The Ultimate Kayak Camping Checklist and Packing Guide

by Ally Mash | Last Updated:   October 9th, 2021
The Ultimate Kayak Camping Checklist and Packing Guide


In this article, we’ll share a downloadable kayak camping gear checklist followed by detailed information on how to pack a kayak for your first overnight kayak camping trip. Our goal is to make sure that you have all the necessary information needed for a pleasant and safe kayak adventure.

The most important thing to remember is to create a float plan and leave it with a friend, ranger, or the coast guard so they know where you are if you go missing.

What to take on a kayak camping trip

One of the great advantages of kayak camping is the possibility to set up camp on a remote uninhabited island among the wilds of nature. This form of camping, also referred to as wild camping, allows you to wake up to the smell of fresh air away from organized campsites and their noise and crowds.

So, if the only thing holding you back is not knowing what to bring along, then check out the following kayak camping gear list.


The easiest way to prepare for an overnight camping or multi-day adventure is by going through the aforementioned kayak camping checklist. As you will notice, much of the same equipment you would use for backpacking also works for kayak camping. Though, kayak camping has the added benefit of taking more gear than you could fit into a backpack and not having to carry all the weight on your back (unless you are portaging).

That said, let’s take a look at some of these kayaking camping gear so you can better understand which gear is best suited for your upcoming adventure.

Kayak gear

PFD (personal flotation device)

PFD (Personal Flotation Device)

Most states consider all kayaks to be “vessels” and therefore subjected to boating laws. Consequently, a life jacket is always a necessity if you want to avoid a hefty fine, but also for your own safety. Its main purpose is to keep your mouth and nose above water.

Emergency paddle

Emergency Paddle

You might be tempted to not bring a spare paddle, but don’t give in to the temptation. Anything can happen while kayaking and even though you may be the most careful person in the world, it’s best to hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst.

If you need help choosing a good kayak paddle, read the following article.

Dry Bags & Bungee cord

Dry Bags & Bungee Cord

When packing your kayak for a camping trip, you can either pack your kayak camping gear beneath the deck or above it. You’ll need bungee cords, also known as deck lines, for stowing and holding your gear in place on the kayak deck. Since hatches aren’t waterproof, you’ll need dry bags for stowing your gear beneath the deck. As the name suggests, dry bags prevent your gear like food, extra layers and electronics from getting wet.

Kayak repair kit & duct tape

Kayak repair kit & duct tape

Mother nature is unpredictable so chances are that you might end up with a cracked and leaking hull half way through your trip. Depending on the severity of the damage and the type of kayak, repairing your kayak may be as easy as simply slapping on a strip of duct tape or a fab of marine putty and continuing on for the day.

For detailed instructions on how to repair your kayak, read the following article

Cable lock & anti-theft mesh

Cable lock & anti-theft mesh

Once you arrive at your destination, it’s important that you secure your only transportation back to the mainland. Although most paddlers don’t experience any kind of trouble when camping in remote places, you are still better off safe than sorry. Using a cable lock for securing your kayak reduces the risk of theft, ensuring that the kayak remains where it was placed.

In case you are planning on exploring the outdoors on foot once you arrive, then consider encasing your belongings with an anti-theft mesh. This way, you can explore the outdoors without worrying about your belongings.

Spray skirt & bilge pump

Spray skirt & bilge pump

If you are planning a kayak camping trip with a sit-inside kayak such as a sea kayak then it’s recommended to bring along a spray skirt or a bilge pump. The spray skirt will keep the water out of your cockpit regardless if the water washes over your cockpit or if you capsize. If there’s already water in the cockpit, then the bilge pump can be used to pump out the water while remaining seated inside the kayak.

Paddle float/rescue gear

Paddle float/rescue gear

It is not recommended to kayak alone, but if so, you should know a self-rescue technique in case of capsizing. An example of this is the paddle float rescue which requires an inflatable bag, known as a paddle float. The paddle float is placed on the end of a paddle to act as an outrigger that helps stabilize the kayak while the paddler gets back in the kayak.

To learn more on self-rescue techniques and other kayak safety guidelines, read the following article

Kayak cart

Kayak cart

Depending on your point of view, having a kayak cart will simplify the process of getting the kayak in and out of the water. This is especially the case when the kayak is loaded with your camping equipment making it much heavier than usual. By using the kayak cart you also reduce the risk of damage to the bottom of your kayak by dragging it over a hard surface such as concrete.

Kayak clothing


Having the proper kayak clothing is essential for a fun and comfortable experience on your kayak camping adventure. As with choosing outdoor clothing for backpacking and hiking, here you also want to wear clothing that is breathable, quick-drying, durable and that regulates your body temperature. Since you will be near water during your trip, you also need an insulating layer that protects you from the water temperature in case you capsize.

