The difference between a good trip and a great trip often comes down to preparation, and there is nothing more important than your gear list. This is the checklist to ensure you are ready for the trip and have all precious gear you so carefully purchased.
If you don’t believe this is important or think you can simply remember everything, then imagine if you forget something. Now imagine if that thing you forget is toilet paper..
Why You Must Have a Kayak Camping Checklist
I found that no matter how hard I tried to pack everything for an multi-night camping trip, I would always forget something. That was until I read the Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande and realized a simple list can fix all my problems.
Boom! The creation of the kayak camping checklist or at least Rev1. Each time I pack for a new trip I print this list and end of tweaking it a bit. The list below is the 5th revision.
It covers all the gear I have needed for my trips so far and should do the same for you. Not everything will needed as each trip is unique but the important thing is that you checked.
Click to download -- Kayak Camping Gear List.pdf
The best way to use this list is physically have it in your hand and mark through items as you pack them. Otherwise something will get missed.. I guarantee it!
How to Go Kayak Camping Successfully
1. Plan the Trip
It is impossible to pack for a kayak camping trip until you know the specifics of a trip. Camping in the Pacific Northwest in winter is far different from the Everglades during the peak of summer.
If you need help planning your kayak camping trip, check out: How to Plan Your Kayak Camping Trip
2. Round up your Gear
Based on the planning done in your trip during step 1, you have a feel for the parameters of your specific trip. From those constraints, you can determine what gear will be needed.
This is the step where this guide will really comes in handy. Benchmark the items you think you need with my gear list. If you find some difference, comments and let me know what and why!
3. Pack your Kayak
It is vital to be organized while your camping. Losing gear or rummaging through your packs gets old and can quickly turn fun into irritation.
Gear should be grouped according to use and planned out to best fit into the kayak. The luxury of kayak camping is that weight is less of an issue than space. Even distribution of your gear in the kayak, may be your biggest challenge.
This guide How to organize your kayak camping gear is designed to help you with this step.
How to Use This Packing List
The gear list below is tailored to fit my specific needs. It is designed to be robust and, if used as a checklist, forces me to think of all the activities I will do on my kayamping trip. However, it may not be perfect for your trip.
Use this list as a starting point or a benchmark for your own packing system. Each trip and person is unique so add and delete items are you see fit.
Preparation - The Day Before
Pack and Load Car: The car should be 100% ready to go so that you can walk out the garage and drive away in the morning or after work. Do all the hard work up front so the day of is as stress free as possible.
Setup Kayak Rack and Load Kayak: Go ahead and fully strap down kayaks into the roof rack of your car. Install cockpit covers and check bow and stern ties are secure. If you need help find a kayak rack, this post might be for you.
Layout Clothes: Organize all of your essential items so they are physically in the way of leaving the house. Neatly pile clothing, shoes, wallet, hat, keys, and phone all together next to the shower or coffee pot. Make it so a dreary-eyed morning zombie can't miss them!
Grocery Store Run: Purchase everything you need the day before. Plan and Simple
Load Food Barrels with Non-Refrigerated Foods: Pack what can be packed the night before!
Print Float Plan and Send to Loved Ones: Kayak camping is an extremely safe activity, but you should not forget that you are in the wild and accidents do happen. Share you float plan with reliable friends/family just in case.
Pre-cook Breakfast for the Drive: My personal favorite is to make a breakfast burrito the night before. Most launch points are a good ways away so save time at the house by eating in the car.
Charge Phone and Set Alarm Clock: I don't like to get up so I'll set this sucker on loud and place it across the room. It leaves you with no choice but to get up.
To Do the Day of:
Fill Cooler with Ice and Food from Fridge: Keep your food cold as long as possible. Pull it fresh from the fridge before you leave in the morning. If dry ice is involved be sure you leave yourself plenty of time. Frozen water bottles are superior to ice cubes. They last longer, don't leave excess water in the cooler, and can be drank afterwards.
Check the Weather: Adjust gear accordingly, this is your last chance.
