Standup Paddle Camping Basics
Most people are at least somewhat familiar with kayak touring…using a longer kayak with water tight hatches to stow gear to essentially camp out of. But a lot of folks don’t realize you can tour with your paddleboard as well…with some good expedition dry bags, some bungees and an “ultralight mindset.”
Most manufactures make touring boards- they are a little wider, usually have a displacement hull, and are outfitted with bungees to secure your gear to the deck. But you can use just about any board for a short trip by adding either suction cup bungees or an adhesive bungee kit to your deck. These can come in handy in the event you want to do a distance race like Chattajack and need a way to carry your extra food and water.
If you are going down a river, an inflatable is a fantastic choice. Consider outfitting it with a flexible fin to help avoid damage caused by run-ins with rocks or submerged trees.
Remember, the longer the board, the easier it is going to be to slice through flatwater…considering the type of board you’ll be using is key to planning your trip. If you are using a surf style or all-around board, maybe start out with an overnighter with a short paddle distance to the spot where you will be making camp. Perhaps there’s a lake near by with campsites you can paddle into easily — say maybe three miles from your put-in location. Paddle in, camp and enjoy the water and being outdoors, spend the night, then paddle back the next day. That’s a great way to shake out your board and gear and see if you like paddle camping before biting off something longer and more labor-intensive.
Expedition sized dry bags like the ones available from DryCase, Cor, Sealine, Sea to Summit and Watershed work well on the deck of your sup. I usually put a ground cover of some sort – like a folded up plastic or Tyvek tarp underneath – just to protect the board (and then have something to sit on if needed at camp.) Use the drybags for clothes, food, sleeping bag, tent, etc. Anything you don’t want to risk getting wet, like the sleeping bag, place it in it’s own drybag or ziplock baggies inside the bigger bag, just in case.
Board trim when carrying a load is going to be different when it’s just you paddling so center the dry bag on the board, right in front of your cockpit. If you are using two – one in front and one behind, same thing – keep the bags in the middle of the board – and play around with making sure the nose and tail are equally weighted. Make a test run or two, with a friend, who can help you line things up. And then practice paddling with the loaded board so you know how it feels. You might want to practice falling off and even tipping the board upside down to make sure your load doesn’t end up floating off the board. Secure the main drybag to your bungee cords with clips or carabiners, or even a tether line for easy recovery if they should come off the board.
Essential SUP Camping Gear
Here’s a quick list for an overnight trip:
Shelter: If you want to go ultralight, consider a tarp or tent rainfly and ground cloth or footprint. Most backpacking tents can be set up this way. However, in certain climates, that’s not going to be enough to protect you from bugs or potential rain squalls. Any lightweight backpacking tent will work but try to chose one between two and three pounds. If you know trees are going to be available at your campsite, a hammock camping set-up is wonderful – takes up less space and is lightweight. An ENO system with hammock, bug net and rainfly, with the straps to hang it all with works great.
Sleeping bag: A bag with synthetic fill that will compress down into a smaller size is usually a great choice. Down sleeping bags will compress smaller still and there are lots of options for water repellant treated down bags on the market. If you go this route, be sure to pack that down bag in it’s own drybag, Even though it’s treated, you still don’t want it to get soaked. Consider where you will be camping and what the low temperature is most likely to be and pick a bag which has a comfort rating that will match the night time temp and your personal sleeping needs. For summer beach camping in North Carolina, I carry a small micro fleece sleeping bag liner and a 50 degree bag. It’s a perfect combination.
Sleeping Pad: Go with light and compact. One of the best bets on the market now is REI’s new Flash pad. At $100, you can’t beat it. The regular size weighs only 15 ounces and its is insulated. I also like the Big Agnes Q-Core pads as well as the Nemo Vector.
