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Kayaking Gear Checklist for Beginners

Kayaking Gear Checklist For Beginners

If you are new to kayaking and overwhelmed by all the gear that lines store shelves and fills online store pages, you may feel that you need everything being offered to be able to kayak. Well, rest assured. You can start out with a few essentials and decide what else you want or need after you’ve been paddling for a while.

This is the list of must-have items before you head out on the water for your first time.


At the risk of stating the obvious, you will need a kayak. You might want to borrow or rent a kayak your first time to see if you like it. However, if you want to purchase your own, there are many great boats at reasonable entry-level prices.

When choosing a starter kayak, it is important to know that there are many different types — recreational, sit on top, white water, and sea kayaks, to name a few. You can read more about types of kayaks in Choosing Your Kayak: A Beginner’s Guide.

As a beginner, a great place to start is with a quality recreational kayak which tend to be simple in design, more stable, and constructed with forgiving and durable material. A great option is Sun Dolphin’s Aruba 12-foot model. The Aruba features a storage compartment, holders for fishing rods, and a sleek, lightweight design for around $460US.

Life Jacket for Kayakers

One essential piece of kayaking gear before you head out for your first paddle is a good life jacket. This is an item that every kayaker should consider carefully. Because you should wear a life jacket at all times while out on the water (and most areas require that you wear a life jacket by law), spend some time researching which life jacket may suit you best. Finding something comfortable and that does not restrict your movement is key. There are life jackets that are designed specifically for paddlers. Their design takes the motion of paddling into consideration. Many have tapered shoulders that allow for a full range of motion when kayaking. A great option is the Onyx MoveVent Dynamic Paddle Sport Vest designed for kayakers. The price varies with size (an extra large costs about $50US). Given the importance of a life jacket, it is worth the investment.

To learn more about life jackets, read our post on how to choose the best one for you here.

A Marine Safety Kit

Many areas require that boaters, including kayakers, carry a Marine Safety Kit. It is an item you hope to never need, but will be grateful you have if ever you run into trouble. This kayaking gear essential includes items like rope, flashlight, bailing bucket, and a signaling whistle. You may wish to add a few items like waterproof matches and some first aid supplies.

Kayaking Paddle

Ever heard the expression, “You won’t get very far in a canoe without a paddle.”? The same notion applies when you are in a kayak. Without a paddle you may get to shore far from your desired destination, especially if the current is strong. Paddles range in price and can climb to several hundred dollars. Price is generally dictated by the construction material. As a beginner, you can spend less than $100 and get a budget-friendly, quality paddle. One to consider is Bending Branches’ Whisper 2-Piece Snap Paddles for $60 that is lightweight, rust-resistant, and fiberglass-reinforced.

Beginner tip: Your group should carry at least one extra paddle in case of emergency.

Water Bottle

You can get dehydrated quickly with minimal exertion while out on the water. Pack more water for your outing than you think you will need. Any reusable water bottle will do. One option, Yeti’s Rambler water bottle comes with a hefty price tag, but it will be worth the investment in the long run. It keeps things cold (or hot) for a really long time and its rugged design will withstand anything your kayaking adventures throw its way!

Beginner tip: Always carry a water purifier if you are venturing far from your put-in point.

Sun Protection

Yes, sun protection makes the list of essential kayaking gear. The reflective surface of the water can lead to some pretty awful sunburns in a short period of time. The last thing you need or want is to suffer a sunburn to make you uncomfortable and increase your chances of getting skin cancer. Pick a really good sunscreen with broad spectrum protection and apply it frequently according to the manufacturer’s recommendation. You may want to consider a wide-brimmed hat (my favourite is Tilley) and a quality pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes.

Beginner tip: Don’t forget to protect your lips. Use a quality lip balm SPF 15+.

Water Shoes

It is almost unavoidable that your feet will get wet while kayaking. On many occasions, you will have to bring your boat into the water to get it. Waves can splash over the sides of your boat. Your paddle splashes and gets you wet. It starts to rain. Or you may even flip your boat! You will want to select shoes that allow your feet to breathe and that dry quickly. A good sandal, such as Chacos Z2 Classic Athletic Sandal (f0r her, for him) for $90 is a great choice. Or if you’d prefer a shoe that covers your whole foot, Kararao Water Shoes for $30 is a solid option. As a bonus, water-friendly shoes will also protect your feet from sharp rocks.

Dry Bag

Remember I said that you might tip your kayak on occasion? There’s always the possibility that you will dump your kayak on a trip. You may lose your balance and accidentally flip. Bad weather might come up suddenly and cause choppy waters. Even the calmest lakes and rivers have hidden obstacles. So as not to lose all of your stuff, be prepared. Stash your belongings in a dry bag and secure it to your kayak with rope or carabiners or stow it in a storage compartment if your boat is equipped with one. Sea to Summit’s two-liter see-through dry sack will hold everything you need for short outings.

Bilge Pump

When a rogue wave or a sharp turn brings more water into your boat than you’d like, you can use a large sponge to absorb some of the water. For larger amounts of water, you may appreciate the use of a bilge pump. This is a small, manual pump used to suck some of the water out. One to consider is Seattle Sports Breakaway Bilge Pump. It is lightweight, easy to clean, and costs around $25. A small price to pay to help keep you and your kayak dry and comfortable.

Kayak on!

When you first start kayaking, you may wish to borrow or rent items. When you’re confident you enjoy the sport, purchasing your own kayaking gear on this list will go a long way towards making your next kayaking adventure a safe and memorable one.

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Kayaking for Beginners


I was first introduced to kayaking as a teenager when I joined a competitive canoe club. It was instant love. But when I went off to school and then got a job, adult responsibilities got in the way. Now approaching retirement, I've rekindled my kayak romance. My husband and I love to throw the kayaks on the trailer and head out on adventures. Maybe you'll join us?!

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