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How to Start Kayak Camping

Kayaking and camping are excellent ways to get out in nature and enjoy the great outdoors. So why not combine them? Kayak camping can be an ideal way to enjoy two of your favorite outdoor activities, or add some spice to one of them. If you’re looking to give it a try, keep reading. 

Today, we’re sharing a few tips that we think will help you plan your first kayak camping experience. Let’s get started! 

What Is Kayak Camping?

Kayak camping combines camping and kayaking into one incredible outdoor adventure. Participants load their kayaks with camping gear and paddle to a campsite. They’ll need to carry the necessary equipment for survival during the adventure.

This is a popular option for those tired of camping in crowded and noisy campgrounds. You can find some outstanding campsites on islands or other places inaccessible to vehicle traffic. If you’re tired of listening to your neighbor’s music, kayak camping might be for you.

We love using kayaks to find incredible spots that few others have discovered. In our experience, these remote places can be some of the most beautiful and memorable places in your travels. Plus, the ideal campsite is always on the water, so you’ll be hard-pressed to find a bad one.

How To Pack for Kayak Camping | Kayaking 101

Is Kayak Camping Safe?

Kayak camping is as safe as any other type of camping. However, since kayak camping often involves traveling via water to a remote campsite, that can increase the danger if you’re not prepared. If an emergency happens, the location of these campsites can make it challenging for emergency services to find or reach you. If you are hurt, you may be unable to paddle your way to safety.

First and foremost, all kayak camping should be done with life jackets in the event that you or someone in your party goes overboard. Some kayak campers stick to calm inland waterways, but others may be out on oceans where cold water and strong waves or currents can create dangerous situations quickly.

While there may be a slight increase in danger in this camping style, you can minimize the threat by improving your skills and having the correct equipment. Survival gear, a first aid kit, knowing how to use it, and communicating with others can help you stay safe while kayak camping.

Pro Tip: Before you hit the water, discover The Differences You Should Know About A Canoe vs. Kayak Before Your Next Paddle Trip.

Dad paddling kayak with daughter
Enjoy nature while kayak camping with the whole family.

How Many Miles Can You Kayak in a Day Before Camping?

The number of miles you can cover in a single day will depend on your physical condition and experience kayaking. A mildly experienced kayaker could cover 10 to 20 miles in a day.

However, you’ll also want to factor in the weather and water conditions. Paddling into the wind or against a current will make paddling exponentially harder. Windy days can make the water choppy, making kayaking much more complicated than in calmer conditions.

Pro Tip: Want to get out on the water?! Check out our guide on Boat Camping 101: How to Enjoy the Best Campsite on the Lake.

What Do You Need to Start Kayak Camping?

You’ll need several things to start kayak camping. If you’re considering this camping style for a future adventure, here are some things you’ll want to acquire before heading out. Let’s dive in!

Kayak and Paddle

One of the essential purchases you’ll need to make for kayak camping is, unsurprisingly, a kayak and paddle. Your kayak will serve as the means of transporting you and your gear to your campsite. Kayaks range from $300 to $1000+ and come in various sizes, shapes, and colors.

Once you acquire your kayak and paddle, taking it out on the water is a good idea. You want to get comfortable maneuvering it empty before loading your gear and other equipment. You don’t want to lose your balance, tip your kayak, and have to watch your expensive camping gear to sink to the bottom of the lake.

Life Jacket

Laws regarding who must wear a life jacket and when vary by the state. It’s worth checking the rules and regulations where you live. Most states require individuals under 13 to wear a life jacket when onboard a watercraft. While they may not always require those over 13 to wear one while on a watercraft, they will need to have one readily available.

Even if you know how to swim, a life jacket can save your life. Water conditions can be unpredictable, and you never know when you might encounter situations that are too much for your swimming abilities. If this happens, you’ll be glad you have a life jacket available.

Close up of kayak along water with hiking boots and camping mug
Properly packing for the weather and elements you will experience when kayak camping is crucial for your safety.

