The Ultimate Kayaking Checklist: 10 Items You Can’t Leave Home Without


When I first started kayaking, I enjoyed it for its simplicity. You really can just jump in a kayak with nothing more than a PFD, paddle and a whistle and go! These days, I don’t recommend doing that with so many kayaking accessories that should be a part of any paddler’s checklist. As I started kayaking more and more often, I learned that a good kayaking experience takes a little more than just those three items and I learned that the hard way. I went through sunburned skin, ruined tennis shoes, lake bottom searches for overboard keys and several other mishaps. I still keep things simple but I also try to keep them smart.

When I go paddling I always have the same ten items. Sometimes more but never less. They’re mostly intended for safety and comfort and if you’re aiming to do something unique like whitewater paddling or kayak fishing, I add a few things to my checklist. For general recreational kayaking activities, these ten items are a good place start.

1. Personal Flotation Device (PFD/Life Vest)

Usually required by law, PFDs are a safety precaution that many paddlers take for granted. Nobody expects to fall off his or her kayak into the water but when you do, it’s best to be prepared. PFDs help you stay afloat with little to no effort. They also provide an access point should you need to be rescued by allowing those on a boat or dock to pull you up from the shoulder straps. Some PFDs are brightly colored and have integrated reflective materials so that you can be seen from afar or at night. Additionally, PFDs are built to enhance the paddling experience with different comfort features, attachment points (for other gear such as lights) and accessories. While you are at it, don’t forget the whistle. My recommendation is to attach it to your PFD.

2. Paddle

If you’re going kayaking, well, you’ll need a paddle. It’s your motor on the water and your most important piece of gear other than your PFD. Any paddle will do but higher end paddles, while more expensive, are well worth the money because they are typically lighter and more durable. There isn’t anything wrong with using an entry-level paddle but once you try a high-end model you won’t want to go back. You’ll feel like you can paddle forever.

3. Carabiners

When you’re on the water, you’ll find that a lot of you gear on deck will slide around or even worse gets knocked overboard. You can stow your gear but sometimes, you need to be able to access certain things. The simple and easy way to keep your gear safely on board is to secure it with a carabiner. Most kayaks come with clip and lash points to attach to. I started using them and now have one attached to my keys at all times. A few will be all it takes to make sure you keep all your gear out of the drink but beware some of the lesser expensive ones may quickly corrode or rust especially in saltwater environments.

4. Paddle Leash

Losing your paddle on the water is all it takes to ruin a day of kayaking. When having fun on the water, you can easily lose grip of your paddle. Whether jumping in for a cool dip or simply capsizing, the last thing you want is your paddle to float away. For me that’s usually because I feel like jumping in for a quick dip. With a paddle leash you can clip your paddle to your deck and no longer have to worry about it floating away. You know the phrase “Up the creek without a paddle”? Don’t let it happen to you.

5. Water Bottle

No matter what kind of kayaking you plan on doing or what time of year, you’re going to get thirsty. Be kind to the environment and use a refillable water bottle that you can clip to your kayak (using one of those carabiners if it doesn’t already come with one).

6. Water Shoes

You are going to get wet or at least your hands and feet will and when it happens to those wearing shoes that aren’t supposed to be wet, it’s a real drag. You’ll find that no matter how hard you try, at some point or another you’ll need to step into or out of the water when getting on and off your kayak. Water shoes are designed to drain and dry quickly but also offer non-slip protection on slippery rocks and other surfaces.

7. Dry Box

It’s always a good feeling to leave your electronics behind when you go kayaking but sometimes it’s good to have a means of communication for emergencies or maybe you just want to bring along a camera. I recommend a couple of dry boxes or dry bags, one for the gear you want to access often such as your camera and another that can be stored inside your kayak for items you use less often such as your keys, wallet and phone. Since I’ve gotten my dry box, I’ve made a habit of bringing a camera every time I go kayaking. I’ve gotten some great pictures!

8. Camera

Kayaking provides some great photo opportunities and bringing a camera along is the best way to capitalize on it. You have access to a natural beauty you just don’t see anywhere else. I bring a basic point and shoot digital that I store in a dry box but the nicer the camera, the better the photos! You can always opt for a waterproof camera too.

9. Emergency Kit

When I first started paddling, I learned the hard way that it’s important to be prepared for the worst. While paddling is generally a safe sport, you always want to be prepared. My emergency kit consists of a first aid kit, sunscreen, bug spray, waterproof matches, a utility knife, some extra rope, glow sticks and a flashlight.

10. Kayaking Apparel

Lightweight, fast drying clothes are a must have whenever I go kayaking in the warmer months. During the cooler months, it’s always best to be prepared with paddling apparel that is made for cold weather paddling — think layering. Regardless of season, stick to synthetic materials. Don’t forget that these can also provide sun protection and on really hot days you can wet your shirt and take advantage of the cooler water as well as the evaporating effects of the shirt while it is drying.

It shouldn’t be hard to find these basic kayaking accessories. Specialty retailers will have all of these items and most will be fairly inexpensive too! One great example would be Austin Canoe and Kayak (ACK), who operates three physical locations in Texas and a very easy to use website ( where you can search for these and other products. So next time you go kayaking, be prepared with the right gear and don’t learn the hard way like I did!

Joseph Dowdy is an avid kayaker based out of the central Texas area. He has paddled many of central Texas’ waterways and has attended and/or participated in many kayak fishing tournaments, races and paddling festivals. He’s currently works with Austin Canoe and Kayak (ACK) and loves that he gets to spend time working with his favorite toys.