What To Bring Kayaking – Gear Checklist For Beginners

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Are you ready for your first day on a kayak?

Didn't think so...

Fear not!

If it’s your first paddling trip and you’re wondering what to bring kayaking, we've put together some of the essentials that you should take with you. 

We have also included some nice-to-haves that can make your paddling experience even more fun!

Woman kayaking with lots of gear on a lakePin

Kayaking Gear Essentials

A Kayak (let's get the obvious out of the way!)

The type of kayak you choose will probably depend on where you plan to paddle. At a basic level, there are two types of kayak - sit-on-tops and sit-insides. Within these two categories, there are many more types.

A sit-on-top can be ideal for beginners as they can be easier to get in and out of, with no enclosed cockpit to contend with. These kayaks tend to be better suited to warm weather, as you’re likely to get wet.

A sit-inside has an enclosed cockpit, which can help to protect your legs from the elements and paddle splashes.

Recreational kayaks can often be better for beginners because they tend to offer more stability on flatwater, with wider hulls for increased comfort.

Fishing kayaks will also tend to have a high level of stability on flatwater and many of these are sit-on-tops to allow you to move around more freely while fishing.

Touring kayaks will tend to be longer and narrower than recreational ones because they’re built for increased speed. Some will have more stability on moving water, such as ocean waves.

A tandem kayak can be ideal if you plan to paddle with another person, or if you’re looking for extra space. However, the longer the kayak, the more difficult it may be to maneuver both on land and in the water, particularly if you’re using it on your own.

Think about the weight capacity of the kayak and how much gear you want to be able to bring. Also, think about the weight of the kayak itself and whether you’ll have someone to help you carry it.

Most kayaks will usually have some storage space, while some will have a good level of storage for longer trips. Sit-on-tops will often have cargo areas where you can store larger items, like a cooler. Some may also have storage hatches.

Sit-insides will sometimes have hatches for storage within the hull. However, some recreational sit-insides may not have this feature but might have a small storage tray at the cockpit.

Paddle

Just like your kayak, your paddle is an essential piece of kayaking equipment. The size of the paddle you’ll need will generally depend on two things: your height and the width of your boat. Your paddling style may also affect the type and size of the paddle that will best suit you.

Video: How To Choose A Recreational Kayak Paddle

Paddles come in various materials, with aluminum shafts and plastic blades generally being the most affordable and ideal for beginners. Aluminum shafts tend to be heavier than carbon or fiberglass ones. Lighter paddles can be better for paddling longer distances and minimizing fatigue.

Transportation Rack

How you get your kayak to and from the water can be an important thing to consider. Unless your kayak is inflatable, you’ll probably need a roof rack or a trailer.

J-cradle racks can fit onto your crossbars. The cradles provide support for the hull of your kayak and can let you load your boat from the side of your car, with the hull tilted slightly.

Some saddles or cradles can let your kayak sit the right side up. Alternatively, you can opt for stacker-style racks that can let you carry multiple kayaks on your roof, with the boats resting on their sides.

Dry Bags

A dry bag can be an essential piece of gear for kayaking, as it can let you keep your belongings safe and dry while you’re on the water. There are various sizes of these waterproof bags, allowing you to store as much or as little as you need.

Dry bags can be useful for valuables that you don’t want to get wet, as well as for keeping your change of clothes dry.

Kayak Safety Gear

PFD (Personal Flotation Device)

A PFD is one of the most important pieces of kayaking safety equipment, as it can help to save your life.

There are various types and designs, with one of the main differences being the construction. For example, standard PFDs are made with inherently buoyant materials to provide instant flotation without requiring any influence from you.

An inflatable PFD is designed to provide buoyancy only when inflated. These can sometimes be activated automatically when water is detected or they require you to pull a cord to activate the airflow. Once the inflation has been activated the air cylinder needs to be replaced.

Inflatable PFDs may not be suitable for some types of kayaking, such as in rough water, as you may not have the ability or time to pull a cord. They can also sometimes inflate by being splashed. These are not designed for children or non-swimmers.

Standard PFDs can be easier to maintain and can provide buoyancy when required, for all skill levels, including children. Some PFDs designed for kayaking have mesh back panels, where the foam sits higher to allow for more comfort while sitting in your seat.

