Hacks for Camping with a Kayak

Colette Goh | Travel

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Hacks for Camping with a Kayak

Hacks for Camping with a Kayak

When it comes to exploring the great outdoors, few things come close to the adventure of kayak camping. Picture yourself gliding through tranquil waters, surrounded by quiet forests or sandy riverbanks, with everything you need tied to your kayak. There’s no feeling like it!

In this blog post, we dive deep into kayak camping. We recommend the best kayaks for camping, how to camp if you’re driving, hiking, or biking, our dream kayak camping locations, and the gear you need for a fun and safe journey. 

Best Kayaks for Camping

When it comes to the best kayak for camping, we recommend lightweight kayaks that pack up into a backpack whether you’re driving, hiking, or biking to a campsite. 

Here at ISLE, we sell 7 lightweight inflatable kayak options that work perfectly for kayak camping. 

Our Switch Compact kayak is the lightest weight option. It’s great for all-round solo kayaking, is 10’ 6”, and has a rounded nose. This is the most portable choice if you are hiking or biking to your campsite and want a light, user-friendly, and stable kayak. It has a 40% smaller packing size while maintaining excellent stability and user-friendly performance for riders up to 220 lbs. The kayak on its own weighs only 17 lbs, and the entire package weighs 34 lbs. 

Our best-selling Switch kayak is 11’ 6” and works for solo or tandem kayaking. The kayak on its own weighs 19 lbs and can carry 440 lbs, which means it can carry all the gear you need for a multi-day kayak and camping trip. 

Our Pioneer 3 is 10’ 6” and is a great all-around stable option for beginners or intermediate solo kayakers. It has a full deck pad which is perfect for lounging, pets, and kids. The kayak on its own weighs only 17 lbs, and the entire package weighs 34 lbs. 

Our Explorer 3 is designed for the intermediate to advanced kayaker. It favours speed over stability and has a pointed touring shape which is great for longer-distance kayaking. The kayak on its own weighs 19 lbs (36 lbs with all the gear) and has a 300 lbs capacity, which means it can carry gear if you’re doing a multi-day kayak and camping trip. 

If you’re looking for extremely hardy & durable inflatable kayaks, check out our Pro Series of inflatable hardboards. These are the most rigid inflatables available on the market which allows them to support larger riders, more gear, and perform more like epoxy hardboards, but in a portable package.

These are 2-in-1 kayak hybrids with the convenience of inflatables but with rigid performance. They are up to 300% more rigid than traditional inflatables with a design that is 50% lighter than rigid plastic kayaks. We built the most rigid inflatables on the market, and the Series includes the Switch Pro, Pioneer Pro, and Explorer Pro.

The Switch Pro is a durable all-round and stable option for beginner to intermediate kayakers. It’s great for solo or tandem kayaking and can carry a lot of gear with a 475 lb capacity. It weighs in at 23 lbs on its own, and 42 lb with the complete package. 


The Pioneer Pro is the best all-around inflatable hybrid optimized for rigid board glide and durability in a more lightweight package. It’s stable, easy to maneuver, and is a multi-purpose board for SUP, kayaking, yoga, and fishing. The 11’6 Pioneer Pro is our most stable, highest capacity model, which we recommend for anyone looking for added capacity and stability. It’s also our recommended model for fishing. The Pro has 3 sizes, and weighs as 20 - 26 lb on its own, with 195 lb to 450 lb capacity.


The Explorer Pro is for adventurous kayakers who want to go the distance with our award-winning touring and fitness board. The narrower, longer profile makes it faster on the water. It’s great for longer distances, and the incredible rigidity gives it a high weight capacity means it’s great for carrying gear while solo and tandem kayaking and SUP. It won’t “taco” under load like other narrow touring boards can. It comes in 2 sizes and weighs 23 - 27 lb on its own with a 325 - 375 lb capacity.

 

Getting to the Campsite: Driving, Hiking, or Biking

There are several ways to go kayak camping, so we detail the benefits of driving, hiking, or biking.

