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!

— Jay Gitomer

Keeping Warm, Pt. 10: Kayak shoes!

Keeping Warm, Pt. 10: Kayak shoes!

Why is it that shoes are so exciting? I think it’s because our feet don’t get fat. We may not fit into our favorite jeans from high school anymore, but we can still wear our buffalo platforms (remember them? We wore them with Brittania jeans with leather pocket details).

Returning to the 21st century, let’s talk about kayak shoes.

Tevas & similar sandals

Teva sandals, popular with kayakers

The popular kayaker sandal by Teva

Most people wear sandals, like Tevas. I don’t have a pair of these so I can’t speak from personal experience, but judging on the number of paddlers who do wear them, I guess they’re good. They’re certainly quick-drying and cool. Some people worry about the straps getting caught on a foot peg in the case of a capsize, but I think the actuality of that happening depends a lot on the type of paddling a person does.


What is not to love? You don’t have to look at them–they’re under your deck. Personally, I sort of adore these shoes, but I also love Uggs. So, yeah, I have questionable taste. It’s not a secret, the world has eyes.

Here’s what is good about Crocs: They are easy to keep clean and fresh, knock-offs are very cheap, they float, they come in great colors, and they last until the strap breaks. I like the somewhat stiff and cushiony sole because I push hard against the foot pegs and these keep my feet from hurting. This, however, is my favorite thing

Paddling shoes you love to hate

Comfy, hygienic, great colors, and you can wash them in the dishwasher!

about Crocs: they can be washed in the dishwasher. A shoe that can be washed in the dishwasher is awesome.

Here’s what’s bad about them: For me, at least, the strap around the back of the ankle can be uncomfortable on long journeys. However, the dishwasher factor outweighs the strap irritation.


Five Fingers

I love these shoes. You may be sensing a theme. I really like ugly

Vibram Five Fingers, kayak-friendly & stylish

Coolest shoes ever? Why, yes, they are!

shoes. I want to look like a cartoon from the ankles down. Anyway, these shoes have many benefits. First, they’re hilarious. Second, perfect strangers will point and laugh at you on the street (this has actually happened to me). Third, they’re really comfortable once you get used to them. Fourth, they dry quickly. Fifth, they can go in the clothes washer (not the dishwasher). Sixth, they last pretty long. I’ve had mine for about 4 years and they’re only just beginning to come apart. If you do Crossfit or lift weights, they’ll do double-duty in your sports gear footwear wardrobe. The only downside of them is that not everyone wants to be pointed and laughed at on the street. Plus, they’re not cheap at about $80. Also, you can’t really buy them online. You have to try them on in person. I had to buy them to fit the length of my toes, not the size of my feet.

Actual kayak shoes & scuba booties

Can’t complain about these. They were the first kayak shoes I

NRS paddler shoes

Reliable, affordable, & easy on the eyes

bought and my first pair is still holding up after 5+ years of heavy use. They’re affordable, sturdy, and not too ugly (that’s their main downside). I’d like the sole to be a little stiffer. They let my feet hurt on a long journey, but for most trips, they’re good shoes.


Kayak boots on steroids

NRS kayak boots

These bomb-proof boots are suitable or the apocalypse.

I love these NRS boots. There’s a more expensive version that’s used by British SAS and Navy Seals, but these do the job. I like them because the sole is stiff and they’re great for long journeys and also for short hikes and climbing over slippery rocks. The inset strap is adjustable, so you can make them fit comfortably. They’re sturdy and they look fine. So I recommend these without reservation.

Tall boots

I really like the way these types of boots look. I feel like a superhero

NRS neoprene boots

Best for canoeing

in my Chota Mukluks. However, they do fill up with water if you swim. They’re good for days when the chances of a capsize are low and you have to step into cold water to get into your kayak. As long as the water is lower than the top of the boot, these really are waterproof. I tend to wear mine mostly for canoeing, & I recommend them highly for that.

And that’s the scoop on footwear for paddlers. I’ve missed a bunch of types, I’m sure. What do you recommend and why?

— Jay Gitomer

All original content on these pages is fingerprinted and certified by Digiprove