How to Choose a Kayak for Camping

Buying a camping kayak can be tricky. There are tons of options and you only want to pick one.

The wrong kayak for camping will make you miserable. If it is too small, your feet will be cramped up and you won’t have enough space for all your gear. And a kayak that is too big is bulky and hard to control—it’s even worse if you have to portage it.

The right boat should easily accommodate you and your stuff. The material should be both light, stiff and durable. And it should be a delight to paddle. 

So, let these factors guide you in choosing a camping kayak.

1. Maximum Load and Storage Space

You will have to carry everything in your kayak—tent, food, sleeping bag, and whatever else you will need.

A good camping kayak should be able to hold all your gear. Generally, you should get one with storage wells, hatches, and bungee cords. Your valuables can go into the hatches so they don’t get wet.

Touring kayaks are great for multi-day trips. They have large storage areas and you can also put a few things in the cockpit. But they may not be suitable for every situation (more on that later).

One of the biggest mistakes you can make while going kayak camping is exceeding your kayak’s weight limit. The boat’s performance will be terrible. It will ride lower, become less maneuverable and speed will be affected. And in case of an emergency, things can quickly go wrong.

An ideal kayak for camping should have a high weight limit. To help you determine the right weight capacity, add 100 to 150 pounds to your body weight. 

This way, it will be possible to stay below the limit even with gear in the kayak.

2. Material

What should a camping kayak be made of?

Materials used to make kayaks include fiberglass, carbon fiber, wood, plastic, and PVC (in the case of inflatable kayaks).

You can opt for whichever one you want, depending on your budget. But you need to have two things in mind.

The first one is the weight of the kayak. In addition to all your gear, the last thing you want to deal with is a painfully heavy kayak. What if you have to portage the kayak? Can you imagine how frustrating that would be?

Lightweight material is preferable.

The second thing is durability. You don’t know what lies ahead. Your kayak should be able to withstand bumping against obstacles, including rocks. And consider the possibility of having to drag it.

Unfortunately, you will most likely have to find a balance between weight and durability. 

Polyethylene (plastic) canoes handle impact well but they are very heavy. Carbon fiber yaks are super light but because of how stiff they are, they may not hold well on impact.

Fiberglass lies somewhere in between and is, therefore, great material for camping. It is not as heavy as polyethylene and it handles impact better than carbon fiber. Fiberglass kayaks are also not as expensive as those made from carbon fiber. 

If you are on a really tight budget, polyethylene will do. But be prepared to deal with the weight if it comes to it. 

How about inflatable kayaks?

Blow-up boats handle impact really well. So you won’t have to worry about dings and dents (as long as the material is high quality).

And when it comes to transport, inflatable kayaks are the best. Carrying them is a breeze, even when fully inflated.

The main downside is that the performance can be underwhelming. In difficult conditions, you may find yourself paddling too hard.

But some manufacturers make fantastic inflatable kayaks that would be amazing for a camping trip.

3. Performance

This has to do with the stability, speed, and maneuverability of your boat.

Having a stable kayak when camping is important, especially because you will be carrying a lot of stuff. You wouldn’t want the boat to flip, would you?

Usually, wider kayaks are more stable. But this comes at a cost.

Which brings us to the next point: speed.

A slow kayak can be annoying. If asked, every kayaker would say they prefer a boat that glides smoothly with speed. Long and narrow kayaks knife through the water nicely, but they are not very stable.

Hence why I said stability comes at a cost.

For maximum stability, you will have to sacrifice speed. For your camping kayak, you should find a balance between the two. Get a boat that is stable enough for you (even when loaded) but also glides with decent speed. 

Experienced kayakers can get kayaks as narrow as 22 to 24 inches, especially if they will be paddling the sea. For beginners, a width of 28 to 34 inches would be ideal.  

Lastly, a good kayak for camping should be maneuverable. Shorter yaks are easier to handle in any condition but they don’t track well. So again, you have to find a balance, depending on where you will be paddling.

For ocean kayaking, tracking is important so go for a length of 12 to about 16 feet. If you care more about maneuverability than tracking, a length of 10 to 12 feet would be great.

Speaking of…

4. Paddling Environment

Will you be paddling a river, ocean, or lake?

For river paddling, you will be better off with a shorter and slightly wider kayak. It is more stable and maneuverable.

For open water paddling, you should have a sea kayak. That is the condition that sea kayaks are designed for.

You can’t take a river kayak to the ocean. It won’t track well and you will get frustrated. In the same way, you can’t use a long touring kayak on a river because it will be too tippy.

Camping Kayak Q&A

Q: Can You Sleep in a Kayak?

A: Yes, you can. But it is not advisable. First, kayaks are designed for paddling, not sleeping in. Unless you have a huge boat, you will be uncomfortable the entire time. Besides, sleeping offshore can be extremely dangerous. So just bring a tent and a sleeping bag.

Q: Is Kayak Camping Safe?

A: Honestly, kayak camping has its risks (like many other outdoor activities). But there are simple kayak safety precautions you can take and you will be okay. Give someone your float plan even when going on a short trip. Leave all the details of your trip so they can reach you.

Don’t forget to carry emergency essentials such as a knife, spare paddle, first aid kit, etc.

Q: What Are the Best Tips for Kayak Camping?

A: To make your kayak camping trip fun and memorable, here are a few useful tips:

  • Pack smart. Bring everything you need but make it light. Don’t carry unnecessary stuff.
  • Get waterproof bags. Don’t rely on dry hatches because they can fail you.
  • Wear a PFD for kayaking, always. PFDs save lives, literally. Drowning is one of the leading causes of death where kayaks are involved. So don’t just bring a PFD, wear it until you are out of the water.
  • Don’t go alone. If you are kayak camping for the first time, it is better to go as a team or at least bring a friend.
  • Prepare for anything. You will probably have an uneventful trip but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

Q: How Do You Pack a Kayak for Camping?

A: Pack light, as already stated, and distribute the weight of your belongings evenly. Here is a comprehensive guide on what and how to pack for kayak camping.

Q: How Do You Plan a Kayak Camping Trip?

A: First, take a kayaking class. You will be surprised by how much you don’t know. You will be learning from someone else’s experience and it prepares you for different scenarios.

Research extensively about where you will camp, how to get there, and your journey back. You want to avoid surprises as much as possible. Remember to check the weather as well.

Prepare a list of everything you need so you don’t forget anything.


Kayak camping is a thrilling experience. But you have to plan every detail carefully. Get the right kayak and lightweight gear. Research the area and make a list of whatever you have to bring. Lastly, remember to relax and have fun.

Do you have any questions about kayak camping? Feel free to ask us below. Happy kayaking!

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