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How To Pack A Kayak For Camping? (4 Crucial Tips)

If you’re a seasoned kayaker, then you’ve probably dreamed of paddling around, undisturbed for days on end.

All paddlers have had that moment at one point or another in our lives, but it’s also exactly this sort of thinking that can get you into trouble if you’re not well prepared.

Planning a camping trip in your own kayak can be a great adventurous getaway that can add a new dimension to your kayaking experience.

And packing your kayak properly will help to ensure that your camping and boating adventure will be incident-free!

Be sure to factor in your boat’s balance, and protect your gear with waterproof dry bags. It’s also a good idea to pack similar items together, and keep those items you’ll need to reach while you’re on the water more easily accessible. Bring only essential items, while remembering to pack safety gear, since space is limited!

Packing a kayak for camping requires careful planning, similar to any other camping excursion – you should only bring gear that is necessary.

Distributing the weight correctly in your kayak is important in order to maintain the boat’s stability, and using the right equipment to pack and secure your favorite gear will keep it protected while you’re on the water.

This outdoor activity has seen a steady increase year after year, as growing numbers of people pursue recreational activities outdoors.

Camping trips are becoming as popular as weekend adventures and fishing trips.

In this article, we’ve put together the ideal kayak camping checklist for you with a few helpful tips.

Packing A Kayak For Camping

Camping by the lake with people riding kayaks

There is nothing quite like the peace and tranquility of an overnight kayaking/camping adventure with some buddies.

The sounds of nature accompanied by the occasional splash of your paddles in the water, the fresh air, and light breeze in your face is simply good for the soul!

Use Dry Bags

A dry bag will be your best friend when it comes to making sure your gear makes it to your overnight destination clean and dry.

When you close your dry bags, be sure to squeeze out as much air as you can before sealing it so you can conserve precious space inside your cargo area.

Don’t rely on your kayaking skills or your ability to remain upright to keep your gear dry.

Accidents happen, and any kayaker’s boat can be capsized by a freak gust of wind, a partially submerged obstacle, or even leaning over too far to grab snacks!

The storage compartments on most kayaks are small, so it’s recommended to buy several small dry bags rather than a few larger bags.

Keep in mind that a dry bag is not infallible, so I like to use double protection by wrapping items that must absolutely not get wet in a trash bag before placing them inside a dry bag.

In addition to dry bags, it’s also a good idea to have some plastic tote bags as well.

These heavy vinyl bags are good for food because they are sturdier and release less bear-attracting odors.

However, my favorite bags are those made of a polyester fabric (or lightweight nylon) with an internal rubberized waterproof coating.

They do puncture more easily than the heavier bags, but they’re also easier to pack because they slide past each other easily inside a cramped cargo compartment.

Compartmentalize Your Kayak Camping Equipment

Camping supplies and equipment arranged in an organized manner

Keeping certain items of gear together that you’ll need at the same time during your trip will help you stay organized.

For example, pack your fire-making equipment in the same bag as your cooking gear so that when you stop to prepare a meal, you only need to retrieve two bags (one with your food and the other with your camping cookware).

Pack Your Kayak For Accessibility

When you load up your kayak for a camping trip, you need to think about when you’ll need each item, and pack accordingly.

Some items will only be needed when you make landfall, whereas you may need easier access to other things while you’re on the water.

For example, keep your snacks, sunscreen, navigating and safety equipment, First Aid kit, and rain jacket in a place that’s easily accessible.

Pack For Balance

If you pack your kayak without thinking about how it will affect the balance of the boat, you may be in for an unpleasant kayaking experience.

A kayak that is not packed correctly can cause stability issues and make your boat more difficult to control and keep upright, which will require extra effort to paddle.

Don’t forget to take your paddling partner’s weight into consideration too.

Unbalanced packing of your kayak can cause your boat to become upended if a swell hits your kayak in a certain way, or the wind picks up and the water becomes choppy (especially if you’re on a sea kayak).

  • Pack the kayak for left and right balance. Make sure the weight is evenly distributed between the left and right sides, so that the kayak sits straight and doesn’t lean to one side.
  • Pack the kayak for bow-to-stern balance. This is also important, because if the bow is too heavy, it will dig into the water, and the kayak will be sluggish to paddle.
  • Place heavy items at the bottom, closer to the cockpit. Heavier objects, such as water and food, should be toward the middle of the kayak, behind the rear bulkhead, while lighter gear, such as clothing, sleeping bags, and tarps, can be packed in the kayak’s bow and stern. This rule applies in most cases, unless you have a situation like I did, when my paddling partner’s skeg cable broke and he had to load the boat in a stern-heavy manner to compensate.
  • Double-bag electronic gear. Any pieces of electronic gear, such as cameras, mobile phones, GPS units, and two-way radios, should be packed in their own individual waterproof bags before being placed inside larger bags.

*Tip for Packing Your Kayak: Perform a trial run before your first trip to make sure all your gear will fit ahead of time.

What Should You Bring On A Kayak Camping Trip?

Backpack containing camping supplies on top of a rock beside a pond

The most crucial pieces of gear you’ll need on any backpacking trip, as well as a camping and kayaking trip, are a map and a compass, a kayak repair kit (including duct tape), drinking water, a backup paddle, and canned food. 

Longer trips will obviously require more supplies. 

Don’t even think about packing excess belongings, such as your beer cooler, cast-iron Dutch oven, or the backpacking stove you’d usually take camping – your boat can only handle the basics.

It’s also a good idea to repack bulky items, or anything in glass bottles, in order to save space.

Sea kayaking has slightly different necessities.

For sea kayakers, it’s a good idea to also pack a bilge pump, paddle float, and sponge underneath the bungees of the sea kayak, which can be accessed easily on most sea kayaks.

I also usually pack a good pair of water shoes, because dragging a kayak up a muddy riverbank is not fun in flip-flops.

When it comes to determining which less crucial gear to include, well, that’s a personal choice.

My List Of Kayaking/Camping Essentials

These items are on my current personal packing list for whenever I go on a long trip around the Great Lakes, or on inland waterways:

  • Kayaking safety gear
  • Drinking water and a water bottle
  • Food;
  • Sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and other sleeping gear 
  • Tent
  • Personal hygiene items
  • Cookware
  • Fire-making kit
  • Bushcraft knife
  • Warm clothing
  • Windbreaker
  • Headlamp with spare batteries
  • Sun protection
  • First Aid kit
  • Toilet paper


A kayak camping trip is similar to any other camping experience, in that it requires forethought and planning.

The main difference is that you’ll need to do a greater degree of planning for a kayaking camp trip, due to the limited amount of space for cargo on a kayak.

Pack light, but don’t neglect to bring safety gear in lieu of luxury items.

Pack your kayak for balance, and protect your gear with waterproof dry bags, and your kayak camping adventure is sure to be a memorable one!

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