While I love tent camping and backpacking, there’s something magical about loading up my kayak with my gear and setting out on the water for an overnight trip. I’ve been kayak camping for 20 years, and it never gets old. However, having the right gear can make a fun trip into an exceptional one, and aside from the kayak, a tent is at the top of my list of essential gear.
When selecting a tent for kayak camping, the good news is that if you already have a backpacking tent, you may not need another one. However, if you’re reading this article, you may already know that your existing tent is not a good fit for your kayaking trips or you’re ready to upgrade.
I think that a good kayak camping tent is a mix of a backpacking tent and a bike camping tent. When kayaking, weight is less of an issue, but compactness is key. A good tent will offer plenty of room for you and your gear but packs small enough to stuff into your dry sack.
This is what makes bike camping tents stand out for kayaking- they pack down very small. However, bike tents tend to be smaller and narrow, best for a single person without much gear.
Selecting the best kayaking tent involves finding a versatile backpacking tent that works well for bike camping. When you do this, you have a great option for kayaking. I selected some of the best kayak tents that match this requirement and are listed below.
If you don’t have time to read the entire article, check out my top three kayak camping tent picks:
Important Features to Look for in a Kayak Camping Tent:
Another important thing to remember when selecting a kayaking tent is where you plan to camp with it. If you’ll be staying on small islands or streamside sandbars, choosing a tent that is more rectangular than square is a good idea. This allows you to take advantage of narrow paces.
I’m a big fan of a two-person tent for just one person and a three-person tent for two people. I typically opt for the increased room if weight is not an issue. My recommendation for an excellent kayaking tent is to shoot for a 2-person tent for just yourself. If you’re camping with another person, you may want to consider bringing separate tents or opting for a 3-person option. A 4-person tent is typically too big for kayak camping, but it can be done with the right setup.
If camping in cold weather, you may benefit more from a warmer sleeping bag. You may need to sacrifice space for other camping gear. Single-person tents are also great if you don’t need the extra room. Also, choosing a tent with a vestibule is a great way to protect your gear from the elements without taking up room inside your tent.
Unlike a backpack, most kayaking gear and camping supplies will be stored in separate dry bags. When camping, I like to keep things organized at the campsite, which is slightly more challenging without a backpack. A good tent design with a vestibule or specific storage areas complements a kayak trip nicely. Also, some tents accept a gear loft, which makes it easy to store clothes and other items like a first aid kit that need to stay dry and be easy to access.
Weight and Pack Size: When Kayak Camping, focus more on the tent size when packed than the tent’s weight. You’ll want to keep your tent in your dry bag, but you also don’t want to take up an entire bag with just the tent. While you can certainly bring a heavy tent designed for car camping on your kayak, its bulkiness will be the limiting factor. Plus, the added weight can make paddling more challenging, so lighter is typically better. A nice compact tent is probably the most important thing to consider when kayak camping. Also, if you need a big tent, splitting the load with your fellow paddlers is a good idea.
Most tents are rated for durability by the number of seasons they are intended to be used. For most users, a three-season tent will be more than adequate for kayak camping. The only reason someone may want to upgrade to a 4-season tent would be if kayaking in the last fall and camping in windy conditions. Even in this situation, a 3-season tent would likely be sufficient. However, always choose a tent with guy lines and stakes since it’s typically much windier along the water than in the forest.
Best Choices for the Kayak Camping Tents
The new Dragonfly OSMO Bikepack Tent by Nemo is one of the best tents on the market when you need a small packable tent. As a backpacker, I was already impressed with my Nemo Losi tent, but this model offers some of the best features for the Kayak camper. Like the regular dragonfly tent, this version has the same asymmetrical design, providing ample interior space. The large trapezoidal vestibules have a removable storage tub for all your paddling gear. In addition, the pre-bent poles with a crossbar give plenty of extra headroom for taller paddlers.
But what really sold me on this tent is its packability. The shortened pole segments make it easy to pack down into a kayak-compatible dry bag that can easily fit in your boat or strapped to the hull. And now for 2023, the tent is now made with Nemo's proprietary OSMO ripstop fabric, which is both sustainable and highly water-resistant.
I also appreciate the small details, like color-coded poles and webbing for a fast and intuitive setup and the strut vents at the top of the zipper flaps for air circulation. The muted colors and non-reflective materials also make it perfect for stealth camping. Just a heads up, the footprint is sold separately, and it's a good idea to purchase it if you plan to set it up on the wet ground. If you're looking for the best tent for kayaking and are willing to spend a little more money on one, this may be the best option on this list.
The Hubba Hubba tent by MSR is a top-of-the-line option for a lightweight and comfortable kayaking tent. The tent has been designed with the utmost care and attention to detail, ensuring it is durable and easy to set up. In addition, its lightweight and compact design makes it an excellent option for kayaking trips, where space and weight are limited.
