By Greg Balkin
Up until rendezvousing with a group of friends outside of Big Bend National Park one fine fall afternoon, I'd never spent more than a few hours kayaking. Our objective was three days on the river, paddling the Rio Grande and splitting hairs between Texas and Mexico. I've had a lot more experience in overnighters on the trail and to my surprise, my experience on the river wasn't much different.
Gearing up for the trip -
Luckily as you head out on the river for your first overnight trip, you won’t have the burden of carrying all that weight on your back (i.e. backpacking). One piece of gear that will be soon become your best friend is a dry bag. Eh, many dry bags. You'll want to keep your tent, sleeping bags, electronics, and a change of clothes in them. Anything that shouldn’t get wet, throw it in there. I've used a 20L compression sack for my bag, then a 20L dry bag for clothes and tent. If you're with a group and have a lot of food, it may be a good idea to snag a few extra 20-30L bags for group items.
One of my favorite things about overnight trips in kayaks - cooking meals. We've brought a jetboil double burner stone and whipped up some gnarly meals out on the river. Fresh veggies, pasta, pesto, mac n cheese from scratch. It's the best. Bonus if you use chocolate pudding mix instead of powdered milk in the morning.
Since we were paddling on some muddy chocolate milk water in Santa Elena Canyon, we wanted to have all the water we'd need while on the river. You'll want a filter as backup but even ours got clogged within the first use. You should be in a good spot if you can fit a gallon or two into each boat.
Here’s a sample packing list for our trip -
- Sleeping pad (optional river raft)
- Sleeping bag
- Compression dry bag
- Thin long sleeve (protection from the sun)
- Wet clothes for paddling
- Dry clothes for camp
- Hat and sunscreen
- Beer/canned wine
- Gallon jugs of water
- Filter and way to clean it
- 20L + 30L Dry bags
- Jetboil or stove
- Food and snacks
- Small pelican case for camera
- Float Bags for bow and stern
- Life Jacket (PFD)
- Spray Skirt
- Extra paddle
- Optional costume
Packing your boat -
As you start to assemble your Oru, you'll notice that the compartments to fit dry bags are fairly narrow. It's important to pack bags so they're tall and skinny rather than compressing them down into fatter pancakes. I've had to repack a few times because the boats wouldn't close properly. Starting from behind the seat, you'll want to store the heavier and larger dry bags (tent/sleeping bag/clothes). The bulkheads do a nice job of assisting with organization here since they divide the boat up into a few packable areas. In the second compartment, I’ll normally keep food and a gallon of water. Before sealing your boat up, make sure to include the float bags in the smallest compartment. More water can be stored at the bow although there is significantly less room.
If you're with a small group of people, this is where it helps to split things up - one person take the tent, the other takes cooking stuff, etc. Since I've got my camera on me most of the time, I've also got a small pelican case sitting on my lap under the skirt. It can also be helpful to keep a small dry bag with some clothes under your knees to make paddling more comfortable over a few days. Once your boat is sealed up, slide the extra paddle under the deck rigging on board and you should be good to go!
One important thing to note, and this may be the most important piece of the whole post - do not leave your tent poles in the tall grass like an idiot before paddling for three days. It will rain, you won't realize it until camp the first night, and you'll have to use a tripod and tiny bushes to guyline a poor excuse for a tent.
Camp life -
Once you've reached camp for the day or decide to take a lunch break, you'll need to pop open the seams of your boat to access everything. Eventually you'll get into a routine of having the most important things right behind your seat, but be careful of any loose items. If you flip for some reason, there's a chance your rain jacket could end up floating down river. At night, your boats should be virtually empty. You can tip them on their sides if you like so they don't collect rainwater, but I wouldn't say it's a must. Just make sure to pull them far enough off the water’s edge just in case the river height increases unexpectedly. Now you can fully enjoy the remoteness and down time of overnight paddling trips. Hike up side canyons, cook up some rad dinner, go for a swim, or take a deserving nap.