Beginner’s Guide to Kayak Camping [77/78]

by Julie Gibson

My first-time camping experiences in my own kayak were on club trips last June at Marramarra on the Hawkesbury with Henry Van der Kolk and then a week later at Myall Lakes with Adrian Clayton.

I agonized over what I needed. Between Dee Ratcliffe’s article in Issue 60 (2005) of the club magazine and Henry’s assistance I got my stuff together. Rain was expected on both weekends and even frost was a possibility at Marramarra. Henry reminded me that the important thing was to stay warm and dry and that it was just one night after all.

Dee’s article has heaps of great advice which I used, like:

Carry bags: for moving gear between kayak and campsite — use those striped laundry bags available from $2 shops. Consider weight — it may be easier to carry two medium sized bags rather than one large bag. Add shoulder straps to the bag — carrying it backpack style could be easier. Pack the bags into hatches last.

Plan packing order, consider what will be needed first, group items logically (one bag for things needed inside the tent — sleeping bag, sheet, pillow, toiletries, torch). With the front hatch it may be necessary to push in a half-filled bag, complete the packing and then seal it up’.

But I was lacking in some of the basics that Dee took for granted — like a tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mat. I didn’t know how far I could go with the equipment I had. Henry helped me with applying some common sense. Then during both trips I kept my eyes open to see what others were doing.

Here’s a summary of my observations (helped out by an email survey kindly filled in by some of the other jolly campers).


All sorts of tents were used; anything that worked to keep the weather out and could fit into the hatch was fine. I had to choose between a Hennesy Hammock and an old three-person cheapie. I chose the old cheapie — my mattress was not going to give me enough insulation in the Hennesy and I also liked the idea of lots of dry space in the rain.

Sleeping mattress

Most people used Thermarest style mattresses, some indulging in two, some having fairydown versions. Some people have three-quarter size mattresses from backpacking but plan on getting full size ones for kayaking. One uses a lilo.


Not a trivial question for someone accustomed to the comforts of home. Spare clothing was a popular choice, specifically polarfleece seemed to be good, stuffed into something — a jumper, a dry bag. A few special purpose camping pillows were used including an inflatable headrest as used in air travel. The lilo has a pillow attached.

Sleeping bag

My bag was not warm enough, I was cold even with all my thermals on so I was curious about how far to go in upgrading to cater for winter trips. Most people surveyed used four season -5¡ rated bags; those with three season bags wore thermals and added a wool blanket when necessary. Down filling was generally mentioned.

Camp stool

I’m older now so I can now see the importance of taking along a seat instead of sitting on the ground or hoping for a rock or a log, but I was unprepared for the strength of opinions about the number of legs a stool should have. Everyone who came on the Marramarra trip had four-legged seating, but on the Myall trip they were all three-legged. Was there some sort of screening process? Some comments:

“Four legs are for people without balance.” — Bruce

“Three-legged; almost useless, but they do assist with balance training. (NB: I am looking out for a good quality, compact four-legged camp chair that will fit into the rear cockpit of the Mirage.)” — Owen

“That’s the next thing to get!!” — Paul, the youngest on the Myall trip.

“Four-legged with a back rest (chair).” — Ted

“Four of course.” — Karen


Henry advised me: “… you should bring more than one (set of) thermals and multiple socks. I find Crocs with socks fine for cold weather and I don’t intend to sit in the rain. Remember heat loss is via feet, head and hands. You will need to be able to cover up”.

I bought a long rain jacket before the first trip and was very glad of it; others generally had Goretex jackets. Many people had waterproof overpants which could be worn directly over thermals. Cags were the preferred paddling gear in the rain.

“Goretex Paclite hooded jackets. Can’t really see the purpose in cags, considering the versatility, quality, compactness and ease of putting on and removing these jackets.” — Owen & Anne

“Paddle jacket, but also a Goretex heavy jacket, as it has a very good hood on it.” — Paul


I observed that Crocs were pretty popular but mainly people used footwear that they felt comfortable in for the conditions.