One of the most impressive features of the Hubba Hubba tent is its spacious rectangular floorplan. This means that there is plenty of room for two people and their gear without feeling cramped or uncomfortable. The tent's 40-inch headroom also provides enough space to move around comfortably.
The tent is also equipped with waterproof DuraShield fabric coating and taped seams, which keep the elements outside where they belong. In addition, the Easton Syclone Poles are made with cutting-edge aerospace composite materials, making them virtually indestructible in challenging conditions with strong wind. This ensures the tent remains stable and secure, even in adverse weather conditions along the shore.
In addition to its durability, the tent is easy to set up and pack away. The unified hub-and-pole system and symmetrical design make it super quick to set up and take down, while the ultra-compact stuff sack ensures that it can be packed away easily without taking up too much space.
Overall, the MSR Hubba Hubba tent is an excellent option for kayaking trips and other outdoor adventures. Its lightweight design, spacious interior, and durable construction make it a top choice for anyone looking for a high-quality tent. With the rain fly removed, you have a large window for viewing the water from your sleep bag.
This Big Agnes Tiger Wall Tent is specifically designed for bikepacking adventures and has several bike-friendly features that add utility and luxury to a kayak camping trip. The dual-zipper door allows for easy entry and quick reach-through access using only one zipper, allowing easy access to the gear inside the tent. In addition, the Quick Stash doorkeeper on the tent body door makes it easy to stow the unzipped door.
The tent also features a burly compression stuff sack that can withstand the rigors of paddling. The daisy-chain webbing allows for multiple kayak attachment configurations, and the 12" Shortstik Poleset is ideal for packing onto the boat's deck or in a dry compartment. The proprietary tent corner construction and unique TipLok Tent Buckle simplify the setup.
The solution-dyed fabric used in the tent is highly resistant to UV fade and reduces energy consumption and water use during manufacturing. This process is better for the environment and improves the quality of the tent fabric. In addition, the tent includes the DAC Featherlite NSL pole system and new, lighter yet stronger Dirt Dagger UL Tent Stakes with patent-pending I-Beam aluminum construction.
Additionally, the tent includes several different features that add to the overall camping experience. The 3D shelf allows for oversized gear to be stored above your feet, while the elastic webbing securely stores a helmet or life vest on top of the tent body. The daisy-chain webbing loops on the fly exterior can be used to dry wet clothes and gear. The tent includes one fly vent and a low ground vent feature on the vestibule doors for increased airflow without sacrificing coverage.
This tent is perfect for camping while kayaking as it is lightweight and compact, making it easy to transport. Its kayak-friendly features also make it easy to pack onto a boat and take on multi-day trips. The durable materials and simplified setup make it ideal for camping in rugged outdoor environments, while the added features provide an enjoyable camping experience.
This tent is a great option for kayak camping. The lofty ceiling and ample floor space are perfect for a good night's sleep, and the dual vestibules provide ample storage space for any wet or muddy gear. In addition, the variable-diameter pole system makes setup easy, and the hubbed system eliminates the need to sort out poles for setup, which is incredibly convenient when camping from a kayak where space is limited.
The polyester double ripstop rainfly is designed to resist water absorption, stay taught in rainy or humid conditions, and resist UV degradation. The tent's rainfly also has a silicone coating on the outside and a polyurethane coating on the inside, and all seams are taped to ensure maximum protection from the elements.
The high/low mesh/nylon canopy allows airflow and visibility outside while keeping out wind-born dirt and snow. The rainfly vents allow airflow at the top of the tent, and the raised vestibule floor allows airflow below. When the weather is nice, the rainfly can be rolled back over the mesh canopy semi-deployed, providing a great view of the stars.
The tent comes with stakes, guy ropes, and stuff sacks, making it easy to pack up and transport. Additionally, it's possible to set up the poles and rainfly with the footprint (sold separately) to create a lightweight shelter. Overall, this tent seems like a great option for kayak camping due to its spacious design, easy setup, and durable construction that will keep campers comfortable and protected from the elements.
If I were planning a kayaking trip and wanted to use a lightweight tent, the updated Hornet from NEMO would be an excellent choice. The Hornet is designed to be ultralight, making it easy to carry on long hikes or on long open water lake paddles. It also offers impressive comfort and livability, with a spacious interior and a patent-pending Flybar volumizing clip that adds even more volume. In addition, the top-quality fabrics and a minimal pole structure mean it is even lighter than previous models.
