Packing a Kayak for a Thru-Paddle

Below Deck

how to pack a kayak
light & bulky
sleeping bag, clothes

tent, toiletries, cooking gear, books, maps
food, water

The basic goal when packing your kayak is to keep the heaviest objects low and closest to the cockpit. This keeps the boat stable by keeping its center of mass close to you. After all, you are the heaviest item in your boat.

No watertight hatch is truly watertight, so pack gear into waterproof, roll-top stuff sacks. Lots of small and medium sized sacks use the limited hatch space more efficient than a few large sacks.


Pack your food last, closest to the hatch, so at lunch you won’t have to unpack the entire boat to make a sandwich.

Above Deck

Strapping gear to the deck causes you to catch more wind, but it is necessary on a thru-paddle. However, gear that belongs in the hatches but cannot fit should not be bungeed onto the deck. If during test-packings not everything fits, then evaluate your gear and throw some things out. The only things on deck should be:

  • spare paddle
  • paddle float
  • deck bag
  • nautical cart
  • water pump
  • compass
  • towline
  • PFD (I know you don’t wear it all the time)
  • fog light (optional)
deck bag at REI
Deck Bag at REI

What goes inside the deck bag is a matter of personal preference. Here are my suggestions:

  • spare sunglasses
  • GPS
  • sunscreen
  • binoculars
  • rain jacket
  • cell phone + wallet in a watertight pouch
  • data book
  • camera


In the cockpit under my spray skirt, I keep a bleach bottle with a hole cut in the side as a piss bucket. Do you really want to land every time you need to take a leak?