Packing Tips for a Kayak Trip in the San Juan Islands

One of my goals this year is to tread lightly, or lighter rather. I’ve always been conservation minded, but this year I intend to seriously cut down if not eliminate any single use plastics, to use less gas and to be more mindful about how I consume and how much space I take up on this beautiful and delicate earth of ours.

With this in mind I treated myself to a guided kayak tour with San Juan Outfitters earlier this year. Gliding silently through the beautiful waters of the Salish Sea, while respectfully observing wildlife really appealed to me, and at the same time, pushed my boundaries just enough.

San Juan Outfitters have their base camp in the bustling historic resort of Roche Harbor on San Juan Island, and they’ll pick you up in Friday Harbor if you are travelling without a car. All guided tours take place in double kayaks, which you “board” via slip docks, making it virtually impossible to fall in the water trying to get in or out of your boat. I liked that very much. San Juan Outfitter’s fun kayak guides are all trained naturalists, able to answer such pressing questions as “how long do starfish live” and “how fast does bull kelp grow”. They know where the Bald Eagles’ nests are, where the latest whale sighting was and how much time you have left to watch the seals playing before the tide goes out. I felt safe, in excellent hands and had an unforgettable experience.

Insider Tip:

In addition to “my” three-hour kayak tour out of Roche Harbor, San Juan Outfitters also offers 5-hour Orca Search, multi day, family, as well as bioluminescent kayak tours. All levels of experience and all ages are welcome. Call and discuss which trip is right for you. 

When packing for your kayak trip, especially if you are going on a day where the weather is still trying to decide whether it will be warm and sunny or breezy and overcast, bring more not less. San Juan Outfitters have a big locker by their check-in kiosk where you can leave the things that you don’t want to bring on the water.

You’ll get a kayaking skirt, so you won’t get wet in your boat. You’ll also be asked to wear a life vest with lots of pockets, additionally protecting you from wind and cold and perfect to store your phone or camera and gloves.

Use the bathroom on the docks before your kayak trip. If you have to go during the outing, your kayak guide will find a place to pull over to use the bushes. 

What to wear:

  • Dress for the water temperature, rather than the air temperature, while you won’t be swimming, you will be sitting low, surrounded by cold water

  • Wear layers, lots and lots of comfortable layers, to protect against both, sun and cold.

  • Avoid water absorbing cotton and go with quick drying fibers, your arms are likely to get little drips of water up your sleeves when you paddle

  • Wear river sandals or old sneakers.

  • Sun hat with straps or well-fitting baseball cap and a beanie for underneath.

  • Light gloves, against cold and blisters.


What to bring:

  • Sunscreen, always, especially on cloudy days. 

  • Sunglasses.

  • Water in a metal or plastic bottle, avoid glass.

  • Snack, like a granola bar or some fruit.

  • Camera & go-pro.

  • Binoculars.

 Have fun!