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It never occurred to me until recently just how few fisherman were camping out of their kayaks, and a part of it is not knowing just how to pack for light enough to get everything in the boat, or worrying about it not being fun due to not having the right stuff, even when I go with my RV I make sure to read a comprehensive list to take the essentials.  

Packing:  What to bring:

As a whitewater kayaker, I have been packing my kayak for “Overnighters” for 48 years, doing my first ones with my dad at age 6 on Pine Creek in Pennsylvania.    A whitewater kayak has very little storage space in comparison to a Jackson Kayak fishing kayak, such as the Coosa HD that I am using in the video and photos below. 

You can camp out of this kayak!

  Out of necessity, I have learned how to pack for multi-day trips and have everything I need for the trip in my little whitewater kayak.   My daughter and son-in-law recently did a 13 day trip down the Grand Canyon with everything they needed for the two weeks in their whitewater kayaks.    We will be able to bring way more stuff in our fishing kayak, but the challenge is learning to simplify so that you don’t bring un-necessary stuff. 

By Category:


  1. Tent:  Today’s tents are small/light, and work great for packing in a boat.    I use two of them depending on how many are sleeping in it.  I have a 4 person tent for when my wife, Kristine, and 10 year old son, KC go camping with me.     I have a 2 person Big Agnes tent for when it is just me.    There isn’t much benefit for a 1 person tent, in my experience, as it doesn’t pack that much smaller, and doesn’t give you much room to get stuff inside and out of the rain/dew if you want.     
  2. Sleeping Bag:  Same thing as the tent here, I use a “doublewide” sleeping bag as I don’t like being restricted by a narrow mummy bag.    Also, Kristine and I prefer to share one when we camp and having a doublewide bag that costs the same as a single and sleeps two is cheaper and more fun.  :).    
  3. Sleeping Pad:  I use a double wide pad here, too, because you can stay on it easier, and it doesn’t take up that much room and is super light.   You’ll have to blow twice as much air into it, but I think it is worth it.  
  4. Dry Storage of the tent and sleeping bag-  this is critical!!   While you can get away with a garbage bag for a dry bag, it is easy to tear and having a wet sleeping bag sucks.     I recommend a good set of dry bags for your camping trips that you can use every time and know what you can fit in them, and how many you can bring on the trip.      I have the same size bag for my tent and sleeping bag and really like the “Sealline” bulkhead 30 liter bag.   My tent, pad, plus some clothes fits nicely in one, and my sleeping bag, plus extras fit in the other. 

