Kayak Camping (a journey of our journeys)

Sunset from our campsite on Blake

The first time my husband and I camped from our NC Kayaks, we paddled 10 nautical miles to spend the night at a local marine trails campsite. For unknown reasons, we picked the hottest day of the summer to travel the furthest I had ever paddled in a day. When we got to our campsite at Kopachuck State Park, I was SO GLAD that we had packed the reclining camp chairs as I sat in the shade of a tree and guzzled cold water. On my second kayak camping adventure, we paddled less than 2 nautical miles. That time, we brought enough food and water for nearly a week… even though we were at our campsite for less than a day, and we were camped next to the potable water spigot. That time, we camped next to folks who had arrived on Blake Island in sailboats and cabin cruisers. We surprised the other campers with the amount of gear we’d been able to bring in our sea kayaks. Our next trip was in preparation for the inaugural SEVENTY48, and we were focused on speed and distance over luxury. We still brought a ton more gear than we needed (and pared down even more for the race itself). Kayak camping offers its own rewards, whether your goal is speed, distance, comfort, or a combination of all three.

Wouldn’t You Like to Get Away…

It’s hard to beat the sense of accomplishment that comes from trekking off the beaten path and the serenity of finding the perfect, remote camping spot to unwind in nature. Whether you choose to go as far as you can, with minimal time in each campsite and the bare necessities for survival, or you prefer to create a more luxurious home-away-from-home each night, kayak camping can get you there.

Dawn at Kopachuck State Park

How Far, How Fast, and How Long

No matter what your style, you’ll need to plan for the necessities – think ten essentials, plus a bit more for kayaking and camping. Once those needs are met, you can start thinking about what you’re trying to get out of the trip. Are you seeking a new personal best for mileage during your vacation? Are you more interested in getting away and establishing a home base you can explore from? A well-built sea kayak can support extremely long adventures (like soloing the Inside Passage) or shorter weekend adventures for those who prefer to stick closer to home. If you’re trying to maximize your mileage, you’ll likely spend as many hours paddling as you can each day, and just look for the basics when it’s time to set up camp. For those seeking more creature comforts and fewer total miles, it’s relatively easy to source gear that can fit in your kayak.


Regardless of whether you are aiming for distance each day or focusing on creature comforts (or a little of each), you’ll need to figure out a meal plan that works for you and your kayak. Expedition yakkers often dehydrate meals at home so they can tinker with the recipe to end up just how they like it. Standard backpacking food works well for kayak camping, but I find that when I’m trying to rack up the miles, I prefer small, compact meals several times a day. My favorites are PB&J, apples and cheese, vegetables with blue cheese dressing, and some of my favorite snacks from Trader Joe’s. To keep cool things cool, a dry bag cooler is a nice option. When I’m home, the process of prepping and cooking a meal is one of my favorite activities. However, in the wilderness, I prefer minimal clean-up, so I like to do most of my prep prior to launch, leaving just the final heating and mixing for the camp kitchen. For the least work once you get to camp, my favorite tip is to make a hot meal the morning you start your adventure and pop it in a thermos right before you head out. It’s so satisfying to have a home-cooked meal hot and ready after you’ve completed the first leg of your adventure and set up your first night’s campsite. Hearty soups, casseroles, or pasta dishes work best. My favorite is Broccoli Cheddar Soup with a nice crusty bread and something fresh (apples or veggies) to round it out.

Forest Floor: Softer than Kayak Racks

Fitting it in

You can think of kayak camping as a cross between backpacking and car camping. You don’t need the most ultra-light options for everything, but you do need things to pack down small enough to fit through your hatches. While you still have to transport all of your gear with human power, the boat and the water are doing the heavy lifting. I find that it takes more effort to get a fully loaded boat moving, but once the kayak is going, it’s relatively easy to keep my speed up as I glide through the water.

Our Blake Island campsite after we had packed up to head back as the rain came in

Think about how accessible you need each item to be, and pack accordingly. Kayaks operate on a First-In, Last-Out concept. Always remember to pack the heaviest items low and close to the cockpit, and make sure anything that might interfere with your compass is packed in the opposite end of the boat. We pack our traveling food and spare layers as the last couple of dry bags into the easiest-to-access hatch. We tuck away food we won’t need until we’ve set up a camp, even behind the tent. Our air pads and compressible pillows each fit into 5L dry bags and are always tucked furthest into the nose or tail of our boats, to maximize space. Likewise, we pack tent poles (separately from the tent body) far into the tail. Whatever you put into the nose or tail first, be sure to attach a long cord, for easy removal. If we are glamping, we can add in our cots and reclining camp chairs. You can even go all-out and add a roll-top table to your camping set-up.

Camp or Glamp?

Ultimately, the determining factor on how luxurious your camp set-up is depends on you. With the right sea kayak, the sky is the limit. With all of the ultra-light, ultra-small gear available on the market today, you could conceivably set up for a week of luxury glamping with minimal effort or pare down and paddle the trip of a lifetime.

Photo: James Apa at Clayoquot Sound, Vancouver Island, B.C. Canada


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