Believe it or not, packing a sea kayak really is an art! Perhaps you’re already well versed on the drill, but for those newer to paddling the open seas the thought of trying to stuff all your kit into such a small space could have you running for the hills! All our sea kayaking trips are led by expert guides who know how to ‘fit it all in’ like the backs of their hands, and will assist you every step of the way – but to give you an idea of what you’re letting yourself in for, one of our favourite guides, Becs, jotted down a few notes on the best way, from her experience, of packing a sea kayak.
Despite their relatively small size a sea kayak can carry an amazing amount of kit. This is one of the big draws of sea paddling, you can go and explore some of the most beautiful, wild and remote parts of the world, for days or even weeks at a time and still live in relative comfort!
Packing a sea kayak with all the home comforts, such as bottles of wine and fine food is definitely a skill to be mastered. There is nothing more daunting than standing by your sea kayak on the first day of the trip with a veritable mountain of kit piled up beside you wondering how on earth you are ever going to cram it in, let alone remember where you actually put everything.
There have been so many times when we have all stood beside our sea kayaks scratching our heads, contemplating where in the world that extra stove went, or worse leaping around like a lunatic, being savaged by midges, while totally unable to relocate the midge net!
Here are a few handy hints and tips which will help ease the pre-trip drama of packing a sea kayak and help prevent that all-important midge net disappearing into the bowls of the boat never to be seen again.
Firstly, you need to make sure that your gear stays dry. The sealed hatches of a modern sea kayak are, on the whole reliably waterproof. However, leaks do happen. Always checking your hatch covers are fitted correctly before getting on the water is the first line of defence. But it is vital that if any water does enter the compartments, that the important gear such as spare clothing, sleeping bags, cameras, phones, tents etc, do stay dry.
So, before anything is packed into the sea kayak it must be stored in a water proof bag or dry bag. These are available in a variety of sizes, shapes and colours. If you are on a Wilderness Scotland Sea Kayaking trip, we will provide you with an assortment of dry bags.
Where possible all your gear should be packed inside the sea kayak and not strapped to the decks. Gear stowed on the decks raises the sea kayaks centre of gravity making it less stable and creating windage. The sea kayaks directional stability can also be affected and kit which is not strapped down well is prone to washing away in waves.
The only gear which should be on the decks is spare paddles, compass, maps, water bottle and if you have one; a deck mounted tow line.
Once all your kit is packed into dry bags, you need to consider where you are going to put everything in the sea kayak. The way your gear is distributed can affect how the sea kayak sits in the water, which will in turn affect the sea kayaks handling and ease of control. If there is more weight on one side than the other, the sea kayaks side-to-side balance will be affected and this will cause the boat to naturally turn away from the heavier side. Meaning a loss of paddling efficiency as you will need to use corrective paddle strokes to compensate for the unbalanced sea kayak. A great way to check your side-to-side balance is to float the sea kayak on the water without the paddler in it and check that it is sitting level.
The same is true for the sea kayaks fore and aft (back-to-front) trim. Manufacturers design sea kayaks so as when seated, the paddlers centre of mass is over the sea kayaks centre of buoyancy. When the sea kayak is balanced like this it will paddle and preform as the manufacturer intended. When we start loading a sea kayak we can easily disrupt this natural balance point, making the sea kayak difficult to handle. When an un-laden sea kayak sits on the water it will naturally weather cock (the bow of the boat will turn into the wind). If the front hatches are heavily laden this weather cocking will be exaggerated, making it very difficult to turn the sea kayak away from the wind, resulting in lots of wasted energy trying to control the poorly balanced sea kayak. The fore and aft trim can be assessed by floating the sea kayak before you load it and looking to see how it sits in the water. Once you have loaded it go through the same process. The sea kayak will now be sitting lower in the water, but the proportions of how high the bow is relative to the stern should still be the same as when the sea kayak was unladen.
There will be a process of trial and error to find the correct and balanced solution for your particular sea kayak/paddler combination. Once you find a method that works, stick with it. Pack the sea kayak the same way every time. This means you will get to know exactly where everything is in your sea kayak as well as knowing it will be comfortable and responsive to handle.
Despite spending all this time ensuring that your gear is well packed and your sea kayak is balanced, once you arrive at your destination you are going to have to unpack it. If you have a good mental map of where everything is life will be much easier at this point. You may not need to unpack everything, food for the following days can be left in the sea kayak, as can most emergency gear, spare stoves and clothes.
A well packed sea kayak is a joy to paddle, having an organised system which works for you and can be repeated every time you go on the water will make life much less stressful when it comes to the dreaded start of trip pack up!
Hopefully, you’ll now be a little less daunted when thinking about what you need for your sea kayaking trip – obviously there isn’t space for the kitchen sink, but with careful planning you’ll have room for all the essentials plus a few treats as well!