Essential Sea Kayaking Gear
A sea kayak offers its paddler a close-up and intimate experience with water. It moves at a pace that allows your mind to absorb sounds, smells, and in some cases tastes that clarify the moment. Whether we seek the thrill of experiencing a swell breaking on a rocky shoreline or cutting through glass-like conditions on a quiet morning, kayakers are often seeking immersion with their surroundings.
Experienced kayakers know that one of the keys to finding this level of engagement requires the confidence and comfort provided by their gear. The following list aims to help you identify and consider the gear that makes it easier to lose yourself (or find yourself), out on the water. Since sea kayaking is possible in a variety of water bodies, climates, and seasons, a good gear list could never hope to be exhaustive. We’ll focus on gear needs that apply universally to the needs of kayak touring.
We all know we need one to kayak, but choosing the right paddle may be the single most important gear choice a kayaker can make. Think of it like a good pair of hiking boots, as this is where active contact with the surface is happening. So you’ll need to think about what that surface often looks like in the places you like to paddle.
Paddles come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials to suit a variety of conditions one might encounter. Materials are the biggest determinant of cost and range from plastics, fiberglass, and carbon fiber (or some blend of each). For kayak touring a carbon, fiber paddle can provide an almost weightless feel and balance to a paddle. Just like a golf swing, when you consider the body mechanics around a paddle stroke, an ultralight paddle translates into increased range.
The blade of the paddle is more than just a material choice. The shape of the blade is where the soul of your paddle resides. Your choice here lies on a spectrum between acceleration and endurance. A large surface area on the blade grabs more water with each stroke and helps you get your kayak to maximum speed fast. Smaller and longer blades are designed for achieving longer distances. They allow a paddler to spend less energy getting to top speed and then maintaining it. The choice comes down to individual preference and paddling conditions you are likely to encounter.
Don’t forget a spare paddle and a paddle leash. This is your motor and you should always have a backup.
Personal Flotation Device (PFD)
When looking at PFD’s you’ll need to be sure it is rated a US Coast Guard Type III higher and that kayaking/canoeing is listed as an approved activity. Once that is established, a variety of options exist to meet personal preferences. Touring kayakers often look for easy access pockets for radio, snacks, and even warming up your hands. Some PFD’s are designed to reduce the limitations of movement and are advertised as low profile. You’ll lose some pockets, but it reduces the feeling that you are wearing anything at all. You can also find some PFD’s with a mesh back in the lumbar area which improves airflow in a high perspiration area of the body. Look for this feature if you paddle in hot climates.
Finding a secure, dry, and safe space for personal items can be a challenge without a well-designed deck bag. A deck bag is like a glove compartment for your kayak. It straps on to the bungee system directly in front of the cockpit and usually has a waterproof zipper for access. They accommodate most of the items that kayakers want to have on hand quickly (snacks, camera, binoculars, maps, phone, hat, and sunglasses). This is the gear you didn’t know you needed until you’ve had one. After owning one, there is no going back. To learn more about sea kayak anatomy and where a deck bag would sit on the kayak, see our Anatomy of a Sea Kayak Blog.
Taking care of your hands is critical for performance on longer kayak trips, and can be an overlooked necessity in cold and hot climates. If you need to keep your hands warm, then look no further than the “pogie”. A pogie is a neoprene over mitt that attaches directly to your paddle and provides excellent warmth while allowing you to grab the paddle with your bare hands. While neoprene gloves can keep your hands warm, they often reduce the dexterity of your grip on the paddle, which impacts the mechanics of your stroke. Furthermore, gloves get in the way of all the other things you need to do with your hands (eat snacks, take pictures, etc.).
Sun exposure has a major impact on a kayaker’s hands, and for obvious reasons, it is hard to keep sunscreen on them. This is especially true in warm paddling destinations like Baja. A fingerless paddling glove made from a material with SPF protection provides protection without limiting your dexterity. They are also great for limiting wear and tear on your palms if you tend to develop hot spots in your grip.
Water, sun, rocks, and especially salt can be rough on gear. Every kayaker should be prepared for the day when their gear needs some TLC in the field. Hopefully, pre and post-trip inspections and preventative maintenance can ward off any catastrophic failures, but you should be prepared for anything.
In general, your kit should be able to handle the following issues:
- Small kayak hull damage in the short term (bonding material, duct tape, sandpaper)
- Rudder system repair (cable crimps, spare hardware, tools to accommodate, duct tape)
- Paddle repair (duct tape)
- Goretex repair (patches, seam seal, duct tape)
- Eyeglasses/Sunglasses repair (duct tape)
Don’t forget you may need to repair yourself or friends out there. A first aid kit built to accommodate the length and group size of your party a critical piece of gear. You’ll also need to consider bringing additional items if you are planning to camp from your kayak.
With careful attention to the five categories of gear listed above, you’ll be well on your way to managing the risk and discomfort inherent in sea kayaking. With careful consideration of the unique conditions of your kayak destination, you’ll be able to tailor these recommendations to suit your needs. Giving you the confidence to get further away from it all and closer to the moment.
If you're looking to try a sea kayaking tour for the first time or your an experienced paddler looking for a new destination, we encourage your to puruse our full collection of kayaking tours. To make it easy for our guests, we provide all the essentional equipment and gear.