Taking a paddling trip is a fantastic idea for anyone who loves staying active on vacation. If you are an avid paddler you might even seek out particular destinations known for their epic paddling conditions. Some of these locales are nearby, while others are in distant lands. If you plan to take a plane to a paddling location you will have to make some difficult decisions regarding what paddling gear you will pack and what you will rent at your destination.
When packing for a paddling vacation, bring small and expensive items with you, including computerized navigation equipment and polarized sunglasses. Other items worth packing include a dry bag, waterproof phone case, cooler bag, sunscreen, and quick dry towel as these items are bound to be useful on most trips and take up minimal space. Rent wet and dry suits and most equipment, but pack your first aid.
In a perfect world, you would be able to bring all your gear - even your SUP board or kayak. But that simply isn’t realistic. In many cases it is not only less cumbersome to rent some equipment, but it also ends up being the cheaper and smarter decision. There are, however, several essentials that you should remember to pack on any paddling trip. Keep reading to learn more about what you should pack and what you should rent when you fly to a paddling destination.
10 Paddling Vacation Packing Essentials
1. UV Protectant Sunglasses
If you are a seasoned paddler, you likely have one or more go-to pairs of sunglasses when you paddle. They fit perfectly on your face, don’t slide off, and are effective at protecting your eyes and helping you see on the water.
Sure, you can get cheap sunglasses almost anywhere, but you need to be sure what you wear protects your eyes and helps you navigate the water. Bring a reliable pair of sunglasses and a damage-proof case. Feel free to bring a fashionable pair of sunglasses as well if the trip is conducive to one, but make sure you have at least one functional pair for paddling.
2. Dry Bag or Dry Backpack
A dry bag is essential for any paddling trip longer than an hour or two. This is especially true when you are paddling on a vessel whose storage capacity you are unsure of. Dry bags come in all shapes and sizes - and many seasoned paddling travelers opt to bring dry backpacks.
Paddling backpacks function both in and out of the water, as they are great at keeping essentials dry and protected when out on the water, but they also make for great day bags when exploring a new location on foot.
Need a dry bag? Shop our picks for the top dry bags for paddlers.
3. A Paddler’s First Aid
When packing your toiletries it is always good to include bandaids, antibiotic cream, and other helpful first aid items. But if you plan on paddling and embarking on other adventures on your paddling-themed vacation then you should pack a complete first aid kit.
Packing first aid means you are completely prepared as soon as you arrive, and don’t have to worry about buying medical supplies on vacation. This is particularly important when traveling internationally when certain items are hard to find and supplies are written in foreign languages.
4. Navigation Equipment
Navigation equipment is usually compact, and always essential when paddling. If you have a smartwatch you use for navigation, or some form of compass, bring it along. If you plan on paddling without a guide, navigation is crucial. Navigating new waters can be challenging as there are lots of variables at play. Plus, it is unlikely to take up more room.
5. Cooler Bag
If you plan on booking an apartment rental and also plan on taking longer paddles, then don’t forget a reliable cooler bag. Cooler bags are essential for keeping your amazing paddling snacks at safe temperatures. They also come in handy when grocery shopping on vacation - making them another item that serves several purposes.
6. Rash Guard And Protective Clothing
As you pack all your vacation outfits, don’t forget to pack some utilitarian paddling clothes as well. You need sun protection always, and sometimes some warmth. Pack UV-blocking clothing, and a rash guard if you have one. A wide-brimmed hat is always nice to have, but if it takes up too much space, a baseball cap works just fine.
7. Swimwear And Goggles
In addition to remembering sun protection, make sure you remember swimming essentials like a swimsuit and goggles unless you are paddling in icy waters. Functional and comfortable swimwear is key when paddling in warm weather. Goggles are always great to have if you want to take a quick dip or even a more involved snorkel from your kayak. Quality goggles aren’t cheap, but fit easily in any luggage - so bring them along if you plan on jumping in the water.
