On a wilderness kayak expedition into Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands with journalist-author Warren Richey, I marveled at all the gear he packed into his kayak, a 17.5-foot fiberglass Current Designs Solstice GT sea kayak. It weighs 56 pounds empty.
Warren does overnight trips often and has circumvented the state of Florida, from Tampa Bay south to Key Largo, then north to the Georgia line, across the state to the Gulf and back to Tampa Bay.
He wrote a book about that month-long adventure, Without a Paddle: Racing Twelve Hundred Miles Around Florida by Sea Kayak, relates his tale of the Ultimate Florida Challenge.
His handle in the world of Florida kayaking is “Sharkchow.”
Sharkchow doesn’t waste a centimeter of space and is totally self-contained. During the Ultimate Florida Challenge, he strapped on a dolly for a 40-mile over-land portage from the St. Mary’s River to the Suwannee.
On less-demanding voyages, he carries a small, handmade dolly to pull his yak up on the beach or portage shoals and coral outcroppings.
You won’t need all of this gear, depending on your adventure. But you’ll want to look it over for ideas.
- Two paddles, one primary, one spare
- Spray skirt
- Life vest
- Hand pump
- Inflatable paddle float
- Compass, watch, and whistle
- Duct tape
- Cell phone
- Hypothermia survival kit, including space blanket and fast fire starters
- First aid kit
- Safety knife
- One headlamp, one flashlight
- Small, lightweight dolly
- Nautical charts
- Extra batteries
- FM Radio with earphones
- 3 bandanas
- Reading glasses
- Jungle hammock
- Inflatable air mattress
- Sleeping bag
- Assorted lengths of parachute cord
- 8×10-foot tarp
- Bug repellant with DEET
- Biodegradable soap
- Biodegradable toilet paper
- Fishing rod and lures
- Fleece sweatshirt
- Long sleeve front-button shirt
- Nylon running shorts
- Nylon wind pants
- Smart Wool socks
- Mosquito head net
- Fleece hat
- Broad-brimmed hat and baseball hat
- Fast-drying shorts
- Diving booties
- Water shoes
- Paddle gloves
- Waterproof paddle jacket
- Food and water
- Backpacker’s propane stove
- Titanium pot
- Three cigarette lighters
- A gallon of water a day in hot weather
- Plastic knife and spoon
- Pocketknife with can opener
For food on our trip, Warren carried freeze-dried backpacker dinners from Campmor, along with daily rations of fresh carrots and snow peas measured into plastic sandwich bags (his daily “salad”), plus a few apples and bananas. (Warren likes the freeze-dried turkey tetrazzini best.)
Your list may vary, depending on your trip, as it does for Warren. For example, when he does a major kayak race or expedition, he carries a handheld VHF radio, a GPS and an iPirb life-saving beacon, expensive gear that is not essential for the recreational kayak camper.
Personally, I find that a handheld waterproof eTrex GPS device is essential gear when paddling open water or in the Ten Thousand Islands. Track your path and return to the trail if you get lost. Been there. :-) You can also use when hiking in a forest.
Is there a better way?
Yes. An escort boat.
I’m no purist, so when I go wilderness camping in deep water with a group of kayaks, I take my center-console fishing boat loaded with coolers and camping gear for everybody else, towing my kayak behind.
If your kayak trail is a shallow creek or a river with lots of shoals, invite somebody with a canoe or a jon boat with a small motor.
In remote areas, such as the Ten Thousand Islands, a motorboat could be real handy in an emergency.
If you have any questions about this list, or seek further advice, leave a comment here and we’ll ask Warren to respond.
Warren Richey is a journalist and part-time Florida resident who works in for the Christian Science Monitor, where he covers the U.S. Supreme Court.
You can purchase Warren’s book Without a Paddle: Racing Twelve Hundred Miles Around Florida by Sea Kayak, published in 2010 by St. Martin’s Press, from Amazon.
Here’s a YouTube video about Richey’s participation in the 2013 Everglades Challenge, a 300-mile, round-the-clock small-boat race in Florida from Tampa Bay to Key Largo.