If there was ever a paddling discipline in which to pick your gear battles, it’s whitewater. You can get a little bogged down with everything you need to pack. Don’t get lost in the paddle pogies and nose plugs. Make sure you fit snugly in your kayak with enough padding for your feet, thighs and hips. Then prioritize your needs with the essential items for running the river. Think about buying and borrowing these items first. Later on, you can swap your wool socks and tennis shoes for a slick pair of booties.

THE ESSENTIALS

1. Balancing value and performance is the trick when choosing your first whitewater kayak paddle.

Shred-Hybrid-1pc

Pictured: Aqua-Bound’s Shred Hybrid balances your budget with the right mix of high-end durability and performance. Its burly fiberglass blades can handle any beginner beatings and the light carbon-fiber shaft will help you pull paddle strokes through to the next skill level.

2.Wearing a helmet on any river is a no-brainer. Even though kayaking helmets are designed to take multiple impacts before breaking, don’t settle for a hand-me-down. A new, fully protective helmet won’t break the bank, and will ensure that you don’t break your noggin.

WSI Current Helmet

Pictured: The full coverage of the WRSI Current will comfortably protect both your melon and your wallet. ($79, wrsisafety.com)

 

3.You need a neoprene sprayskirt that fits tightly over the cockpit rim to seal water out.

IR Shockwave Spray Skirt

Pictured: The IR Shockwave is a well-built, affordable spray skirt that fits a wide range of boats and works for both whitewater and touring. ($118, immersionresearch.com)

4.Once you’re ready to start running rapids, have some simple pieces of easily accessible rescue equipment. Tying a whistle to a PFD zipper or strap is about as easy as it gets. A one-handed river knife, with its sheath secured to the outside of your PFD on a plastic lash tab (which most have) is preferable to a pocketed folding knife in an emergency situation.

NRS Pilot Knife

Pictured: The NRS Pilot Knife’s blade has both smooth and serrated sections, a rope cutting hook, and a blunt tip that guards against unintentional gear punctures and doubles as a flathead screwdriver. There’s also a beer opener on the handle. ($45, nrsweb.com)

5. The last piece would be a throwbag. As you advance to more difficult rapids, an accessible bag of rope worn around the waist is preferable, but a basic throwbag remains essential for any kayaker or rafter.

Stohlquist Class 5 Rescue Bag

Pictured: Stohlquist’s Class 5 Rescue Bag is compact, so there’s no excuse for not carrying it. And its funnel-top easily loads up to 75 feet of high-strength Spectra cord, which can hold up to 4,500 lbs., so you can rope your friends out of most any situation. ($120, stohlquist.com)