Helen Wilson,  A multiple medal winner at the Greenland National Kayaking Championship, ready to hit the road. Photo courtesy of Helen Wilson

Helen ready to hit the road. Photo courtesy of Helen Wilson

By Helen Wilson

One of the most intimidating parts of planning a destination sea kayaking trip is just getting to the water. How will I navigate airports, taxis, and buses if I'm weighed down by my full suite of paddling gear? Since I'm traveling more often than not, I’ve faced this problem many times. (Last year alone I was “on the road” for 301 days.) Over the years, I've worked out a system that lets me stay organized and mobile without having to leave any necessities at home.

Sea kayakers aren't known for traveling light. Whether I’m away for a weekend or several months, the amount of stuff I have doesn’t change all that much, so I've worked out a standard four bag system to pack my gear. This may sound excessive, but with the right kinds of bags packed correctly, they're easy to get around with. The system also allows me to stay organized; each piece of equipment has its own spot.

First is a mid-size backpack. Once this bag is on, I barely notice it’s there.

Bag Two is my laptop bag. This is slung over my right shoulder and hangs to the left side of my body. It’s a little more bulky than my backpack, but I can still walk several miles with it if I need to.

Next is my golf bag: the ideal travel bag for a kayaker. A two-piece paddle fits nicely in the bottom, there's plenty of storage space left over on top, and it has wheels. Another great thing about a golf bag is that airlines don’t charge extra for it, even though it falls into the “oddly shaped” category.

Finally, I have a large duffle bag, also with wheels.

A handle from the wheeled bags goes into each hand, and I’m off. When flying, the backpack and laptop bag are my carry-on pieces, and the others are checked.

So what goes in these bags? Obviously, that depends on the trip, but over the years I’ve developed a basic list, which I modify for each trip.

The bags. Photo courtesy of Helen Wilson

The bags. Photo courtesy of Helen Wilson

Bag One: The Backpack

My backpack serves as my purse. It’s always somewhat loaded and ready to go, but before every trip, I clean it out. I make sure it has only the essentials I want to have on hand at all times. I often take out the fleece hoody and down vest and leave them in the tent or hotel room if I don’t think I’ll need them for the day. I never take out the rain jacket though (we learn from our mistakes). When traveling by plane, I put this bag in the overhead storage compartment.


•Small first aid kit
•Small notebook with small pen attached
•Travel coffee mug
•Stainless steel water bottle
•Business cards
•Baseball cap
•Warm hat
•Warm gloves
•Rain jacket that stores in its own pocket
•Fleece hoody
•Down vest
•Cell phone

Bag Two: The Laptop Bag

This is the bag I'm most careful with. Not only does it contain my laptop, but it's also where I keep my passport. The laptop bag can be left behind if I’m out for the day, but it’s the crucial bag while I'm in transit. On the plane, it is placed under the seat in front of me.

•Electrical converters
•Charging cables and chargers
•Ear buds
•Memory sticks
•Mac display adapter (for slideshow presentations)
•Day planner

The golf bag.  Courtesy of Helen Wilson

The golf bag. Courtesy of Helen Wilson

Bag Three: The Golf Bag

My golf bag contains all of my kayaking gear. Side pocket “one” is used for things can could potentially make a mess, such as shampoo. Side pocket “two” is used for extra electronics and miscellaneous items. Note that golf bags often come out of the “Oversized” or “Odd Sized” baggage claim door.

•Two-piece paddle
•PFD with whistle attached
•Neoprene booties
•Drysuit liner
•Hydroskin pants
•Long-sleeve rash guard
•Neoprene vest
•Storm cag
•Transitional stick
•Fingerless paddling gloves
•Neoprene paddling gloves
•Nose clip
•Small dry bag which contains a first aid kit, sunblock stick and lip balm
•Ikea bag for gear transport
•Paddle float for teaching rolling
•Mosquito repellent (inside pocket one)
•Sunblock (inside pocket one)
•Towel (inside pocket one)
•Bag with shampoo, conditioner and soap (inside pocket one)
•Marine radio (inside pocket two)
•Flashlight (inside pocket two)
•Knife (inside pocket two)

Bag Four: The Duffle Bag

My duffle bag contains my non-paddling clothes. While the golf bag can be left in a car, the duffle bag is the bag that I’ll need while staying in a hotel or someone’s house.

•Extra shoes (depending on the trip, these could be sandals, tennis shoes or rain boots)
•Socks (no more than five pairs)
•Underwear (no more than five pairs)
Shorts (no more than two pairs)
•Pants (no more than three pairs)
•T-shirts (no more than three; two if I’m going somewhere cold)
•Long-sleeve shirts (no more than three; two if I’m going somewhere warm)
•Fleece pants (for sleeping in if I’m camping)
Capilene shirt (for sleeping in if I’m camping)
•Rain pants (to wear over the fleece pants while camping in wet or cold locations)
Down jacket
Sun hat (if I’m going somewhere warm)
•Bathing suit
•Board shorts
•Mosquito net
•Yoga Paws (a portable yoga mat, optional)
•Toiletries bag

Camping List: Camping gear is split between my golf bag and my duffle bag, depending on space.

•Sleeping bag
•Sleeping pad
•Personal eating gear
•Cook set

That's it! Pack it all up and you're ready to go.

Want to see more? Check out Helen Wilson’s on-the-water packing tips.