Sit on Top Kayak Camping 101 | Packing Your Sit On Top

Wanna try kayak camping but all you’ve got is your trusty ole’ sit on top? No worries. Sit on top kayak camping is possible! 

Kayak camping trips in touring or sit-in kayaks are the norm. But with some careful packing and a couple of dry bags, you can go camping in your sit on top kayak too!

In this 5 minute read, let’s have a quick look at the pros and cons of sit on top kayak camping, how to pack your sit on top kayak with camping gear, and a few solid choices if you’re planning on buying a new one. 

Oh… and don’t miss my other kayak camping articles!

Can You Go Kayak Camping With a Sit On Top Kayak?

The good news is…YES! (Usually)

Although sit on top kayaks are usually associated with just short day trips or riding some ocean waves, many also work well for kayak camping. In fact, some might even prefer sit-on-tops for camping. Just make sure your kayak has places to strap down your camping gear (not like in the picture below!)

So what are the pros and cons of using a sit on top kayak for your next overnight kayaking excursion?

Advantages of Sit On Top Kayaks for Camping

Sit-on-tops tend to be a little easier on beginners. Getting in and out isn’t as hard and you don’t feel as claustrophobic. Plus, if you do happen to flip it (like that’s ever gonna happen, right?!) it’s not so difficult to get back in while on the open water. Getting back on will NOT be a pretty sight though! LOL!

Just make sure your sit-on-top kayak has enough space to store your gear. If it’s got some waterproof compartments, even better!

Disadvantages of Sit On Top Kayaks for Camping

Sit on top kayaks aren’t the best for camping trips in cooler weather. You’re not as protected from the elements and it’s easier to get wet.

What About Sit On Top Fishing Kayaks for Camping Trips?

Sit on top fishing kayaks can work for kayak camping, especially if you’re not planning on covering a lot of ground. They’re usually a little wider to give you some added stability while casting or even standing. However, that extra width increases the drag and makes it a little harder to paddle. 

They do have some advantages! A lot also have extra gear space which comes in handy for packing your camping gear. Most also come with seats that are height-adjustable so you can sit higher when casting. 

Some of the kayaks I mention later on are sit on top fishing kayaks. 

sit on top fishing kayaks as option for kayak camping

So yes! You can go kayak camping with a sit on top kayak. 

Now…how should you pack it with all your camping gear. Here’s how.

How to Pack a Sit On Top Kayak for Camping

These are the basic principles for packing a sit on top kayak for camping.

  • Take only what’s necessary. (Sorry 😥, your king-size air mattress stays at home! 😜)
  • Make sure it’s well balanced—both side to side and front to back.
  • Make sure gear that needs to stay dry will stay dry…no matter what.
  • Keep stuff organized and accessible.

*My kayak camping checklist is a HUGE help while packing your sit-on-top! Get it here.

Ok, now we’re ready to start packing!

Pack What’s Light & Pack What’s Necessary

packing light for kayak camping

Heavy kayaks are harder to handle, harder to paddle, and many times…easier to flip. You might not notice it in the first few minutes of paddling, but after a few miles, you’ll be wishing you hadn’t brought your dutch oven and a keg of beer.

So while packing…

Plan Well: Use my downloadable checklist. You might be able to carry more on your kayak than in a backpack, but still…pack like you would for a backpacking trip. 

That means…

*Learn more about what to pack in your Kayaking Camp Kitchen.

PRO TIP! – Pack as a Group 

If you’re kayak camping with a group, plan what you’re gonna pack together. Look for things you can share – cook set, water filter, tent, etc. (If you’re going in a group of five, you probably don’t all need to bring 4-person tents.)

So now…where are you gonna put all this on your sit on top kayak?

Packing Your Sit On Top Kayak So It’s Balanced

It’s not too difficult to do. Just remember

  1. Try to keep heavy gear low and towards the center. It can be hard with sit-on-tops, but do the best you can.
  2. Make sure the weight is balanced front to back (bow to stern) and side to side. 

This will help your sit on top keep a low center of gravity (good for not capsizing). And if the heavy stuff is towards the center, your kayak will be easier to turn. 

Balancing the weight correctly between the bow and stern will keep your sit on top kayak in trim (referring to the kayak’s tilt front to back). 

This may take some trial and error the first time you do it. Pack up your kayak and, before you paddle off into the sunset, take a seat in it and check out its trim to see if you need to rearrange anything. 

For you visual learners, here’s a diagram to help you remember. 

visual diagram for packing sit on top kayak

Keep Your Gear Dry 

What happens if your kayak overturns and everything ends up in the river? Or you get involved in a serious splashing battle with some of your buddies? How can you prevent everything from getting soaked?

Two things you should use:

  • Hatches (if you got ‘em)
  • Dry Bags

Some sit on top kayaks have one or two enclosed storage areas. Some have one between your legs that comes in handy for your phone, sunblock, snacks, etc. Others have a larger bow hatch where you can store items like a sleeping bag, clothing, cooking utensils or other gear you won’t need to access while paddling.