“Dunlop volleys — very average in the wet.” — Karen

“Timberland soft leather lace-ups with rubber soles.” — Adrian

“Old boots that can sink in mud etc.” — Sue


Both trip leaders packed around 12 litres for the two-day trip. Others went as low as four litres. Containers started with MSR dromedary bags and other bladders at the high end, through to sport drink bottles, wine casks and old drink bottles.

It’s important to consider weight distribution when packing the water so it needs to be placed as close as possible to the cockpit.

Dee’s article says: ‘Use whatever containers fit best in your kayak. Sometimes I use plastic 1 litre milk bottles, standing in the cockpit past my footrest (can be a hazard if the kayak is upside down and taking on water). Platypus-type containers are good, make shade-cloth covers to protect them from tears and punctures. MSR 4 l, 6 l and 10 l water bladders are durable. Allow a minimum of 3.5 l per day.’

“I started with approximately 12 litres of water for the two days. Ten litres in a MSR dromedary (stowed in front hatch and up against forward bulkhead), two litres in a camelback (behind seat) plus 500 ml in an on-deck Decor sport drink bottle. I used approx. eight litres for drink, cooking and washing up and the balance to rinse the boat at the end of the trip.” — Adrian

“2 x 2 litre bladders in kayak (both) behind the seat and 2 x 3 litre bottles in front of Lynne’s foot pedals.” — Bruce & Lynne

“Water in bottles & sipper + 2 l wine cask + 3 l plastic bottle.” — Kathie

Food and drinks

For just a weekend we didn’t need to be as careful as Dee’s longer trip so we had some special treats and plenty of wine. Everyone looked after themselves with the bonus of some extras for sharing. These were good additions while we were sitting around the fire idly discussing life, the universe and shewees (see image next page).

Prepackaged curries were popular, as were noodles and instant mashed potato.

“Sausages. We brought our own wood to make sure that we could have a fire. Thanks Ted and Henry.” — Julie

“Beef stew and vegetables and Surprise Dessert.” — Bruce

“Commercially prepared Madras curry & lentils.” — Kathie

“An Indian packet meal heated upʩn the sachet in boiling water for a couple of minutes with pre-cooked rice heated up in foil on the fire.ʠWould do two minute rice next time.” — Sue

“Dinner was half a packet of instant mashed potato with stirred in rehydrated shiitake mushrooms, tomatoes and peas plus a small tin of sweet corn kernels and all flavoured with a couple of pinches of chili flakes.ʔhis was preceded by community campfire nibbles which included a beetroot dip, black olives, chili crisps, sun-dried tomatoes, etc and followed by Sue’s pudding and chocolate all washed down with a cup of tea.” — Adrian

“We had Sun Rice microwave “Red Thai Curry” with additional Smart Rice microwave “Brown Rice”. The sachets were simply placed unopened into the billy and boiled for a couple of minutes; quick, easy and delicious. This was washed down with a nice Cab-Merlot.” — Owen & Anne

“Being that I’m used to carrying it on my back — instant mashed potato, pasta and freeze-dried vegies, followed by chocolate.” — Paul

“Pasta or rice, vegies or packet mashed potatoes. For long trips we might use a dehydrator.” — Stephen

“Noodles, onions and bacon, all mixed up.” — Ted

“Chilli con carneʡnd red wine.” — Karen

Hot drinks became very significant for me on the first trip where I lacked a stove and skimped on my usual coffee and tea drinking, resulting in a splitting caffeine withdrawal headache on day two. I was only rescued by our mighty trip leader Henry who had come prepared with emergency coffee fresh-brewed with his incredibly cute little machine that put it out directly into his cup.

Most people came prepared with a stove and whatever drinks they prefer, mainly tea and instant soups, but also coffee or chocolate. Adrian used a Jetboil; others a variety of stoves, mainly gas.