Hammock and Straps
Oh the great debate of many camping enthusiasts, hammocks vs. tents. I am clearly a hammock guy for very simple reasons. Hammocks are smaller, lighter, easier to clean, and more comfortable.
I live and do most of my kayamping adventures in the South, where mosquitoes rule the night. Bug nets are absolutely mandatory for enjoyable nights in the woods. A good bug net is ultra-lightweight and breathable, which makes them well-worth the added few ounces.
Learn More About Hammock Bug Nets
The rain fly is what makes the hammock formidable against the protection of a tent. It serves as a roof to not only shelter you from the rain, but all of your gear as well. This is an essential item for hammock camping.
Ranking: Suggested for temps below 55F
Take my word for it, hammock sleeping can be very cold if you don't have the proper insulation. Unlike sleeping bags, underquilts don't become compressed and effectively shield wind and trap heat for a comfortable night's sleep.
I bring a blanket for any temperatures below 65F to aid keeping the wind off my body and retain what heat I can. A blanket provides a comforting touch as most people sleep with blankets regularly.
Toiletries - Toothpaste, Toothbrush, Floss, Medicine, Hair and Body Wash, Baby Powder, Deodorant: Personal hygiene is personal, but it effects the whole group. Use airplane sized toiletries to cut down on space and weight.
Canister Stove Kit - Extra Canister, Waterproof Matches, Windscreen
I use canister stoves because of their flexibility and ease of use. I toyed with alcohol stoves because of the weight reduction, but found that it is not really necessary for kayak camping. I read this great article to help me determine the best stove type for me. I enjoy cooking and will typically cook for a few people as I don't kayak camping solo yet. We plan out our shared gear so weight is not a major factor.
Open Fire Kit - Grill Grate, Stand, Fire Starter Nugs, Tongs
One of my favorite things about camping are the campfire meals. To do so you need a few basic items that I kit together. Rocks can substitute for the grill grate and stand, just be sure to heat them up well before cooking.
Kitchen gear can get heavy so multi-purpose items are essential. Titanium or aluminum kettles work as mugs and cooking pots.
Spoon, Fork, Pocket Knife
All you need to get the food to your mouth. There are some pretty nice camping sporks on the market for cheap. I like oversized sporks so you can cook and eat with them.
Cleaning Kit - Biodegradable Soap, Towel, Scrubber
It is necessary to clean your cooking utensils after each meal. Use environmentally friendly soap to reduce your footprint. Also clean your food and dispose of scrap a ways away from camp so midnight critters don't come looking for you.
Lightweight, durable, and cheap are the keys here. Tupperware works really well.
I have the Ice Mule 15Liter, which is the perfect size for a two day trip. The Ice Mule has an opening that is fold to close like dry bags and a valve to let excess air out. One of the best features is that it will float even fully loaded so no worries about tipping the kayak and losing your brews!
My food barrels are nothing fancy just repurposed protein powder tubs. Within them, are small organized peanut butter jars or plastic bags containing various seasonings and small foods. If the protein tubs weren't free then I would probably buy dry bags to store my food. I bring along a good-sized mesh bag to tow gear from the kayak to camp. I repurpose this bag at night to hold the food barrels so I can hang them from a tree.
Water - Bottles, Purifier, and Bladder
I use Platypus bottles because they fold down small after use. Also they have a standard 28M bottle thread which makes the Platypus compatible with the Sawyer Mini filter. The Sawyer Mini is the gold standard right now, but I believe the MSR Guardian has the best design. The only reason I do not have one is because it is ridiculously overpriced.
Liquor is Better than Beer for Camping
Consider bringing liquor rather than beer for muli-day trips. Liquor won't skunk after getting warm and you need less of it for a buzz. Just be sure to drink water too!
Kayak Gear and Accessories
Personal Flotation Device (PFD)
I opt for a paddling friendly life jacket for kayaking camping trips. This entails a smaller life jacket with few pockets only for the essentials. You want something that is comfortable enough that you don't mind keeping it on all day. It is tempting in calm waters to go without but you never know what the next turn of the river hides.
