What do I need for Kayak Camping?

What do I need for Kayak Camping?

Whether it’s your first or third time going kayak camping, you will still need to run through a complete kayak camping checklist to make sure you don’t leave behind any essential gear. There’s little you can do about missing equipment when you’re paddling down the river. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

This kayak camping checklist will take you step-by-step through the preparation process so you can focus on the grand adventure you’re about to have!

A Complete Kayak Camping Checklist

Before we dive into the details of what to take with you on an epic kayak camping trip, first let’s review what constitutes as kayak camping and why you need a checklist.

What is kayak camping?

In short, kayak camping is just like backpack camping, except add water and replace the backpack with several dry bags. In long form, it’s a wild adventure that combines the adrenaline and benefits of kayaking and camping all into one.

When you kayak camp, you load everything into your kayak and paddle to your next camping site. You can go slowly, fish during breaks, take a refreshing dip, and fall asleep to a dark night full of stars. What better way to spend some time in the great outdoors?

What type of kayak is best for kayak camping?

If it’s your first time kayak camping, choosing the best type of kayak for camping can seem a little daunting. There are several buying factors, such as weight, storage space, material, maneuverability, and cost, that should be taken into account.

Based on past kayak campers reviews, beginners should start out with a wide recreational or touring kayak as they are more stable than the longer, faster alternatives.

Where you plan on kayaking will also determine which kayak is best for you. If you plan on doing multi-day trips, opt for a kayak with more storage space. If you plan to go kayak camping with a partner or friend, consider getting a double kayak as it’s easier to navigate with two people.

Kayak equipment

The type of kayak equipment you’ll need will vary. Depending on the length and style of your trip, you might find you need more or less of the accessories and gear in the below kayak equipment checklist.

  • Paddles (2 minimum*)
  • Life jacket (PDF – Personal Floatation Device)
  • Dry bags (as many as you need)
  • Bow line
  • Parachute cord
  • Spray skirt for cold water
  • Waterproof phone pouch
  • Kayak repair kit (i.e. duct tape, patches, multi-use tool, sealant)
  • GPS/map and floatable compass
  • Safety whistle
  • Deck light
  • Kayak cover for night
  • Bail sponge or bilge pump

*Paddles are perhaps the most important accessory for any kayak camper which is why it’s important to bring a spare. If you happen to lose your primary paddle, you could find yourself stuck in the middle of a river with no way to “drive” your vehicle.

Also, make sure to bring along extra Velcro or straps to secure your backup paddle inside the kayak. This way, in case of an accidental capsize and your first paddle floats away, you’ll have the second one still attached to the kayak where you need it most.

Packing just the kayak equipment is only half the work. For kayak camping, you also need to plan your camping equipment, in addition to any personal/safety equipment and provisions. Be careful not to overpack, though!

Camping equipment

The camping equipment you’ll need will also depend on the duration and type of camping trip you intend to have. Is it a single overnight camping trip, or multi-day adventure? In either case, here are all the gear items you may need.

  • Camping tent (or hammock*)
  • Waterproof backpack/duffel
  • Sleeping bag and sleeping pad
  • Water filtration system
  • Headlamp (if not solar-powered, take extra batteries)
  • Fire starter/lighter
  • Provisions
  • Radios/walkie-talkies
  • Clothing and cooking gear (see full list below)

*If you plan to do hammock camping instead of tent camping, then note you might need extra accessories to ensure proper set-up. This includes a hammock suspension system, tree straps, spare rope, carabiners, and an underquilt and top quilt to keep warm.


When it comes to the clothing section of your kayak camping checklist, make sure to plan for the water temperature rather than the air temperature displayed on a thermometer. Not only is the air off the water much cooler than the air, if you capsize, risk of hypothermia in cold water is possible.

And remember, even though the weather might be nice and pleasant, it can change rapidly. Check regularly for weather updates before and during your trip.

For water/air temps 60°F (15.5°C) or above, plan to pack:

  • Water resistant shorts/pants
  • Comfortable swim trunks or bathing suit
  • Moisture-wicking tees and long sleeves
  • Neoprene footwear and strapped sandals
  • Sunhat
  • Rain jacket and pants (optional)
  • Bandana (optional)

Tip: Avoid cotton as this fabric chills when wet.

For water/air temps above 60°F, plan to pack synthetic socks/beanie, long underwear, and a dry or wetsuit based on whether the water is cold or very cold.

Personal equipment

Just because you’re going out to spend time in the wilderness doesn’t mean you need to drop your good hygiene practices. Here are the essentials, plus optional items, to consider packing for a short or long kayak camping trip.

  • First aid kit
  • Energizing snacks/electrolytes
  • Extra water bottles or water bag
  • Waterproof containers for storing wallet, money, permits, etc.
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Biodegradable soap and shampoo
  • Sunscreen (SPF 30-50, water resistant)
  • Protective lip balm (SPF 15+)
  • Insect repellent (consider natural ones)
  • Eco-friendly body wipes
  • Menstrual products and/or cup
  • Toilet paper
  • Ziploc bags

Additional personal items that might be worth taking are:

  • Camera gear
  • Journal/diary and pen/pencil
  • Book or Kindle
  • Binoculars for wildlife viewing
  • Fishing gear
  • Extra matches/lighters

Food and water equipment

Food and water are essential for any kayak camping adventure, especially for extended trips. Here is what you should consider including on your kayak camping checklist for all your cooking needs. For shorter trips, you likely won’t need to pack so much (depending on the nature of your trip).

