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Kayak Camping/Gear 101

From: Brian H.
Sent on: Wednesday, September 21, 2011 10:32 PM

Hi all 


With some upcoming trips that involve overnight camping I thought I would do a quick write up on the basics of expedition kayaking and the gear you need. This is basic information and is intended for our novice kayakers in the group. We have a very diverse group here. I encourage the members with experience to add to this write up and share there knowledge with the group. We all have ideas that can be passed on. 


Kayaks Sit in Side/Sit on Top:

Generally speaking the longer your boat the more gear it can hold. Modern sea kayaks 16' and longer can swallow a surprising amount of gear. If you pack them right you can carry enough gear for a couple of weeks, even more. Even small kayaks with or with out bulkheads and sit on tops can often hold enough gear for a weekend get away. If you have enough space to put a few dry bags then you have enough space to camp for the weekend. 

Kayakers need to think like backpackers, small, lightweight and highly compressible gear is the way to go. As are dry bags. It is important for your comfort and safety to keep your gear dry. Nothing ruins a trip more than wet sleeping bags and clothes.

When packing your kayak try and place heavy gear as close to the cockpit (your butt) as you can. You will also have to pay attention to the balance of your kayak. Keep gear inline with your keel line (center line). Test paddle your kayak fully loaded before you venture out. Find a sheltered spot and practice loading your boat and paddling it loaded. Most boats paddle better when loaded believe it or not.


That family dome tent that sleeps 8-10 people is going to be to heavy to carry. Again you need to think small and get a tent designed for backpacking. MSR, Eureka and The North Face put out nice back country shelters. Here in Florida a 3 season WATERPROOF tent is all you will ever need.  Here in Florida you do not need a 4 season tent but you do need a waterproof tent. 40 dollar Walmart tents are going to leave you wet and miserable, look for tents with full length rain flies and good zippers. Always use a ground tarp and make sure the sides of your ground tarp are tucked under your tent.  Nothing ruins a camping trip more than waking up soaking wet in your sleeping bag. I use the Eureka Storm Shield now known as the Timberline. I use the 4 person version as it's roomy, waterproof and packs incredibility small. At 7 pounds its perfect for camping here in Florida as it keeps me high and dry. 


Sleeping Bag And Sleeping Pad:

You need to think like your going to be carrying your sleeping bag on your back. The lighter the better. But you also want a sleeping bag that compresses down to a small size.  Down sleeping bags compress small and are very warm for there weight. No other material comes close to the warmth of down, ounce for ounce it is the best. However you lose a lot of that warmth if the bag gets wet and it takes them forever to dry if they do get wet. They also tent to be rather expensive, a good down bag can sell for 300 dollars or more. 

Synthetic bags tend keep you warm even when wet and dry very quickly. They are a bit heaver but I like the trade off of staying warm if my bag is wet. This is why I choose a synthetic bag over a down bag for water craft camping. I use The North Face Cats Meow. Its a 20 degree bag that's perfect for cold Florida winter nights and it compresses quite well if stuffed in a good compression sack.

You will also want a inflatable sleeping pad. Therma-rest make the best in my opinion. You can also buy a kit that converts them into camp chairs. I took the plunge and bought the Therma-rest NeoAir, its expensive but the thing is my bed and I want to be comfortable. Remember to carry a repair kit in case of a leak. Duct tape does not work on air mattresses. 

Your sleeping bag and pad is arguably one of your most important pieces of gear. Along with your tent it's what keeps you warm and dry. Don't skimp on these two items. 


Food and How to cook it:

Food is a subject that can be quite subjective. There are numerous web sites on how to cook back country food fit for a king. The one item that really isn't subjective is your stove and pots and pans. You're going to need one that is small and can pack away.

I use the JetBoil system. It's small, light weight and boils water in less than a 2 min's. It's a miser on fuel and for what I eat it's perfect. I'm not going to go into great detail about food and food preparation. I will say that it helps to break down your food and put it in zip lock bags. I pack a lot of home made trail mix (granola and m&m's yummy) and I still eat my cereal in the morning.


This is probably the hardest necessity to carry. Its heavy and the jugs used to carry it are generally big and bulky. MSR puts out Dromedary Water bags I also carry a water purifier and Iodine tablets.  I use treated (Iodine) river water to wash my pots and pans  and treat (filter) any water I plan to drink. Usually with the 10L Dromedary bag I can carry enough water for a few days and treat what I need if I run out. 


I hope this helps. I know people have a lot of tips and tricks to share. please do!. To those who have never camped out of there kayaks before, try it. Think small and plan like your planning a backpacking trip. This is the mind set you need to have. All you paddlers with small kayaks. You can still get enough gear in them for weekend trips. Same as if you were using a small backpack. Remember to use dry bags and dry boxes. Small stoves and freeze dried meals. Pack a first aid kit in a dry box and don't forget the matches in a waterproof container. 


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