What's in your ditch bag?

-- Last Updated: Sep-22-07 11:13 PM EST --

Both my wife and I carry Ditch Bags attached to the back of our PFDs. Mine is a Lotus Designs, hers from NRS. We paddle in some very remote parts of Southeast Alaska. The Ditch Bag is always along for the paddle. Our PFDs are never left in our kayaks when we come to a beach, even if it is just to pee.

There is, of course, a VHF radio in the PFDs as well as the following contents: Tacoma Mountain Rescue storm shelter and line, Adventure medical space blanket, very basic first aid kit, led light, knife, and, in an .75 L aluminum tin, fire starter, matches, flare, water purifier, tea, broth cube, cliff bar and glow stick. The tin can be used to heat water, there is a OPSAK to keep it dry and to carry water. (see http://www.flickr.com/photos/umnak/page3/ for a picture of our gear)

So, what’s in your ditch bag?

how does your bag attach to you?
I have a “ditch bag”, but it isn’t attached to me. I sue a 1.5 liter dry bag for this. Not sure how to attach it to me and keep it comfortable.

It is either behind my seat (most often) or in a hatch. First aid, fire making, energy bar, basic fishing, mirror, light (battery), chemical light stick, multi-tool, duct tape, cable ties, inflatable pool toy (emergency flotation), emergency blanket, plastic bags, etc. are all in it.

The ditch bag is designed like a backpack or hydration pack. It has four attachment points using basic plastic snap buckels. I’ve swam with mine attached when practicing wet entries, stays on and the gear stays dry.

Whats in your Ditchbag
I’m kinda surprised I havent seen Spare Map/Compass/signal mirror/whistle mentioned so far, Particularly if you are headed into very remote area’s where trafic is limited (Some area’s of Quetico comes to mind along with extended loops in the northwestern region of the BWCAW where walking OUT may not be an option but Walking to a more heavily travelled area May!!

A good Quality Multi Tool has saved More trips than anything but Duct tape…A small spool of Wire has also come in quite handy in more than 1 instance.

The new LED compact flashlights are a definite MUST for any survival Pack along with enough material to make a trot line for fish (against the law yes but may save your life)

With no oil, ALOT of fish must be consumed to equal even 1/4 the calories you will burn in an emergency situation…Still, Beats Ants & Grubs…Survivorman may Look like he’s enjoying them, but he only LOOKS that way!! LOL

other stuff
There is a compass(with a mirror) in the PFD, but where we live its simple enough to keep the ocean on the left and walk. I have a complete repair kit, multi-tool and lots of other “survival” gear in the kayak housed in nalgene bottles. The ditch bag and PFD are what will be with me if I do anything really foolish; like fall out of my kayak or forget the tide moves fast here in the 3 & 4th hour.

I could see having the fishing gear and maps for your part of the country. The wire is a great idea.

CD business card
I actually have one of those CD-ROM business cards that I use in place of a mirror. Nice and shiny, plus perfect size to fit in my little dry bag.

Ditch bag
water proof matches,compas,knife,signal mirror with wistle,pfd.


My overboard bag is a fanny pack
loaded with survival gear…I always carry a Leatherman tool on my belt that contains a saw and file with all the rest…

Ditch Bag
I always tailor a ditch bag to the conditions I will face in any given part of North America during specific seasons. Always think Survival Requirements:

l. Air

2. Heat (Very Cold) (Very Hot) (Very Windy)

3. Water (Quality)(Temperature)(Sediment)

4. Shelter (Tundra)(Woodlands)(Canyons)


5. Signaling-Communication (Remoteness)

6. Food (Really not a problem unless in

extreme cold environment. Last

of your worries despite Survival

books giving it 50% of their pages.

Average person can get by for a

week in normal conditions without

food, and still be functional.

Once I weigh the above requirements I pick items that fit the needs. Major factors are the size of the Ditch Bag, its Waterproofness, Durability,and ability to attach to your PFD without interference with paddling.

The “Ten Essentials” list developed by the Mountaineers and Seattle Mountain Rescue way back in the mid 1950’s is a good starting point, but not for every situation.

