Solo Kayak Camping
You cram all of your camping gear into the hull or hatches of a kayak and paddle off to a distant remote campsite, then unpack, set up camp and enjoy the solitude. Pretty simple! Of course you can make it more of an adventure by planning a long route that requires you to portage into different lakes and takes several days to complete. In that case you need to figure out a way to carry your kayak and you’ll have unpack and repack your boat at each end of the portage. A kayak is faster on the water than a canoe so you can cover more distance but if your route has several portages you can quickly loose that time from all the packing and unpacking. I recently finished a one week solo trip in QueticoProvincalPark with my home made cedar strip kayak and here are some of my observations.
Gear list – what did I take – where was it packed
At every portage this loose gear was removed from the forward hull and rear hatch or unstrapped from the deck, then placed in the army duffle. The portage yoke was attached to the kayak combing. The fishing rods were carried by hand as was the deck bag, the duffle was on my back and I walked the portage trail. A second trip was made to retrieve the kayak. At the other end of the trail this gear was removed from the duffle and placed back in the kayak.
4 man tent – smallest I had – forward hull
Sleeping bag – packed in plastic trash bag and rubberized pack liner bag – forward hull
Light weight foam sleeping pad – forward hull
Clothing – packed in waterproof gear bag – rear hatch
Cook kit – loose in rear hatch
Coleman Dual Fuel 533 camp stove – loose in rear hatch
Small coffee pot – loose in rear hatch
Spare shoes – loose in rear hatch
Food bag – loose in rear hatch
Army surplus duffle bag with shoulder straps – loose in rear hatch
Katadyn Hiker water filter – loose in rear hatch
Rope for hanging food pack – loose in rear hatch
Portage yoke – strapped on top of hull
Fanny pack emergency survival kit – strapped on top of hull
Paddle float – strapped on top of hull
GPS – in deck bag
Camera and mini tripod – in deck bag
Tackle – in deck bag
Fishing rods (2) – strapped on top of hull
Water bottle for drinking – in cockpit
Compass and maps – in deck bag
Rain gear – in deck bag
Sponge – in cockpit
Food and water
Clean drinking water is essential. For a day trip you can bring along a canteen or a few bottles, but for extended trips bringing your own water is not practical. A water filter with a pore size of no larger than 0.3 micron is needed to remove most common bacteria. I use either a Katadyn Hiker model for individual use or if more water is required I use the Katadyn Camp model. It works great and requires little effort, since gravity replaces pumping. I usually bring along individual packs of Crystal Lite for the water bottle, which will help mask any residual tastes. If you like the stuff it will encourage fluid consumption minimizing the concerns about dehydration.
Food is a matter of personal preference, but spoilage is a consideration in warm weather. I usually bring dehydrated or dried food in an effort to minimize weight. You can purchase prepared dehydrated meals or MREs made especially for camping but every thing you need could be purchased from your local grocery for a fraction of the price.
Here are some suggestions:
Homemade trail mix– nuts, dried fruit, M&Ms,
Folgers Coffee Singles
Krustaez Pancake mix
Any “just add water” muffin or biscuit mix
Instant Mashed Potatoes
Instant Rice or Pasta, flavored side dishes
Foil Packed Tuna
Foil Packed Chicken
Foil Packed Ham
Hard cheese, Velveeta, or cheese whiz
Hard salami or meat sticks
Popcorn for popping on the camp stove
Instant Soup mix
You can be creative with meal plans. I usually try to use 1 or 2 gallon Ziplocs and put the dinner, lunch and breakfast foods in separate bags, with a small supply of paper towel and aluminum foil if needed. Any condiments and miscellaneous items go in their own bag. I also divvy up the trail mix into small individual Ziploc bags which helps to ration this crucial substance and keeps the supply more sanitary.
Clothing can take up a lot of space and the tendency is to over pack. Essentially what you need is one set of clothing to wear and one dry set to change into if you get wet. Where I camp I need to be prepared for cold weather. Once I was in a snowstorm on June 18. I use a fleece jacket that, when topped with my rain jacket provides good cool temperature protection. Cotton clothing should be avoided since it provides no warmth when wet and takes a long time to dry. It is comfortable when sitting around camp. Synthetic blend materials or wool is the best. You can anticipate landing your kayak and stepping into the water, wet feet cannot be avoided. Select footwear that drains well and dries quickly. Sandals should be avoided unless your trip plan lets you land only on sandy beaches and walk well cleared trails. If I am traveling early in the summer and cool weather is expected I might pack a knit hat, gloves and some synthetic long underwear.
For a week long trip I pack:
3 changes of socks and underwear
2 pair of zip off cargo pants
2 cotton t shirt
1 synthetic t shirt
1 long sleeve shirt
1 hat – ball cap
1 extra pair of dry tennis shoes
1 Rain suit
1 fleece jacket
Precautions for traveling alone
When you are travelling alone in the wilderness you should slow down and travel at a more relaxed pace. Be overly cautious, excessive risk and hasty decisions can lead to trouble. Observe your surroundings and every thing you do should be purposeful and thought out. Take the time you need to make the right decision when you begin to question yourself. For instance if you find yourself lost, stop and rest and think. Don’t let panic set in which will cloud your judgement. When the fog in your head clears the correct path will probably be obvious.
Leave contact information and trip details with a responsible person. Where are you going? When will you return? What is the general itinerary? Where will you start and where will you park? What color is your tent? Consider leaving home phone number, park office phone number, local sheriff, or local outfitters phone number with someone.
Research and plan your route and stick fairly closely to your plan. Resist the urge to drastically alter your plan at the last minute without informing someone who cares about your return.
Plan ahead. What would you do if you are injured? Do you have adequate supplies for a few extras days if needed? Do you have an emergency medical kit? How would you signal for rescue if needed? Is there cell phone service in the area? What would you do if you become lost? These are things you should think about before you are forced to think about them when it may be difficult to use good judgement.
Pay attention to the weather. Weather forecasts are helpful but often times not entirely reliable. When stormy weather starts to approach, take shelter or set up camp before conditions become dangerous. Always keep an eye on the sky.
The solitude and pace
The solitude you may feel could become a profound experience. The first few nights of being alone, I’ll admit, can make you feel a little distressed. Soon a feeling of calm will fill you due to the relaxed pace and the quiet and the routine of travel and camp life. Traveling at a slower pace will cause more things to explore and investigate to present themselves, things that a normal tripper moving along with deadlines and frantic stroke will surely miss.
Link to a 10 minute video:
some useful links
- How to Make a Kayak Portage Yoke
This is simple homemade portage yoke that is inexpensive and simple to construct. It works well with no slippage and is quick and easy to attach.
One of my favorite websites, loaded with lots of info on canoeing and camping in the Boundary Waters and Quetico.
- Building a Cedar Strip Canoe: The Basics
Jimmar's cedar strip canoe(s)
My solo trip in Quetico
Quetico Provincial Park near Atikokan, Ontario