Kayak with Bungie Cords and All Dry Hatch Covers
Sit-in kayaks are usually regarded as superior for kayak camping trips because of the protected storage space. I prefer sit-in kayaks for this very reason but sit-on tops are usable as well. Bungie cords laced across the front provided utility for storing extra paddles and small amounts of gear. Dry hatch covers won't keep all the water out, but every bit helps.
: Mainly used for detering white water surf from entering the kayak, spray skirts are useful during colder months for keeping in warmth and during heavy rain. They can really come in handy and should be brought along for all but the most tame kayak camping adventures.
Any double blade kayak paddle will do when you first start out. The stroke is more important than the paddle. Multi-day trips will put serious fatigue on your body so take the time to learn proper stroke mechanics.
Cell Phone with Waterproof Case
A phone on a kayak is destined for the water. Keep it safely in a dry box or use a waterproof case that floats. Waterproof lanyards work well for those who can't seem to set the phone down.
I bring a single large towel to be used in my deck bag and for use at camp. This prevents the need for bring two separate towels. I recommend storing in the deck bag so you can dry off your hands or equipment or cover sunburnt appendages while paddling.
Sunscreen, Chapstick, Ibuprofen, Hand Sanitizer, Bug Spray: You will want all of these throughout your paddling day so keep them somewhere easily accessible.
Snack Food: Your snack food should be something that will not melt and should give you energy. Unsalted nuts, dried fruits, Goldfish, crackers, etc..
Map Print in Waterproof Sleeve: I like to have a hard copy of a map placed to the deck in front of my cock pit. It's an easy way help with your pacing between camping spots.
Sponge: Water will inevitably seep into the cockpit throughout the day. A sponge is light, effective way to remove small pools of water.
Pro Tip: Hand sponges are a great hammock pillow at night. We call it Redneck Temperpedic.
First Aid Kit: You don't want to ever have to use it, but when you need it, you need it quick.
Latrene Kit - Trowler, Wet Wipes: Don't leave a mess behind and don't make a mess of yourself. Dig a hole, do your business, bury it, and plant a stick in it like the first man on the moon so your camp mates know where not to step! Wet wipes will be your best friend but ensure they are biodegradable so you can leave them behind.
Headlamp and Small Flashlight
Headlamps are an absolute godsend at night. I bring a small flashlight as backup but the headlamp is the staple. Any headlamp will do, I believe I got mine for free from a tent at a convention.
I bring along both of these tools for clearing underbrush, vines, or other obstruction from my campsite. Generally, I try not to impact the land I camp on, but it is inevitable a few branches will separate me from a comfortable nights sleep. Either a machete or a hatchet are a must for camping.
They make small stool chairs that work great for kayamping. Certainly not a must have item, but it is nice to sit around the camp fire at night.
A staple any man's camping equipment, the multi-tool is always useful. However, being around water all day does not bode well for steel products. To date there are no multi-tools that are completely rust proof so meticulous care is needed. I opted for a cheap multi-tool I have had for years, but will upgrade to a Leatherman Wave when this one dies.
Trash Bags: The goal is to have as little trash as possible on these trips, but some will be unavoidable. Rinse trash with any food on them before placing them in trash bags. I use ziplock bags for a lot of my meals so I put waste (foil or paper) back into the ziplock bag before placing in the trash bags. A key item is getting a trash bag with pull cords. This makes the whole process easier and allows you to hang in a tree at night.
Clothesline 20ft.: Nylon cord is best but rope will do. The purpose of the clothesline is to dry your clothing and provide a place to hang gear at camp.
Pipe and Tobacco: I don't smoke normally, but out in the woods there is no better way to relax.
Pick a lightweight pant with lots of pockets that won't get snagged too easily stomping through the woods but can also be worn on the kayak to protect from the sun. The pants that zip off at the knee are extremely flexible options.
Sunglasses with Cable and Bobber
If you spend lots of time on the water it is just a matter of time until your sunglasses get knocked off. Add croakies to the back of your sunglasses to make taking them off easier and remove the risk of your $200 glasses taking a swim. I like to use Cablez brand croakies for their minimalist design and security. Attach a bobber to the back of the Cablez so your glasses float in the water.
