camping from a kayak


Back when the wife and I started talking about getting kayaks, one of the things we wanted to do was kayak camp. When researching, I came accross this video which helped a lot:



I do a lot of 2-3 night yak trips and when I do it's about comfort these days. Light weight synthetic clothing and no cotton. I typically do freeze dried meals so I can keep gear to a minimum to be able to bring my comfort items such as a cooler of beer, my 2 person tent, nemo sleeping pad, Helios chair and ENO hammock to relax and drink the beer.

I'm not really pressed for room though in a 14' sit on top native slayer fishing yak. It'll hold far more than I need for 3 days but it gets hard to balance 3days worth of beer for the first day or so...


New member
I haven't done a kayak camping trip yet, but its on my list. I'm in Colorado and our mountain waters tend to be a bit tough at times. I'd have to plan out a smooth week long trip for it to be beneficial to me. I'd definitely pack light. Maybe take a touring kayak and sleep inside?!?! Could make for an awesome trip!


Who has done it? What is the typical gear you pack?
I have done a week on the water every year for the past 7 years.

One thing that nobody seems to get on here is that dry bags are actually a requirement, not an option. If you capsize, and flood your storage, drybags are the source of flotation, beyond just keeping your stuff dry. Storage areas are not necessarily watertight, although some designs are certainly better than others. An empty boat will float upside down. A fully loaded boat with gear in drybags will float upside down. A fully loaded boat filled with loose gear that has soaked up all the water, will sink like a stone.

I generally take what you would backpacking, and in addition, canned goods, a full size axe, extra cord, extra tarps, box wine, whiskey in a Nalgene, kayak compass, laminated charts, roll up table, Marine band radio, and spare pair of (dry) shoes. Keep in mind, my trips are coastal British Columbia, where rain and fog are pretty common. Baja may have a completely different requirement.

Other really good things to have are those big blue ikea sacks for hauling your crap up the beach. We have 6 in total, and could certainly use more. Also, if you take very good care of your boats (fiberglass or Kevlar), a pool noodle cut in half does a good job of protecting the bottom of your boat from rocks. I also have a camelback I tuck behind the seat, and feed the tube through my spray skirt.


Thanks for all the info. My trip is going to be a 3 night trip down one of the rivers down east tn. I have been preparing for some time now . I have picked up a few dry bags extra paddle extra lights camping hammock but I still needed to know about all the little things . Thanks again and keep the experiences coming.


I've been kayaking camping several times a year for the last 12 years in remote areas. I use more or less NO dry bags, or if I do use one, it's because it can contain several small items, not because it keeps them dry. You have to know your kayak. Submerge it and see how waterproof your hatch covers are. Mine are 100% waterproof and the hatch covers are extremely tight--never get a single drop of water in the hatches even when fully submerged. I don't even put my down sleeping bag in a waterproof bag.

Dry bags are important or useful in some circumstances, like sprinting from your kayak to your tent carrying a down sleeping bag in a pouring rain. Never happened to me, but it could.

Dry bags are essential if you store vulnerable things in the front of the cockpit. But that's not a smart place for something like a sleeping bag. Better to put things like water jugs up there that can get wet and that can be tethered to the boat. And really you should have a minimum of items in the cockpit and preferably nothing or almost nothing on the deck (depends on weather, in part, and I'm talking about sit in, not SOT kayakas).

I do keep my camera, wallet, binoculars and cell phone in a waterproof plastic box.

I have three sets of gear:
1) Backpacking: extra light and extra small
2) Kayak camping: a big heavier and a bit larger than the backpacking gear, especially the tent and mattress.
3) Car camping

With a kayak you have the space for more gear and weight is only important if you're portaging. A typical 3-day backpack is about 50 to 70 liters. A typical 13' and longer kayak with two hatches has at least 120 liters in the hatches, up to about 200 liters. That's at least twice as much space as a backpack. That allows me, for example, to take a light cot in the kayak.

You asked about a spare paddle. I always take a spare paddle into a remote area. To lose your paddle there would be a disaster. Make sure you are fully equipped for safety and know how to get back in your kayak alone. Wear your pfd 100% of the time.

For a gear list do a google seach for "backpacking gear list."

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If you are planning a first river overnight-er or 3 then get a dry run at a local lake and camp next to the vehicle... Pack the kayak and paddle out on the lake for an hour or two to get use to the weight and loading. If all worked well, paddle back to the shore and camp like it was at a stop down the river using just the things packed in the boat.

You don't want to shove from shore on a swift river only to find an hour later the kayak is overloaded, unstable or cramped. You can also refine your mix between car camping and backpacking packing list.

