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Essential Equipment

Your gear carries you out and home, protects you from the elements and assists you in emergencies. All of it should be in good condition and fit your body, skill level and setting. Putting a child in an adult PFD isn’t a smart idea, for example, nor is using that leaky, beater kayak you borrowed at the last minute from your sister’s boyfriend. Make sure the gear is right before your start because once out on the water, it may be too late.

The Must Haves

Don’t launch unless you have these items.

A Personal Flotation Device.

It’s widely held that humans have difficulty breathing underwater. Be sure your PFD fits, and wear it properly and religiously. The overwhelming majority of serious accidents (deaths and close calls) in paddlesports occur when paddlers are not wearing a Coast Guard-approved PFD.

A Paddle.
  • Though the boat may seem the most elemental piece of equipment, it’s the paddle that connects your muscle motor to the water. Consider these features:
  • Design. Different paddles are made for each discipline of paddlesport. The best one for a lazy family river trip may not handle a long-distance run.
  • Length. Kayak paddles are usually measured in centimeters, with touring ones longer than those for whitewater. Your boat width affects paddle size, too.
  • Blade size. The bigger the blade, the more work you’ll do with each stroke. Racers use low surface-area blades so they can stroke at a high rate of repetition without stress injury. Larger blades are better suited to a slower cadence.
  • Material. Plastic and aluminum paddles are everywhere. They are inexpensive, durable and low-maintenance. Wood is prized for its beauty and warmth but can vary greatly in weight, strength, cost and symmetry, and requires upkeep. Fiberglass and carbon fiber make for pricey, stiff, and super-lightweight high-performance paddles.
A Buddy.

Beginning kayakers should never paddle alone. There’s safety in numbers, especially when someone needs to go for help in an emergency.

Information on this page is provided through our partnership with American Canoe Association (ACA) by staff writer Becky Molina.

For comprehensive guides on paddling, please visit the ACA website.