If you, like me, enjoy lush, adventurous vacations that don't entail grimacing when you get your post-trip credit card statement, a four-day kayak trip down the Manistee is about as good as it gets.

I am, of course, assuming you have a couple camping-related items. If you don't, well, you're probably going to spend some money up front, but you will also have said items until you die, so pacify yourself knowing what you spend is going to ultimately work out to be about .02 cents per day by the end of your life, assuming you live at least into your 70's. This is my mental math, anyway.

My Kayak Expedition Essentials

The Kayak

Mine is about 8 to 10 feet long, with a cargo hold, purchased used for about $200 several years ago. I have no idea of the brand name. Be on the lookout for one of these used beauties. Devoted kayakers are notorious gear heads, and they will continue to upgrade throughout their lives, looking for thrifty folks like you and I to take their perfectly good kayaks off their hands for a couple hundred smackers, so they can get some fancy boat that does the exact same thing, only maybe weighs less and has a softer seat. As long as it floats, it works for me.


Go as light as you can, your shoulders will thank you. If you're savvy, talk your kayak seller into throwing in one as your free gift with purchase. It may be a wee bit heavier than their super-duper hi-tech paddle, but they ALL feel heavy after you paddle a couple hours. Think of it as body sculpting.

Kayak Rack

I was astounded to find, after scoring my el cheapo kayak, that the racks to port it cost about twice what I paid for the boat. Surprise. My solution? Skip the rack; stuff the big ol' boat into my hatchback until it reaches the windshield; tie that hatchback down really, really tight; tie a scrap of an old T-shirt on the back; and drive really, really carefully.

The Hammock

I bought this special from Beyer of Maine. I did a heap of research on hammocks of all kinds and makers, and ultimately went with Beyer's "Moskito Traveller" camping hammock because it packs down super small, weighs only 16 ounces (great for future backpacking trips), has the suspended-but-enveloping mosquito-netting to keep the bugs out, and was rated highly on lots of backpacker forums. It was also less than $50. Try buying a tent for that!

Note: You will have to buy rope—I bought two 5-foot lengths of 1/2-inch nylon rope on sale at Gander Mountain for cheap, as well as two caribiners, also cheap, from which to hang my hammock's ends to trees. Kind of annoying this stuff doesn't automatically come with a hammock, but hey, cheaper than the fancy rope-accessory stuff sold seperately from Beyer.

An additional note: Sleeping in a camping hammock is totally comfortable. The key is to lie diagonally in the hammock—Brazilian style—so your body can rest flat, not in a U-shape (which I think of as Gilligan-style). As a belly sleeper, I found this diagonal method flat and fabulous.


One of the best parts of kayaking is you don't have to carry any weight on your back, so, as long as it fits in the cargo hold, it can go. (Read: feel free to bring bottles of wine.) Likewise, because the hold and hull of the boat are sitting low in the water, kept naturally cool by the river, you can place somewhat perishable items in there without worrying too much about spoilage (avoid finicky perishibles like eggs, milk, mayo, of course). In the bottom of my kayak's hold, I kept a few ziplocks full of green beans, strawberries, cheddar cheese, dried figs, a couple bars of dark chocolate, and a bean-and-veggie spread I made. In my general food bag, also in the hold, I stuffed some wraps, several packages of vacuum-packed Tuna Creations by Starkist (which are small, require no can opener and are quite delicious when stuffed in the wraps with slices of apple and cheddar for lunch). I also toted the typical oatmeal, granola, crackers, tea bags and freeze-dried camping dinners—Mountain House are my faves—for breakfast, snacks and dinner fare. I like to eat a lot.

Dry Bags

Don't buy them unless you're doing some hardcore kayaking that will likely/ possibly entail flipping your boat, riding waves or capsizing—all of these are highly unlikely on the peaceful Manistee. Thus, I used a couple Hefty garbage bags: one for clothes, another for food, a third for trash.


Layers are king: fleece jacket, convertible shorts/pants (nerdy, but a great invention), a wicking long-sleeve shirt, a short-sleeve shirt and bathing suit were all I brought. I mostly lived in the bathing suit, just pulling on shirts as it neared night. Oh, also a towel. It was nice to sit on because my kayak seat is not a plush one, and also for drying off post swim.

Other Essentials (most of them obvious)

Polorized sunglasses, hat, sunscreen, bug screen, chapstick, fuel and portable camping stove (I have an old school MSR stove that packs down into a cereal bowl-sized sack; but I recommend the stove my boyfriend owns, the MSR Pocket Rocket Backpacking Stove, which is about the size of a couple granola bars and less than $40.), portable water purifier (again, I have an old school PUR—they don't make them anymore, but you can get sweet new ones for $60+, and they last about 100 uses before you even have to change the filter.), a Nalgene bottle with a wide mouth (for pumping your purified river water into), life vest (they have fancy short ones made for kayaking; I borrowed a non-fancy vest from my dad's Sea Doo gear pile; it worked fine), sleeping bag, camping pillow, headlamp, matches for lighting stove, camera (in Ziplock), fishing pole, bait and tackle, and whatever other goodies you like to ensure a good time on the water.


Feel free to comment below, and I'll be sure to answer.

Share Your Experience

If head on out to the Manistee this summer, take some photos from your trip and post them to your own MyNorth Scrapbook. 

Read the Story

Buy the June 2009 issue of Traverse Magazine in your local bookstore or online now to see and read all about this kayak adventure down the Manistee River.

Photo(s) by Todd Zawistowski