Your PFD should be approved by the US Coast Guard to meet regulations. There are five types. Type I, II, III, IV, and V. Type IV is a throwable one and does not meet regulations for kayaking. Types III and V are usually most suitable for kayaking.

Ropes/Throw Lines

A throw line or rope can be essential to have with you in a rescue situation, as it can allow you to deploy it either to rescue someone else or to help another person rescue you.

Throw bags can be useful as this has the rope stored inside the bag and the weight of the pouch can make it easier for you to accurately throw it to the person in need.

Ropes can also be used to tether your kayak while docked or to tow another kayak behind you.

Paddle Leash

A paddle leash can help to prevent your paddle from floating away if you let it go. Generally, they have a bungee cord with a velcro strap at one end, to wrap around the shaft of your paddle, and a clip or loop at the other end to connect it to a point on your boat.

Whistle

A whistle can be useful in an emergency, as it can help to attract attention from other water users or people on the shore. In some waters and states, a whistle is necessary for kayaking.

Some PFDs may come with a whistle included. If not, your whistle should be attached to your PFD so that you can easily reach it if you capsize.

Bilge Pump

A bilge pump is designed to let you remove water from your boat while you’re sitting in it. This can be more useful for sit-inside vessels than for sit-on-tops, as many sit-on-tops will be self-bailing with scupper holes. 

Sponge

A sponge can be a good accessory to have on both a sit-on-top and a sit-inside, as it can help mop up small amounts of water that might have collected on your deck or seating area. 

Water Bottle

While you might not consider a water bottle a piece of safety equipment, it can be pretty useful for preventing dehydration (as long as you have it filled with drinking water). The sun and the activity of paddling can mean you need to drink more to stay hydrated.

Many recreational kayaks will often have cup holders so you can keep your water bottle within easy reach.

Sun Protection

When you’re outdoors doing any activity, sun protection can be important. But when you’re kayaking, there is also the added danger of the UV rays reflecting off of the water.

Sunscreen on exposed skin can be a good idea, as can sunglasses (polarized sunglasses can be better to prevent glare from the water).

A hat can also help to protect your head and face from the sun. It can be a good idea to make sure it has a strap or is tightly fitted so that you don’t lose it in a gust of wind.

Kayak Clothes

Swimwear

If you’re kayaking in summer or warm climates, comfortable swimwear can be ideal for kayaking, especially if you’re on a sit-on-top where you can easily jump off to swim.

Quick-Drying Fabrics

Lightweight, quick-drying fabrics can be useful for layering and for wearing on top of swimwear. Cotton and other natural fabrics are generally not ideal because cotton, in particular, tends to absorb water, so it stays wet for longer, which could be uncomfortable.

Wetsuit

If the water is cold you might find a wetsuit can offer you some extra protection and warmth. The thickness of the fabric will usually determine how warm the wetsuit will be. The thinner ones are designed for warmer conditions and the thicker ones are for cold conditions.

There’s also the option of a shorty wetsuit - a one-piece with short sleeves and legs, which can be ideal for warm weather where you don’t need a full suit.

A front zipper can be more comfortable for sitting in a kayak than a back zipper.

Rain Jacket

The weather can often change while you’re mid-trip, so a light rain jacket can be ideal for showers. It can also be useful in keeping you dry from paddle splashes or spray.

Many kayaks have bungee rigging where you can safely stow a rain jacket to keep it within easy reach while you’re paddling.

Water Shoes

Water shoes can be ideal for kayaking, as they are generally designed to be worn in wet conditions and can dry quickly. These types of shoes can usually get wet safely and can still provide you with traction on slippery surfaces, such as the deck of your boat.

A water shoe will also usually be able to stay on your feet without slipping off under the water. You should also be able to comfortably swim in them.

Sandals can be suitable if they have a strap to keep them on your feet. But sandals may not always have non-slip soles unless they’re water sandals.

Kayak Clothes For The Winter Cold

A thick wetsuit can be a good idea for paddling in winter but if it’s extremely cold, a drysuit can sometimes be a better option. A drysuit can keep you completely dry, unlike a wetsuit that is designed to let water in, providing you with insulation.