Dry Pack

A dry pack is essential to avoid your gear getting wet. These bags come in various sizes and colors with waterproof materials. You can store sensitive electronics and food you want to keep safe from the water. Using a carabiner or a strap to secure them to your kayak can help avoid your dry pack sliding off your kayak and floating away without you noticing. If you’re like us, you’ll love these packs so much you’ll use them for all kinds of outdoor recreation.

Pro Tip: Keep your gear dry even while on the water. Use these Tips and Tricks For Using Dry Bags In Any Weather.

Floating Waterproof Phone Case, Compass and Map

You may love using your phone for navigation in your vehicle, but there’s typically no risk of it falling in the water while driving. However, the last thing you want to do is drop your phone in the middle of the lake and watch it sink to the bottom. Trust us – we’ve lost numerous phones overboard in our years on the water!

We like to use a simple floating waterproof phone pouch when boating or kayaking to save the worry and inconvenience. It’s a small investment that’ll save you hundreds.

This is also where knowing how to use a compass and a paper map can come in handy for a kayak camping trip. You’ll want to know your route ahead of time. Using your compass will help you avoid getting turned around or lost while paddling.

Even if you’re using a compass and map to navigate, you may feel comfortable checking your location on your phone. If that’s the case, be careful removing it from any bags so that you don’t drop it or other items into the water.

Pro Tip: Use our practical guide on How to Navigate With a Compass to go phone free the next time you need to navigate while in your kayak.

Camper standing next to kayak along stunning lake
Navigate your way around lakes and rivers by using a compass and map to navigate with ease.

Emergency Supplies

You’ll want to have a handful of emergency supplies available, just in case. Things like a kayak repair kit can be helpful significantly if you drop or hit your kayak on something sharp. A kayak with a hole in it is a recipe for disaster. A bilge pump can help get rid of any water in the seating area of your kayak.

Don’t forget to bring essential supplies like a first-aid kit and sunscreen. If you’re spending a generous amount of time on the water, sunscreen will help you avoid severe sunburn. A first-aid kit is nice, but knowing how to use it is even better. Taking a first-aid class might be worth considering if you’re kayak camping.


Paddling a kayak requires both hands, so it’ll be nearly impossible to carry a flashlight. A headlamp can free your hands while paddling in the dark and help you around your campsite. Whether gathering wood or paddling, you want to use both hands.

Make sure you replace the batteries on your headlamp and have a couple of extra available just in case. A headlamp with dead batteries is a useless piece of equipment on a kayak camping trip.


You’ll need somewhere to sleep during your camping trip. We have heard of some brave kayak campers bringing a hammock or a hammock tent for shelter. These are compact and extremely lightweight. However, you can find a lightweight backpacking tent that won’t weigh you down or take up too much space. You’ll want to ensure enough room for you and anyone coming with you to seek shelter and sleep.

Paddles sitting on top of kayak by campsite
Keep your shelter and other gear as lightweight as possible when kayak camping.

Sleeping Bag and Pad

If you haven’t slept on the ground lately, it’s likely harder than you remember. A sleeping bag and a pad can help make it a bit more comfortable. When selecting your sleeping bag and pad, you’ll want to consider the weather conditions and how much weight and space they’ll require. 

You must remember that you’ll carry all these items on your kayak before camping, so being compact and lightweight are incredibly important. If you aren’t camping in freezing conditions, you don’t need a sleeping bag with an arctic rating.

Water Filtration

Water is essential, but it’s cumbersome. A gallon of water weighs approximately eight pounds. This means you could easily add 15 to 25 pounds to the weight of your kayak only in water. Trust us; you’ll appreciate every pound you can save when paddling to your campsite.

Various water filtration options include UV lights, tablets, and even special straws that you can drink through that filter the water to make it safe for drinking. You can’t simply drink water straight from the body of water without filtering it. Using one of these methods can help ensure you stay safe and don’t weigh down your kayak.

Pro Tip: Use one of these 5 Ways to Purify Water on your next kayak camping adventure.

Cooking Equipment (and food)

You’ll need to eat at some point during your kayak camping trip. However, camping in a remote location doesn’t mean you have to settle for less regarding food. In these situations, ready-to-eat dehydrated meals will be your best friend. All you’ll need to do is add hot water and other ingredients to the food, and you’ll have a tasty meal in no time.

