First Ascent kayaker Jesse Coombs shares his tips and tricks for traveling to remote corners of the world with kayak in tow.
By Jesse Coombs
I’m often asked, “How do you get your gear across the world?”
First, book a flight with an airline that is kayak-friendly. Research the policies of all the airline options, and select one that explicitly accepts kayaks. With ever-changing airline luggage policies, be sure to check airline policies online beforehand to make sure you do not have any unwanted surprises the morning of your flight.
I like to pack four “bags” (kayak included) for my trips:
Small personal bag. This is for my important and expensive possessions that I want on my person at all times such as passport, tickets, money, video and still cameras, computer, book, chess, notepad, and sunglasses.
A carry-on bag. This is as big a bag as the airline will allow me to walk on the plane. The carry-on bag will not be weighed, so this is your chance to get all your heavy stuff on the plane without having to pay extra for it. I use this bag to do my best to keep my two checked bags at or under the maximum weight for checking bags free, which is usually 50 lbs. I use a medium-size, internal-frame backpack and pack items such as a bag of power cords, external hard drive, and any other electronics, clothes, toiletries, liquids and gels and camping gear. You’ll be very glad you have these items in your possession in case your luggage gets lost, like mine did on my last trip to Brazil.
Kayak and paddles. This is an extended explanation but a necessary one, considering the kayak is the reason for your trip. As I mentioned, you want to keep the total weight of your checked bags under 50 lbs. to avoid additional charges (an average kayak with paddles weighs about 40 pounds).
How to duct tape your paddles to the top of your boat: If you orient the paddles correctly, they will lie down nicely on the stern and off the bow by a couple inches. Take a layer or two of your lightweight paddling clothing and put this between the blade and boat to support it. If you do this correctly, it will stand up to the guaranteed beating your boat and paddles will receive by baggage handlers. I have always traveled with Werner Paddles and have never had one arrive broken by packing this way. If you have any weight left, attach your breakdown, helmet and other bulky items in your boat. Take a prussic and use a carabiner to attach your paddles to the kayak so that baggage handlers can’t somehow pull the paddles off. Use copious amounts of tape to ensure it would take a small army to remove the paddles from the kayak. Use a lightweight tarp or bag to cover the kayak completely. You want this to look like “cargo,” not sports equipment, for safety. Try to create handles where the ticket agent can attach the bag tag and you can attach a tag with your contact information. Finally, if possible, make it so the front and back grab loops can be used for moving your boat around. Your boat will get dragged around, so be prepared for the under part of your packaging to take a beating regardless of how you package it.
A standard checked bag. Everything else goes in here. Fill it until you reach weight. I pack my kayak gear, knife, liquids and gels, first aid kit, and climbing gear.
If you follow this packaging system, your only extra fee will be one oversize fee and you’ll be fully packed for the whitewater at your destination. Safe travels!
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