The following is a starting point of equipment for paddling.  Add or delete from it as you see fit.  Your personal needs may be slightly different.  Below is a list with a short explanation for each item. Try to remember to Pack Light and Compact!   To the experienced paddler, these may seem obvious but to most of us, they are a good check-list.  Create your own  check-list and laminate it after printing.
  • Canoe Paddles – You should have enough paddles for each paddler plus one (i.e. for two paddlers bring three paddles).  The extra paddle should be tied in so it cannot be lost if the boat goes over. This allows you to recover and paddle if you should loose a paddle downstream.
  • Kayak paddle with a leash - The leash is attached such that if the kayak goes over and you loose hold of it, it remains with the kayak.  Think about this now, your having a great paddle and shoot some mild rapids.  Over you go!  Now you swim after your kayak, drag it ashore and empty it.  Time to get back in but where is the paddle?
  • Kayak paddle float - Every kayaker who spends any amount of time in their boat will at some point end up flipping over in their kayak. Its just a part of the sport.  Having a paddle float allows you to balance while getting back into a kayak without having to swim your kayak and everything else ashore.
  • Sea Painter/Bow Line – This often over-looked piece of equipment should be part of the essentials on your list.  Mariners called it a Sea Painter.  We will just call it a bow line.  This is used to tie up a boat to the shore, pulled a boat through shallow water, or lower it through rapids that cannot be paddled.  In a pinch, it can be used for any of a hundred other uses.  It should be easy to handle and not get all tangled.  I suggest a ½ inch diameter or greater and a length greater than the length of your boat.  That way, if you are approaching shore alone, you can throw it forward from the stern seat of a canoe.
Flotation Bags
Flotation bags minimize the amount of water that collects in canoes and kayaks preventing them from sinking if capsized. Kayaks may have bulkheads that separate areas of the boat.  Experienced paddlers usually add bags to the bow and stern of kayaks for extra safety when these areas are not used for storage.  For Canoes, they must be fastened with line (rope).  Typical canoe locations are the bow, between paddlers, and the stern.  The bags are most commonly used in whitewater.   Whether canoe or kayak, these bags are filled with air and should be checked just before starting a paddle as they slowly loose their air over time through the fabric.
Helmets are typically worn in whitewater paddling in Canoes, Kayaks, and Rafts.  Wear a solid, correctly-fitted helmet when upsets are likely. This is essential in kayaks or covered canoes, and recommended for open canoeists using thigh straps and rafters running steep drops.  If you are just paddling lakes this is not an essential part of your equipment.
Spray Skirts for Sit-in Kayaks
The spray skirt allows a kayaker to roll without water getting in the boat.  It also prevent water entering from spray in surf or whitewater.   You must have a skirt that fits properly and can be easily removed when you must exit the boat.  It is essential that you practice a wet exit inverted underwater with the skirt before you actually face an emergency in whitewater or surf.  Drowning will be the last thing you will ever do if you are not prepared.  Talk with a reliable outfitter for the best spray skirt for your boat.

Bailer/Stream Gun
A home made bailer can be made for either a kayak or canoe easily from a plastic milk jug.  Tie it with a small line to a thwart or seat so you don’t loose it in a spill.  The simplest bailer of all is a nice large sponge!  If you prefer, you can purchase a bailer at any outfitter.  Stream guns are a lot of fun on a hot day to spray water on each other.  These easily used water guns double up as a bailer!

An invaluable tool.  Make it a point to always have one with you.  Some prefer a multi tool like a Leatherman or Gerber.  These are fine but a simple outdoors folding knife that is stainless steel will do fine with a blade that is about four inches.

Canoe Knee Pads
The best way to paddle in a canoe with power and control is kneeling with your butt leaning against the seat.  This means your knees will eventually get sore on long trips.  My kneepad favorite is clearly the glue-in pads that are already set up for the paddler.  They are always there and become part of the canoe.  Some people use their PFD to kneel on for flat-water paddles in warm weather.  I have been accused of this.  An alternative is a towel or jacket, but remember it will probably get wet at some point in the paddle.

