Outfitting for Camp Cruising

By David Seidman
Small Boat Journal #73 July 1990

Selecting the right equiptment means more
comfort and safety for your boating adventures

Exploring on daytrips is fun, but eventually you will want to try an overnight stay. Camper cruising or small-boat camping will add an interesting new dimension to your use of any small powerboat, rowing craft, sailboat, canoe, or kayak. The amount of enjoyment you get depends on the equipment you choose. Clothing that won't keep you warm and dry and a tent that allows water or bugs in will make that first experience memorable in the worst way.

You need to think like a backpacker, getting the maximum use from a minimum of equipment. Consider every item. Don't continue bringing gear you don't use. If you are fairly ruthless with your decisions, you will have a light load. While the constraints of excessive weight don't affect the boater as much as the backpacker, thinking light is important because the extra load can affect how your craft handles. The gear should also pack into a small area, a critical factor in the cramped confines of some boats.

Clothing Choices

The best place to start looking at equipment is in a backpacking or canoe camping specialty shop. Specialty shops give choices in prices and weight and sell quality gear. They may also rent equipment.

You will be living in a wet environment, and your gear must deal effectively with moisture from internal and external sources. Proper clothing can make the difference. Wool and cotton are still useful, but there are limitations to their comfort. Wool holds 40 percent of its weight in water, and cotton 200 percent. If you have ever worn a rain-soaked sweater, you understand what that means. But there are some great new materials available designed to function in damp conditions, not absorb as much water, and release it easier.

Layering is a buzz word in the high fashion industry these days. But it has application to all outdoor sports. The technique allows you to regulate your temperature as you warm up or Good campsites are easy to find on Maine's Allagash Wilderness Waterway. cool down by taking off or adding a layer. Fast-drying nylon shorts and a cotton shirt are fine if the weather is good, but add some wind from a wet crossing or a little rain and your enjoyment will depend on how well you choose your outfit.

On an Allagash trip, canoes were sailed 60 miles
downriver in two days - without the need for paddling.

A layer of light, water transporting, stay-dry material keeps you feeling comfortable. Polypropylene, used to line disposable baby diapers, was the first miracle fabric designed to move water or sweat. Serious cross-country skiers found polypropylene long underwear perfect under racing suits because of its unique self-drying quality.

There have been several new materials developed that function in the same way as polypropylene. Capilene from Patagonia, Thermax from Dupont, and FRP from Odolo all work well.

Long and short sleeve shirts and pants are available in different weights. The lightest and thinnest is appropriate for strenuous activity, rowing or paddling, in all but the worst weather conditions. The medium and heavy weight cloth will work for sailing or sitting in camp. Try a set of the light weight and add the other after you discover what works in your situation.

Other new fabrics have come along to remove the difficult task of trying to dry a wet wool shirt or sweater. Pile in polyester, nylon, and polypropylene absorbs 15 percent or less of its weight in water. First used by North Sea fishermen in conditions similar to our worst, pile proved tough, warm, and quick drying. It comes in full-zip jackets, good for ventilation, or pullovers that are a little less expensive. If pile does get wet it can be wrung out or shaken out and worn.

For most of us, any area where there is good boating has rain—sometimes for days. You can choose waterproof or waterproof and breathable rain gear to cover your insulation layers. A jacket and pants are ideal. A poncho blowing in the wind has no place in any small craft. Suits are available with bib pants providing double protection through the middle of your body.

The waterproof breathable fabrics, Gore-Tex, Entrant, Bion II, and others, have a disadvantage. When contaminated by salt water and dirt, they are rendered ineffective as raingear. Your choice of fabrics will depend on how you boat. If you will be sitting in a sailboat, you won't require the breathability. If you are rowing or paddling, you will be sweating and the breathability is nice, allowing your sweat to pass through.

There are a number of coatings used to waterproof raingear. The most common is polyurethane. It is inexpensive, a good choice except for one drawback. If it is stored wet, it will soon peel off, leaving you with a cloth jacket that can't deflect a heavy dew. Longer lasting coatings include neoprene, acrylic nitrile and or poly vinyl choride (PVC). They won't peel but are more expensive and heavier.

Consider a wet or dry suit if you are boating in bad conditions. Try renting a suit from a local boardsailing shop before you buy.

Wilderness campsite on the Allagash shelters
boaters after a day on the river

Loose-fitting rubber boots that come just below the knee will easily slip off if you are forced to swim and get you ashore or afloat without getting your feet wet. In our ocean kayaks, we wear boots with neoprene wet suit booties underneath. The rubber boots ride behind the seat
where we can slip them over the booties when coming ashore. In benign conditions, an old pair of running shoes or boat shoes are good. But don't try scrambling around the rocks in wet leather boat shoes. Wool or polypro socks are best for wear under boots and shoes.

A sou'wester-style fisherman's cap will keep the water off and allow your head to turn without restriction. A wool or polypro watch cap, for warmth, can be worn. underneath or by itself. Sunny days and hot weather require a visor or broad brimmed hat.

You need to think like a
backpacker, getting
the maximum use from a
minimum of equipment.

Finding the right outfit is a personal, regional, and seasonal problem. Experiment to find out what works in your area, but remember, it is always better to be over than under prepared.

Camp Gear

Tents come in a number of styles, but only two should be considered seriously, the dome and the outside frame type. You will often camp on sandy or rocky ground where putting in tent stakes is impossible. The outside frame or dome can be set up anywhere without stakes. They do have one drawback: An unstaked freestanding tent will blow away. Weight it down with gear, keep a hand on it, or tether it to a rock or tree.

The tent body should be made of breathable fabric, usually nylon, with a waterproof rainfly. A totally waterproof tent keeps condensation inside and will soak your gear.