While figuring out what to wear on your upcoming kayak camping adventure, here are some guidelines to follow. That said, remember to always wear a PFD (personal flotation device) and to never take it off while on the water.

Dress in layers

The Base layer is the first layer of clothing that goes up against your skin. Here, the goal is to strive for breathable and quick-drying clothing so that sweat can evaporate from your skin and thus stay dry. The clothing fabric here can be natural fibers such as silk and merino wool or synthetic fibers such as nylon and polyester. If your kayaking camping trip takes place during colder weather, opt for thermal clothing as it will also keep your body warm.

The middle layer, also called the insulating layer, is the layer between your base layer and the outer shell. Its main purpose is to keep your body temperature regulated in varying weather conditions. Since you will be surrounded by water for most of your adventure, a neoprene layer is the most suitable choice. When wearing neoprene clothing, the thin layer of water between the neoprene and body is trapped and heated by your body’s warmth without being replaced by cold weather. Neoprene layers are also breathable, thus eliminating the need for a base layer.

The outer layer is the last layer of clothing and is meant to shield your body from the elements like wind, water, and sun exposure. In terms of kayaking, the outer layer should also be breathable and for this, there are four options to choose from:

Softshell jacket

Softshell jackets are water-resistant, windproof, and more breathable, comfortable, thinner, and cheaper than completely waterproof materials. It is ideally suited for dry weather which means it will keep you comfortable in light rain, but it is not made for heavy rain or storm. Hence, it is considered more water-resistant than waterproof.

Hardshell jacket

Hardshell jackets are waterproof, windproof, and somewhat breathable. It is primarily designed to keep you dry in the rain. They are often designed with taped seams for extra comfort and safety

kayak wetsuit

A wetsuit is a garment is worn to provide protection while wet, but also buoyancy and protection from abrasion, ultraviolet exposure, and stings from marine organisms. Kayak wetsuits are offered in full-length, short-sleeve, and knee-length (Shorties) and sleeveless (Farmer John style) of varying neoprene thickness. The warm water inside your wetsuit negates the need for a middle layer.

kayak drysuit

A dry suit is made of waterproof material and is meant to provide the wearer with thermal insulation and block all water entry. It protects the whole body except the head, hands, and possibly the feet. You adjust warmth by wearing long underwear or another insulating layer underneath it. If you decide to go for a dry suit then you’ll need to wear something underneath such as non-cotton long underwear or a drysuit liner.

Dress for water temperature

Deciding whether or not to wear a wetsuit and/or drysuit will depend on the water temperature. A wetsuit is a must and a drysuit is highly recommended once the water temperature drops below 60°F or when the combined air and water temperature is below 120°F.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows the coastal water temperature, so make sure to check it out before heading out on your adventure. Also, consider investing in kayak gloves so that your hands stay warm and mobile in cold weather.

Dress for sun protection

Lastly, it’s important that you are dressed for sun protection when kayaking since a day on the water is a day of sun exposure regardless of cloud cover. All four types of outer layers mentioned above will protect you from the sun. However, in situations where it’s just too hot for an outer layer, consider wearing a long-sleeved synthetic top and applying waterproof sunscreen to the face.

Kayak footwear

When kayaking, it is important to protect your feet from rocks and other dangers with a pair of paddling neoprene booties or other kayak shoes! Rocks are real. Don’t find out the hard way!

Kayak boots

Kayak boots

Kayak boots are made of neoprene and range from thin to thick-soled. They are particularly designed to retain heat and protect your feet.

Many neoprene booties include a convenient side-entry zipper that makes it simple to put on over bare feet, wet socks, or kayak drysuit socks. They come in varying sole thicknesses so that you can choose the right pair for your next adventure.

Water shoes

Water shoes

Traditional shoes will get the job done for kayaking, but they often hold a good amount of water, resulting in heavy bricks tied to your feet. Kayak and rafting water shoes feature self-draining holes along the soles so your feet will dry out in no time.

The lightweight construction of most paddling water shoes eliminates materials that hold water and odor, making for a very light shoe. Sticky rubber soles create a fine balance between friction and traction.

Sandals

Sandals

Sandals are as waterproof as they get! They won’t hold weight when wet and tend to dry quicker than most shoes. Sandals are a great option for a long day of recreational paddling as they’re easy to put on and take off while on the kayak, making it effortless on those hot days when you need to take a swim. They are also ideal for strolling around once at your destination.

