If you already have the gear you need for an overnight campout you are 90% on the way to your first adventure. Start by using what you have, pick a short and safe flatwater route (7-15 miles) on a lake or calm river nearby and borrow or rent a kayak. You'll learn everything else as you go knowing you are never far from a bailout.
The best kayak to use is the one you already have or can borrow from a friend or relative. Add a few dry bags to your kit and you'll be almost ready to paddle. Our primary focus is on 'Sea' or 'Touring' kayaks but kayakpacking doesn't necessarily rely on boats with dry storage bulkheads. Additionally you can search your local or regional craigslist for used kayaks, personal flotation devices (PFD's) and paddles.
No matter the type of water your adventure finds your best bet for any multi-day kayakpacking adventure is a kayak that will be comfortable to sit in, easy to steer, and has ample room for your gear to be reasonably dry and secured. Sea or touring kayaks are built for this purpose. They have a seat that you can be comfortable in for long periods of time, storage bulkheads that remain mostly dry and keep your gear secure and most have either a rudder that is controlled with your feet or a retractable skeg that aids in keeping the craft true and stable.
Other features to look for are a craft with a long length (typically 13'-16') and a beam that is not more than 24" both of which make sea kayaks easier to paddle long distances.
Other things you'll want to consider when setting up your kayakpacking kit:
Somewhere some lobby somewhere decided that the term 'life vest' was just too inadequate or potentially litigious to fully embody its function or protect itself from financial ruin. We expect the later. Enter 'Personal Flotation Device' or 'PFD'. By whatever term you use this is not something in which to overlook but you need not spend a small fortune on either, plus there are many products that feature storage pockets that keep essentail gear like bug spray, navigational aids and snacks within reach as you paddle throughout your journey.
Just assume that everything that you pack – food, cooking gear, shelter and clothing – is going to get wet. Its one of the undeniable truths of outdoor adventures and even more so true of kayakpacking. Fear not, this is something we can manage through waterproof 'drybags', ziplock bags and tupperware. We'll help you decide between what absolutely need to keep dry and those items in your kit that can go without any extreme protection measures.
'Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink' bemoaned the Ancient Mariner. Unfortunately, this may not only be true of salt water routes as many fresh water routes may have unfilterable water due to agChemical and other environmental runoff. Fear not. Filter if you can but thankfully there are many options for hauling along what you need ranging from stainless steel bottles to multi-litre bladders.
There is a wide variety of accessories specific to kayakpacking that will help you be both more efficient in your storage and comfortable in the cockpit. If your kayak lacks specific storage bulkheads there are deckbags that can strap to the bow and stern to expand your touring capacity. Map cases come in many shapes and sizes and help to keep them dry and close at hand. And not to mention cupholders that can keep one of the most important items – coffee – close during your morning paddle.
Kayakpacking shares a lot with its backpacking cousins when it comes to gear. Most certainly the lighter the better holds true when it comes to efficiently packing out your kayak, but its somewhat less important than if you had the same items strapped to your back or bike. Sure, a lighter kit is easier to handle in upper class rapids or on the occasional portage (when you have to drag or carry your craft overland) but there is no need to take out a loan to get everything before your first adventure. Start out with what you already own or can borrow and then update your gear as you gain more experience.
Our budget camping and gear recommendations: