Essential Flatwater Paddling Gear Checklist

The following list is extensive. Not every person will bring every item. When you head into the backcountry, you are responsible for assessing the terrain, current conditions, your abilities and those of your group, and what items you should have in your pack to survive if you encounter a mishap or sustain an injury.

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Flatwater Paddling gear checklist

Excerpted from AMC’s Quiet Water Canoe and Kayaking Guide series, by John Hayes and Alex Wilson

Note: No checklist is infallible. Before you head out on an adventure, it is important to check the weather, prepare for the worse possible conditions and make a plan based upon your personal and/or your group’s abilities. Plan an alternate route in case of bad weather, injury, illness or slower than expected travel time. Before departing, make sure someone at home knows your plan: where you are going, with whom, and when you plan to return. And make sure you know how to use the gear you carry.

Canoe or Kayak

For quietwater paddling, most any canoe or sea kayak will do

Avoid high-performance racing or tippy whitewater models. Borrow a boat before buying; selection will be easier with a little experience. The best canoes for lakes and ponds have a keel or shallow-V hull and fairly flat keel line to help track in a straight line, even in a breeze.

A sprayskirt can help to keep from taking on water.

If you like out-of-the-way paddling requiring portages, get a Kevlar boat if you can afford it. Kevlar is a strong, lightweight carbon fiber. 

If you plan to go by yourself, consider a sea kayak or a solo canoe in which you sit (or kneel) close to the boat’s center. You will find paddling a well-designed solo canoe far easier than a two-seater used solo. The touring or sea kayak-with its long, narrow design, low profile to the wind, and two-bladed paddling style-is faster and more efficient to paddle than canoes. 

Personal Floatation Device

A life vest with padded shoulders.

Painter Line

Attach a rope-called a “painter”-to the bow so that you can secure the boat when you stop for lunch, line it up or down a stream, and-if the need ever arises-grab onto it in an emergency. Wind can cause Kevlar boats to disappear very quickly!


Choose light and comfortable paddles. For canoeing, use a relatively short (50-inch), bent-shaft paddle. Laminated from various woods, the paddle has a special synthetic tip to protect the blade. Bentshaft paddles allow more efficient paddling, because the downward force converts more directly into forward thrust. However, straight-shaft paddles also work well. Always carry at least one spare paddle per group, particularly on longer trips, in case a porcupine gets a hold of one.