What Are The Must-have Items For Any Paddling Trip?

Planning a paddling trip? Learn about the essential gear, clothing, safety equipment, and more for a successful and enjoyable adventure on the water.

Whether you’re gliding through tranquil lakes or navigating wild rapids, a successful paddling trip requires careful planning and essential gear. From safety equipment to practical tools, knowing what to bring can make all the difference in ensuring a smooth and enjoyable adventure on the water. In this article, we’ll explore the must-have items for any paddling trip, helping you prepare for your next excursion with confidence and peace of mind. So grab your paddle and let’s dive into the essentials! Planning for a paddling trip can be exciting, but it’s crucial to have the right gear to ensure your safety and comfort on the water. In this article, we’ll explore the essential gear, appropriate clothing, safety equipment, repair and maintenance tools, communication devices, food and water supplies, camping gear, personal items, navigation and maps, and training and education that you should consider for your paddling adventures. Let’s dive in!

Table of Contents

Essential Gear


paddles are an essential tool for any paddling trip. Choose paddles that are lightweight, durable, and appropriately sized for your body and the type of water you’ll be navigating. It is also recommended to bring an extra paddle in case of a mishap.

Life Jacket

A proper-fitting life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD) is a crucial safety gear item that can save your life in case of an accident. Ensure that your life jacket is approved by relevant safety authorities and designed for paddling activities.


When engaging in whitewater or rough water paddling, wearing a helmet is essential to protect your head from potential injuries caused by rocks or colliding with other objects. Choose a helmet that fits snugly and provides adequate coverage for your forehead and temples.


A whistle is a simple yet effective signaling device that can help you attract attention in case of an emergency or if you need to communicate with your paddling group. It is recommended to attach the whistle to your life jacket or PFD for easy access.

Dry Bags

To keep your essential items dry during your trip, invest in high-quality dry bags. These waterproof bags are perfect for storing electronics, spare clothes, food, and any other items that need to stay dry. Opt for dry bags with a secure closure system and different sizes for better organization.

Waterproof Containers

In addition to dry bags, waterproof containers are another great option for keeping smaller items protected from water damage. These containers can secure valuables such as wallets, keys, and phones, ensuring they stay dry even if they accidentally end up in the water.

First Aid Kit

Safety should always be a top priority during any paddling trip. A comprehensive first aid kit with essentials like bandages, antiseptic ointment, pain relievers, and emergency supplies is a must-have. Ensure that your kit is well-stocked and accessible in case of an injury or medical emergency.

Navigation Tools

Knowing how to navigate on the water is essential for a successful paddling trip. Carry a compass and maps specific to the area you’ll be paddling in. Additionally, consider investing in a GPS device that can provide accurate location information and help you track your progress.

Sun Protection

Spending long hours on the water means exposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Protect your skin from sunburn and potential long-term damage by using sunscreen with a high SPF, wearing a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses that offer UV protection. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen regularly, especially on exposed areas.

Insect Repellent

Some paddling locations may have a high number of insects, so it’s essential to pack insect repellent to keep those pesky bugs at bay. Look for repellents with ingredients like DEET or picaridin, which are effective against mosquitoes, ticks, and other biting insects.

Appropriate Clothing

Quick-drying Clothing

When paddling, it’s crucial to wear clothing that dries quickly to prevent discomfort and hypothermia. Opt for moisture-wicking materials such as synthetic fibers or merino wool, which help to draw moisture away from your skin and keep you dry.

Wetsuit or Drysuit

In colder climates or when participating in activities like whitewater kayaking, a wetsuit or drysuit is essential to keep you warm in the water. Wetsuits are made from neoprene and provide insulation, while drysuits provide both insulation and protection from water infiltration.


Choose footwear that is comfortable, quick-drying, and provides good traction when wet. Water shoes or sandals with adjustable straps are a popular choice as they allow water to drain easily and protect your feet from sharp objects or hot surfaces.


Wearing a hat is essential for protecting your face and head from the sun’s rays. Choose a hat with a wide brim that shades your face, ears, and neck. Look for hats made from breathable materials such as nylon or cotton to enhance comfort.