We don't bring anything cold other than a single coke... Ice is heavy and the coolers are bulky. This saves a lot of effort and makes the ice cream trip taste that much better when your done.


long distance kayaking and camping

I've guided and done logistics for our own kayak expeditions and trips for 30 years. The variety of gear and approaches to travel with a kayak are as varied as the boats. I've noticed some photographs in this thread of the broad open "fishing" kayaks which I assume would be great for lakes and slow rivers, as well as the longer and sleeker sea kayaks which we've used. So, the answer to the question is dependent on the kayak being used and where. Then it's how long the trip will take.

Below is an edited ( for length ) article I wrote for the Metropolitan Association of Sea Kayakers a few years ago about trip planning in Southeast Alaska. I think it covers the basics for long distance sea kayaking. Photographs of our gear and trips can be seen at

Kayak Expeditions in Southeast Alaska

Every kayak expedition is different and all preparation for those trips is personal. There are, of course, some basics that apply to each expedition. A kayak is necessary, and so are shelter, food, a route, and common sense. Within that context all is possible. Over the years, paddling here in Southeast Alaska or on Baffin Island, my thinking about such journeys has evolved with increased experience, skill and knowledge. Traveling light and fast sums up that thinking. Oh, and we like to eat well.

My wife and I start thinking seriously about the next expedition in February. By then, we have each shared our ideas and expectations. Sometime over dinner in late January those ideas congeal to form the goal. This summer it will be a 300 nautical mile (nm) trip from the beach just up from our house and back again. Last year around this time we agreed on circumnavigating Admiralty Island – 350 nm starting from the same place. Two years ago we took the ferry to Ketchikan and paddled to Haines – about 425 nm. All of our trips are unsupported; we eat what we bring.

We pack for the worse conditions we can encounter without being too pessimistic. We carry a 22+ day menu for the 350-400 nm trips, though they typically finish in under two weeks.

Our paddling days consist of two 4-5 hour marches interrupted by the occasional need to pee and a short lunch break. We cover 25 – 30 nm in that time, less if working against the wind.

I'll outline route planning, paddling gear, shelter, food, safety and special considerations for Southeast Alaska expedition touring in this article. From my perspective, expedition planning is personal; these work for us because we have accepted a balance between comfort and speed and between risk and adventure.

Route planning
Finding a route that starts and ends at the same place is ideal for those considering a trip to Southeast Alaska. There are few kayak outfitters in this region and none enjoy having their gear end up far away from their shops. It is fairly easy to find a circular route given the islands and passages.

Once we decide where we are going, we start looking at the charts and Google Earth plotting distances, crossings and potential routes.

We carry charts and topo maps. The topo maps help us find nice camp-sites and water. Charts tell the story of distance, coastline and currents.

A tide table helps plan the day. Trying to paddle against the tidal current in the 3rd and 4th hours of a large 6 hour tide cycle is often unproductive. A chart will tell you if you have the chance of an eddy, but the tide book will tell you its time to stop for lunch. Together they will also let you know if a nice looking beach at high tide will turn into a 150 meter slog over sea weed the next morning when it is at low. Tide books can be found free at any bank, marina and grocery store. It is important to use the correction table included in the book.

Another valuable tool is the NOAA Coast Pilot 8. The Pilot provides a narrative of these waters and offers warnings and suggestions. It describes the area between Ketchikan and Cape Spencer where general ocean coastline is only 250 nautical miles, but tidal shoreline totals 11,085 miles. It is my primary light reading material on trips. It is available to as a free download

We each carry a compass and I have a GPS. The GPS comes in handy to settle arguments over distance and location, made easier since ours has all of the navigation aids and tide tables logged into the base map.

Paddling Gear
Our boats have become deeper and somewhat wider as we have focused on long, unsupported trips. They have also become lighter. Gone is the “expedition” Romany Explorer that weighed all of 75 lbs and had limited volume in the rear hatch because of the skeg box. We both now paddle Current Design Solstice series kayaks. Mine is the GT and her's the older and narrower SS. We carry nothing on our decks besides a spare paddle, paddle float and chart case. We carry spare paddles that serve double duty as poles for tarps.

Our paddling clothes include dry suits, worn during longer crossings, in high seas or in prolonged rain. They most frequently serve as knee bags while underway. We wear a paddle jacket and either shorts or paddling pants on a typical high overcast or showery day. The closer we paddle to the glaciers the more layers we need. A capaline shirt serves on sunny days, especially when the temperature rises above 65.

