Whitewater Kayaking Gear Checklist – Complete Beginners Guide

If you are getting into the adventures of whitewater kayaking, then it is important to start your river journey with the right selection of premium-quality kayak accessories. For this water adventure, you will need specific equipment, clothing and safety gear, and more. Read on below to find out more about these things and why they are important.

What Equipment Do I Need To Start Whitewater Kayaking?

To make kayak shopping easier for you, we have assembled a complete list dedicated entirely to kayak gear. These things will make your river adventures incredibly enjoyable and safe. Most of these items must be properly fitted onto your body which means you will have to get them early on in your life as a kayaker. The equipment you will need includes the following:

  • Kayak, Raft or Boat
  • Paddle
  • PFD or Life Jacket
  • Helmet
  • Sprayskirt
  • Dry Bag
  • Floatation Bags
  • Water or Hydration Pack
  • Food and Snacks
  • Personal Items and Package
  • Wetsuit or Drysuit
  • Dry Tops
  • Base Layer (For Cold Weather)
  • Water shoes
  • Paddling Gloves
  • Throw Bag
  • Spare Paddles
  • Whistle

Read on below to learn more about each piece of equipment and why it is necessary for your kayaking trips.

The Basic Requirements

Once you have decided to get started with whitewater kayaking, you will need to start building your kit, starting with the most basic equipment. These include the following:

Kayak, Raft or Boat

At the risk of stating the obvious, the first requirement of kayaking is, well, a kayak. There are plenty of great boats present at a reasonable price for entry-level enthusiasts, and when choosing one, you must know that there are different types – sit on top, recreational, sea kayaks, and white water, to name a few. For a beginner, the right place to start with kayaking is investing in a good-quality recreational kayak that is simple, highly stable, and made with durable material. It must also have a sleek and very lightweight design to make your kayaking fun and stress-free adventure.


kayak paddle

As the expression goes, “You won’t get very far in a canoe without a paddle.” The same notion applies to your kayak. Without a paddle, going far from the shore to your desired destination is not possible, especially with strong currents. Paddles are available in a range of prices and can even be more than a hundred dollars. Prices are determined by construction material, and it is a good idea to get a paddle that is rust-resistant, lightweight, and fiber-glass reinforced for durability. While durability is very important to look out for, it is important to consider another feature known as paddler fatigue. This fatigue takes place because you have to hold the paddles all day long and swing them around using your arms.

PFD or Life Jacket

A personal flotation device – PFD – or, more commonly known as a lifejacket, is not only a good investment to make but is required by the law in some places. A properly fitted PFD helps in keeping you afloat if you decide to take a swim out of your kayak. Swimming is a fun part of kayaking, so you must not stress over it and be prepared by wearing a good–quality life jacket. However, there is no reason to splurge on these items, and getting a basic PFD with whistles and bells, comfortability and durability will be enough and will serve its purpose.


Your head is an important part of your body, and we are sure that you are aware of it. When you go kayaking, you can always fall down from the kayak, and rocks can hurt your head, sometimes even causing a little bleeding. Whitewater river courses involve water flowing over these rocks, and you must always be prepared to protect your noggin; this is done by wearing a good-quality kayaking helmet. The most important thing to do is to try the helmet and make sure it fits even when the waves get really harsh and turbulent.


The best way to keep in control of your kayak when on a river is by keeping water out of it. A premium-quality spray skirt will work perfectly for you if you pick the right size for both your kayak and body. Sprayskirts have two kinds, rand and shock cord. Shock cord skirts are ideal for new paddlers since they are easy to put on, whereas rand skirts are great for more advanced whitewater. For sizing, you will need to measure a tube that goes around your body and the cockpit that goes around the boat. Even though the tube size is specific to your waistline, you can go a little smaller since they stretch and will be better at keeping the water out.

