How To Pack a Kayak for Camping

If you’re a seasoned kayaker, then you’ve probably dreamed of paddling around undisturbed for days on end. We’ve all had that moment in our paddling lives, but it’s exactly this sort of thinking that can get you into trouble if you’re not well prepared.

Planning a camping trip in your own kayak is a great adventure holiday that can add a new dimension to your kayaking. And packing your kayak correctly will help to keep your trip incident-free! 

Packing a kayak for camping requires careful planning, similar to a car camping excursion. You can only take the necessary gear. 

Distributing the weight correctly in the kayak is important to maintain stability, and using the right equipment to pack and secure your favorite gear will keep it protected on the water.

This outdoor activity has shown a steady growth increase year-on-year as an increasing number of people pursue recreational activities outdoors. Camping trips are becoming as popular as weekend adventures and fishing trips. 

And packing your kayak the right way is the foundation of a successful trip, so we’ve put together the ideal kayak camping checklist for you with a few helpful tips.

Packing a Kayak When Camping

There is nothing quite like the peace and tranquility of overnight kayak camping adventures with a couple of buddies. 

The sounds of nature accompanied by the occasional splash of your paddles in the water, the fresh air, and a light breeze in your face is simply good for the soul!

Use Dry Bags To Pack Your Kayak for Camping

A dry bag will be your best friend when it comes to making sure your gear makes it to your overnight stop clean and dry.

When you close your dry bags, ensure you squeeze out as much air as you can before sealing so that you conserve precious space inside your cargo space.

Don’t rely on your kayaking skills and your ability to remain upright to keep your gear dry. Accidents happen, and any kayaker can get capsized by a freak gust of wind, a partially submerged obstacle, or simply leaning too far over to get snacks!

The storage compartments on most kayaks are small, so you should rather buy several small dry bags rather than a few larger bags.

However, a dry bag is not infallible, so I like to use double protection and wrap items that must absolutely not get wet in a trash bag before securing them in a dry bag.

Besides dry bags, it’s also a good idea to have some plastic tote bags as well. The heavy vinyl bags are good for food because they are more sturdy and release less bear-attracting odor; however, my favorite bags are those made of a polyester fabric (or lightweight nylon) with an internal rubberized waterproof coating.

They do puncture more easily than the heavier bags, but they’re easier to pack because the bags easily slide past each other in a cramped cargo compartment.

Compartmentalize Your Kayak Camping Equipment

Keeping the same gear together that you will need at the same time helps you keep organized.

For example, pack your fire-making equipment in the same bag as your cooking gear. This way, when you stop to prepare a meal, you only need to retrieve two bags – one with your food and the other with your camping cookware. 

Pack Your Kayak for Accessibility

When you pack your kayak for your camping trip, you need to think about when you need the items and pack for accessibility.

Some items will only be needed when you make landfall, while you may need access to other items while out on the water. 

Keep snacks, sunscreen, navigating and safety equipment, first aid kits, and a rain jacket in a place that’s easily accessible.

Pack Your Camping Gear On Your Kayak for Balance

If you pack your kayak without a thought about how it will affect the balance of the craft, you may be in for an unpleasant kayaking experience.

A kayak that is not packed correctly can cause stability issues and make the kayak difficult to control and keep upright, and it will require extra effort to paddle. Don’t forget to take the weight of your paddling partner into consideration too.

Unbalanced packing of your kayak can cause you to be upended if a swell hits your kayak in a certain way or the wind picks up and the water becomes choppy, especially if you’re on a sea kayak.

  • Pack the kayak for left and right balance. Pack the kayak so that the weight is evenly distributed between the left and right sides. The kayak should sit straight and not lean to one side.
  • Pack the kayak for bow-to-stern balance. The bow-to-stern balance is also important. If the bow is too heavy, it will dig into the water, and the kayak will be sluggish to paddle. 
  • Place heavy items at the bottom, close to the cockpit. Heavier items, such as water and food should be toward the middle of the kayak, behind the rear bulkhead. Lighter gear, such as clothing, sleeping bags, and tarps, can be packed in the kayak’s bow and stern.

This applies unless you have a situation such as I did when my paddling partner’s skeg cable broke and he had to load the boat in a stern-heavy manner to compensate.

  •  Double-bag electronic gear. Any electronic gear, such as cameras, mobile phones, GPS units, and two-way radios, should be packed in its own individual waterproof bags before being packed into large bags.

Tip for Packing Your Kayak. Perform a trial run before your first trip to make sure all your intended gear will fit.


A kayak camping trip is like any other camping experience and requires forethought and planning. The difference is that you need to do a greater degree of planning for a kayaking camp trip because of the limited space for cargo.

Pack light, but don’t discard safety gear in lieu of luxury items. Pack your kayak for balance and protect your gear with waterproof dry bags, and your kayak camping adventure is sure to be a memorable one!


What Is the Best Kayak for Kayak Camping?

The best kayaks for camping are ones with watertight compartments for stowing your camping gear. My personal preference is to use sit-in kayaks for camping because I can store additional drybags in the cockpit.

What Should You Pack for a Kayak Camping Trip?

The crucial gear you need on any backpacking trips, as well as on a camping and kayaking trip is a map and a compass, a kayak repair kit (including duct tape), water, a backup paddle, and canned food. Longer trips will obviously require more supplies. 

Don’t even think about packing your beer cooler, cast-iron Dutch oven, or backpacking stove that you’d usually take camping. Your canoe can only take the basics.

It’s also a good idea to repack bulky items, or anything in glass bottles, in order to save space.

Sea kayaking has slightly different necessities. For sea kayakers, it’s a good idea to pack a bilge pump, paddle float, and a sponge underneath the bungees of the sea kayak, which are easily accessed on most sea kayaks.

I also usually pack a good pair of water shoes because dragging a kayak up a muddy riverbank is not fun in flip-flops.

When it comes to determining what less crucial gear should be included, well, that’s a personal choice. These items are on my current personal packing list for when I go on a long trip around the Great Lakes or on inland waterways: 

  • kayaking safety gear;
  • drinking water and a water bottle;
  • food;
  • a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and other sleeping gear;
  • a tent;
  • personal hygiene gear;
  • cookware;
  • a fire-making kit;
  • a bushcraft knife;
  • warm clothing;
  • a windbreaker;
  • a headlamp with spare batteries;
  • sun protection;
  • a first-aid kit; and
  • toilet paper.

How To Pack a Sit-On-Top for Kayak Touring

Sit-on-top kayaks generally have less internal packing space, but have bungee cords to secure gear on the kayak’s deck. 

Follow the same weight distribution rules when packing your sit-on kayak. However, if you really want to keep the boat stable.