Preparedness and gear questions.

Hello and great to find this website! I recently purchased a sea eagle SE330 and am getting into paddling up to class 3 rapids of the South Eastern US (TN, NC, GA). Ive been researching paddling quite a bit in order to get the best out my experiences in the boat. This site has been a great resource for information including the boards.

I would appreciate some insights on what I have gathered so far- basically to be prepared (I am an eagle scout after all) and to purchase appropriate, well performing gear/brands at a good value/price for a beginner/novice.

  1. Gloves- Im looking for open-fingered/fingerless style. I’ve heard NRS makes the most popular/best gloves (and gear?). Ive also seen Warmers. Both seem reasonably priced- your thoughts? What material is the most breathable for summer months? What is the best way to measure my hand? (Id like to order online, but dont want to order the wrong size).

  2. Rescue throw bag- What length and durability should I look for? Where should it be placed? -in or on the boat (eg in a backpack, under spray skirt or attached to the boat?)? Again, NRS pops up, but rather expensive (?). Any other brands?

  3. First aid kit- any recommended first aid kits for paddlers? I liked this article:

  4. PFD/Helmet- what would you recommend? I dont even know where to start here. I will be paddling up to class 3 rapids.


welcome gearhead
Welcome to the water, and rest assured, there is a ton of gear you will need/want before your first season is over. Keep that list handy and keep updating it, but unless you are made of money, I’d suggest you move slowly on acquisition. Of course, there’s a certain minimum level of gear you must have for safety reasons, and here I suggest your first purchases be in the functional-but-cheap category, because if you are planning to get into whitewater, you can count on the river taking away all of your first purchases within about 6-8 trips. Rivers have a voracious appetite for paddler gear, and they will stop at nothing to take it away from you. Better to expect this on the front end and not regret it when it happens.

The best thing you can do to figure out what gear you need is to take some classes and join a group of paddlers with similar boats and levels of experience. Then look at your instructors and fellow paddlers and see what gear they use, and ask them for recommendations. When you learn how to hang onto most of your stuff, you can start buying better quality stuff.

As an open boater, I feel that if you’re paddling up to class three water you a need a high volume PFD. Extra sport B-27 will fit that description nicely. I personally am not a fan of the slab style PFDs. I like a little bit more padding between me and the rocks!

Helmet style would be personal choice, although again I would suggest something that would allow you to attach a face guard. May look goofy, but could save you big-time dental bills if a tooth kissed a rock.

But whatever you do, have fun and be safe!

Happy paddling,


one opinion
Gloves – don’t use them in the summer. Do you want them for sun protection or grip protection?

Throw bag: Thicker rope is easier to grab when you’re swimming. A long rope is more useful than a short one. But a small rope you carry is better than a big one at home. 50’ of 5/16" is reasonable, 70’ of 3/8" is nice. Straight polypro is fine unless you’re rigging mechanical advantage systems.

Helmet: Go for more coverage and good fit over looking cool. Cascades are a good value if they fit your head shape. Big hard visors are a liability in moving water – if you want a visor, add a soft one.

PFD: I like more coverage than some of the low-cut “rodeo” vests.

personal gear and group gear

– Last Updated: Jun-28-09 6:54 PM EST –

but before you buy anything that fits into the category of rescue gear please try and take an ACA certified white water safety and rescue class.

I got to try a bunch of different equipment in the last class I took, which helped me settle on a PFD, which kind of ropes and biners worked for what kinds of rigs I might need to devise, as well as guidance on how to use things correctly.

I'll take another one from the NOC this fall and again in the coming Spring. Too many things to absorb in one class, all at once! I like the opportunities to practice skills too.

Because I throw like a girl, my husband helped me learn to throw a rope bag in our driveway - made my river practice more effective.

Good resources in the mean time are Kent Ford's Whitewater Self Defense DVD and Les Bechdal and Slim Ray's "River Rescue - a manual for whitewater safety" book.

