Kayak Camping In Style
Outdoor writer Rob Lyon has spent more than two decades exploring Vancouver Island by kayak, putting camping gear to the test, and weathering more than a few squalls along the way. Whether out for a weekend or a two-month circumnavigation, he finds a cozy camp translates into mental alertness and a fresh approach to each day’s adventure. Enjoy, not endure, is Lyon’s approach. Here’s how he makes inhospitable environments more inviting, with tools that fit in the day hatch of his 20-foot Kevlar open-cockpit Heritage Expedition Mark II:
If you’re not comfortable, you’re not enjoying it and you’re not going to go back.
Supplement your backcountry diet with natural foods. Lyon claims he can survive for three weeks on garlic, onions, apples, potatoes, and, of course, fresh-caught fish. “There’s something about sauted garlic and onion—it really grounds you out there, makes it feel like home,” he says. Tuck a few freeze dried options in the hatch for emergencies.
Spring for the Teflon-coated hard anodized cook set—you only scrape carbonized pancakes out of a fire-blackened thrift store pan once. Then you, too, settle for nothing but the best—Lyons recommends GSI.
Cache your stash. On out-and-back or motor-assisted trips, lighten the load by dropping food along the way, then “resupply” on the return paddle. Hang supplies in a sturdy drybag, out of most toothy critters’ reach, and (discreetly) mark your booty.
Go retro. “I like cotton,” Lyon says. “I don’t need to look like Mr. Kayaker out there. If it’s raining I’m in my tent or in my drysuit.” But if you get behind curve of keeping stuff dry, he cautions, you’re screwed.
Collect water where available. Fill a collapsible nylon bag with stream water and hang from a tree branch or driftwood tripod with a gravity filter like the Katadyn Base Camp ($65, katadyn.com). It drips through in about the time it takes to shoot a round of wilderness disc golf on the beach.
Versatility is key. Solo expedition sea kayaker Audrey Sutherland once said “if it doesn’t perform at least two functions, leave it at home.” Or else, Lyon says, it’s got to be uniquely capable at the one thing it does (i.e. your kayak). Eat off your Frisbee, fit your sleeping pad with an after-market chair kit (thermarest.com), stir your coffee with the antenna of your VHF radio, and use an empty beer can as a measuring cup.
Bring a pillow. Though it breaks the versatility axiom, on extended tours, rule number one trumps.
Swear by sheepskin boots. Invented by Kiwi sheep shearers, made popular by Australian surfers, and glamorized by the likes of Kate Moss and Gwyneth Paltrow, these toasty kicks retain warmth even after an eight-day soaking.
A few tips on selecting—and deploying—your backcountry crib.
Perfect for: Basecamp tours around Vancouver Island’s Cape Scott, which has one season—rainy. Lyon likes The North Face VE-25, a bomber, double-walled abode with a coated nylon floor and ample room for wet gear.
Look for a tent with at least 15 cubic feet of vestibule. Make sure your tent has enough headroom to sit up and read in, but a low profile to shed wind. A heavy-duty bathtub floor keeps out rain and prevents puncturing from broken clamshells and barnacles; custom footprints are available for most tents for added protection. Gold fabric can have a brightening effect. Snow flaps on the front vestibule work well in sand to seal up a cozy anteroom, and pockets make sanity-saving organization a snap. Urethane windows can let in a welcome spot of light.
On the beach: Pitch your home away from home well above high tide line. Organize your drybags around the inside perimeter of the vestibule to help seal the space, leaving the center clear. Use sand/snow spikes—like MSR’s Blizzards—not regular tent stakes, for a good grip to the beach.
Pros: Probably the best all around shelter—quick and rote to pitch. During a typical summer squall, temps will often chill into the 50s or high 40s—double walls hold up to hurricane force winds and can add up to 10 degrees of warmth.
Cons: Mountaineering tents, particularly base camp units, can weigh upwards of 15 pounds, so be prepared to fork over some valuable hatch space. They can also become uncomfortably warm in hot weather.
Perfect for: Awakening your simian tendencies. Camping hammocks these days are basically tents in suspension. Find one with a rain fly, mosquito netting, and pockets—like the Hennessy Hammock Safari Deluxe.
On the Beach: Find two sturdy, strategically placed tree branches and put those Boy Scout knot-tying skills to work.
Pros: Stymies ground water—and most vermin. Makes level ground and sharp objects non-issues. No trees in sight? Set it up on the ground as a glorified bivy, then pack it down to a tarp-sized bundle that’s just as light.
Cons: Frustrating if you can’t find the right venue to pitch, and unless you have a big fly or a broad tarp to cover the whole package, you won’t have much dry space to stash you gear. Nighttime bathroom runs can also be a hassle.
Perfect for: Alpine-style junkies. A 14-by-20 swath of coated nylon and shock-corded guylines should do the trick. Try MSR’s minimalist Twing.
On the Beach: String your tarp chest high off the ground at center point. Stake the windward side low to the ground; pile sand up inside to gale-proof your pad. Get creative—use the terrain, driftwood, trees, and rocks around you or come prepared with long sand spikes.
Pros: A tarp packs small and is quick to pitch. In a pinch you can just throw it over you and your stuff. Pimp it out when you have the time—and rest smug in your creative, yet minimalist, ways. The air is always fresh.
Cons: Gales and storms can make life rough, particularly for a poorly pitched unit—in extreme conditions, you’ll sleep with one eye on the weather. If bugs are an issue, forget it.
Perfect for: Solo travel or high desert river trips, since the only thing you’ll be doing in this one-person cocoon is sleeping. Alone.
Bivys range from breathable (lighter weight material like eVent) to durable (heavier, less porous fabric). For sea kayaking the weight difference is nominal. Go with the stronger fabric, like the breathable Gore-Tex on the Outdoor Research Advanced Bivy. Deluxe versions provide valuable headroom courtesy of a Delrin or aluminum pole.
On the beach: Toss it on a spot of sand between two logs for protection. Done. Bring a tarp to use as a ground cover or rainfly.
Pros: Provides the ultimate increase in ambient temperature; compact emergency versions make excellent survival shelters. No bigger than a big tarp or hammock, it stows neatly in a kayak.
Cons: With little room for air circulation, buttoning up for hard rain can be stifling. Look for a highly breathable bag if you anticipate much rain; better yet, leave it home.