I have a lot of friends that are asking me about what all it takes to successfully, and comfortably, do some river camping trips. Most people have experience either camping, kayaking or both, but doing them together brings a whole new set of challenges. Between keeping things dry, keeping things attached to the boat, bringing the right gear and not overloading the boat, there are a lot of things you must have right before your boat even touches the water.
For starters, the biggest thing that will affect your trip is having the right equipment, but not too much weight. This means you will need to start looking into light options for gear that are usually more expensive than regular camping gear. It is also good to invite buddies and help share the load. For instance, when we go on multi-day trips, we will partner up so we only need to bring one of certain items; tents, burners, water pumps… This helps cut the load on the boat and can help keep you from portaging too often. First timers, myself included, are known to over pack with a bunch of gear that does not get used. It takes a few trips to really nail what you are going to need. If you have a big trip planned and have not yet kayak-camped, I would suggest making some single night trips to make sure you have planned out what equipment you will need.
After you have the gear you want to bring on your kayak, the next step is to make sure anything that you don’t want wet is in a waterproof dry bag or case. Water-resistant will not cut it on the river if you take a tumble, wet gear can quickly ruin a trip. I like to use a large dry bag with a zipper like the YETI Panga, because it allows me to unzip and quickly access items from the bag without dumping everything out. This also helps keep water from getting in the dry bag when you are getting into it. When you are packing your dry bags or boxes, try to load your stuff based on when you will use it. For instance, I will have a small dry bag for things I may need on the river; i.e. med kit, goggles, sunscreen… Another bag will have my camping supplies that I wont touch till I’m off the river and a separate bag for dry clothes, shoes and a towel.
Now that you have all your gear waterproofed, you need to load it on your kayak. I will try to load as much as I can in the hull if there is hull storage availability. The type and style of kayak will determine where your gear needs to go. You want to make sure you load the kayak evenly, not too much weight in the front and back. Sometimes it will take you sitting in the boat and moving things around to get it just right.
STRAP EVERYTHING TO THE BOAT! No matter how experienced you are in a kayak, there will be a time you flip over. I have “donated” plenty to the rivers over the years and have finally learned that if it’s not tied down, it may not be there when you get off. I will even secure my gopros with some para-cord even as they are attached to the mounts because I have had them get knocked off before. Having your stuff tied down not only lets you recover it, but also helps keep everything in the kayak if you do flip. I have flipped my kayak fully loaded and was able to flip it back over with everything still in its correct spot. It takes time, and some practice, to figure out how to load and tie down your gear correctly, but can save a ton of heartache while out on the river. Using paracord and carabiners can help make this a quick and easy process.
Now we are onto what gear to bring. This can vary from person to person, but I will list off some of the items I like to bring besides the normal kayaking equipment:
– Tent – I bring a ultralight 3 person tent that I can use if it gets cold or rains
- Hammock – a hammock is a must on the river. It is quick, easy and keeps you off the ground. Also being small, it can easily be stuffed into any dry bag. Along with the hammock, I will bring some hammock straps, a mosquito net and rain fly.
- Sleeping bag, camping pillow, inflatable bed roll (in case I need to use the tent)
- Water pump for filtering river water – Bring a water additive like Mio to help replace lost electrolytes and give you a little better taste to the river water.
- Jet Boil burner stove for heating up MRE’s, coffee, chilli…
- Cooler for food and drinks – Use frozen water bottles to keep food/drink cold and dry. You can also drink the water once it melts and are not carrying water + ice = weight.
- Small pelican case for phone, keys, etc.
- Strap on the front of the kayak for portages
- Cooking equipment – grill grate, cast iron skillet, tongs, plate, utensils, seasonings
- HEADLAMP – a headlamp is essential when out camping. A lot of times you will need both hands when working in the dark and a headlamp will make that much easier.
- Lantern – for moving around camp at night
- Battery Bank – for charging cell phones, lights, etc.
- Goggles – These will come in handy if you flip and need to retrieve items off the bottom
- Sunglass and Croakies to keep them on your head
- Hat – Baseball cap or large brimmed hat to keep you out of the sun.
- Rain jacket or poncho
- Waterproof speaker for the tunes
- Lighter + Fire Starter – Bringing something to quickly and easily start a fire makes for a happy camper
- Small Camp chair or kayak seat if available – having a place to kick back when off the water will help you rest and recover for the next day
- Hatchet – always good if one person can carry a hatchet to help break up sticks for campfires.
- Baby wipes – For ……
- Trash bags – Ziplocs are good for things that may be messy (food wrappers, wipes) while a mesh potato sack is good for cans and larger trash that may be wet.
- Bungee cords/Straps – tying down gear
- Gator Patch – in case of a crack or hole. Duct tape and JB weld can work in a pinch
- Sponge – bailing the hull of the kayak
- Towel – for drying off at the end of the day before putting on dry clothes.
- Food – MRE’s, Canned food, snacks. If you are bringing meat to cook, freeze it solid beforehand to make sure it stays good in the cooler until you are ready to eat it.
Some of the items listed are essential and some of them are not, but may help you have a more comfortable experience while out camping on the river. If you have a group of guys you regularly go with, plan out who will get what so you can share the load. River camping can be a lot of fun, but is not for everyone. There will be struggles and tough trips if you do it enough, but I have always found that the most memorable trips are the ones that made you work for it. It can be a fun challenge and leave you feeling accomplished. Everyone needs a little adventure in their life and this is how you can find it.