Essential Kayaking Gear Checklist – 20 Key Items You’ll Need

Kayaking Gear Checklist

When you’re just lazy paddling on the beach, you don’t need much gear (other than your PFD, of course). But when you go day touring or out on open water, you need to be prepared.

Here is a complete list of kayaking gear your should take on day touring trips.

You can download a printable version of the essential kayaking gear checklist here.

Main kayaking gear

These items may seem evident, but there are a few specifics that are worth noting.


The most apparent gear which you need to take with you on a kayaking trip is the kayak, of course. 

I mention this because the type of kayak you use will depend on several things, such as the type of water you’ll be paddling in, the number of paddlers, the space you need, and the gear you are taking. 

Only then can you choose the right type of kayak for your trip.


The paddle is the next essential piece of gear that you need to take with you. It is nothing but a long pole with a paddle on each end. Most of them are collapsible. You can separate them into 2-6 pieces and carry them with you. The length varies as well.

Here is an article I wrote on how to choose the right paddles for kayaking.

The materials are essentially fiberglass, carbon fiber, and aluminum. Aluminum is heaviest, followed by fiberglass and followed by carbon fiber. The blade can also vary in material. You can choose pedals with blades made from fiberglass, nylon, plastic, and so on.

If you are just a beginner, you can choose an affordable paddle. If you’re going on longer trips, it is better to go with a carbon fiber kayak paddle because of its lighter weight. 

Safety equipment

Depending on where and for how long you’ll be paddling, you’ll need to take various safety equipment with you.

Life vest

Regardless of whether you’re kayaking for 10 minutes or 10 hours, solo or along with a partner, on a calm lake or rapids, you always need to wear a personal floatation device. 

Having (and wearing) a life vest is an essential piece of safety gear for beginners and advanced paddlers alike.

The good news is that life vests available today are much more comfortable and do not restrict your movements. 

There are specific kayaking life vests available as well, which are super-small and do not restrict the paddling motion.


A whistle is good to have for attracting attention in case of an emergency. In fact, you are legally required to have one in most states. 

The emergency whistle is designed in such a way that people can hear it over long distances. 

Paddle leash

Holding your paddle all of the time while sitting in your kayak is not practical. You will need to release it at times, when:

  • you get out of your kayak to go for a swim
  • you need to grab some gear from deep inside your kayak
  • you need to help somebody in the water
  • you take a drink or have a snack
  • you want to relax a bit
  • etc.

A paddle leash will keep your paddle tied to your boat, so you won’t need to worry about losing your paddle and watching it drift away. I consider the paddle leash safety gear, not just something good to have.

Water bottle

Whether you’re out on the water, at a camping site, or in the jungle, you need to stay hydrated. 

When you are paddling hard in the Sun, you will lose fluids quickly due to sweating and excessive water consumption by your body.

Unless you are kayaking in pristine mountain creeks, you have to carry a water bottle to stay hydrated. It would be best if you placed the bottle where you can easily access it.

When buying a water bottle, it is also essential to look at its capacity. It should be at least 2 liters if you’re going on a more extended trip.


Our phones make our lives so much easier and safer in every respect, including while kayaking.

  • You can use your phone to plan your trip in advance: route, difficulty, sunset, etc.
  • Checking the weather is critical. And I don’t mean just the temperature. You should keep an eye on wind conditions, possible rainfall, fog, etc.
  • If you plan on kayaking in the ocean/sea, you can see tide and current conditions in real-time on relevant websites.
  • You can use GPS and maps instead of relying on your knowledge of celestial navigation. 
  • Oh, and you can also use your phone to make phone calls in case of an emergency.

As you can see, taking a smartphone with you can help you in more ways than one when it comes to a kayaking trip. You might also want to get a waterproof case for it.


If you’re going on a longer trip which might last beyond dusk, it is a good idea to carry lights with you. It is legal to be on the water in a kayak at night, but the US Coast Guard stipulates that you need to have a white light shining.

