TopKayaker.Net: Kayak Touring Articles

Tom on LowesIntroduction To Expedition Kayaking by Athena Holtey
Some edits have ocurred since this article's original release.

Simply put, expedition kayaking is paddling to a destination with overnight stops along the way. Contrary to popular thought, it is not an experience reserved for the extreme adventurer with high-tech sit-inside traditional sea kayaks. It does require careful planning as well as coordinating with others when going with a group; however, anyone can enjoy expedition kayaking from solo paddlers to clubs, family groups to disabled individuals; but why seek out such a preparation intense aspect of kayaking?

Few opportunities come our way in life that with personal velocity alone and little expense can leave you physically exhausted yet spiritually rejuvenated beyond imagination. You may find yourself looking up at the milky way while listening to waves crash on a pebbly shore; or gazing out at the bobbing fluorescent lobster buoys in the gloaming of the day when all is still, the sea like glass. You may hear a Great horned owl calling out over a moon-bathed lake after an afternoon’s journey where loons greeted with their echoing cries or happy chuckles.

Low voices talk-story around a campfire, a weather radio reports in the distance; a wind comes up and all must be battened down. Breakfast on a chilly morning while looking out at the sea stirs the wanderlust in your soul. A bald eagle soars overhead. This is expedition kayaking at its best.

There are several ways to go about it. Some may enjoy the “Hot Showers” approach to expedition kayaking. East coast kayaker, Lee Bumstead published this innovative but ever-in need-of-updating guide on a Bed and Breakfast approach to paddling the Maine coast...so make sure if you purchase such a guide it is a recent edition. If you've never camped under the stars with your kayak, however, you are missing the greatest bliss of the sport. Hiring a tour guide is indeed an option for the timid beginner, but doing your research to make sure the guide and operation are competent is no substitute for personal preparation.

TopKayaker.net’s Index of Kayak Camping & Touring Articles

Touring Kayaks:

Five kayaks

Packing it all in:

Lots of stuff

Packing it in

ready to launch

Camping 101


Trip Planning & Navigation



kayak lightskayak lights

night paddling

Fall paddling

TopKayaker.net has pulled together a comprehensive index of articles to help you make expedition kayaking a part of your paddling experience no matter how you choose to approach it. Don’t get too overwhelmed at the extensive library here. Also, if you are one of those extreme adventurers with a high-tech, or low-tech sit-in, don't turn away. The articles at TopKayaker.net have proven valuable over the years to all levels of kayaking expertise and we do welcome your input. For the beginner expedition kayaker, however, let us break it down a little.

Choose Your Touring Kayak

Regardless of whether you camp or not, a proper kayak will be needed for your expedition. Our choice, for safety and practicality, is the sit-on-top touring kayak. Ease of recovery after an upset, more options for landing and launch sites and paddler comfort are key. The challenge is finding the right sit-on-top design to suite your trip needs.

Back in the late 80’s early 90's when the popularity of sit-on-top kayaks started a swell in Hawaii that eventually reached across to the Eastern coast of the U.S. it was not so because they offered a great tan, surf, fishing or dive opportunities. When the two-hatch Ocean Kayak Scuppers and two hatch Aquaterra Prisms were introduced to the islands the excitement they inspired was all about expedition kayaking! It was there they won their merits as true sea kayaks, replacing Audrey Sutherland's beloved inflatables.

Touring the coastlines by kayak for days at a time, putting in over reefs and rocks that bar even the smallest motor watercraft, continues to lure the most active kayakers in the islands. Since then surfing, diving and fishing have made good use of sit-on-tops, but touring and camping remain the most inspiring aspect of the sport for the local kayak club now bursting with members. Weekly day trip adventures on the high seas, as well as annual coastline expeditions taking a week to several days are common on the club calendar.

The two hatch kayak allowed for everything to be under deck except the paddler, essential to protecting your supplies and keeping a low center of gravity in the event of an upset. Unfortunately, the modern sit-on-top models, designed by manufacturers seeking to please the resort market, have lost this valuable two-hatch design feature. Most common brands today come with a tank well instead of a stern hatch and hull shapes that choose stability over paddling efficiency; but don’t let that discourage you. Some of the best sit-on-top touring kayaks ever made are available used and many smaller manufacturers are producing some exciting designs. Even the modern tankwell models have found their place in expedition kayaking; however, do note this CAUTION: one problem with using a tankwell kayak for camping is the inclination to put a heavy load in the bow hatch. This can cause a dangerous upset of the kayak's balance and performance, especially when dealing with the dynamics of an ocean environment. See below for packing tips.

