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
- 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)
- Coffee press or
non-paper filter (small, lightweight, easy to use, and it makes making coffee
- Charcoal &
lighter fluid (easy to make with firewood too if you are in fire permit
Prep: Don't go
crazy, but make sure you have the right prep materials to make cooking
- Prep table - this
is where you'll do all your chopping and usually your serving as
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- Drying rack or
hammock (this is best tied between two of the tables)
- Trash bucket and
- Recycling bucket
- * If you're going
for a super eco-friendly trip, bring a compost bucket as well!
- 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.
- Water jugs to
store fresh water.
- Water pump or
water purification (check with the local permitting agency to see what is
- 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
- Folding Chairs or
- Roll table for
- Firepan (if
- 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!