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17 Top Kayaking Packing List Items for 2024 + What to Wear & NOT to Bring

what to pack kayaking
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Kayaking can be a fun past-time, whether it’s a hobby, a means to find all the hidden fishing holes, or just now and then for fun on vacation. One of the best things about kayaking is that people of all ages and abilities can enjoy it. Being a water activity, though, it’s important to learn all of the rules, dress appropriately, and be prepared with all of the gear you will need.

Since rules vary from place to place, you will have to research that yourself before your trip. However, we can help you choose the right clothes and gear, whether you’re planning a leisurely few hours on the lake, an adventure in sea kayaking, or even an overnight paddling trip. We’ve also included what not to wear, what not to bring, and answer some common questions about kayaking.

See our product selection criteria and guidelines here.

What to Pack Kayaking – 17 Essentials

  • 1. Packing Cubes

    Whether you’re just taking a rental out on vacation or planning an overnight kayaking trip, organizing your luggage makes any trip easier and stress-free. That’s why we recommend these packing cubes for wherever your travels take you. Especially on trips like this, you can separate all of your kayaking gear and clothing from your regular items.

    Packing Cubes

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  • 2. LifeStraw Water Bottle

    LifeStraw water bottles are another item that comes in handy no matter where you’re traveling. Not only do they save you money from not having to buy a big case of disposable water bottles, which will also save you space in your car on the way there, but you won’t have to worry about a bunch of extra trash if there is no recycling nearby. Plus, if you’re kayak camping in the backcountry, you will need something to filter water to drink.

    LifeStraw Water Bottle

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  • 3. Neck Wallet

    Ever get tired of having to remember to grab your wallet before heading out? Or lugging a big, heavy purse around? Us too. The latter is especially inconvenient to take in a kayak. That’s where neck wallets come in. Keep all of your important cards and ID in one small, convenient place. Plus, you’re a lot less likely to lose it, even in the unlikely event that you tip over since you’ll be wearing it around your neck.

    Neck Wallet

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  • 4. Waterproof Phone Case

    As usual for any water activity, one of the main things you don’t want to forget is a waterproof case for your phone. Of course, you won’t want to be completely cut off from civilization, so you’ll need your phone with you. Plus, if you don’t have a camera, you’ll need some way to take pictures of all of the awesome things you’ll see. Aside from keeping your phone dry, make sure your case will float too!

    Universa Waterproof

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  • 5. Quick-Dry Travel Towel

    As you can imagine, having a portable, quick-drying towel comes in super handy for any activity involving water. The soft, absorbent microfiber is great for wiping your kayak down before loading it up, wiping splashes from your legs, or wiping any gear off in your kayak that might get splashed too.

    travel towel

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  • 6. Life Vest

    In general, life vests are required when kayaking. (For adults, you at least need one in your boat. Again, double-check specific regulations wherever you will be boating.) We admit that they can be bulky and kind of a pain. That’s why we like these. You can inflate it yourself by pulling a tab, but it will also inflate in just seconds on its own when it gets submerged in water. Plus, they’re very lightweight and adjust to fit a wide range of sizes, including kids.

    Life Vest

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  • 7. Cooling Towel

    Even though you can splash yourself at any time, it can still get hot out on the water during the summertime. A longer-lasting way to keep yourself cool is by using this nifty cooling towel. All you have to do is dip it in the water, wrap it around your neck, and enjoy the cooling effect for the next hour. Refresh as needed!

    Cooling Towel

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  • 8. Binoculars

    You can find all kinds of neat things when you’re out kayaking: herons, hawks, beavers, otters, whales, and a whole lot of other creatures that live in and near lakes, rivers, and oceans. It can be hard getting a close look at them without spooking them. So, it’s a good idea to bring a pair of small binoculars to get up-close looks at all of the cool wildlife.


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  • 9. Floating Wrist Strap

    Any time you plan on any kind of water activity, it’s also a good idea to bring a floating wrist strap. You can use these to keep your camera and waterproof pouch with keys, cash, and phone close at hand. It may seem silly, but you’ll have a lot more enjoyable time not worrying about losing your valuables.


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  • 10. Floating Waterproof Pouch

    Looking for a waterproof pouch that’s big enough to hold all of your personal belongings, not just your phone? We love this one. It’s big enough for your phone, money, cards, ID, and keys. The extra wide strap is a nice touch. And, they’re super affordable, especially for coming in a pack of two.

    Floating Waterproof Pouch

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  • 11. Water Shoes

    Any kind of quick-drying shoe is a good option for kayaking. If you plan on getting out and walking along the beach, hiking along the river bank, etc, you’ll want something that can protect all of your feet, not just the bottoms. That’s why we like these from Racqua so much. The bottoms are very grippy too, so you won’t have to worry about slipping on wet docks or rocks.