The 1P model of the Hornet has a single large vestibule that provides ample dry gear storage, and the Flybar pole clip adds more headroom and increased stability. Volumizing guy outs connect the inner tent to the rainfly, pulling the sidewalls outward to create a more livable space. It has a minimum weight of only 1 lb 10 oz, a packed weight of 2 lb 0 oz, and packs down to 19.5 x 4.5 inches in diameter.
The Hornet is designed to withstand various weather conditions with a premium 10D Nylon Ripstop fly that is extremely light and durable. The DAC Featherlite poles boast minimal weight and connect with a single hubbed intersection for a lightning-quick setup. The canopy is made of 10D Nylon Ripstop and a No-See-Um Mesh screen, while the floor is 15D Sil/PeU Nylon Ripstop, both waterproof to 1200 mm.
Additional perks of the Hornet include guyouts and struts at corners that increase volume at the foot, protecting sleeping bags from wall condensation, which is more common next to the water. In addition, the unique Divvy dual-stage stuff sack makes dividing the load with a partner easy. Finally, the Diffusing Light Pockets turn your headlamp into a tent lantern, creating a pleasant atmosphere inside. Overall, the Hornet from NEMO is an excellent option for anyone looking for a lightweight, comfortable, and durable tent for paddle trips.
The ALPS Mountaineering Tent is an excellent choice for kayaking trips due to its lightweight construction, durable materials, and adequate protection against the elements. The tent's mesh walls and roof provide an unobstructed view of the surrounding scenery while allowing fresh air to circulate, making it perfect for warm summer days on the water. In addition, the tent's 75D 185T polyester fly is both strong and lightweight, with UV protection to keep out rain and other weather conditions.
The tent's sturdy 7000-series aluminum poles provide a sound structure without adding excessive weight, and its factory-sealed seams on both the floor and fly ensure that damp leaks are kept out. Additionally, the tent features two doors with extra-large zippers and vestibules, allowing for easy access and preventing traffic jams.
The ALPS Mountaineering Greycliff 2 Tent comfortably sleeps two people in a rectangular shape, providing ample room to move around and store your outdoor gear. Its lightweight construction, durable materials, and effective protection against the elements make it an excellent option for kayaking trips, allowing you to focus on enjoying the natural beauty around you without worrying about your shelter.
The Telos TR2 Tent is an ideal choice for kayaking trips with a partner, offering both comfort and functionality. The tent's Tension Ridge system increases head and shoulder room, providing ample space for rest and relaxation. To prevent condensation and maintain fresh airflow, the tent's peak, and floor vents can be opened to let in the mountain air.
The tent's vertical walls and two tall doors make it easy to move in and out, while its lightweight construction (less than 4 pounds) and ability to be packed into three storage sacks make it easy to carry and share the load. The tent's rain fly also doubles as an awning, using trekking poles or even a paddle to create a comfortable outdoor living space.
The Telos TR2 Tent promises to keep you dry with its 6-inch deep, highly waterproof tub floor, and its mesh canopy and apex and baseline vents provide optimal airflow. The tent also features a lightbar that accommodates a headlamp, creating interior lighting for added convenience. Additionally, the tent comes with eight lightweight stakes and four removable guylines.
Overall, the Telos TR2 Tent is a versatile and reliable option for backpacking and kayak camping trips with a partner, offering a unique design that balances comfort and functionality to keep you both stoked and ready for adventure.
The Blacktail series of tents are popular for kayakers looking for a reliable and comfortable shelter. The Blacktail Hotel model features a side-entry vestibule that provides extra space for gear, pets, or other belongings. The tent is strong enough for front-country use but still lightweight enough for the backcountry or long river excursions.
The symmetrical pole structure of the Blacktail Hotel makes setup easy, and the pre-bent poles provide ample head space. The tent features two doors and two vestibules, with storm flaps on the vestibule zippers to keep out the wet weather. The dual-zipper doors are smooth-closing and allow for easy entry, and the Quick Stash doorkeeper on the tent body door makes stowing unzipped doors quick and easy.
The tent is packed with features designed to enhance your camping experience, including fly vents for increased airflow and reduced condensation and low vents on the vestibule doors for even more airflow while still providing coverage. The tent is also easy to pitch and packable, with pre-cut guy lines and tensioners attached to the fly and reflective guy lines and webbing on tent corners for easy visibility at night.
Overall, the Blacktail Hotel is a full-featured and versatile tent that offers excellent value for kayakers seeking a comfortable and reliable shelter for their adventures. With its spacious vestibule, dual-zipper doors, and symmetrical pole structure, the Blacktail Hotel will surely provide a comfortable and fun experience. Additionally, this is an excellent tent to consider if you kayak with a dog.