Don’t forget to let the water boil properly or purify it before adding it to your food. You’ll need a pan and firewood. Check the rules and regulations for gathering firewood on the ground around your campsite.


You’ll need clothes while you’re camping. Since you’ll be on the water, there’s a chance they’ll get wet. You’ll want lightweight clothes that will dry quickly. If the temperature dips during the night, ensure you have a sweatshirt or something to keep you cozy. Please avoid overpacking, or you’ll carry more stuff than necessary and add more weight.

→ Start your kayak camping trip from your RV! Check out the best RV kayak racks for your camper.

Boy sitting in kayak holding up oars proudly.
Make your first kayak camping trip a success by planning ahead and packing appropriately for your adventure.

Tips for Your First Kayak Camping Trip

Here are a few tips if you’re getting ready for your first kayak camping trip. These will help ensure you and anyone with you have a smooth journey.

Start Short

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Start with a short kayak camping trip for a single night. Even if it’s the worst experience of your entire life, it’s only a single night, and you’ll survive. You can work your way up to longer trips the more you gain experience and get comfortable with your skills. If you research and gather the proper gear, you’re sure to have an incredible adventure.

→ Once you’re comfortable with these new waterway adventures, you can even bring your dog kayaking with you!

Share Your Itinerary

Always share your itinerary with friends, family, and any rangers you encounter. If there is an emergency or they can’t find you, they’ll have a general idea of where to start looking. You may not plan for an incident, but unpleasant things can always happen. You want people to start looking for you as soon as possible if you cannot communicate with them.

Avoid Overpacking/Underpacking

Most people are either over-packers or under-packers. Which one are you? It’s challenging to find that happy middle ground until you gain some experience with kayak camping. This is why it’s crucial to keep your trips short and sweet until you get a feel for what you’ll need during your adventures. Please make a list of everything you plan to bring with you and evaluate whether it’s a necessity.

Know Local Rules and Regulations

Rules and regulations vary considerably by location. It’s up to you to familiarize yourself with the laws and regulations where you’re planning to camp. If you are camping in an area known for fire restrictions, you’ll want to plan accordingly. Violating the rules and regulations for camping can result in high fines.

Be Aware of the Weather

It would be best if you kept an eye on the weather. While it can sometimes be unpredictable, you don’t want to be in a hazardous situation. No one wants to paddle in the middle of a massive lake when a storm is brewing in the distance. If severe weather is in the forecast, it may be worth rescheduling your trip. Have a weather radio or another way to receive weather alerts during your trip.


Unlock New Camping Adventures By Kayak Camping

Kayak camping is an opportunity to try something new. It’s an excellent way to develop skills and enjoy the great outdoors. You’re likely more prepared for these types of adventures than you think. Ensure you have the correct gear and do enough research to follow all the rules and regulations. Kayak camping might even become your favorite camping style!

Where would you camp if you could travel by kayak? Tell us in the comments!

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About Cait Morton

Co-Founder, Logistics Queen, Business & Content Manager, and Animal Lover

An Upper Peninsula of Michigan native (aka a Yooper), Caitlin is the organization, big-picture, and content strategy queen of our operation. She keeps everything orderly and on track.

With a background in Business Management, she supports and helps channel Tom’s technical prowess into the helpful content our readers and viewers expect. That’s not to say you won’t find her turning wrenches and talking shop – RV life is a team effort. She keeps the business and the blog moving forward with a variety of topics and resources for our audience.

Believe it or not, she is rather camera shy, though she co-hosts the Mortons’ personal videos and The RVers TV show.

Caitlin’s passion lies in outdoor recreation and with animals. Some of her favorite things to do are hiking, biking, and getting out on the water via kayak, SUP, or boat.

She also loves the RV life due to the fact that you can bring your pets along. Sharing information about safely recreating outdoors with your whole family – pets included! – is very important to her. Because of this, Caitlin spearheaded the launch of HypePets in 2023.

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