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Published Jun 28, 2022 11:34 AM

There’s no better way to spend time outside with your friends and family, or even by yourself, than taking out a kayak for a camping trip to your favorite river or lake. Camping by kayak is an efficient way to pack everything you need for multiple days on the water and for nights spent on land. No matter the season, kayak camping allows you to pack more gear, be more comfortable both on and off the water, and spend your days paddling or fishing without worrying about heading home at the end of the day. Check out my picks for the best kayaks for camping that fit your needs, your camping style, your skill level, and of course, your budget. 

Things to Consider Before Buying a Kayak for Camping

Choosing the best kayak for camping is like choosing a best friend for a camping trip. How well do you know the person you’re about to spend time with out in the woods? Maybe you want to dedicate yourself to learn how to catch big fish from a kayak by spending more serious time outside. If you’re choosing an untested, brand-new kayak that you haven’t spent time with before, camping with it may require an adjustment period. 

Luckily, your camping kayak can’t argue with you. No matter what kayak you choose to take camping, whether you’re solo, going with a group of friends, or bringing the entire family along, there are certain questions to consider before setting out. When deciding on the best kayak for camping, consider the following points:

Canoes vs. Kayaks for Camping

Diehard canoeists will say that a kayak is not the right tool for a camping trip. They’re wrong. While canoes have a long history of carrying paddlers and gear across vast wilderness around the world, the kayak is also a tool designed for carrying people and gear. Which is better for camping a canoe or kayak? It depends on the body of water and your camping location or route. For example, if you have multiple portages across miles of tricky terrain, a canoe is the better choice, as it’s easier to balance across one person’s shoulders. If you have a solid kayak cart, however, a portage with a camping kayak—or even a canoe—becomes a piece of cake. If you’re going solo, a kayak is likely a better choice, as it gives you more control than a canoe while paddling solo. Learn how to motorize your fishing kayak and then canoes will start looking less interesting, especially if you’re solo.

Storage Capacity

The most obvious question when deciding on a camping kayak is whether or not it can fit all of your gear. While some larger kayaks, especially fishing kayaks, are known to have a large enough capacity to fit all of your gear, think about what you really need to bring on your camping trip. Overpacking often leads to sore backs and frustration. It’s better to match the right level of gear to the camping kayak that can fit all of the necessary items—without going overboard. Par down your list of equipment to the essentials, and then find the camping kayak that can comfortably fit it all. Also, remember that you still need to be able to paddle your kayak across the water after it’s been fully loaded with all of your supplies. Many of the best fishing kayaks feature a lot of storage capacity, which is why a number of them appear on this list.   

Your Camping Location or Route

When you’re planning your overnight stay in the woods with your kayak, consider the location. Are you planning to paddle to your first campsite or do you need to walk all of your gear to a put-in that’s away from your parking spot? That means you need a kayak, and gear, that you can carry easily. 

If you’re planning a kayak camping trip with multiple stops along a paddling route, for example, make sure to take the portage routes into consideration. It may be easy to paddle all of your gear across a body of water, but if you need to portage your gear between lakes, each piece of gear becomes a liability.  

Best Overall Kayak for Camping: Old Town NEXT

Old Town

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Key Features 

  • Length: 13 feet
  • Width: 29 inches
  • Weight: 59 pounds

Why It Made The Cut

The debate between canoes vs. kayaks is a tough one, especially when it comes to bringing one on a camping trip. Luckily, with the Old Town NEXT, you don’t have to choose between one of the other. This boat is designed as a sort of hybrid between a canoe and a good kayak for camping, making it the perfect craft for bringing along all of your gear on a camping trip. The lightweight hull design also lends itself to being a joy to paddle at the same time, meaning you’ll love this boat both on and off the water. 

