Few would argue that epic expeditions in Patagonia, tackling tidal rapids, exploring remote uncharted islands and mastering several dozen Greenland rolls before breakfast make riveting—even inspiring—subjects for outdoor film festivals and social media feeds. But while it’s great to dream about over-the-top adventures and Olympic-level technique, these aren’t the bread-and-butter of most paddlers’ experience.
The reality is, many paddlers settle for day trips or even an hour snatched on the water before or after work. If this sounds like you, then you are missing out, but probably not for the reasons you think.
An under-publicised but utterly fundamental fact is that one of the greatest things you can do with your kayak is to go backcountry camping. Day trips are certainly fun and beneficial, but camping out of your kayak exponentially magnifies all the joys of paddling and spending time in nature with friends.
Perhaps you are new to paddling or sleeping outdoors and the idea of kayak camping is a bit intimidating. Not to worry, camping equipment rental is increasingly common at popular parks and water trails, and experts at these places can also help you plan an easy, sheltered route that fits your schedule and ambitions.
Still not convinced? Let me explain why life is not complete without the simple yet soul-satisfying joys of an overnight kayak trip.
Extending your trip beyond the waking hours through a lingering evening, bewitching night and meditative calm of a new day opens the door to countless memorable experiences. Watching wildlife from your kayak at sunset, landing on your chosen beach after a challenging paddle, scrambling to hang a tarp in the rain, enjoying a rosy sunrise from your cozy sleeping bag, sharing stories around a campfire, cooking a satisfying dinner on camp stoves.
Kayak tripping reminds us of what is important by bringing life back to the essentials. Each day we consciously create food and shelter; make decisions and directly experience the consequences. Simple moments such as meal times adopt greater importance as we rediscover the value of fueling our bodies, caring for each other and sharing resources. Each day takes on a reassuring ritual of camp routines and human-powered travel guided by the natural rhythm of the sun, wind and tides. We are reminded that with care, skill and even the simplest gear, we can be warm, dry and happy in the stormiest conditions.
THE BENEFITS OF KAYAK CAMPING
Think you know your friends? Sure, maybe you met in kindergarten, did that cross-country road trip in college and have been out for more beers than you can count— but camping together is a sure-fire way to understand each other even more deeply. For better or worse, you don’t really know your friends until you’ve set up camp together in a downpour, helped each other pre-coffee on an early morning, lent each other dry clothes, watched meteor showers together, swatted mosquitoes and philosophized about life around the campfire, experienced each other’s cooking disasters (and successes) and shared emergency chocolate when the going was tough.
Kayak camping doesn’t only teach us about others. Aristotle said: “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” Spending a few days (or weeks) outside in kayaks and tents can spark some interesting observations and reflections about ourselves, both profound and trivial. What is important to me in life? What are my strengths and weaknesses? What changes do I want to make in my life? Did I pack enough coffee? Why the heck did I bring a 20-litre dry bag? How do I deal with challenges and adversity? What brings me joy? How can I support those around me? Why am I here? Why are we here? Where are we going?
Kayak tripping reminds us of the beauty all around us and our responsibility to care for this planet. In his best-selling books Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle, author Richard Louv talks about the negative impacts of spending less time in natural spaces. Louv uses the term “nature deficit disorder” to describe how weakening connections to nature affect not only individual well-being but also how society interacts with the natural environment.
By going kayak camping, we strengthen our relationship with the natural world and thus make more informed, thoughtful choices regarding the environment
Downtime in a quiet cove between paddling and sleeping is a lens through which we notice nature’s understated beauty—a heron among the reeds or a lone tree clinging to a cliff. These interactions with the natural world have further positive impacts. Spending time in nature has been shown to directly reduce stress and relieve depression.
Camping trips are empowering on many levels. They teach us self-reliance and inner strength, foster new perspectives and creativity. Wilderness trips also bring us freedom from material stuff—not only are they one of the few times in life when we aren’t bombarded by ads telling us to buy things, trips also remind us how little we need to live well. Poet T.S. Eliot said “the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.” I can think of many people who returned home from paddling journeys with new insight, courage and clarity to make changes in their life—whether in work, relationships, lifestyle choices or perhaps just deciding to finally get rid of all that junk in the garage.
No matter how large or small the trip, each journey has its unique experiences that teach us more about ourselves, the people in our lives, and the world around us. A weekend away will recharge your batteries and maybe even reveal solutions to a difficult problem. Spend a few weeks out and the distinctions between the “real world” and this new reality will blur and shift, sometimes permanently.
Overnighting at water’s edge is an accessible yet precious gift we can give to each other and ourselves. There are few fail-proof formulas in life, but one is certainly that spending time in beautiful places and boats with good people will make your life richer.
This article was originally published in Adventure Kayak, Volume 16 • Issue 1.