You've Been Camping but Have You Tried Kayak Camping?

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Camping is a favorite way to enjoy the outdoors, and not having to share a crowded campground with RVs and their generators running all night makes it even better, but it usually requires a pretty good hike to get to a campsite. Hiking is a great way to get out and experience the outdoors, but it’s a slow mode of transportation, and if you’ve got bad hips, knees, or ankles, forget about it! Carrying everything you need for a few nights of camping would be really painful. So what can you do? Give kayak camping a shot!

Kayak Camping—What It’s All About

Instead of driving or hiking to your campsite, you make use of a waterway as your trail and paddle your way there. For primitive camping, you can often paddle right up to the place you will set up camp. Campgrounds are more likely to require you to carry your gear to your designated spot, and chances are, you’ll want to haul the boat along too, just to keep it safely nearby.

For those who are able to backpack and carry everything they need for camping, the hike is part of the pleasure of the outing, and for kayakers, the joy of being on the water is what it’s all about. Setting up camp after a day of paddling lets you enjoy spending the night out in nature and be ready to paddle some more in the morning.

As long as you aren’t in rough water, the skills you need to maneuver a kayak are easy to learn, and don’t require a lot of strength. Kayaking down a river is the easiest, but lakes and even open water provide terrific options for kayak camping. Canoe camping is much the same, it’s just a different kind of boat, which makes a few things a little different. For instance, you can carry more with you in most canoes, but they are typically heavier and less maneuverable.

Campsites on the water are often in locations that are very private because they are difficult to reach by car. There are some regular campgrounds and some primitive campgrounds, but you are likely to also find campsites that are little more than flat clearings where you can pitch a tent.

Take Advantage of the Popularity of Kayaks

Kayaks have been around for a long time, but in the last few years their popularity has skyrocketed. A decade ago you found them at outdoor outfitters, but now you can buy them just about anywhere.

That’s good news for those who want to explore kayak camping but don’t own a boat because most navigable water bodies now have a rental shop nearby. You can usually just rent boats and paddles or sign on for a guided tour. Going out with a guide, at least for your first excursion, is highly recommended for inexperienced paddlers. Knowing exactly where to go and having support if you get confused, hit bad weather, or encounter rougher water than expected is well worth the price of the guide’s services.

What Kind of Kayak You’ll Need

If you are renting, you will probably find that there is only one kind of kayak available, or the shop staff can advise you what to get, depending on what your plans are.

For flat and open water, touring or sea kayaks are good options. They are on the larger side because they are designed to be comfortable and carry gear. They also have water tight bulkheads to keep gear dry.

Whitewater kayaks tend to be smaller because they are designed with performance as a priority, so you won’t have as much storage space available for stowing your gear. That space isn’t compartmentalized, so water that splashes into your cockpit gets on your stuff. With either type, you need to assume your stuff will get wet and pack accordingly—more on that in a minute.

Packing Tips

Kayak camping is a lot like backpacking when it comes to packing in that you need to minimize what you take along and keep the weight down somewhat. Instead of fitting everything into a backpack, you’ll have to fit it into the kayak, so there are a few tips that will help.

As mentioned earlier, keeping things dry is something you have to consider. Dry bags are available at boating and outdoor stores. They are heavy-plastic bags with tops that roll down and seal. Keep in mind that everything has to fit through the holes on top of the kayak, so smaller bags are better.

Depending where you are paddling, you may not have access to clean water, and if that’s the case, you will have to carry water. Water bags and bladders will fit the shape of the kayak better than the large plastic cubes that are sold as water bottles. If you are taking alcohol along, taking the bag out of a box wine and carrying that works well for the same reason.

Backcountry.com has a fairly comprehensive gear list and tips on how to load a kayak that you may find helpful.

Where to Camp

There are places to go kayak camping on rivers, lakes, and even the ocean, all over the country. But how do you find them?

The internet provides access to amazing resources. If you know where you want to go, you can start by simply searching online like “kayak camping on Lake ___.”

There are groups all over the country that are devoted to paddling, and they can give you great information. One example is the Florida Paddling Trails Association. Their website features an interactive map showing paddling trails in 15 different regions of the state.

In California, there’s no shortage of outstanding locations for kayak camping, or info sites to help you get there. PaddlingCalifornia.com breaks the state into four regions and lists lakes, reservoirs and bays separately.

The Sacramento River is one of the best paddling locations in Northern California, and the Division of Boating and Waterways provides a free downloadable ebook, “Safe Boating Hints for the Sacramento River,” that contains educational material that would be beneficial regardless of which river you are on. The website also shares details on each segment of the river, including camping on private and public lands

Catalina Island is another outstanding kayak camping destination, and you can rent kayaks on the island. You need a reservation to camp, so plan ahead! That link has lots of great information about camping on Catalina, including vital info on fires (currently not allowed) and human waste (pack it out!)

Wherever you are, and wherever you plan to go, there is likely to be an opportunity to go kayak camping nearby. We hope you’ll give it a try.

If you’ve been kayak (or canoe) camping, tell us about it in the comments. Can you share any tips for first-timers?


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Stephan Aarstol is an American internet entrepreneur and author of the book The Five Hour Workday, which is based on Tower Paddle Boards' invention of the 5-hour workday in 2015 that would eventually spread the idea to over 10 million people worldwide. Since founding Tower in 2010, it has gone on to become one of America's fastest growing companies and Mark Cuban's best investment in the history of Shark Tank. Tower has diversified into a direct to consumer electric bike company called Tower Electric Bikes, a beachfront event venue called Tower Beach Club, and NoMiddleman.com, where consumers can shop all the world's finest direct to consumer brands from one easy place.