  • Swimsuits and/or shorts - In warm weather try to wear a quick dry type material.  This way you will not get waterlogged on a long paddle.
  • Long sleeve shirts/Long pants - Sun or cooler weather protection.  I sometimes wear the cargo pants that can be converted into shorts by a zipper on each leg.  Get the quick dry material.
  • Hat or Sun-visor - for sun, wind, and rain protection.   A large brow is a plus especially if you are prone to heat and sun problems.
  • Water Shoes - In recent years the water shoe has become an accessory for all types of water sports.  Some people even swim wearing them.  Any of a hundred brands will do.  Avoid bare feet to avoid cuts and bruises.  Avoid street shoes of any kind.  Sore water logged feet and ruined shoes can be the result.  It will only lead to a lousy day. The following features are good to have:
    • Drain quickly
    • Dry quickly
    • Have sneaker like soles for portaging and short hikes on the shore.
    • Non slip sole for algae and moss covered rocks.
  • Rain Gear - Both jacket and pants of the marine type.  On summer paddles, I prefer to get wet than wear gear.  When it turns raw outside, a jacket to break the wind rather than rain gear usually keeps me warm.  When I really need rain gear, I go all out.  Wear a fleece underneath that drys quickly when wet and you will have the best of two worlds.
  • Change of clothes - Change of clothes for the drive back.  A small bag or pack with a change of clothes makes the end of the day so much more comfortable. If you are carrying it in the boat, consider using the large zip-lock bags for added protection.  Place them in a dry bag attached to the boat.
Paddle Gloves
I don’t wear these much but some people are more prone to blisters or just cold hands.  Companies like LL BEAN , NRS  and REI sell many different kinds of gloves for paddle sports.  Check them out!

Water bottle 
Try to bring one for each paddler.  These can be refilled periodically from a community 2 to 5 gallon jug.  For most summer trips I figure a pint per hour per person.  When planning a long trip consider finding water on the way.

Water Purifier
For long paddles and even overnight paddles, consider a water purifier.  A water purifier is a device that strains water from a stream or tap to clean it through a filter made of charcoal or other items. It’s a common necessity among paddlers, hikers and backpackers and particularly those traveling to destinations known for poor water quality. They come in all brands, prices, shapes and sizes, from pocket sized sterilization lasers to basic iodine tablets. 

Insect repellent 
  • DEET - West Nile virus and other exotic diseases can be caught in the northeast.  Ticks in your back yard and along rivers can carry Lyme disease.  Don’t mess around use protection. In a word, use DEET!  Some people feel there are dangers using this but I have had Lyme disease twice!  AMC Outdoors magazine recently stated that using 10% DEET is good for 4 to 6 hours protection.  Higher percentages adds only marginal additional protection.  For all the worried parents out there, after completing a comprehensive re-assessment of DEET, EPA concluded that insect repellents containing DEET do not present a health concern. 
  • PYRETHRUM - For a very effective organic protection, consider a 160 year old chemical taken from the Chrysanthemum plant.  It is used by the National Park Service and is extremely protective for ticks.  For more information got to: 
The EPA recommend a SPF of at least 15.  For more information read the pamphlet “The Burning Facts”.  Download from this link:

Learn more at the REI website 
The Burning Facts
Paddle Gloves
I don’t wear these much but some people are more prone to blisters or just cold hands.  Companies like LL BEAN , NRS  and REI sell many different kinds of gloves for paddle sports.  Check them out!

Water bottle 
Try to bring one for each paddler.  These can be refilled periodically from a community 2 to 5 gallon jug.  For most summer trips I figure a pint per hour per person.  When planning a long trip consider finding water on the way.

Water Purifier
For long paddles and even overnight paddles, consider a water purifier.  A water purifier is a device that strains water from a stream or tap to clean it through a filter made of charcoal or other items. It’s a common necessity among hikers and backpackers and particularly those traveling to destinations known for poor water quality. They come in all brands, prices, shapes and sizes, from pocket sized sterilization lasers to basic iodine tablets. 

Eye Care
Sunglasses/glasses/contacts - Remember strap protection. If you are strongly dependent, then consider the sports goggle type used by professional athletes. I have worked at sea on ships for decades.  I have lost more hats and sunglasses.  Now add going over in a boat and you have a disaster waiting to happen.

Lip protection is a real problem for some.  If it is sunscreen too, it’s a plus!

Trash Bag
“Pack It In and Pack It Out” and “Leave no Trace”.  It’s a beautiful place that you have chosen to paddle.  Help keep it the way you found it or better.  I have friends that pick up any trash they find on the way and pack that out too.

Waterproof camera or a camera in a waterproof container.

Cell Phone
Waterproof phones are available.  This is what I always use.  They are typically shock resistant to a higher degree than regular phones.
Waterproof pouches, or boxes available at sports stores.  I always have a couple of hard plastic waterproof boxes for things like phones and wallets.  I always bring an extra because someone will inevitably get caught short.  Pelican makes waterproof boxes for almost anything.  They last practically forever though all kinds of abuse.