Essential Whitewater Kayaking Gear

Some other whitewater kayaking gear that you need to keep on you include the following:

Dry Bag

kayak dry bag

Dry bags help in creating water and air-tight seals and keeping your valuable dry. These bags are incredibly lightweight, stretchy, and very compressible. This allows you to put some items in for an entire day of paddling or pack some clothes for an overnight kayaking adventure and stay. Furthermore, there is also the possibility of losing your balance and flipping the boat or going through choppy water and hidden obstacles. In order to protect your belongings, you can stash them in these bags and secure them to your kayak with carabiners easily.

Floatation Bags

Floatation bags are used to fill up air space in the stern and bow of your boat. When there is an event where you have to swim, water can fill up your boat right away, and without any floatation bags, your kayak will be hard to retrieve from the fast currents, and it will also be difficult to pull up on the shore. However, floatation bags are air-filled bladders placed at the back of your kayak and help in displacing water if you flip the kayak over. You must get a set of these floatation bags for each side of whitewater kayaks for more assisted recoveries.

Water or Hydration Pack

Like every other outdoor activity, having a hydration pack is very important. On a kayak, your bottle of water can easily get lost, so you must ensure that you get a hydration pack. These packs are easily accessible and can be easily attached to your body or to your boat. You must get a water container, which is a very flexible pouch and lays flat instead of rolling around. Some packs also have loops that can be attached to your carabiner, so they stay put.

Food and Snacks

Similar to every other adventure, kayaking drains energy as well. So to keep your energy intact, you can keep some foods and snacks such as orange juice, Vitamin C shots, chips, granola bars, and even some healthy biscuits in your dry pack. After some paddling, you will feel your energy starting to drain, and to recharge yourself, you must take some food and snacks with you for the ride.

Personal Items and Package

Some personal items such as sunglasses, hats, and even toothbrushes and toothpaste, along with other sanitary items, must be kept in your dry bag as well. These items will be needed if you plan on staying overnight. You can also keep car keys and cash with you in case, but there is no need to carry any important documents along since they won’t be of any use.

Whitewater Kayak Clothing

When it comes to whitewater kayaking, there are many clothing options for you to choose from depending on the type of weather you are going to paddle in. Some essential clothing items to pack when planning for this kayaking adventure include:

Wetsuit or Drysuit

Wetsuit or Drysuit

A dry suit provides you with the best waterproof protection that you need. It comes in a one-piece design made from a breathable and waterproof fabric along with rubber gaskets at the neck, wrists, integrated socks, and a burly zipper that keeps the water out and even regulates the body temperature. Another such suit is the wetsuit which is also essential for kayaking. This is an ideal garment that helps in protecting you from elements such as the cold and sun and also keeps you comfortable. Being constantly wet in cold weather can lead to being sick and, in the worst-case scenario, you can get hypothermia. These dry and wet suits protect you in the cold and are a great kayaking investment to make.

Dry Tops

Dry tops are another excellent option if you want to stay dry, warm, and non-hypothermic when kayaking in cold water. These tops are designed very similarly to the dry suits mentioned above, and they have rubber gaskets present at the wrist and neck as well. However, they do not keep a seal at your waist, so they will not keep you dry for very long if you plan on swimming.

Base Layer (For Cold Weather)

When investing in a wetsuit, dry suit, or a simple dry top, having the right kind of base layer is very important as well. A dry suit has watertight seals, so underneath this, you will need non-cotton underwear, or you can wear dry suit liners as well. For a wetsuit, you can opt for swimwear underneath since it is both windproof and watertight. So with a long-sleeve wetsuit, you do not have to worry about wearing anything on top of it since it will keep you warm on its own. If the weather does get very cold where you live, then you can get a thicker material of wet suit or simply get a coat or a jacket on top.

Water Shoes

When it comes to footwear, you need something that can handle being wet, have grippy bottoms, and even drain easily; water shoes fit these requirements perfectly. These shoes provide you with excellent traction on wet slippery rocks and ensure protection and comfort from sharp rocks as well, especially neoprene footwear. Properly fitted kayaking water shoes will be the best for you. They come in many different designs, look incredibly casual, and are a delight to wear.