    Water Shoes

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  • 12. Hat

    Sun protection is important whenever you’re going to spend an extended time out on the water. That doesn’t just mean a layer of sunscreen before going out. A hat is just as important. Not only does it shield your eyes, but it can help keep your head from overheating too…and lower the risk of sunburn on your face.


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  • 13. Insect Repellent

    Although it’s usually a little breezy out on ponds and lakes during the day, which is good at keeping bugs at bay, it’s still a good idea to bring bug spray. This is especially true if you plan on staying near the shore of lakes or ponds, particularly in the evening, or plan on doing some creek or river kayaking.

    Insect Repellent

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  • 14. Compass

    If you plan on paddling on a large body of water that has multiple outlets, it’s wise to take a compass in addition to your map. (And know how to use it, of course!) We like this one because it’s compact, waterproof, and can float.


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  • 15. Daypack

    If you plan on being out for most of the day, you might want to just take a daypack with you to store all of your belongings in one convenient place. We like this one because it is super lightweight but big enough to hold your drink, snacks, gear, and an extra pair of clothes.


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  • 16. Small Cooler

    For all-day excursions or even overnight trips, you’ll probably want to bring a small cooler to store drinks and small food items, like lunch meat. This one will hold a lot more than it might look at first glance but isn’t huge and bulky like a hard-sized cooler…Which is a major plus when you already have limited room!

    Small Cooler

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  • 17. Travel Insurance

    It’s easy to forget about travel insurance, especially if you aren’t traveling that far from home. But, did you know that you can get travel insurance for any trip that is 100 miles or more away from your home? We especially recommend it for trips where you plan on kayaking since water activities come with inherent risks. It’s better to be safe than sorry, right?! We recommend because you can compare policies from top companies to find the right option for you and your travel plans.

    Travel Insurance

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What to Wear Kayaking

What you wear and what you take is majorly dependent on where you’re kayaking (calm bodies of water like lakes vs oceans) and what time of year you plan on going. But, in general, you will want to wear comfy, quick-drying clothes. Although it may feel good in the hot months, you don’t want to stay wet for too long since it can lead to hypothermia during other times of the year.

As far as footwear, you have a few options. Tennis shoes, water shoes, or sandals with a heel strap are all good options. You want your footwear to dry quickly too. If you opt for tennis shoes, either get some quick-drying ones or look for hiking shoes that dry quickly. These will also have good treads, which is a plus around wet surfaces.

What Should WOMEN Wear Kayaking? – (Click to expand)
Below is a sample women’s clothing list. (All items link to for your convenience).

Again, it’s all about quick-drying clothes and footwear. Light-colored clothes are a good idea too to prevent you from getting too hot during the summer months. Sunglasses are a must too, because the glare from the water can really hurt your eyes. If you plan on kayaking in a rainy area or during the wet season of any region, it’s wise to bring rain gear too. Again, you don’t want to stay wet for too long. At the very least, it’s uncomfortable.

What Should MEN Wear Kayaking? – (Click to expand)
Below is a sample men’s clothing list. (All items link to for your convenience).

If you just plan on going out for a few hours or less ( and it’s hot out, of course), swim trunks and a t-shirt are a perfectly reasonable attire since they dry quickly. For ocean kayaking, you might want to wear a paddling jacket for chilly water and/or chilly weather. For really cold water and weather, you’ll need to wear a wetsuit or even a drysuit to keep your body temperature level.

Dressing for the Seasons

SPRING – March, April, May

Since it is likely to still be chilly during the spring, you will need to bundle up some. In the earlier part of the season, you may still need to wear a wetsuit or even a dry suit if it’s really cold. (Drysuits are needed for extra cold water temps and weather.) If rain is more of your concern, be sure to pack your rain jacket/paddling jacket and rain pants. Be sure to dress in layers underneath (i.e., thermal underwear, wool shirt, etc.)

SUMMER – June, July, August

We’ve already talked about warm weather attire quite a bit, but here is a recap. Stick with quick-drying fabrics for your clothes, as well as light colors to stay cool. You’ll also want your shoes to dry out fast, regardless of what style you choose: tennis shoes, sandals, or water shoes. Don’t forget to protect your eyes and head with sunglasses and a sun hat too!

FALL – September, October, November

Fall kayaking attire will likely be similar to what you would wear in the spring. It may still be warm enough to wear shorts and a t-shirt, especially in the earlier part of fall and depending on where you are. Rain gear is still a good idea to bring along. You may want to wear closed-toed shoes instead of open ones, so your feet don’t get cold.