8. Your Sunscreen Of Choice
You can find sunscreen anywhere on the planet, but not all sunscreens are the same. If you are traveling to a different country you might find brands you have never heard of, and not find the ones you love and trust. Remember some of your favorite sunscreen so you don’t have to risk breaking out or burning up due to sunscreen that does not work properly or agrees with your skin.
9. Quick Dry Towel
Most hotels provide towels, but they are bulky and not meant for paddling adventures. A large quick dry towel is a great accessory to own as these towels are compact - fitting in a beach bag and luggage easily. They also dry super fast, so you can just bring one and it will be dry and ready to use whenever you need it.
10. Waterproof Phone Case
Lastly, don’t forget your waterproof phone case. Any seasoned paddler and water lover can attest to the one, two, or three times they buy or rent a waterproof phone case because they forgot their case at home. Not only is this an unnecessary expense, but waterproof cases vary significantly in quality and effectiveness. Bring the one you trust so you don’t need to worry about your phone getting damaged.
Four Items You're Better Off Renting Or Buying Upon Arrival
1. Paddling Vessels
The main object you should almost always rent instead of packing is the paddling vessel itself. Whether you are kayaking or SUP boarding you should rent the board or board from your destination. With that said, it is always a good idea to reserve in advance. Make sure you do a deep dive into the companies that rent boats and boards in your area, especially if you are going sea kayaking or taking a long-distance paddling trip.
Every once in a while it is a good idea to bring an inflatable SUP board instead of renting one. Examples of this include a trip that involves lots of locations, all of which are paddle-worthy. If they are hard to reach by car, all the more reason to bring an iSUP with an easy-to-carry backpack. Just be aware that most iSUPs weigh between 20 and 30 pounds, so you might need to pack multiple suitcases.
Unless you are in love with your PFD and can't part with it you should rent one from your destination. If you have a specialized or custom PFD you can consider bringing it, but it will take up a lot of space in your bag and the odds are you can find a cheap and decent one to rent.
PFDs are available at nearly any paddle rental location and are likely to have your size without calling ahead, but reserving one with your board or boat is a good idea.
3. Wetsuit Or Drysuit
If you own a wetsuit or drysuit you might be on the fence about whether or not to bring it. In some cases, you might want to bring it. This is true if your vacation’s primary objective is paddling, and you are paddling in cold waters. But in most cases, it is smarter to rent, as dry suits and wet suits don’t compact well, and therefore take up lots of luggage space.
Keep in mind if you book excursions in cold water and cold weather paddling destinations, most guided tours include wetsuits or dry suits.
4. Local Snacks
It might be tempting to load up on your favorite paddling snacks before your vacation, but in most cases, it’s best to resist that temptation. Sure, grab some protein bars for your travels, but don’t go overboard. The reason is that it is always a great idea to buy local snacks and bring them on your paddling adventures.
Eating local, trying new things, and enjoying the flavors of your destination are all ways to connect deeply with your location. Instead of packing snacks, have fun exploring local markets and finding delicious and unique treats to bring along on your journey.
Summing Up What To Pack And What To Rent For A Paddling Trip
Taking a paddling trip or a vacation infused with a few paddling adventures is a great way to spend time off. It is a great way to keep active in the off-season, and an even better way to burn off the extra calories you will inevitably enjoy on a vacation. But when you add paddling into the mix, packing can be challenging. This is why it is important to decide what items to pack and which ones you should rent at your destination.
Renting the board or boat is always a good call unless you want to bring an easy-to-carry iSUP on a paddling-heavy trip. You should also rent wetsuits, dry suits, and PFDs as they are easy to come by and take up a lot of space in your luggage. But remember to bring first aid, sunscreen, navigation tools, and other accessories like a quick dry towel and waterproof phone case. Regardless of what you pack and what you rent, the most important thing to bring is your endless desire to explore the world with a paddle in hand.