Tips for Getting Into Kayak Camping

camp kayakThe blue water beck­ons. Some­where out there is a remote island with a beach, some­place you can only get to by pad­dling. You’ve rent­ed a kayak or bor­rowed a friend’s. Before you just load up and go, here’s what you should know: some essen­tial gear for kayak camp­ing, and how to make it easy and fun.

Dry Hatch­es
Those com­part­ments inside sea kayaks keep out most of the water if the boat cap­sizes, but not all. If you want to keep your gear dry, but it in dry bags inside the hatch­es. Things that absolute­ly need to stay dry, such as elec­tron­ics and cam­eras, should go into dry box­es with O‑ring seals.

Lots of Small Things Pack Eas­i­er
Don’t pile things in big dry bags as canoers and rafters do. It’s far eas­i­er to cram gear in a kayak when it’s in lots of small dry bags (5–10 liters and small­er) than a few big ones. This lets you use the near­ly infi­nite small spaces between items. Hard objects, like pots and pans and big dry box­es, are the hard­est to pack, so pack those first or find small­er ver­sions.

Bal­ance and Access
Just like a back­pack, you’ll want to make sure your kayak floats even­ly. Too much weight in the ends will make it hard to turn. Bal­ance fore and aft will make it pad­dle nor­mal­ly, instead of tilt­ing to one side or wan­der­ing across the water like a drunk stum­bling down the side­walk. And think about what you want access to eas­i­ly: lunch, jack­et, gloves, etc. and what you won’t need until camp.

Keep a Clean Deck
You’ll be tempt­ed to strap lots of stuff to the deck. Don’t. Gear on the deck makes the kayak unsta­ble, catch­es the wind, and com­pli­cates res­cues. A fright­en­ing num­ber of acci­dents and coast guard res­cues involve pad­dlers who had moun­tains of gear strapped to the deck. Kayaks are designed to be pad­dled with gear inside, not on top.

Bring Less Than You Want
Kayaks can car­ry a lot—more than you need unless you’re head­ing out for weeks on end. Resist the urge to bring fire­wood, tons of extra camp gear, or a boc­ce ball set. You’ll have to car­ry every­thing you bring up and down the beach twice every day. You’re there to have fun, not to lug stuff back and forth.

Try Pack­ing First
Try pack­ing your gear in your back­yard to make sure it fits. There’s noth­ing more embar­rass­ing than being the guy every­one’s wait­ing for on the beach, only to have to ask your pals to bail you out by car­ry­ing your sleep­ing bag.

The Sur­face Moves
Unlike hik­ing or climb­ing, a kayak moves on a sur­face that’s always mov­ing. Tides rise and drop, reveal­ing hid­den rocks and suck­ing away kayaks left unse­cured overnight, and some­times even swamp­ing tents that are too low on the beach. Cur­rents cre­ate a tread­mill that can either stop your progress or speed you along. Learn how to read tide and cur­rent tables.

Go Ear­ly and Watch the Weath­er
The wind is an equal­ly big fac­tor that applies far less when you’re back­pack­ing. Learn the pat­terns and lis­ten to the fore­cast. On the west coast, most sun­ny days will have a north­west wind that ris­es short­ly after noon and builds in strength. Don’t be caught unawares by this famil­iar pat­tern.

Know Your Route
It’s easy to get lost on the water. Unlike hik­ing, where your per­spec­tive changes as you climb ridges, in a kayak you’re always about 3 feet off the water. Islands can look like penin­su­las and bays dis­ap­pear against vast shore­lines. Learn how to read a chart, which is dif­fer­ent from a topo­graph­i­cal map. And in the US, most chart data is free online.

Have Fun!
There are few joys like trav­el­ing self-sup­port­ed on the sea. Don’t be sur­prised if you get hooked.