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To protect your eyes from the glare of the sun and potential splashes, invest in a good pair of polarized sunglasses. Polarized lenses reduce glare and provide better visibility, allowing you to navigate safely on the water.


Gloves are essential for protecting your hands from blisters, abrasions, and the cold. Choose paddling gloves made from quick-drying and breathable materials, with added grip on the palms to improve your grip on the paddle.

Rain Gear

Weather can be unpredictable, so packing lightweight, waterproof rain gear is essential for staying dry during unexpected rainstorms or splashes. Look for jackets and pants made from waterproof and breathable materials to keep you comfortable.

Extra Layers

Even in warm weather, it’s important to pack extra layers of clothing for unexpected changes in temperature. Lightweight, insulating layers such as fleece or down jackets can provide warmth when temperatures drop, especially during early mornings or late evenings.


Pack a swimsuit if you plan on taking a dip or swimming during your paddling trip. A swimsuit is also useful as a base layer when wearing a wetsuit or drysuit.


A quick-drying, compact towel should be on your packing list to dry off after swimming or to wipe away moisture on your paddling gear. Look for towels made from microfiber materials, as they are lightweight and dry quickly.

Safety Equipment

Floatation Device

A floatation device or buoyancy aid is essential for increasing your buoyancy in the water, particularly if you’re not a confident swimmer. Choose a device that fits comfortably and provides adequate flotation for your weight.

Bilge Pump

A bilge pump is a valuable tool for removing water from your kayak or canoe. It helps keep the vessel dry and maintains stability while paddling. Look for a compact, lightweight, and easy-to-use pump that can quickly remove water.

Tow Line

A tow line is useful for towing or being towed by another kayak or canoe in case of an emergency. It allows you to assist a tired or injured paddler or be rescued yourself. Choose a tow line that is easy to deploy and has a quick-release feature for safety.


A multi-purpose knife is a versatile tool that can assist in various situations during your paddling trip. From cutting ropes to helping with first aid, having a sharp, durable knife within reach is essential.


Having a waterproof headlamp is crucial for paddling trips that extend into nighttime or for emergencies. It provides hands-free illumination and ensures you can navigate or be easily seen in low-light conditions.

VHF Radio

A VHF radio is a valuable communication device that allows you to stay in contact with other paddlers, boats, or emergency services. Ensure that you know how to operate it and check if it requires any licenses or permits for use.

Reflective Tape

Adding reflective tape to your paddling gear, including your paddle and life jacket, enhances visibility in low-light conditions. This tape helps other boaters or rescue teams spot you more easily, increasing your safety on the water.

Emergency Blanket

An emergency blanket, also known as a space blanket, is a lightweight, compact item that can provide warmth in case of exposure to cold weather or unexpected overnight stays. It reflects your body heat back to you, helping to prevent hypothermia.


Flares are helpful signaling devices to attract attention in case of emergency situations, such as being stranded or needing rescue. Make sure to follow all safety guidelines when using flares and store them properly in a waterproof container.

Water Purifier

If you’re paddling in areas where fresh water may not be readily available, a water purifier is crucial for ensuring access to safe drinking water. Look for lightweight and compact options that effectively filter out bacteria and contaminants from natural water sources.

Repair and Maintenance Tools

Paddle Leash

A paddle leash is a handy tool that keeps your paddle securely attached to your kayak or canoe. This prevents it from floating away if you accidentally drop it or capsize and helps you stay connected to your paddle at all times.

Spare Paddle

Having a spare paddle can be a lifesaver if your main paddle gets lost or damaged during your trip. Choose a spare paddle that is lightweight and collapsible for easier storage.

Duct Tape

Duct tape is renowned for its versatility and usefulness in emergency repairs. Pack a small roll of duct tape to fix minor tears or leaks on your gear or temporary patching of other gear items.

Multipurpose Tool

A multipurpose tool, such as a Swiss Army Knife or a multi-tool, is invaluable for various repairs and tasks during your paddling trip. Look for one that includes pliers, screwdrivers, a knife, and other useful tools.

Spare Parts

Consider bringing spare parts specific to your kayak or canoe, such as extra bungee cords, deck fittings, or repair patches. These spare parts can be a significant help in addressing common gear issues that may arise during your trip.


