Camping and kayaking are amazing hobbies on their own; both offering you a sense of freedom and adventure. But when you combine the two, it's a recipe for something extraordinary. Using your kayak, you can explore rivers, lakes, and coastlines before pulling in to set up camp during the evening.
A good kayak for camping will include enough storage for you to bring all your camping necessities with you. It should also be comfortable enough for you to spend several days out on the water, and track well enough so you don't have to fight to stay on course.
To help you pick out the right kayak for your camping trip, we've put together a jargon buster to simplify any technical language, a buying guide to highlight what to look for in a kayak for camping, and reviews of some of the best kayaks on the market.
Best Kayaks for Camping 2019
Ocean Kayak Zest Two Expedition Tandem - Editors Choice
To keep things simple, we've translated some of the standard technical terms related to kayaks suited to camping:
Portaging is the act of carrying a kayak overland, normally from one watercourse to another. Portaging can also be used to avoid obstacles or areas of fast flowing water that your particular kayak is not suited to.
Tracking is a measurement of how well a kayak stays in a straight line when paddled.
In kayaking, a chine refers to the sharp angle change in the cross-section of the hull. The term “hard chine” indicates an angle with little rounding, where a “soft chine” would be more rounded, but still involves the meeting of distinct planes.
The sinkage level of a kayak is a measurement of how much water the kayak displaces per kilogram of weight placed in it. A poorly packed kayak with a higher sinkage level at bow or stern will have problems maneuvering and tracking straight.
Initial and Secondary Stability
The initial stability of a kayak is how stable or unstable the kayak first feels when you get into it. The secondary stability is how stable the kayak feels when it is put on edge.
The maximum load of a kayak signifies how much weight can be put into the kayak before there is a possibility of it taking on water over the hull. This weight includes gear, paddles, your own weight, and anything that isn't intrinsically part of the kayak.
Edging, also called carving, is the act of tilting a kayak so that one side of the kayak is out of the water. Carving a kayak into a turn creates more water friction on one side of the kayak, causing it to turn faster.
The rocker is a measurement of how much a kayak rises at the bow and stern. The higher the rocker is, the more maneuverable, yet slower, the kayak is. The waterline is the measurement of how much of the kayak’s hull is in the water, essentially the opposite of the rocker. The more waterline the kayak has, the faster it will be. A longer waterline also results in better tracking.
To help you pick the camping kayak that is right for you we’ve highlighted a few factors to look out for when purchasing one:
Having enough storage in your camping kayak is vital. You’ll need to be able to take enough camping equipment with you to be comfortable at night without overloading your kayak and reducing its performance. Keep an eye out for kayaks with large tankwells, watertight compartments for valuables, and bungee cord storage on the outer hull.
When selecting camping gear, look for items that are designed to be lightweight and compact. This applies in particular to your tent, which will most likely take up the majority of the storage space. You can find a helpful guide to how to pack your kayak for camping and what to bring, here.
Always pay attention to the maximum load of your kayak when planning and packing. There is usually no need to stretch your boat's capacity to its limit. Weighing down your kayak with excess gear can negatively affect its performance, and even increase the risk of you taking on water or capsizing.
Kayak camping trips can often span over a number of days, and they are an excellent way to explore the great outdoors. With this in mind, it is important to find a kayak that is comfortable enough for you to spend an extended period of time in. Look out for kayaks with adjustable seats and foot plates, especially if you have a larger frame, since they’ll be a valuable feature. Thigh and knee pads reduce friction on your lower body while also offering greater stability during fast-water runs or tight turns.
The performance of a kayak is mostly based on the type of environment you are most likely to use it in. If you buy a whitewater kayak and take it out on the calm flat-water surface of a lake, then its lack of tracking will leave you spinning in miserable circles.
Before buying a kayak for camping, consider where you are mostly like to go camping and for how long. Touring, tandem, and sea kayaks all have different handling properties and perform best in the environment they were designed for. Having a firm idea in which of those environments you'll be spending most of your time is a big step toward getting the right
Best Camping Kayak Reviews
The Zest Two Tandem features a vast amount of storage space coupled with great performance. This adjustable tandem design allows you to bring a friend along on your camping trip, or a child or dog. The narrow hard-chined hull lets the Zest Two cut through the water, giving it great tracking and fantastic top speed.
Featuring a central watertight footwell in addition to large tankwell storage spaces, the Zest Two has more than enough space to accommodate your camping needs. It also features side-mounted paddle holders and molded-in cup holders for those who can't bear to leave their coffee behind. Because of the longer length of the Zest Two, it's important to consider balance when packing in your gear, making sure the sinkage level is the same at bow and stern.
The adjustable seats and molded-in footwells provide the comfort you need on long journeys. The rear seat can also be folded down or removed to provide extra storage space if you are traveling alone. Like most tandem kayaks, the Zest Two is long and heavy, requiring the paddler to plan transportation, and how to move the kayak in and out of the water in advance. Its sheer length also makes it unsuited to smaller waterways with a large number of obstacles and tight corners.
The Zest Two's combination of great performance and a massive amount of storage space make it ideal for the kayak camper. Its adjustable seating arrangement also make it an excellent choice for those looking to travel with friends, family or pets. While its long length and weight make it a little unwieldy, it's nothing a little planning and the use of a trolley can’t solve.
The Edge is an excellent choice for a day out on flat waters. It is comfortable, maneuverable, and its high-density polyethylene hull means it is light enough to carry to the water but durable enough to take a few knocks without cracking.
