Note: This article was originally published in ACK Paddler, our very own in-store printed newsletter which features a variety of resources including how-tos, maps and a calendar of events. To obtain your copy, visit any one of our stores.
There is a very good possibility that you’ve either visited or are currently standing in one of our stores and probably noticed that we carry camping equipment. There is a reason for that. Aside from the fact that most paddlers also enjoy camping, the two are meshing together more than ever. Kayak manufacturers are building kayaks more stable and with plenty of storage options, making them ideal for get-aways.
Kayak camping is like going on a backpacking adventure, it’s all about slimming down the gear you are carrying to a few select and necessary items. Of course, everyone has their own gear preferences and selections can vary depending on where, when and how you are traveling. With that in mind, this article doesn’t necessarily focus on a gear list but rather things you should know when compiling your equipment, storing it and ultimately keeping it secure and yourself safe.
ONE: Stay Afloat
Probably the most important thing you should consider when kayak camping is knowing and understanding the capacity of your kayak. You’ll be carrying more gear than usual and no matter how hard you try, you will add more weight to your kayak than you plan for. The good news is that most 12ft+ recreational kayaks can handle capacities well into the 300s and even low 400s in some cases. However, you should consider leaving at least 50lbs-75lbs between your total weight (including gear) and the maximum capacity of the kayak. Why? A gallon of water weighs just over 8lbs and if you happen to get some unexpected water in your kayak, you’ll be comfortable knowing that you’ll still have some wiggle room for the extra weight.
Tip: Weigh yourself and gear before you hit the water!
TWO: Keep it Light
Just like backpacking, you’ll need to focus on either buying lightweight gear or simply trim what you plan to take with you. Make a gear list, take inventory of what you have and put it all in three piles — “need it”, “nice to have” and “might need to replace with a lighter alternative option”. Speaking of lighter gear, despite what you may think you won’t have to break the bank when you shop for these items. Manufactures such as Kelty and Eureka, focus on developing durable gear that is lightweight yet affordable. You can also shed extra weight by sharing gear if you are paddling with a group. For instance, take one camera, share amongst each other and distribute the photos to everyone when the trip is over.
Tip: Leave any unnecessary product and food packaging, cases, bags and covers at home.
THREE: Make Sure It All Stays Dry
Now that you’ve got you gear in order, you’ll need to determine what needs to stay dry. After a long day of paddling and being wet, you’ll be happy to be resting up at the campsite in DRY gear. Keep in mind that the word “dry” in “dry hatch” can be misleading so don’t rely on that option. Most, if not all kayaks will eventually get some water inside the hull. If you don’t already have them, get yourself several dry bags for your tent, clothing, bedding and food items and dry boxes for electronics and gear with sharp edges. If you need to have access to a GPS or phone, several manufactures such as AquaPac and Seattle Sports make small dry bags for electronics that you can secure around your neck or to your PFD. Make sure you get dry bags that will fit in your kayak and follow instructions on how to properly pack them.
Tip: When packing your dry bags, color-code them by category – red=emergency, blue=clothes, yellow=food, etc.
FOUR: Store it Right
Now that you’ve got all your gear in order, packed and ready to go, you’ll need to figure out how to properly store it in your kayak. If you have a sit inside kayak, you’ll need to take full advantage of your dry hatches and tie downs on the topside of the boat. For those in sit on top kayaks, your rear tankwell will make a great place for gear that you’ll need to access often or that is waterproof. If you are using a hybrid kayak such as the Native Watercraft Ultimate or Wilderness Systems Commander, storage options are more flexible. Either way, the key is to make sure that everything is distributed evenly throughout the kayak for proper flotation and maneuverability. The heaviest items should rest on the bottom of the kayak and closest to the cockpit area while the lighter items (usually clothing and bedding) can be shoved into any remaining spaces left behind. By keeping the heavy items low and close to the cockpit you will help keep the center of gravity low. Refrain from placing too much gear on top of your kayak as it will affect your stability.
Tip: Create a mock packing session in your garage days or at least the night before your trip.
FIVE: Keep it Secure
If you happen to capsize your boat, the last thing you want to do is worry about your gear floating away — you need to focus on you! Most kayaks come with a series of bungee cords on the deck and across the wells, but don’t be fooled, they are not the most reliable attachment points for your dry bags and other gear. Instead, secure some rope to your kayak at various points. Use the bungee as secondary security if your rope happens to fail or if something comes undone. One other thing, make sure your hatch latches are in good working order and don’t forget to properly close them after each use!
Tip: Don’t tie everything together, use some good quality carabineers so that you can easily unclip dry bags and boxes individually.
SIX: Know Your Route
Just like any type of trip you take, be sure to do your research before you head out. Nowadays, we have the luxury of utilizing the Internet to access a variety of resources to maps with satellite imagery, flow rates, weather forecasts and much more. Print what you can and take a step further by identifying and marking your launch and take out points. Last thing you want to do is end up miles from where you should have taken out especially in a river with a strong current. You should also take the time to identify and mark any known hazards. Once again, do your research, you’ll find plenty of information out there and don’t forget to store your maps and notes in a waterproof map sleeve.
SEVEN: Respect the Environment
You don’t have to be a diehard environmentalist to understand the impact humans are making on our natural environment. When planning your trip plan ahead for what you will be doing with your trash and yes, human waste. Try to eliminate as much packaging as possible for all food items. Also, when disposing of trash, consider utilizing an “animal” proof container instead of plastic trash bags.
On the flipside, you probably won’t have access to any public restroom facilities so when it comes to human waste, dig a hole and bury it. However, be aware that some federal and state agencies have specific requirements regarding how to properly dispose of human waste — get informed.
Tip: Take an empty produce bag with you and do your part to pick up trash you see along the shoreline. Just don’t over do it, remember your boat’s capacity!
EIGHT: Be Conscious of Private Property
Most of Texas is privately owned and when it comes to riverbanks and shorelines, they are usually no exceptions. When you are set to head out on your adventure, be sure to study those maps and other resources you found and mark all the points that you know are legally available for public use. While it’s easy to want to just get off your kayak to picnic on a secluded piece of land, keep in mind that you may be doing this in someone’s backyard. Respect his or her property just like you would want someone to do yours. Last thing you want to do is end up in a confrontation in the middle of nowhere.
Tip: Some landowners will let you rest and maybe even camp on their property, it never hurts to ask!
NINE: Stay Safe and Be Prepared
With proper preparation, you will have a fun and safe trip but when the unexpected happens, be ready! Aside from the a few must haves such as a complete first aid kit, signaling device, matches, etc. it’s probably a good idea to carry a few other not so conventional items such as rope, an extra emergency paddle and a kayak repair kit. Also, one of the most important things you can do is tell someone what your plan is. In other words, share your route, return dates, etc. with anybody and everybody. Once again, we could dedicate an entire article to this topic so just be cognizant of weather forecasts, your route, and the wildlife you may encounter and make sound decisions on the type of emergency gear you should take.
Tip: Use a red dry bag for your emergency kit and mark it as so along with your name, emergency contact and any other important medical information with a permanent marker.
TEN: Enjoy Yourself!
Okay so nobody needs to be reminded how to have fun on a kayak camping trip because you just will but make the best of it in every way possible. Kayak camping can be one of the most exhilarating, relaxing and rewarding experiences for any paddler. With proper planning and execution, you’ll surely be making memories that will last a lifetime!
I do invite you to comment below with your suggestions on the things that make your trips more enjoyable and safe.