The 5 Essentials of Kayaking

There are five essential items that you absolutely cannot go kayaking without. This list is specifically for whitewater rivers, but in the ocean you will want the same five essentials, especially in areas with surf landings. Without further ado, here are the five essentials:


Duh. You can’t go kayaking without a kayak. The kayak is your transportation, carries your gear, and becomes an extension of your body. Kayaks can be made of plastic (most common), fiberglass, wood, or skin (traditional). Which kind you use depends on your skill, the type of water you’re paddling, and so on.


This is how you move the kayak. A paddle will enable you to move in the direction of your choice; otherwise you are just drifting (also known as Daoist Rafting). Each person needs their own paddle, and it’s best if the group carries a spare breakdown paddle.

PFD (Life Jacket)

Absolutely, absolutely required. PFD stands for “Personal Floatation Device,” and does exactly that. It’s best to avoid uncomfortable, cheap PFDs and invest in something you will enjoy wearing. Whenever you’re on the water you should be wearing a PFD. It’s also a great place to store sunscreen, snacks, and safety equipment like carabiners and webbing.


This is a covering that fits over your torso and the cockpit of the kayak, and keeps water out. When you are wearing a sprayskirt, it’s possible to roll the kayak completely over. It also protects against waves filling your boat with water. The sprayskirt is what makes the kayak such a powerful tool: even if you flip in difficult whitewater, you can just roll up and keep going. If you can’t roll, you can pull the tab on your sprayskirt to release yourself from the boat, known as the “wet exit” or “swimming.” The only kind of kayak that doesn’t use a sprayskirt is the sit-on-top.


Mandatory in whitewater or any situation where you might be upside down. There are a variety of kinds from above the ears to full face, depending on your needs. If you are running whitewater, this is another item that is nice to spend a bit more on to make sure it’s comfortable, because you will always be wearing it.

You will almost certainly need to bring more with you than these five essentials, but if you were going out on a day trip in warm weather with no safety gear, it is possible to go kayaking with only these five items.

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