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The 3 items I’m most picky about when I do overnighters out of my kayak……

I’m going to start this article by saying that I have a background in backpacking, and was a backpacker long before I was a kayaker.   Aside from the beauty of the journey you are embarking on, one of the key essential goals of backpacking, to make your trip more enjoyable and less stressful, is to get your gear as light and as multi-functional as possible while not giving up the performance you demand.   That goal typically is attained at a very high cost.  The beauty, I’ve found, from doing overnight trips on the rivers in Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas out of a kayak is now I’m able to gain much more space to store my gear, I’m not as concerned with the weight of my gear, and I have a much broader range of cost of gear to choose from because I don’t necessarily need the ‘Ferrari’ of gear to make my trip enjoyable.   There are, however, three areas of gear that I put the most importance on and feel that investing in these areas makes my trips much more enjoyable.  Here we go…..

Shelter – Shelter is perhaps the core foundation for any survival situation, and it’s definitely something I put an importance on when doing any overnight trip, whether I’m backpacking, car camping, or floating down a river for multiple days and camping along the way.  Many people are really into hammock camping these days, and that is certainly a viable solution, provided you have trees and all the sweet accessories that go along with hammock camping.  To me, nothing beats a tent for almost any environment.  There are many great tents on the market these days, and your budget, storage limitations with your kayak, and performance demands will definitely dictate which brand or type of tent you may end up getting for your endeavors.  I happen to have used Big Agnes brand tents for well over a decade now, and I will most likely never switch.  They are not the least expensive (nor or they the most expensive)option on the market, but they are built extremely well, the company stands behind their products better than any company I’ve ever dealt with (other than JK of course ☺ ), and they have a diversified product line that will fit into most peoples’ budget range.  The tent I typically use on the rivers is the Big Agnes Manzanares 2P.  This tent is quite possibly the best performing tent I’ve ever used.  What I look for when I’m camping during the kayaking months is a tent that will breathe and allow me to enjoy myself on those warmer nights of the year, yet keep me one-hundred percent dry when storms pop up.  A tent with mostly mesh sidewalls is a must for any warm weather camping I do, and the ability to pull the rainfly off, or to the side, is a bonus when the stars are out and the weather is beautiful.  The other option I look for in my tent is multiple doors (in case you’re sharing a tent with someone else), and large vestibules to store your gear.  When it’s raining out and you need to make something to eat, nothing beats a large vestibule to cook food in, and nothing beats a dry place to keep my kayak seat so it’s not covered in dew in the mornings!

Sleeping System – So the age old argument has always been two options..  Option #1, you go ultra-light and save weight, sleep on the ground (or on something not very plush), and risk not getting a good night’s sleep and potentially not having a good next day due to lack of proper sleep.   Or Option #2, you invest a little money into a good sleeping system , add a little weight, and ensure you’re comfortable and can perform well the next day.  For me, and having done Option #1 plenty, nothing beats Option #2 when you’re kayaking.  We have ample space to store gear, so why not get a comfortable sleeping system.   The other, more important reason for me also, is safety first when you’re in a kayak, especially on a river.   A good night’s sleep will ensure you’re well rested, your senses are on point, and you’re ready to react to uncertain things rivers can throw your way on rare occasions.  I’ve used several sleeping systems over the years, but the system I am tuned into is a good insulated sleeping pad, and a quilt……yes, I said a ‘quilt’.   

First, my sleeping pad.  In the summer months, an insulated pad doesn’t do much for you, however if you’re looking for a year-round pad, an insulated pad is essential.  I use the Big Agnes Q-Core Deluxe for a couple reasons.  The first, it’s damn comfortable.  It’s thicker than most pads, packs small and light, it’s insulated, and it’s sized a little larger for guys like me that like to roll around at night and sleep on their side and/or stomach.  This pad is on the pricier end of the spectrum, but the money you spend on this pad will be well worth it, especially when you’re a few years down the road and have not had to invest more money into multiple pads, or replace failed pads.   Big Agnes does make a few sleeping bag/quilt options that this pad will actually modularly fit inside of, which is pretty cool.  And there are several other options for good pads, depending on your budget and needs.

Second, my quilt.  Yep, that’s right, I sleep with a quilt and I’m going to hopefully convince you to start using one too.  Most people think of a quilt as something their aunt or grandmother whipped up in their rocking chair during the holidays, but let me assure you, they are quite different than what you’re probably thinking.  Most people grab a sleeping bag from the local retailer or order a mummy style bag and call it good.   Unless you spend a fair amount of money on a nice bag, you can expect your thirty degree local retail chain store bag to keep you warm to about forty to fifty degrees.   If you need something warmer, you end up packing a huge bag the size of a beach ball to keep you warm enough and then spend tons of time figuring out how you’re going to fit it in, or on your kayak.  Enter the quilt.  Like many of your high-end sleeping bags, a quilt is merely sil-nylon (or a variation of), filled with duck or goose down.  Down is an excellent insulator and packs small.  I spent many years using top of the line sleeping bags, and while they always kept me warm, I’m a bigger guy and I just don’t fit in mummy bags, or regular rectangle bags very well.  Also, what many people eventually learn is you need ‘loft’ to insulate, and when you lay on half of your sleeping bag, you are compressing the loft and therefore losing the effect of the filling.  So, your sleeping bag is really only doing half the work it’s supposed to.  I have two quilts that I use for most uses.  I have a 50 degree quilt, and a 10 degree quilt.   Unless it’s the middle of summer and I really don’t want anything on me at night, I will typically just take my 10 degree quilt with me everywhere.  It packs down to the size of a cantaloupe and takes up virtually no space.  Quilts are unique, too, because I can sleep out on the river in 40 degree weather with my 10 degree quilt and be nice and toasty.  If I get too hot, I can simply throw a leg out or, for lack of better terminology, just spoon with my quilt and keep my core body warm and regulate my temp as I need.  Custom quilts also have the ability to be used as a standard sleeping bag.  In colder conditions I can cinch the bottom of my quilt, attach the bottom portion of the quilt together and form a nice warm foot box.  I’m on an insulated pad already, so I can literally stay warm all night and have plenty of room to toss and turn on my pad and not be strangled by a tight sleeping bag.  The brand I use is Underground Quilts and they are one of the best mom and pop shops in the US for quilts and their quality is hard to match.  You can literally get almost any color combination you want for a quilt, and have it hand made for you.   If you’re in to hammock camping, they have some pretty sweet stuff for hammocks too!

Comfortable Seating – This will be quick and to the point.  JKrate and a Jackson Kayak seat work amazingly well together.   I know, we all have cool JK seats that we can simply take out of our kayak and throw on the ground and get us up and off the rocks and sand.  I do that too, but after a long day on the river, in the same seat position, I prefer to sit up a little higher when I’m lounging, and I’ve found that I can literally set my seat right on top of my JKrate, sit on the seat and still have functionality of being able to adjust the seat back forward or back.   Multiple uses for your equipment is key when going on longer trips, and the ability to piece two of my favorite JK items together, is a bonus!

UGQ and Big Agnes all make a variety of other really cool products, and I feel they truly embrace the same belief system that make Jackson Kayak what it is today.  They put their business reputation on the line with their quality products and back them up with quality customer service and support.   Give them a shout, and if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me on Facebook or at