Paddling Guide

All the Gear and Clothing Necessary for Spending a Day on the Water

Getting out on the water energizes you. Whether you choose to paddle in an ocean, on a river, or a lake, traversing the boundary between air and water gives you a perspective wider than your everyday dealings. Turtles sunning on logs, herons fishing the shallows, bass chasing food and protecting nests, and tides filling harbors all serve to remind you that the world gets along just fine without the immediacy and connectedness of smartphones and tablets.

From the cockpit of a kayak or the deck of a Paddleboard, you can experience all of these firsthand. Our comprehensive guide will help you get on the water easily and safely, and allows you to tap into the regenerative powers of paddle sports. If you are upgrading your boat, board, paddle, or PFD, or are considering buying your first stand-up Paddleboard, explore the fundamental gear categories and advice for making the most of your days on the water.


Kayak or Stand-Up Paddleboard?

For over 4,000 years, people have plied the waters either from the cockpits of kayaks or while standing atop surfboards. While their historical origins differ from hunting food to catching Hawaiian waves, today, there is a fair amount of overlap between the two activities. For instance, on any given summer day, you might see people exploring popular spots together in kayaks and on Paddleboards.

Each craft, however, has unique characteristics and strengths. In general, kayaks tend to be more stable, because they are propelled from a seated position. Paddleboards, on the other hand, offer a higher line of sight and tend to engage more of your body’s musculature for a more comprehensive workout. For more information on how they differ, check out our guide to Kayaks vs. SUPs.

Kayaks learn more

Stand Up Paddleboards learn more

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Stand Up Paddleboards

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Paddleboards, like kayaks, are designed around specific water types and uses, whether it be maneuvering on surf waves, cruising for kilometers, or being floating yoga platforms. The types of boards we carry are for Cruising, Family Fun, Surfing, Fitness/Race, and Yoga. The intended uses dictate general shapes and sizes, which then match up with the paddler’s height, weight, and experience levels.

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To pick the perfect board, click here


Stand up Paddles

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Stand-up paddles propel and balance you on your board. They are longer than kayaking models, because they need to reach from approximately your shoulder down past your feet and the board into the water. So, they are taller than you and sized to fit both your height and the type of paddling you do, be it all around, surfing, or fitness.

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For more on selecting stand-up paddles, click here

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Flat Water Kayaks

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Designed to explore the flat waters of ponds, small lakes, and quiet rivers, recreational or flatwater kayaks tend to be on the shorter side for maximum maneuverability. Outfitted for comfort, they make great birdwatching and angling platforms.

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Light Touring Kayaks

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Light touring designs combine some of the sleekness and safety of sea kayaks with the maneuverability of flatwater kayaks. Capable of carrying camping gear, light touring kayaks expand the waters you can explore to larger and more open bodies of water.

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Sea Kayaks

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Designed for long-distance tours across large lakes or the ocean, sea kayaks are long and sleek for efficient glide. With bulkheads and storage hatches, sea kayaks carry gear and are remarkably seaworthy.

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Crossover Kayaks

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For the truly adventurous, or those who simply cannot make up their minds, crossover kayaks are capable of moderate whitewater and light touring. Packed correctly, they can even support two-week solo trips through the Grand Canyon!

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For guidance on how to choose the kayak for you, click here


Kayaking Paddles

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The paddle is your connection to the water, your propeller, and sometimes even your support system. Be picky in your selection, size it right, and treat it well, and it will be your dependable partner for a lifetime on the water.

In general, taller paddlers or folks using wider kayaks need longer paddles, while smaller individuals or narrow boats can use shorter models. The style of your normal paddle stroke also affects your choice—high-angle strokes provide power with short paddles and large blades, while a low-angle motion with a longer paddle and smaller blade provides efficiency on longer, relaxed tours.

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For more on selecting kayak paddles, click here

Transportation

You’ll likely need a car rack to get your board or boat to the water and back. Most opt for car-top carriers, but you will also see some people with trailers out and about. Kayak roof racks vary in design, transporting the boats either hull-side down, like they float on the water, or on edge. Fortunately, for those with taller vehicles, there are also load-assist kayak carriers that make the act of getting the boat over the car much easier. For Paddleboards, roof racks carry them flat, sometimes stacked atop each other with padding in between. For more on selecting the right carrier, click here.

In addition to hauling the board or boat to the shore, you also need to get your craft to the water. For some, this is pretty awkward, and can be made easier and more efficient with a cart. Boat carts come in a few designs, from super compact to highly durable, just to make the trip from parking to launching a smooth one.

Finally, when you’re back at home after being out on the water all day, having a method to store your boat, board, and paddle will guarantee years of fun. Consider some of our storage options as solutions.

SHOP PADDLE SPORT ROOF RACKS

Paddle Clothing

Paddling clothing breaks down into five general categories: Life Jackets (PFDs), Footwear, Sun Protection, Cold Water Clothing, and Bad Weather Clothing:

PFDs:

The best PFD (personal flotation device, or life jacket) is the one you wear every time you go paddling. A great rule of thumb is to put it on before placing your kayak or board in the water, and take it off only after the craft is on shore. Take the time to find a PFD that fits your body well, is comfortable in the seat of the kayak or the deck of the board, and has the pockets you need—you’ll be safer.