“Coffee and milk in tubes and peppermint tea on a gas burner.” — Bruce & Lynne

“Teabags and instant coffee with small packets (200 ml) of longlife milk. (The small straw hole seals perfectly with a bit of duct tape.) Boiled water on gas stove in small camping teapot or billy. (NB: In future we’ll take our small one litre stainless steel thermos and fill it at breakfast time to lessen the time/hassle at break time, for our coffee.)” — Owen & Anne

“I’m not into tea or coffee, so it’s just water for me.” — Paul

Kitchen equipment

Adrian trumped everyone on this with his specially made kitchen:

“Kitchen equipment is contained in a compartmentalised hold-all which is made of durable cloth with velcro closures. It contains: “kitchen sink”, tea towel, detergent, collapsible colander, dinner plate, plastic cutting board, toaster, tin opener, small kitchen knife (sheathed), knife, fork and spoon. My preferred stove is an MSR Whisperlite but it was not required on this trip.” — Adrian

I had bought a gas stove after my caffeine deprival on the first trip but was still managing with odd bits I had borrowed from the kitchen. I was keen to learn what to look for and I’m including this bit of social research for your contemplation of the different personalities and priorities of the individuals concerned.

“MSR stainless steel cookset and a couple of cheapie pots with an outdoor kitchen pack and plastic cups, bowls etc.” — Bruce & Lynne

“Trangia stove + pots, plastic plate, bowl, mug, wine glass, cutlery, wooden spoon, chopping board, tea towel, scourer, chux, soap.” — Kathie

“Disorganised. Am going to make one of Adrian’s kitchens.” — Sue

“MSR “Windpro” remote canister gas stove, stainless steel five piece mess/cook kit, 2.5 litre billycan, small lightweight 2 cup teapot, solid plastic mugs, cutlery.” — Anne & Owen

“One billy, two frypans which double as plates. Knife/fork/spoon and peeler. Pot handle for lifting hot billy. Scouring pad (no soap products unless I have bio-degradable). Sugar and salt.” — Paul

“Trangia cookware either metho fuel or gas cartridge plus a collapsible 10 litre kitchen sink (Sea to Summit) plus a small cloth bag to hold cooking/eatingʠutensils, small containers of oil/washing up liquid, small cutting board, pan scrubber and chux superwipes used as a tea towel.” — Stephen

“Stainless steel plate, small lidded saucepan, dished plate, mug, small teflon frypan.” — Ted

“MSR stove, billy, bowl, cup (insulated in winter), knife and spoon.” — Karen

Best bits of the weekends

“Being on the water, and as it turned out, with a great bunch of fellow paddlers.” — Bruce

“Seeing the Myall Lakes at its best in beautiful conditions (sunset and sunrise).” — Lynne

“Being on the water. sitting around the campfire, that feeling that the world could be a million miles away, the beautiful night sky.” — Sue

“Sue’s sticky date pudding with sauce and cream.” — Adrian

“The final stretch to the finish when I borrowed Terry’s GP! No seriously, it was the company of what started as a group of strangers (to us) who quickly became good friends as the paddle continued. We also enjoyed Adrian’s local knowledge and of course the black swans.” — Owen

“Coming back from going up the creek on Saturday afternoon. The water was glassy, very peaceful, and sky was adding nice colour…. magic!!!” — Paul

“Good company.” — Karen

“Making and breaking camp in fine weather (the rest of the weekend was pretty wet).” — Ted

What we learnt

I wasn’t the only one making new discoveries about things.

“Terry’s suggestion of the hot water in an empty plastic milk bottle as a solution for cold feet in the sleeping bag.” — Adrian

“That you have to start with a small fire and then you get a big fire (lots of little twigs).” — Lynne

“That swans take a while to get up and fly.” — Sue

“I will take my Greenland paddle next time (for flat water paddling) as my worn out shoulders were fairly sore by Sunday’s completion.” — Owen

“A good plastic yak would be the go for this type of trip as the damage to worry ratio would be reduced.” — Anne

“I learnt about skegs. Very useful bit of steering equipment for the boat I had.” — Paul