James McBeath on breakfast duty… yummy


  1. Orion Cooler- 25 or 35 quart.   The 25 quart was designed to fit perfectly in the tank well behind your seat in every Jackson Kayak fishing model, except the Big Tuna.      It straps in solidly (two short- 4’ cam straps work best to hold it in place).     
  2. Fire Starter:   While I am a fan of having the skills to start a fire with one match and no paper or other artificial helpers, I am also a fan of making it easy to get a fire going.    If you live in wet areas, using a fire starter like the duraflame firestart is easy.  Bring one/day and building your fire is super easy.    
  3. Utensils:   Having a go to set of cooking utensils already packed in a bag will make grabbing them and going much easier each time you camp.    Depending on what you are cooking, bring your knife, fork, and spoon for each person, plus, big spoon for stirring, sharp knife to filet a fish, and something to turn food over in a fire (tongs, or all metal spatula.).   Try the “Buckboard” for your Orion Cooler if you want to be fancy and functional!
  4. Pot for cooking:  If you want to make gourmet meals and don’t mind the weight  A one pot that does it all is the “Lodge” dutch oven that you can cook anything in.    A 4 quart is big enough and weighs 10 pounds.    You certainly don’t have to put it in a bag as it can get wet and you don’t have to worry about breaking it:   
  5. Aluminum foil:   this will allow you cook anything you want without bringing a grill top if you don’t want…. Wrap your fish, meat, bacon, potatoes, vegetables, etc. in it and throw it in the fire.
  6. Seasoning, butter, sugar, milk…. You’ll regret not having small travel size salt, pepper, etc.. when the time comes.    Put it in your bag with the rest of the cooking stuff.
  7. Coffee:   Personally, I am a fan of Starbucks instant coffee for camping because it comes in 1 serving packets and tastes good.    Just making hot water is easy to do.     You can use the dutch oven to make your hot water, or if you are motivated to bring more, bring a second small pot.      You’ll need coffee cups for everyone going.    If you are a connoisseur, bring a French press and some of Nick and Emily’s “Wild and Free” coffee!   
  8. Eating your food- plates or bowls:   check out this collapsable bowl… it is perfect for camping:   
  9. Garbage bags for clean up:   Leave no trace when camping.  Making it easy means bringing a garbage bag that you can have out for the night and put it in your kayak the next morning.
  10. Ice/drinks:   I like having alcohol on my camping trips, so I typically bring beer, wine, and whisky.    If you have friends coming, they’ll appreciate the gesture, if you are solo, pick what you want.     Bota Box makes the best box wine and in a mini-box that is perfect for camping, while a flask is perfect for whiskey as you don’t have to worry about a broken bottle.      If you have an Orion Cooler, you don’t need to worry about overfilling it with ice on a one or two night trip.    The heaviest thing you’ll bring is that cooler with food and water.   
  11. Breakfast:   Sometimes you’ll be in the mood to cook, but I am often wanting to get on the water as quickly as possible and start fishing…   Consider bringing instant oatmeal so you can make it with the same water you make your coffee with.    If you really want to cook, bring a carton of liquid eggs, bacon, and English muffins (less likely to get smashed then bread).    You can cook them in the dutch oven, or bring a pan.
  12. Snacks- it is hard to beat salami and good cheese, and crackers!!!  You can get what you need at the grocery store, but what the links here will deliver and you’ll have plenty for your next party at home, too.    You will feel like you are living large on the water!   Your Buckboard works great for serving it up, the knife on the buckboard will cut it up, and your Orion Cooler gives you a great place to sit.   Here is where I put my wine to good use!  
  13. Water:   Bring at least 1 quart/day of drinking water, or bring a filter waterbottle.   I use the river/lake water for cooking as it is safe once you boil it.


  1. I bring at least 2 GoPro cameras, or extra batteries- I like to make a time-lapse of setting up, or the stars, etc.. and that burns up a battery.
  2. Drone- I have the Mavic Air in a small watershed dry bag and it is a great thing to bring if you want to get some cool overhead shots.    If you are not interested in capturing any such photos or video, skip it.
  3. Bean bag bocce ball  a fun game to play at almost any camp site with at least 2 people.  
  4. Fishing Gear:   I tend to pack light when camping-  I bring enough soft plastics to handle however many days I plan on fishing, but I usually commit to 4 or less rods and 1 or 2 Plano tackle boxes worth of stuff.    Don’t forget your splizzors, or similar.


  1. Bring a phone if there is service.   If not, let people know where you are going and bring a map.    I have the Casio Protrek Smart Watch which you can download maps in advance to, so you don’t need cell service when camping to have an electronic map with GPS positioning that shows where you are and where you need to go.   
  2. First aid kit:   here is a basic one by Red Cross that is waterproof:
  3. Extra warm clothes:   Getting wet and cold is one of the worst things that can happen on a camping trip, especially if you don’t have a back up.    Down type coat packs tight.  Fleece, socks, rain gear, etc.. are all worth bringing if you might encounter foul weather.  

That pretty much sums it up….  Now, how do you pack the boat?

I tend to try to get as much as I can inside my boat.    

Cooler: strap on back

General packing:

I slide the small stuff/dry bags in first because the bigger dry bags will only fit in the front hatch directly under the hatch.    Slide the small stuff in the rear hatch and back toward the middle of the boat from the front hatch as well.  

Bring an extra cam strap for dragging your boat for portages, or getting to and from the water.    I put the cam strap on the grab handle and the put it over my shoulder or around my waist and walk with my boat like an oxen dragging a plow.     It is WAY easier than holding the grab handle with your hands.    Bring a kayak cart if you have large distances to cover and strap it on top of your cooler behind you.

Depending on where you are fishing, you might want to bring your electronics and power pole micro as well.   In this scenario, in Canada, I am running whitewater and don’t need to see the bottom or use an anchor because it adds too much weight.

Here is a 5 minute video of a recent trip down the Ottawa River in Canada, with a sweet camping location, lots of fish, and big whitewater…