Bring decent boots for paddling here. The beaches are rocky and slippery and the water is cold. We both wear Muck boots in our boats and bring along Crocs for camp. The latter weigh nothing, love getting wet and are comfortable and easy to wear.

Most people bring too many clothes on a paddling trip. Clothing takes up volume and volume is used for food. As a rule, we have two sets of spare long underwear one of which is for sleeping, a few base underwear, nylon pants, puff jacket, warm hat for sleeping and a few extra pairs of socks. All of my clothing fits into an OR #1 hydro bag, except for the puff jacket, which is compressed along with the sleeping bag and often worn while sleeping. I will sometimes pack a fleece jacket for the cooler trips in June and September. It is nice to have around the fire because it melts slower than my puff jacket.

We use tarps in the rain forest. They can be set in dozens of ways allowing for even the smallest space to be considered home for the night. A tarp set high lets us stand when changing out of paddling clothes. A low tarp shelters us from the wind and rain. We sleep in a bivy under the tarp. Our rope bag includes a small carabineer attached to a 20' line for looping over a limb and tying the tarp from the top loop. We also carry 1/2” screw eyes to secure the tarp loops to a log or tree.

A kitchen tarp provides shelter while cooking and visiting. The fire can be set close enough to give warmth. Our sleeping tarp is 10'x12', the kitchen 7'x9' giving us 180 sq feet of cover for under 3lbs.

Food and Fire and Camp
Our breakfasts and dinners are cooked over a fire. Stoves use fuel that takes volume; and they can break. There is no lack of wood in the Tongass Forest. The trick is to know how to find dry wood after six straight days of rain. The small dead standing Spruce that have been shut out of the light by their larger brethren are the key. That and the dry sticks found under the logs or up against the rock ledges. After just a few hours the abundant driftwood dries sufficiently to burn. We have encountered visitors who look upon fires as somehow evil and wasteful. I don't think they understand where wood comes from or where they are. Our goal is to have a fire set within 20 minutes of landing on the evening beach. Bring a saw. We use the a collapsible saw that weighs less than 10 ounces.

Our cooking pots change from time to time, but lately we've found what looks like a squat tea kettle with a large lid. At just under 2 liters it provides enough for us to cook dinner for two or three. A separate kettle is used for boiling water. Using your nice titanium pots on a fire isn't very smart.

There is no shortage of water in a rain forest. Some of it is colored by the spruce and resembles tea. The past two summers we have had plenty of run off from an abundance of snow, providing clear and cold water. We boil water for tea and soup and use water purifiers for drinking. I hate pumping a filter.

Our breakfast never changes; EmergenC, Protein drink, Oats with Brown sugar and berries, and loose Tea. The move from coffee to tea has reduced the amount of gear we bring for hot drinks and the nasty filters that we always seemed to wait until the last minutes of the fire to burn. We stop for a quick lunch of salmon, cheese or salami, all with olives and served on a tortilla. It is hard to stop in the rain for lunch so we will look for dense cover along a beach. If it is cold a fire will be lit to make tea or soup.

Our ideal beach is small, steep and protected by rock cliffs. Our least favorite is a long sandy beach with tall grass and a stream. The latter may be the most picturesque, but has the highest concentration of bears. It is difficult to paddle more than 2 miles anywhere along these shores and not find a place to camp. Permits are not required, although caution should be taken near villages and towns to avoid camping on native allotments. Don't camp if there is a structure.

We have developed a routine once we decide on a camp. We find a place to set our shelter after we have unloaded the kayaks and tied them to a living tree above the reach of the tide. Our mantra is first things first, and first for us are making sure the shelter is up in case it turns foul. Once the tarp is set, we arrange our food and get a fire going for dinner.

The kitchen tarp is placed near a rock wall to take advantage of the reflective quality of the stone. We sleep as far away from the kitchen as practical.

The dinner menu is varied and uses a pantry approach. Our basic meals for 21 days are cheese tortellini with basil pesto, homemade dehydrated soups with some form of protein, bulgur or couscous with smoked salmon, dehydrated chicken or a retort packaged Indian sauce.

The final hours of the day are spent in conversation, route planning and writing. There is no lack of a view anywhere in coastal Alaska. We often see whales feeding close to shore singly and in groups.

My wife can see a stream of clear water from more than a mile off shore. In the time it would take me to find my empty platypus she will have filled hers, stripped to her underwear and be rinsing her hair in the grass. We build a shower stall from flat stones and a convenient limb once a week. Those are the days I elect to change my socks.