Good tents have quality bug netting, usually listed as midge proof, and zippers that will stand the strain of constant use. A tent designed for three or four people is perfect for two in rainy country. In bad weather, you will be spending a lot of time inside, and having a little extra room is nice. Use a ground cover or plastic sheet to protect the bottom from rocks and roots you can't remove from the site.

A tarp is very handy to cook under. It will give you a dry place out of the tent to sit during a shower or storm and store some gear that would otherwise be in the tent.

Sleeping bags should be filled with one of the artificial products—Hollofill II, Quallo-Fill or Polarguard. Down, the old standard, absorbs water, provides no warmth when wet, and is impossible to dry outside. The artificial fills can be wrung out.

A mummy-style or tapered bag shape is warm but constrictive. A rectangular bag rated to 30 or 40 degrees will work well for most conditions, and we always include a sheet to use when it's warm.

While the bag may feel thick and comfortable, you will need to put a pad underneath to keep from feeling rough terrain. There is also dampness that works through the tent floor that should be kept out of the bag. Closed cell foam is too thin and open cell pads absorb water. But if you take care of the open cell pads, storing them in a dry bag, they work well.

Good campsites are easy to find on Maine's
Allagash Wilderness Waterway

Cooking gear should include several pots of different sizes. Also, you can add a small frying pan, cups, plates and silverware. For work around the fire and cleanup, include pot grips or pliers, a hot mitt, soap, and a scrubby.

While beach-side campfires are nice, conservation and regulation often prohibit their use. A good stove is a must for damp conditions, allowing you to cook anywhere. A white gas stove with a pressure pump is perfect for shoreside cooking, but should never be used in a boat. I have had three stoves flare uncontrollably in lakeshore campsites. If any of those occurrences had happened in a boat, there is no way they could have been stopped.

Sailors will recognize the use of alcohol as an on-board fuel. In Europe, where it is difficult to get quality white gas, alcohol is also used as a camping fuel. There are lightweight cooking kits available with alcohol burners that work very well. Bottled gas (butane or propane) stoves also work well in all but the coldest conditions.


It should be possible to put all your gear and food for two weeks, including your tent and sleeping bag, into one or two waterproof packs or containers. Army surplus ammo boxes and even Tupperware containers are fine, but you will find bags are easier to pack. They come in all sizes. Try to match the size of your storage areas with the bags. A pair of large narrow bags that fit nicely on both sides of a centerboard trunk would be of little use to a sea kayaker who must stuff all of his gear through two small hatches.

Materials vary from double-reinforced plastic bags to rubberized cloth-backed types. We have used the sliding closure bars and tobacco roll tops with success.

For safety, put everything in Ziploc bags. Our waterproof gear bags ride in soft packs or duffles for additional protection. Since you must attach the bag to your boat, the pack straps make that easier. Even if the weather is perfect, plan on getting wet and you will never deal with wet gear.

Start with overnight trips and develop your techniques. Make lists of everything that works and discard the rest. A few overnight trips may be the incentive you need to try a long wilderness adventure.


STAN WASS is an experienced outdoorsman based in West Suffield, Connecticut.

Boat Camping Checklist

When you are camping, you are simply taking your living conditions on the road or water; therefore, you. must supply the three main requirements of life: food, shelter, and clothing. Base your primary lists on these three; it is presumed you have a separate primary list for your boat needs. I use a fourth list along with the three camping lists. It is a tally of accessories I'll need for that particular trip - fishing gear, binoculars,
cameras, etc. My suggestion is to place all four on a single page, with the basic needs of each always listed first, but leaving some space for additions that can be accommodated for any particular voyage.


  • Tent
  • Groundcloth
  • Large fly (10' x 10' or more)
  • Spare nylon cord/line (3/32"-l/4")
  • Flashlight
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad or mattress
  • Insect repellent


  • Water
  • Stove & fuel
  • Matches
  • Small bow saw
  • Roll of paper towels or dish towel
  • Large and small pots (2 qt. and 1 qt., one of each may be enough)
  • Frypan
  • Large fork, spoon, and spatula
  • Filleting knife (long blade; use for everything, but have your Swiss Army knife available)
  • a Bowl or deep plate and spoon for each person (plates, forks, and butter knives are not necessary)
  • Insulated cup for hot and cold drinks
  • Two dish rags (use one with sand or gravel to scrub pans. No soap)
  • Cooler & ice (for perishables)
  • Salt & pepper (and other condiments you think are needed)
  • Food (remove from packages and store in soft plastic bags to save space and cut disposal problems)
  • Toilet paper

Clothing (in waterproof bags)

  • Warm jacket (down, pile, etc. Almost always welcome, as well as a good pillow)
  • Cap with long visor
  • Sunglasses
  • Navy watch cap (in cool climates)
  • Medium or heavy sweater
  • Inner clothing and underwear a Good foul weather gear
  • Sea boots
  • Sneakers or lightweight shoes
  • Warm gloves
  • Personal kit (shaving, tooth brush, etc.)
  • Hand towel (edge can be used as facecloth)


This list covers all the things that make life easier in camp, and is limited only by space available, weight, and your desire for comfort. I believe in keeping things few and simple. There's less to keep track of, less to store, and less to go wrong. Good extras are:

  • Camera
  • Binoculars
  • Axe
  • Lantern
  • Trowel
  • Reading material

Boat List

In addition to required Coast Guard gear, when cruising I make sure I have the following:

  • Engine fuel
  • Charts
  • Personal life vest (always worn)
  • Water
  • Pail
  • Emergency food
  • Tool kit
  • First aid kit
  • Plastic garbage bags
  • Compass
  • Flashlight
  • Foraging book
  • Skin cream (sunblock)
  • Anchor
  • Appx. 200' of 3/8" anchor line in two coils

David R. Getchell, Sr.