What do I carry in my boat?

2 prussic loops, 1 15' section of webbing and 4 biners in a mesh bag (stuff for a basic Z drag)
NRS Dyneema Pro throwbag in 70' 1/4" (yes, 3/8 is better, but this fits in my boat and I can throw it)
Paddler Adventure Medical kit, with much more ibuprofen than originally supplied and a space blanket from target added
4 piece breakdown paddle, because a broken paddle happened to one of my friends too.

On my body
Web Toe rig from Astral on my PFD
NRS Wingman knife on plastic 'biner and leash INSIDE pocket (don't like stuff on the outside of my PFD if I can avoid it)
Fox 40 whistle
Spare drainplug

Before we paddle we all pretty much talk about what gear we've got and who has what. One of my instructors in my safety class was the guy who got pitoned while doing some big creek action. Of course he had all the safety stuff for his group in his boat. Just goes to show.

Someone in my group has a SAM splint, I paddle with two different nurses, a swim instructor, several moms and one girl scout leader (retired).

So yeah, you can go kind of crazy here. At least, on your person, have a whistle and know that one blast is "ATTENTION" and 3 should make your friends come running.

As for gloves, I wear short fingered paddling gloves, ocean or whitewater year round so I don't get blisters. Pogies over the paddleshaft in the cold!

Try different PFDs. Make sure they fit you both in your summer paddle wear and your winter paddle wear. The NOC is a great place to try things.

Helmets are tough. As far as I know, there are no standards for whitewater helmets. Just remember, a bicycle helmet is designed for single impact and a whitewater helmet - for bouncing your head repeatedly on rocks down the river.

I happen to like the WRSI, other people like other things. It is VERY dependant on the shape of your head and size as well. Some folks swear by ear protection and/or full face. I cannot hear or blow my whistle or stay hydrated with the above, but I like my WRSI...

re:welcome gearhead
Excellent, and thanks for the reply! (yes, a gear head indeed, no matter the activity).

“functional-but-cheap category”- exactly what I am looking for. Still looking around for what is deemed “cheap”- definitely not

Thanks for the recommendation to join a group/take classes, I will be doing this soon, as well as safety and rescue classes.

Thanks for the reply. I believe I should look to the traditional bricks and mortar stores for pfd and helmet so I can try on different styles…Ill keep your suggestions in mind.

re:one opinion
gloves- looking for more grip protection from blisters and a better grip on the paddle in general- however as I am working on my technique it becomes apparent hand fatigue may decrease as I learn more proper form for my forward stroke. Yep, Ive been “brute forcing it”, but am trying to learn!

thanks for the tip on throw bag, I will remember this and look to 70’ of 3/8" polypro. Im assuming the bag I purchase will have instructions on care?

thanks for the ofd/helmet suggestions, going to go try some on soon

re:group and personal
class- yes, I find it important to take some courses soon, Im going to look into offerings in my area this week and hopefully sign up soon- NOC isnt too far away either. Education is essential in all aspects of life imo, plus its my nature to want to become as much of an expert as possible in any activity I participate.

thanks for the video and book tips…I find I learn best from videos as a supplement to actual experience

A big thank you for telling me about your on boat/pfd supplies and medical kit, this is good information. I like the looks of the kit, for anyone interested:

thanks for the pfd/hemlmet recommendations as well, ill keep these in mind

thanks to all who have replied! I really appreciate it.

Rope care
Basics are pretty simple: Keep it clean(rinse out any grit after use), dry it after paddling but don’t store it in direct sun, and don’t use your good rescue rope for anything else that might damage it.

first aid for the boat?
Welcome to the club, and congrats on the Eagle status. I am a fan of NRS, you can’t go wrong with any of their stuff, and they have all the gear you will ever need on a river.

