packing gear in a kayak

what is the best way to pack gear in a moderately sized (16 ft) touring kayak with bow and stern hatches. Is it best to pack items into separate dry bags or put everything (except tent and sleeping gear) into a hiking daypack (mine is the Osprey 30). Can sleeping bags and tents be packed into the holds without dry bags? What can be reasonalbly put on deck.


– Last Updated: Aug-15-07 11:29 AM EST –

It depends on how much stuff you need to carry.

The basic idea is to think like a back packer.

You'll probably find that smaller dry bags is a generally better approach than using a day pack (since the day pack won'd be water proof and be fairly bulky).

If you use dry bags, used nylon covered ones. Don't use the vinyl ones since they stick when you try to pack them (the nylon ones will be much easier to put into and remove from the boat.

You can also get tapered dry bags which are easier to stuff into the bow or stern. I use the smaller sea-line tapered bags.

Stuff you don't mind getting wet (eg, maybe your tent), can be packed to fill in space (ie, you don't need to stuff the tent into a stuff sack).

You should try to keep things off of the deck as much as possible. A little bit of stuff that you need convenient access to during the day is reasonable to put on deck.

Having a lot of stuff on the deck makes the boat less stable and more effected by wind.

You might even be able to push a dry bag in front of your foot pegs (be sure that you won't get caught on it if you need to exit).

Bag it all -
Best advice is to dry bag essentially everything, knowing that few hatches are completely waterproof and that things happen. I’ve had a day hatch cover not get put on just right, and found the compartment half flooded after some deep edging of the kayak.

As for the deck - everything on the deck is subject to getting washed off in waves. Anything on the deck could get in the way of rescues, and will also raise the boat’s center of gravity. Sooo - the less on the deck the better. On the deck I typically carry a spare paddle, a pump, a chart and sometimes a GPS in a dry case. I wish I could find another spot for the pump (or just get comfortable with not taking it at all).

Cheers, Alan

what he said
I only bag the items I care about keeping dry. I use the largest bag I can fit into my hatches, which is pretty small(dry bags take up more space than you might think). My food goes into ziplocs. Having said that I have full and verified confidence in my hatches.

One other thing to consider are mesh bags. I use one for my kayak gear and always bring it, whether I’m using all the gear or not. But a few spare mesh bags (think gymbag type) are a great help in shuttling gear from the boat to the campsite and back.

Think small !!
Pack everything in smaller, nylon (not PVC) dry bags…

This will make it easier to fit items into small spaces (such as behind the skeg box)as well as make adjustments in weight to properly trim the kayak when its loaded.

pack in small bags…
… nylon coated bags are great. Dont get the largest bags even thou they are a great value. Get a bunch of 5-10L bags and label them. Get a compression bag for bag/sleeping pad and thats that. The less loose items you ahve in your hatches the faster and easier you will pack and unpack not to mention find the items once you get to where you are going.

Pictures tell the story

– Last Updated: Aug-13-07 8:40 PM EST –

I was only packing for a 49 day trip so you might not want to follow this system.

Great pics, true story...some pics were in the newspaper.

There is no system to madness.

Madness is when a 59 yo man takes a 12 ft rec kayak on a 49 day river trip.

Happiness is telling about the "Wild Trip"

Don't pack dry bags into the dry compartment. I dn't need to tell you that. You'll learn when you try. But you can pack some stuff in zip lock bags but beware most zip lock bags aren't worth a damn on a river trip. They leak. Tape the top and bottom for important things.

Do you wonder why they call them dry storage storage compartments? Make sure the bulkheads are sealed. Take some extra zip lock bags on the trip and use the ones with the zipper. Sometimes the regular ones won't reseal.

Don't put the tent in a dry bag but keep the sleeping bag in one. Take a sponge to wipe the tent floor if it gets wet. It will also be handy to wipe and clean the floor before folding it up.

BTW my sleeping bag, xtra shirt, pants, sweat shirt and dry top are in the Seal Line 25L bag on the bow. Running shoes, socks and misc are in the GAIA deck bag on the stern.

Have fun,

Use small dry bags, even in dry storage
Use dry bags that are as small as possible. ALL of your gear that you do not want to get wet should go in dry bags. The tent doesn’t really need a dry bag, but you might end up with a damp tent if your hatches/bulkheads leak.

Unless your day pack is waterproof I would not put anything in there that you don’t mind getting wet. On top of that a full day pack will be difficult to get through the hatch. This is also true for one large dry bag.

Only put things on the deck that you don’t mind getting soaked and/or losing.

I usually use this method for dry bags -

1 - sleeping bag and sleep clothes (this one only gets opened inside the tent)

2 - camp clothes with headlamp

3 - toiletries

4 - cooking utensils and spices

5 - food (as many different dry bags as you need)

Zip-lock bags are prone to coming undone and leaking. I separate food, like oatmeal and rice, into ziplock bags which then go into a dry bag.

If you are using a liquid fuel stove make sure you don’t put oatmeal in the same hatch as the fuel. There is a small chance that the fuel bottle could leak fumes. Oatmeal is a natural odor absorber. What you end up with is fuel flavored oatmeal.

A couple more more hints
Tie a string to the first item in you can use the string to pull the last several items out of the point so you don’t have to stand on your head to reach.

Also a small square of carpet or plastic is handy so you don’t have to kneel in the sand/mud to unload, also handy for a seat at lunch and a doormat for your tent.

Good Luck


couple thoughts
a few small bags are much easier and more convienient than one or two large bags. you can pack them in more places you couldnt get a big one

nothing wrong with putting gear on your deck as long as you dont plan to do any rolling. Personally, i paddle a rec boat and couldnt roll it anyway, but I wouldnt want to roll any boat loaded with a few days worth of supplies. Often ill carry other folks in my party’s gear on my deck… or in my boat since my boat is a bit longer than most my paddling buds boats.

tent doesnt have to be dry, but i dont chance it. Id rather not have a moldy tent (will make it less water resistant and you will be s.o.l. if it rains and you have a leaky tent. also if it rains, dont touch your tent walls, something about when you touch it makes the water go straight through instead of beading and running off…Try it sometime, youll see what I mean. I now use a tarp as a roof over my tent for that reason lol)

dont want your sleeping bag wet either, that makes for a cold, long, and miserable night. been there done that…

ALWAYS bring a roll of duct tape. cant remember a camping trip where i did not need it. can be used for anything… ive used it for emergency bandage (works very well actually) to make rope, it also works well to compress the bag your sleeping bag or clothes are in… once you load the bag wrap a loop or 2 of tape and compress it to save space. very effective

trashbags and duct tape work pretty well to keep gear dry, and its cheap

make sure you bring enough beer/wiskey to get you the whole way through the trip. Nothing worse than running out of beer before the trip is over. been there done that lol.

best teacher is experience… just go pack your kayak the way it makes sense to you. each consecutive trip youll find a way to improve.

why not roll a boat loaded with supplies
It isn’t more difficult it is just a different feel. Sometimes rolling a loaded kayak can be easier.

I know you paddle a rec boat, but if you were to paddle a sea kayak that is loaded with gear you should not be afraid of rolling it.

Stuff on your deck

– Last Updated: Aug-15-07 11:39 AM EST –

"nothing wrong with putting gear on your deck as long as you dont plan to do any rolling"

Actually, for a sea kayak, if you need to put stuff on the deck (other than a few need-to-get-at things), you are probably carrying way too much stuff.

(Note that, if you have something you need that doesn't fit in your hatches, you might need to carry it on the deck.)

And, as others have said, stuff on your deck will catch the wind more and the stuff might wash off in waves. Stuff on the deck decreases the stability of the boat.