  1. Driving to the Campsite:
    • Convenience: Driving to a campsite offers the convenience of easily transporting your kayak and gear directly to your destination. Look for car-accessible campsites near lakes or rivers, where you can drive into your campsite, set up your tent, and unload your kayak and gear
    • Parking Considerations: Ensure the campsite has adequate parking facilities for your car. Check for any parking fees or permits required before arriving at the site
    • Gear Organization: The best part of driving is you have a lot of space for all your camping gear. This makes it a fantastic family-friendly option for kayak camping. Secure your kayak on roof racks or in a trailer and stow camping essentials in the trunk or cargo area
  2. Hiking to the Campsite:
    • Remote Wilderness: Backcountry camping allows you to access remote wilderness areas and untouched rivers and lakes that are inaccessible by car
    • Trail Difficulty: Consider the terrain and distance of the hiking trail when selecting your campsite. Opt for trails with suitable terrain for transporting your kayak, such as well-maintained paths or portage routes
    • Pack Essentials: Choose lightweight camping and kayaking gear that can be easily carried on your back. Remember you’ll likely have to carry in all your water and food and carry out any waste to leave no trace. Distribute weight evenly in your backpack and use compression sacks or dry bags to protect gear from water and weather
  3. Biking into the Campsite:
    • Adventure Cycling: Biking to a campsite offers a thrilling adventure for those who crave a multi-sport adventure. Choose bike-friendly trails or roads that lead to camp-friendly spots along lakes or rivers
    • Bikepacking Gear: Invest in bike packing gear such as lightweight camping equipment and saddlebags or bike trailers for transporting your kayak
    • Trail Conditions: Assess trail conditions and difficulty levels before embarking on your biking adventure. Plan your route accordingly, considering factors such as elevation gain, trail surface, and distance to the campsite.

Best Places to Camp and Kayak

There are countless places to camp and kayak - including around your local rivers, lakes, and coasts. But if you’re looking for ideas for a dream kayak & camp adventure, read on for our top 5 recommendations for the best places to camp and kayak in North America.

San Juan Islands, Washington

Why you’ll love it: ocean kayaking around the San Juan Islands offers the best of the Pacific Northwest. This archipelago is known for its stunning scenery, old-growth forests, and an ocean teeming with wildlife such as seals, bald eagles, and otters. If you go in July and August, you may spot orcas. 

  • Types of trips: You can base yourself on one of the islands and explore the coasts around your island, or you can kayak to different islands on a multi-day camping trip
    • If you’re a beginner, you can book a single or multi-day tour with established guides, or if you’re experienced you can map out your dream kayaking adventure. 
    • If you’re a foodie, San Juan Islands offers several kayak tours that specialize in cooking locally sourced gourmet meals for guests
  • Campground Options: From simple beach camping to established campgrounds with amenities, there's an option for every type of camper

Lake Powell, Utah/Arizona

Why you’ll love it: this stunning lake is known for its dramatic landscapes - think towering red rock canyons and secluded beaches. There are over 2,000 miles of shoreline where you can kayak, swim, fish or even cliff jump. 

  • Types of trips: we recommend you check out Labyrinth Canyon for an overnight kayaking trip. There are many potential starting points like Page, Arizona (launch from Wahweap or Antelope Point marinas) or if you’re coming from Salt Lake City, you can launch from Bullfrog or Hite marinas. The recommended ending point of your trip is White Canyon Beach where you can arrange for a shuttle to pick you up.
  • Campground Options: you can camp along the sandy beaches of Lake Powell. Or you can backcountry camp if you venture further into Labyrinth Canyon. You can arrange your own trip or join a popular guided kayak tour
  • Things to note: since this is a remote area, you must carry out all your waste - including trash and toilet waste. There is a $30 park entrance fee. 

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota

Why you’ll love it: if you feel like kayaking across peaceful, glassy lakes and immersing yourself in pristine, untouched forests, you have to check out the northern third of Superior Forest. This wilderness area is a dream for backcountry campers as there are over a thousand lakes and hundreds of miles of interconnected waterways. 

