By Johnie Gall
“We never would have done this if we didn’t bring the boats.”
That’s become something of a catchphrase for me. It’s not very catchy, but it is very true: Making the effort to bring my Oru kayaks along when I travel has truly changed the way I experience new places. Instead of gazing from shorelines and wondering what’s out there, I can go see for myself. I can escape the crowds and find solitude, even during the busy season. I can spend a day skinny dipping in and paddling around on some of the most iconic lakes on Earth—and I usually have the whole place to myself.
Now for the flipside: Traveling with an Oru kayak can be a little stressful. It’s a large piece of luggage to manage and —like surfboards and skis — you run the risk of having your gear damaged or stolen. On my last trip, a luggage counter attendant decided to charge us an oversized baggage fee, which doubled the price of our airlines tickets instantly. That one hurt.
Here, the tips I’ve learned from toting my Oru kayak to California, Hawaii, Texas, Florida, and —as seen here—Jackson, Wyoming. Hopefully what I’ve gleaned from my mistakes can save you some time and frustration.
While the Oru kayak comes with a carrying strap, if you’re hiking long distances to more remote waterways or planning on checking your bag on a plane, you’ll want to invest in the Oru Pack. It’s a heavy-duty nylon pack with a shoulder-and-hip-strap system, which evenly distributes weight and is more comfortable to carry. It also has handles on the top and side of the backpack, and compression straps on the outside so you can attach additional gear like dry bags and PFDs. If you plan on checking your boat on a plane, you’ll need the backpack.
- If you fly a lot, you know the drill: Sometimes your luggage doesn’t show up when you do. Write your name and telephone number somewhere on your boat and right onto the backpack. That’ll make it easier for someone to get the boat back to you in a worst-case-scenario situation.
- Airport shuttles. They suck. They suck even more with a giant backpack. Not going to sugarcoat that one, just know it’s worth it. Bring a few bucks in cash so you can tip your driver, who can help you load and unload your Oru Pack from the shuttle.
- Before you get to the checked luggage counter, tighten up all loose straps on the backpack and tie ends together, tucking them into the bag where possible. This will prevent straps from getting snagged on luggage belts or carts.
- Your Oru kayak counts as your first piece of checked luggage, which typically costs $25 — if you don’t want to check another bag, the rest of your gear will need to fit into your carry-on items. In my experience, most airlines don’t charge an over-sized luggage fee for the kayak. I’ve checked my Oru kayak on American, Southwest and United with no problem. However, a Delta luggage counter attendant recently charged us $200 per bag because it was a few linear inches over their limit. So, it’s a gamble, but if you’re nervous, call your airline ahead of time and see if you can negotiate. I prefer the “show up and hope for the best” approach (also my philosophy on life in general). Having an Oru Pack helps your boat pass as regular luggage — another reason I suggest investing in one.
Bring your PFD. While the rules about wearing life jackets vary place to place, safety is just sexy, and it’s better to be prepared. The PFD will take up most of your carry-on bag, so place it inside an empty section of your boat’s folds instead. It doubles as a pillow and a dry place to sit in a pinch, too.
On that note…even with your kayak and paddle, you’ve got a good 10-15 pounds’ worth of space left in the Oru Pack, so utilize it. Stuff shoes, dry bags, spray skirts, extra clothing layers, and other non-valuables in the nooks and crannies of your boat and pack.
- Depending on what kind of car you rent at your final destination, you should be set for one or two boats. If you’re worried about space or have a lot of luggage, it’s a good idea to look for a mid-sized vehicle or larger. You could also bring tie-downs and bungee cords and strap your boats to the roof, but then you’ll need to consider theft.
- Even if you’re headed for warmer waters, I’d suggest bringing a spray skirt (for compatible boats) or waterproof layers. When winds pick up or storms roll in and temperatures drop, you’ll be glad you brought something to stay dry in. I’m also perpetually cold, so take this one with a grain of salt.
- Sandals. This isn’t the Oregon Trail, and you’re not carrying around a spare axel and ten boxes of bullets (and if you are, can I join you? Sounds cool). There’s room for some sandals, and they’ll come in handy if you need to wade into the water to launch your boat.
- Wash your boat off before leaving home—it will help prevent the unwanted spread of invasive aquatic species (little clingers hoping you’ll move them from your hometown to a new vacation home). If time allows, rinse your boat off and let it dry completely before putting it back in the backpack—one less thing to do when you get home from your trip. It’s the greatest gift you can give yourself.
Besides an Oru Kayak.