Adventure Travel

Start Smart: Properly Pack a Canoe or Kayak

Follow these guidelines to keep your gear dry, secure, and well balanced in a canoe or kayak.

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start smart pack kayak

Use multiple dry bags for a balanced boat (Jerry & Marcy Monkman)

kayak packing illo

Illustration by Supercorn

Keep it dry

  • Start with waterproof dry bags. Thin, coated nylon bags (such as SealLine, are lightweight and pack easily in tight spaces. If you’re a gear abuser, go with heavier rubber bags (like Watershed,
  • Make gear easy to load and balance by organizing everything into several smaller dry bags instead of one big one. Use different color bags for clothing, food, etc.
  • Pack the dry bag two-thirds full. An under-stuffed or overstuffed bag compromises the watertight seal.
  • Before sealing, squish the dry bag with your knee to burp out extra air.
  • Use the taped seam near the top of the bag to make the crucial first fold. Maintain horizontal tension as you roll.

Load the boat

  • Pack as close to the water as possible so you won’t have to drag a heavy boat to the launch.
  • Load items tightly so they won’t shift and become unbalanced as you go.
  • Put light, bulky items like sleeping bags and sleeping pads in the very front and back of the boat.
  • Midweight gear such as clothing, tents, and cooksets go in the middle of the bow and aft compartments.
  • Place the heaviest gear–usually food, stove fuel, and drinking water–near the center of the boat.
  • Keep cameras, sunscreen, snacks, water bottles, and maps where you can reach them: in front of your feet, between your legs, or behind the seat.