  • Types of trips: since cars are banned in the Wilderness area, visitors must drive to designated entry points that are accessible through paved or gravel roads. It’s recommended you make reservations during peak season. This area is managed by the US Forest Service. Once you’re in the parking lot, you have to transport your gear and kayak from the parking area to the nearest water access point through well-marked Portage Trails. Visitors typically carry their gear in backpacks or special portage packs
    • Most people choose to do self-guided, multi-day expeditions kayak or canoe trips
    • There are also guided tours available if you’re looking for experienced guides to provide insight into the area’s natural history and wildlife. This is a great option for beginners. Some tours even offer customized kayaking trips tailored to your skill level.
  • Campground Options: only backcountry camping is available. Note that no major hiking is required as there are no hiking trails in the wilderness area. The primary mode of travel is through canoe or kayak through the interconnected lakes and rivers
  • Things to note: since this is a wilderness area, facilities are limited. Visitors must practice Leave No Trace principles, adhere to wilderness regulations, and be self-sufficient during their trip. Permits are required for overnight camping in the BWCAW, and reservations are recommended, especially during peak seasons

Banff, Alberta, Canada

Why you’ll love it: nestled in the Canadian Rockies, this beautiful town is known for its sparkling turquoise blue waters, stunning mountain views, and larger-than-life wildlife (like grizzly bears and moose). You can kayak Lake Louise and Moraine Lake from mid-June through to fall. 

  • Types of trips: You can base yourself in Banff National Park and go on daily kayaking excursions to the two lakes. Or you can do a multi-day backcountry camp and kayak different lakes
  • Campground Options: camping in Banff National Park requires a camping permit and a national park entry pass. The park offers 3 camping options: Otentiks (large prospector-style permanent tents on raised wooden platforms with electricity), equipped campsites (you don’t have to bring any camping gear), or backcountry camping. Most backcountry campers are hikers, but travel by horseback or bicycle is possible on some trails
  • Things to note: the time of year you visit will impact the trails you can visit. Also remember to be aware of local wildlife (e.g., grizzlies) especially if backcountry camping

What Gear Do I Need for Kayak Camping?

Before you set off on your kayak camping adventure, you must have all the right gear. This will make a world of difference when it comes to the safety, comfort, and enjoyment of your trip.  

Whether you're paddling along serene waterways or setting up camp under the stars, having the proper equipment is essential for a successful adventure. Here's a comprehensive list of gear to pack for your next camping and kayaking excursion:

Camping Gear:

  • Tent
  • Tarp and rope
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad or mattress
  • Camp stove, fuel, lighter
  • Cooking utensils and cookware
  • Portable water filter or purification system
  • Food and coolers
  • Headlamp or flashlight with extra batteries
  • Multi-tool or knife
  • First aid kit
  • Lightweight, quick-drying clothing
  • Sun protection (hat, sunglasses, sunscreen)
  • Insect repellent
  • Camping chair or portable seating
  • Firewood

Kayak Equipment:

  • Kayak (inflatable or rigid)
  • Paddle(s) and spare paddle (strongly recommended)
  • Personal flotation device (PFD)
  • Waterproof dry bags or containers for gear storage
  • Paddle leash or tether
  • Navigation tools (map, compass, GPS)
  • Bilge pump or sponge for water removal
  • Repair kit for kayak (patches, adhesive)
  • Safety whistle or signaling device
  • Tow rope or tow system
  • Kayak cart or dolly for transport (if applicable)
  • Waterproof camera or smartphone case
  • Anchor kit (if planning to lounge or float)

By packing the right gear for both camping and kayaking, you can ensure a safe, comfortable, and enjoyable outdoor adventure. Whether you're a seasoned paddler or new to the experience, having the essential equipment at your disposal will enhance your wilderness journey and create lasting memories amidst nature's beauty.

As you gear up for your next kayak camping adventure, picture yourself paddling through tranquil waters, surrounded by serene nature. The freedom to explore, the connection with the outdoors, and the sense of adventure awaits, Whether you're driving, hiking, or biking to your campsite, the possibilities for exploration are endless, and the memories made will last a lifetime. So grab your gear, chart your course, and set out on your expedition into the wild!

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