Organizing Camping Gear for Canoe Camping and Kayak Camping

Organzing camping gear by laying everything out.

Many checklists that help with organizing camping gear are broken down into categories that don’t necessarily reflect how we live our lives in our homes. For example, a checklist might break the list into paddling clothing, camp clothing, personal gear, group gear and personal items. At a glance, you can’t really tell what you’re bringing. Instead of using broad categories to organize your checklist, narrow your categories and make them reflect rooms in your home. By making them reflect rooms in your home, you instantly can link what’s in each category with what’s typically in that room in your home.

Organizing Camping Gear by Category

unorganized camping gear
A pile of camping gear makes it hard to know if you packed everything.

To make your camping checklist reflect the rooms in your house use these categories: paddling equipment, personal paddling gear (or clothing worn), bedroom, kitchen, den (or office), bathroom and closet. You could also add living room. See an example of how this catagory system works in PaddlingLight’s Fall and Spring Canoe Camping Checklist. These categories help you instantly see what gear you need to grab. For example, in a bedroom we have blankets, a bed and a roof over our heads. When camping we need a mattress, sleeping bag and tent. They’re essential the same items. Here’s a breakdown of what to include in each catagory:

  • Paddling Equipment: This is the gear that you need to paddle. It includes paddles, boats, pumps, paddle float, tow ropes and anything else that you use while on the water.
  • Personal Paddling Gear (clothing worn): When organizing camping gear use this catagory to list all your clothing that you’re going to wear while on the water. It includes your life vest and everything that you carry on it, including a ditch kit if you carry one.
  • Bedroom: Everything that you use at night when sleeping such as a sleeping bag, pad and tent. Also the bags you use to store the gear when on the water.
  • Kitchen: In your home, your kitchen has a sink that makes drinkable water, a stove, pots, pans, plates, forks and food. Your camping kitchen needs to have similar items that are simplified. Here’s an example of Lightweight Cooking Gear.
  • Den (or Office): A den or office stores all the stuff that you’d use while working out of your house. When paddling the den is going to contain everything that you’d use during that day while you “work” such as navigation gear, headlamps, etc… Basically, anything that doesn’t really fit elsewhere in your house ends up in the den.
  • Bathroom: All your toiletries and first aid supplies.
  • Closet: At home, you keep all your spare clothing in a closet, so consider the dry bags you keep spare clothing in your closet. Adjust what’s in your closet according to the season.

Getting Ready For a Trip

Organized bedroom gear
The bedroom organized. It includes (from left to right) a sleeping bag, tent, tent poles, tarp and a sleeping pad.

First, figure out what exactly you’re going to bring in each catagory. If you don’t know what to bring, look at the Fall and Spring Canoe Camping Checklist linked above as a good place to start. Once you have everything decided put gear from each catagory into it’s own area on the floor. This makes it much easier to sort and see what you have ready to pack than just piling everything onto the floor in front of you. Once you do this a few times, you’ll have your packing routine time down to 30 minutes or less.

Packing Your Gear Away After a Trip

This is just as important as packing gear for a trip, because how you pack your gear away directly impacts how quickly you can get ready for the next trip. The easiest way to do this is make a storage system that uses the same categories as your packing list. Then store all the equipment in bins marked with those categories. When your next trip rolls around all you need to do is grab the bin and you’re almost completely packed. Keep in mind that sleeping bags and clothing should be stored in an area that allows the gear to breathe.

Receive PaddlingLight updates straight to your inbox every time I publish a new article. Your email address will never be shared


  • This might be the single best tip I’ve ever heard for organizing trip gear!
    Equating gear categories to the respective rooms in our house makes it dead simple, and so easy to explain to others.

  • Great and helpful article. I’ve been “rigging-derigging” for a long time now, but there’s always the need for refresher! Especially before that first trip of the season.

  • Great stuff. Thanks for the post. Sounds like the making of a new Falcon book…

Comments are closed.