Kayak camping advice for Scouts

I’m a Scout leader in Venturing, a coed older youth/young adult program of the Boy Scouts of America for young people ages 14-20. My Scouts have tired of using (borrowed) canoes and would like to explore the possibility of acquiring kayaks for camping. Assuming we can raise the funds, I would like to help them achieve this goal.

Our canoe camping trips involve overnight, weekend, and occasional week-long trips on the Tennessee River and its tributaries, many of which are part of the TVA reservoir system.

Ideally, we would like kayaks suitable for trips of equal duration in flatwater, Class I, and Class II conditions with (if beggars could be choosers) the potential for limited use in Class III conditions if the Scouts prove themselves committed enough to complete the appropriate training.

We’re biased in favor of sit-inside models due, in part, to the potential to use them in cooler conditions. We would be open to either solo or tandem models.

(I should also note that, in terms, of gear, we are not frontcountry car campers. When we’re not on the water, we’re backpacking. We don’t own a camping trailer. So I am hopeful that we can mitigate losing the cargo capacity of canoes through the use of our backpacking gear in the kayaks.)

I would be grateful for kayak recommendations that would fit this use case. Thanks in advance to all who are willing to offer advice.

Scouter, first let me commend you on working to get youth outdoors. I work as an outdoor educator at a high school in Canada and I see first-hand the profoundly positive effects that well regulated outdoor experiences have on teenagers.

So, as a peer, I have to ask: why do you think that kayaks will offer more than canoes for your intended use? I use both types of craft with my students, but all things being equal I will choose canoes most of the time. They are cheaper, they carry two plus loads of gear, they can do moving water as well as lakewater, and they have fewer complications generally. Plus, kids learn more solid paddling skills in a canoe.

And then there is the state of the industry. Canoe manufacturers are still making the great boats they always have; kayak manufacturers have moved to short, plastic, low quality boats. When I do use kayaks, I rent Seaward Passat G3s, which are solidly built, expedition-capable doubles for open water use, but not for moving water.

Just curious. But still, I think what you’re doing with kids is great!

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Not a kayaker, but have done plenty of camping trips with folks in kayaks, and it seems that bigger is better. Even backpacking gear takes up a lot of space in small kayak hatches. If it was me, I’d be thinking of a 14-15 foot touring kayak. In terms of cost and durability you’d probably be looking for plastic, and would need watertight hatch covers. Maybe something like a Tsunami.

Regardless of what you end up with, you’d probably need a skirt for the rapids and windy lake crossings – so in terms of training you also need to add wet exits. Also need lots of small dry bags to get gear through the hatches. You would still probably need one canoe for bigger group gear.

Don’t know how many boats you are looking for, but even used the cost is going to add up quick. Maybe you could rent them to check it out.

p.s. - logistically it is also twice as many boats to transport to/from the put-in/take-out.

Suggest you rethink paddling kayaks that work for the rest of it thru class II. Portage that. Especially tandems.

At class III the boat matters a bit more. The ones that you will prefer on flat water will be a longer cry from a solid class III boat than class 1 or II. Especially in your part of the country, the white water ratings sometimes point to a bit bigger stuff than in the northeast.

Same points as @Eckilson about what to pick - 14 foot plastic, watertight compartments or dry bags.

I love kayak camping but in you situation there are a lot of advantages to using canoes over kayaks. Consider that with kayaks the group goes as fast as the slowest paddler, while you can pair strong paddlers with weak ones in canoes. Canoes can carry a lot more gear and you don’t have to deal with hatches. Transportation and portaging are way faster when you have two people per boat. And getting in and out of a canoe is easier.

I am a guide/instructor for a place that does a fair amount of youth groups tours. For the overnight tours we do, we use double sea kayaks, such as Necky Looksha Ts. Pretty much everyone is in them (youths and adults), except for very experienced.

If one flips, there is a process to rescuing that isn’t necessarily readily obvious, so some of the leaders (at a minimum) should get the training. Usually done as a 1 day class.

We have the guides in single sea kayaks. Assuming you are not hiring guides, you’d probably want a few of the experienced folks (scout leaders, older kids with sea kayak badge, etc.) in singles, as rescuing from a single is much easier than from double. For gear carrying space, you usually want something in the 16+ foot range.

We use nylon skirts (usually Sea;s Rental Skirts). Should be a fair number of bilge pumps among the group.

Sea kayaks are meant for different conditions than canoes, and are not interchangeable. I would not consider using them on with a youth group in any rated white water. That is canoe (or white water kayak) territory. Sea kayaks are made for open water. They would eat up those TVA reservoirs just fine. Or out on the barrier islands of the coast (in areas protected from ocean swells, that would require more training and experience).

I both kayak and canoe. For what you want to do canoes are hands down the better choice. I have done extensive back packing over the last 50 + years, and indeed that’s the gear you want when kayaking. I use my kayaks mostly for big water and coastal camping. The kayak you are hoping to find I am not sure exists. Perhaps a Kruger Sea Wind which is basically a decked canoe and expensive. I’m not saying you can’t find kayaks that might work for some of the paddling you want to do but a kayak to do all you want to do isn’t likely. Every boat is a comprise that will do well for some things and not so well for others. I think what you are doing is very important and thank you. Good luck in your endeavor.

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I agree with all of those who have recommended sticking with canoes for your intended use. Tandem kayaks tend not to have enough gear carrying capacity for two people. Tandem kayaks are often much heavier than a canoe of comparable carrying capacity. And good ones can be very expensive.

Solo kayaks are an option but those that will be suitable for any real whitewater will not be nearly as convenient for river tripping as canoes would be. Crossover kayaks might fit the bill but you will wind up spending a lot more money on a fleet of crossover kayaks than you would a fleet of tandem canoes for the same size group. And they will still have less carrying capacity and be more time-consuming to load and unload.

I understand that your kids might be caught up in the kayak craze and inclined to eschew “old-fashioned” canoes. I would suggest finding a couple of old-school whitewater kayaks which can often be had relatively cheaply. Unlike most modern whitewater kayak play boats, these will have sufficient hull efficiency to be able to keep pace with tandem canoes. The kids can trade off paddling the kayak(s) while you keep the gear in the canoes.

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Scouter, I also appreciate your dedication to helping young people. I was a Scout leader from Webelos through 18 yo.
4 of my boys are Eagles who are now pushing 50.
A lot of great, and often scary, times.

Canoes for hauling gear and running rivers. Safer, better gear haulers and you only need half as many boats. Canoes require team work.