What to bring in your kayak

When I head out kayaking to take pictures, I am often paddling alone so as to be less intrusive to the wildlife. There are some items I find indispensable to kayak photography, but also being alone on open water, often with several miles to the nearest person, it becomes necessary to plan ahead for possible situations where support won’t be immediately available, such as capsizing, losing a paddle, changes in weather, and injuries. There are several key items that I began taking with me when paddling solo, but that I now take with me even when I am with others.

Photography aids

For me, one of my single most important pieces of equipment aside form my cameras and dry bag, is my binoculars. These are indispensable for scanning the shorelines for bobcats, raccoons, and small shorebirds. They also allow me to sort through large flocks of waterfowl to find interesting species and plumages. I will often preplan legs of my route by what I have seen through my binoculars, so that I can approach from upwind or up current and be able to drift by without paddling.

Moving that large paddle from side to side can sometimes by unnerving for the birds or animals, so I will often bring either a small fishing paddle that can be used one handed, or else I will split my paddle in half so that my movements are more discreet when wildlife is nearby.

A hat with a full brim is very nice for shading the eyes and the neck (also be sure to be wearing sunscreen). This is key to keeping your eyes adjusted to the light around you, without having to wear sunglasses that can mess with your color perception. Make sure the hat has a flexible brim that you can turn up when you rotate your camera to portrait orientation.

Microfiber towels are key for keeping your equipment dry, but also for wiping your hands dry before handling your cameras and other equipment.

Safety equipment

I always wear a PDF (personal flotation device, which is often referred to as a life jacket, although technically a little different). Even when I am paddling in shallow water I have it securely fastened. If anything were to happen where I was to somehow lose consciousness, it could easily be the difference between life and death.

Stowed inside of my kayak, where it might be trickier to get at, but where it can’t be washed away is my spare paddle, separated into two pieces (for space reasons). With the paddle is a tow rope (any sort of rope can be handy, even if only to tie up your kayak to something), and a small repair kit for minor issues such as loose screws or broken bungee cords.

Also stowed are some items to be used after problems begin. A small first aid kit. Mostly some second skin bandage dressings in case of blisters, aspirin, tape, gauze, and burn cream. With this kit I also keep an emergency blanket (the silver, space age looking thing that you can find at any camping store). This can be crucial if you get really wet and need to remove layers and warm up.

The final items are extra water, energy bars in case I need a pick me up, warm non-cotton clothing, and water proof shells. The energy bars I always keep in the pockets of my PDF for quick and easy access.

That’s most of it. Of course, if you are taking photographs of wildlife from your kayak you will need different equipment than if you are just going for scenic shots. Happy paddling,


About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website- www.galenleeds.net
This entry was posted in How To, kayak photography, photography, safety, wildlife photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What to bring in your kayak

  1. daemonsgpa says:

    Galen- I’m a nature photographer and understand the advantage of shooting from the water. Can you recommend a brand or type of kayak best suited for this purpose? Hobie or New Freedom fishing kayaks, perhaps? Need stability with $8k of equipment on water!


  2. Leonard says:

    I am in the same situation and after all the research I am going to get the Wilderness Ride 115. It is a tri hull design. Remember wider and shorter is slower.

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