WINTER – December, January, February

Needless to say, it’s very important to stay warm while kayaking during cold weather. Depending on where you look online, it’s recommended to start wearing a wetsuit when the water temperature is between 60 and 70°F. Around 50° and below, a drysuit is needed to be completely insulated. Of course, be sure to dress in layers underneath. Don’t forget your accessories too: paddling gloves or other insulated ones with good grip, a warm hat, and thick socks.

What NOT to Bring Kayaking

  • 1.DON’T Bring Books

    Kayaking isn’t a leisurely day at the beach. Not only will you not have time to read, but you also don’t want to get your book wet either! You’ll be too busy checking out your surroundings, anyway.

  • 2.DON’T Bring Unnecessary Valuables

    You’ll need to keep your essentials with you: keys, cards, and phone. Other than that, though, don’t bring anything valuable that you don’t absolutely need. You’ll just have to find more waterproof floating bags for them!

  • 3.DON’T Bring Alcohol

    Water activities and alcohol aren’t a good combination. Leave the booze at home so you don’t have any accidents that could be easily avoided.

  • 4.DON’T Bring Excessive Gear

    Fish finders are cool. Kayak sun shades are too. But be realistic about the items you plan on bringing. Don’t bring anything that you aren’t 100% sure you’re going to use.

  • 5.DON’T Bring Pets That Aren't Used to the Water

    Some dogs (and even some cats!) love heading out on the water with their owners. But, if your pet is unfamiliar with being in a kayak, you can’t expect them to be able to handle themselves in a small boat for a few hours. That’s not to say that you can’t gradually introduce them to kayaking.

  • 6.DON’T Bring Lots of Cash

    You shouldn’t really need cash for anything while you’re out on the water anyway. Don’t worry about bringing a ton of money with you.

What NOT to Wear Kayaking – (Click to expand)
There are a few things you want to avoid when picking out your kayaking wardrobe. For starters, any clothes you don’t want getting wet, or that might get ruined if they get wet. Except for really hot days, cotton clothing should be avoided. They take forever to dry and cling to your skin, which can cause hypothermia if you don’t change into dry ones soon enough. Finally, as we’ve already mentioned, avoid dark colors, especially during the summer, since they absorb heat more easily.

FAQs about Kayaking

  • 1. Is a sit-on or sit-in kayak better?

    Is a sit-on or sit-in kayak better?

    It really just depends on your personal preference. One isn’t necessarily better than the other. Sit-on-top ones are a great option if you don’t like the idea of being confined and/or are afraid of not being able to get free if you tip over. A lot of kayak fishermen like the sit-on-top ones too. The sit-in ones tend to feel more stable. Plus, their center of gravity is lower, which actually makes them easier to move through the water.

  • 2. Are kayaks stable?

    Yes. If it’s your first time getting in a kayak, you will probably be surprised to feel how stable they are. Of course, some are more wobbly than others depending on the style and how it’s made. Overall, though, they are a lot less “tippy” than canoes.

  • 3. Do kayaks capsize easily?

    Do kayaks capsize easily

    No. It’s actually a lot harder to tip a kayak over than you probably think, especially the sit-in-style ones. You can still move around some, get re-situated, etc, without the worry of tipping over. The boat will move some, of course, but it shouldn’t completely flip on you. Unless you’re really unbalanced or messing around a lot, even beginners have a hard time tipping kayaks over.

  • 4. Will I get wet?

    Yes. You will, inevitably, get a little wet from the oars dripping water as you paddle. Unless you tip over, though, you shouldn’t get soaking wet.

  • 5. Is kayaking hard?

    Is kayaking hard?

    Kayaking is pretty easy to learn. However, you will work your arm and even core muscles a lot more than you might think! So don’t be surprised if you’re a bit sore the first few times if you’re not used to working those muscles. Of course, if it is a windy day, anyone is going to have a hard time. Speaking of which…Pro tip: It’s wise to start your kayak outing by heading into the wind if you can. That way, you won’t struggle as much on your way back when your arms start to get tired.

  • 6. What do I need to start kayaking?

    Perhaps part of the appeal of kayaking is that you don’t need much to get started. A kayak, paddle, car rack, and life jacket are really all you need. Taking some kayaking safety classes is a good idea, too, especially to learn what to do if you tip over.

  • 7. Is kayaking safe for kids?

    Is kayaking safe for kids?

    Yes. Some people even take their babies and toddlers kayaking with them! Just make sure your kids are properly outfitted with an appropriate life jacket for their size. You should also go over the rules and expectations with them ahead of time (i.e., sitting still and not rocking the boat a lot) and feel confident that they will behave in the boat to keep everyone safe.