Kayak Camping Tips

Kayak Camping Tips

Do you dream of that pristine campsite with the great view that is void of other humans? We know it sounds selfish but we all want our camping adventures to be unique and fantastic! The absolute best way to get to these secluded campsites is to try your hand at kayak camping.

Here we’re going to go over several kayak camping tips to assure your next adventure is safe and exciting.

Our 18 favourite tips and tricks for a successful kayaking camping trip

01 – Plan Ahead

You are now including things like boat transportation and knowledge of weather and water bodies when you take on a kayak camping trip.  Planning ahead is one of the most important kayak camping tips because it sets the pace for your entire trip.

You can even scout your location first before going on the camping trip. Don’t forget to tell someone where you are going and when you should return. You are traveling on water now so that adds an element of danger.

02 – Pack Small

Your kayak camping trip is not an internal frame pack, backwoods adventure with a six-person tent. Instead, you are going for a minimalist approach. You want to take on the vital pieces and pack as small as possible. This is because you are going to have minimal space when it comes to packing the kayak, keeping it balanced, and keeping everything dry.

03 – Pack Light

Your entire camp will have to be carried on a boat! Well, a small kayak to be exact. So, this means you not only need to pack small, but you also must pack light. Keeping your gear light will assure that your kayak doesn’t sink too deep into the water.

When a kayak is overburdened by weight it will not be able to perform properly in the water.

04 – Use Dry Bags

Kayaks tip. They can flip over and spit you and all your camping gear out into the water. If this is a fall camp or early spring, you could even risk hypothermia from a situation like this! So, rather than worry about managing a wet pack full of cold, wet gear, you can simply use dry bags to pack everything!

This is great insurance against things like rough waters and accidents.

05 – Watch the Forecast

Hopefully, you watch the weather when you plan a camping trip in general. This is particularly important and its better if you know what you are dealing with. Another great kayak camping tip is to watch the forecast for rain events in particular.

You are not just concerned about your core body temperature, but you also must consider water levels. If you are in the rainy seasons your rivers and streams might be impossible to navigate. Conversely, in the drought season, you might pull up to find a stream you were going to navigate has evaporated completely!

06 – Know your Body of Water

Which brings us to the body of water. If you are going to be kayak camping you need to understand the body of water, you will be traveling. Is it a lake, stream, or river? Is it tidal? What are the dangers. Get to know that body of water so you can navigate it more effectively.

There are some serious dangers when it comes to navigating a river you are unfamiliar with. Panic can be a killer if you find yourself headed for some rapids you didn’t see on the map.

07 – Pre-Pack Before the Event

The loading of your kayak should be completed in a dry run while the kayak is on dry land. Be sure you can load this kayak on land without a problem days before your trip. Just sit the kayak in your front yard and load it with all your gear.

You will learn so much about your gear and how it fits by doing this one time before your trip. The dry run pack is essential to a successful trip. You might even find that you have extra space and can pack something more.

Be sure you pack larger and heavier items at the bottom of your storage areas and the lighter smaller things on top.  

08 – Clear the Deck

While it might be alluring to try and tether more gear to the deck of the boat, avoid that. If you are planning on tethering gear to the deck that should let you know you are taking too much! Cut the gear down. Go over it again with a fine-tooth comb. Take only what is essential.

If you find yourself going on longer journeys during your kayak camping trips that require more gear, well, it might be time for you to invest in a larger kayak to get the job done. The 1-3 day kayak camping trip is a different kind of packing than the 5-7 day trip. You might need a better kayak for the adventure.

09 – Camp Close to the Shore

That call of adventure is something immensely powerful. I have been compelled over mountains, successive hills and into deeper waters time and time again because of my desire to explore what is just downstream or what is just over the next ridge.

You must work awfully hard to not fall into this trap when you are looking for a kayak campsite. Since you are dependent on the kayak for your return trip you are going to setup camp close to the shoreline. If something unexpected happens and you wind up needing the boat, you don’t want to have to hike miles to get to it. You also don’t want to arrive at the water’s edge and find someone else decided your boat would be better off if it were theirs!

In short camp close to the shore so you can keep eyes on the kayak and leave quickly in an emergency. 

10 – Go Early

Everything is better early. This is particularly true when it comes to kayak camping. If you are heading out to a new area, this is even truer of your adventure. Give yourself plenty of time to execute on a number of things.

1.      You will not have to deal with other people on trails or as many kayaks in the water. Also, there won’t be as many people who see where you go, thus keeping your little location as private as possible.