Waterproof bag or pack 
This is the best way to keep everything together and safe in a boat.  When it is properly tied off on a thwart or other tie-down you can be sure that nothing gets lost when the boat goes over.  Remember that a small amount of water may still seep into these bags when they are submerged.  I always use one gallon zip lock bags for each item and then put them in the waterproof bag.  This helps organize things and give them an extra chance of keeping dry.
NOTE: A cheaper alternative is to use a regular duffel bag.  Insert doubled-up heavy-duty trash bags.  The duffel is good for abrasion resistance and the double-up trash bags keep everything dry.  Just hang the duffel bag at the end of the day to dry.
  • Map or Chart  and Paddle Guide - It seems this item is often forgotten!  The map can be a simple as a screen capture from google earth that was printed out or as complex as a USGS Sectional map or a Nautical Chart produced by a government agency.  Consider a good guide book that is available.  Don't just rely on a companion that says she has paddle here before.  You never know when you might be left in charge because you become separated or some other unforseen occurrance.
  •  Waterproof map case – I use a one similar to this shown. It attaches easily for both kayak and canoe and can be viewed easily while paddling.
  • Compass - A basic map style compass with scales on the clear plastic will do just fine.  If you are real outdoors person, go for it and buy a fancy one.  Any compass can do in a pinch.  I have one that is built into my wristwatch.  Remember that just having a compass will not do.  You must know how to use it!  Dah?
  • Map - A USGS Map of the area will do nicely or just use the maps in this book.  I once went paddling on a river going into Moosehead Lake in Maine.  I put the map and guidebook into the notch of a canoe pad for a car roof.  When the canoe went over, it floated away and I was stuck without anything to navigate with.
  • GPS - There are several waterproof models available.  I have a Garmin etrex that works well.  I can keep track of my speed, distance, position, and more as I travel along.  Most are WAAS enabled (Wide Area Augmentation System) with accuracies exceeding 30 feet.  Make sure you know how to use it first and how to plot Longitude and Latitude!  You do not have to spend a lot of money if you learn how to navigate.  I download my track (crumb line) after a paddle to my computer and see where I’ve been.

Magnetic hide a key box. 
If you keep the key near the car then you won’t loose it on the river.  Also, if someone else gets to the car first, they can get in without you.  One more time now. If some one gets hurt, God forbid, you can be sure that access to the car can be done by anyone with the location of the key.  Have I sold you on this?

I usually keep this in the car at the end of the paddle.  On long trips or with a large group I will pack it with other gear to go on the trip.  If possible, bring soap and shampoo too.

Large plastic storage box
Here is where you store everything for paddling when you are home or need to carry it in a trailer.  These plastic boxes are invaluable, waterproof, and the perfect size!
First Aid Kit
As an EMT who has run on ambulances for a decade and Wilderness EMT as well, I could write a chapter on this subject.  Instead, below is a minimum kit for paddling.  On large group trips, I bring my EMT jump bag.  You could just invite an EMT on your paddle and all your worries will be taken care of!  The American Red Cross website has many suggestions.  For more information use the following link: 

  • Here is the list recommended by the Red Cross:
  • 2 absorbent compress dressings (5 x 9 inches)
  • 25 adhesive bandages (assorted sizes)
  • 1 adhesive cloth tape (10 yards x 1 inch)
  • 5 antibiotic ointment packets (approximately 1 gram)
  • 5 antiseptic wipe packets
  • 2 packets of aspirin (81 mg each)
  • 1 blanket (space blanket)
  • 1 breathing barrier (with one-way valve)
  • 1 instant cold compress
  • 2 pair of nonlatex gloves (size: large)
  • 2 hydrocortisone ointment packets (approximately 1 gram each)
  • Scissors
  • 1 roller bandage (3 inches wide)
  • 1 roller bandage (4 inches wide)
  • 5 sterile gauze pads (3 x 3 inches)
  • 5 sterile gauze pads (4 x 4 inches)
  • Oral thermometer (non-mercury/nonglass)
  • 2 triangular bandages
  • Tweezers
  • First aid instruction booklet
Canoe Yoke
        Ever wonder why the thwart in the middle of a canoe has this half circle cut out of it?  Wonder no more!  This is actually a very ancient device used by a single person to portage a canoe.  By correctly lifting a canoe and placing the inverted canoe on your shoulders with your neck in the little half circle you can carry a canoe.  Your visibilty can be greatly restricted with some boats so that you can see only 10 feet in front of you.
We have a padded version of this device on our longest canoe and we have attempted to use it a few times.  It is quite exhausting even on a short portage and not for the faint of heart unless you are carrying a lightweight single person canoe.  A better and safer choice would be to use portage wheels as described below.  For a complete description of how to portager with a yoke, click the link below at the REI website:

Portage Wheels
If you are going to find yourself portaging, you may consider some wheels to help you along the way.  In some cases the portage can be up to a mile and in other cases, they are just short carries around a dam.  When you are considering a portage with wheels think about its uses from paved roads and parking lots to rough, boulder-strewn trails or deep sand on an ocean beach.  Consider the following when deciding your equipment:
  • Ease of assembly - Loose parts and easily lost or dropped parts can be a real annoyance.
  • Portage Surface - If you always paddle the same areas that you know well, then you can target this specifically.  If you are an adventurer that will face many conditions you will want a cart that is more diverse in terms of performance on varied terrain.
  • Stowable - When on long trips, especially for kayakers this is a real problem. Will it fit in a 10” kayak hatch.  Canoes have more room and require a larger carry area, which will make it harder to store in a small area.
  • Weight Load Rating - Most manufacturers have built their devices to handle most expected weights.  If there is something exceptional about your loads, then read the fine print and asked what others have done for a solution.
  • Maintenance and Repair - Most of this work can be done at home.  You should consider the Worst-Case-Scenario for long trips or isolated paddles. Consider the following: tire patch materials, a small pump, spare loose parts, and cleaning the cart after exposure to salt water.

Personal Flotation Device 
There are a wide variety on the market today.  Prices range extensively.  If you are just starting out, you need not pay a lot.  If you canoe, kayak, and raft then consider one that will work for all sports.  Also, plan to have extras for friends and possibly a child size if you have friends with children.  Children PFDs should fit exactly.  A small child with a PFD too big is heading for trouble.  It may just slip right off at the worst possible time.  Likewise, too small will not save a life.  Whatever the outcome, do not let people paddle without one.  One for each person in the boat is required.  See the complete section on PFDs below.

A USCG approved whistle that can be used to signal others when you need help. This should be attached to your PFD.  You should test you whistle before starting each day of paddling and agree on signals used by members of your group.  Make sure that everyone knows that this a tool and not a toy so that when you hear it you know what means!

Waterproof Flashlight
In Canada this is required equipment in all Kayaks and Canoes.  This is also required equipment for sea travel in all inland and international waters. In fact, International Navigational Rule 25 part d (ii) A vessel under oars (which includes kayaks and canoes) may exhibit the lights prescribed in this Rule for sailing vessels, but if she does not, she shall have ready at hand an electric torch (a British term for flashlight) or lighted lantern showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision.

Snacks and meals.  Go after energy bars, trail mix, and nuts for short trips and complete meals with a stove for long trips.  Fruit like apples and banana work well also.  We sometimes bring a stove on short trips especially in early spring and late fall.  If you’re cold and wet, nothing takes the edge off like a cup of hot chocolate or soup.

Cooking Gear
We recommend a pack packing style stove and a mess kit.  I could write an entire chapter on this subject but instead, I refer you to the many back packing books and your local outfitter for details.
NOTE: In fall and winter, or if cooler weather or rain possible bring warm clothes made of polypro, capilene, fleece, polarplus, wool or similar fabrics. These insulate well even when wet and dry fast. Cotton is fine for warm, hot weather BUT not cold, wet weather. It isn’t a good insulation and will make you colder.
Personal Items
  • Medication(s) and Medical Conditions - Inform your paddle partner(s) of all medications. People allergic to bee stings or have a history of heart trouble, asthma, epilepsy, diabetes, or any potentially serious medical condition should consult their doctor before going on any rafting, canoeing, kayaking, off-road adventure trip.
  • Toothbrush/paste/mouthwash - Lotion, soap [biodegradable]
  • Feminine Items
  • Brush/comb/hair ties, Toweletts [baby wipes]
  • Spiral notebook/Journal - to record your thoughts of trip--reading material
Rescue Equipment
Water rescue is a rare occurrence despite Hollywood.  It is best left to the well trained if possible.  Kayakers should learn self rescue skills. Paddlers in canoes should learn how to empty a canoe in the middle of a lake.  If you are leading groups then get trained and be prepared.
  • Tow Lines - Tow lines assist paddlers who are tired or injured. One end is attached to either the cockpit coaming (rim) or the waist of the towing paddler, and the other is clipped to the boat being towed. Some tow lines are also equipped with bags that allow them to be thrown to a capsized paddler.
  • Throw Bags - Throw bags are more typically used in whitewater or moving water situations, but sea kayakers carry them as well. If a boater capsizes, those on shore or in another boat can throw the bag (containing its coil of floating polypropylene or Spectra® rope) for the swimmer to catch. They can then pull him or her to safety.
We highly recommend you take a water rescue class if you will be no a expedition with a group or if you wish to paddle whitewater.  Other classes for advanced care consider Wilderness EMT Course, Mountain Rescue Courses and SAR (Search and Rescue) certification.

Anatomy of a First Aid Kit
Lifting and Carrying Canoes