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For more on selecting PFDs for kayaking and Paddleboarding, click here.

Water Shoes:

Choosing appropriate paddling shoes makes the difference between a joyful, easy trip and a painful recovery afterwards. Wear shoes that will stay on your feet even in currents and muck, with soles thick enough to not tear or puncture on rocks or shells. If you paddle when the water is cold, use neoprene booties with either wool or neoprene socks.

SHOP WATER SHOES

Sun Protection:

Over-exposure to the sun causes uncomfortable symptoms, which if unaddressed require a full stop in cooling shade to treat. Protect yourself from the top down with a sun hat, sunglasses, sunscreen on your face, a Buff on your neck, a long-sleeve UV-protective top, sunscreen or gloves for the backs of your hands, and sunscreen or quick-drying UV-protective pants on your legs. Gear aside, hydrate properly, and if you are faced with a long crossing, keep cool by wetting your hat, neck, and top.

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Cold Water Clothing:

If the air and water temperatures combine to less than your body temperature, you need to insulate yourself with layers that work when you swim. The most versatile piece of paddling insulation is a sleeveless, full-leg (“Farmer John” style) neoprene wetsuit. Some people choose neoprene shorts and shirts for even more versatility, and use them with the wetsuit for more insulation. However, when the neoprene becomes so thick you are hot but cannot move, you need to switch to a drysuit. These garments keep all water out and allow you to wear dry fleece insulation underneath.

For more on selecting cold water paddling gear, click here.

Bad Weather Clothing:

Think you might be paddling in the rain? Be prepared in advance with a backpacking rain hat, jacket, and pants, all of which repel water and keep out wind as you move forward. If you find yourself often going out in bad weather, specific jackets and pants are tailored for the seated user moving through the paddle stroke, making them more comfortable.

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Dry Storage

There are some things paddlers will not leave the shore without, and they need to be kept dry. While many kayaks have hatches for storage, items inside may get wet from splashes, rain, and condensation, so it still isn’t wise to leave a smartphone unprotected. Electronics in particular need to be kept air, dust, and water tight, as well as made to float in the event they go overboard. For this level of protection, several pouches and cases are designed specifically for electronics, and many seasoned paddlers use them inside a larger dry bag for additional coverage.

For non-electronics, such as food and rain gear, dry bags usually have roll or zip closures that keep your supplies protected from routine splashes and short immersions. A 10-liter dry bag is perfect for lunch and some snacks for a couple paddlers, while a 20-liter model is common for fleece, a hat, and rain gear.

If your gear has to be “bombproof,” so it can survive hard use in rough conditions, invest in the beefiest dry bags. Tearing a new lightweight bag on a deck fitting or rock is frustrating and adds unnecessary complexity.

Finally, for your convenience, many bags are available in see-though materials to make it easier to win quickly in the game of “dry bag bingo” when you need that one shirt that’s deep in the pile.

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Safety Gear

In The Coastal Kayaker’s Manual: The Complete Guide to Skills, Gear and Sea Sense, author Randel Washburne describes four sequential paddling safety concepts: avoid trouble, survive rough seas, recover from capsizing, and signal for help. All kayakers and Paddleboarders can use these concepts. Within this context, safety equipment comes into play only after the first two levels have failed. The best paddlers develop the knowledge to avoid trouble by taking classes and learning about the local waters from more experienced paddlers and boaters.

They also develop their paddling skills to navigate around or handle rough water. In the event you capsize, they learn to roll back upright or re-enter the boat or board (possibly using safety gear) and continue their trip. When all else fails, they use equipment to signal for help.

That being said, even a novice paddler on a small pond is responsible for carrying a minimal amount. Check with your local authorities, but for kayak and Paddleboard users, this usually consists of a life vest (PFD) and an audible signal (whistle or horn). At night, a visual signal (headlamp or marker light) is added.

Other highly recommended pieces of gear are leashes, and for sit-inside kayakers, paddle floats and bilge pumps. Leashes eliminate the decision, upon capsizing, about which to swim for, the paddle or the boat or board. To simplify things, tether yourself to your board, or attach your paddle to your boat. A paddle float and bilge pump, meanwhile, enable a solo touring paddler in deep water to climb back aboard a swamped kayak and empty the cockpit unassisted.

Along with everything mentioned above, additionally consider bringing dry clothes, food and drink to re-warm after an unexpected swim, and navigation gear, such as maps, charts, a compass, and guidebook, to stay on or regain course throughout the trip.

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Your paddling journeys begin with the right gear. Supplement your equipment selection with skill building, trip planning, and a healthy dose of common sense, and a lifetime of fond memories await you. In getting ready for your next on-water adventure, ultimately use this guide for a better understanding of the essentials to bring along—and what you can leave behind. See you on the water!