Pros

  • Light and balanced
  • Easy to carry
  • Good value
  • Comfortable seats  

Cons

  • Not stand-up-fishing friendly
  • No sealed hatches

Product Description

Why choose between a canoe or a kayak when you can have the best of both worlds. With the Old Town NEXT, you not only get the gear storage capabilities and comfort of a canoe, but you also get the stability and paddling position of a kayak. The Element seating system is more comfortable than any wicker canoe seat around, and the boat is designed for both double blade and single blade paddlers alike. Your gear will be a little more exposed to the elements since there are no sealed hatches, like on other camping kayaks, but you also won’t have to worry about fitting your tent poles through the narrow hatch opening either. Whether you’re going camping for a brief overnight or a multi-day trip, solo, with friends, or with family, the Old Town NEXT is the perfect craft. It blends all of the best features of modern camping kayaks with the storied tradition of a canoe, all in a comfortable package that you can afford. 

Kayaks Best for River Camping: Jackson Kayak Coosa HD

Jackson Kayak

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Key Features 

  • Length: 12 feet 6 inches
  • Width: 34 inches
  • Weight: 83 pounds

Why It Made The Cut

The kayak company that got its start building whitewater kayaks for fast-moving rivers has the perfect solution for river camping as well. The Jackson Kayak Coosa HD is a solid platform for camping by your favorite river, as it offers plenty of storage space, paired with a nimble, stable hull.

Pros

  • Stable
  • Comfortable seat
  • Easy to paddle in moving water

Cons

  • The shape of the rear hatch sometimes makes it difficult to fit some of your gear inside. 

Product Description

How do you pack a kayak for a river trip? Especially if there is the potential for whitewater rapids along your trip, you pack a kayak for a river trip with the expectation of flipping it over. Anything that needs to stay 100 percent dry should be packed away deep inside the sealed hatches at the bow or stern. Anything that can get wet can be stored in the rear tankwell but should be latched to the kayak in case you do flip. The chance of flipping in the Jackson Kayak Coosa HD is slim, however, as this kayak is nimble enough to navigate swift water that might lie between your camping spots. The stable hull was actually designed as a fishing kayak, but the features lend themselves to kayak camping perfectly. The comfortable seat means your back will thank you after a long day of paddling, and you’ll still have the energy to set up camp. The rod holders and other rigging also allow you to fish while you’re paddling, which is recommended on a river camping trip, as rivers always have the best fishing.  

Kayaks Best for Fishing and Camping: Old Town Sportsman PDL 120

Old Town

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Key Features 

  • Length: 12 feet
  • Width: 36 inches
  • Weight: 116 pounds

Why It Made The Cut

Fishing kayaks are a great choice for camping kayaks for their storage capacity, but also for their versatility and stability. They’re also great to fish from, and what better activity is there to waste away a day at camp than tossing out a line and catching a few fish. The Old Town Sportsman PDL 120 is the best sit-on-top kayak choice designed for both fishing and camping. It was designed as a fishing kayak first, but there is plenty of storage in the bow hatch and rear tankwell to fit all of your camping gear.  

Pros

  • Durable pedal drive
  • Stable
  • A lot of storage space, including dry storage.

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Heavy

Product Description

The introduction of pedal kayaks to the paddling world caused quite a stir. One of the first and often-used disses from paddlers to pedal kayaks was the ability to move backward without having to take out and reverse the pedal drive system or pulling a cord to enter into reverse. The Old Town Sportsman PDL 120 doesn’t have that problem. Its pedal drive system can move forwards and backward seamlessly and feels similar to riding a bicycle. This makes hands-free navigation––and in this case, hands-free fishing––a simple and enjoyable feat.  The stern tankwell on this fishing kayak is giant, meaning you can store all of the gear that doesn’t need to stay completely dry within easy reach. The bow hatch can store anything else that may need to stay completely dry, such as your sleeping bag or tent. The padded cockpit makes standing up to fish nice and comfortable. When you’re sitting down, the seat design is ergonomic and supportive, which means you’ll still be comfortable at the end of a long day of paddling and fishing. 