Camp Stove: With space at a premium, consider using a small backpacking stove like the MSR Pocket Rocket or the Snow Peak GigaPower. Both fold up small and can daily fit inside a cook set. Both these stoves use isobutane-propane fuel canisters,which will take up some space in your dry bag. To go the ultralight route, you can use a small alcohol stove – like the Trangia Spirit Burner. It has a small screw cap that stores the alcohol fuel so you don’t take up any extra space. You can even make your own alcohol stove too, out of a coke or beer can. Just remember, no matter what stove you choose, bring a lighter or waterproof matches.
Cook Set: Sup camping makes carrying perishable food a challenge, so chances are, your best bet will be one-pot rehydratable backpacking meals. GSI’s Haulite sets are nice, or to further reduce weight and space, the Varga BOT is extremely useful. You can cook in it, use it as a bottle and it has a screw top lid. Get a long handled spork, like the one made by Sea to Summit. The extended length on the handle makes mixing up and serving food out of a backpacking meal bag easy and clean.
Water: Water is the most important thing you will carry and the heaviest. Again, here’s where planning comes into play. Know if water will be easily available where you plan to camp for the night. If it is, no problem. Just take a hydration pack, like you would for a race or recreational paddle. If not, then you’ll have to carry water. MSR’s Dromedary bags are durable and easily lashed to your bags or deck. Platypus, Nalgen and Sea to Summit also make good water bags. If you are camping in the fresh water environment, then bring along a water filter, like the Sawyer Squeeze. Easy to use, no fuss with multiple hoses and it won’t take up much space.
Knife or Multi-Tool: This is a no brainer. Just be sure to rinse it off well with fresh water when you get home, if you are paddling at the coast.
Personal Items: Sunscreen – we prefer a mineral based one like Banx Block, lip balm, first aid kit, bug spray, toilet paper and a trowel, in case rest rooms are not available.
Safety Items: PFD, leash, extra leash string, extra paddle (two piece) compass, GPS device of some kind, Personal Locator Beacon, Phone, Marine Radio and either a rugged power brick or solar panel like Goal Zero’s or Biolite’s. Maps. I like to take both digital as well as paper copies of local maps, just in case. And an old fashioned “analog” compass as well. Don’t rely on your devices!!
Board First Aid: Puka patches or Gorilla tape for dings, Solarez for dings, zip ties (useful for lots of things!)
Clothing: Keep it to a minimum, and leave the cotton at home. Use quick dry fabrics only! Be sure to have a packable rain jacket, and maybe rain pants, and insulating layer like a fleece and one pair of socks- they can be nice at night. Bring a hat or cap. The exact list of what to take clothing wise is going to depend on where you are paddling. What you take to the beach in the South might be vary different from what you would need on a mountain river trip. For a weekend, one change of clothes might be all you need. TIP: Always keep a bag of dry clothes, including a jacket, in the car to change into after the trip is over. We call this the Spare Change Bag.
Float Plan: Always, always, always, leave a detailed description of where you are going, when you will return, what you are paddling and who you are with with a trusted friend. You can simply right it out and email it, or you can download a float plan form from various websites. Also, the ACA phone app has a float plan feature which you can fill out and email directly to your emergency contact person. Be sure to include detailed coordinates/locations/maps of where you will start, finish and where you plan to camp. Some parks and reserves allow you file a float plan with the rangers before you leave. If there’s park office nearby, check in with them, at the very least so they know you’re out there. Fill out the plan if they offer that option. And don’t forget to check back in when you’re finished!! Also useful to include in your plan: locations and phone numbers for the local Coast Guard station, EMS, Sheriff, Police, Hospital. Carry a copy of your plan with you in case you need to refer to it!
Even if you are just going to the local lake for a night out, do your float plan. It’s a good habit to get into. And you just never know!
1. Plan an easy overnighter for your first sup camping outing.
2. Research your destination: is water available? How long is the paddle? Can I hammock camp?
3. What board should I use: make this decision based on your research findings.
3. Practice loading gear and paddling with it first – including self-rescue with gear aboard
4. Make sure you have all your safety gear.
5. File a floatplan
6. Have fun!!!!
Have some good sup camping tips or destinations? We’d love to hear about them!