Our family has always loved paddle sports. We’ve conquered canoe camping and it was time to level up. We recently took up stand up paddling and my kids quickly learned the new sport. I decided to try camping at our usual spots on Lake Ouachita, but this time we were going stand up paddle board camping!
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The paddle boards.
I spent a lot of time researching the right paddle boards for our family. A few years ago, I got to use an inflatable paddle board on weeklong trip with Oars Rafting. I loved the easy feel of paddling, the flexibility of sitting or standing, and how easy they were to store. Stand up paddle boards were on my gear list for a while and due to lack of storage space at home and in my car, I decided to get inflatable boards. The boards (isups) are great if you’re gear storage is already lacking, or for hauling boards and kids or pets. I happened on a great sale from High Society Freeride for two boards for $650 and I jumped on it. I’ve since purchased another one, so we have three Elevation boards.
How to find a camping location.
We prefer a style of camping called dispersed camping. That means it is not in an established campground. These sites are often in the wilderness and have no amenities. Stand up paddle board camping is the perfect opportunity to try dispersed camping. In Arkansas, we have a huge lake called Lake Ouachita. This lake is entirely within the Ouachita National Forest. Many national forests (or BLM land) allow for off grid and dispersed style camping. You need to look on the government website for the land you’re heading into to make sure it’s okay. I like to use the US Forest Service website or an internet search for dispersed camping close to where we are going. To find stand up paddle board camping sites, you’ll need to also look in and around water sources or look for paddle or water trails. You can also use the GAIA app and The Dyrt to find more.
Screenshot taken from the GAIA GPS app (you get three months free with the Zoleo subscription).
Our stand up paddle board camping spot.
I knew that the lake would be busy because we were headed out on a summer afternoon. It’s also a well known recreational lake with lots of big boats. I decided to try a new to us part of the lake on the western side of the lake, Little Fir Landing. It’s a smaller boat ramp and campground, that would give us some unique fingers of the lake to explore. We loaded up and shoved off. It was a perfect afternoon, though a little rough with all the waves from the boats. Unfortunately, after nearly five miles of paddling and exploring we couldn’t find a good spot to camp. We didn’t have hammocks and the very rocky shoreline made it difficult to even pull the isups up. There was plenty of daylight left, so we hauled back to the car, half deflated the boards, drove 40 minutes to Lake Ouachita State Park Marina, then took off again for our beloved canoe camping spot. There are over 200 islands on the lake and you camp on almost all of them (except Bird Island).
A perfect camping trip.
Even though it was almost dark when we arrived, we were overjoyed to see that “our spot” was open! It was a busy summer night and all of the dispersed camping places along the islands and shoreline are first come first serve. A quick note: have good camping etiquette and leave some space if an area is already occupied. My daughter used some rocks and built a really nice fire pit while I unloaded and set up the tent. The sunset that night was spectacular and so were the stars when it got dark. She slept soundly all night, but I got to enjoy hearing the coyotes howling and yipping echo off the lake and surrounding island. The sunrise the next morning was also phenomenal and we enjoyed a slow breakfast before loading up and paddling back. It’s important to be off the main channels, or at least plan to paddle very close to the shoreline on busy summer days. You are much smaller and slower than the big speed boats that roar around, so be alert and careful.
Stand up paddle board camping gear list.
Here it comes, the big gear list you’re looking for. This list is comprehensive and includes almost everything that I used on our trip. Almost because I’m not going to link clothes and apparel, but just know that Title Nine is forever and always my favorite place to get clothing for myself. The REI kids line of clothes is my daughter’s favorite. Let’s start with the basics: the boards. As mentioned, I have three Elevation inflatable paddle board kits from High Society Free Ride. These come with a storage backpack, manual pump, repair kit, ankle tether, and paddle. I love them because I can just throw the bags in and go. We also took my daughter’s life jacket and my life jacket. My life jacket is a kayaking style jacket meant for fishing, so it has lots of pockets. Her life jacket is a DBX Verve, adult small. This O’neill life jacket is very similar. It is required by law that you have your life jackets with you on board your paddle boards.
The most important things first.
The paddle boards may be most important, but this I would consider essential: your waterproof bags. While you may not tip your board, the potential is there. Plus, if you get on or off your board at all, you’ll splash water around. I packed ALL of the things we needed into two, large waterproof bags. I strapped one to the front of my daughter’s board and one to the front of mine. We also had two smaller waterproof bags for things we wanted easy access to, and I have a small, waterproof hip pack for things like car keys and phone. The smaller packs are attached with carabiners, so are our water bottles. Note: the large bags are expensive, but, one of mine is over twenty years old and still works great. They are worth the investment!
- Large waterproof bag – Sealline Boundary Bag – 115 L – Amazon – REI
- Small waterproof bag – Sealline – Amazon – REI
- Waterproof hip pack – Amazon
- Carabiners – Black Diamond – Amazon – REI
- Waterbottle – Stanley IceFlow Flipstraw – Amazon – Stanley
The tent and sleeping gear.
