by Dan Lewis, Tofino
Have you ever had the experience of camping forlornly on some beach
in the rain, while a yacht moored in the bay flaunts the fact that
they have onboard all the comforts of home? You can kid yourself all
you want that you are having a richer, more meaningful “nature” experience,
but at some point you realize that you just wish they would invite
you aboard for a cup of tea.
And yet, it’s not that hard to be comfortable in camp. It just
takes a bit of knowledge and experience, and some decent gear. You
don’t need a lot of fancy stuff to be at ease—just the
minimum amount necessary to be cozy in the worst imaginable conditions,
and then a bit more.
If there is one thing my partner Bonny has taught me about kayak
touring, it’s the importance of traveling in comfort and style. What criteria
and indicators do we have for assessing comfort and style while kayak
camping? We must answer two questions: 1) Do we look good? and 2) Do
we feel good? If the answer to the first question is yes, then we are
clearly stylin’. And if we feel good, clearly we are comfortable.
Then there’s the synergistic relationship between the two, as
anyone who pays attention to shampoo commercials knows: when you look
good, you feel good; and when you are feeling good, you simply look
First, let’s start with clothing, as here we can most clearly
see the connection between comfort and style. Right off the bat, forget
about bringing cotton on paddling trips on the west coast. It’s
just not worth it. As the weather begins its inexorable slide towards
dampness, cotton gets heavier and becomes useless as an insulator.
By the end of the week you’re lugging around a bag full of deadweight.
Far better to select a simple wardrobe of wool or fleece clothing.
You can go retro at your local thrift shop, or you can break the bank
making a brand-name fashion statement.
Rain gear is key to comfort while coastal camping. They don’t
call it the raincoast for nothing! If you are out all summer like me,
you might want to hedge your bets to save your back, and go for waterproof
but light—namely, brand-name, high-tech. My preference is for
old-school, heavy duty salopette-style pants, paired with a lighter
rain jacket. There is nothing better than plopping down on a beach
log in comfort and style, while your comrades squabble over the last
patch of dry ground under the tarp.
But the real secret to comfortable beach camping is gumboots. Call
them what you will—gum-tuckers, rubber boots, Wellingtons, Wellies,
mud boots, snake boots—just be sure to bring a pair. With a warm,
dry pair of socks, good raingear and boots on, you can laugh at the
fury of the gales, dance down the beach during a torrent, and generally
remain cheerful during any adverse conditions. They also mean no more
detours around streams when beach-walking, and they make dish- washing
and tooth-brushing in the intertidal zone downright civilized. And
I hear they are making quite the splash these days on the London fashion
At this point, I should mention an old timber cruiser’s secret:
having an extra set of dry clothes to get into at the end of the day.
Under no circumstances should you ever allow yourself to wear some
of your dry clothes the following day, under the pretext that you’ll
dry them out at some point. Take a deep breath, and slide back into
your wet clothes in the morning—you’ll be glad you did
at day’s end. In really wet weather, nothing gets dry; it’s
a one-way descent into wetness. Your job is to slow the rate of decline
in any way you can, so that you can maintain the expedition standards
of comfort and style until the end of the trip.
The next key to camp comfort is having a tarp or several tarps. How
many depends on the number of people. On long expeditions with just
two of us, we bring two 9’ x 12’ lightweight nylon tarps—one
flies over our tent door, the other over the kitchen and living room,
erected a safe distance away from our tent.
Having a tarp over your tent door means you can get out of the dang
thing without having to slither into all your raingear while crouching
in the vestibule—or worse, trying to sit on your bed without
getting it wet. And having a tarp over your kitchen means you can cook
and eat in comfort and style.
Your tent must be waterproof. This is your ace in the hole. When
all else fails, you get into the tent, and crawl into your warm, dry
sleeping bag. Having two doors and vestibules can maintain civility
on an expedition, as you don’t have to climb over your mate every time you need
Finally, make sure your sleeping bag is a synthetic fill, rather
than down-filled. If the unthinkable is ever to occur, and your tent
is breached by rain, at least you will be warm. Sleeping is a rather
moist affair at the best of times in a wee waterproof shelter, so your
bag will slowly get damper during the week, especially if you are breaking
camp early in the mornings before the sun has a chance to dry things
It should be noted that I have focused on preparing for when things
get gnarly. This does not mean that one shouldn’t prepare for
fair weather, too. All you need to add to your kit for the inevitable
glorious days of sunshine is a pair of water sandals, a pair of nylon
shorts or pants, one long-sleeved cotton shirt (did I say that?), your
paddling shades and sun hat.
Chances are, your storm gear won’t get a lot of use over a summer.
But when it is needed, you will be so glad to have lugged it around,
and will be ready to weather the storms in comfort and style. Then
you won’t even care that the yacht moored in the bay hasn’t
invited you over for tea!
Dan Lewis and Bonny Glambeck operate Rainforest Kayak Adventures, a
sea kayak company in Tofino.
For info visit their website at www.rainforestkayak.com
Tofino kayak guide Dan Lewis writes about his experiences on camping in Tofino and kayaking in Clayoquot Sound.