route and timeline. Check and double-check the weather forecasts before setting off. Always carry a first aid kit, and know basic first aid procedures. If you're new to kayaking or camping, consider going with an experienced group or guide for your first few trips. 

Leave No Trace 

As adventurers, it's our responsibility to preserve nature's pristine beauty. Follow the “Leave No Trace” principles—carry out all trash, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife, and leave what you find. 


Kayak camping is an incredible way to experience the great outdoors. It might seem daunting at first, but with the right preparation and gear, you'll find it to be an enriching adventure that combines the best of kayaking and camping. Start with short trips, gradually increase your comfort level, and before long, you'll be planning kayak camping trips as your go-to getaway.  

Stay tuned for another kayak camping blog featuring all the items you should bring with you on your next kayak camping trip. 


Happy paddling, and even happier camping!