Putting Together a Dry Bag to Bring on Your Kayaking Trips

Photo: Spencer Watson / Unsplash

Technically speaking, all that is needed to go kayaking is a kayak and a paddle. Of course, there are a number of other kayaking gear items that are viewed as essential such as wearing a PFD, foot protection, a spray skirt for decked boats, and a helmet for whitewater kayaking.

A number of other paddling safety items such as a throw rope bag and whistle for whitewater kayaking and a paddle float and bilge pump for sea kayaking are needed on every trip. And then of course there is the dry bag which can be packed with just about anything else you want to bring on your kayaking trip.

However, there are non-standard gear items that can and should be brought on a kayaking trip that might not readily come to mind. Things like duct tape and multi-tools and even food and water are often overlooked or forgotten altogether. And, while you may not need every item on every trip, you sure know it when you don’t have what you need.

For these types of items, it’s good to pack them once and then leave them in your dry bag for your kayaking trips for the remainder of the year. While it sounds like common sense, it is advice rarely heeded by paddlers. By keeping a fully stocked dry bag, one that fits in your boat and meets your needs, you’ll save yourself a lot of aggravation and lost time trying to compensate for forgotten items.To put together such a dry bag, think of a variety of different categories of gear:

  • Safety Gear (whistle, mirror)
  • Health Items (first aid kit, water, energy bar)
  • Repair Items (Duct tape, multi-tool)
  • Practical Items (car keys, cash)

Of course, all of that might seem like it will make the bag heavy, and depending on how you pack it, it might be. But a happy medium can be achieved if you plan out the packing of your dry bag ahead of time. Also, a different bag can be put together for the different types of paddling trips. Cold weather and wilderness paddling will require one type of bag while a lazy paddle on a protected lake will require another.

Dry Bag Checklist

It’s a good idea to keep a dry bag stocked with these supplies so you never forget any of these often forgotten yet very important items to have on a kayaking and canoeing trip. The following list is in no particular order.

Duct Tape

Duct Tape is every outdoorsman’s best friend. You never know when you’ll need to tape over a loose screw in your kayak, or provide a quick repair to some other gear item just to get you back to the car. You probably don’t need a whole roll of duct tape. They make smaller rolls that are good for travel. You can also make your own by simply wrapping duct tape around a short wood dowel, stick, golf pencil, or even a straw. Wrap as much on there as you think you’ll need.

Hand Towel

Hand towels are great on kayaking trips. You might need to dry off a wound before applying a band aid. You can use it to dry off your hand before handling a camera. This can be as simple as a wash cloth or as technical as one of those quick drying towels you can wring out.

Super Glue

That’s right, super glue but not for your gear. This is for your wounds as a last resort. If you end up with a gash that you just can’t close, super glue works wonders. Read what our Sports Medicine Guide has to say on Super Glue.

First Aid Kit

Bringing along a first aid kit is always a good idea when in the outdoors. Nowadays, they aren’t bulky boxes, but rather are zipper pouches of varying sizes. Choose one that will fit in your dry bag while at the same time serving your needs based on where you’ll be and how far away you’ll be from civilization.


Multi-tools are a great solution to most repairs. You never know when you’ll need to tighten screws on your boat, bend or reshape a piece of metal, and cut through something.


All paddlers love their photos. They capture the moment, document the trip, and allow us to preserve our memories for the future.

Energy Bar

Its always good to bring extra food. Keeping an energy bar in your dry bag will ensure if you forget to bring a snack on the trip each time that it is there for you. Of course, don’t leave it in there past the expiration. Making sure to throw it out by the end of the paddling season will help this problem.

Bottled Water

For the same reason as the energy bar, keeping a bottle of water in your dry bag ensures you will have it there in case you forget to bring a new one on the trip. We all know the importance of proper hydration, so its better to be safe than sorry. Old water is better than no water.

Emergency Blanket

So often paddling occurs in cold water and air temperatures. You never know when you will be in a situation where you’ll need to hunker down either due to an emergency or just while waiting for a ride. Those aluminum emergency blanket are the perfect item of gear to keep in your dry bag as they are small and light. In an emergency, they’ll help you retain up to 80% of your radiant heat.


A small mirror serves as a visual signaling device for when you’re stranded and need to get someone’s attention. Whether for a helicopter in the sky or a boat on the water, a mirror will help shine light in the direction of help and has been the difference between life and death on more than one occasion.


Whistles are obviously auditory signaling devices. If you’re lost or simply need help and are in an area where others cannot see you, a whistle will help you let any people that are around that you are out there. If you have a whistle attached to your PFD, you don’t need to pack one in your dry bag.

Matches or Lighter

It’s a good idea to bring matches or a lighter (or another fire-starting device) for obvious reasons. If you’re stranded somewhere, you’ll be glad you don’t have to rub two sticks together to keep yourself warm.

Car Keys

Why not keep an extra car key in your dry bag. So many paddlers hide keys on their car while paddling. Many more have locked their keys inside the car by putting them on the seat while changing or unloading gear and then forgetting they are there. If you put a set of keys in your dry bag, you’ll make sure you can get back into your ride at the end of the trip.


Having some cash on you while kayaking is always a good idea. You never know when you’ll end up in a location you hadn’t planned on. You might be starving or dying of thirst and need it to buy a drink or snack. You might need it to pay for a taxi or an unexpected shuttle back to your boat.

Of course, this is just a suggested list. Some of the items might not apply to you. The idea though is to have this bag packed and leave it packed with these items for the season. Every month or so go through it and make sure its all in good working order. Then, be sure to get rid of anything that is expired at the end of the kayaking season.