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A Paddler's Kitchen Checklist

River trips are famous (infamous?) for their over-the-top meals and the leave-nothing-at-home mentality. Hey, if you have room, bring it! However, you can get away with a simple backpacking kitchen as well, if you plan meals correctly. Most people choose to pack a kitchen that is somewhere in between a fancy restaurant and a pared down backpacking kitchen. We’ll start with the basics for a functional paddler’s kitchen and then add on the frills for good measure.

Every paddler’s kitchen, whether you’re whitewater rafting or kayaking or kayak touring, needs a few simple things: a stove, a cleaning area, and a prepping area. If you want to start getting fancy, you’ll also have an appetizer table and a hang-out / serving space. The best paddling kitchens are either in a U shape or an L shape. Ideally, you’ll have 2 or 3 long tables and you can hang a dish hammock in between the two. Otherwise, find a couple of trees and hang the dish hammock there. You might also want a roll table or two. If you are limited on space, drag one of your hard-shell kayaks into camp and use that as a table.

Inside the Paddler’s Kitchen:

Cooking: A simple menu might require fewer pots, pans, etc.

  • Stove (Johnny Partner makes excellent stoves) - Depending on the trip size you can decide whether you want to use a 1, 2, 4, or 6-burner stove.
  • Propane or other fuel
  • Matches or lighters (make sure they work!)
  • Large, medium, and small pots (one of each is ideal)
  • Large, medium, and small fry pans (again, one of each is ideal)
  • Dutch oven
  • Coffee press or non-paper filter (small, lightweight, easy to use, and it makes making coffee much easier.
  • Charcoal & lighter fluid (easy to make with firewood too if you are in fire permit season).

Prep: Don't go crazy, but make sure you have the right prep materials to make cooking fun.

  • Prep table - this is where you'll do all your chopping and usually your serving as well.
  • Hand wash bucket. A simple system involves a cup with holes that hangs off the side. Make sure to put a few drops of bleach into the rinse bucket.
  • Cooking utensils holder - obviously not essential, but cooking will be much more pleasant if you are organized
  • Spatula, spoons, whisk, can opener, wine opener, garlic press.
  • Eating utensil holder - this might be something each individual brings.
  • Knife holder and knives - you need as many knives as people cooking.
  • Aprons


  • Dishes/ clean-up table - this can also be done on the ground.
  • Buckets/ Chicky Pails - A typical river wash system has 3 or 4 buckets - soapy, rinse, and the last one is lightly bleached.
  • Sponges and scrubbies
  • Drying rack or hammock (this is best tied between two of the tables)
  • Trash bucket and bag.
  • Recycling bucket and bag.
  • * If you're going for a super eco-friendly trip, bring a compost bucket as well!

Storage and Refrigeration:

  • Coolers - pack with ice according to weather. Drain each evening. Soft coolers can also work if you are tight on space and the weather is cooler, but they do not hold the cold in as well. Also, account for extra ice if the weather is warm and cold cocktails are in order.
  • Staples box - it is a common practice to keep dry staples such as oil, sugar, coffee, tea, paper towels, matches, aluminum foil, etc. in a dry box.


  • Plates, bowls, cups. On private trips, often the trip leader will have everyone bring their own utensils, cup, plate, and bowl.
  • Coffee cup!


  • Water jugs to store fresh water.
  • Water pump or water purification (check with the local permitting agency to see what is recommended)

Shelter and Hang-out:

  • Shelter - often 2 tarps are brought, one for the kitchen and one for the hang-out area. The greatest tarps are the wing-shaped ones that are easy to tie down and that drain well.
  • Folding Chairs or crazy-creeks.
  • Roll table for appetizers
  • Firepan (if required)
  • Lantern (can also be used for prep or cleanup if dinner is late)

In short, make sure your kitchen will be sanitary, food will be kept cold and dry, that there will be space to cook, serve, and clean, and that cooking will be fun. You can make some amazing and delicious meals in a paddling kitchen!

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