Paddling Gloves

Your hands can take a beating if you are kayaking on the water. If you are not used to working with your hands a lot and think that the space between your forefinger and thumb is very strong, then you are in for a treat! Within an hour of paddling, your hands can start to hurt, and you will want to go back home. However, with paddling gloves, this won’t be an issue. These gloves are made with a thick lining or material like neoprene and help in protecting your hands and keep you comfortable while paddling.

Safety Gear

Apart from focusing on the essentials of kayaking and clothing, you must know what to keep for your safety as well. Kayaking may not be a dangerous sport, but it can be if you are not prepared for it. Keep the following safety gear with you if you are heading for the waters as a first-timer.

Throw Bag

Throw Bag

If you are paddling in a group with people, having a throw bag is very important. These are also called tow bags and are tough and long ropes curled in a bag that can be thrown from one boat to another for rescue. Sometimes when the kayaker behind you gets tired of paddling, you can throw one end and hook it up with their kayak and pull through with your boat. Furthermore, if someone needs rescuing from the water, then these tow lines can help.

Spare Paddles

It might seem cumbersome to bring an extra paddle, but they can be extremely helpful for you. Kayak paddles are made to be tough and durable, but sometimes they can break under severe circumstances. You may end up losing your grip on them and have them rushing ahead of you in the river, and at times like these, having a spare paddle can be very handy.


Another tool that is ideal for emergency situations is a loud whistle. Regular whistles may not be very helpful with the high winds and gushing water, but there are emergency whistles present that are designed to be heard over all such noise and are very durable. These whistles can even be clipped to your vest, and you can use them in cases of emergencies to get help.

River Knife

Entrapment can easily turn a fun kayaking day into a horror show in a few seconds. Having a river knife attached to your personal floating device’s lash tab can be very handy, especially if you or your paddler gets tangled in a monofilament fishing line or throw rope. Similarly, a knife can come in handy for cutting twigs.

Whitewater Kayak Accessories

Apart from all the safety gear and essential equipment, you also need to keep an eye out for kayak accessories. Whitewater kayak accessories can make your adventures more interesting; read on to find out what they do and why you need them.

Nose Plugs

kayak nose plugs

Nose clips may not be the most glamorous product to buy. However, if you usually suffer from a sinus infection or have a fear of contracting bacteria that is found in lakes and rivers, then these nose plugs can be very helpful for you. The main function of these plugs is simply to squeeze your nostrils together in order to avoid water from going up the nose. Most kayakers do not make use of these clips for the entire boat ride, but they are used for planned immersions such as practicing Eskimo roll or surfing.

Roof Rack for Transporting Your Kayak

Most people are lucky enough to live right near whitewater and peaceful lakes, but this is not the case for all kayakers. For those who have to travel to these lakes via car, they will need something to transport their kayak, and a roof rack can help them with this task. These racks can range from being simple inflatable or foam pads that will cushion your boat to elaborate roller and saddle systems that will not only hold your kayak but will provide you assistance in loading it as well.

Paddle Leash

A paddling leash, as the name suggests, is simply a leash for your paddle. It is an essential item that you will need, especially as a beginner. Paddling requires a lot of handwork, which can be very tiring for beginners. Plus, if you lose your grip, then the paddle can slip in the water away from you. With a paddle leash, you can attach the end of the leash to your kayak and easily relax and enjoy nature without any worry.


Kayaking can no doubt be tricky, but with the accessories mentioned on the list above, you will ensure your safety throughout the adventure. From gloves to throw bags to river knives, each product plays a very important part in making your trip more enjoyable for you. The worst thing you can imagine is getting caught in an emergency situation and not having the right tools. So, use the list above and avoid such a scenario from ever taking place!