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Best Tips for Your First Kayak Camping Trip

Best Tips For Your First Kayak Camping Trip

Are you looking to get out in nature and see the world from a different perspective? You are not alone. In recent years, many people have been choosing to spend their weekends and vacations in the great outdoors. A particularly fun way is a kayak camping trip. It’s a fantastic way to explore the area and visit campsites that can’t be reached by car.

There are many benefits of kayak camping but before you jump into your kayak and paddle away in pursuit of stunning landscapes and fun adventures, it’s important to understand what you are getting yourself into. So whether you are heading out overnight or are planning a longer adventure, we have put together some top tips to ensure your first kayak camping trip is memorable for all of the right reasons.

Planning Your First Kayak Camping Trip

Before you think about what you will take, you need to ensure that you have fully planned the trip and understand where you will be going and where you will be staying.

Assess the skill level of your group:

Group kayakingWhile almost anyone is able to participate in a kayak camping trip, if you or anyone in your group is new to kayaking then:

  1. Either factor in a day of learning the skills at the beginning of your trip, or
  2. Get everyone together for a pre-trip lesson.

Once your party has the required skills to successfully navigate a kayak, you can begin planning the details of your trip.

Keep pace in mind:

If this is your first time on a kayaking camping trip then it’s a wise choice to plan a relaxed schedule over a period of a few days. This will allow you to assess how your muscles cope with the strain of paddling a kayak for a long period of time. The last thing you want is to get halfway through the trip and struggle with the remaining few days – turning a great adventure into a huge disappointment.

Your first kayak camping trip should focus on taking in some truly beautiful scenery and calm waters rather than tackling routes that require intensive technical skills or have whitewater sections.

A caution about campsites:

As this is your first time, you should also look for official campsites to pitch your tent each night. More experienced kayak campers should still have a rough schedule of where and when they will be setting up camp throughout their trip. Also, note whether the area you are exploring requires permits for use of campsites. And be sure to leave your itinerary with someone in case of an emergency.

If you need ideas on where to go for your first adventure, you can find inspiration in our articles: 10 Bucket List Kayaking Expeditions and  10 Kayaking Adventure Destination in the US


With your plan in place, it’s time to prepare for the trip. Depending on the route you’ve planned, you might well be spending long days in the kayak. That likely means tired muscles.

Preparing your body:

The best way to prepare your body for what it will experience over the getaway is to get out and kayak as much as possible beforehand. Just like most sports and physical activities, kayaking requires a specific set of muscles that are hard to train without actually getting in a boat and paddling.

Navigation skills:

Compass and mapAs this will be your first trip, you should also prepare yourself by understanding how to navigate and read a map. The best part of a kayak camping trip is the complete freedom it offers you to explore the world around you, examining hidden coves and finding incredible picture-friendly scenery. That ability to go off-route and explore is what makes the trip so much fun but it is important to be able to get yourself back on course and onward to your destination.

Essential Items:

It is also important to ensure that you have everything you will need for the trip outside of your regular camping equipment. Other useful items you should pack include:

Packing for Kayak Camping

One of the most important things to remember ahead of your first kayak camping trip is to not over-pack! While it is certainly easier than packing for a hiking trip because you aren’t carrying the weight of your pack on your back, you don’t want to weigh down your kayak with unnecessary gear. More weight = more effort to paddle.

Many experienced kayakers have actually found that ditching one large backpack in lieu of a range of smaller dry bags is much easier. This will allow you to distribute the weight around your kayak and make use of all available space.

While you will want enough clean clothes to last the duration of the trip, you don’t need a fresh outfit for every day. Thinking practically will allow you to save space while ensuring you are both warm and dry throughout the trip. Using proven outdoor gear, such as waterproof jackets and moisture-wicking layers will really help to provide maximum comfort during the trip. A few key items like an extra pair of quick-drying underwear will allow you to wash them in the lake or river each day, further reducing your load (Not that underwear takes up that much space, but it’s one of the best examples!)

Alongside that, you should also pack shoes designed for kayaking but always pack a dry pair of shoes stowed in a waterproof bag to change into when on dry land – there is nothing worse than having wet feet for an entire day. You should also prepare for every weather condition, so make sure you bring a hat and sunscreen as well as waterproofs and extra layers; you do not want to be caught short.

DepeBear Warning Signnding on the size of your group, and the trip you have planned, you will likely need to bring some provisions – food and water. If your trip will have stops at restaurants, then you will be able to reduce the amount of food that you bring. For the food that you pack, you have to ensure it’s in suitable packaging (including ice to keep perishable items fresh and safe) and stashed in dry bags. In more remote areas, you can even leave food in dry bags and hoist them up a tree away from camp to keep animals, and bears in particular, away from your camp and your food. And remember, you should never feed wild animals.

When it comes to loading your kayak, the key is to ensure you maintain balance by evenly distributing the weight. Heavier items such as food and water should be kept towards the center of the kayak, near the rear bulkhead where possible. The lighter items can then be packed at either end; trying to keep your belongings low and centered to help ensure stability.

During the Kayak Camping Trip

With your belongings packed and loaded and your route mapped out, it’s time to enjoy your kayak camping trip. To ensure you have the best possible adventure, we have more tips.

Food and Water

Kayaking all day requires a lot of energy, so to avoid feeling drained and unwell it is important that you get enough fuel into your body. Ensuring that you are eating properly and drinking enough fluids throughout the day is vital to maintain energy, help with muscle regeneration, and reduce muscle soreness. Protein and healthy fats will satiate you the most. Nuts or a yummy trail mix with some choclate make a portable treat that is sure to keep you going. And always stay hydrated.

Secure Your Boats

When setting up camp for the night, bring your kayak onshore, some distance away from the lake or river. This will prevent you from waking up to find your kayak and paddles have drifted away in the night. It is also worthwhile turning your kayak over when on land to help drain any water and keep potential rain out.

A Reminder To Stay Safe

Safety First SignNewcomer or experienced kayaker, staying safe throughout your trip should be your number one priority. Whenever you are on the water, make sure you are wearing a life jacket. And you should never take on a section of water that you are not comfortable navigating. However, don’t be shy to explore and discover a world hidden away from the usual spots you might have discovered while hiking or car camping.

Kayak on!

Kayak CampingThese tips are by no means an entire guide. They are a good starting point to ensure that your trip is smooth and hassle-free. The more kayak camping trips you undertake, the more you will figure out what specific equipment you need, how to pack, and the destinations you want to explore.

If you are feeling the pull of wanderlust, then kayak camping is a great way to indulge that appetite to explore. You will be planning your next adventure before you even get home.

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I was first introduced to kayaking as a teenager when I joined a competitive canoe club. It was instant love. But when I went off to school and then got a job, adult responsibilities got in the way. Now approaching retirement, I've rekindled my kayak romance. My husband and I love to throw the kayaks on the trailer and head out on adventures. Maybe you'll join us?!

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