I know nothing about the SE330 so I googled it, and I would be very careful about taking it in class 2-3 rivers. All of the rivers I have paddled in your area have a lot of shallow sharp rocks, so I would take a patch kit and duct tape as first aid for the boat. I would also stay close to the road the first few times until the boat proves it is tough enough. NOC is the way to go for education, and the Nantahala is a great place to try a new boat. Let us know how it works out.


– Last Updated: Jun-29-09 2:07 AM EST –

yes I agree about being careful and with a patch kit. We definitely have some jagged rocks. The eagle actually came with a great set of repair supplies which I keep on board every time.

Our water levels tend to fluctuate a lot as well, I have definitely scraped the river bottom on many rocks (and stumps in the lake). It has held up remarkably well so far but you never know.

Most everything I intend to do is class 1, maybe class 2 at the most. My general trips will consist of paddling up to waterfalls via center hill lake tributaries. I paddled to Burgess Falls on the maiden voyage, quite a blast!

The reason I said class 3 is I would eventually like to take the boat down the Nantahala once I get a little better (except for the last rapid before the take out). Ive done it in a raft a few times and have read some testimonials about people taking their 330's down it with no problems- but as always safety and experience first! Thanks for the reply.

"rescue gear" is mainly for use on other paddlers in a group, not for you. If you are going up those streams yourself, who you gonna throw your rope at?

Personal Safety (i.e. for you) =spare paddle, pfd, helmet if you choose to use one, a knife, a whistle (so you can signal for help - who knows, someone mught hear and investigate your 3 blasts on a whistle repeated in series of 3. You need the knife in case you wind up swimming and get hung up in rope, fish line, or whatever. Most whitewater paddlers will have a vest mounted rescue knife - since you are paddling an inflateable, I’d be very careful to buy one with a blunt tip. Painter lines - floating line - short, about the length of your boat - in case you flip, you can self rescue your boat yourself - much easier if you can grab a painter line and tow the boat behind you as you swim into an eddy. Painters should be secured so they do not float loose until you have tugged on them. A complete change of clothes, in a dry bag, is pretty standard for most people to have along - even in early summer or late fall, the conditions can be such that getting soaked could lead to hypothermia - not an issue in typical summer conditions. For cold water paddling, you may want to have a wet suit or dry suit - if you are going to be doing white water in spring, a wet suit is nearly mandatory. Having lighter or matches and some fire starting stuff is also a good idea if you will be in remote area. Likewise, a waterproof flashlight if you may be stuck out after dark.

Doing anything more will either require a lot of home study on your part, or taking a class. In a group situation, most boats will carry a throwbag. Some people will carry enough biners (and/or pulleys) and prussics to set up a Z drag to rescue a pinned boat. I sometimes carry a 150’ static rescue line for doing a Z drag, but that’s only on CII or CIII, and it depends on the group I’m, with.

Joining a club is a reasonable way to learn a lot of this stuff, and get you to know other paddlers to do trips with. Just see what they bring.

knife tip sharp vs. blunt
Actually, I think I’d go with a sharp tipped knife in an inflatable, so you could more easily puncture an air tube or cut your way out if you get trapped in a rock formation while in the boat. That’s actually one of the nice things about inflatables in whitewater - more options to escape if you get pinned in the boat and easier to cut your way out of than with a hard shell. As for accidental punctures, won’t he usually be away from the boat in other scenarios where he opens the knife to cut away entanglements?

rope- well up the streams pretty much no one, but say for instance when I goto places such as the hiwassi, caney fork, nantahala etc with others…just want to be prepared for any situation/location that I may encounter

thanks for the personal safety tips, a lot of those I already employ…thanks for the "painter"tip, I had not heard of this yet

as for the knife I’m considering a spyderco, I have always liked them for their weight and durability in the rock climbing world- something with serrations would be good…plus it would serve as a good additional knife for camping (I have some gerbers and bucks, but they arent very practical for paddling)

re:blunt vs tipped
good points there, definitely some issues to consider.

thanks for the reply and insights