three kayaks on the beach of Shea Island in Norwalk Islands

5 Kayaking Essentials You Should Always Bring With You

Kayaking is a wonderful hobby to reconnect with nature and get a little exercise. But, like any outdoor activity, it’s important to be prepared so that you don’t turn a normally peaceful activity into an absolute nightmare. 

I personally feel so at peace on the water and enjoy nothing more than settling into my kayak and getting ready for a few hour paddle down a scenic river. It’s hardly ever quiet, with birds chirping, or people playing, but being on the water brings me a sense of internal quiet as I am able to disconnect from my life and connect again with nature. 

But, without the essentials, like water, sunscreen, or a change of clothes, I’m left feeling grumpy, wet, and sunburned when I leave my kayak. That isn’t peaceful, and also isn’t what anyone set out to do when they wanted to kayak in the first place. 

So, be sure you’re prepared and bring these 5 kayaking essentials with you every time you get out on the water. 

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Kayaking Essential 1: Life Jacket

Having a personal flotation device (PFD, or life jacket), is an absolute must for kayaking. Depending on what state you are located it may even be legally required for you to either wear one or have one with you in the kayak while you’re out on the water. 

But, even if it isn’t required you should always have one with you. Even on the calmest waters you could flip accidentally and be trapped underneath your boat. Having a life jacket could save your life. Never go without it. 

Several kayaking life jackets on a rack for display

Kayaking Essential 2: Whistle

The whistle is another kayaking essential that goes along with the theme of the life jacket. And that theme is safety. Many life jackets meant for paddling or water sports will come attached with a whistle, but if not they’re cheap additions to latch onto your jacket. 

Why do you need a whistle? To grab attention!

Phto by mconnors at

When you’re out on the water it can be hard to hear someone on the boat next to yours, much less speak to someone on land, or in a much bigger boat. This is true even if you’re yelling. The whistle can be heard for much larger distances than your voice and is an essential kayaking safety tool to ensure that if you get into trouble you can alert someone that there is an issue. 

Kayaking Item 3: Sunscreen and Hat

“Do you want any sunscreen?” is my summer catchphrase. I say it so many times that my friends just drown me out completely. I believe in wearing sunscreen year around, but in the warmer months sunscreen is essential for me to apply, reapply, and encourage everyone around me to apply it constantly.

Skin cancer is real, and no one wants to get it. When you’re out on the water, the sun is even harsher on your skin and body as it’s beating down on you without shade, and then reflecting up from the water on you without a barrier. You’re getting hit with the sun twice! Protect yourself and your body by lathering up, and reapplying often.. 

This woman doesn’t want to get skin cancer

But the sun does more than cause skin cancer. It also can cause you to overheat easily on the water. Remember, you’re getting hit from the sky and from the water’s reflection, and this can really warm your body up without relief. So, another kayaking essential is a hat to protect your head and face, and limit direct sun exposure. This can help keep your body cooler and prevent things like heat stroke. When you’re out on the water it gets hot really quick. So, be prepared, and wear a hat to keep yourself cool. 

Kayaking Item 4: Change of Clothes

Fresh, dry clothes are essential for comfort

So far, all of the kayaking essentials we have talked about have been for safety. This is the first one that is solely about comfort, at least during the warmer months. 

For me, it’s impossible to go kayaking without getting wet. Either water drips into my kayak from the paddle, or my shoes carry it in when I get in or exit. I usually end up sitting in a semi-wet seat for most of the time on the water. 

When it’s warm, this is okay with me (when it’s cold outside, this is a completely different story). But, when I return back to the launch point, or to the campsite when I’m kayak-camping, I don’t want to be wet. Putting on fresh, dry clothes after a long kayak session feels incredible, and if it’s getting colder at night, or you’re going to be camping, then it’s essential to keep your body temperature regulated. 

Have some extra clothes either stashed in the car, or in a dry bag, and treat your post-kayak self with some clean, dry clothes for your ride home. 

Kayaking Item 5: Extra Water

Ah, yes, another safety kayaking essential. We’ve already detailed that it’s going to be hot, and that the sun’s rays will be strong. Plus, kayaking requires physical movement – it’s exercise! All of this combined will cause you to work up a serious sweat, and therefore it is essential that you have enough water while you’re kayaking.

The general rule is that you need at least a quart of water per hour, but consult your doctor about how much you should personally bring on your adventure. If you’re worried about carrying bulky water bottles, there are flat, rollup options, that weigh less and are easily transportable and fillable. 

Don’t worry about bringing too much. Honestly, you’d rather have too much water than not enough. 

Waterbottle sitting on edge of river

If you’re ready to hit the water but don’t have anyone to go with, be sure to check out my tips for kayaking solo. Kayaking solo is totally safe, even for beginners! You just gotta get out on the water. 

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