Deciding to go on a SUP or kayak camping trip is an exciting and nerve-wracking decision. You're about to see coastlines, rivers, channels, and coves from a brand new perspective! But packing for a yakpacking or SUP trip is a little different than planning for a backpacking or car camping expedition, even if you've put in plenty of hours getting used to how your paddleboard or kayak performs.
When preparing for any kind of paddle trip, you're limited in the amount of gear you bring. Not only do you have the dimensions of your paddle board or kayak's cargo area to consider, weight and balance matter, too. With a little know-how, however, you can easily decide if a SUP or kayak camping trip is right for you, and how best to prepare.
The main difference, in this case, is how you choose to pack your gear. Kayaks usually have 1-2 interior watertight compartments as well as room between your legs to store gear. A stand-up paddle board, on the other hand, requires the paddlers to strap all gear to the deck. In both cases, dry bags are essential to keeping your gear safely consolidated and away from the water if you hit waves or you capsize.
Some find kayaks more comfortable over long distances, easier to control, and more stable in rough water. However, kayaks mainly rely on arm power, while SUPs are more of an all-body workout. SUPs can also give you a better vantage point thanks to the paddler standing up, and they're easier to drag on shore when it's time for the camping portion of your kayak or SUP trip. Which you choose depends entirely on your preference and experience level.
While SUPs are very beginner friendly, many people underestimate the technical capabilities of a SUP, especially compared to canoes or kayaks. However, feats like the one in this video below, in which a guy rides his handmade paddle board across Montana along 2400 miles of the Missouri River and you might change your mind!
Kayaks and paddle boards in particular have less room for gear than bigger canoes or rafts, but also need the weight to be distributed just right. Fortunately, with a little preparation, it doesn't have to be hard to bring along everything you need. You just need to learn how to pack right for your SUP or kayak camping trip.
The most important part of packing for a kayak camping trip is making sure your gear is stored in such a way that is both waterproof and attached to your vessel!
No matter how confident you are in your paddling abilities or how well you know the river you are riding, every time you get in a boat, you have to accept that there is a chance you will capsize. Everything you bring should be in a dry bag, and every dry bag should be attached to the boat.
You should also have a PFD (personal flotation device) with you— another safety precaution that must be stressed no matter how well you can swim. Having a life jacket is not only important but in most places it's the law.
The trick to kayak camping is finding the right balance between weight and size. Weight matters less when SUPing or kayaking than it does when you are backpacking or bike touring thanks to buoyancy. Nevertheless, weight still plays a large factor because paddling with too much weight can decrease maneuverability. That's especially true of paddle boards, which can get a bit tippy when your weight isn't well balanced.
Size is a more apparent issue because whether in a kayak or SUP, you can quickly run out of space. Space is limited to not much more than you could bring on a backpacking trip so pack well, pack tightly, and don't overpack because you will regret it!
Drybags: Essential for kayak camping, unless you want all your gear to get soaked. These are especially important for SUP paddlers, who don't have the same watertight compartments kayakers do.
Tie down straps: For SUPs you will want to use camping straps (also known as ratchet straps) to make sure your gear is tightly attached. For a kayak, this might just take a last resort rope that you attach to a metal hook on the outside of your boat.
Rope: Having an extra coil of rope on board always comes in handy. Make sure to bring some in addition to your tie down straps and bungees. If you don't use it on the kayak part of your kayak camping trip, you might use it at your campsite.
Water filter: Depending on where you are paddling, you might find that packing in your water supply for this trip would add unnecessary weight to your boat. Fresh water paddlers can consider bringing a small filter along and drinking straight from the source. Salt water paddlers, however, or the extra-cautious might bring a gallon jug, water bladder, or some extra bottles along just to be safe.
Food: The easiest way to pack light is to bring dehydrated food, but keep in mind that you'll have to go ashore any time you want to cook a meal. For quicker bites, bring energy bars, trail mix, and even pre-cooked meals.
The advantage of kayak camping or SUPing over backpacking, however, is that you can afford to bring some heavier food or a couple of cold ones that might be too heavy if you weren't packing for a paddling trip. Those extra edible, drinkable treats are part of the luxury of being in a boat. Make sure to keep your food and drinks cool while paddling in the hot sun by using a cooler like our classic cooler which doubles as a dry bag!
Extra Paddle: Bring a collapsible paddle. Either it will be a lifesaver or it would be an extra couple of pounds. Basically, it won't hurt but if your original paddle washes away with the tide or breaks, you are going to be really glad you did.
Sleeping materials: This could mean a tent, but if you are looking for a more packable method for kayak camping, try a hammock or a bivvy bag.
Hammocks are great because you do not need a sleeping pad and they pack down well. Hammocks have no insulation, which makes them perfect for hot weather and unbearable in the cold. Also, remember to check that the places you are trying to camp have trees, these are essential for hammock camping!
A bivvy bag is to a tent what a kayak is to a canoe. If you are traveling solo or planning on sleeping alone in your tent, opt for a bivvy for a much smaller more packable way to sleep. Bivvy bags are basically raincoats for your sleeping bag, while not as comfortable in heavy weather conditions, they are great for an overnight.
First Aid Kit: Keep it compact and easily packable and bring things that would only apply to this specific trip. Since you will be out on the water all day, bring some aloe for sunburns, and hydrocortisone for bug bites. Make sure to bring a reflective emergency blanket for hypothermic conditions if you will be in a cold water area. Bring the classics including gauze, alcohol, band aids, and antibiotic cream.
Repair Kit: In case you hit rapids or a rock, make sure your boat can be easily repaired by bringing a tube of fast-drying epoxy bonding agent. Many kayakers talk about using mix resin in the field, a small tube of UV cure resin will save you a lot of trouble and should only take a few minutes in the sun to dry. If you have a large crack in your boat, use some of the rubbing alcohol from your first aid kit to help evaporate the water before re-sealing.
Maps and travel plans: Make sure you know where you are going, where you will be entering and exiting the water and what the conditions look like. If there are tides or currents in the body of water you are paddling, make sure you understand the flow and schedules and how these could affect your trip. If you are going to need a shuttle, plan this in advance and make sure the person picking you up is aware of your trip plans as well.
If you are not using a shuttle, at least make someone aware of your trip and keeping tabs on you in case your return time varies. Bring a phone and if you do get service along the way, make sure to do occasional check-ins.
If you are looking to buy some of this gear, check out this list at The Dyrt!
Pack up your SUP or kayak to prepare for camping and bring it for a test paddle. Make sure the weight is balanced and you feel confident paddling this vessel even if the winds or waves get rough.
Make a plan, pick a route, and check for rapids, currents, and tide schedules. Be prepared and do not go out on a solo paddle for your first overnight. Stay safe and have fun!
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