If something goes wrong at night, getting the attention of others is hard. Open water is pitch black at night. But with the help of flares and lights, you can quickly get the attention of other boats, the Coast Guard, or other people in the vicinity. 

It is a good idea to take three flares and a flashlight with new batteries when you’re heading out on a more extended kayaking trip.

Towline (tow tether)

A towline is a line that can connect your kayak to another kayak.

Along with that, you should carry a rope bag as well, which stores the tow line. 

Whether you’re kayaking solo or in a group, carrying such a line is a necessity.


The clothes you’ll be wearing on your trip will depend on where you’ll be paddling and how the weather will be.

I will highlight these below.

Clothing layers

The 1st thing you need to plan is the clothes you will wear for the kayaking trip.

If you’re heading out kayaking on a sunny day, a T-shirt and swim trunks are good enough. These serve you well when you’re dealing with flat water. 

When the water is cold, you must wear a dry suit or a wet suit. 

Here is a detailed article on layering for winter kayaking.


If you go on an extended kayaking trip, you will put a lot of effort into paddling the kayak, gripping the paddles for several hours per day. 

Wearing gloves on such trips is a good idea for several reasons:

  • Avoid blisters.
  • They protect your hands against the elements, be it cold water or the scorching Sun.
  • They provide excellent grip, which reduces fatigue you would feel in your underarms and hands.

Moreover, some paddling gloves are water-resistant, which protect your hands against excessive exposure to cold water.


Many people like to be barefoot when they are kayaking on a hot day. After all, who wants to go swimming in shoes.

However, this can be dangerous if you’re not 100% sure where you’ll be taking your kayak. Onshore, you might step on glass, rocks, pebbles, and so on.

A much better alternative is to wear water shoes. They are easy to wear in sit-on-top kayaks, and you’ll get excellent traction on any surface on which you are walking.

However, the space inside some sit-inside kayaks can make wearing large water shoes uncomfortable, so make sure you check this before your trip.

Dry clothes

Depending on where you are paddling, you might want to pack dry clothes into a drybag.

Quick-dry towel

Having a towel handy to dry yourself is a good idea as well.

Sun protection 

Getting a tan is one thing, but too much sunshine can be hazardous.


Paddling on a sunny day is fantastic. But if you do not have sunglasses, there will be glare, and your visibility will be affected. The strain on your eyes will be uncomfortable, and the UV might damage your eyesight.

Even with regular sunglasses, you might not be able to see clearly.

It is best to take polarised sunglasses, as they reduce glare well.

You should also put a leash on your sunglasses, so you don’t have to think about where you will put them if you want to take them off.


If you’re out for hours on a sunny day, you need to protect your head from the Sun to prevent sunstroke, a severe medical condition.

A hat with a drawstring is a good idea, as strong gusts of wind won’t blow the hat off your head. 


It is necessary to protect your skin against the Sun while kayaking:

  • Use a strong sunscreen (SPF 30+) and reapply it on longer trips or after going for a swim. 
  • Get UV-protecting chapstick (SPG 15+) as well. Your lips can get sunburned, just like your skin.

Water-resistant gear

There are a few waterproof items which you need to take with you. 

They are the following.

Dry bag

It would be best if you always had a dry bag with you when you go kayaking. A dry bag isolates the contents inside from water and will float if you capsize.

You can carry extra clothes, phones, keys, wallets, and many other things in a dry bag.

Some people even place their belongings into a watertight container first, then place the container into a dry bag creating redundant protection for your gear. That is a 100% dry guarantee.

Phone case

As I highlighted above, carrying a smartphone is necessary when you’re heading out on a kayaking trip. However, most phones are not waterproof, and none of them will float if you drop them into the water.

The best way to protect your phone is to use a floating waterproof phone case. If it does not float, have it tied around your neck.

Are you new to the world of inflatable boats? Then my Getting Started Guide is for you. You’ll find tips, tricks, and how-to articles to start off right.

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