If going with a guide, more and more outfitters are turning to sit-on-tops for touring, but always find out firsthand and specifically what type of kayak they use. You may need to take a lesson in a sit-inside if that is what the group is using and it never hurts to add to your paddling skills, so go for it. If you bring your own kayak, make sure it matches the performance level of the rest of the group: similar length and type. See "Choosing A Sit-on-top Kayak" in our Buyer Guides section. Another great article from our Safety section for mixed fleets is: "Kayak Rescue Procedures In Mixed Fleets"

Play around with our Interactive Database Of Sit-on-top Kayaks, then check your local kayak outfitter for demo days. If it is a discontinued model you are after, go on Craigslist.org in hopes of finding it.

Packing Your Sit-on-top Kayak

Basically, everything you take goes in a dry bag, then into the kayak, distributed evenly to maintain the kayak's design integrity. Take a look at our article: Packing Your Sit-on-top Kayak For Camping & Touring. There is no better instruction on the protocols required to get everything in, and properly balanced. Examples of packing a kayak with a tank-well and two-hatch models are illustrated. Our Touring Index also includes links to articles in our Customization Articles Index that show you how to install extra hatches or deck-rigging on your boat.

Dress For The Water

Whether you paddle a sit-on or sit-in kayak, dressing for the water temperature is very challenging and important. Fortunately, there are advances in fabric manufacturing and clothing design that make this easier than ever before. Do not plan you expedition without studying TopKayaker.net's: Watersports Clothing: A BUYER'S GUIDE FOR KAYAKERS - The #1 most popular article on the subject on the web.

Camping 101

A tent, a sleeping bag, some food and you are good to go…right? Well, maybe, and it depends on how long you will be gone, how much cooking you want to do, or not, and whether there are restaurant and grocery shopping options along the way as well as fresh water sources. There are some wilderness rules about how to dispose of your trash or how many paddlers you can have in a group depending on the location that you will need to be aware of. These articles and others point you in the right direction to get the most out of your in camp experience:

Trip Planning & Navigation

Lake or ocean, seamanship skills are a very valuable asset and enhance the enjoyment of any kayak outing. We use both charts and U.S.G.S topographical maps to get the best over-all view of the area. Modern GPS units are an interesting option but some common sense navigation skills should be in place before you launch. Our Touring Articles Index section includes:

Signal Devices & Safety

Don’t be overwhelmed by the number of articles found in our Safety Articles Index. Ideally you will plan your expedition well in advance. Using these articles as a base and dialoguing with fellow paddlers over the weeks will help build confidence and excitement. Make sure you have a float plan written down. Leave this information with someone who cares about where you are going and when you should return.

You can go as complicated or as simple as you like with signal devices, depending on the conditions you plan to travel in. Do not underestimate, however, the dynamic environments that water, wind, tides, currents & unpredictable aspects of nature can present. A signal mirror and a whistle are the minimum you should carry and should be attached to each PFD or lifejacket. Lights should always be onboard. A delay can have you paddling in the dusk in the shadow of a cliff with low visibility while trying to locate a campsite on a waterway with other boat traffic and being seen is vital to being safe in such a situation. We once had a close encounter with a float plane while crossing a wilderness lake at dusk. Carrying a weather radio and having a phone that will actually work in the area of your expedition is worth the research.

Here are just a few topics covered in our Safety Articles Index:

Kayak Customizations For The Disabled

Are you disabled? Take a look at at some modifications you can do to your kayak to accomodate a disability: Kayaker's Guide To Avoiding Injury & Paddling With Disabilities, Sports Injuries & Joint Pain and Outfitting A Kayak For Paddlers With A Disability from our Customization Section.


If you need a little more encouragement or are just resigned to be an armchair adventurer TopKayaker.net can accommodate. We maintain a Destinations Articles Index where you can read about other kayakers enjoying their own expedition kayaking experiences. Here are just a few:

The Forum

Tom on Thief IslandThe articles in our Touring section are designed to make Expedition Kayaking available to everyone. Take your time planning your adventure and let the information here sink in. TopKayaker.net's Forum is also here to lend a hand. Many seasoned sit-on-top kayak expedition paddlers have contributed to the immense topic base at the Topkayaker.net Forums since its beginnings in 1999 to its final days in 2014-15. We ran for over 14 years and it is still busy with kayakers searching these helpful archives.

We hope this overview of the TopKayaker.net Index To Articles on Touring & Camping With Your Kayak will help and inspire you to become part of our community of Expedition kayakers. Remember, "Not all who wander are lost." J.R.R. Tolkien.

See you on the water.

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