There are a few really great things about SUP camping: First, it gives you killer access to pristine natural areas you might not otherwise reach via car camping or even backpacking. Second, it's a journey trip, which adds an explorative expedition quality to the paddle board experience (aka you feel like Lewis & Clark or Tom Sawyer). Finally, you can pack as much beer as you want without worrying about weight. Okay, we're partly kidding about that last one, but what is true about SUP camping is that if you pack smart, you can pack more. More than backpacking, for instance, where some folks skimp on clean underwear just to shed a couple of ounces. Not necessary with SUP camping.
With SUP camping, you can have the adventure of backpacking with the luxury of car camping (sort of). Here's what you need—plus some stuff you don't necessarily need but would be fun to have. Happy water trails!
Let's get the obvious out of the way. If you're paddle board camping, you'll need a paddle board. Which kind of board is best for SUP camping? You'll want something that's first and foremost easy to transport. Our BOTE Aero line up of inflatable paddle boards and kayaks are constructed with military grade PVC for maximum durability, and pack down into provided travel bags to store everything in a compact, easy to carry format.
You can't go wrong with the HD Aero, our most versatile inflatable paddle board style. It can withstand high mileage days, challenging water, and serene lakes. Another option, which is technically an inflatable kayak, is the DEUS Aero. The DEUS Aero offers an added layer of versatility to your standard inflatable SUP, because it converts from a highly stable inflatable paddle board to a sit-on-top kayak in a matter of minutes.
Whatever SUP camping experience you're looking for, we've got something that'll fit your particular mold. Oh, other important parts that belong in your paddle system are a paddle (obviously), a PFD (especially if you're traveling down Class I and II rivers or in choppy coastal waters), and fishing equipment (because you're playing Tom Sawyer remember?).
Just like with backpacking, your sleep system is going to make or break the SUP camping experience. The triple threat trifecta of what you need is a tent, a sleeping bag, and a sleeping pad. Of course, there are some variations you can make within these categories. A tarp or bivy or hammock can replace a tent. A down quilt can replace a sleeping bag. The sleeping pad can be either foam or inflatable. It's all about finding what works for you. Our advice if you're just starting out? Go with the tried and true: tent, bag, inflatable pad.
Oh, and did we mention all of the stand up paddle boards mentioned above are offered in an Aero version? Inflatable paddle boards can pull double duty as your mode of transportation and a pretty substantial sleeping pad if you plan to sleep under the stars, tent free. Yep, even our smallest adult inflatable paddle board clocks in at 10'6" tall and can comfortably sleep even the tallest SUP campers when lightly deflated. Just make sure to flip it over with plenty of dry time before you call it a night.
In terms of how you pack it all up, remember these things have to stay dry. Literally just about the only thing worse than sleeping in a sopping wet sleeping bag is spending thirty years in a Russian gulag or getting caught in outer space like Sandra Bullock in Gravity. Dry sacks will become your new best friend on a SUP camping trip. Sea to Summit is a brand that makes some great dry bag stuff sacks to compress your sleeping bag into a tighter more manageable ball. And in terms of a bag to store everything in, well… let's just say our Highwater Duffel is maybe the best invention since the automobile. Or Oreos. Let's call it a three-way tie between the car, Oreos, and the Highwater Duffel. The Highwater Duffel is 39 liters of 100% waterproof-submersible pure badassery. It's tough as Stone Cold Steve Austin, as spacious as a movie theater in March 2020, and more practical for storing all your SUP camping gear than anything else on the market.
We all know the best part of any camping trip isn't nature or even the smell of a campfire. It's the food. Something about eating in the woods just makes everything taste better. Twenty-five-cent ramen noodle packets become Michelin-starred masterpieces. Beef jerky becomes filet mignon. Couscous becomes the food so nice they named it twice (sorry, we had to). For a great camp cookware setup, you need five essential items: a camp stove, a fuel canister, a lighter, a titanium pot, and ye olde faithful spork. Insider tip: the MSR PocketRocket is a ridiculously convenient and easy to use stove. In terms of food, instant mashed potatoes, mac & cheese, and cold cut salami make for one weird-on-paper yet damn-delicious backcountry meal.
So, you've gotten to camp a little early and don't know what to do with yourself? That's where the creature comforts come in. Our recommendation for the lounging types: Bring an ENO hammock and a good book and while away the hours strung between two trees above the gently lapping waters below. Or, even better: Bring an Inflatable Aero Chair. This bad boy is lightweight, highly compressible, and about a bajillion times more comfortable than a log or rock or even one of those flimsy old-school fold up camping chairs. For explorer types, bring a Highwater Backpack. Pack it up with some day hiking supplies, and set off from your paddle campsite through the forest like some sort of Leo DiCaprio reincarnate in that movie The Beach. For angler types, please for the love of god don't forget your rod. For socialites, bring a deck of cards and yep—you guessed it—beer.
If you're paddling in warm water, opt for a bathing suit and long sleeve shirt (for sun protection). The Ohana Straw Hat is also a pretty killer option for sun protection. In colder waters, go for a wetsuit. For camp, only pack synthetic or merino wool apparel. Leave the cotton at home. And pack layers. For your upper half, a good package would look something like this: a merino wool tee, a lightweight wool pullover, a synthetic down pullover, and a windbreaker. For your bottom, it's all about that long john's life. And socks. Bring extra socks! You can never have enough socks.
MISCELLANEOUS GADGETS & GEAR
Various other gear you may want to include is a headlamp with extra batteries, a multi-tool or a knife, and pretty much anything else from the Ten Essentials List—a compilation of important safety items every hiker should consider carrying into the backcountry. Last but certainly not least: one item that makes for a great addition to the SUP camping experience is a solid cooler. The KULA 5 Cooler to be exact. This tough as nails cooler—certified Gatorproof by the (totally real) Gatorproof Alliance by the way—doubles as a cooler and a five gallon bucket for fishing. It also triples as a seat while you're paddling if you ever want to take a load off. And of course, best of all? Now you've got a place to store that beer.
All in all, if you're looking to ramp up your stand up paddle boarding game, SUP camping is one of the best and most rewarding ways to do it. And if you head out with most of the items on this list, you'll be better off for it. We'll see you out there.