Our Kayak Glamping Set-up

In Gear Talk, we talked about our favorite gear for kayaking in general. In Kayak Camping (a journey of our journeys), I touched briefly on the fact that you can choose your own level of luxury while kayak camping. This time, I’m diving a little bit deeper into our gear list when we’re glamping. Depending on your comfort level, you may find that what we consider “glamping” is over-the-top for you. Or you might find that the compromises we’re willing to make aren’t worth it for you. That’s okay – one of the great things about camping with a purpose-built touring kayak is you’ll likely have enough space to make your own choices.

Dawn at Kopachuck State Park

The Tent

This is the area that you probably won’t think our choice is very luxurious. We got our 7’x7′ 3-person tent with credit card points over a decade ago. You may have had a similar experience with a rewards card that gave magazine subscriptions and other “prizes” instead of cashback or airline miles. I didn’t want any of the magazines or kitchen gadgets on offer, but the Coleman Sundome Tent was intriguing. We used to borrow my parents’ tent, and wanted to have one of our own.

Our tent has a rain fly that is technically optional, but since the upper wall is completely mesh without the rain fly, it’s necessary for privacy if we’re not truly remote. We left it off on our first kayak camping trip since the state park where we were camping only had one campsite. We didn’t count on the fact that nearby neighbors use the trails for jogging and walking their dogs in the morning. It wasn’t as awkward as it could have been, but it was surprising to wake up and see people just outside our (transparent) tent walls. The footprint is part of the tent construction itself – a little different than modern lightweight equipment.

This tent is not meant for kayak camping or even backpacking, but it fits in the back hatch of our kayaks and has stood up to wind and rain really well. The only downside is that the collapsible fiberglass tent poles have small steel ferrules. Those have started to rust due to exposure to saltwater they’ve seen on our adventures. We’ll need to either find a way to either coat those or replace them at some point.

The Bedding

One thing that doesn’t change very much whether I’m trying to bring the bare minimum or setting myself up for luxury is our bedding. This is one area that many folks may think we’ve gone overboard. It’s the part of our camping setup that has changed the most since we started kayak camping, and it’s the area that we’ve invested the most.

Prioritizing Warmth

After a day in the outdoors, I get cold. Freezing, shivering, can’t sleep COLD. The first couple of times we went kayak camping, we brought our regular bedding and pillows from home. In garbage bags, because we didn’t have sufficient dry bags to pack them. You can fit regular bedding and regular pillows into touring kayaks. But it takes a bit of manipulation to get it done. If you’re going to wrangle full size pillows into 5L dry bags, plan on it taking a lot of time, effort, and frustration.

The first set-up we tested for the SEVENTY48 race involved a camp quilt and our regular pillows from home. I literally couldn’t sleep with just the camp quilt, because I was shivering too much. And Travis couldn’t sleep in his borrowed zero-degree sleeping bag because he was overheating. Sometime in the middle of the night, we had the genius idea to swap, and we both got a few hours of sleep before waking up before dawn to pack for a sunrise launch.

Here’s the bedding we bring now that we’ve gone through some trial and error:

  • Therm-a-rest compressible pillows – in just a few moments, you can pack these down so they fit easily in a 5L dry bag and are ready to toss into the nose or tail of your boat.
  • For him: a single camp blanket (similar to Rumpl). We pack two, in case he gets cold. So far, I’m more likely to use his second blanket than he is.
  • For me: Marmot Ouray 0° sleeping bag – this is the women’s version of the sleeping bag we’d borrowed for our race trial. I ordered it as soon as we got home from that camping weekend, but later realized that I’m too claustrophobic to sleep in a zipped-up sleeping bag.
  • Therm-a-rest down coupler (bottom sheet) and quilt – yes, in addition to my sleeping bag. The coupler is basically a super warm, fitted, bottom sheet. It provides extra insulation between you and the ground (or air) below you. The very cozy top quilt has an elasticized footbox to keep it in place. Since using these, I have been able to sleep cozily without a wool hat, and I sometimes even take my thick wool socks off during the night (depending on the temperature). So far, we’ve borrowed this set-up from friends, but will be investing in our own in the future. At that point, Travis may stop bringing the camp blankets altogether.

    The forest floor was softer than the kayak racks.

The Cots & Air Mattresses

Although we bring the same bedding either way, a big difference when we’re glamping is what we sleep on. When we’re going for distance, we put our air mattresses right on the floor of the tent. If we’re glamping though, we bring:

  • our cots
  • our self-inflating sleeping pads (these take a little more time and effort to deflate enough to fit in the boats, but they’re worth it to make it a truly luxurious experience)
  • fitted cot sheets
  • elastic sheet fasteners

The cots by themselves may be comfortable enough for you if you sleep on your back. As a side-sleeper, I really appreciate the added padding that a sleeping pad provides. When we first tried putting air mattresses directly on the cots, I was afraid the slippery air mattress was going to slide off the slippery cot. I kept waking myself up throughout the night to check whether I was centered.

