Kayaking Essentials


No matter what sport you choose to love, it all requires basic gear and knowledge.  Kayaking is nothing short of that.

I remember when I first started I had an old paddle, a spray skirt with a hole in it, a nerdy looking Pro-Tec  helmet, nose plugs so tight I could barely talk, and some other pieces of gear that had been hiding in someone’s garage for years.  With that being said, let’s talk about the essential pieces of kayaking gear that you need to get started and hit the river.

1) Helmet — one of the more important pieces of gear that you need.  Your helmet will not only keep your melon protected from rocks and other objects in the river, but it keeps your head warm as well. Consider your helmet like the seatbelt in your car. You never get in a kayak without it.

2) Life Vest or PFD (professional floatation device) — this is another piece of gear that you don’t leave home without.  It’s a real bummer when you forget your helmet or lifejacket because that means you will be the shuttle bunny for the day.  I will let you folks at home decide why this piece if gear is important.

3) Spray Skirt — the spray skirt helps keep water out of your boat and allows you to roll your kayak without sinking.  The skirt seals around the cockpit of your kayak.  A couple of important things to be aware of with the spray skirt is to make sure it is properly sealed around your cockpit and to make sure your grab loop is on the outside of your boat. What is a grab loop?  A grab loop is a loop on the outside of your skirt that you grab when you need to get out of your kayak.

4) Paddle —  the paddle is an essential piece of gear for maneuvering, bracing, and rolling your kayak.

5) River Shoes — river shoes are an important piece of gear for yourself and others.  You need them for scouting rapids, accessing the put in’s and take out’s, and river safety.  More importantly, if you’re with your friends and need to assist in a rescue from shore, or hike out, good river shoes are essential.  Flip flops are not considered good river shoes. They are great for lounging and hanging out but are no good for river rescue or running along the shore.

6) Throw Bag — A throw bag is another piece of gear that should be required on all river runs.  “Your throw bag is my throw bag.” Think about that.  I will focus on river safety and awareness later on down the road.

Basic knowledge and experience is highly recommended before you go out on moving water.  For colder weather you might want to invest in a dry top, skull cap, dry pants or suit, and some comfy synthetic layers to keep you warm.  I also always have a watch attached to my PFD.  These six essential pieces of gear will get you started.

Where to get the gear locally:

Strong Water Kayak

The Trailhead


See Jason Shredder’s “Go With the Flow” archive.


Jason Shreder, owner of local whitewater company Zoo Town Surfers. I love Missoula, the great community, and all the awesome water that surrounds it.  I’m constantly moving and 90% of that movement involves kayaking, rafting, working, and hanging out with my awesomely supportive girlfriend and dogs.