Kayak Camping 101


Kayak Camping How-to

By James Horner

kayaking camping water

Kayaking is a great way to get outdoors and get active, it can be part of a healthy lifestyle and reasonably inexpensive (after you buy a boat anyway). There’s whitewater, touring, and even inflatable kayaking to get you out there, but one that’s a little different and especially close to my heart is kayak camping.

Camping out of your kayak forces you to pack light and be conscious about where and when you’re going. No matter if it’s your first foray into kayak camping or you’ve paddled out before, the feeling of excitement and exploration never leaves you.

With summer fast approaching, now’s the time to start thinking about finding some new adventures, and kayak camping should definitely make an appearance on your schedule.

Kayaking Camping for Beginners: What to Know and Where to Go

kayak camping shoreline

So you’re new to kayak camping, huh? Well fear not, kayak camping is super similar to regular ole camping–just in a kayak. Below we’ll take a look at what you should know about it and a few suggestions of where to go this summer.

What to Bring

Dry Bag/Deck Bag

First off, when you’re paddling out with all your stuff the last thing you want is to pull up to camp with soggy gear, and a good dry bag can make a huge difference. Dry bags are essentially a waterproof backpack where you can store your gear until you get to camp. Deck bags are dry bags specifically for kayaks that offer the option of mounting to the front of your boat.

A variety of sizes let you dial in the perfect fit for your stuff. But from personal experience having a bigger bag is better as it gives you flexibility for longer trips later, and all you have to do is squish it down to accommodate lighter trips.


If you’re going to be camping on a river of any size then navigation is key. It’s really easy to get turned around on a side tributary and knowing where you’re at and where you’re going is vital. The options range from low-tech deck mounted compasses to all the bells and whistles of handheld GPS. Personally, we use GPS, it’s virtually impossible to get lost and if worse comes to worst then you’ve got some “breadcrumbs” for others to follow.

Kayak Extras

Strap It!

While you won’t need a ton of extra gear to just get in and paddle, there are a few extra options that will make life easier and safer. Deck rigging is a huge bonus when you’re trying to strap extra gear on your boat, then it doesn’t matter where you’re putting it just fit it, strap it and go.

Ahoy There!

A deck light is another option that has intrinsic benefits to it. If you’re putting in after work for a long weekend paddle then chances are you’re going to be paddling into dusk if not into the dark and being seen (and being able to see) is huge. There are kayak specific deck lights out there that will suction cup to your boat and give you a lot of extra safety when you’re paddling at night.

Remember It!

Chances are you’re going to be in some beautiful country and it never hurts to have a little documentation to brag with on Monday. There are tons of options for great waterproof cameras out there that not only can handle a little water, but also the riggers of roughing it for a few nights too. Our personal camera is a waterproof, shockproof version that has been put through the wringer and taken thousands of photos.

Where to Go

kayak camping fall

It doesn’t really matter where you live, there will be some options for kayak camping around. That’s one of the great things about this type of camping, it offers easy access to tons of different places. There are however some places and states that offer an abundance of camping opportunities. Kayak camping in Michigan is a huge pastime. The Wolverine State has almost boundless options for kayak campers, we’ve been out there a few times and have yet to come back bored.

Colorado is another favorite of ours, The Colorado Rockies are just one of those places that once you get out in, you’re hooked. All up and down the range from Montana to Arizona there are amazing places and sites that are just waiting for some quality exploration.

Really what I look for when choosing a spot for the night is a quiet area that has a bit of high ground to it, and hopefully a flat spot for pitching the tent. I’ve done the slanted camping thing, it’s unenjoyable. A nice piece of high ground can really come into play if you’re on a river where the level or CFS can change overnight. If a river is dam controlled then water flow rates can change quickly and without warning, pitching your camp high and dragging your boat up near your tent can prevent an unwanted 3 A.M. wake up call.

Get Out There!

Don’t feel like you need to travel super far to find a great spot! Your local water can be a great place to start and get comfortable with kayak camping. You’re familiar with it, and if you need to bail out then you’re not too far from home.

Kayak camping is such a cool thing, and it’s largely overlooked. So you can head out on just about any water and you’ll find some great options right away. Don’t feel like you have to paddle for hours either, a 30-minute paddle can yield some great opportunities and a closer camp is a great way to start.

So get out there and enjoy!


About Author

I'm an outdoor enthusiast of all kinds! When I'm not skiing, whitewater boating, backpacking, or riding motorcycles I write for my personal site digandflow.com where I cover all sorts of actions sports, their gear, and lifestyle.