There is an infinite amount of gear out in the market today which will get you through even the toughest trip. Although there are many factors in choosing the right gear; the time of year the equipment will be used, the type of water you paddle along with the length of time your trip will be is ultimately the deciding factors for equipment you purchase. Below is a short list of items that can help you decided what gear can turn a long and strenuous trip into memorable and pleasurable experience. Please check out our Safety, Clothing and Navigation pages for additional information.
PFD or Personal Floatation Devices: Federal laws require that there must be at least one wearable PFD (type I, II, III or IV) for each person aboard any recreational boat. The PFD's must be Coast Guard approved, in good and serviceable condition and must be the appropriate size for the intended user. They also must be readily accessible to enable them to be put on in a reasonable amount of time. They should not be stored in plastic bags, in locked or closed compartments or have other gear stored on top of them. For a complete list of requirements, please go to the Coast Guards website at: https://uscgboating.org
The best advice is to just wear them; they don't help when they are strapped to the deck of your kayak. Choose a PFD that has wide arm openings and a high cut back. These will be more comfortable to wear while seated in your kayak for extended periods of time. They should fit snugly, but should not be so tight that they feel uncomfortable. All PFD's have the size, weight limits and intended use stamped on the inside of them. When in doubt, ask a qualified sales person for help.
Paddles: I have found that best paddles are made of wood. They are lighter that the ones made from aluminum with plastic blades, but heavier then the carbon fiber variety. The biggest advantage that wood has over the carbon fiber paddle is the way it feels in the water. You just can not top a well designed wood paddle! The length you need will be determined by your height and the width of the kayak you are paddling. Most paddles allow for the blades to be feathered, or offset anywhere from 45 to 90 degrees and will come in lengths ranging from 220 and 250 centimeters. I personally use a 240 cm Bending Branches paddle with the blades feathered to 60 degrees, which allows myself to better control the paddle.
Deck bags: These are very handy items to own; they are usually attached to the deck immediately in front of the paddler and are a great place to store items that need to kept dry and accessible.
Dry bags: these are a necessity when touring and are the best place to store your clothing. electronics and other items that need to stay dry, but not necessarily accessible. They come in a huge variety of sizes and shapes; from side loading, the standard top load bags to ones that are shaped to fit into the bow and stern of a kayak. Just remember to choose ones that will fit through the hatches of your kayak.
Paddle tie downs: Some kayaks come with these already installed from the factory, but they can be purchased separately. They are a great way to secure your paddle to the side of your kayak if you want to stop to take a break and enjoy the scenery or through a line into the water. Just remember to follow the installation instructions carefully and don't place them in an areas that will interfere with paddling, your spray skirt or any other accessory you may have.
Tents: Choose the smallest and lightest tent possible for the number of people that you expect to using it. There is no need to bring along a 4 person tent for 2 people. Select a tent that is easy to assemble, breaks down quickly and one that also has a rain fly. I have found that taking the tent poles out of the storage bag will enable you to compress the tent, thus saving you precious room. It is also a very good idea to apply a coat of a "manufacturer recommended" water proofing several times throughout the camping season.
Sleeping bags: Again, choose a bag that is lightweight and one that will compress as small as possible. Also keep in mind that the evenings can get very cool, so chose one that has a minimum temp rating of 15 degrees for early spring and late fall camping. For summer camping, you may want to choose one with a minimum rating of 40 degrees. To help make the ground a little bit softer an inflatable sleeping pad, like those made by Therm-a-rest, will definitely help. Keep in mind that the thicker the pad, the more room it takes up. Therm-a-rest also manufactures a good, inflatable pillow to go along with the pad.
Stoves: MSR offers a complete line of small, light weight stoves that burn white gas, kerosene or regular unleaded gas (some models can burn all). The prices on these stoves will vary with each model and fuel canisters up to 32 ounces can be purchased separately. I have found that a 32 ounce canister of fuel will get two people through a 3 or 4 day trip with no problem, but I carry a second just in case the is an accidental spill or such. Always thoroughly read the operating and safety manual and learn how to properly use the stove before you head out on your trip.
Waterproof matches and magnesium fire starters: Even though the matches may be water proof, always store them in a water proof container or in a dry bag. The matches may be water proof, but the striker on the side of the box is not. As for the magnesium; I can speak from experience, always bring along something to shave that block of metal you brought along. I once managed to dull a very nice Swiss Army knife while trying to shave enough off the block to get a fire started. Magnesium in the block form is very stable, however the fine shavings will ignite very easily and burn extremely hot. Although the instructions tell you to use a knife to scrape the block, the best advice here is to bring along a small file and keep the knife in your pocket. The block of magnesium will also come with a rod of soft flint that, when struck with a metal object (aka your sharp knife), will create sparks, which in turn should ignite the magnesium shavings.
Food: On short trips it is possible to bring along food that has a self life, with the exception of meats. Remember, if your menu includes fresh fruit and vegetables, keep them as cool as possible. It is best to store them somewhere inside your kayak and on top and in direct sunlight. For the longer trips you want to go with the dehydrated meals. I know that the words dehydrated meals have also been associated with the words bland and awful in the past, but there have been many advances in the dehydrated food industry over the past few years. There is now a huge selection of very good meals and desserts, many of which are fortified with much needed vitamins and minerals. For those that don't enjoy dehydrated meats, you can pick up packaged fish, chicken and beef that does not need refrigeration from your local grocery store. I would recommend staying away from canned meats only because the packaging adds unwanted weight and it will not compress as well when its contents are emptied. Remember: carry in and carry out; leave no trace.