How (and Where) to Have an Overnight SUP Camping Excursion

Stand-up paddleboarding—or, SUPing—might be the poster child for Hallmark family beach vacations everywhere. (Aka, wholesome and nice, but not altogether thrilling.) But the truth is: this sport can be seriously adventuresome.

From catching waves to catching fish, the variety of activities you can do from a stand-up paddleboard is pretty extensive. And the variety of waterways you can hit—from flat water lakes to whitewater rivers—is seriously expansive.

In short, SUPing isn’t just a way to keep the kids entertained in Destin. It’s a way to unlock a whole new ecosystem of exploration. It’s an adventure vessel—and a vessel for adventure. And one of the best ways to maximize the dynamism (and sheer fun) of a stand-up paddleboard is with an overnight SUP camping excursion.

Here, we’re offering insider tips for overnight SUP camping trips, plus some of the best places to do it.

Multi-Day SUP Trips: A Primer

Two people on SUP on a river in a canyon “Journey Trips” offer the best of both paddling and backpacking. Photo by Zachary Collier(Opens in a new window)

For overnight long-distance paddle trips, or "journey trips" as they’re sometimes called, the basic gist is this: You seek out a body of water—a lake, a coastal area, or better yet, a river, as rivers very naturally lend you a point A to point B trajectory. You set up a shuttle system and determine your daily mileage and predetermined campsites. Then you load up all your gear on your board (tent, sleeping bag, cookware & food), and then quite literally just go with the flow.

It’s basically backpacking. But on water instead of on trail. Which is a pretty sweet change of pace terrain, if you ask us.

SUP Camping: Where to Go

A landscape view of a rock formation and a river in Canyonlands Utah’s Green River is a legendary river for SUP camping. Photo by Matthew Dillon(Opens in a new window)

In case you needed a reminder, the US is positively loaded with world-class waterways. From the bays and bayous of the Gulf to the lakes and languid rivers of the Pacific Northwest, this country is practically bursting at the seams with world-class water recreation.

Here are a few of our favorites for an overnight or multi-day SUP trip.

Lower Section of the Green River | Utah

Labyrinth Canyon(Opens in a new window) is considered by many the crème de la crème of flatwater paddle excursions. This 47-mile stretch of the Green River, from Ruby Ranch to Mineral Bottom, is legendary—weaving through giant red cliffs and buttes, towering rock spires and canyon walls, and alongside lush river bottom landscapes ripe with dozens of serene sand bars where you can pitch your tent. Doable in an easy 3 days, this Class I river trip, in the belly of where dinosaurs once roamed the earth, is truly one for any SUPer’s paddling bucket list.

The Florida Keys | Florida

When people think of paddle boarding in Florida, they think of the Keys. Home to crystal-clear waters, mangrove forests, fascinating marine life like manatees and stingrays, long-lost shipwrecks, and campsites perched upon sugar-white sands, the Florida Keys are what SUP camping dreams are made of.

French Broad River Paddle Trail | North Carolina

In North Carolina, the French Broad River is a beloved blueway where every summer Ashevillians hit the water with innertubes and coolers full of beer and then float the day away. For stand-up paddleboarders, the French Broad makes for an excellent multi-day SUP camping trip. There are plenty of ways to break it up, but one particularly solid option is the 4-day paddle from Hap Simpson Park to Woodfin Park. It’s 55 miles all told, a great stretch of river with minimal rapids, and you can end the trip with some cold brews from one of the many Arts District Asheville breweries lining the French Broad.

Tennessee River Gorge | Tennessee

Home of the Chattajack(Opens in a new window)—a 31-mile stand-up paddle board race through the “Grand Canyon of Tennessee”—the Tennessee River Gorge is stunning. From the banks of the river, mountains sprout up 1,600 feet on each side. The river itself weaves like a serpentine shoelace, sometimes curving so much upon itself, its tail almost touches its head. Traveling from downtown Chattanooga to Nickajack Lake, this overnight paddle trip is one for the record books. The campsite at Tennessee Wall (or, T-Wall)—a beloved local climbing crag—is a great halfway point offering a fantastic (and free) campground to set up your tent for the night.

Lake Tahoe | California

Lake Tahoe is 191 square miles of pure, unadulterated mountain lake goodness. This stunning freshwater lake, high in the Sierra Nevadas of California and Nevada, is a playground for outdoor recreation of all shapes, sizes, and yep—speeds. In winter, skiers flock to its world-class resorts. In summer, backpackers, trail runners, and hikers take to the trails in droves. For paddlers, it doesn’t get any better than the 72-mile Lake Tahoe Water Trail(Opens in a new window). A complete circumnavigation of the entire lake, this paddle route features emerald blue waters, beachside camping, plenty of places for cliff jumping and rock hopping, and so much more. Typically, the whole route takes about 5 to 7 days to complete.

