PL Whitewater Kayaking Essentials Sampler (with Vids!)


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Whitewater kayaking’s essential gear for creek boating answers the question: What do you need to be fully outfitted when kayaking the steeps and/or runs that are off the beaten path? From float sacks, dry bags, pin kits, river shoes, elbow pads, rescue ropes, breakdown paddles and how to customize your kayak for better portaging, PL’s own Nick Hinds breaks it all down for you in this unequivocable sampler of gear to have in your boating kit.

PL River Running Essentials Sampler (Photo of Canyon Creek by Luke Spencer)

“When I venture out on a kayaking trip which doesn’t parallel a road, I take quite a bit of safety and rescue gear with me. Each trip necessitates different gear but as a rule I bring the following to make sure my crew and I can get through to the takeout with many risks mitigated. Practice your Z drag, throws with your throw rope, and if possible take a rescue class every few years to stay up on your knots and techniques.

Werner Powerhouse 4-Piece Straight Shaft Breakdown

The fiberglass blade Werner Powerhouse Breakdown paddle comes only in a straight shaft. It is a burly paddle and can be used for travel as your go to as well, it is sturdy enough to paddle anything. Taking it with you is insurance on any trip. If you lose or break your paddle, you don’t want to be left to using your hands to hand paddle or carrying your boat to get out of where you are located. Many times, I have lent my paddle or we have come up on a group who didn’t have their own. Making sure all pieces are secure inside a drybag/stowfloat is essential. While I worked at Werner many folks lost one piece, a costly problem that necessitates shipping three of the pieces back to Werner to fashion a custom 4th piece.  Word to the wise: the right blade connects to the female piece of the center paddle shaft. They are not interchangeable and if you assemble this paddle backwards it can get stuck, to the point where you break it with a Z-drag to try to get it unstuck. Honestly, I find a good rule of thumb is one break down for every three paddlers on a bigger trip. Not everyone needs to lug one around, but someone should.

UltraNighter Storage/Flotation Bag Set – Large

I use this setup that is quite durable for overnighters—it has helped me enjoy the three-day South Fork of the Salmon trip and kept my gear dry. It slides easily inside the back of any creekboat. With a dry bag roll-top baffle, and an inflatable half as well, this unique float bag gives you options. You can put a 4-piece breakdown in the base of the dry bag, then inflate the float bag half pinning the paddle to the bottom of the boat. In this case there is no rattling around of the 4-piece when you are making moves on the river, rolling or boofing. Not a bad idea to put a small space blanket in one of these bags either. If possible balance out the weight with each side.

Wildwasser Ultra Dry Throw Bag

At 65 feet there are longer throw bags out there, but none that stay this light. If you don’t use your rope it stays in the drybag and keeps dry, keeping your setup as light as possible. Sure, when deployed the rope gets wet and you take on water weight until you get home and dry out the system. I have enjoyed using this on the river for years and rarely need a longer rope while creeking. Bigger rivers sometimes necessitate an 80-foot bag, which I will take on different style trips. Make sure to repack your throw bag periodically so when you deploy it, it throws straight and true and is never tangled up. Many times that first throw is the one that counts.

NRS Ether HydroLock Dry Sack

I keep my pin kit in this drybag these days. Many times my keys and phone and wallet go here, too, as there have been many break-ins at put-ins and takeouts here in rural Wasahington state. Keeping grit and sand out of your locking carabiners and regular gate carabiners stops corrosion. Protecting these expensive items means you don’t need to replace them as often.

NRS Paddler Medical Kit

The NRS Paddler Medical Kit keeps you ready for a laceration, puncture wound, or scrape you might encounter on the river. I have seen lots of eyebrow gashes and other injuries while on the water. Being prepared is something your friends will thank you for. I also add a super glue tube for when you’re really out there and you want to close up a bigger bleeding injury. You never want to need to use these kits but when need them. I throw in two Bic lighters to start a fire if someone swims and is getting hypothermia.

Stohlquist Descent Rescue Life Jacket/PFD

For many reasons wearing a rescue specific lifejacket on the river is helpful when the time comes to help someone or yourself out of a situation. Having a rescue belt is key to clipping in for a life bait situation, performing a Tyrolean Traverse (if it has an approved harness), or clipping to a swimmer or boat to tow to shore (these require a tow tether). There are many manufacturers and models of Rescue vests, most have great features. The reimagined Stohlquist Descent is well thought-out. (Check out a full review here:


NRS UN Pin Kit

You can assemble these pieces of a necessary pin kit yourself, but you may spend more than with this kit here. You need two prussics, two locking carabiners, two open gate biners, an anchor piece of webbing at least 15 feet long, and two pulleys. The pulleys must work with the diameter throw rope you carry in your kayak. Every so often I get out my system and practice a Z-drag or Tyrolean because when these rescue situations occur time is of the essence.

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