With sit on top kayaks, most of your gear will probably be strapped in open storage areas. In this case, dry bags are your friend! The waterproof materials and special closures will keep stuff dry, like your sleeping bag, pillow, change of clothes, toiletries, food, etc. 

Earth Pak Waterproof Dry Bag

Eark Pak Waterproof Duffel Bag

Yeti Waterproof and Submersible Bags

dry back for kayak camping

And to keep your phone, papers, and ID dry, don’t forget a waterproof phone pouch like this one.

PRO TIP! – Pack the fabric part of your tent in a dry bag separate from the poles. That way the tent will stay dry or you don’t have to fit the tent poles in a dry bag.

Even if you’ve got stuff in a dry bag, it’s better to be safe than sorry. It can never hurt to add an extra layer of protection, even if it’s just wrapping your clothes in a plastic bag before putting them in the dry bag..

So you’ve figured out what to pack, roughly where to put it on your sit on top, and how to keep it dry. Now…how do you keep your camping gear organized?

Pack Your Sit-On-Top So It’s Organized 

Are you the kind of person who loses their glasses while they’re on your head? Then don’t skip this part. 

Your kayak camping gear isn’t all packed in one bag (like when you’re backpacking). It’s spread across a variety of bags and hatches. That means it’s even easier to forget where you packed stuff.

“Where did I put the toilet paper again?” 🤔

So as you pack, think about when you’ll need each piece of gear. 

Your sleeping bag is one of the last things you’ll need. That means you can pack it deep in a waterproof compartment if needed. What about snacks, water, navigation gear, an emergency paddle, or even a first-aid kit? You may need to get to those while you’re out paddling. That’s why they should always be handy. 

You don’t want to flip your kayak trying to reach behind you for a granola bar when you get the munchies in the middle of the lake 😜.

So as you’re packing each piece of gear, stop and think… When will I need this and how will I get to it when I need it?

PRO TIP! – Get different colored dry bags so you can color code what you pack in each. Brown for toiletries, blue for change of clothes and camp pillow, red for emergencies, etc. 

So are you planning on buying a sit on top kayak you can use for kayak camping trips? Here are a few options. 

4 Sit On Top Kayaks for Kayak Camping

Here are a few sit on top kayaks with extra storage space for camping gear. 

Perception Pescador Pro 12

Perception Pescador Pro 12 sit on top kayak camping


  • 375-pound weight capacity
  • Comes with a replaceable skid plate. Useful for portaging when you have to drag your kayak on the ground
  • Lawn chair style seat
  • Large storage areas for plenty of camping gear


  • Extra width isn’t the best for high mileage trips
  • No large waterproof hatches 

Perception Tribe 11.5 | Sit on Top Kayak | Recreational Kayak

Perception Tribe 11.5 | Sit on Top Kayak | Recreational Kayak for camping


  • Better than the Pescador Pro 12 for longer trips
  • Large gear storage areas
  • Built in adjustable seat back
  • Small center hatch storage area for essentials you need to keep handy


  • No large waterproof hatches 

Ocean Kayak Prowler 13 Angler

Ocean Kayak Prowler 13 Angler


  • Fast and stable
  • Large bow hatch closed storage area
  • Large rear storage area


  • Small center hatch for essentials isn’t 100% waterproof so make sure whatever’s in there has extra protection

Pelican Sit-on-Top Kayak – Sentinel 100X – 9.5 Feet

 Pelican Sit-on-Top Kayak - Sentinel 100X - 9.5 Feet for camping


  • Short length makes it easy to store
  • Seat has nice padding
  • Stable and easy to handle for beginners


  • Not as much space for gear as other options

Bonus Tips for Packing Your Sit On Top Kayak

  • Don’t pack all your essentials into one bag. For example, if you’re packing two changes of clothes, divide them up into two different bags. That way, if water ends up getting in one bag, at least you’ll still have one set of dry clothes. You get the idea!
  • Get to know your kayak. Before you ever get to the water, practice packing your kayak with your gear. You might find that the tent you were planning on putting in the waterproof hatch actually doesn’t fit through the opening. 😲 
  • Don’t assume the waterproof hatches are actually waterproof. Water has a funny way of getting places it shouldn’t be. Try closing up the hatches and spraying them with the garden hose. Are they still dry? 
  • If in doubt, add an extra bungee cord. 
  • Download my free Kayak Camping CHECKLIST.

Ready For Your Sit On Top Kayak Camping Trip?

So YES! You can go kayak camping with a sit on top kayak. Just remember to…

  • Choose a sit on top kayak with extra space and tie downs for strapping on your gear.
  • Only pack what’s necessary.
  • Keep everything balanced and organized.
  • Make sure everything stays dry.

When you get back from your kayaking trip, don’t forget to DM me on Instagram and tell me how it went!

Don’t miss my other kayak camping articles!

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