Arizona has endless miles of shoreline that is often overlooked for camping because most lake dwellers congregate at the main entry points camping in developed areas. Because solace and adventure are what I seek, I prefer to go a step further and find a more secluded spot. I’ve now kayak camped at Saguaro, Apache, Canyon, Roosevelt, and Bartlett Lakes within Tonto National Forest. Without a doubt space is limited on a kayak and you must plan accordingly. It’s an undertaking the first time, but each time gets easier as you learn your wants versus needs, and don't forget to take a moment and enjoy the view along the way!
AWAY FROM THE CROWDS
When you’re self-propelled the entire lake is not accessible so first you start at the main entry points and look for spots nearby where shoreline camping is possible. Washes that flow into the lake typically have sandy beaches and are great places to camp. I scout with Google Earth and while I’m out fishing, I look for flat places I can place my one-man tent in a pinch. I don’t need much space - just enough for my tiny tent and a safe place to keep the kayak overnight. At many lakes all it takes is a half-mile to mile paddle and you have your very own shoreline to camp and fish.
Kayak camping is a great way to explore Arizona and see new sights. Kayak camping allows me to fish as long as I want during the day without having to return to the boat ramp at night. I can fish until last light as long as I’ve found a spot for my tent. I often close the day throwing top water from shore to soak up every second of light, which can be quite productive because this is when the bats come out. I honestly can't think of a better way to end a day on the water than watching fish attack a top water lure with an amazing Arizona sunset in the background. Beautiful!
LIGHTWEIGHT BACKPACKING EQUIPMENT
Packing light is the key for a kayak camping and fishing adventure, and this is where small lightweight backpacking equipment comes into play. The smaller it packs, the better it is with the limited space on a kayak. Once upon a time, I slept on the ground until I received a spider bite in a place I'd rather not mention that almost took me to the hospital. I learned my lesson about critters that crawl at night and now use a one-man tent to avoid rattlesnakes, scorpions, and spiders! A good night’s sleep is important to me, which shows in my equipment. One thing I really like about my tent is it’s easy to pack and has a screened top. I love sleeping under the stars and prefer this tiny space ventilated and I can easily roll down the cover if it rains or is cold. The Eureka tent also performs very well in strong winds. My kayak camping kitchen is small and I only bring the bare necessities, but coffee is a need for me! Again, the key is to pack light and bring only what you must have.
DO NOT OVERLOAD YOUR KAYAK
Think about wants versus needs and go with the needs. I can't say this enough. Bare necessities only are required on these adventures and it is VERY important not to overload your kayak! I wish I’d taken pictures of some of the escapades I’ve seen on the lakes with overloaded kayaks. If your load isn’t properly balanced, tipping becomes a concern so you need to be sure the weight is evenly distributed and secure. I highly recommend packing your kayak at home to see how everything fits and take it for a ride in a pool to test the stability with the added weight, but remember there will be boat wakes at the lake and boat wakes tip overloaded kayaks. Again, make sure you tie everything down and that the load is secure and doesn’t shift. If you have too much stuff at home, you will definitely have too much stuff at the lake so this is where you need to make cuts and go with your needs. One final step after your kayak is loaded at the lake is to get on your kayak and paddle it around. Be sure the load is level and you're not tipping to one side. Make sure you are comfortable and not overly tippy because it will only get tippier as the adventure continues. Now is your final opportunity to cut weight to ensure a safe kayak camping trip with no tipping involved and wear your PFD! Life jackets save lives and that is a fact.
My cell phone doesn’t always work where I journey so I pay attention on the way in and when I’m scouting for the nearest places I do have cell service in case there’s an emergency. Satellite phones are great if you have one. One thing I highly recommend carrying with you is a small roll of duct tape, (Gorilla tape works the best), superglue, and rope. These items can fix almost anything in a pinch and my superglue was used on a recent kayak camping trip to repair a hole in my buddy’s kayak. A first aid kit is a must for every adventure and it’s also a good idea to be first aid/CPR certified because YOU become the first responder when off grid and an emergency happens.
NEEDS VERSUS WANTS
Kayak camping is challenging and not for everyone. You have to be a minimalist or it won’t work. One of my buddies is having a hard time letting the wants go and continues to overload his kayak. You must think like you’re backpack camping, but the kayak is carrying the backpack for you. If it fits on your back, it can fit on or in your kayak, but be sure to keep your kayak's weight limit in mind. Small, lightweight, and easily packable items are essential.
You must pick and choose only the most important items to take along on the adventure. Each person’s must-have list is different, but a list of items I took on my last one-night trip is below. I’ve been kayak camping for a few years now and have dozens of nights under my belt. I’ve learned over the years that what I need and what I want are two different things. I don’t even bring a hairbrush because I consider it a want – not a need, but that’s me. I can use my fingers to comb my hair if needed and I’d rather pack more fishing lures instead of a brush. My list looks long, but all of my camping items fit into two dry bags and/or inside my hull. Each time you kayak camp, you will adjust your list until it fits your style, but my list is a place to start.
REWARDS FOR GOING THE EXTRA MILE
I seem to go a little farther than the next person in my kayak fishing adventures and the rewards are great! On my last kayak camping trip to Roosevelt Lake I spent 24 hours on the lake during the week. I only saw a half dozen boats and 2 jet skiers the entire time I was there. I never crossed paths with another angler with a line in the water. Seriously, I had the lake and all those fish to myself. I paddled farther than I had in the past at this lake and learned new shoreline. I saw a mule deer and Bald Eagle while fishing, which is reward enough for me!
After a rough night with high winds, I crawled out of my tent at 5 am and into my kayak to hit my newly found honey hole I’d left the night before. I caught my first bass within 10 minutes and after about an hour I was heading back to pack up my tent when I threw toward my tent on the way in. I was thrilled when my rod bent and I landed this kayaking pulling large mouth bass on an ATKO Fishing crankbait! I caught more than a dozen bass, but this big one was icing on the cake! I went the extra mile (literally) and was rewarded greatly for my efforts. I love camping, fishing, and kayaking so kayak camping is the perfect fit for me!
I'm a licensed, insured, and permitted Arizona Fishing Guide who specializes in kayak bass fishing. If you’re interested in a guided kayak fishing trip, click here to contact me for more information. Click here for reviews from my clients and here to learn more about my guided kayak bass fishing tours. Thank you.
Paddle (orange means more visibility)- Carlisle Magic Plus Kayak Paddle
Fishing tackle - ATKO Fishing & LureMaker Custom Baits (website coming soon)
Life jacket (orange means more visibility) - Stohlquist Flo Women's PFD
Cooler/ice (frozen water bottles)
Sleeping bag - Mine is Ozark Trail and no longer sold, but similar to this one.
Sleeping pad - Klymit
Pillow - very soft and stuffable. Mine is a queen that packs down into almost nothing.
One-man tent - Eureka Solitaire Solo Tent
One-burner propane stove - Coleman 1 burner stove
Kitchen mesh kit
First aid kit
One set of extra clothes
Phone & Camera
Portable phone charger - PocketJuice Endurance
Small dry bag for cell phone - Ozark Trail
Small umbrella (you can also find these at Goodwill for a few dollars)
Small Backpackers tarp - Outdoor Products (currently out of stock, but this is what I have)
2 black garbage bags (can be used to cover equipment, as a poncho/dry bag, or for garbage)
15-20 feet of para-cord