  • Cook kit (complete with stackable pots and pans)
  • Water filters and bottles
  • Cooking utensils (i.e. forks, knives, spoons, spatulas)
  • Lightweight backpacking stove
  • Fuel and backup matches/igniters
  • Sharp knife for food prep
  • Small chopping board
  • Hot/cold cups for beverages
  • Large bamboo spoon
  • Coffee press/mini tea kettle
  • Specialty tools (i.e. can opener)
  • Cleaning supplies (i.e. sponge, scrub, biodegradable solution)
  • Dish rag/towel
  • Food storage container
  • Seasonings of choice (i.e. salt and pepper packets)
  • Iron skillet (optional)

In addition to the above, you will also want to make sure to bring a waterproof cooler or backpack, freezer packs, and any other snacks/provisions you know you’ll be craving come mealtime.

Safety equipment

Safety should always be a mental priority when it comes to camping, kayaking, or the combination of both. The below safety equipment might overlap in other categories, but it’s worth double-noting just in case.

  • Life jacket
  • Backup fire starters
  • Tow line
  • Paddle leash
  • Spare paddle
  • Spare repair parts
  • Bail sponge
  • Toolkit
  • GPS
  • Radio
  • Waterproof compass
  • Map/itinerary*
  • Bear spray (optional)
  • Extra first aid kit for two or more travelers

*Before you set out on your adventure, leave two copies of your trip itinerary; one under the seat of your car and the other with a friend or family member. It’s also wise to keep a spare map of your route for yourself tucked safely inside your boat (and make sure it’s inside a waterproof casing).

Remember, if you absolutely have to sacrifice storage space on anything, let it be on non-essential food items or clothing. Always make sure to keep safety a priority during the trip!

How to organize your kayak camping gear

Now that we’ve gone through the kayak camping checklist, let’s discuss organization.

The easiest way to sort and organize all your gear is to use multiple dry bags. For instance, use one dry bag to store your clothes, one for all your cooking equipment, and one for your camping/safety equipment. This way, you’ll be able to easily grab-and-go and set up camp quicker.

Dry bags are essential for keeping your gear protected and safe. The last thing you want to do when you’re in a hurry is to have to dig through a mountain of clothes and other items to get what you need (or hang-dry all your items in case of a capsize or rain storm!).

The more you categorize and break down this kayak camping checklist into digestible parts, the easier and better it will be to stay organized and on top of things while on the river or at your campsite for the night.

How to best pack your kayak camping gear into the boat

You might be a pro kayaker, but kayaking with all your equipment packed inside results in a very different experience. The weight and navigability of a packed kayak compared to an empty one might be unfamiliar to you as it creates a whole new dynamic to kayaking.

Also, in case you forgot, kayaks don’t have that much storage space to spare. So while this kayak camping checklist is extensive, you might not have room to pack every item of clothing you want to take. The trick is to be frugal while keeping the essentials!

To evenly distribute the weight of your gear, place the heaviest items in the front and rear of your kayak. Lighter items, and items you’ll want to keep handy, should go in the middle. Essential safety items, like your phone, map, GPS, whistle, and first aid kit, should be stored where you can reach them at all times.

Final kayak camping tips

Although you can plan and prepare for everything within your control, there are a few things outside of your control that you just can’t prevent. Such as the weather! Here are a few remaining tips to leave you with.

Weather: The weather can turn sour ever so quickly during camping trips. If there is thunder and lightning, paddle to the shore and seek shelter in a thick forest with short trees. Being exposed in the open water is not a good idea. Rough water will also increase in intensity during and after thunderstorms, so consider this as you plan your river route.

Leaks and repairs: Scrapes and punctures can happen to any kayaker, seasoned or not. Never depart on a kayak camping trip without a backup sealant, a mini repair toolkit, and a bilge pump or bail sponge to take out excess water inside your kayak in case you hit a rock and a spring leaks.

Rash guards: Swimsuits might seem ideal for floating down the river but they often don’t provide very much sun protection. Exposed skin is also prone to scraping and developing contact rashes/burns from the repetitive movement of paddling. In this case, it might be wise to wear a rash guard, bring gloves, and wear over-the-knee pants.

Insects/wildlife: Mosquitos, deer flies, ticks, hornets… Sneaky bites or stings from insects can ruin an otherwise pleasant trip. Bring anti-itch cream with you as well as a repellent to keep pests at bay.


There is so much preparation that goes into an epic kayak camping trip. This kayak camping checklist is only just the beginning, but it’s one of the first necessary steps to take if you wish to have a successful trip on the water.

Forgetting a map, spare paddle, or life jacket can be dangerous, even fatal if an accident happens. Consider the type and duration of your trip, budget, kayak space, and your overall preparedness. Don’t set out on your kayak camping trip prematurely if you’re not feeling equipped or comfortable enough to do so.

But just as much as it is important to dot all your i’s and cross all your t’s, it’s also just as important to have fun! A kayak camping trip is an adventure you’re not likely to forget. So make it memorable and worthwhile as much as you can. And above all, stay safe! 

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