Kayakers are simple people. Our routine is kept basic, helping us to remember all our gear and get to the river quicker. Multi-day river trips are no exception.
But what about all that gear?
How do I keep everything dry?
Isn’t packing a kayak like putting together a 1,000 piece puzzle?
Packing for a self-support kayak trip is not rocket science; however, it does help to know a few tricks and suggestions from the experts. In this blog post we’ll explore how to keep all your gear dry, how to fit it into your kayak, and how to pack quickly so that you can get out on the river quicker.
Staying Dry on a Multi-Day Kayak Trip
Obviously, you’ve realized that you’re going to need dry bags to keep your precious sleeping bag, warm clothes and food dry. However, not all dry bags are created equal. When selecting dry bags be sure to take a look at size, closure systems and material.
- Bigger is not better. Using several smaller bags will help you access items without unpacking everything.
- Kayaks are shaped funny. Think about which dry bags will fit into the smaller spaces (like your stern or bow) to optimize every bit of space.
- Hard dry boxes, like Pelican boxes, protect fragile items from both moisture and getting crushed. Unfortunately they are heavy and awkwardly shaped. Most kayakers find ways to pad-out their cameras and precious cargo with clothing inside a soft dry bag to minimize weight.
- Zip-lock closures, like those on Watershed‘s dry bags, have the best track record with keeping liquid out. However, they are often more expensive. Prioritize zip-lock closure bags for the ones you’ll be opening up a lot (like your camera or lunch dry bag), or the most important items.
- Roll-down closures are second best for soggy-sleeping prevention. If you’ve never rolled one down, ask how it’s done. A bad roll will leak.
- Combo systems, like NRS’s Split Kayak Storage Flotation, use the roll-down top and a zippered closure for more security. And if by some miracle you have extra space, this bag doubles as flotation, helping to fill all the space in your kayak.
As with all outdoor gear, the cheaper the material, the more likely it will fail. When failing gear leads to sleepless nights or hypothermia conditions, it could mean an early end to your adventure. Loading and unloading dry bags from your dirty kayak causes abrasion and stress. Go for rip-stop and durable plastics. Or you could just do your own drive-over-inflated-dry-bag test.
Getting It To Fit
Now that you have all your stuff, how are you going to get it into your kayak? First, take a look at this video made by Skip Armstrong featuring Erik Boomer, one of the most experienced self-support kayakers out there. He’ll help you decide how to decide what to take and what not to take.
Tips for Packing Gear into Your Kayak
- Put the bag in the boat, then fill it up.
- Be mindful of balancing the weight between stern and bow, right and left. It’s best to keep heavier items closer to the seat of a kayak if possible.
- Place items you want to access throughout the day in a smaller bag on your lap or behind your seat.
- For longer trips, separate your food into two piles: first half of trip and second half of trip. Don’t even bother unpacking the second half food bag until you need it.
- Items that can get wet (fuel bottles, tent poles, fire pans, etc) don’t need to take up precious dry bag space.
- Use items not in dry bags to fill in the smaller spaces.
- Do a test pack before you get to the put-in. It’s nice to know whether your food is going to fit before you launch.
As you get used to loading and unloading your kayak every day, the process gets even easier. You’ll begin to find yourself pulling into camp, emptying your gear and heading out on a hike in no time. After a few trips to determine the best systems and equipment for you, you’ll only need a few minutes of preparation time to gather the gear you’ll need to embark on a self-support whitewater kayak trip.
Our next blog post in the series Multi-Day Self-Support Kayak Tripping will take a look at staying warm and dealing with waste (e.g. The Poop Tube).
Author Susan Hollingsworth writes for Wet Planet Whitewater, Canoe & Kayak Magazine, American Whitewater, and any other river-related publication she can find.