How to Have the Ultimate Kayak Camping Experience

Kayaking is a highly popular outdoor activity in North America and Canada. Over 18 million people actively participate in kayaking each year in the states, and with over 2 million lakes and rivers in Canada, it is hardly surprising that kayaking is enjoyed by a large number of people there too.

Those who love the great outdoors have long sought to combine favorite activities. It isn’t uncommon to find hikers using camping sites to extend their time outside, and anglers can be found using off-grid locations to set up camp for the night too.

Kayaking and camping might seem unlikely bed-fellows to some due to all the equipment that is needed, but many individuals and families are successfully combining two of the most popular outdoor pastimes now. 

How do you prepare to go on a kayak camping trip?

Covid saw a huge surge in the popularity of camping. In 2020, 10.1 million households camped for the first time. Perhaps this was due to travel restrictions, or the extended time spent indoors due to lockdowns. Whatever it was, Americans found a new love for the outdoors and camping.

This was no fad either. Around 86 million households now consider themselves campers, and 48 million households camped at least once in 2020.

However, while you can happily spend a couple of nights on an organized campsite with a clubhouse, some camping trips take a little more preparation.

To go on a kayak camping trip will take planning, and also some essential equipment.

Choosing your destinations

The first thing you should consider is your kayaking experience and what level you consider yourself to be at. For a first-time trip, you may want to go for just one night. For more experienced kayakers, a 3-day trip might be perfect.

When looking at campsites or possible destinations, you need to consider the route there. Are the waters you will be paddling on safe for beginners, and how long will it take to get to your destination?

It is easy to tire out on a kayaking expedition, so you should have a contingency plan in case you need to stop somewhere.

The Bureau of Land Management offers advice on campsites and dispersed camping in the US, and this can be a useful resource when planning your destinations, and possible emergency stops.

What equipment do you need to take?

Kayak Equipment

If you are on a campsite surrounded by other families, and with a shop on site, it is doubtful you will have too many problems. But, as you are involving kayaking with your trip, there are different considerations to be made when compared to those campers rolling up in their RVs.

Many kayakers might want to consider dispersed camping. If this route is taken then you will have to realize that there may be no amenities anywhere nearby.

If you wish to go cold weather camping, then that requires different equipment from summer weather. Therefore, planning is essential to make sure you have the ultimate experience, and not a disappointing trip, or even a disastrous one.

Making an essential kayak camping equipment list

Sit down and write out everything you can possibly think of that you will need. Do this ahead of your trip, and you will find you keep on adding to it as you consider different scenarios.

You may find you have to start culling equipment from your list as it starts to become too much of a burden for an enjoyable trip.

However, this kayaking gear list from WaterSportsWhiz aims to make things a little simpler by listing the absolute essentials. You understand that you will need a kayak, so that isn’t listed here.

But, you do need to ensure that the vessel you have is suitable for the river and the journey you are planning. A touring kayak may be the best choice if traveling for some distance.

Camping equipment

Make sure the tent is easy to assemble and put up, and that it has enough room for you and your companion. Don’t take a four-man tent when you need only room for two people either.

One good tip for making camping easier is to practice assembling the tent at home before you leave. Being comfortable with your tent will make it easier later on, especially if the weather turns bad.

Below is a list of other camping equipment you need, or may want to take along.

  • Flashlight or headlamp consider solar or make sure you take spare batteries
  • Camp seat – for comfort
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping mat
  • Power bank – solar, especially if camping off-grid
  • Water filter and purification tablets
  • Multi-tool/camping knife/tin opener
  • First aid kit
  • Warm clothing
  • Cookware and food
  • Water
  • Lighter/matches
  • Trash bags
  • Bug spray

Kayaking equipment

Apart from your kayak, you will need to bring along a number of other pieces of essential equipment. Forgetting to bring a tin opener to a camping trip can be frustrating, forgetting to bring a spare oar and losing yours can be a disaster.

Kayaking and camping safety is paramount when going out on the water and into the countryside, so before you leave, tell someone responsible where you are headed, and when you expect to arrive and check-in.

Here are some essential pieces of kit for a kayak trip.

  • GPS
  • Angling equipment if you plan to incorporate some fishing into your trip
  • Life jacket
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Spare oar
  • Bilge pump
  • Dry bag
  • Whistle
  • Paddling knife
  • Spray skirt
  • Helmet
  • Waterproof smartphone/2-way radios
  • Swimwear

Keep your site safe, clean, and within the rules

Consider the area you are camping in, and how you conduct yourself. Following the leave, no trace ideology is a great way to enjoy nature and leave it for others to do the same.

Taking trash bags with you means you can haul your rubbish back home and leave the site clean.

Campfires can seem ideal when setting up your spot, and in dispersed camping, they can provide light and warmth. They can be extremely useful when a hot drink is needed too.

However, check local restrictions about having campfires and barbecues before you start one, and make sure it is extinguished before you settle down to sleep.


With some planning, and the right kit loaded up, you could be heading for some great kayak camping experiences this year and next.

Always consider your skill level before trying to tackle tougher routes, and make sure there are known pit stops along the way.

Check the weather, notify someone where you are going, and ensure you check in when you set up camp for safety.

Once you are confident in your equipment and your experience, you can start planning longer trips, and then start crossing off all the thousands of rivers the US has to offer.


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