Letting the water bear the added weight has its obvious upsides, though a loaded touring kayak still presents similar challenges as a backpack: To make miles in comfort, you need to know how to pack it correctly for a successful outing. Heed the following packing pointers, whether you’re heading out for a day trip paddling on the local bay or a five-day outing on Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
Loading a sit-on-top kayak for day trips is relatively straightforward. Most have room (often in a depression, or storage well) in the bow and stern for packs, dry bags, small coolers, and (the kayak fisherman’s favorite) rigged milk crates. Many of these kayaks come rigged with bungee cords to secure everything; if not, secure loose items with cam straps or other tie-downs. Hint: Keep the weight as low as possible to maintain a lower center of gravity, and, if necessary, put heavier items toward center and lighter items fore or aft.
For more limited out-and-backs, you likely won’t have much gear. Pack what you do have within easy access while you’re paddling, including utilizing the deck rigging in front of your cockpit for items like water bottles and binoculars. Other comfort and safety necessities can be kept handy in PFD pockets, pouches on your spray skirt (if applicable), between your legs and behind your seat in your cockpit, as well as in day hatches.
If you’re heading out over multiple days in a touring kayak, loading your boat correctly is important for everything from balance and trim to access and organization. If possible, test-pack your kayak beforehand to ensure all your items fit.
Pack heavier items like food and water near the middle of your kayak, either in the hatch behind the rear bulkhead, in front of your feet or behind the seat inside the cockpit, or in the closest forward hatch. Pack lighter items like sleeping bags and clothing in hatches toward the ends. Keep your gear low and centered from side-to-side to keep your boat stable and balanced. Make sure your boat is trimmed correctly (i.e. balanced from bow to stern) for the best performance.