Packing a small tube of adhesive, such as waterproof epoxy or PVC glue, can assist in repairing gear or leaks that may occur. Make sure the glue is suitable for repairing the materials of your paddling gear.

Sanding Paper

Sanding paper is helpful for smoothing out rough edges or preparing surfaces for repairs. Pack a small piece to address any rough spots or potential repairs that require sanding.

Valve Repair Kit

If your inflatable kayak or canoe has valves, carrying a repair kit specific to those valves is essential. These kits usually contain replacement valve seals and tools for resealing or repairing leaks.

Air Pump

If you’re paddling with an inflatable kayak or canoe, having an air pump is crucial for inflating and deflating your vessel. Choose a pump that is lightweight, compact, and compatible with the valve system of your inflatable gear.

Spare batteries

For any electronic devices, such as a GPS or headlamp, it’s important to have spare batteries to ensure they remain functional throughout your trip. Consider packing extra batteries or investing in rechargeable ones for sustainability.

Communication Devices

Cell Phone

Carrying a fully charged cell phone can be a lifeline in case of an emergency. Ensure that you have a reliable waterproof case or dry bag to protect it from water damage. Additionally, verify the coverage and signal strength of your cell phone provider in the area you’ll be paddling.

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Satellite Phone

For remote or wilderness areas where cell phone reception may be absent, a satellite phone can provide a reliable means of communication. It allows you to make calls or send messages in areas with satellite coverage.

GPS Device

A GPS device is an excellent tool for navigation and keeping track of your journey. It provides accurate information about your location, speed, and distance traveled, allowing you to plan your route effectively.


When paddling with a group, walkie-talkies can enhance communication and coordination. Look for models with a decent range and clear audio quality, and ensure that everyone in your group understands proper radio etiquette.


An Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) is a distress beacon that can be activated in case of a life-threatening emergency. It transmits a signal that can be picked up by search and rescue teams, significantly improving your chances of being located.

Signal Mirror

A signal mirror is a lightweight and compact tool that can be used to reflect sunlight and attract attention in case of an emergency. Practice using it beforehand to ensure you know how to effectively signal for help.

Signal Whistle

Similar to a whistle attached to your life jacket, having an additional signal whistle can be handy for attracting attention during emergencies. Keep one easily accessible and make sure it produces a loud, piercing sound that can be heard from a distance.


A Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) is a small device that, when activated, transmits a distress signal via satellite to rescue authorities. It provides a precise location fix and is an excellent backup device in case other communication methods fail.

Flare Gun

Flare guns are used as distress signals in emergencies, particularly when you need to be located from a distance. Ensure that you understand the proper handling and usage of flare guns, as they can be hazardous if misused.

Strobe Light

A waterproof strobe light is an effective visual signaling device that can be seen from a far distance, especially in low-light conditions. Attach it to your life jacket or PFD for easy access and enhanced visibility.

Food and Water Supplies

Water Bottles

Staying hydrated is crucial during any paddling trip. Carry reusable water bottles to minimize waste, and choose ones that are durable, leak-proof, and easy to refill.

Water Filter

If you’ll be paddling in areas with available freshwater sources, a water filter can help remove impurities and provide safe drinking water. Look for portable filters that are lightweight and effective against common waterborne pathogens.

Water Treatment Tablets

As a backup or when no water filter is available, water treatment tablets can purify water by eliminating bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Pack a sufficient amount of tablets based on the length of your trip.

Camping Stove

If you plan on cooking meals or heating water during your paddling trip, a lightweight camping stove is a valuable addition. Look for one that is compact, fuel-efficient, and easy to use.

Cooking Utensils

Pack a set of camping cooking utensils, including a pot, pan, spatula, and a multi-purpose utensil like a spork. Opt for lightweight, durable materials like titanium or stainless steel to keep your gear weight to a minimum.

Food Storage Containers

Keep your food organized and protected with leak-proof food storage containers. Look for containers that are lightweight, stackable, and easy to clean, and consider packing a variety of sizes to accommodate different meal portions.

Non-Perishable Food

Bring a supply of non-perishable food items that are easy to pack, require minimal preparation, and provide adequate nutrition. Examples include canned goods, energy bars, trail mix, dehydrated meals, and jerky.

