Let's start with the basic kit that is necessary for a day paddle on a simple river like the Thames. Even if you borrow your kayak, paddle etc, you will still need your lunch, something to drink and a dry bag to keep it dry. As a responsible paddler I would also expect you to carry a simple first aid kit and orange plastic survival bag.

The big difference between a flat water paddle in summer and a winter white water trip is your personal clothing.  A sleeveless wetsuit in combination with a thermal top and fleece pullover is a good starter.  A cagoule will keep the wind and most of the wet off: latex wrist and neck seals can leave you almost dry. Suitable footwear, possibly wetsuit booties, are essential to protect your feet when you are out of your boat.

At this point you have all the personal essentials and can probably borrow other items that you will need.

A helmet is essential but can be borrowed from the Club to start with.  However a good fit is important and I would suggest that this is one of the first items to buy once you have the basic kit.

I am going to suggest that the next item to buy rather than borrow should be a paddle as a good paddle can make paddling so much easier. The key features to look for are light weight, strength and the right size.  Mark it with your name and phone number just in case it becomes separated from you. The other possibility at this stage might be a buoyancy aid.  Pockets are useful for carrying odds and ends but the essential features are a CE mark for a 50N personal flotation device, a snug fit (particularly around the waist), and a strong attachment between the shoulder straps and the main body (beware a single line of stitching at this weak point).

By this time you probably wondering about a kayak. To start with I would advise borrowing a boat until you know what you want.  When you feel that you are ready to buy ask around for advice: often a slightly longer river running kayak with more volume at the ends will enable you to develop river running skills more quickly.  It is important that you fit out your kayak so it fits you.

A spraydeck should fit your kayak and would probably be bought at the same time.  Beware -  they have only a limited life: depending on how much they are used and how they are stored, they will start to leak through the seams after a year or two.

So you have enjoyed the white water and consider yourself to be reasonably competent.  Now you need the equipment to help others:

  • A throwline and a knife;
  • A sling or length of climbers tape and a screw gate karabiner.

These items need training in their use. Get the training so you understand the pros and cons of different equipment so you can make an informed choice of what you need.

Top tips for Christmas presents:

  • A new thermal (base layer) top
  • A small dry bag - so many uses
  • Pogies or neoprene gloves to keep your hands warm
  • A throwline (15 or 20m, the Palm ones currently seem to be the best)
  • A knife - should be capable of being opened with one hand (all knives tend to sink or go rusty or both so cheap ones are good as they are more easily replaced)

First published December 2008.  Updated Oct 2012.