Our solution was to add the fitted sheet and fasteners. The sheet isn’t quite beefy enough to hold everything together by itself, so the fasteners help hold everything in place. We got the kind of sheet fasteners that look like tiny suspenders and are intended to hold the corners of your fitted sheet in place on your bed. They are perfect for pulling the sheet taut enough that the sleeping pad doesn’t move around too much. Once we have our own coupler, we will experiment with whether the cot sheets and fasteners are necessary. The coupler might keep everything together well enough on its own.

Camp Kitchen

What we bring for our camp kitchen set up depends on our menu. Depending on how much cooking we plan on doing, we’ll adjust accordingly. I really love some of the items we have in our kayak camping kitchen gear, but since we do most of the heavy lifting in our kitchen at home, this list ends up being a little more bare-bones than some other areas.

  • Collapsible Sea to Summit X-pot
  • Zippered camp kitchen set (similar to this one from GSI) with cutting board, sponge, salt-and-pepper, spatula, and spoon
  • Hydrapaks filled with water (you might consider filling one with something a little more fun, since you’re glamping, after all).
  • Insulated metal thermos (or growler) – if we’re bringing soup (or beer) with us. Or if we intend to make oatmeal for breakfast. Or ramen for lunch. If the forecast is for cold weather, we might want to make cocoa to sip during a break. You know… just plan on bringing a thermos. It’s super useful and versatile.
  • Dry bag style cooler (like this one from Ice Mule)

Chairs and Tables

For true luxury camping, you can’t beat bringing your camp chair and a roll-top table. Full disclosure: we used to bring our reclining camp chairs for glamping purposes. However, they cost around $25 at a discount store and were truly a case of “you get what you pay for,” so we’re in the market for some fancier chairs to bring with us to our campsite. We have collapsible Coleman Camp chairs that will work if we manage to fit a kayak camping trip in this summer, but nothing beats the luxury of a recliner around the campfire. All of these look enticing and would fit through our bulkhead hatches:

As far as tables go, there are several roll-top tables that fit in our kayaks. So far, we’ve often skipped the table – if we’re camping at a water trails site with a picnic table, there’s no need to pack our own. A friend has this one from REI that we borrowed on one occasion. We also have a collapsible fabric table that is somewhat similar to this one, but larger. If you’re selecting a fabric table instead of a roll-top, I suggest testing some options in store if possible. It isn’t possible to get ours taut enough to use it for anything heavy. When we bring it, it’s good for playing cards or for holding light items off the ground, but not sturdy enough to support our camp stove.

Camping on Blake Island

Making it Work

You may have noticed that many of the items we bring on a kayak glamping trip have a hefty price tag. A luxury camping set up you can carry in your kayak isn’t cheap. But if you invest in quality items and then care for them over the years, you’ll earn a strong payoff.

Take Your Time

We accumulated our gear over more than a decade, and you’ll notice we still have some items that are on our wish list. If you have friends with similar hobbies, you may be able to spread the start-up costs out even further. For example, we borrow our friends’ sleep system and table now, as we save for the items we’re missing. I already mentioned that we purchased our tent with credit card points. Additionally, some of the gear we use to this day came to us as gifts – as far back as our engagement party nearly fifteen years ago.

Shop Local – Shop Sales –  Shop Used Gear

Beyond putting glamping gear on your birthday and holiday wish lists, you may find success at garage sales and consignment shops. We purchased a lot of our gear at REI’s annual sales or on clearance. You can usually find outdoor gear on sale when the new generation becomes available. I think I’ve almost always purchased last year’s model if it’s an option. If you have a small, locally-owned outdoor gear shop, check and see what sort of rewards club they have. Get on their mailing list to hear about upcoming sales.

Use Your Gear During Other Activities

Don’t forget that your kayak camping set-up will also work for many other uses. If you’re a backpacker, you probably already have most of the gear you’ll need to kayak camp. We generally car camp a few times a year, and the only real difference in our set up is that we add in a couple of bulkier items and a regular cooler. Even for a picnic at the park, we will bring some of the items from our kayak camping set-up.

Pick Your Priorities.

Finally, prioritize your list. For me, the fact that I couldn’t sleep at night because I was so cold was obviously an issue that impacted my enjoyment. That’s where we made our first investment. For you, it may be a gourmet cooking set-up or the most luxurious camp chairs you can find. Like anything, pick what makes the biggest impact on your enjoyment and invest there, letting the other stuff go. Our rewards-points tent is starting to have some worn spots on the floor. I’m planning on learning how to patch that rather than investing in a new tent. Because our tent is functional for what I need and works fine for me, I’ll save money there. That will allow me to figure out which fancy camp chair I’m saving up for.

No matter which equipment you end up getting, your local, independently owned kayaking supply shop is a great place to gain knowledge and gear up. In the Puget Sound area, check out one of the great outfitters below.

What did we miss? Add your favorite gear, shops, and glamping tips in the comments.


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