The 15 Essentials Every Kayaker Needs

Whether you’re heading out for a day trip or a weeklong adventure, being prepared ensures an enjoyable trip and that you make it back alive if conditions sour. This expert-approved list will get you well on your way to packing your hatch.

Legally required items

  • PFD: Find yourself the right PFD and you’ll never regret it. With so many makes and models on the market, there’s no excuse to not own (and wear!) a PFD that you love.
  • Signalling device: A high-quality whistle attached to your PFD that is easily accessible when it counts.
  • Tow rope/throw rope: Besides being required by law, you’ll find your tow rope handy for helping out friends in need or tying down boats in camp.
  • Pump/bailing device: Boats float better when they’re not full of water, make sure you can remove water from your boat if necessary.



Other important essentials

  • Weather forecast/tide chart: Weather conditions and tides inform your choice of route, departure time and gear. Sometimes it’s worth waiting for tomorrow’s sunshine instead of paddling in gale force winds and driving rain.
  • Appropriate clothes: In just about any season, plan to have sun protection, insulating layers and windbreaking/waterproof layers. Drysuits or wetsuit/paddling top are essential in cold water conditions.
  • Rescue skills: Have the skills and knowledge of how to rescue yourself and others. Every paddler should have a reliable form of self-rescue such as a paddle float rescue and/or roll. Equally importantly, every paddler should know several ways of getting other paddlers back into their boats. Practice these skills in various conditions and temperatures so you feel confident when it matters.
  • Map and compass: Unless you’re just out for a meander in the local pond, it’s worth knowing what’s around you and how to get there.
  • Mini ditch kit: Include a basic first aid and repair kit and more essentials.
  • Communication device – Depending on your paddling area, this could be your cell phone, VHF radio or a satellite phone. Know how to use your device and make sure it’s charged.
  • Float plan: Make sure a trusted friend knows your expected return time and what to do if you don’t make contact by that time and date.



Plus a few more critical ingredients

  • Fuel: Keeping up your energy on a long paddle or cold days is a must. Chocolate is a sure-fire way to make friends among lovable dirt-bag paddlers.
  • Waterproof dry bag or case: Keep your keys, phone, camera and wallet safe and dry. Diving for car keys is only rarely successful.
  • Good paddling buddies: It can take a while to find the right people whose judgment you trust, whose company you enjoy, who have similar skills and interests, and who have the know-how to keep themselves and you out of trouble. Social paddles, kayak clubs, paddling festivals and courses are all good places to make connections.
  • A sense of adventure and a dose of common sense.


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