Advanced Kayak Camping Skills

Below are the contents of a presentation that we shared last fall at the BC Marine Trails grand opening event for the Salish Sea Marine Trail. There are a number of tips and tricks that we picked up throughout our month-long coastal kayak. For context, we paddled south from the Khutzeymateen Inlet near the BC/Alaska border down to Vancouver Island. Admittedly, we were disorganized in the early days, but with enough time and practice, our group evolved into a well-oiled machine.If you’re considering a long distance paddle anytime soon, there should be some helpful info below.

Content Breakdown: 

  1. Preparation
    • Pre-Trip
    • Packing the Kayaks
  2. Kayak Camping
    • Kayak to Camp Process
    • Camp Set-Up
    • Camp Tear-Down


Pre-Trip (Dry Bag Optimization)


  • A greater number of smaller bags makes life much easier
    • Sifting through large bags takes time and mixes around gear
  • Having a colour-coordinated and/or labelling system for all bags is a dream

Strategic Access

  • Take advantage of long-term bags that contain infrequently used gear
    • Examples:
      • Emergency gear that doesn’t require quick access
      • ‘Nice-to-have’ gear aka. non-essential to kayak camping
        • (ideally try and minimize, if not eliminate)
      • Food that won’t be consumed in the short term
        • (for trips spanning multiple weeks)
  • Short-term bags for daily use
    • Examples:
      • Snacks, camera gear, safety equipment, paddling layers etc.
  • Dry clothes camp bag
    • This is a vital bag for preserving overall happiness because this is your salvation from the wet and the cold
    • Nothing damp goes in this bag
    • Clothing only to be used it when you’re set up to be protected from the elements (ie. finished camp set up)

Kayak Optimization

Assigning kayak compartments

  • Delegate a section of the kayak to each person, who will be responsible for packing that section throughout the trip
  • Allocate specific gear to each section. This builds familiarity with each unique Tetris game that is repacking kayak hatches and leads to a much faster kayak assembly
    • Also eliminates uncertainty in camp tear down because each member knows exactly what needs to go in their respective hatches

Kayak Camping:

Kayak to Camp Process

Pro-Tip #1: Leave and arrive at high tide if possible

  • This is often times not in your control but it can save a ton of beach walking
    • Especially on gradually sloped beaches, this can be a life-saver

Landing Plan

  • Process is pivotal when landing in poor weather
    • Don’t take good weather for granted (this can get you in trouble)
    • Assume poor weather is coming at all times along the coast
      • Much better to be safe then sorry

Landing Destination

  • This goes without saying, but just in case, make sure you’re in the right spot
  • Especially along more rugged regions of the coastline, make sure:
    • Landing is safe/possible
    • Projected site is actually campable
    • You’re allowed to camp there

Defining Tasks

  • Much like ‘Kayak Optimization’ each person takes ownership of specific kayak compartments
    • ‘Ownership’ means removing and transporting all gear to camp location/designated area
  • Each person has camp set-up tasks (directly linked with next section)

Pro-Tip #2: Bring large tote bags that can fit many small dry bags

  • We stumbled into this one, and it turned out to be incredibly helpful
  • Being able to throw 4 or 5 bags into a bigger one with one, strong handle is amazing
    • Dramatically reduced stressful/difficult beach travel
    • Reduced likelihood of wet/sandy bags

Deal with Kayaks early

  • Right after all gear is removed, identify and stash kayaks
    • Conscious of environment (time, tides, weather etc.)

Camp Set-Up

Pro-Tip #3: The Trucker’s Hitch Knot

  • Highly recommend learning this one
  • Great for hanging food, setting up tarps etc.

Primary Tasks

  • Assign responsibilities (linked with ‘kayak to camp’ process)
    • Kayak: find final stash point
    • Tent: identify tent spot and set-up
    • Tarp: identify cooking area
      • considering wind, weather, fire etc.

Secondary Tasks

  • Cooking, fire, relaxing, route planning etc.
  • Getting warm/dry
    • If you are feeling dangerously cold/wet, this is a primary task
    • With that said, getting the primary tasks completed before getting into warm/dry camp gear means that the warm/dry gear will stay warm and dry, and as such, you will as well
      • Keep in mind this is for those who don’t have full kayak dry suits or comparable gear
    • This is the designated dry clothes mentioned in Pre-Trip Planning
    • Highly recommend not risking getting these wet

Other Considerations

  • Bear hanging/stashing
    • Can pack and latch food in the kayaks
      • We heard good and bad stories about this… but we kayak-stashed for the whole month and didn’t have any issues ourselves (surely luck of the draw to some extent)
    • Stashing saves time and energy
      • We began initially with plans to hang, but found that it was quite tough/burdensome to find worthwhile hanging spaces along the coast
        • No point in hanging food that wouldn’t even qualify as hard to get for a bear

Pro-Tip #4: Camp Chairs

  • We purchased the Helinox Camp Chair and it was absolutely the best trip purchase we made
    • They are light, comfy, sturdy, and pack very small
    • On wet, soggy, gravelly coastal beaches, the chairs held up fantastically

Camp Take-Down

Eliminate Decision Making Time

  • Have (at least) 1st and 2nd options for following day plans decided each night
  • Assign a ring leader for each morning
    • Solely responsible for waking the group up at the decided upon time
    • Eliminates a collective action problem (for those prone to laziness)
      • For us, it was easy to wake up, hear rain on the tent, and roll right back over..

Quick Breakfast

  • Obviously, the time/energy you’re willing to allocate to breakfast is up to you
    • We ended up going with quick/dry/easy/filling (get up and go) style breakfasts in order to get on the calm morning waters as fast as possible

Reverse the Process!

  • With the same familiarity/task delegation, perfectly mirror the ‘Camp Set-Up’ process to get bak on the water

And thats what we’ve got! Hopefully there are a few tips in here that will go a long way to making your kayak journey all that better. If you have any thoughts/alternative/questions or tips of your own, or would like a copy of the Google Slides presentation, shoot us an email or comment on the post.