You’ve got your gear selected, your boat packed, and you’re on the water. After a great day on your favorite waterway, it’s time to find a camp and relax. This is fairly intuitive, however depending on where you’re at there may be some rules and regulations to follow.
Setting up camp
A lot of national parks have camping regulations regarding human waste and water use. Make sure you’re up to date on these and know everything you can and cannot do before you put on so you don’t have a negative impact on the environment.
The main thing to look for is enough flat space for your group, freshwater source (which is usually easy depending on the cleanliness of the river), firewood (if you’re permitted to burn fires), and a good view. Be sure you’re above the natural ebb and flow of the water so you don’t get wet and your gear doesn’t wash away. This all seems pretty straight forward, but you’d be amazed at how many experienced kayakers have been caught off guard by a rising river at night only to find their boat and gear gone in the morning.
Make sure your boats are away from the river.
Once you have your camp site selected it’s time to get set up. The main component to your survival, or lack thereof is a shelter. In some places, it’s fine to sleep under the stars, but in the words of an ancient Chinese sage, Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst. On the Grand Canyon trip, Will Lyons managed to forget his sleeping pad at the put-in, but luckily was able to find a substitute a third of the way down the river.
Luxury comes at a price.
Shelters are an often debated topic and in the end it’s up to you what you are comfortable sleeping in. Your options are tent, tarp, or bivy. Each have their pros and cons, so let’s discuss this momentarily. Obviously, tents are the most robust shelter option. If it looks like there’s a good chance you’ll be experiencing bad weather or are camping in a cold environment, this is probably the way to go. Tents have gotten light and compact as technology has progressed, some even boasting inflatable poles, making packing them in your boat less of a hassle. They are easy to set up, and often it’s best to split the tent pieces up between various members of the group. However, they’re heavier than the other two options, and poles can be a hassle to deal with in the boat. If one breaks, your structure is compromised.
Tom Sherbourn getting all "tenty."
Tarps are simple, light, and also highly effective. Entire books have been devoted to living under a tarp, and this is generally the preferred method for the light and fast crowd. If set up correctly, they can protect you from the nastiest of weather, but they require more time, thought, and effort to get to that point. Campsite selection is more important as well, as you’ll need to think about tiedowns and supports for your tarp. Paddles, either full or breakdown, can make excellent tarp supports, coupled with a few heavy boulders so this isn’t always a problem. Tarps also pack easily and are light so they are great for trips in smaller boats.
Boyce "Tarp Master" Greer's setup. Notice the nice paddle A-Frame.
Finally, bivies are somewhat in between tents and tarps. Bivies are small, one person shelters which are basically designed to hold one occupant in their sleeping bag. There’s no room to store gear, and if you are at all claustrophobic, this is not a good option. However, they are extremely light and compact and, like a tarp, are great for short trips in small boats where size and weight are more of an issue. There are several types of bivies as well, some use no poles, some have poles, and some have inflatable poles. In the end, it’s best to try out your options if you can at a local retailer, and see what will work best for you. In the end, they’ll all provide the shelter you need if you need it.
Jameson's sold separately .
Once you have your shelter set, go ahead and get settled in to your beautiful, new, expansive outdoor home. Other than that, make sure you have your water set and the next thing we like to do is get the kitchen going. Kitchens can take all forms, but they involve two things, fire and a cooking service. It’s up to you to decide how you’re going to get that done. Canister stoves are popular on because of their compact size and light weight. Open fire cooking can be a good activity as well, but make sure you comply with local rules and regulations depending on where you are. Some places ban fires completely, while others allow them with the use of a firepan. If you have the room for it, it’s always good to use a firepan to minimize your impact on the environment. Turkey roasting pans work great, or for the more industrious you can come up with your own.
Boyce's ingenious firepan. Notice the Kloberdanz'z getting all Hell's Kitchen in the background.
When you’re ready to move on, make sure you leave as little of an impact on your campsite as possible. Even if you arrived to a dirty campsite, try to take the time to spruce the place up a little, and if you have the room, cart out some trash. This helps keep everyone’s experience more pleasant, and while someone may not have had the respect to do it for you, you could help enrich the next person’s trip, as well as help protect the area from degradation. Feel free to post your thoughts and stories in the comments here with some of your own personal experiences.
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