Ten Essentials:

  1. Fire Starter 6. Sunglasses
  2. Map 7. First Aid Kit
  3. Compass 8. Sunburn Cream
  4. Extra Clothing 9. Knife (Pocket or Multi
  5. Extra Food Tool)

    10. Waterproof Flashlight

    or Headlight

    I always carry a water purifier or water purification tablets, waterproof case for my extra map set, Survival Blanket, repair kit with duct tape, and small can to boil water in. In bug country I always carry a 90% Deet Repellent in my kit.

    Never go out in big waters in Alaska or Canada without wearing a dry suit or wet suit under your paddling jacket. A Ditch Bag doesn’t help much if you never make it to shore to use it.

    Stay safe! Always wear that PFD the moment you enter your kayak or canoe! Happy Paddling!

In wilderness areas a small rifle might be very useful in obtaining food.

Survival Kit in a Sardine Can
I got one of these as a Christmas gift. http://www.sportsimportsltd.com/sukitinsacan.html At first I thought it pretty silly, but it fits perfectly in my pfd pocket. i also have a a whistle in a pfd pocket and a knife attached to the pfd.

I have a more traditional type ditch kit in my thwart bag, but if I get separated from my canoe I’ll at least have some stuff in my pfd.

I agree with the selection of many of the items mentioned thus far, however I’m surprised that no one has mentioned a GPS enabled Personal Locator Beacon (I like the ACR ResQFix and McMurdo FastFind).

I am also impressed by the Greatland Rescue Laser Flare (red is good but green is better if you can afford it).

Essential (but expensive) gear in a very remote location, IMO.

Greg Stamer

I have a question Umnak
I wonder if you have a picture of your ditch bag? if you do I would love to see it, and how it looks on your PFD and all that. I have read through the posts here, and many are similar bags to mine, I am just really curious to see what your PFD looks like when it is full with a bag on your back and flares radios and knives and all that. I am sure that it is comfortable and easy enough to move in, but when I am picturing it you look like an Appalachian Trial through hiker.

If you have any pictures I am truly interested in seeing them. I am curious as to how you fit so much on you.



Personal Locator Beacons
Given the increasing affordability of PLB’s, my opinion is that more people should begin carrying them. It helps to more wisely use the increasingly limited search and rescue resources. If cost is an issue for people, consider buying as a group and sharing the use. I got one last year and it now goes with me all the time.

PFD as Ditch Kit
For kayakers with spray skirts here’s a PFD with humongous pockets. It can also be rigged for Swift Water Rescue quick release belt. It has a pocket on the right chest for PLB or VHF. For rougher water you can put flotation inserts in the front pockets to increase the flotation to about 22 pounds.


and another one for canoeists, with mesh back for hot weather


Northwater makes a slip on guide vest you can wear over your PFD or as a stand alone vest


These PFD pockets are plenty large enough for a small first aid kit, space blanket, waterproof lighter (matches suck), compass, folded up topo map in ziploc, line and fish hooks and tiny lures, small roll electrical tape, small roll duct tape, Multi-tool. PLB, VHF or two-way radio depending on number in party and where paddling. If wilderness tripping alone I’d rent a sat phone, and a capillene baclava for head, neck and ear warmth and light weight Polartec gloves and capillene glove liners. Attached to PFD I have whistle and Benchmark river knife.

Other items
A handy item not many mention is common glue, the kind that says “extremely flammable” on the tube. Glue of this type can fix many things if even only temporary, even patch up a broken boat or paddle.

Equally as valuable it could be of great assistance in starting a fire!

Another item very useful is a full page magnifier. You know, those flat plastic sheets used by the vision deficient. Even in weak sunlight they can start a fire and no matches are needed at all!

Photograph of Ditch Bag
Since I’m the photographer, there isn’t a picture of my ditch bag in the wild. Take a look at the one my wife has on her PFD in the picture titled Morning Paddle at http://www.flickr.com/photos/umnak/page2/

Click on the thumbnail and it will enlarge. It is the red thing on her back.

The contents of mine differ from her’s somewhat. The contents of mine are shown on page 4, titled ditch bag.

Her ditch bag is a hydration bag from NRS, mine an older Lotus style and slightly larger.

More thoughts on the ditch bag
Nice range of ideas about ditch bags, thanks. With the Channel outside our home thawing it looks like a short trip is in the offing. I’m thinking of adding a 4.5 oz bivy to the ditch bag. Anyone ever use the OWARE USA products?

I’ve added a picture of my wife’s ditch bag in situ at http://www.flickr.com/photos/umnak/page2/