2.      You will have plenty of time to find the best spot, setup camp and be ready for the rest of the day. Remember, if you get setup too early you can leave basecamp and go explore, fish or whatever else you wanna do.

3.      If you encounter any kind of problem like a tip over or get lost, you will have ample time to right the ship and get back to setting up camp for the night.

11 – Pack Plenty of Food

You are doing much more than hiking on this trip. You are not only going to be challenging your body, but you are also going to be challenging your mind. This will burn lots of calories and you will need to readily replace them.

While you might have your heart set on some grandiose meal, that’s fine but also be prepared with plenty of snacks on hand that are ready to eat. Be sure you have things like granola, dried fruit, and jerky to help you along your way.

Store plenty of food in your pockets, too, so you can access them on your kayak ride. This is particularly helpful if you have a long ride ahead of you!

12 – Use a Quality Paddle

Getting up and down the river can be a quick and easy process, or it can be a long and arduous one. A lot of this will have to do with the type of paddle that you use. A cheap paddle that is too small will push as much water as a nice big, high quality paddle.

If you are covering lots of water than this is a vital part of your kayak camping trip

13 – Store Physical Maps

No matter when you go into the wilderness you are going to be faced with several potential challenges. You should always have a set of paper physical maps with you.

In this age of technology, it is easy to over rely on things like Google Maps. Once you get over water or on an island in the middle of the water, you will find that there is limited signal at best. You would never pay for a map that dissolved depending on where you were on the trip.

Don’t depend on technologies like these that are ineffective in the wilderness, invest in some paper maps

14 – Pace Yourself on the Water

While it can be extremely exciting to get to your campsite or to explore a new piece of land that is just across the water, be sure that you pace yourself. Be smart on the water and understand that if you are facing a strong current your trip may take longer than you expected.

You do not want to arrive to your destination exhausted from trying to sprint the moving water. Take your time with your kayak and be smart with your energy.

If you are facing a tidal river you might also consider hitting the water at low tide to avoid a larger and more powerful body of water. It can make a huge difference in what you do.

15 – Enjoy the Water

The kayak and the water are much more than transportation. One of the most important kayak camping tips is a reminder to enjoy the water while you are on it. Again, this is a benefit of leaving early. You can take in the water, the creatures on the banks, the sky over the water and all the things that boaters enjoy.

Sometimes we get caught up in the end of the journey and forget to enjoy the journey itself. Walking up a mountain is as much about the things you see along the way as it is about the selfie you take at the apex.

With kayak camping it is much the same idea. You have a cool place where you would like to end up, but you also have a journey along the way. The kayak trip could be one of the best parts. What if you decide to catch dinner while you are out there?

16 – Stretch After Kayaking

Another great tip is to take your time and stretch once you arrive on shore. After sitting for such an extended period, you will be tighter than you think. If you pop out from the kayak and get hiking elevation you might strain a muscle.

Don’t get taken by surprise with an injury that you could have easily avoided. Instead, take some time once you come assure and stretch out your body.

Here are 5 muscles you should stretch:

  1. Hamstrings
  2. Lower Back
  3. Calves
  4. Upper Back
  5. Core

17 – Dry Your Gear

Upon arriving you also want to take the time to dry any gear that got wet on the water. Even something as simple as your hat or outer layer. Get them off and find a nice sunny spot to sit them or hang them. By taking care of wet stuff as soon as you get on dry land you will be able to turn your focus to other, more important matters, like enjoying the kayak camping trip!

18 – Check Gear After Arriving

If you take only one of these kayak camping tips to heart, make it this one. Do not wait till you hike to your campsite or until the sun sets to find out you are missing your flashlight! Instead, bring your kayak ashore and promptly go over the full load out of gear that you brought along.

Put your hands on each piece of gear you need for the camp and you might even store a small list in a Ziplock bag to double check. If you find you are missing something upon arrival it gives you way more time to figure out your backup plan.

By this point in the trip you aren’t heading home. You must use a little survival acumen to mitigate the loss of that important item. Get creative! Just don’t wait till the end of the day to check all your gear.


This list of tips is designed to make your next adventure one that you wont soon forget. We put a lot of meaning into our adventures because they are often times a rarity. Do the work up front and you will be hard to stop once you arrive at camp.

Above all, be safe and take the time to look around and really enjoy the natural world. That is the point of all this walking, packing, and paddling. Isn’t it?

Related guides

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Canoes vs. Kayaks

How To Kayak Surf

Single Kayaks vs. Double Kayaks

Sit-on-Top VS Sit-Inside Kayaks

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