While on the water the sun is burning you from all angles. The sun's rays are powerful enough to burn you from reflecting off the water's surface. A wide brimmed hat is your best defense against this.
Crocs or sandals like Chacos are the most popular kayaking shoe option. I am a Chaco owner, but I think I will be converting to team Croc's after my latest kayamping trip.
Shirt - Long Sleeve and Short Sleeve: Quick-drying, breathable fabric is essential to an enjoyable paddle. Long sleeve dry fit shirts are light enough to wear in hot weather and dry quickly when wet.
Bathing Suit: A bathing suit with pockets is key here.
Antimicrobial Underwear: A rule of thumb is at least two pairs and make sure they are quick dry and comfortable.
Wool and Synthetic Socks
Nothing is worse than your feet getting cold in the middle of the night. Bring a good pair of socks to keep those toes warm.
Some opt for rain jacket and pants and others use a poncho. Both will work but the later saves on space.
These can be a life saver on your hands. Combine continued pushing and pulling plus a wet environment is a recipe for blisters and sores. I recommend the fingerless gloves for breathability.
Light Fleece Jacket: A light fleece quarter zip pullover can go a long way. Use it at camp when the sun goes down or as added warmth through the night.
Athletic Shorts: This is more of a personal comfort items that I sometimes forego if space/weight is an issue. Changing into the next day's gear before bed is a good way to stay clean in your hammock.
Safety Tips and Gear
Extra Battery and Cord
Although I place my cell phone in airplane mode for the majority of the trip, it will still run out of battery in a day or two. Your phone is an immensely important tool for survival situations so I recommend you bring one. An average Iphone takes roughly 2000mAh to charge fully. I bring a 4400mAh battery for 3 days trips and a 9000mAh battery for trips longer than 3 days.
Always bring a spare paddle for multi-day trips. If you are in a group, then every member won't need to bring one, but I always make sure I have myself covered at least. You can get 4-piece breakdown paddles that fit in the hull or a 2-piece set and secure it under the bungies of the front deck. Make sure the paddle tightly secured because they can easily float away in surf.
Kayak Repair Kit: A paddler should be prepared for anything on the water including a hull breach 30 miles from the nearest take out point. While my personal repair kits is considerably less involved, I found this kayak repair kit guide to be more than comprehensive. For shorter trips, duct tape, marine epoxy, and a heating source should be enough to get me by.
Bug Out Bag: Your 1-3 day survival bag meant to keep you alive when the odds are against you.The contents will vary depending on the trip, and for tame inland trips it is not always necessary.
In Car for Drive Home
Trash Bags for Wet Clothes: This prevents your car from getting dirty on the drive back. It also serves as your laundry hamper for the rest of your clothing until you can run a load at home.
Change of Clothes: Underwear, shirt, pants, socks, and shoes. You will be glad to get out of 3 day old wet clothes!
5- Hour Energy and Water: Driving to and from the kayaking trip is likely the most dangerous part of the trip. You will more than likely be dehydrated and fatigued so take a 5-Hour Energy to stave off fatigue while driving.
How to Pack and Organize your Gear
This is a topic all in itself so we wrote a related article to fully cover topic of how to pack and orgainze everything from the gear list.
Dry Bags: Throughout the trip your gear will get wet. You must protect your gear by placing them in various roll top dry bags. With that being said, there are a few tips to keeping everything organized.
- Small dry bags are easier to pack than large ones.
- Clear dry bags remove the mystery of its contents. If not, buy different color bags and create a system.
- Thick dry bags will last longer than thins.
Mesh Bags: Large mesh bags create an easy way to consolidate all of your gear into an easy to carry package. This is beneficial when making camp and at launch and take out. The best part is that you can fold up the bag and stick it in your kayak for the whole trip.
Wrapping It Up
The kayak gear list is essential to kayak camping success. I hope this list helps, and I would love to hear your suggestions or tweaks.
Leave a comment and tell me what I missed!