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Kayak Trip Packing and Planning

by Scott Locorini

You finally have a three-day weekend and it's time to head out and try out that new touring kayak! You rush home from work on Friday night, toss all your gear in the car, and off you go. After a few hours drive, you find a motel near the put-in and set your alarm for early the next morning. The next day at the put-in there is an explosion of gear: pots, pans, stove, miscellaneous food items bought en-route, tent, and all the other "toys" that need to go along for the weekend cover the ground. After filling your boat for about thirty minutes you realize there is no way all this stuff is going to fit! What should you take? What should you leave? It's three hours later but you've finally got all your necessities loaded and you're off and paddling. You stop to take a quick break for lunch, but at that point you realize that all your lunch items are packed in your stern hatch, snugly behind your clothes, tent, sleeping bag, and cookware. Maybe some pre-trip planning would have been a good idea...

I see this all the time at put-ins all around the country, and I also have to admit to being guilty of it myself. We all want to get on the water as much as possible, so when an opportunity arises we tend to toss everything (including the kitchen sink) in the car and head to the water. The thought is that you can then sort the gear out at the put-in. But once you're at the put-in it looks like a gear bomb went off: your gear is covering the launch and other users are walking over and around your stuff. It's an ugly scene: you're not having fun and others are getting annoyed!

Planning your expedition kayak trip begins at the store when you're purchasing your kayak. Think about the pros and cons of different size and shape hatches, having or not having a day hatch, and how much room a skeg box can take up in the stern. Explain your needs to the salesperson and they will be able to point you in the right direction. Then once you've found your "perfect" boat, it's time for the real fun to start! At home get all your camping gear, paddling clothes, dry bags, and stuff sacks out so they are all visible at the same time. Then start making checklists: you need a "must have items" and an "optional items" list. The "must have items" should include all your necessary camping items such as tent, sleeping bag and pad, lights, food, water carriers or purifiers, clothing, first aid, cookware, and utensils. The "optional items" list is all non-essential gear such as camp chair, camping oven, fishing rod and reel, camera, bird books, and binoculars. These are just examples: obviously each person's needs and wants will vary slightly. If you need help in creating a checklist, many web-sites (including ours!) and expedition books contain them.

Next you need to figure out what goes where. As a general rule you want most of the heavier items close to the center of the boat and lighter items further out towards the bow and stern. For most water conditions you want your boat to trim out a little higher in the bow, maybe about an inch. Also keep in mind that you do not want any metal or batteries under your deck compass. Lay your gear alongside your boat in the proper places.

Once it's all laid out, you need to figure out what dry bags will fit the items, and then if they will fit in the boat once packed. If you're going to put several different items in a dry bag, separate them with stuff sacks. That way when you open the bag you'll know that the red sack is lights, the yellow sack is lunch, and the blue sack is soap and toothpaste. Pack up the dry bags and start stuffing your boat: the idea is to get everything in the boat so that very little, or nothing, goes on your deck. The more you have on your deck the more your boat will be affected by wind. And, it's not good to have to do a re-entry with a lot of gear on your back deck! Also, when packing your boat keep in mind which items will be used first, and make sure they are within easy-access. Once you've packed your boat at home and are happy with your set-up, remove the dry bags from each hatch and then keep each hatch's contents together in a big stuff sack. Then label the sacks so you know which hatch the items go in. This may sound silly but you will forget!

If you've planned this way, the next time you get a chance to take off for a long weekend you'll be able to grab your two or three stuff sacks, depending on how many hatches you have, and head to the water. Pack your food in advance into the smallest packages you can, with just the needed serving sizes. This will save room in your boat and make for less trash that you will have to carry back out. When you get to the put-in you can just lay your stuff sacks out next to their respective hatches, pack your hatches the same way you did at home, and get on the water! The packing process will be stress-free and quick. More importantly, you'll have more time on the water doing what you enjoy most: paddling!

About the Author

Scott Locorini is the owner and founder of Adirondack Exposure, located in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. He's a certified kayak instructor and licensed guide who leads kayak trips year round to many different locations. To learn more take a look at http://www.adirondackexposure.com .

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