What to Bring SUP Camping

In a lot of ways, you bring what you’d typically bring backpacking—only with more waterproof protection. Photo by Maddle Boards(Opens in a new window)

Once you've picked a location, it's time to start packing. When you're packing for an overnight SUP camping trip, it's important to remember that you'll be carrying all your gear with you on your board, so pack light! Here's a list of essential items you'll need for your trip:

A Stand-Up Paddleboard

First, the obvious. If you’re going on a SUP trip, you’re gonna need a SUP. In terms of which SUP you get, the world is your oyster. There are dozens of excellent brands out there, from BOTE to NRS, and an equally sprawling mix of styles and sizes. The key is to find a board that matches your size (height + weight) as well as your activity of choice (in this case, a touring SUP).

The general rule of thumb is that you’ll want a longer board if you're taller and a shorter one if you’re shorter. The reason is because taller people have higher centers of gravity than shorter people. So, a taller person will find it more difficult to maintain balance on a shorter board. Alternatively, a shorter person will struggle to control a longer board.

In terms of the style of board, you’re gonna want a Touring SUP or even a Racing SUP. These are both typically longer paddle boards, which is key if you’ve got the need for speed (or distance). Their ability to carve through the water with their narrower shape and speedy efficiency adds up throughout long distances. Anything above 12’ is typically a good bet for long-distance paddling, racing, or training.

Also, don’t forget a paddle (obviously) and a Personal Flotation Device (especially if you’re traveling down Class I and II rivers or in choppy coastal waters).

Sleep System

Just like with backpacking, your sleep system is going to make or break the SUP camping experience. The triple threat trifecta of what you need is a tent, a sleeping bag, and a sleeping pad. Of course, there are some variations you can make within these categories. A tarp or bivy or hammock can replace a tent. A down quilt can replace a sleeping bag. The sleeping pad can be either foam or inflatable. It’s all about finding what works for you. Our advice if you’re just starting out? Go with the tried and true: tent, bag, inflatable pad.

Cooking System

We all know the best part of any camping trip isn’t nature or even the smell of a campfire. It’s the food. Something about eating in the woods just makes everything taste better. Twenty-five-cent ramen noodle packets become Michelin-starred masterpieces. Beef jerky becomes filet mignon. Couscous becomes the food so nice they named it twice (sorry, we had to). For a great camp cookware setup, you need five essential items: a camp stove, a fuel canister, a lighter, a titanium pot, and ye olde faithful spork. Insider tip: the MSR PocketRocket(Opens in a new window) is a ridiculously convenient and easy to use stove. In terms of food, instant mashed potatoes, mac & cheese, and cold cut salami make for one weird-on-paper yet damn-delicious backcountry meal.

SUP camping is all about two things: 1) Adventure and 2) Keep your gear dry.

Waterproof Bags

There’s not much worse than a sopping wet sleeping bag or apparel you can wring out like a rag. (Maybe getting caught in outerspace like Sandra Bullock in Gravity tops a wet sleeping bag. But that’s pretty much it.) To keep your gear dry, you’ll need waterproof bags that go the distance. For that and more, our Osprey Arcane™ Transporter™ and Wildwater bags(Opens in a new window) are ready to go anywhere water protection is paramount.

Apparel & Clothing

Paddling apparel, of course, depends on where you’re going. If you’re paddling in warm water, opt for a bathing suit and long sleeve shirt (for sun protection). The Ohana Straw Hat is also a pretty killer option for sun protection. In colder waters, go for a wetsuit. For camp, only pack synthetic or merino wool apparel. Leave the cotton at home. And pack layers. For your upper half, a good package would look something like this: a merino wool tee, a lightweight wool pullover, a synthetic down pullover, and a windbreaker. For your bottom, it’s all about that long john’s life. And socks. Bring extra socks! You can never have enough socks.

Miscellaneous Gadgets & Gear

Various other gear you may want to include is a headlamp with extra batteries, a multi-tool or a knife, and pretty much anything else from the Ten Essentials List(Opens in a new window)—a compilation of important safety items every hiker (or paddler!) should consider carrying into the backcountry.

All in all, if you’re looking to ramp up your stand up paddle boarding game, SUP camping is one of the best and most rewarding ways to do it. We’ll see you out there.