Winter expedition kayak trip gear list

Daye Cooper

Welcome to winter expedition kayaking! Kayakers can bring more gear than, say, backpackers, but there is still a limited amount of space. This is a list of gear suitable for a short overnight (a few days) kayaking trip in familiar, protected waters in BC coastal winter. Longer or more arduous expeditions (i.e. surf landings, high currents, a week-long trip, unknown or rural waters, arctic conditions, etc) require more specialized equipment and skills.

File a detailed trip plan with someone reliable before you leave and check in with them when you return.


Technical / Group / Emergency Gear
• Kayaks appropriate for the trip (consider length of the boat, rudders or skegs, and especially adequate secured floatation).
• Technical kayaking gear including PFDs (with whistles), sprayskirts, pumps/bailers, throw bags, float pads, paddles, spare paddles. Wear your PFD.
• Shelter: tents or tarps for kitchen and sleeping – don’t forget rope!
• FOOD! Including snacks, spices, etc. Good idea to have a little extra packed.
• Water: typically 2-3L per person per day (consider water treatment options)
• Kitchen kit including cooking pots & utensils, stove & fuel, hand sanitizer or biodegradable soap. If you plan to cook over fires and the area permits it, a grill, fire gloves, or a fire hook may be helpful.
• First aid kit appropriate for the trip and someone with appropriate first aid knowledge.
• Repair kit appropriate for your kayaks (e.g. duct tape, zip ties, extra rudder cable and crimps, vice grips/pliers, WD-40, extra parts)
• Flares (excellent for summoning assistance in an emergency)
• The ability to communicate and to check the weather (VHF radio and know the channels to call, or cell phone if you will have coverage and know the numbers to call for the marine weather forecast).
• Navigation equipment: compasses, charts, guidebooks
• AND, and this cannot be emphasized enough, THE SKILLS AND ABILITIES TO USE ALL OF THIS GEAR PROPERLY.

Fire kit
o fixed-blade knife (for splitting cedar kindling)
o the ability to cut wood (Can-Saws: excellent. Hatchet: excellent and dangerous. Swiss Army knives: not made for this, though some do have little wood saws).
o multiple lighters/waterproof matches stored in different places
o “firestarter”: pitch sticks, cotton balls + Vaseline, tealights, tinder, etc.


Personal gear

> DO NOT BRING COTTON ON A WINTER KAYAKING TRIP. IT WILL KEEP YOU WET, COLD, AND DEAD. Really wet, really cold, and really dead. Really.
> Bring synthetics, polypro, fleece, merino wool, cheap regular wool, neoprene, etc.
> Pack efficiently but KEEP WARM. Winter kayaking expeditioners have two full outfits, one “dry” and one “wet”. Plus side: you always have something warm and dry for camp. Other plus side: putting on a damp, half-frozen wetsuit in the morning is awesome.
> Find a system that works for you. This is what works well for me. If in doubt, bring an extra layer.

Paddling clothing (potentially soaking wet for the entire trip)
• Insulating torsowear
o Wetsuit (Farmer Jane/John is fine)
o Drytop or paddling jacket or extra rainjacket (with tight wrist cuffs)
o Synthetic or wool long underwear top and bottom
o Fleece sweater(s?)

• Insulating headwear
o toque
o neckwarmer/balaclava
o rainhat (cowboy, Tilley-style, or sou’wester) – doubles as sunhat

• Insulating footwear
o neoprene booties or neoprene socks and sturdy sandals suggested

• Insulating handwear
o gloves (neoprene gloves are good. Synthetic liner gloves + rubber dishwashing gloves are a good and cheap alternative to neoprene).
o pogies (like big neoprene mitts that attach to the paddle). Optional; very nice to have for cold weather paddling, very warm when used with gloves. Possible rental.

Camp clothing (to be kept dry(-ish) for the entire trip)
• Insulating torsowear
o second pair synthetic or wool long underwear top AND bottom
o synthetic pants (optional; I just wear long johns + rain pants at camp)
o warm fleece or down vest, or midweight sweater
o heavy/warm jacket
o RAIN JACKET & PANTS (rubber or good Gore-Tex)
o sports bras, enough underwear (I bring 1 pair/day; some people bring less).

• Headwear/Handwear/Footwear
o 1 pair shoes for around camp. Gum boots are highly recommended.
o 2-3 pair warm socks
o Warm toque, balaclava, scarf, etc.
o Thin gloves

Toiletries
• toothpaste & toothbrush (practice no-tracing your toothpaste spit)
• a small towel is great for drying off at the end of the day
• ladies, reusable menstrual cups like the DivaCup or Keeper are awesome, check ‘em out. Otherwise, bring your usual pads/tampons and a bag (plastic inside of brown paper works well) to pack the used ones out.
• a note on toilet paper: unless there’s an outhouse at your campsite, toilet paper also needs to be packed out – please don’t leave TP in the ocean or buried in a hole; it is very slow to decompose and will be dug up by animals and spread around the campsite — gross. Consider “natural toilet paper” options, and consider reading Kathleen Meyer’s How to Shit in the Woods.
• don’t forget spare glasses, contact solution and case, floss, etc.

Other Gear
• sleeping bag & mat
• headlamp or flashlight and extra batteries
• sunglasses / small sunscreen / lip balm with SPF
• any prescription or non-prescription medications (duplicate and separate vital medications, and be sure to tell your travelling companions about any medications or medical issues you might have).
• 1L water bottle
• mess kit (bowl, mug, spork … etc)
• bivy sac (not needed if using a tent)

Optional, great to have
• camera & the ability to keep it dry
• fishing gear + license
• journal/notebook/sketchpad


How to Pack
• Backpacks and large duffel bags will not fit into kayaks. All your gear needs to be in 5-20L stuff sacs (think “cat-sized”. Cats are all different sizes but you could probably fit any cat into a kayak).
• Everything needs to be waterproof enough to immerse in a bathtub. If in doubt, try immersing it in a bathtub. Now, while you have a dryer handy.
o Drybags are excellent. Buy or borrow.
o Alternatively, use 2+ garbage bags to line whatever sac you’re using**; squish the air out and twist the garbage bags closed; tuck the twisted end down the side, or if you must tie a knot, make it a slipknot so you can untie it easily without ripping the garbage bags. Put important things in extra ziplocs.
o **Note: please do not just throw your stuff in a garbage bag and call it a day! Garbage bags are weak by themselves and will tear. They must be protected by another sac.