As an avid camper, I always seek the latest and greatest gear to make my trips more enjoyable. The Crane Creek 2-Person UltraLight Tent caught my eye because of its lightweight freestanding design and reliable shelter. At just 32 square feet, it's the perfect size for two people and won't weigh down my bags. In addition, the tent has a durable, seam-taped polyester fly that provides complete rain protection without sacrificing air circulation, making it ideal for kayak camping.
What I love most about the Crane Creek tent is its zone pre-bend construction that creates vertical walls, giving me more headroom and a roomier interior. The tent also has color-coded "Easy Pitch" poles, clips, and fly, making setting up a breeze. And with its large door, overhead vestibule, and small gear pockets, you'll have plenty of extra storage space for all your gear.
The tent's HD velocity 7000 series aluminum poles are durable and jingle-free, making for a peaceful night's sleep. And with dual overhead vestibules and large D-shaped doors, you can easily access the tent and gear without disturbing your camping partner.
Overall, I highly recommend the Crane Creek 2-Person UltraLight Tent to any kayaker looking for comfort and performance without the added weight and high price of similarly sized tents. It's a reliable shelter that's easy to set up, making it a must-have for any outdoor adventure, especially for kayak camping, where lightweight gear is crucial.
As someone who enjoys camping with friends, I was excited to learn about the Stormbreak 3, a classic three-person camping tent. With its large doors and twin-zip, multi-configuration vestibules, this tent offers easy access and amazing views of the great outdoors, making it the perfect tent for creating unforgettable outdoor memories.
What I appreciate most about this tent is its design. It features high-low ventilation that optimizes airflow, ensuring you can stay comfortable and well-rested during warm weather paddling trips. The tent also has two doors that stuff into adjacent mesh pockets, eliminating the need to roll them up and allowing me to keep them out of the way while my tent is set up.
When it comes to construction, the Stormbreak 3 does not disappoint. Its fully seam-taped canopy and floor enhance durability and waterproofing, ensuring I stay dry and comfortable no matter the weather. And with a canopy made of 75D polyester, taffeta mesh made of 40D polyester mesh, and fly and floor made of 75D and 68D polyester, respectively, I know I'm getting a quality product that will last.
For those interested in the technical specifications, the Stormbreak 3 has a stuff sack size of 8" X 22" (20.3cm X 55.9cm) and a total weight of 6 lbs 10 oz. Its trail weight is 5 lbs 15 oz, while its fastpack weight is 4 lbs 5 oz. The tent has a floor area of 39.72 square feet, and a footprint is sold separately.
Overall, I highly recommend the Stormbreak 3 to any camping enthusiast looking for a reliable and comfortable tent for their next outdoor paddling adventure. Its quality construction, easy access, and comfortable design will surely provide a memorable camping experience.
If you're looking for an affordable tent that will get the job done, the Clostnature Lightweight Backpacking Tent might be it. It's made from durable polyester material with factory-sealed seams that keep you dry and comfortable in all weather conditions. Plus, it's affordable without sacrificing quality, which is always a plus.
The larger tent is bigger than most 2-person backpacking tents, with a size of 7'3" x 4'11" x 3'10", and weighs only 5.7 lbs. It's easy to set up with its freestanding and two-aluminum pole design. If you're on a budget but don't want to sacrifice the function of your gear, this tent is a good option.
The Clostnature Lightweight Backpacking Tent has a good design with interior mesh walls that offer excellent ventilation. It has two D-shaped doors and two vestibules on the side, providing convenient entry and extra storage for your backpack or shoes. In addition, the tent is compact and portable, making it easy to pack in your backpack.
The package includes 1 x carry bag, 1 x inner tent, 1 x flysheet, 2 x Aluminum poles, 4 x ropes, 14 x Aluminum stakes, and 1 x pole emergency repair kit. In addition, the tent comes with a one-year warranty for material and workmanship defects, and the company offers a 100% risk-free satisfaction guarantee. The Clostnature Lightweight Backpacking Tent is the best choice for a reliable and affordable kayaking tent. While it's not on the top list for features or durability, it beats all the competition with the price.
Honorable Mention Tents
Whether you’re a seasoned kayak camper or trying it for the first time, finding the right tent for your trip is one of the first things you should do. A good freestanding tent will make your trip more enjoyable and ensure a great camping experience along the water. There are several important factors to consider when searching for a tent. The first thing to consider is size. Lightweight, compact tents are usually all suitable for kayak camping. If you can fit it in your dry bag or stuff it into a storage compartment found on sit-in kayaks, you’re probably good to go. It’s also a good idea to purchase a tent that you can use for other outdoor activities, so you’re not limiting yourself to a single one.
Whether you’ll be spending a long day paddling on the river followed by a night of camping or heading on a multi-day laying trip, you will want to ensure you have the right gear for the adventure. The tents listed here are great options for the kayak camper for almost any trip on the water.