Energy Bars or Snacks

Pack a variety of energy bars or snacks to sustain your energy levels during long paddling sessions. Choose options that are high in protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates for a sustained source of energy.

Waterproof Matches or Lighter

If you plan on cooking or starting a campfire, waterproof matches or a reliable waterproof lighter are essential. Store them in a waterproof container or bag to protect them from moisture.

Collapsible Water Container

Consider carrying a collapsible water container that can be used to hold extra water or as a backup in case your regular water bottles are lost or damaged. Choose one with a secure closure and a handle for easy carrying.

Camping Gear


If you’ll be camping overnight during your paddling trip, a lightweight and compact tent is essential. Look for models that are easy to set up, durable, and provide adequate weather protection.

Sleeping Bag

Choose a sleeping bag that suits the climate and season you’ll be camping in. Lightweight, compressible sleeping bags with adequate insulation are preferable for easy packing and increased comfort.

Sleeping Pad

A sleeping pad provides insulation from the ground, adds cushioning, and improves your overall sleeping comfort. Look for compact, lightweight options that offer good insulation and support.

Camp Chairs

If you crave some extra comfort during your camping breaks, collapsible camp chairs are perfect. Look for models that are lightweight, durable, and easy to set up and pack away.

Camp Table

A portable camp table can provide a convenient surface for meal preparation, eating, or organizing your gear. Choose a lightweight, foldable table with a stable design for easy transportation and setup.

Camp Stove

If you plan on cooking meals while camping, a portable camp stove is a must. Consider a stove that is lightweight, fuel-efficient, and suitable for the type of cooking you’ll be doing.


Carry compact and lightweight cookware, such as pots, pans, and cups, that are specifically designed for camping. Look for nesting cookware sets to save space in your gear storage.


A headlamp is a versatile and essential item for camping, allowing you to navigate and complete tasks in the dark while keeping your hands free. Make sure it is waterproof and has adjustable brightness settings.

Camp Lantern

A camp lantern provides ambient lighting in your camping area and is particularly useful during nighttime activities. Look for lanterns with different light settings and energy-efficient LED bulbs.

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Camp Knife

A sharp, multi-purpose camp knife can assist in various tasks, such as food preparation, cutting ropes or cords, and even self-defense in emergency situations. Choose a knife that is lightweight, compact, and fits comfortably in your hand.

Personal Items


Carry a form of identification, such as your driver’s license or passport, in case of any unforeseen circumstances. Additionally, make photocopies or take pictures of your identification, and store them securely in case of loss or theft.


Carry some cash and/or a credit card for emergencies or situations where electronic payments may not be accepted. Consider keeping your money in a waterproof container or a dry bag to protect it from water damage.

Health Insurance Card

Having your health insurance card on hand is essential in case of any medical emergencies or treatments that may be required during your paddling trip. Keep it easily accessible, preferably with your first aid kit.


If you take any medications regularly, pack enough for the duration of your paddling trip, plus a few extra days in case of unexpected delays. Ensure that your medications are properly labeled and stored in a waterproof container.


Carry a basic toiletry kit consisting of items such as a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, and any other personal hygiene products you typically use. Opt for travel-sized containers to save space.


Capture the memories of your paddling trip by bringing a waterproof camera or a camera with a waterproof case. Make sure to test the waterproof capabilities before heading out to avoid any water damage.


Binoculars are valuable for observing wildlife and enhancing your paddling experience. Look for compact and lightweight models with good magnification power and a comfortable grip.


Protect your skin from harmful UV rays by packing sunscreen with a high SPF. Apply it generously and regularly, particularly on exposed areas of skin, including your face, arms, and legs.

Bug Spray

To ward off pesky insects and prevent bug bites, bring bug spray or insect repellent. Look for options with ingredients like DEET or picaridin, which are effective against mosquitoes, ticks, and other biting insects.

Personal Locator Beacon

For added safety and peace of mind, consider investing in a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). Similar to an EPIRB, a PLB allows you to send a distress signal in remote or emergency situations, increasing your chances of being located quickly.

