12 Tips to Pack for Kayak Camping

Many small dry bags are better than a few big ones.

You’ll want lots of these.

So much stuff… such small hatches.

The ice has melted and the daffodils have blossomed. It’s time to think about getting back outside. And getting outside means carrying around a lot of stuff. Here are a few quick tips on how to pack your boat for kayak camping.

The heavy stuff goes near your body; otherwise, your bow or stern will sit too low and you’ll have trouble controlling your boat in wind or waves. Your water is probably your heaviest stuff. If you have dromedaries, tie one behind your seat, and if you need two of them, place the other in the front of your cockpit between your foot pegs and forward bulkhead. If there’s any more water or liquid, place it against the rear bulkhead so it’s as close to your body as possible. If you don’t have dromedaries and are taking plastic bottles, tuck them in around your gear as close to your body as possible.

If you have a compass on your deck, remember that metal stuff should not be stored near it. Compasses have magnets in their pointers, so they can’t function properly if nearby metal attracts the pointer.

The back and front hatches should be filled about equally. If one end of your boat is heavier than the other, the boat will weathercock or leecock. That means it will want to point upwind or downwind, and you’ll have to work a lot harder to control your direction. An easy way to figure out if your gear is divided into two equal loads is to place it in two Ikea bags and lift them to see if they weigh about the same. If not—reorganize.

Then bring at least one of those Ikea bags with you (or, better yet, a big mesh bag), and make sure it’s the last thing that you pack. That way, when you get to your campsite, you can just stuff the big bag with your necessary gear and easily carry it to your site.

A lot of new campers think that a few big dry bags will be easier to manage than a lot of small bags. Not so! It’s hard to fit big bags into small hatches and a lot of space is wasted because the crevices around the big bags are empty. It’s much better to place your stuff into a lot of small bags. That way, every crevice can be filled with stuff.

If you’re an organized type or aspiring to become one, color-code your bags. Use the brightest bags to store the items you want to be able to find most easily. That might include contact lens stuff, toilet paper, or your wallet. Or do whatever works for you; red for first aid, green for wallet, etc.

Not all dry bags are created equally. Choose thick ones. Sea to Summit has thick ones that have a woven texture; these are good. They have less expensive slick ones that are not so good. You can get inexpensive dry bags at West Marine; they carry a good store brand and a brand called Gill; both are waterproof. Dry bags come in plastic or treated cloth. Treated cloth is better; the plastic ones are hard to shove into small spaces because the plastic grips rather than slides.  West Marine’s store brand is plastic and Gill is treated cloth with a translucent plastic window.

If you’re camping someplace buggy (and if there’s someplace to camp that isn’t buggy, please do share), be sure to pack your bug stuff (bug spray,

Bug suits beat bug spray every time. Cheap, effective, & easy to pack.

Bug suits beat bug spray every time. Cheap, effective, & easy to pack.

mesh suit, etc.) near the top of your hatches. You’ll also want your headlamp to be easily accessible. A night without a headlamp is difficult.

If you’re carrying your phone or other items that absolutely cannot get wet, don’t trust one dry bag; double- or triple-bag it.

If you paddle a smaller boat, as a lot of women do, consider an inflatable sleeping pad like this one. It’s manually inflated, so it takes up almost no room. It won’t last forever, but this brand is inexpensive enough to be worth replacing every year or two. And they have a worthy second life; keep a leaky one under your car seat and use it to stand one when changing clothes after your regular day paddles.

Pack your tent frame, stakes, and other light cylindrical stuff way up alongside your skeg box. Otherwise, that’s wasted space.

Don’t waste the space in the bow of your boat. Cram a small bag filled with stuff you have to have ‘just in case’ but probably won’t need. But before you shove it in there, tie a line to its handle and make sure the line stays within reach as you fill the rest of the hatch. That way, you’ll be able to retrieve the bag when you want it.

If you have any tips of your own for packing a kayak, please leave a comment!

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— Jay Gitomer

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