The sheer adjustability of the fit and seating is one of the standout features of the Edge. It has an advanced custom-fit seating system, adjustable sliding foot braces, and integrated thigh braces to make sure you get the snuggest, most comfortable fit possible.
The wider cockpit and flat-bottomed hull make the Edge far more suited to flat water, but its hard chine and deployable skeg will keep it running straight if the water gets a little rough. If you’re planning a multiple-day journey, then the Edge’s mix of stability and speed will allow you to eat up the miles without leaving you feeling too sore the next day.
The cargo storage space isn't massive, what with only two watertight storage hatches and no tankwell. There is, however, bungee storage on the hull allowing you to take a reasonable amount of camping gear with you.
The Edge is an ideal kayak for those looking to tour large lakes or coastlines. Its sit-in design means it lacks the sheer storage space of sit-on kayaks, but is far more suited to colder environments. The full adjustable cockpit, and great tracking performance keep it comfortable over long journeys, so if you are looking to take long journeys and travel light, then the Edge is an excellent choice.
The Aruba is a fantastic choice for exploring the length of a river. It's lightweight and portable, make portaging easier, and is simple to maneuver through twisting watercourses. When it comes to storage, the Aruba has a surprising amount of boat for its size. It has two watertight compartments and a P.A.C. (Portable Accessory Carrier). The P.A.C can be removed from its alcove and towed behind the boat, allowing you the use the space it occupied as a tankwell. When on land the P.A.C doubles as a backpack, further increasing its utility.
The Aruba has a large and comfortable seating area with protective thigh pads, giving you both comfort and stability. The kayak itself has remarkable initial and secondary stability, allowing the paddler to edge it into tight corners, increasing its maneuverability.
For those looking to include fishing on their camping trip, the Aruba comes with two flush-mounted rod holders in the hull, allowing you to effortlessly combine kayaking, fishing, and camping into one. The performance of the Aruba is best suited to river travel. On flat or coastal waters, its high rocker and wide hull make tracking difficult.
The Aruba is an ideal choice for those looking to extend their kayak fishing trips by being able to camp out. It has good storage, is lightweight, and has enough rod holders to keep a kayak angler happy. The only drawback is the high rocker that keeps it maneuverable on the river does cut back its performance on open waters.
The Oru Kayak Beach LT is an origami-style folding kayak, meaning it folds down from a 12-foot kayak into a backpack that is only 29 x 33 x 12 inches. When combined with a lightweight camping kit, it sidesteps the issues of transportation and portaging by being able to fold down into an easily carried package. Oru claims it can be assembled or packed down in just three minutes. You can see how easy it is to pack and unpack the Beach LT in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2xrB09S-cE.
With a beam of 28 inches and a wide cockpit, the Beach LT is a very stable kayak that’s ideal for beginners and families. Designed for day trips, it even has enough room to accommodate one adult and one child. Made from hard wearing polyethylene, the Beach ST is rated up to 20,000 folds and comes with a 10-year UV treatment.
Because of its broader beam, the Beach LT does have a significant amount of storage space behind fore and aft bulkheads, but it does lack waterproof hatches, so valuables will need to be dry bagged. The size of the beam and the lightweight nature of the kayak does reduce its speed and tracking performance. This is emphasized in high winds where the Beach LT has a tendency to be blown off course.
The Oru Kayak Beach LT is ideal for people who are looking to make a quick getaway for the weekend. It's easy to get into, stable, lightweight, packs down small, and can still accommodate a child or pet. However, experienced kayakers may be disappointed in its lack of speed and maneuverability.
Comfort is fundamental to a good camping kayak, especially if you planning on taking a trip that lasts more than a day. Having a comfortable cockpit fit allows you to move faster, turn quicker and be less sore at the end of a day of hard paddling. Ocean Kayak has designed the Venus 10 to provide that level of comfort and stability to female kayakers.
Designed with the female body shape in mind, the Venus 10 is shorter and has low deck profile perfect for women, coupled with a seat well designed to accommodate female center of gravity. A comfortable hybrid seat back provides plenty of padding. The narrow profile of the Venus keeps its tracking straight while the low rocker lends it an impressive speed.
The onboard storage isn't massive, but there is one waterproof hatch and a size-able tank-well in the rear which is big enough to carry lightweight camping gear. Its low weight, coupled with its side-mounted carry handles and car-topping handle system, make it easy for one person to transport and carry the Venus. For those long journeys, the Venus also features a cup holder, and a deck area mount for an MP3 player.
If you are looking for a kayak that is designed explicitly for women and has enough space for lightweight camping gear, then the Venus is a great choice. It is comfortable, tracks well, has a good top speed, and a very comfortable cockpit set-up. If you are looking to go camping for more than a few days or your kit is rather large, you may find the lack of storage space to be an issue.
Our Pick - Ocean Kayak Zest Two Expedition Tandem
What sets the Zest Two apart from the other great kayaks on this list is how versatile it is. As a tandem, it has enough storage space to accommodate two adults and your gear for a camping trip. Alternatively, it can be used to bring a child or a pet with you. If you are traveling alone, then the tandem seat can be removed and the space used can provide even more storage.
The narrow hull allows the Zest Two to cut through the water, providing good tracking and a reasonable top speed. So if you’re looking for an excellent way to share the joys of kayak camping with another, or you just want to make sure you've got the space to take every conceivable piece of camping gear with you, then the Zest Two is the kayak for you.