Top 5 Pieces of Gear You Should Have in Your PFD

There is a wide variety of PFD’s available for the river today. Many of them come with all kinds of pockets to store all sorts of goodies in, but what should you pack in these pockets? You want to have the essentials for sure, but you also want to avoid stuffing your pockets with unnecessary weight to carry around. Here is some of the gear  I make sure to always have in my PFD.

Top Five Gear Items to Carry in Your PFD

1. Whistle

This should be a no brainer. If you don’t have a whistle in your PFD, get one. They’re cheap, and often free. This doesn’t need to be anything fancy. You can get one at the dollar store if you want. There is some etiquette to be considered here though. As with most rescue gear you want to use it when you need to but don’t do so lightly. I know some rescue courses teach three long whistles means “help!” and anything else is a signal. In a lot of other areas any whistle blast means there is an emergency. If something is really wrong you may not be able to get three blasts out. Be mindful who is around before using your whistle. You may inadvertently cause someone a moment of panic when you blow a whistle to get their attention and they think you’re drowning. Best thing to do here is talk about signals with your group before you put on to make sure you are all on the same page. Especially if you don’t know each other well. Also, make sure you keep in somewhere you can get to it. If you’re in trouble you don’t want to have to dig into the little pocket inside the big pocket and look under your sunscreen and cliff bars to find it. I like to keep mine attached to the shoulder strap of my PFD where I can reach it with my teeth if my hands are busy.

2. Pin Kit

If you’re unsure how to use a pin kit, don’t carry one because it won’t be any good. You should get familiar with them first and then keep one on your person. Don’t keep it in your boat. If your boat is the one pinned and you’re the only one with a pin kit you’re are hosed. Instead pack it in your PFD so it is always on your person. Your kit should contain at least 3 carabiners, about 12 ft of webbing, and a prussic. Pulleys are optional but not necessary. It is popular to wrap the webbing around your waist and secure it with a carabiner. Personally I don’t like this. The webbing has potential to catch on something and isn’t on a quick release. I think it is better to pack it in your PFD. You will have to choose for yourself what risks you are willing to accept.  Make sure you take your kit out from time to time and practice setting it up. It is important to be able to so quickly.

3. Chapstick

Your lips will thank you. We usually remember sunscreen for our face and neck but don’t forget the lips. This is my most used gear item in my PFD for sure.

4. Spot Rescue Beacon

These GPS beacons are becoming more popular. They cost about $100 to buy and $100 per year for the service. I’ve had mine for 3 years now and it has already paid for itself. It can send your GPS coordinates to search and rescue at the press of a button but my favorite feature is the “OK” message. I was on a 2 night trip that turned into a three night trip on the last day. We had no cell service down in the river canyon of coarse, but I was able to use SPOT to send a message to wife to let her know we were OK but going to be home later than planned. (To read more about this adventure, click here.) I highly recommend the SPOT to anyone. Just remember like with the rest of your emergency gear, don’t get too trigger happy with it. You don’t need to be calling a helicopter every time you stub your toe but when you really do need medevac this tool is invaluable.

5. Snacks

I try to keep a little food in my PFD at all times as well. You can pack your lunch in your dry bag but keep something quick, small, and high energy close to you. You may get hungry or need a boost at a random time that isn’t convenient to stop and dig out your dry bag. I like to keep Gu energy gel on hand or something similar. If you or someone in your group has just taken their third swim of the day a quick pick me up like Gu or Honey Stingers can be like a gift from heaven.


So these are a few of the main things I always keep on me while on the water. Let me know in the comments section what other things you like to be sure to have when you’re out boating.




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