As I grew older, my passion for the outdoors grew rapidly. I realized very quickly I didn't like being so close to people when I'm trying to enjoy the great outdoors. It was always too loud, there were too many distractions, and overall just too cramped. So I moved past car camping, and headed to the mountains and rivers. xxxI was eighteen the first time I river camped. We paddled a few miles from our drop-in point; and found a large sandbar to call home for the night. This was an experiment in our rise to manhood a test, so to speak. We were going to be true river runners.
The problem with our trip was apparent from the beginning. Anytime you need to check weight capacity of your kayak or canoe for an overnighter, it's a good sign you're bringing too much stuff. We ate like kings from a big Coleman gas stove, complete with real plates and silverware. We had full-on reclining beach chairs under a large 10’x10’ canopy. The only things missing were little umbrellas in our drinks and a white picket fence. I thought to myself, "If this is river camping, we're going every weekend!"
We had one more like this, but it became tiresome. It seemed we spent more time loading and unloading than we did actually "camping" or fishing. From then on, I've been on a constant quest to figure out how to get the best out of my river camping experience. Like most everything we did back in those days before YouTube, trial-and-error was your guide. Here are a few things I learned from my personal experiences.
Watching your weight
I mean your packing weight of course. It seems obvious, but it's amazing how things start adding up the pounds. That can make your kayak more difficult to paddle, harder to handle, and can take a group effort just to pull your boat through some easy shallows. On short runs and overnighters it's not that important, but on multi-day trips or with low water levels, every pound matters - especially when portages are inevitable like they are down here in Texas.
There are many ways to do this; some expensive, some not. It all boils down to one's own comfort level and pocketbook. The easiest solution (and I know plenty of guys who do it) is simply doing without certain items considered luxuries. Unfortunately, my body doesn't allow me to do without certain things without leaving me a grumbling grouch by day two of the trip. It wasn't an issue in my 20s and 30s but now at...um, my age, it's more important for my overall demeanor to be able to relax and recuperate from a long day of paddling, pushing, pulling, dragging, and portaging.
One thing that really helped in lowering my overall pack weight was getting into a backpacker's frame of mind. It needs to be small, lightweight, easy to carry, and necessary. If I can take it up the side of a mountain on my back, it's going to work great in the kayak. Once again, it comes down to comfort and price. I never skimp on anything in the ten essentials survival list; that gets the utmost attention and care. But everything else can be worked with. There are comfy camp chairs that weigh less than two pounds but cost upwards of $100. Not having a chair weighs nothing, and you'll have more room for other gear. Do you have to have a two-man tent, or would a smaller, lighter one-man tent do the job? I prefer the two-man just for the extra room and went with a little higher priced one to get it in the weight I wanted.
Water is extremely heavy and bulky if you're packing it all, which I have done numerous times. Then I started bringing half the water and using iodine pills for the rest of the time. Now I pack very little water and use a water filtration system. It will cost $60-$100 and weighs less than a pound. It does the job, and frees up tons of weight for some of my luxury items.
If you have a little extra spending money, there are so many amazing products available that shave off pounds in any load. For me personally, using ultra-lightweight gear is how I was able to finally achieve my comfort level and not sink my kayak in the process.
- Plan and prep your food
- Have emergency plans for your emergency plans
- Pack Wisely
- Document and Photograph