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What to take on a kayaking trip depends, in large part, on the type of paddling adventure you’re undertaking. If you are heading out for the day, it’s calm, and you will be near shore, minimal gear is required. However, if you are planning an extended trip, all day or several days, or are planning to be off-shore or in an unpredictable environment or conditions there are some essential items you need to take on your trip.
Each trip you take is likely to be unique and present various challenges and opportunities, and as a result, needs for essential gear. Ultimately, what you decide is needed for your trip is dependent on your skill level, personal preferences, environmental conditions, and the experiences you intend to engage in.
For the purposes of this article we are not including a whitewater kayaking trip. Whitewater kayaking will require some additional and specialized gear to consider. The following is a guide for your consideration of what to take on any other type of kayaking trip. Specifically, a longer journey and under conditions where you will need to rely on yourself and/or your fellow kayakers to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.
A shorter trip, under calm conditions, for a recreational paddle.
- Kayak: A kayak for each paddler or a tandem for two individuals.
- Dry Bag: A waterproof bag that allows you to store your electronics and personal items keeping them safe from water damage.
- Personal Flotation Device (PFD): Do not, do not ever go out in your kayak without a PFD. Safety is your top priority always.
- Spray skirt: If the weather conditions and/or water temperatures are cooler, it’s important to have a spray skirt to limit the impact on the cooler water/air temperature, making your trip much more enjoyable.
- Cell Phone: Even on shorter trips, a cell phone is important if the unexpected occurs.
- Flashlight: Either a flashlight or headlamp is always a good idea, should your trip extend towards dusk.
- Whistle: A signal whistle, clipped to your PFD, is essential equipment to assist in an emergency.
- Bilge pump to remove any water that accumulates in your kayak;
- A sponge is a good alternative for a bilge pump;
- Basic first aid kit for any minor injuries;
- Additional clothing if weather conditions change;
- Sunscreen and/or protective clothing (hat).
If you are planning an all day outing or multiple days and will be adventuring into waters that will require you to rely on yourself or anyone paddling with you, the following are the items you will need to consider for your trip:
- Sponge and/or Bilge Pump: Water will eventually get into your kayak and if you’re not in a position to go ashore to remove the water, a sponge or bilge pump will ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.
- Dry Bags: A dry bag is a sealable, watertight bag to secure your electronics, spare clothing and anything you want/need to keep dry.
- Personal Flotation Devices (PFD): A life jacket or PFD is an essential safety item not matter what kind of kayaking trip you are taking. They provide buoyancy if your kayak capsizes or you go overboard. If you are kayaking in colder conditions they provide another layer of insulation to keep you warm.
- Paddle Float: If your paddle is not design in a manner that ensures it floats (see manufacturer’s specs) you should consider purchasing and utilizing paddle floats. These devices can be inflated and attached to your paddle should it fall into the water.
- Paddle Leash: Another option is to use a paddle leash. This device can tether your paddle to your wrist or kayak rigging. The leash can save you a long swim to retrieve your paddle or money to purchase another paddle.
- Shelter: A lightweight backpacking tent or emergency bivvy is important, especially if the conditions are such that it could impact your safety. Something that is lightweight and compact to minimize the impact on your limited storage space and kayak weight restrictions. A freestanding tent gives you greater versatility depending on the conditions you may find yourself in.
The United States Coast Guard (USCG) requires an approved PFD for each person in a kayak. It is also strongly recommended that you wear your PFD at all times. It is difficult once you are in the water to attempt and put your PFD on, which could endanger your safety.
- Sunscreen: Having sunscreen is critical for your kayaking trip. You are exposed to the sun and the reflection coming off the water increases your exposure. You need to apply frequently and to all areas of exposed skin. Wearing rash guard clothing and a hat are also suggested to limit your exposure to the sun.
- First Aid Kit: Medical emergencies require immediate availability and response. You can purchase commercial kits specifically for kayaking or outfit your own kit. It’s important that you stow your first aid kit in your dry bag and that it is easily accessible. Even for short trips, you should have your kit available
- Flashlight: If your day long trip ends up with your paddling at dusk, a flashlight will be important. If you are going on a multiple day trip a headlamp will make kayaking in darker conditions hands free.
- Repair Kit: Items you will need to repair your kayak if it is damaged. The kit should include a knife, a multi-tool, sealant, bungee cords, replacement rudder parts, bailing wire, a repair or duct tape, etc
- Food: Always bring more than your minimum expectations for the trip. You will be exerting a great deal of energy and situations do arise where additional food supplies will be important. If you're bringing along perishable food items, be sure to pack it in a high quality cooler with sufficient ice.
- Water: Again, having enough water beyond your minimum expectations is very important. You will be exerting yourself, which will dehydrate you requiring that you replenish your body’s water supplies.
If you are kayaking on fresh water, a great idea is to have iodine tablets or a water filter. Boiling water is an option but it is not always a practical solution based on the conditions.
- Extra Clothing: Especially if you find yourself in colder conditions, a change of clothing when (not if) you get wet. A change of clothing can be essential and at the very least will make for a much more enjoyable trip. An important consideration is to dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature. Should you capsize, hypothermia will become a very real issue. Quick drying clothes are essential and you should avoid anything cotton, as it will chill you and retain water.
- Navigation Tools: A map of the waterways you’ll be exploring, a compass, a GPS device, or other tools should be a serious safety consideration, especially should something go wrong.
- Sleeping Bag: Something that is lightweight and compact, while providing a sufficient degree of warmth. Sleeping bags made from synthetic material are much more resistant to moisture and will keep you warm and dry.
- Sunglasses: Again, the sun and reflection off the water will both require UV protection but also limit the reflection and strain on your eyes. We would recommend outfitting your sunglasses with a floating strap. This will not only secure your glasses if you want to remove them for a period of time but also if they become dislodged from your face, providing floatation, making your sunglasses retrievable should they fall into the water.
- Lip Balm: Preferably one that has sun protection and will keep your lips protected from the environmental conditions.
- Matches/Lighter/Fire Starter: Having the ability to start a fire is an important consideration. Make sure they are stored in a watertight container.
Personal or Specialized Items: This list will contain any personal items.
- fishing gear
- toilet paper etc.
- And in special circumstances (permits, license, cash, credit cards, etc.).
This is by no means an all inclusive list. You will need to factor in the length of your trip, the conditions you will be exposed to during your trip, your personal needs, and any potential emergencies that could arise. This is critical to ensure your safety and well being, as well as the enjoyment you will have on your trip.
Hopefully this article gives you a good start on the essentials you need to consider. Now it’s time for you to load up the kayak and hit the water. If we’ve missed something you feel is essential on a kayak adventure please let us know in the comments below.
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Megan Jones is the lead author of Seaside Planet. She is an avid surfer, scuba diver, and travel enthusiast who takes any opportunity she can to spend time in the ocean. You can learn more about Meg and the rest of the editorial team here.