Kayaks Best for Multi-Day Trips: Wilderness Systems Tsunami 125

Wilderness Systems

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Key Features 

  • Length: 12 feet 9 inches
  • Width: 26 inches
  • Weight: 51 pounds

Why It Made The Cut

The success of a multi-day camping trip is usually decided by the quality of the gear that you bring along, as well as the company you chose. We can’t help you bring along better company, but the Wilderness Systems Tsunami 125 is one of the kayaks best for long trips and can be trusted to hold up throughout your expedition. There is plenty of storage, and the roomy cockpit is designed for larger paddlers, so you won’t ever feel cramped, even though this is a sit-inside kayak.  

Pros

  • Light 
  • Plenty of storage
  • Paddles fast and easy

Cons

  • Not as stable as a sit-on-top kayak

Product Description

While many paddlers would likely choose a sit-on-top for their camping trip, especially if they’re used to fishing from their kayak, a sit-inside kayak like the Wilderness Systems Tsunami 125 is perfect for multi-day trips because of the storage capacity within the hull. The roomy cockpit of this camping kayak is also designed to accommodate larger paddlers, so nobody should feel cramped or claustrophobic, even after a full day on the water. 

The quick-access mesh deck gear pockets allow you to stash essential gear that you may need throughout the day within easy reach. The two hatches, on the other hand, are better suited for storing the camping gear that you’ll only need once you make it to camp. Those hatches also offer better protection against getting wet, although the type of hatch cover can sometimes be hard to take on and off. The lightweight design of this kayak makes it easy to carry around camp or to and from your car, so you’ll never hesitate to take it out for a paddle, which may end up giving you more days on the water.

Best Tandem Kayaks for Camping: Native Watercraft Ultimate FX 15 Tandem

Native Watercraft

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Key Features 

  • Length: 15 feet 3 inches
  • Width: 31 inches
  • Weight: 80 pounds

Why It Made The Cut

Another craft to fit into the canoe and kayak hybrid category, the Native Watercraft Ultimate FX 15 Tandem is even more unique because it’s a tandem designed for two people. How much storage is in a double kayak? You’d think that a tandem kayak would fit twice as much camping gear as a single-person kayak, but remember that two people take up a lot of space. The Ultimate FX 15 Tandem uses that space carefully, coming together in a package that’s purpose-built for paddling with stability and comfort. 

Pros

  • Stable
  • Light
  • Comfortable

Cons

  • No sealed hatch

Product Description

Native Watercraft was one of the first companies to introduce a comfortable seat on their kayak, and the Ultimate FX 15 Tandem features that same First Class seating setup, but with more adjustability than ever. Both paddlers will be comfortable all day long in this tandem kayak and have plenty of storage space around them to keep essentials close. There are no sealed hatches on this boat, however, so any gear you do bring along should be kept in dry bags or underneath a tarp covering. This tandem kayak is designed to carry two people and all their gear comfortably, but it can still be carried by only one person with ease. The low weight feels even lighter since the open deck design can be well balanced on your shoulders, much like a canoe would be carried. The adjustable foot pedals allow you to tailor the seating position to your liking, and there is a small cup holder for each seat to let the libations flow during your long, hot days on the water.  

Best Inflatable Kayak for Camping: Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Expedition Elite

ADVANCED ELEMENTS

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Key Features 

  • Length: 12 feet 6 inches
  • Width: 36 inches
  • Weight: 45 pounds

Why It Made The Cut

Inflatable camping kayaks can be useful tools, especially for those paddlers that live in smaller apartments without the space to store full-size, rigid kayaks. The Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Expedition Elite is a versatile inflatable kayak with just enough storage to make a camping trip worthwhile. The fishing-focused hull means you can spend quality time on the water in between camping spots and successfully land your target fish.  

Pros

  • Light 
  • Deck covers at the bow and stern allow you to store gear without it getting wet. 

Cons

  • No sealable hatches
  • You’ll want to bring along a pump just in case the boat deflates overnight or during the course of your trip. 
  • High seating position means your center of gravity is higher and less stable. 

