Packing a kayak for camping can be daunting. There is so much stuff you have to bring and so little — oddly shaped — space to pack it in. Here’s our guide to what to bring kayaking and how to pack it!
We prepped for weeks for our five-day, four-night adventure in the Broken Group Islands in Canada. My brother’s family, who came with us, prepped for months. The whole group had entire rooms in our homes dedicated to kayak packing and the kayaking gear piled up as the weeks went by.
To add to the complexity, in the Broken Group, there is no running water, so you need to add all your drinking, cooking, and hair-washing water to your kayaking packing list.
(Don’t miss: Our Vegan Kayaking Meal Plan has all the details on the food we brought and what we ate when) →
Because I love lists, I put together this kayak trip packing list of everything we took in our kayaks. I hope it will make it easier when it’s your turn to decide what to bring kayaking!
(Don’t miss: Our complete guide to surviving a family kayaking trip to the Broken Group Islands on The Planet D blog) →
Packing a Kayak for Camping — Your Complete Kayak Trip Packing List
Kayak Camping Bags: What to Pack Your Gear In
Packing a kayak for camping is tricky because, though a sea kayak holds quite a lot, the hatches are relatively small. That means you need to have lots of small, waterproof bags that can easily squeeze inside the hatches!
It’s also tough to estimate how much gear you can fit in all those tiny bags. In my experience, more can be crammed in than you might expect. You can do a lot with ziplock bags, too, so you don’t need to invest in a bunch of expensive dry bags unless you’re planning on packing a kayak for camping more than once.
These are the bags we used to pack all our gear for two people.
2 x 10L dry bags (for clothes and personal items)
1 x 5L dry bag (used as deck bag)
1 box heavy duty freezer bags (for food)
1 x small Ortlieb front roller waterproof bike pannier (camp kitchen)
(We packed in this cycling bag because we had it on hand from our 2-year cycling trip around the world. It has a 25L capacity. Substitute any waterproof bag that will hold your stove, pots, plates etc.)
1 x XXL / 32L dry bag (tent, sleeping bags, and sleep pads)
(It would have been better to have two smaller bags for this stuff, but again, we already had this bag, so it seemed silly to get a new one!)
1 x foldable day pack
3 x large cloth grocery bags (for transporting food)
Of course you’ll have your own list of personal items you need to bring kayaking.
Don’t forget any medication you need to take, extra contact lenses, and ladies sanitary items. For this kind of adventure travel, I swear by the Diva Cup but it takes a little practice to get used to it. So get it a few months early if you want to use it!
Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, spare camera batteries, memory cards
iPhone with PocketEarth app for navigation
UV lip balm
(I don’t know about you but I sleep much better in a tent if I use earplugs.)
Since the weather can be unpredictable when you’re kayaking, and it’s almost always cool in the evenings when camping — especially on Vancouver Island’s West Coast — it’s hard to know exactly what clothes to bring kayaking. The answer is to bring lots of layers and hope it never gets cold enough that you need to wear them all at once!
This list is for one person, we each brought all of these items. That is, I brought 4 t-shirts and so did Stephen. Except, Stephen didn’t bring any sports bras :).
Light long-sleeved shirt
4 x T-shirts
2 x Shorts
2 x Socks
Long pants (water resistant)
Long pants (for camp)
3 x Underwear
2 x Sports bras
Synthetic fleece jacket
KEEN sandals or hiking/running shoes
Water shoes or flip flops
Sun hat / baseball cap
Gloves for kayaking
(I used my bicycle gloves which worked just fine. Stephen went without gloves but regretted it by the second day.)
Kayak Camping Gear
We used the same camping gear as we took on our 2-year round the world bicycle trip. We love it and it’s still going strong through all our adventures!
Big Agnes Copper Spur Ul3 Tent with Ground Cloth
2 x Big Agnes sleeping bag
(These sleeping bags don’t pack down very small. On the plus side, they are very roomy, zip together nicely, and are synthetic, so don’t contain any bird-harming down.)
2 x Sleeping pads
2 x Silk sleeping bag liner
Therm-a-rest compressible camping pillow
2 x Petzl Headlamps
Kayak Camping Kitchen
Aside from the kayak camping gear, the camp kitchen (plus food) takes up the most space. When we were on our cycling trip we refined our camping kitchen so that we were carrying enough gear to make amazing meals, but not so much that we were overly weighed down by our kitchen. When it came to packing a kayak for camping, we were happy that we had done the trimming down already!
Trangia stove with cooking pots
*(We LOVE this stove! Lots of Europeans use it but we don’t see very many when we’re camping in North America. We chose it because there are no moving parts and no fiddly bits to get broken when you’re in the middle of nowhere. It’s also much easier to light and much quieter than a WhisperLite-style stove. Finally, it can take a range of fuel, though you do need to find out all the different names for the fuel in different countries if you cross borders with it!)
Lighters & matches
2 x Camping plates
2 x Bamboo cutlery sets
(We don’t leave home without these, whether we’re just going out shopping or travelling across the world. They are the single most used piece of gear we own. They are fantastic for camping and because once you have them, you never need to use plastic cutlery again!)
Salt and pepper, spices
(We pack our spices in old pill/weed bottles. They’re the perfect size and they have dependable no-spill lids! For short trips, we usually pack one Indian spice mix and one Mexican spice mix thrown together from the spices we have at home.)
Swiss Army knife
Scrubby, pot scraper (we used sea water and sand to scrub out pots, no dish soap)
3 x personal water bottles
2 x small tupperware containers for lunches / leftovers
Coffee stuff (beans, hand grinder, cloth filter, pour over funnel, coffee cup – yes, Stephen is a coffee nerd)
Kayak with all hatch covers, kayak life jacket, spare paddles, paddle floats etc (all provided by the kayak rental company)
Safety and Navigation
Most of these items were brought by other members of our party and shared between us
VHF marine radio
Maps, charts, guidebook excerpts
This article on Backcountry has some excellent advice and tips for packing a kayak. ♥
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