In this blog I will be discussing some of the safety equipment I carry with me on every paddle trip. The gear you decide to include in your own kit may vary due to your specific location and waterways. I recommend getting some basic training in both paddling and first aid if you plan on getting serious about your paddling. You can get paddling instruction through the American Canoe Association and first aid/CPR through your local fire department or EMS service.
I come to paddling from a background including Boy Scouts and military experience so some may see my gear list as a bit excessive but I believe in being prepared. I always pack for three “people”, myself, Justin, and Murphy. Justin Case, hahaha get it, and his lawmaker Murphy, can make any normal outing a bit more adventurous and so I like to be ready to handle whatever they throw at me. After years of guiding, I have seen some crazy things and have been lucky to be able to handle them all with the gear I keep on hand. We will be breaking this down into a few categories; medical, survival, safety gear and repairs. Links to the specific gear I carry will be included at the end.
Let us begin with medical. Please remember that unless you are trained in advanced procedures, simple is better. I will treat some minor wounds but major stuff, i.e broken bones or head trauma, are a “game over” situation and it is time to call for back-up. I carry a couple “ready-made” kits with a few supplementations for my environment. First line is an Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight/Watertight .5 Kit. This is always kept in quick reach, mine is in the hatch behind the seat of my Reload on the starboard side. Quick access to this “boo-boo” kit is essential for minor injuries from hooks, oysters, fish fins, etc. It includes pretty much all my needs for minor scrapes, cuts, and punctures. I supplement my kit with a few more single use antibiotic packets, a few single use packets of ibuprofen, some more antiseptic wipes, and some extra bandaids. One thing to remember about most bandaids is that they will not stick to wet skin. The way you can get around this is self-adhesive bandages aka Coban. Now you can get coban from the pharmacy section of almost any store but here is a secret; it is the same stuff used to wrap horse’s legs. So why not save some money and grab it at your local feed/farm supply store. Another bit of non-tradition advise I have is about water bottles. We all need to carry plenty of water with us, but I found that using a squeeze type water bottle allowed me the option to rinse out and wounds with a bit more force than just pouring it over. Getting a wound clean is sometimes more important than getting it closed. I have a backup medical kit in my drybag stored in my hull, part of Adventure Medical Kits SOL Hybrid 3, but we will talk more about that later. As I stated earlier, if you don’t have the training to handle the injury you need to call for help. Improper care can be just as dangerous as no care.
Survival gear should be your last resort. If you dig in to this kit, you have had some major things go wrong, but don’t panic I will tell you how I come prepared. I used a medium sized drybag to hold all this gear stored in my bow hatch, it needs to be complete but doesn’t have to be excessive. A change of clothes may seem odd but sometimes just getting dry can make a huge difference. I also carry an Adventure Medical Kits SOL Hybrid 3 in this bag, it has a bunch of useful stuff for fire starting, shelter, and signaling. It is probably the most complete pre-made kit I have found to date. We also need to make sure we have enough water in an emergency. I paddle mainly in saltwater so drinking water can pose an issue, this can be solved with a Seapack Desalination pouch. If you are mainly on freshwater, I suggest a Sawyer Mini. Throw in some Datrex emergency food bars and you are pretty well covered.
Finally let us talk about safety gear and repair. Paramount is a properly fitted PFD, but we all wear those right. Seriously, get one that is comfortable and wear it. Always. There are many to choose from, but I chose a NRS CVest for the pockets. In those pockets I keep essentials like a compass, a whistle, some snacks, and my phone. Even a cheapy compass can help you when you are out of sight from land whether due to distance or low visibility. Do not rely on your phone or electronics as your only means of navigation, electronics need power and a signal which may or may not be there. When choosing a whistle get one that won’t corrode, I use a plain flat plastic one. I also carry a Handheld VHF radio clipped to my PFD if I am going out away from civilization and other recreational traffic. Channel 16 is the emergency/hailing channel in case you didn’t know. In the dry bag mentioned earlier, I also carry a few pop flares for emergencies. Flares do not have a forever shelf life so be sure to keep an eye on expiration dates. JB WaterWeld is a great repair tool that can be used on the water but also carry a bilge pump and sponge to get the water out. Next, I carry a deckbag clipped to my bow with my rescue gear in it. This includes a paddle float, tow belt, stirrup, and an extra rope for towing or tethering. I advise learning how to use a paddle float and stirrup for deepwater reentry, it is super easy once you practice it. Lastly on the safety gear list is a spare paddle. I can tell you personally, you never know when it will break but it will be at the worst time. It doesn’t have to be a full carbon high-end job, anything will work.
So that’s my crazy huge, way too much, over the top safety equipment. I know it seems like a lot and you may not see a need for most of it, but it is what I carry. I have been a kayak guide, Boy Scout, outdoor enthusiast, and Army Infantry so I like to have what I need with me. None of this gear can do as much as 2 simple free things. Never go alone and always file a float plan. Those things are worth more than any amount of gear you can buy. Having someone to help you on the water and people know where you are and when you should return are priceless. If you are getting serious about kayaking, be smart and get some instruction. It is simple to move a kayak but to do it efficiently and effectively requires a bit of teaching. It will make you experience easier and more enjoyable. Below you will find a list of the products I mentioned. I am not sponsored by any of them and get nothing from this. My goal was to save you the time and research by showing you what I have found works. I hope you learned something and will be safe on the water for many trips as you #ExploreNewHorizons.
Ultralight / Watertight .5 Medical Kit
SOL Hybrid 3
Emergency Food Bars