Product Description

Inflatable camping kayaks offer those without the storage options for a full-sized, rigid kayak the ability to paddle, camp, and fish to their heart’s content in just a few short minutes. The Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame Expedition Elite takes only seven minutes to fully pump up, and once it’s inflated, it provides a stable, comfortable craft for all of your camping and paddling needs. 

The boat is designed with four chambers, meaning you’re less likely to lose air during the course of the trip. Even if there is a puncture, the other chambers could stay inflated longer while you get yourself back to camp to fix the leak. Those chambers also contribute to the stability of the camping kayak, which is comfortable for one person but can support up to three people at once. The hull is also rated for whitewater, up to Class II, in case your camping route takes you through some swifter rivers. 

Best Budget: Pelican Kayaks Catch Classic 120

Pelican Sport

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Key Features 

  • Length: 11 feet 8 inches
  • Width: 34 inches
  • Weight: 68 pounds

Why It Made The Cut

As stated above, some of the best fishing kayaks under $1,000 would double as a budget kayaks for camping due to the excess of storage options on fishing kayaks. Take, for example, the Pelican Kayaks Catch Classic 120. This boat is less than $700 and features both plenty of storage, and a few fishing features that will make those long days on the water a blast. 

Pros

  • Light 
  • Good storage
  • Comfortable seat

Cons

  • The lightweight and low deck height mean this kayak can get blown around by the wind

Product Description

Budget camping kayaks shouldn’t be cheap or low quality. The Pelican Kayaks Catch Classic 120 is a serious kayak for the price, with enough features to make the serious kayak angler happy, and plenty of storage for an overnight camping trip with friends or family. It’s easy to stand up in this super stable boat, although the non-padded deck may tire out your feet after a few hours. 

The lightweight makes it super easy to transport this fishing kayak from your car or truck, not to mention any possible portages along your camping route. The sealable hatch in the bow lets you store your camping gear away from the water, and a large stern tankwell is big enough to store anything else that you may want to access throughout the trip. The expansive flat deck is open enough that you can fish and paddle all day comfortably, without feeling shut in like you would with a sit-inside kayak.  

FAQs

Q: What do I need for a kayak camping trip?

What you need for a kayak camping trip depends on many factors, including where you’re going, the type of water you’ll be paddling on, how many days you’ll be on the trip, and the number of people in your camping party. At the very least, you’ll need something to sleep in, either a full tent, a simple lean-to set up, or just a simple sleeping bag. You’ll also need cooking supplies and food. It’s also a smart idea to carry a first aid kit and other emergency supplies in case you get into trouble out in the woods. Other kayak-specific items like an extra paddle and an extra PFD can also be trip-saving, or life-saving, additions to your equipment list.

Q: How much stuff can you fit in a kayak?

How much stuff you can fit in a kayak depends largely on the type of kayak you have, the type of camping gear you’re packing, and of course, your skills at the game Tetris. There have been some paddlers that can pack a month’s worth of supplies and gear into a camping kayak. Others can barely fit everything they need for a single overnight stay. At the very least, you should be able to fit a tent, a simple cooking setup, your food, simple fishing gear, and a few extras into the hull and hatches of a camping kayak with ease.

Q: How do you pack a kayak for camping?

Packing a kayak for camping means organizing your gear by need. Emergency items should also be easy to grab quickly without opening anything, in the cockpit, on a lanyard, or on your PFD, for example. You should have the items you’ll need on the water at the top of your hatches within reach. Further down in the larger hatches should be the items that you won’t need unless you’re at camp. Finally, the items that you want to keep as dry as possible should be stored deep within your kayak’s hull, as far away from the water as possible.  

Final Thoughts

The best kayak for camping will allow you, your friends, and your family, to spend time outside as close to nature as possible. With the right kayak, you’ll be able to pack and carry all of the gear you need, enjoy your time on the water, and camp as luxuriously as you like without concern. The Old Town NEXT is a prime example of a camping kayak that checks all of the boxes. It carries all of your gear but remains agile enough to paddle and carry without breaking a sweat. Try this camping kayak on your next trip to be the envy of all your paddling buddies.