Does paddling a canoe or kayak down a river or across a crystal clear lake to a remote campsite sound like a weekend made in heaven? Well, what’s stopping you? Camping out of your canoe or kayak offers you that get-a-way you've been wanting and that feeling of freedom you've been chasing after.
If you’re already a camper, you probably have most of the gear you need, but a few specialty items will ensure your first overnight water-based camping trip is safe and enjoyable. We’ll leave it to you to have your own kayak or canoe … or to rent one where you’re headed. If its your first time packing your boat for an overnight stay on the water, you could be a little stressed. Here are some what to pack pointers and the ten key specialty items of camping gear you’ll need:
Kayak camping is very much like backpacking when it comes to the basic essentials you'll need for the lake, rivers and campfire. Below is a sample kayak camping packing list to get you started.
- Lantern that's easy to recharge and water resistant
- Bag for garbage
- Personal mess kit like the Texsport Stainless Steel Mess Kit
- Basic first aid kit like the Adventure Medical Kits a smart choice for hiking, kayaking, backpacking
- Knife or Multi-Tools
- GPS or navigational device
- Lighter or waterproof matches like Coghlan's Waterproof Matches
- Bug Spray
- Bear Spray
1. Ascend Heavy-Duty Round-Bottom Dry Bag
The biggest difference between paddle camping and canoe camping is you’ll want to pack everything in dry bags. If you go over or if the skies open up on you, you’ll still be able to put on dry clothes, eat tasty food, and set up a snug, dry camp. Get heavy duty bags in several sizes to accommodate all of your gear. That way they’ll serve double duty for your land-based camping trips, too. Rugged dry bags are always a good idea!
You should wear a life vest any time you’re on the water no matter what kind of craft you’re using – but especially when you’re in a canoe or kayak. And yes, they can be constricting. And yes, they can be too hot. And yes, they can be uncomfortable. So even though they are a bit more expensive than regular life jackets, inflatables are more than worth the money if it gets you to wear a PFD ALL the time! A quick pull of the handle inflates the vest and provides instant buoyancy.
Comfort, enjoyment, and even safety on a paddling camping trip requires you be healthy and well-rested. You won’t be if you don’t get a good night’s sleep. Sleeping on the ground – even with a good pad – makes that an iffy proposition. The answer is a good camping cot. The Big Agnes Helinox weighs less than five pounds and packs into a stuff sack about six inches wide and a couple feet long. Yet it folds out to 74.8” long and 26.8” wide. It will support 320 pounds six inches off the ground! Combine it with a good sleeping pad and you may get your best nights’ sleeps ever.
Whether you combine it with a good camping cot or just deploy it on the ground, a quality sleeping pad makes all the difference. A 3-season mattress like this is the most versatile yet the most packable. From a packed size of just 11”x6.6”, the Therm-A-Rest Trail King self-inflates in seconds to 2.5” of supportive loft with 1.8 R insulation value.
Most paddling camping trips – especially first-time trips – take place during the summer (definitely when the water is not solid!). You want a sleeping bag that will keep you warm on the chilliest night you may encounter, but with the ability to vent for warmer temps, too. A good bag rated down to 40 or 30 degrees Fahrenheit and with zip open options is an excellent choice. Or consider an even lighter bag, but throw in an extra blanket just in case.
It’s a tiny detail piece of gear, but makes a big impact on comfort. When you’re out in the kayak for hours on end, you’re going to ship some water. If you have a sponge or a chamois handy, you can soak it up before it builds up and starts to wet things you don’t want wet. A big absorbent sponge like this should just be part of your every trip paddling kit.
As much as we might want to unplug, bringing your phone on a paddling camping trip is just plain smart. It will serve as GPS, weather forecaster, late night reading, and entertainment if you get stuck in your tent in the rain. Even smarter is protecting that phone no matter how wet things get. The DryCASE will deliver; tested to 100-foot depth for one hour.
If you’re looking for true comfort in a camping tent, the rule is to divide the stated size of the tent by two. So this four-person tent will be really comfortable for two adults and their gear even through a long, rainy weekend. The floor size of the Ascend Red Lodge 4 is 8’2”x6’8” and the height is 57”. The carry weight is just 9 pounds 5 ounces.
A good headlamp should be on the basic gear list for ANY camper, but especially for canoeing and kayaking campers. If you ever find yourself out on the water after dark, you’ll need your hands for paddling. Putting a light or lantern on the bow in front of you isn’t a good option either, because it’s only going to shine straight ahead, and you may need light to the side. Also, plan ahead for the time in camp and select a headlamp with a red lens option so you are blazing your fellow campers’ eyes with a bright white beam.
No matter where you go paddling, you can justifiably look around you and say, “Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.” At least, not without filtering. The Lifestraw Go Bottle changes all that. You can fill the bottle with water from about anywhere you’re paddling, insert the 2-stage filter element, and drink out of the flip up straw at the top – protected from impurities, bacteria, and protozoa.