Gear you'll need for ocean kayaking

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This list was inspired after our trip to Gwaii Haanas National Park and Reserve, but the tips apply to any ocean kayaking or canoe trip. You can read why you should go and how to plan your trip here. 

A paddling trip to Gwaii Haanas

We planned to paddle for a week in Gwaii Haanas Park. We got dropped off near Tanu island (the northernmost section of the park) and booked a pick up at Burnaby Narrows, about 40 km of paddling further south depending on your route. 

You can explore Gwaii Haanas end to end in just over two weeks. Three week long trips are not uncommon though, and even met a few groups that were on 3-4 week long trips.

Rainy and windy on the Bischoff Islands in Gwaii Haanas.

Rainy and windy on the Bischoff Islands in Gwaii Haanas.



Here are a few tips that we found helpful on our paddling trip.

Where to camp: picking a great site

Be selective when picking your campsite. Choose your campsite keeping in mind you may be stuck there for a few days in case weather moves in. Make sure you have easy access to fresh water, a big enough flat area for your tent and a separate spot for a cooking area, trees where you can hang your food and easily cover your hangout area with tarps.  We recommend buying the book Boat Camping on Haida Gwaii by Neil Frazer, it’s available on online or at the visitor’s centre in Skidegate. 

Gwaii Haanas is all wilderness camping, no organized campgrounds exist. This means you have to bring rope and carabineers to secure your food up a tree for the night. Campsites are everywhere, just be careful to observe the tide line. You can ask for some recommendations from people who have camped in the park. 


Early starts

Starting early is recommended in some areas. Generally, the winds don’t start blowing until the afternoon and the ocean gets choppy. You’ll find calmer conditions in the morning and early evening. 

A couple of kayakers that we met who traveled from the west side of the island, down and around Rose Harbour and all the way back up north to Dolomite (or Burnaby) Narrows, told us they got up before dawn every morning and were paddling just as dawn was breaking.

In the summer, this means some early starts. The high northern latitude of Haida Gwaii means in June and July twilight begins at 4:30 am and the sun comes up at 5:30. Going to bed early is a must – even that’s not easy, as the long twilight means it’s not dark until well after 11 pm at night! 

Personal safety

When kayaking, each person should have their own communications and emergency equipment should they fall into the water or are in some way separated from their group. If you’re separated from your group and you don’t have a radio, you could be in real danger as it may take a very long time for you to be located. Other items each person should have are flares for signalling, firestarters for quickly starting a campfire, water purification and food.

Things you’ll need 

Marine Charts

You can use phone GPS navigation tools such as Gaia, but you will definitely need waterproofed Marine Charts. These are published by the Canadian Hydrographic Service and available from marine stores and online at MapTown in Calgary, which can ship you your maps. Gwaii Haanas is on maps numbered 3853, 3807, 3808, 3809 and 3825.


If you’re kayaking, you’ll need to pack your gear in small (30 L or smaller) dry bags. A tarp is an absolute must and specifically a siltarp is recommended for weight and how fast it dries. If you’re canoeing, you can take larger dry bags or a barrel. A barrel is a great way of storing food and keeping things dry.

Waterproof layers

A dry or wetsuit is recommended, and Gore-Tex layers or rain layers. It rains a lot, so you want rain jacket and pants. Take some insulating layers as hanging out on the beach, particularly during bad weather. Take waterproof shoes (such as boots) for when you’re on land. Waterproof trail shoes (such as the Salomon GTX trail shoes), these will keep your feet dry and are comfortable to wear around camp, and perfect if you manage to get out hiking.

Rainy backcountry camping in Gwaii Haanas.

Rainy backcountry camping in Gwaii Haanas. A tarp is a must have, but also nice are a barrel, if you’re in a canoe and a foam seat cushion.


While a headlamp is a must have, a lantern is very nice to have. You can use it to light up camp if you’re hanging out after the sun goes down, or if you plan to have early starts. We had the LuminAID lamp with us which was perfect for the adventure, as it’s waterproof and works great in inclement weather.


You’ll need a VHF radio, ideally one per person for safety in case you get separated from your partners, or at the very least one per group. Ideally each person should have one radio and it should be stashed in your lifejacket. 

Water filtration

This is a must! Treat all your water. Fresh water is abundant on the islands, and streams are usually marked on most islands where camping is common. Though note that these streams will run lower in late summer or if it hasn’t rained in awhile. I made the mistake of drinking spring water from Tanu island before treating it. I drank it as long as we had it, which was almost 4 days, but I didn’t get sick from it until about 2 weeks later. Some waterborne bacteria affect you instantly, some take weeks before symptoms appear. This is all avoidable. Make sure you treat your water either with drops (such as Pristine) or water tablets, or a hollow membrane filter, such as the LifeStraw bottle or Katadyn system. There are a lot of animals on the islands and plenty of opportunity for bacteria to spread, so don’t take the chance.


A padded seat like the Therm-a-rest Z seat is a good idea because of the wet weather. It’s makes it much more relaxing to hang out at camp.

Logistics at Gwaii Haanas 

The Park is accessible from Moresby Island via float plane or the fast Zodiac boats. We used the provider Moresby Explorers to access the park via Zodiac.  We met them in Sandspit in the morning and loaded up our boats into the van. The drive to Moresby camp, the launching point into the park, took about 1 hour on logging roads. You can also drive there yourself and just meet them there. You can also stay overnight in Moresby Camp, there is a campground with pit toilets and a picnic shelter. But if the weather is rainy you may want to enjoy your last evening indoors, just to keep from packing up a wet tent in the morning. Spend your night before the trip in a warm bed!

The logistics on the first day are time consuming, you get up early to and meet at around 7:30 am at the Moresby office, drive there, and take the Zodiac in. You’ll only have a few hours to paddle that day, so it’s best to plan a short leg that day, if at all.

Interested in Gwaii Haanas? Here is more info: