You may spend more time in your sleeping bag than in your kayak, so this is a critical component of the kayak camping setup. If you have a good sleep system you will be comfortable, well rested, and protected from the elements.
Selecting a campsite
Before you embark on your trip, check the regulations. Many places where you want to go kayak camping are protected areas. These often have use limitations, such as maximum length of stay, designated campsites, assigned campsites, etc. Be sure you’re up on the current regulations to save yourself some headache when the ranger comes by, and help preserve the environment that you’re enjoying. When you get to camp its a good idea to figure out your shelter, then un-stuff your sleeping bag to let the loft decompress for a few hours before you sleep in it. When you pack up, be sure to leave no trace and leave it cleaner than you found it.
- Flat space (enough for whole group)
- Fresh side stream (especially important on muddy or polluted rivers)
- Awesome view
- Firewood nearby
- Distance above the river so you don’t get flooded in the middle of the night. Drag your kayak up on shore and/or secure it with a strap to a convenient tree or rock.
Choosing a Sleeping Bag
- Camping environment (hot, cold, dry, rainy, etc)
- Volume and weight of bag
- Body size, metabolism (hot sleeper, cold sleeper)
- Cost (think about cost over time too- quality will last)
- Personal comfort threshold (can you sleep in just a quilt? Do you need Paco Pad?
Make sure you get a temperature rating that matches your location. It’s better to err on the side of caution and get a slightly warmer bag than the temperatures you’ll be experiencing. I’ve noticed many people and websites recommending synthetic bags for paddling, because synthetic retains its loft when wet. I think that’s irrelevant. I always use down, which is lighter, more compressible, and more comfortable. Yes, it doesn’t work if it gets wet- but your sleeping bag should never be wet. Invest in a decent drybag instead of tying garbage bags around a bulky synthetic. I have been using a 0 degree Big Agnes bag without a back, and more recently a 20 degree Golite quilt for 3 season use. If you sleep in long underwear you can boost your sleeping bag’s rating, as well as keep your bag smelling better on long trips. On extended trips I like to air out the bag and let it sit in the sun as much as possible.
I like the compression dry sacks because they take your bag down to an even smaller size than the manufacturer’s stuff sack, making it easier to stuff in your kayak. For smaller kayaks you may want to use a bigger dry bag, less compressed, to fit your sleeping bag in the space between the seat and the cockpit rim. Just don’t leave it compressed when you’re storing your bag, as it will lose its loft.
This is almost as critical as a sleeping bag. When your body is insulated from the ground, you will sleep much warmer. Pair a good sleeping pad with a backless sleeping bag or quilt and you can save weight and be just as comfortable as a regular bag.
You’ve got a few options for getting out of the elements:
- Tent- bad weather, bad mosquitoes, cold. think about splitting up the tent between two boats (one kayak carries poles, one carries tent body). easy to set up, especially freestanding.
- Bivy- light, compact, many options. one person, no room for gear.
- Tarp- simple, effective. light and fast. require more effort to set up. paddles can make good tarp poles. takes up less space than tent.
- Sleep under the stars
Hammock- hot climates, no insulation