We recently took off on a 2 night, 3 day trip on the Scenic Illinois River in Northeast Oklahoma. We floated from the Arkansas border to Tahlequah, OK. Check out the VLOG episode here! One of the most challenging aspects of an overnight trip is packing. I am going to show you 7 tips for how to pack your boat for a great trip on the river. This article will include how to’s, gear recommendations, and more so check it out.
1. Start with a Reliable Vessel
Insure that your boat is in good working order and that if you are going to experience large rapids that you have the necessary equipment like a spray skirt and a throw bag. The river that we floated has very few rapids and none of them are over class-1, so the throw bag can stay at home. We brought our spray skirts simply because we were expecting rain.
A trip can go awry very quickly if you have a boat failure. A boat that takes on water or doesn't navigate properly can mean capsizing or getting pinned on riprap. Pay attention to the weight limit of your vessel as well. I do not hold manufacturer recommended weights as the final decider, but I was about 25 pounds over my recommended weight and that was about as far as I am willing to push it. I was sitting pretty low.
*Craigslist is a great place to find a gently used kayak for a much cheaper price than buying new. Good touring yaks can be had for under $1000. That is a steal!
2. Remember the Basics
The basic needs for survival are food, water and shelter, not necessarily in that order. A human can survive over 3 weeks without food, but will perish without water in 3-5 days. Shelter is important to maintain body temperature and protect from exposure and the elements.
Due to the river having fairly clean water, I normally carry 2-32 ounce Nalgene bottles. These bottles are nearly indestructible and make using the STERIPEN super easy. Each bottles takes 1 minute of UV exposure to produce drinkable water.
*If a precarious situation such as a thunderstorm keeps you in your tent, the Nalgene makes for an effective pee bottle too.
For a river trip, we normally stick with a small ice chest or cooler bag for items like chicken breasts, bacon, and other easily packable perishables. This time, we brought along eggs, bacon, and hash-browns for breakfast. For lunch we brought bread, lunch meat, and trail mix. For dinner we did fish, chicken, sausage and veggies.
*Helpful Tip- Make Hobo-style meals ahead of time in aluminum foil and store them in freezer baggies in the cooler. Once you get to camp, throw them on the coals and enjoy. Once you're done, put the cooled aluminum back in the freezer bag for easy disposal.
The last time that we didn't pack shelter on a trip was Land Run 100 in April of this year. We assumed that since it was a bike race, shelter would not be needed. FALSE. We found ourselves completely exhausted and borderline hypothermic at mile 34 in the middle of rural Logan County Oklahoma with nothing but soaked clothes and spotty cell reception. Had we packed a simple lighter and 2 space blankets (minimal weight), we would have been much more pleasant in the root cellar that we hunkered down in for 45 minutes waiting on help to arrive.
On this trip, due to the chance of rain and the unavoidable onslaught of mosquitos, we opted to pack a backpacking tent sans stakes. The same coverage could be achieved for one person with a hammock and a bug net/tarp setup. Stakes are imperative when the chance for rain exists. Fancy backpacking tent flies aren’t designed to be used without stakes. We know, because we left ours at home and paid for it with soggy tent walls.
*An ultralight tarp such as the Hennessy Hex can be used as a shelter in a pinch with just a couple of stakes and some tracking poles or paddles.
3. Stay Dry
This one seems obvious, but most floaters don't take precautions to stay dry. Even some that know better, can get caught with their pants down. It is imperative that all of your dry gear and supplies (warmth, fire, and food) stay dry. If you are traveling with camera gear, it obviously needs to stay dry too.
On this trip, I took every precaution advised and secured all dry goods in dry bags, properly closed and stored in the water-tight hatch on the rear of my boat. After paddling most of the first day, I was told that my boat was riding low in the water. I pulled into our campsite and found my rear hatch completely full of water. I later found out that the skeg cable sheath had come undone and was leaking water into the hatch. My dry bags weren't all that dry. Especially the bag with my DSLR camera, lenses, and memory card in it. I pulled the dry bag out of the hull to find water visibly inside the bag. I released the dry bag only to find the camera bag completely soaked. When I opened the Lowepro Camera bag the contents were dry as a bone. I received that bag when I bought my camera and the seller didn't have anything else to send it in. Thanks Lowepro! The cheap dry bag has been moved to "mostly dry" duty for items like a tarp or rain jacket.
*Hypothermia can occur in very warm temperatures with the quick arrival of a summer storm, or prolonged periods without the ability to make a fire.
4. Pack Small
Most kayaks come equipped with small watertight hatches, so it is important to pack a lot of small dry bags instead of big ones. For a sit-in like my Jackson Rogue or Rachael's Pyrahna Fusion, the biggest dry bag I would suggest is a 10L bag. If you have a sit-on kayak or a canoe, you can probably get away with bigger bags, however, you will wast a considerable amount of space.
*If you must pack a large dry bag in a small kayak, place the half-packed bag in the spot where you want to pack it first, then fill items in until it fills the space, then roll it shut.
5. Pack Smart
I mentioned total weight earlier. Where you place the weight is extremely important as well. Too much weight in the bow or stern and the boat will not handle properly and may be more susceptible to rolls. Place heavier items near the middle of the cockpit and place your light-weight items toward the ends of your boat. Remember that lateral placement can effect handling as well. If you are heavier on the port side, remember that when you have to roll back over.
*If your creek/crossover kayak is equipped with a bulkhead and you are not floating whitewater, remove it for the additional storage space.
6. Flip Your Boat
Flipping your boat at night is helpful for a lot of reasons. First, it keeps your seat and cockpit dry, whether by dew or rain, no one likes a wet seat. Second,it discourages critters from crawling into your boat for the night and surprising you in the AM. Also remember to move your boat and paddles up and out of the water. Waking up to a missing boat is absolutely no fun and you float buddies with thank you for not having to taxi you down river.
*I make a habit of banging on my boat with a paddle when I approach in the morning to make sure there are no creepy crawlies waiting for me inside.
7. Know Your Limits
Overnight paddling trips are one of my favorite ways to see new places and enjoy nature like most don't get to. However, multi-day trips open you up to possible fatigue and injury. Make sure that you are physically able to tackle the 15-20 miles per day that you plan to float in order to get back to your job by 8AM on Monday morning. It's often hard to call in to work from the river valley, only because of spotty cell service.
*Start with a few small day trips or over-nighters and slowly work your way up to longer expeditions. This way you will know what gear you need and how much you can handle.
Thank you so very much for taking the time out of your day to read along. We post all kinds of articles like this almost every week. Stick around and check out the pictures from our travels and check out our YouTube Channel for more content not published on the blog. We are always looking for brands and creators to partner with, please reach out if you are interested- firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, God Bless and be safe out there!