We have developed our own kayak-centric float plan for these trips. The plan includes all of the usual information regarding participants, boats, route and timeline along with the safety gear we carry, food supply and a schedule of prearranged communication check-ins with one or two people on shore.
The best way to be safe in this country is to be observant, careful with your food and camp with a group of four people. That number seems to be the tipping point from which bears avoid contact.

Bear proof containers are critical. You can pretend that a bear can't swim and camp on a small island, or won't be able to reach the bag you hang 10 feet off the ground. But you know it can. We bring 4 Ursack soft sided bear proof containers and one plastic Bear Vault. I'd rather leave the Bear Vault but it does come in handy as a seat. The beauty of the Ursack is that its size lessens as the food is eaten. We use odor proof bags (Watchful Eye Designs) inside the Ursack and put the whole lot in a silnylon bag for rain . The Ursacks are tied to a log or tree, the Bear Vault is wedged under a log or rock. We've not had any difficulties with bears, though we have seen their tracks pass by our kitchen.

Very few people have been eaten by a brown bear, slightly more have been run down and mauled and a number have been charged. I carry a marine grade shotgun with a pistol grip and loaded with slugs. Pepper spray is effective if the wind is with you and not if it isn't. I can't hear a whistle more than 20 feet away on the beach and neither can a bear. We have watched juvenile brown bears look at us with no interest while we blew an air horn. We have also shooed bears off a beach because we were tired and wanted to camp.

Communication gear carried by our group includes VHF radios, a SPOT, 2 meter radios, and cell phones. 2 meters are used on many vessels and there are repeaters around Southeast that can be reached on most occasions. Cell service has improved, but is not reliable more than 25 miles from a town.

A VHF radio is a must and will get you help fast. Unlike the east coast there is little chatter on the VHF in Southeast Alaska. It is used to hail and report, but not to visit. The Coast Guard monitors channels 9 and 16 and will interrupt anyone using those frequencies for more than hailing another vessel. A small am/fm/wx radio is used to check weather and save the batteries of the VHF for hailing and emergencies.

The Coast Guard will rescue you if you screw up. My goal is to never appear in the paper dangling from a helicopter in the arms of a rescue swimmer. So far we have managed to avoid such embarrassments.

We have ditch bags attached to our pfds. They are small packs, originally used as hydration bags, carrying the essentials for survival. Both of ours have a light weight tarp for shelter. Mine has a small metal container for heating water. We have spent the night in a storm under our tarp and against a log in an unscheduled camp. We drank hot tea and ate the protein bars.

Perhaps the most important safety feature is patience. You have to wait when the seas are high, the wind is strong or the surf is rough and you need to come in to pee. You have to move slowly when you want to leave the beach and you are carrying a heavy boat across slippery rocks. You must walk around the three-foot high wet log, walking on top is silly in the rain. You may even have to wait a day or more when the weather is foul and its only 30 miles from home. This doesn't mean we haven't pushed the weather or the seas. These risks are run with years of experience in these waters and the knowledge that our partners are as comfortable as we in five-foot seas.
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New member
The wife and I have 2 12' kayaks with limited storage. We were going to kayak camp on Lake Placid this year, but don't have gear small enough to pack. We ended up renting a canoe which worked out well...can't wait to gear up for kayak camping as the canoe was SLOW.


I have been preparing for some time now and have camped from a canoe so I am ready to move on to my kayak that I have had for years. All this info is really helpful .

Christophe Noel

Expedition Leader
Oh, yes. My longest sea kayak trip was 90+ days. Solo. Self supported in open ocean coastline. I've also done several 7-14 day solos in Alaska.


New member
Pretty well the above.

1. 1 gallon good quality zip lock, no not the dollar store drek. Useful for clothes, whether clean or shtinky. Interior line with a freezer bag or ordinary plastic shopping bag. Works like a charm.

2. Bring two stoves if you can. One proper single burner and as a secondary an el cheapo alcohol burner. Then you can fry up bacon 'n eggs while having a cuppa joe on the alcohol burner. Very handy at brekky time.

3. Vacuum flask(s), whether for food, drink or both. Handy for traveling days. With hot food or drink in these you wont have to set up the kitchen for 2nd brekky or maybe even lunch.

4. MRE's?....bacon is your friend. Not only for brekky but also with pasta and rice. Dont worry about cholesterol and other assorted will be burning calories and you have to make them up somehow. For a short trip it will last....just dont leave it in the sun.

5. For an indulgence and sometimes entertainment a small am\fm\sw with an additional wire antennae, amazing what signals one can pick up in the sticks.