How to Pack Your ‘Yak.

There is no perfect way to pack a sea kayak, a lot will depend on the length of your trip and the type of kayak you have, not to mention the kind of tripper you are (minimalist vs all the bells and whistles).  Here are just a few suggestions to help you along your way.

Loading your Boat

There will a lot of variation on how people pack their boat. It is a very personalized skill so whatever works for you will do. There is however one indisputable rule that you will want to keep in mind. *Heaviest items should be kept low and centered.

A loaded kayak is actually more stable than an empty one.

Keeping weight away from the ends of the boat helps bow and stern climb waves rather than plough through them which also helps make turning easier.

The heaviest items should be packed in the back of the boat, right behind the seat- this helps keep the bow lighter and therefore less likely to plough though waves.

Weight should also be centered from side to side since a boat listing to one side will want to turn in circles.

Although water shouldn’t get into your “watertight” hatches- it inevitably will at some point so best to keep your things stored in dry bags.


Create a system that works for you and stick with it. The more trips you do, the easier it becomes.

Coloured dry bags are useful for organizing your stuff i.e. blue for your sleeping bag, red for food etc. I find it helpful to keep this system on all of my trips so that my sleeping bag is always in the same colour dry bag so I know where to find it.

I like using a clear, vinyl dry bag for my clothes so I can see where everything is inside. They are not as durable as most other dry bags and tend to “sweat” if left in the sun but I still find the benefits of just reaching in a grabbing a pair of socks without dumping out ½ the contents far outweighs the negative aspects.

Some folks choose to pack their food with all of the breakfasts in one bag and all the lunches in another bag. Others like all Day 1 meals together etc. Another option is to pack staples together (ie the veggie bag, the pasta bag etc.). One way is not necessarily better than another but again- pick a system and master it.

Deck Froo-froo

You may know froo-froo by a different name but it is all the same-clutter. And clutter on your deck impedes safety and paddling efficiency not to mention can get annoying.

  1. Things on top of your deck can cause your boat to weathercock more (ie turn upwind)
  2. Waves can knock stuff off your deck.
  3. Trying to rescue a boat with froo-froo hanging off the deck can be difficult and in the very least, annoying.

Try to limit the deck load to a single deck bag to store camera, snacks, water bottle and VHF radio and/or bail-out kit.

Position your spare paddle so it will not have to be removed to rig a paddle float rescue.

Tips and Tricks

Create a system and try to stick with it. Pack items that come on all of your trips in the same place to make things easier to find.

Pack up your boat as close to the water as possible to avoid dragging (or lifting) your loaded boat.

Keep your itinerary in mind. If lunch is going to be your next stop, pack it and the necessary eatlery near the top (plus a tarp if the weather looks inclement). Things that you won’t need until you set up camp (i.e. tent and sleeping bag) can go into tip and tail.

Put a snack in your PFD pocket in case lunch is delayed.

I pack my first aid kit near the top of my hatches but keep a smaller “ouch kit” in my cockpit for on the water blister attention.

Safety devices, VHF radio and flares should not be packed away. They can be secured on you, your deck or cockpit.

Don’t let cockpit space go to waste. If your boat has a high hull, you can rig up an under-deck bag. You can also fit things in front of your feet like a water bladder (if you are carrying your water) or a soft cooler. Just be sure things are secure and not liable to get stuck in your foot pegs. Don’t expect to have access to these items very easily.

Things that need to be chilled can be stored on the bottom of your boat as the cold water acts as a refrigerator.

Pack your tent in 4 parts; fly, tent body, groundsheet/footprint and poles. Each one can be packed into smaller spaces.

Don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Don’t plug up a hatch with a big bag before all the space ahead is used up.

Use a duffle bag (a mesh one is wonderful) to cart your gear to the campsite and back and to the car at the end of the trip.

On a budget? Line a stuff sack with a garbage bag- tie a slip knot for easy access. Do not put the garbage bag on the outside of the stuff sack (this should be obvious).

Loose items can be fit into small nooks and crannies.

Don’t forget to squeeze the air out of your dry bags before stowing them (you can even squeeze the air out while the dry bag is already in the hatch).

* The best approach is to paddle with friends who are minimalists as they have room for all of the group gear! 🙂