What’s in your “Kit”?

We sat in our boats on shore for almost an hour; BCU Four Star Candidates (AKA Aspirants) being assessed. Assessors, Shawna Franklin and Steve Maynard,  were expecting us to pull magic out of our day hatches like it was Mary Poppins’ carpet bag. And they were working from a list – Steve didn’t smile, his mouth merely twisted, and the twinkle in Shawna’s eyes could blind you. We’re talking devilish delight here!

I was fortunate to sit in on this session, a ‘Johnny-Come-Lately’ to the 4 star assessment, having just passed my Three  Star. I had no idea what to expect; but I was told to come prepared for anything. I admit, I did feel a little silly with all the stuff I brought along, until I looked over at my friend Chris, and all the junk he had.

“Hey, do you have a spare hatch cover?”, he said softly.

“Uh, no.”

“Here, I have an extra.”, and he gave me a garbage bag. I accepted it like a gulag prisoner getting an extra loaf of bread, glancing sideways to see if a guard was watching me put it away. He saved the (virtual) day! There was probably other stuff he lent me, but I was like a deer in the headlights now.

Shawna: “You’re Thirsty”; [easy, I’ll drink some of my water (I’m kinda thirsty any way and it is warm on the beach)]

“It’s raining and your partner is cold”: [easy, I’ll give them my rain coat and cap, I don’t get cold. This is easy…hmmm….too easy.]

” Now you are cold”: [Oh crap, I’m screwed]

… and on and on for almost an hour. I had most of the items to cover the scenarios they were presenting, and I felt good about my preparations. The “gotchas” were hard lessons to learn without the pain of suffering. One of the biggest lessons I learned from Shawna still is: “Your day hatch is one of the most valuable pieces of equipment”. That’s where we pull our magic from while on the water: spare hatch cover, spare clothes, signal equipment, food, water… stuff you can easily dig out and use without having to stop; address the situation NOW!!!.


A while back, when I was new to kayaking, I saw Andy Stamp instruct somebody to treat their paddle for hypothermia. Out came the thermos and shelter and the candidate and paddle disappeared into the shelter. I have a pretty good idea what went on in there because the paddle recovered.


Our local club, Inland Sea Kayakers, hosts a twice annual event: The “As If” Challenge. Participants have a wonderful paddle on a beautiful lake during the shoulder seasons. But… the day is riddled with scripted scenarios. The contents of a kit a team has means the likelihood of success. The best learning actually occurs during the debriefing, and several members have attributed success in adversity to these exercises.

The As If Challenge is a leadership and skill development day.The day is broken into situations and challenges a group may encounter while touring on a large body of water. These situations and challenges are designed to foster teamwork, develop new skills, and to offer an opportunity for team learning.”


What’s in your kit? Folks with a kit like to compare with each other what is in their kit; sometimes there’s agreement that bonds paddlers deep to their souls, and sometimes there’s disagreements so passionate, you’d think they were defendeing their religion. In a sense they are.

For those that don’t have a kit, they’re left wondering what it is, why is it important, are kayak skills anemic without one? This article is just to get you to think about your kit, or to enrage you enough to write angry letters of passionate disagreement.

Basically, your kit is the junk you carry with you when you kayak. Thankfully, there are those items we can all agree on: life jacket, spray skirt paddle, bilge pump, paddle float, etc. Of course, we can go the extreme, like all social fringe nuts tend to. More esoteric discussions end up in heated, bitter arguments like packing candy: on your PFD, in a handy dry bag, or bail out bag; how many pieces; what kind is best, most energy, highest sugar content, flavor, or even why? This equipment can make the difference between comfort and complaint, between content and frustration or even between life and death, so it becomes very individualized and personal.

If you haven’t formally built one, you’ll eventually think about ways to organize it. I like to use duffel bags; they’re flexible, hold lots, and have a mesh top to help with drying (maybe). Some people use plastic tubs, when the gear drains and drips, it doesn’t get your upholstery wet and sandy, and the cover snaps on to contain that hideous odor. The most economical, and gaining widespread use are those super cheap bags from Ikea stores.

I like to keep 2 kits packed and ready to go. Keep in mind that these are each different: a layered system.


“A” Kit

One kit, my “A” Kit, allows me to travel light for the quick trips to the pool or local lakes, where I will be working on my skills or just putting on miles. It contains what I would consider the basics. I always bring my “A” kit. The other resources I would need to depend on are usually available as an outside source, such as a motor vehicle for warmth, or a change of clothes would be in the locker room of the pool.

(“A” Kit contents)


“B” Kit

When I’m going on a journey with other people (along with training comes responsibility), where access for outside emergency help may be difficult, or an environment where playtime may be particularly vigorous, or I simply wish to be as independant as possible, I additionally bring my “B” kit. This kit can be depended on to get me through the tough times, times where life isn’t quite so comfortable or fun anymore.

(“B” Kit contents)


Survival Kit

Within my “B” kit is my “Survival Kit”. This is what some folks would call a bail out bag. Because the name “bail out bag” has connotations that you would grab this bag and abandon everything else, I call it a “Survival Kit”; I hope to never abandon everything else. This kit isn’t going to keep you alive throughout a harsh Alaska winter, but it does have enough junk to keep you slightly more comfortable than having nothing at all. Multiple means of signalling for help, multiple means of starting fire, multiple means of staying warm and dry, multiple means of lighting your way in the dark and just a small amount of food, .

This collection of equipment should fit neatly into a clear and small 5L dry bag. The clear bag speeds the process of selecting what you need before dumping the whole contents out.

When sending members of your party for help, a notebook and pencil work great to write instructions from impending help, or writing down information useful to a rescue agency, such as: your location, your needs, how many people are with you and equipment you have at your disposal.

(“Survival Kit” contents)

Repair Kit (Service Kit)

Rather than just a repair kit, this one can also be used for preventive service, so I like to refer to it as a service kit..

The items in this kit are generally limited by your knowledge of making general repairs on the fly. There’s no point in putting in a lot of cool tools if you don’t know how to use them. Spare parts and tools are specific to your kayak: spare skeg line or cable, wrenches unique to your boat and no more (don’t bother bringing the kitchen sink). Think creatively, such as paper clips, which are actually small pieces of metal which can be used to stitch together a large split in the hull. Consider items that can serve dual purpose, such as dental floss which can be used to sew together pieces of torn fabric or lash items together. Duct tape is an all around fixer; pack it now and let your creative juices fly when you need it. Needle nose vice grip can hold things tight, really tight, for a short time or a really long time. Four-in-one screw driver – why bring four screwdrivers? There’s an allen wrench that fits the screws on my seat, and if you need one for other fittings like rudder cables, put it in the kit – it’s much easier than manufacturing one when you’re in a jam. Multi-tools are great, but they’re expensive; you can pretty much expect things to rust in your bottle.

(“Service Kit” contents)


First Aid Kit

I’m going to save the details of this one for another article, but some of the same principles apply as the service kit:There’s no point in putting in a lot of cool tools if you don’t know how to use them.

But you should take a first aid course and pack an appropriate kit


Put your gear away when you’re done playing

When the day is done, and the boats are in their resting place, I make sure all the wet gear is sufficiently exposed to air and has an opportunity to dry; this stuff is expensive and needs to be preserved. Be sure to replace any parts that were consumed so it’s available for your next adventure, and, just like your mom used to tell you (or maybe she still does): put it away so you can easily find it the next time you want to play.


Train for the worst; Hope for the best.
Jeffrey Forseth