Here's a short review of kayak equipment:

After you buy your boat, of all the things to spend money on I think that the paddle, life jacket, and wet suit are the most important. You use these constantly and any shortcomings will be a constant irritant.


I like the Lightening paddles because of their blade shape. Their cross section is flat as opposed to the ridge down the middle of the face like Werner or Aquabond. The ridge is supposed to reduce flutter, and it may. However, it also makes the paddle turn when you try to slice it through the water. I find that I notice this as a little extra twist as I pull my paddle out at the end of a stroke and that it interferes with my sculling and braces.

Werner is now making a new paddle with a flat face. It does not twist as I slide it through the water, but the blade is generally thicker and I still prefer the Lightening paddle

Light is good. I think that most paddles are too long and too large in the blade. I have a 220 cm, which is about right, but I think I would like about 10% less blade area than the standard lightening blade. It took me 3 years to figure that out. Now I'm ready to buy a good, custom carbon fiber paddle.

Life Jackets

I have a Lotus/Patagonia Lola which zips down the side. I don't like the side zip because I have to keep pulling it up over my head. Next one will be a front zip. Other than that it's a great jacket. What ever life jacket, make sure that you have room to move your arms. Try it in your boat with your spray skirt and make sure that the jacket is short enough. If it is too long the shoulder straps will be up by your ears and the front against your chin.

Wet Suit

For cold water paddling you need a wet suit. I bought an inexpensive MEC one to start, found it slightly uncomfortable, and went and bought a nice NRS Ultra this year. At $135 the ultra is not all that expensive.

My main complaint about the first wet suit was that the knee pads were glued on rubber. These were stiff and unbending when I walked. The ultra has flexible fabric knee pads.

The ultra has a front zip with two pulls, the bottom one makes peeing easy. The women's version has a full crotch zip. With out the crotch zip women have to remove their life jacket, paddle jacket, spray skirt, shirts, and pull down their wet suit top in order to pee. Marie says it's crazy to buy a wet suit with out a full crotch zip.

Foot Wear

I think that I have finally figured out the best kayak foot wear: neoprene boots with felt soles made by NRS. A zipper up the inside makes it easy to put them on and off. Velcro strap across the top keeps them snug on my feet. Rubber reinforcement at the heels and toes provides support and protection. A thick felt sole provides good traction and more protection.

This came after trying many alternatives. I have given up on waterproof boots, it is too easy to get water in over the top. Then it takes forever to dry them out. Plus, they all develop a powerful odor. Some people like Tiva sandals. I find them too bulky in my cockpit and they don't provide enough foot protection for the rocky, barnacle covered landings. Light weight neoprene booties, even with some tread pattern do not provide a ridged enough sole for walking (carrying gear and boats) on rocky beaches.

Spray Skirts

Spray skirts come in all nylon, neoprene with a nylon tunnel, and neoprene. I have the combo and like it fine. Neoprene is warmer and makes for a "tighter" deck. Neoprene tunnels are probably more water tight, especially against a wet suit.

You want to be sure that you can easily get the skirt off, for safety. You also want to easily get the skirt on for convenience. If you plan to play in big waves then you also wan the skirt tight enough that wave action won't pop it off.

Paddle Float

I have a Mariner paddle float, which is well made. However, there is another similar model with a few refinements. The filler tubes are angled across the width, making it easier to roll up. It also has a more secure way to attach it to the paddle. A tether for the paddle float is essential. Keep it clipped to the boat so that you don't loose it while trying to fit it onto the paddle.

That said, buddy rescue is faster. In rough conditions we stay close enough that assistance is near by.

Other people say that if the conditions were rough enough to roll you over you have little chance of getting back into the kayak and pumping it out. Their solution is to practice their roll until it is "bomb proof". I think they have a point, but I don't have a bomb proof roll.

Dry Bags

The rubber dry bags abrade fairly easily. Also, they are hard to slide in and out of tight places. I like coated nylon better, though Wendy says they hold the moisture. Clear plastic is good too.

10 and 15 liter bags are the most useful size. You can usually fit one 20 liter bag in your rear compartment. Tapered bags for the ends are nice, but not necessary. I use 3 tapered bags to fit around my skeg housing.

For a cheap solution you line stuff sacks or pillow cases with trash compactor bags. If you stuff these while in the boat you can cram a lot in.

There is a lot of stuff, such as tent polls, tent fly, and such which I don't put in a dry bag at all.


You may wonder why I put boats last. They are certainly important. But if you spend all your money on a boat and go cheap on the rest of the gear you won't have a very enjoyable paddling experience. For general paddling, just about any decent boat will do. Don't get one that is too big for you - it will take a lot more effort to maneuver it. I like a boat that tracks well - most of my time is spent paddling in straight lines. Boats that turn easier when leaned are nice. I have a skeg on mine and find that a good compromise between a rudder and rudderless. The skeg is not very exposed to damage. Raising it or lowering it changes my boats handling characteristics to suit the conditions.

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Page last modified:  Dec 26 05:59 2002  by  Tom Unger