My tent is a very well loved backpacking style tent. I prefer a backpacking tent because it is lighter weight and takes up less space on the board. Because of that, you’re not going to have a lot of space to hang out in the tent but it does great for sleeping. I also bring along backpacking style sleeping pads and a packable, down quilt. I did not bring sleeping bags on this trip because it was so hot.
- Tent – MSR Elixir 2 – Amazon – REI
- Sleeping pad – Thermarest Pro Lite Plus – Amazon – REI
- Quilt – Rumpl – Amazon – REI
Stand up paddle board camping: cooking gear and food.
Once again, I prefer to use our backpacking style gear when we are canoe camping and I figured it would be the same for stand up paddle board camping. We have even less space for gear than we do in the canoe. I took along our cook stove, two pots, some utensils, cups, bowls, a way to make coffee, dehydrated meals, and easy snacks. Camp food is sometimes tricky for me because of Celiac Disease and multiple food allergies, but I have found some things that work. I have tried lots of different dehydrated meals and let me tell you, that pad Thai is delicious! A tip: order the dehydrated meals in bulk when you know you like them. Please note: most of my camp kitchen gear is quite old. My pot and pan set is almost twenty years old and works great! Just know that these are worth getting because they will last.
- Camp stove – MSR Pocket Rocket – Amazon – REI
- Pots and pans – MSR Titan 2 Pot Set – Amazon – REI
- Eating utensils – Light My Fire Spork – Amazon – REI
- Mug – GSI Outdoors Mug – Amazon – REI
- Coffee – GSI Ultralight Javadrip – Amazon – REI
- Cup and bowl – Sea to Summit X Cup/Bowl – Amazon – REI
- Stove fuel – Isobutane fuel canister – Amazon – REI
- Dinner – Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai (Gluten Free + Vegan) – Amazon – REI
- Dinner – Backpacker’s Pantry Mac n Cheese – Amazon – REI
- Coffee – Onyx Coffee Southern Weather – Amazon
- Breakfast – Bob’s Red Mill GF Oatmeal – Amazon
- Snacks – Larabars – Amazon
The essential items.
The next group of items are part of what I would consider the ten essentials. You can read more about those HERE. I bring these items on almost every hike and camping trip. They are things that would be crucial if we are caught outside longer than we planned. But they’re also items that you’ll need for any outdoor adventure. These were all packed inside smaller stuff sacks, and placed inside the big waterproof bag.
- Zoleo Satellite Communicator – Amazon – REI
- Headlamps – Black Diamond Rechargeable – Amazon – REI
- Lamp – Biolite Sunlight – Amazon
- First Aid Kit – Adventure Medical Kits – Amazon – REI
- Multitool – Gerber Multitool
- Knife – Gerber Confidant Knife
- Water filter – Sawyer Ultralight – Amazon – REI
- Sunscreen – Sunbum Sunblock – Amazon
- Bug Spray – 3Moms Organics Bug and Tick spray – Amazon
- Clothesline – Amazon – REI
- Microfiber towels – Nomadix – Amazon – REI
Don’t forget the fun extras.
Now that we’ve covered the essentials, let’s add some fun! I always try to bring along some things that will insert a little whimsy in our adventure. For this trip, I surprised my daughter with some twinkle lights on the tent, a card game, and our watercolors and an art journal. Watercoloring is a really fun thing to do while stand up paddle board camping!
A few more notes about gear.
Due to the rocky shoreline on Lake Ouachita, I also took along a tarp to lay our boards on so they wouldn’t get popped or scratched overnight. For stand up paddle board camping, its important to bring along a repair kit and one of the manual pumps. I figured it was better to be safe than sorry, and we had the space. Two other key components: sunglasses and hats! My favorite sunglasses are the Tifosi Swank Mirrored sunglasses, and my daughter has just a cheap pair of polarized lenses. The polarized lenses are really helpful on the water. I love my running hat from Oiselle, my girl has one too.
Go make some memories.
I hope that this post is encouraging to you and inspires you to take on a new adventure with your family! Please feel free to message me on Facebook or Instagram if you have any questions at all. Check out some Reels about our trip HERE and HERE. One more note: don’t forget to clean your gear as soon as you get home! Thanks so much for reading, happy adventuring! ~Nichole
Nichole is a writer, content creator, and family travel and adventure influencer residing in southwest Arkansas. Though her and her husband (Ryan) are originally from the midwest, they’ve lived in Arkansas for ten years now and are thrilled to call it home. They have homeschooled their children from the beginning of their educational journey. They have a now 12 year old son and 9 year old daughter, along with a 9 month old, 100 pound Direwolf Dog puppy named Levi. Nichole is an avid outdoor adventurer and roadtripper and has been taking her kids on adventures by herself since they were infants, it’s all part of what she calls being responsibly brave. She is also on the Executive Team for Run Wild My Child and has contributed to Wild and Free. Be sure to follow her on Instagram and Facebook to stay up to date with all of their shenanigans.