Two kayakers in the extreme cold around icebergsPin

Happy couple enjoys ocean kayaking bear glacier during their vacation trip to in Alaska, USA

You should wear base layers and mid-layers under a drysuit for extra warmth, as drysuits tend not to have any built-in insulation. You may also need wetsuit/neoprene boots, hood, and gloves to protect the rest of your body.

Other Equipment To Consider

Change Of Clothing

A change of clothes can be a good idea to bring, as you will likely get wet while paddling, especially on a sit-on-top. Storing a change of clothes in a dry bag means you can keep them safe and dry so you don’t have to go home in wet clothes after you make it back to shore.

Towel

As with any water activity, a towel can be a handy accessory for kayaking, helping you to dry off after your adventure before you change into your dry clothes.

Hand Sanitizer

As we’re all aware, hand sanitizer has become increasingly important in everyday life. And while kayaking, you may not have access to soap and water to wash your hands. So hand sanitizer can be the next best thing to keep your hands clean while you’re on the water or at your camp.

Trash Bags

If you plan to stop for a picnic during your trip, trash bags can be an important thing to pack. You don’t want to leave behind any garbage that could pollute the water or harm the wildlife. Remember, as you’ll see displayed on signs in many parks, leave no trace. 

Toilet Roll

If you’re planning a longer trip, toilet roll can be essential to pack in your boat. Many campsites at landing beaches are primitive and may not have facilities that you’re used to.

Even rest-stops that do have plumbing facilities may not always have toilet roll, so it can be best to err on the side of caution for this one.

Maps/GPS

A map can be helpful for paddling trails, as this can usually help you to locate landing areas to stop for a rest or a picnic. Paddling trail maps are sometimes available with a waterproof cover or laminate. But if not, you might want to keep your map inside a clear waterproof case to protect it from the water.

You might find a GPS can also be useful on water trails or if you’re kayak fishing. This can allow you to mark waypoints and fishing holes, as well as find your back to your launch.

Camping Gear

Kayaks can be great vessels to use for a camping trip, with most boats having at least some storage space for your gear. A tent, sleeping bags, and ground mats can be some of the most important equipment. But you should also remember cooking and cleaning equipment.

Food/Snacks

Whether you’re heading out for the day or an overnight trip, having food and snacks with you can be a good idea.

Small snacks to eat on the go should be able to fit in storage areas near your seat, so you can grab them easily when you get peckish.

Food for your picnic or campsite can be stored in one of your hatches or your cargo deck. A cooler can be useful for this, as it can help to keep things fresh.

Cellphone

You probably don’t go anywhere without your phone anyway. But when you’re kayaking your phone can come in handy in an emergency, or for staying connected to news and weather forecasts (as long as you have a signal).

Remember to keep your phone safely stowed inside a waterproof case and somewhere on your vessel that it’s not going to get wet or fall overboard.

Solar Charger/Battery

If you plan to paddle all day or for several days, a solar charger can be handy for keeping your gadgets topped up. This means you can stay connected with your phone or GPS while you’re off the grid.

A portable battery can sometimes be a good idea to bring along on extended trips. This can generally be most useful for operating electric trolling motors on your kayak or running other electronics while you’re on the water.

Fishing Gear

Fishing equipment can be useful if you want to add an extra element to your paddling trip and go kayak fishing. 

Some recreational kayaks have rod holders behind the seat, but not all of them do. 

Dedicated fishing kayaks will tend to have more storage space for fishing rods and accessories. 

Lights

If you’re paddling at night or camping overnight, lights can be essential. For paddling during the hours of sunset and sunrise, you will often find that you’re required to display a white light on your kayak so that other water users can see you and avoid a collision.

A flashlight can usually be acceptable if you’re able to display it in enough time to prevent a collision. There are also white LED kayak lights you can get to display on your boat for safety and to meet regulations.

Over To You…

Now that you know what to take with you, you should be ready to head off on your kayaking adventure. Remember to stay safe, wear your PFD and keep hydrated.

Are there any items you can’t be without while kayaking? Let us know, and we’d also love to hear about how your trip went. Feel free to share this guide with any budding paddlers about to embark on their first adventure.

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