The craft of packing your craft

Packing a kayak for expeditions at sea is a nack worth practicing with patience to perfect — afterall, there is always the rule of wobble to consider.

Consideration of balance and trim, efficient access to equipment and kayak load can improve a paddler’s performance, efficiency and overall confidence making an expedition into the wild more fun.


A sea kayak is an amazingly well balanced and stable craft — until it is occupied with a passenger at which point it becomes inherantly unstable.

The rule of wobble

A good analogy is that of the hot air balloon where the weighted gondola keeps the otherwise unbalanced craft upright. In the damper world of nautical parlé, commercial boats without a cargo take gravel ballast onboard to achieve the same.

An awareness of balance and trim aids a kayak’s performance and a badly trimmed boat can frustrate and limit a paddler’s expedition enjoyment.

Therefore, as a general rule, lighter items should be packed into the extremities of the boat – the bow, the stern and higher parts of the kayak whilst heavier items should be placed lower and more centrally within the boat hull.

Afterall, the rule of wobble dictates that ballast gives a craft stability.

Unnecessary kit is sure to frustrate those setting and breaking camp each morning when other more important tasks must be done.

Kit list

Unlike with a food shop, on an expedition one can’t pop back to the store if an item has been forgotten. So treat an Expedition Kit List as one might a shopping list – it improves efficiency no end. The same list should be used with each expedition thus improves with time.

First lay out all proposed travel items into three piles – essential, good to have and luxury. From these three piles it should be easy to decide what does and what does not fit into the boat.

Easy access

Items packed in extremities are of course harder to access on land and impossible to access at sea so a dry bag with essentials should be kept on the deck. This bag should be considered as your survival kit – if everything is lost this is the one bag which must be saved.


It is prudent if the deck bag is slightly larger than the contents within so that it can be inflated and used as a flotation device. In any event it should be buoyant.

Some kayakers refer to this piece of kit as a bail out bag (if they need to bail in a hurry, leaving everything behind) and survivalists might call it a bug out bag (the item they grab come the reaping).

I have no intentions of bugging out or ever leaving everything behind so I call it what it is – a survival kit.

A good survival kit should be small enough to be transportable and accessible and large enough to contain all things useful. However, be sensible – they say size isn’t everything. The kit should not be so small it can be kept sewn into the lining of a handkerchief or in the heel of a shoe — although quite fun, this is the stuff of movies.

Important items last

Bear in mind that very little is accessible on the water and items required first when on dry land (tea making kit, shelter, warm clothing, lunch etc) should be stowed last so that they come out first.

Packing is most efficient using several smaller dry bags as opposed to one large one that will most likely not fit through a hatch.

Ensure that you have a head torch handy so that, when unpacking onshore at dusk, both hands are free to reach awkward corners of the hull.

Colour coding dry bags can be helpful. Even better, those with windows (manufactured by Ortlieb) eliminate the need for emptying dry bag contents all over the beach just to find a toothbrush.

Attention on deck

Deck items will increase windage and raise the kayak’s centre of gravity neither of which are helpful with regards to craft control. However, in remote areas at sea, it is essential to have a spare paddle on deck, water, energy snacks, VHF radio, paddle float, sunscreen, chart, binoculars and flares.

Securing stowed kit is essential so that, in choppy seas, boat-balancing items do not shift. However, for long distance expeditions to remote areas, such a quantity of kit is required that, in reality, kit is so tightly fitted that it is not able to move.

However, it’s often best to keep your craft as light as possible as a low slung boat in high seas can be problematic.

City break

If your deck is covered with items that don’t fit in your kayak too many items are probably being taken. If this is the case perhaps your Expedition Kit List requires another edit.

The Inuit saying ‘live life like you are in a kayak’ is a good starting point for planning expeditions where simplicity is key. Indeed the saying is a mantra and a reminder of how few material things are needed in life, not a reminder to pack for a city break.

If you are having difficulties fitting all items in the boat try: ironing all clothes before packing them and try using compression bags to minimise kit volume. However, the trouble with low kit volume is that it sinks like a stone.

Stress less

Remember never to carry your boat when it is fully loaded as this may stress its structure.

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