Essentials When Packing for a Kayak Tour

Many outdoor enthusiasts are seeking quieter areas away from crowds to engage with the environment.

From backcountry skiing to alpine climbing, the spectrum of adventure sports continues to grow and push physical and geographical boundaries of exploration. So how does one take the step from front country to backcountry?

The leap requires a diverse range of skills, knowledge and experience, and like any sport, kayaking is an umbrella term with a number of classifications beneath it. The term “kayak touring" is like alpine touring is to skiing. Tourers pack for multiple days and travel longer distances to explore the more remote regions of waterways.

The 10 Essentials

The first step to packing for a kayak tour is to ensure you have the Ten Essentials. Regardless if you’re day tripping or paddling for a month, everyone should carry the following items for all adventures:

  • Navigation (map and compass)
  • Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
  • Insulation (extra clothing)
  • Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
  • First-aid supplies
  • Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
  • Repair kit and tools
  • Nutrition (extra food)
  • Hydration (extra water)
  • Emergency shelter


For a kayak tour, my first tip is to waterproof everything. Although a touring boat has storage compartments called hatches, I often call them “almost waterproof." Regardless of the trip, water is practically guaranteed to sneak its way into those storage areas. A great way to protect your gear is by organizing it into dry bags. These bags will add an extra layer of waterproof protection and can also be great for categorizing items. For example, I always put my sleeping gear in an orange dry bag, food goes in yellow, clothes in blue, and other gear in green.

An additional consideration when thinking about waterproofing is for garbage and food. As responsible outdoor enthusiasts, we all practice Leave No Trace. Keep in mind that packing out wet garbage isn’t an easy task. Therefore, I encourage taking a waterproof garbage system such as an extra plastic bag or dry bag specifically dedicated to keeping your waste separate and dry.


Regardless of your cooking methods, having a way to start a fire is usually a crucial addition. The Leatherman Signal Multi-tool is one of my favorite devices because of the fire starter. Matches and lighters have the possibility of being exposed to water and when damp are difficult to operate. The Signal’s fire tool is easy to use and the spark is strong enough that I’ve even been able to ignite my propane stove. If you want to start an actual fire by a spark, consider bringing cotton balls soaked in Vaseline. They’re easy to ignite and have a long burn time.

Safety Essentials

Outside of the ten essentials, here are a few additional items I bring for safety when packing for a kayak tour:

  • Paddle Float
  • Personal Kayak Pump
  • Tow Rope
  • Knife
  • Whistle
  • Life Jacket
  • Extra Paddle
  • Waterproof Map Case

The above items are useful and at times necessary for self-rescues and overall safety. Again, another nifty trick of the Leatherman Signal is that the ignition stick also doubles as a whistle. Every vessel should have a whistle for communication in times of distress. I personally always take a knife on a kayak trip for a variety of reasons, from safety to gear repair. Plus, when kayaking around Oregon, you never know when you’ll find a good mussel or fish for dinner. On my last tour, the Leatherman Crater cut through the shell of a mussel like it was butter. Sitting in the boat plucking the shells from the shallow water below and having a quick snack is a perfect reward after a hard day’s paddle.

These items are purely an introduction to packing for the world of kayak touring. As with preparing for any trip, the skills and knowledge take practice and experience to master. Paddling is a gateway into a beautiful world but must also be recognized as a dangerous activity. Be sure to paddle with a partner and have the appropriate skills before heading out into the great water world.

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