Ideally, you should have some extra room in your kayak for community stuff (if you are going with a group).

Note that it still makes sense to use dry bags in "dry" compartments. The dry bags add more security in keeping things dry in a wet environment. "Dry" compartments are not always completely dry. Also, if a hatch gets knocked off, the dry bags work as floatation bags keeping some of the water out. Keep in mind that this is general advice that will work any where (from paddling in Alaska to Florida and in fairly rough water). It's quite possible that you could get away with something less sure than using dry bags (but not advisable generally).

Note that Georgia_Kayaker's kayak is quite small.

"trashbags and duct tape work pretty well to keep gear dry, and its cheap"
Trash bags should work if you are careful. A dry bag will hold up better being pushed into and pulled out of a kayak repeatedly.

It's quite possible that you are interested in trying out camping in your kayak before making a "big" investment in dry bags. If that is the case, then using trash bags (doubled up) might be reasonable for a shortish trip in dry weather.

Z-rest camp pad
You can cut a regular length one into any size you like, it’s the folding waffle pattern camp pad. Four sections is about a square, that would be a light equivalent to the carpet square.

dry bag all of it
if you don’t want to spend more money on dry bags use kitchen trash bags in nylon stuff sacks,if you have extra nylon stuff sacks.

while it isn’t critical with some things like camp pads or water containers you really don’t want to pull your back pack out after it’s sitting on a quart of water. The inside of your kayak is like the bilge of a boat. Even if you have bone dry hatches,very few production hatches are, those hatches are inches off the water. Even if you drag the boat above the water onto dry beach the act of opening the hatches and standing over them in wet gear will drip water into them.

Unless you HAVE to carry that specific back pack look around for something similar to this:

REI and NRS used to sell something like that. If you have a fulling loaded kayak with many bags you can put this in as the last thing before the hatch goes on. Since the car or campsite are usually a distance from the kayak it’s easier to load up the mesh backpack with the small dry bags and carry the few larger ones in your hands. It’s one of those things that can cut down the time it takes to break camp and load the kayak.

How boat is loaded is inportant too
Not only how the gear is packed into bags is important, bit how the gear is loaded in the boat is important too. An improperly loaded kkayak can turn into a bear to paddle.

From my experiences, I suggest the following. Sit in the boat in shallow water, and no gear. Have someone put a crayon mark at the water line at the Bow and Stern. Use this as a reference. When you get out of the water, put a series of marks above these spaced about 1" apart. When you load the boat, load it evenly (while you are in it) so it sits at the same level position on the water. Distribute the gear so the boat stays level (again with you in it) as it was before.

If you greatly overload the boat in the front, it will be kind of squirrely to paddle. You could be paddling in a nice straight line, and all of a sudden it will “On it’s own” want to make a hard turn right or left. It is a wierd feeling! I learned about this while reading an article on kayak loading, and it sure proves true.

If you greatly overload the kayak to the rear, it will be difficult to paddle a straight line, as the boat will want to slowly wander from left to right.

Also, keeping the kayak more level will help optimum speed too.

i dont roll anyway
so my opinion on that is irrelevant i guess.

I paddle rivers exclusively, and have no need to.

I just figured a yak loaded with a few days worth of gear would be hard to do…

open hatches
insert stuff

The only problem with duct tape and
…trash bags is:

it is a one shot deal

that damn duct tape is forever and won’t come off the trash bag.

I use the blue masking tape (not the blue painters tape. It holds and it can be removed from even a trash bag.

you forgot
close hatches afterwards.



If you have never packed your boat for a trip before, I would suggest doing a test packing at home. When I got back to the put-in at Low’s lake after a trip this summer, there was two guys trying to load their kayaks. They had every thing laid out on the ground in the middle of the parking lot. It looked like their boats had exploded. One guy was trying to put a 50 liter dry bag through a 10" x 8" hatch. They probably waisted half the day figuring out how to load their boats.