Navigation and Maps

Topographic Maps

Topographic maps provide detailed information about land features, including elevation and terrain. Choose maps that are waterproof, tear-resistant, and specific to the area you’ll be paddling in.

Marine Charts

If you’ll be paddling in coastal areas or larger bodies of water, marine charts are essential for navigation and understanding water depths, hazards, and currents. Ensure that you’re familiar with how to read and interpret these charts.


A reliable compass is an invaluable navigation tool for paddling trips. Make sure to choose a compass that is designed for marine or outdoor use, and learn how to use it properly before your trip.


A GPS device is an excellent tool for accurate navigation and tracking of your paddling route. Combine it with maps to plan your journey effectively and ensure you stay on course.

Waterproof Map Case

To protect your maps and electronic devices from water damage, invest in a waterproof map case or pouch. Look for options that are easy to use and provide a clear and secure seal.


A guidebook specific to your paddling destination can provide valuable information on local points of interest, wildlife, campsites, and other relevant details. Choose a guidebook that is up-to-date and covers the area you’ll be exploring.

Tides and Currents Information

If you’ll be paddling in coastal areas or areas with significant water flow, having access to tides and currents information is essential for safe navigation. Consult reputable sources or marine charts to understand tide patterns and potential hazardous areas.

Waterproof GPS Case

Protect your GPS device from water damage by investing in a waterproof GPS case or bag. Ensure that it allows for functional use of the device while providing adequate protection.

Map Tools

In addition to a compass and GPS device, consider carrying other map tools such as a ruler, protractor, or scale. These tools can assist in measuring distances, estimating time, and planning your route more accurately.

Waterproof Watch

A waterproof watch with basic navigation features, such as a compass or tide information, can be useful during your paddling trip. It serves as a backup to your GPS device and does not rely on battery power.

Training and Education

Basic Paddling Skills

Developing basic paddling skills is essential for a safe and enjoyable trip. Take the time to learn and practice proper paddling techniques, including different strokes, maneuvers, and rescues.

Rescue Techniques

Knowing how to perform rescues, both self-rescue and assisting others, can prevent potential accidents from escalating. Familiarize yourself with different rescue techniques, such as the Eskimo roll, T-rescue, or X-rescue.

Weather and Tides Knowledge

Understanding weather patterns and tides is crucial for safe paddling. Learn about the local weather conditions, wind patterns, and how tides can influence currents and water levels in the area you’ll be paddling.

Navigation Skills

Developing navigation skills, including map reading, using a compass, and understanding GPS devices, ensures that you can plan and execute your paddling routes with confidence. Consider taking a navigation course to enhance your skills.

Camping Skills

If you plan on camping during your paddling trip, having basic camping skills is essential. Learn how to set up a tent, cook on a camp stove, start a fire safely, and practice Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact on the environment.

First Aid and CPR Training

Being equipped with first aid and CPR skills can make a significant difference in emergencies. Consider taking a certified first aid and CPR course to learn how to respond effectively to injuries, illnesses, and accident situations.

Wildlife Awareness

Respecting and understanding local wildlife is crucial for both your safety and the preservation of natural habitats. Research and familiarize yourself with the wildlife that may be encountered during your trip and learn how to prevent negative interactions.

Paddle Trip Planning

Thoroughly planning your paddling trip is essential for a successful and safe adventure. Consider aspects such as route selection, emergency plans, camping options, and potential hazards. Share your plans with someone trustworthy before you embark on your journey.

Leave No Trace Principles

Adhering to Leave No Trace principles ensures that you minimize your impact on the environment and preserve natural areas for future generations. Learn and apply principles such as packing out waste, respecting wildlife and plants, and leaving campsites as you found them.

Communication and Signal Codes

Understanding and using communication and signal codes can enhance safety and coordination during your paddling trip. Familiarize yourself with common signaling techniques, such as whistle blasts or hand signals, to convey messages effectively.

In conclusion, preparing for a paddling trip involves careful consideration of essential gear, appropriate clothing, safety equipment, repair and maintenance tools, communication devices, food and water supplies, camping gear, personal items, navigation and maps, as well as training and education. By packing and equipping yourself with these essential items and knowledge, you’ll be well-prepared for an enjoyable and safe journey on the water. Have a fantastic paddling adventure!