Kayak socks

Kayak socks

Kayak socks are designed to block water entry while allowing sweat to pass through, keeping your skin warm and dry. They range from ankle-length to knee-length and can be made of varying materials, including neoprene, nylon, Gore-Tex, and merino wool. They are ideal for colder conditions and provide additional warmth inside your boots.

Kayak food

As with backpacking, when planning a multi-day or overnight kayak camping trip, you need to include nutritious yet lightweight foods in your kayak camping checklist. To make sure you have packed enough food for the entire trip, it’s best to create a kayak meal plan.

Luckily, we have written an extensive article focusing on setting up a nutritious meal plan for kayaking. Once you’ve read that, here’s an article on backpacking food ideas and recipes that can also be applied for your upcoming kayak camping trip.

If you are kayaking on fresh or saltwater with access to freshwater streams, a water filter is an easy way to avoid having to bring all your water with you. If not, a study shows that you’ll need around a gallon of water per person per day.

How to pack a kayak for a camping trip

Rafting and kayaking hike elements infographic. Water hiking equipment guide. River camping travel survival kit and appliances. Kayak boat trip essentials in flat design isolated.


Once you’ve gone through the kayak camping checklist and ticked off what you plan to bring, it’s time for all the kayak camping gear to go in your kayak. The above infographic will give you an idea of how to pack your kayak for an overnight camping trip.

In addition, here are some guidelines to follow whether you plan to use a sit-inside kayak or a sit-on-top kayak:

Pack light

While kayaking camping is not as restrictive as backpacking, there is still a limited amount of space for storing gear. So it’s important that you pack light and leave out the camping chair and beer cooler for your next car camping trip. Also, make sure that the total weight of the gear and yourself don’t exceed the maximum weight capacity of the kayak.

This number is usually engraved on the kayak and indicates how much weight a kayak can carry and still float. To be on the safe side, aim for a total weight that is 75% of the maximum load capacity. One tip to achieve this is to only pack lightweight items. Also, If you are going in a group, consider sharing a tent(s), cooking supplies, and other camping gear.

Pack for convenience

One thing that stands out when kayaking is the limited maneuvering space. So unless you plan to return to shore every time you need an item, you will only have access to the items that are at your fingertips. Therefore, place your most used items on the kayak deck and close enough so that you can easily access them while kayaking.

These commonly used items vary from person to person but can include a water bottle, snacks, a hardshell jacket, sunscreen, a sun hat, and electronics. If you happen to have a sit-inside kayak, then the bungee cords are useful for attaching these items to the kayak deck.

Dry bag everything

Whether you have a sit-inside or sit-on-top kayak, make sure to put all your kayak camping gear in a dry bag before storing it in your kayak. Even the so-called “waterproof” hatches on kayaks are not as reliable as you might think. If you capsize, there is also a chance that your kayak camping gear will get wet or get lost in the water.

However, if you use a dry bag, you prevent this from happening, because they are not only waterproof but also float. The compartments in most kayaks are quite narrow, so make sure the filled dry bags are long and thin rather than squeezing them into pancakes. For this, it’s easier to use lots of smaller dry bags made of lightweight nylon or polyester fabric so that they easily slide past one another. It’s also a good idea to label the dry bags to make it easier to find what you need once you arrive at your destination.

Pack for even weight distribution

kayak camping weight distribution guide

For the best and safest performance, your kayak should be balanced in the water. This means that the kayak is not tilting forward, backward, or sideways. If this is the case, you increase the chances of capsizing and it is much more difficult for you to stay on course when wind or current is forcing.

To avoid this, make sure the weight is evenly distributed across the kayak when packing your kayak camping gear. Therefore, put heavy items like food, sleeping equipment, cookware, and a kayak cart at the bottom of the kayak and/or closer to the cockpit.

When doing this, pack the heaviest items in the middle and keep lighter items such as a sleeping bag on the sides of the kayak to prevent sideways tipping.

Here’s a short video with a key tip regarding how to pack for overnight camping and weight distribution.

Prepare beforehand

As the old saying goes, he who fails to plan is planning to fail, and the same is true when it comes to packing for your kayak camping trip. It’s best to start packing for your trip a few days before heading out.

This way you will have enough time to confirm that you have packed everything you need during the trip and that you are still within the kayak’s maximum load capacity. If possible, pack your kayak camping gear while your kayak is in the water to make sure your kayak is not tipping in any direction.

Ally is an avid outdoor enthusiast who has spent most of his free time backpacking through South America, Iceland, Vietnam, and Europe. He loves sharing his experience through blogging. His mission is to get more people in the mindset of protecting our planet by sharing its beauty.