Guest blog: A guide to kayak camping
My first kayak camping trip was a disaster - a brilliant disaster that got me hooked on the sport for life. Three of us (kids at the time) set out on a bay in the southwest of Ireland, to see how far we could go. Our gear was loaded in bin bags; our pillows took up half the storage space. For food we packed crisps and biscuits. This was ‘backyard camping goes to sea’.
We soon found out that bin bags are not waterproof and our overnight was, in a word, soggy. But the sunrise was incredible, and so was the feeling of having the entire bay to ourselves at dawn.
In the years since, I’ve done most of my exploring in a kayak; I’ve invested in a few dry bags, and gained some knowledge that keeps me dry, safe, and happy. Here are a few tips for planning your own kayaking expedition.
A tarp or hammock is the obvious choice for Kayak camping. Tents are tricky to pack because the poles often don’t fit in the watertight hatches. Paddles make great tarp poles and some can be separated into two halves that are just the right height for an A-frame setup. Kayak Dave has a detailed tutorial on tarp tent set-ups with paddles.
Pegging out your tarp in sand can be tricky. Make a ‘deadman’ by burying a stone or a log attached to a guy line (see the diagram below). Your boat is a superb anchor and kayaks are usually covered in tie-down points and cleats.
Image: Military Survival 365
When you set up camp, repurpose everything. Use your lifejackets as pillows or seat cushions. Make a wall for your shelter with the boat itself.
PRO TIP: Know your tides and wear a watch. Seriously, you don’t want to wake up in the surf or have your boat disappear in the night.
For fresh water paddlers, drinking water is not an issue - but for those exploring the coast, it’s a major one. Not only is sea water undrinkable, but the fresh water near coastal campsites is often dodgy at best. Many rivers become tidal, and therefore brackish, as they approach the sea, and camping at sea level puts you downhill from a lot of runoff and sewage. In the UK and Ireland that means agricultural waste, which contains chemicals your filter can’t eliminate.
The good news is your boat can hold water for days. Pack it in the middle, close to where you sit, or use it as ballast to get yourself nice and trim.
One option is to catch your dinner by fishing over the side--after you’ve unloaded your camping gear of course. Bring along a snorkel to add crab and lobster to the menu. It helps to have a backup food stash in case the fish aren’t biting, and a stove in case your beach is all rubbish and no firewood.
PACKING YOUR BOAT
Kayaks are designed to hold a lot of weight and still move efficiently. However, a poorly balanced boat is a slow and tippy deathtrap. It is essential to get this right before you hit the open water. Check your trim in calm, shallow water and adjust the load accordingly. Secure hatches before setting out; and if you’re paddling a sit-on-top, be sure everything is tied down securely. If you end up having to portage the vessel be sure to unload it first.
When deciding what to bring, remember you’re more limited by volume than weight. Larger, non-compressible items like tent-poles are a pain. For sit-in Kayaks, the size of your hatches can be an issue. This is one reason kayakers seem to prefer tarps and hammocks.
Image: Bad Wolf Editing
DEALING WITH DAMP
This may sound obvious, but you will get wet. That’s just a fact of riding in a boat with six inches of freeboard and your rear end below the waterline. A wetsuit is a good call if you’re in a sit-on-top. The hardcore sit-in crowd go for drysuit tops or full drysuits. In any case, it’s best to dress for total immersion. Hypothermia is a year-round hazard in the North Atlantic. If you get wet, that’s one thing, but if your sleeping bag and spare clothes get wet, you could become a statistic even on a warm day. Put your gear in dry bags. Put your dry bags in dry bags. Dry bags, not bin bags.
Dampness is inevitable around bodies of water; set up your tarp to maximize airflow and prevent condensation. If you do most of your camping out of a kayak, you’re better off with a synthetic sleeping bag than a down one. Synthetic insulation still does its job when wet. It also tend to be easier on your wallet.
"Freedom moulded in plastic"
On a recent kayak trip to an island off the East Coast of the United States, my partner and I found a lighthouse we’re pretty sure was haunted. On a solo trek in winter, a white owl watched my campsite from a nearby sand dune. In the morning there were coyote tracks in the sand around my sleeping bag. I’ve seen sunsets beyond description, and watched nighttime paddle-strokes glow with bioluminescence. These adventures didn’t require any special gear (besides those dry bags I mentioned.) There were no moving parts to break and no fees to pay. A kayak is freedom moulded in plastic.
Find out more about Charles, his writing and his adventures at Dalyprose.com
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About the writer
Writer, waterman, early riser.