Essential Gear You Should Never Paddle Without.

Most people paddle because there is something about being in a kayak or canoe that connects you with nature. It fills you with joy, centers your soul and it’s just plain fun. Unfortunately, with all that paddling offers, it also comes with some risks. Every time you launch, something bad can happen and it’s not a matter of if calamity will strike, it’s when it will strike.

Most of us will paddle most of our lives with only minor mishaps befalling us but for some, especially the ones who paddle alone, paddle remote waters or like to explore new unpopulated places, a major mishap is not only a possibility, but a high probability.

We have put together a list of gear we think every recreational paddler should carry on board their craft whenever they paddle whether it’s an hour on their favorite lake or an all day river trip. We call it the “What If Bag” as in “What if this happens?” This list of gear is not all inclusive and we can’t list all of the things that could happen when you are out.  But, in the end, our goal is to get you to think of the possibilities of what could happen and be prepared for it.

Collapsible Paddle:

What if you are paddling and lose your paddle? It happens. Most people don’t carry a spare with them. At only 21 inches long closed, collapsible paddles take minimal space to store and in an emergency situation could be the difference between getting you safely where you need to go, and being stranded.









First Aid Kit:

Bug bites, cuts, scrapes, contusions, headaches: There are at least a hundred different things that can happen to you when you are out paddling that a well equipped first aid kit can cover. Hopefully you will never have to use it, but when you need it, it will be there.


Duct Tape/ Gorilla Tape/ Flex Tape:

What if you are paddling and hit a submerged object puncturing or cracking the hull of your boat? Though it is not a permanent fix, in an emergency a few pieces of this tape applied to both the inside and outside of the damage can slow down or even stop water from getting into your boat allowing you to paddle to safety. (But you will have to get to shore to make the repair.)



What if you are out paddling with a friend and your friend has an accident rendering them unable to continue? (Injured hand, arm, unconsciousness) With some rope, you can tie your boats together and pull your friend behind you getting them back to safety.


Flashlight/Glow Sticks:

What if you are out paddling, you lose track of time and it gets dark before you’re able to get back to your launch point or reach your destination? When it’s dark and you are on the water, obstacles and landmarks that during the day are easy to identify become hidden and a familiar trail during the day can become unfamiliar in the dark.  If there is any motorboat traffic where you are paddling, it can be very dangerous. At night in a kayak, you are like a shadow in the water. A flashlight will not only allow you to see where you are going in the dark, but also allows you to be seen by others. Hanging a couple of glow sticks on your hull will  increase your visibility even more.




What if you are out paddling and suddenly the weather turns bad and you have to take immediate shelter off of the water? (Lightening, driving rain, wind) Besides the fact that the poncho can help you stay dry, in a pinch, you can string the rope between some trees and with your paddle make a makeshift shelter. If you don’t mind getting wet, you can also lay your paddle over your cockpit and put the poncho over that to keep rain from entering your boat.


Water Proof Matches/ Emergency Rescue Blanket

What if you are out paddling in cold waters or cold weather and capsize? If you are far from your launch point or destination, hypothermia can happen quickly. The Rescue Blanket will help you retain your body heat and with the matches, you can build a fire.


Compass/ Whistle:

What if you are out paddling and you get lost? GPS is great but what happens if it breaks? A compass will only tell you direction, but most of the time that is all you need to find your way.  If you have never used one, you should learn how. In some places whistles are required to be in your boat by law. They are  great for signaling. The high pitch sound carries a long way and if you are lost, can help others find you.

Combination Compass/ whistle


You never know when you are going to need a tool when you are out on the water or in an emergency situation, but when you need one it is usually for a very good reason. Whether you need to cut something, tighten something or fix something, a multi-tool gives you a lot of tools in a small package.


Toilet Paper:

Aside from the obvious reason for bringing it, it also makes a great fire starter.


A Paddle Plan:

No matter where you go, or who you go with, always share your paddle plan. Let someone know where you are going, how long you will be out and when they can expect you to return. Set a time for you to contact them at the completion of your paddle and give them instructions (who to contact, what to do) in the event they do not hear from you. In case of an emergency, that someone could be the difference between surviving a situation and not.

This list of gear is what we minimally recommend the recreational paddler to carry when out on the water. I’m sure there is other gear you could include that we did not list. All of the above listed gear can fit in a medium sized dry bag and be easily stowed somewhere on your kayak. Hopefully, it will be a bag of gear that you never have to open.

What do you always carry in your boat? Let us know in the comments section.


Find Your Headwaters,





5 thoughts on “Essential Gear You Should Never Paddle Without.

  1. Same gear as you apart from a spare paddle I have mine tied with a paddle leash. I also have a paddle float and a hand pump. The rope I was taught to take for sea kayaking was a floatable one in a rescue bag I think about 20m or so long so the person your towing doesn’t crash into you if the catch a wave.


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